Simple Church

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Simple Gifts

Posted by on 21 Dec 2009 | Tagged as: Simple Church

Christmas is a gift-giving holiday. No news flash there. It makes sense; it’s part of the Christmas story. Matthew 2:11 tells us that the wise men presented Jesus with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. It’s also a key part of Christian theology; John 3:16 tells us that God gave us the gift of his Son, Jesus, and Romans 6:23 says that “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As much as it makes sense and as much as it is simply a part of Christianity, we get all messed up with gifts. It’s easy for us to dismiss gift giving as pure materialism. We cringe at how commercialized Christmas has become, beginning with advertisements as early as Labor Day (really, I saw them) and continuing through “black Friday” and coasting through after-Christmas sales and finally sliding into recurring bills throughout the next year.

Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but there’s a part of me that thinks it might be good for us to be gung-ho about giving gifts. I certainly don’t mean that we need to go into debt to buy all kinds of stuff that we might not really need; however, it’s probably healthy for us to harbor a desire to give expensive gifts because of the gift that God has given us.

The fact of the matter is that simple gifts are not necessarily inexpensive. We know that diamonds and gold are simple but expensive gifts. We must never forget that God gave a world full of sinners his only Son as a sacrifice for our sins, a simple yet priceless gift. It was a gift that none of could ever afford and one that should be at the heart of our desire to give.

As we celebrate the ultimate gift, the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let our hearts be overwhelmed by God’s eternally perfect generosity. As we consider going into debt to give gifts to our loved ones, let us remember Romans 13:8 “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.”

Simple Life

Posted by on 30 Nov 2009 | Tagged as: Simple Church

Life, in general, moves at a breakneck speed, but in the holiday season from Thanksgiving through the new year, life becomes a blur. And in the midst of it all, we find ourselves thinking, “Why can’t life be simple?”

Whether we realize it or not, the life we find in Christ is meant to be simple. That doesn’t necessarily mean “easy,” and sometimes it doesn’t mean pleasant, but life isn’t meant to be very complicated. Paul recognized this, and it was probably made abundantly clear as while he was imprisoned in Rome, when he wrote to the Christians in Ephesus. In Ephesians 4:1 he wrote: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” As a prisoner, Paul’s life was fairly simple: he couldn’t go anywhere, and he couldn’t do much more than write. But prison wasn’t the reason for his simple life; it was his single-minded purpose in life: to preach Jesus. Paul’s calling was so important, that his life became simplified around that single purpose. In Ephesians he writes to help Christians live up to that same calling.

In verses 2 and 3, he tells us how we can live simple lives worthy of that calling: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Paul tells us that in order to live as Christ intended, we must simple love each other and strive for unity within the church. He also tells us how to simplify our thinking within the church in verses 4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

With this simple purpose and a simple faith, we can simplify our lives, within the church and outside the church. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior, let us remain focused on him and living lives worthy of our calling.

Simple Thanks

Posted by on 09 Nov 2009 | Tagged as: Simple Church

Our Sunday evening class on Nehemiah recently discussed Israel’s celebration of the “Feast of Ingathering,” which is something like our Thanksgiving, and the “Festival of Booths,” a reminder of when Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. In Leviticus 23:42, 43, God commanded the people to “Live in booths for seven days… so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”

Israel had many reasons to be thankful: their deliverance from Egypt, their survival in the wilderness, their success in the Promised Land, their survival in exile, and their success in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Living in temporary booths helped Israel understand the temporary nature of this life. But while the fruits of harvest are worthy of celebration, their thanksgiving had a purpose: to teach that it is God who provides for and delivers his people.

As our nation prepares for and celebrates our own Thanksgiving holiday, it seems all too easy for people to be focused on the reasons to give thanks—jobs, health, food, family, and much more—and yet forget about the one who provides it. In fact, when those things for which we give thanks are not as plentiful—when we don’t have jobs, when we’re not healthy, when we have broken families—it’s seems easier to forget to give thanks to God.

Perhaps we can follow the example of Israel in Nehemiah’s time. They were rebuilding their city, as well as their relationship with God, and they took the time to remember all that God had done for them, even when they were unfaithful. Consider Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Let us give simple thanks and praise to God for all he has done, and let us do it in such a way that all people will know about God’s love.

Simple Change

Posted by on 26 Oct 2009 | Tagged as: Simple Church

As I mentioned in my report at the annual meeting, I am in the process of changing how I think about the church, not just this church but the whole idea of what the church is and how it operates. I mentioned that, for most of my life as a Christian, I’ve viewed the church from an organizational perspective, but in the past few months, it has become painfully obvious that I have been largely mistaken. We are not an organization; we’re not a club; we’re not a company. We are a family, or at the very least, we are a living body. It’s a change of thinking that I must make—and I intend to help all of us make that change.

