In a conversation I was having yesterday with the young woman who runs our local Chinese restaurant, she said to me, “No Thanksgiving in China.” I thought to myself what a special blessing to live in a country where we annually take stock of our blessings and give thanks. What a blessing it is to be part of a country founded by men and women among whose initial purposes for coming to this land was to find a place of liberty for worshiping the Lord.
Here are some thoughts of mine to you as we enter into a special time of the year :
Staying Strong by Remembering the Book of Judges
I don’t think I’ve ever heard as clear a presentation of the final chapters of the Book of Judges as I heard in Pastor Jeff’s sermon yesterday. I’ve read those stories many times and, yes, asked concerning them, “Why are they there ?” Jeff nailed it on the head, and the Holy Spirit seemed to open my blind eyes :
The need for a king, a Savior. While we’ve focused in previous weeks on the “celebrities” (the judges themselves), these passages describe to us what ordinary life was like in Israel at the time ! It was truly a time of horrific wickedness … and we don’t have to read far into a news magazine or news internet site today to see we live in a world not far removed from what was going on in Judges 17-21. This is our world. Our world still needs the Savior.
A mirror of the Church. Sadly, the problems recounted in this passage were not outside the walls of Israel (God’s people). If we’re honest, we recognize that similar sin problems have come to take roost in the Church today. Prayers of confession were appropriately part of our worship yesterday.
Generational separation from God. Jeff described how, among God-followers, there can be a rapid descent, over the course of just a few generations, away from a true relationship with God. One generation knows the Lord ; it’s assumed the next generation does too. But do they really ? As we saw in Judges 17, it may be that second generation which begins to dabble in seemingly “benign” sins and begins to slip away from a genuine knowledge of God. The generation after that will very possibly reject God entirely, and the final generation in the sequence may live in a world of chaos, totally removed from God’s grace, as is depicted at the very end of Judges.
Fighting the battle of generational slippage away from God should be of utmost concern to those of us who are parents, and to all of us at Emmanuel. Some of you – myself included – had dramatic, life-changing encounters with the Savior as a start to your spiritual journey. In raising children, it’s sometimes assumed that what we experienced will naturally just rub off on them. But what does your spiritual walk right now model for your children (or grandchildren) ? Are you talking in very natural terms to your children about what God has done in your life, not 25 years ago, but today ? Are you having times of simple prayer together as a family ? Are you teaching your children or grandchildren how to pray ? I hope as many of you as are in town will be at our Concert of Prayer this coming Sunday morning, along with your children and grandchildren ! We’re going to have a wonderful time of reviving our relationship with God through a variety of acts of prayer.
Beyond that, what are the “benign sins” at Emmanuel ? In the Judges passage, the seemingly harmless sin had to do with a man stealing money from his mother, then his mother sweeping that offense under the rug and actually using the returned money to build a sort of household shrine for her and her son. (Seems pretty minor compared to the horrible things that followed.)
Jeff pointed out that underneath the gross sins of Judges 17-21 were other issues which might also, at first blush, seem fairly benign :
A lack of hospitality. People were no longer in the habit of taking care of each other or of strangers. What about us ? Is the church warm ? Is the church hospitable ? How do we treat outsiders ? Are we “Jesus people,” relying on His forgiveness of our sins and therefore able to make the church a place of healing for others ?
The treatment of women as objects. The horrific evil of Judges 19 had at its root the fact that a woman was treated as a man’s property. What about us ? Do we treat each other with dignity, respect, and love ?
Some of the things that have kept Emmanuel on track as a church over the years have included :
Hospitality. A goal of the church from its beginning was that it would be a haven, a place of healing, for all who wanted to come. The goal wasn’t to build a kingdom of our own but to be a place of healing and spiritual growth. Reaching out in hospitable ways to every person has been – and is still – part of our calling from the Lord.
Non-judgmentalism. Avoiding “church politics” at Emmanuel has contributed to good church health. Politics in a church often times comes from feeling a need to maintain control over some “turf” in the church – forgetting that the church belongs, first of all to the Lord, and second to everyone. The sense of guarding my turf can actually arise from my own unintended judgmentalism : “This activity is near and dear to my heart ; why isn’t it to yours ? It should be.” … when, in actuality, the fact that there is a diversity of desires and longings and gifts is