I’m not much different from the average person: I don’t like change all that much. However, becoming and living as a Christian is all about change. Basically, our lives have been changed because of Jesus’ sacrifice. If we call ourselves Christians, we must change.

Paul wrote in Romans 12:1, 2: “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” We’re pretty keen on verse 2, because it tells us not to conform to the world, but we often miss the first verse, where it tells us to offer ourselves as sacrifices.

The simple truth is that we cannot offer ourselves as sacrifices if we do not change ourselves. Paul writes that we are changed by the renewing of our minds. Isn’t that where many of us get stuck? It’s not as though we cannot change; more often than not, we choose not to change. I understand that change is often difficult, but Paul tells us that by changing our minds and living as sacrifices, we will be able to know God’s will. As we grow together as the family of God, let us help each other to change our minds so we can learn and live God’s will together.

Simple Sharing

Posted by on 12 Oct 2009 | Tagged as: Simple Church

If you look at the front of your weekly bulletin, you’ll see that our strategy for making disciples is simply connecting people to God and other people, growing in our faith and knowledge of Jesus, and serving like Jesus. Unfortunately, we have over-complicated God’s plan for sharing his gift of salvation through Jesus.

Throughout the centuries, the church has made it more difficult to share the Good News and, therefore, more difficult for people to respond to it. Too many people find it too difficult to share their faith and to lead others to salvation through Jesus, when the starting point is simply sharing what God has been doing in our lives.

We all have existing relationships, some good, some bad, but each one is an opportunity to share God’s love. Sure, it might be intimidating to share your faith with a coworker or even a friend or family member, but don’t we usually share things that excite us? It’s easy for us to tell someone about a new restaurant that we have found or a good book that we’ve read, but we find it difficult to tell others about how God has been working in our lives from day to day.

First Peter 3:15 lays out the simple process of sharing: “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” The first step is to be passionate about your relationship with Jesus; figure out what it is about your life that Jesus has changed and get excited about it. Second, tell someone about what Jesus has done that has made you so excited. Third, be careful that in your excitement that you don’t miss the other person’s needs. Many times this process happens without planning, especially when we have our lives focused on God; we experience God’s transforming love and we just can’t help but show it and then people ask us about what’s going on. Be prepared to share it!

Simple Selflessness

Posted by on 28 Sep 2009 | Tagged as: Simple Church

We live in a selfish culture. Sometimes we don’t recognize our selfishness, especially when we’re striving for the best of whatever. While it’s not necessarily bad to want the best things of life, what we do to get the best or what we do when we don’t get the best illuminates our selfish motives.

Many times our selfishness hurts other people. The workaholic striving to get the best for his family usually ends up hurting the family in the process. Parents who jockey their kids around so they can get the best teacher or the best class or the best team usually end up hurting either those who have to settle for “second best” or their own kids who grow up thinking they can have whatever they want.

Sadly, we do it within the church, as well. Our selfishness leads us to expect things to be done our way, especially when it comes to the way worship services are planned and the way money is spent. And when things aren’t done the way we like it, we withhold our support, whether in time, money, or effort.

Selfishness has no place in the church. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3, 4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Some might consider those verses and think, “If we’re all supposed to think of the interests of others, then someday I should be entitled to have what I want.” It just doesn’t work that way. In Ephesians 5:21 Paul wrote: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The simple selflessness that we must have comes not from the hope that eventually we might get what we want but from our reverence for Jesus. Let’s focus on trying to serve others not just because we ought to but because we love Jesus who gave himself selflessly for us.

Simple Danger

Posted by on 15 Sep 2009 | Tagged as: Simple Church

Have you heard the news that some schools are banning “high fives” and teaching kids and teachers how to wash their hands to prevent the spread of the swine flu? Doesn’t it seem strange that our fears have gone from school shootings to simple interaction among kids? While it makes sense to take precautions to avoid illness, it seems that we are developing a culture of fear.

It seems that people are trying harder than ever to insulate themselves from any kind of danger. From the frantic search for no-risk investments to the frenzy to find the flu vaccine. Our culture has become afraid of risks of any kind.

Worst of all, we find that kind of fear in the church. Many people come to church expecting it to be a safe place from the world instead of a safe place for the world. Unfortunately, our fear of the world has led the church to disconnect from the world to the point where we have even stopped interacting with world. Our fear of the dangers in the world has made us ineffective in the world. We have tried to insulate ourselves from the sin of this world, but we have also lost touch with the people of this world who need the message we have been given.

While we look up to the martyrs of our faith, from Bible times to today, we fear persecution that, in this country, will not likely lead to our own deaths. It is ironic and sad that Christians have taken the name of Jesus, the one who died to save us, but we are afraid to death of sharing his message with the world that is dying to hear it.

Our faith is dangerous, but it is also powerful. We can’t forget that God took a huge risk entrusting his plan of salvation to the church. We can’t forget our mission because of the danger of living in this world. Paul wrote in Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” Let’s take our simple message of God’s love and forgiveness and be dangerous in the world.

Simple Direction

Posted by on 31 Aug 2009 | Tagged as: Simple Church

Have you ever lost your way? Growing up hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping, I’m proud to say that I’ve never been lost. I have, however, been “turned around” a few times. Even though I knew exactly where I was supposed to be—I could point it out on the map—I wasn’t quite sure how to get there, since I didn’t know exactly where I was on the map. I could have gone back the way I came or headed toward a nearby road which would have led me back to where I had started, either solution taking me an hour or two out of my way. But rather than taking the obvious, sure-fire ways out, I opted to wander through the woods for nearly three hours. While I did find my way back, I wasted several hours of my time and my father’s, who was out looking for me.

We do a lot of wandering in the church. While most Christians have a good idea of where they’re going, many find themselves wandering because they are not sure where they are at any given moment. Others wander because they’re not willing to take the steps that will point them in the right direction. Others are afraid to turn away from their current path and head back in the right direction. Many who wander eventually come to a complete stop, paralyzed by their doubts, their fears, or their past.

The good news is that when we focus Jesus, we will head in a simple direction: toward God and heaven. Paul encourages us to head in one direction in Philippians 3:13, 14 where he wrote: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” This means we don’t have to get bogged down in our past. We don’t have to be thrown off track by obstacles and bad choices. We don’t have to come to a stop whenever we lose our way. While the way may not be as easy and direct as we might like, we simply have to head toward Jesus.

Simple Focus

Posted by on 10 Aug 2009 | Tagged as: Simple Church

I’m a simple guy, so repetition is a good learning tool for me. I know I just preached this sermon, but I want to stretch the application more than I was able in the sermon. I said in the sermon on August 2 that many of our problems in life are caused by a simple lack of focus on God. Just as Israel had done in Judges 6, we forget God, we disobey him, and then we experience suffering because of our disobedience. Israel’s solution was to focus on God; Gideon’s strategy was found in Judges 7:17, where he told his scant army “Watch me. Follow my lead. Do as I do.”

This is the basis for discipleship as well, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” When I said that we can all be leaders, this is exactly the model we must follow. We must follow those who follow Christ as we lead others to follow Christ.

This is demonstrated best in the family. Christian moms and dads have a tough job to raise their kids to become followers of Jesus. Many parents just don’t feel up to the job, and so they bring them to church and hope that the church can do the job effectively. However, the church has an average of 40 hours of influence per year on each child, where parents have about 2000 hours of influence on their children each year. The best hope parents have for their children becoming Christians and maturing as Christians and remaining Christians through their lives is to model the Christian life for their children. The church, then, can help parents develop their own focus on God and encourage them as they model that focus for their kids.

All of us can model this focus for everyone with whom we have influence. We know that people are watching us: our kids, our coworkers, our classmates, our neighbors. When they see our lives being transformed because of our focus on God, they will want to follow us and do as we do.

Simple Forgiveness

Posted by on 06 Jul 2009 | Tagged as: Simple Church

In the last issue, I focused on the Good News that we have peace with God because of the reconciliation we have through Jesus. But there’s more to the Christian life than being reconciled to God; we must also be reconciled to each other. Jesus taught his disciples that our forgiveness depends upon the way we forgive others: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). And just in case we missed the point, he repeated himself in verses 14 and 15: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” The simple peace we find through Jesus depends upon us simply forgiving others.

This is where we have to remember that “simple” doesn’t always mean “easy.” We wouldn’t describe Jesus’ death and resurrection to be an easy thing, but it’s just that simple: Jesus died so that we could be forgiven. In the same way, we don’t think of forgiving others as an easy thing, but Jesus says simply: “you’ll be forgiven as you forgive others.”

If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we don’t always forgive others when they hurt us. Some of us have likely drawn invisible lines that separate us from those who have hurt us “X” times. We’re not ready to forgive, and we might even think of them as our enemies. And some of those “enemies” are right here with us in the church. But that cannot continue if we expect to have peace with God, if we expect to be forgiven ourselves.

Remember that Paul described us as “enemies of God” before we were reconciled to God through Jesus (Romans 5:10). Paul echoed Jesus’ words in Colossians 3:13: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” but first he said, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” Praise God that he has forgiven us through Jesus, but pray that God will give us the faith to forgive others as well.

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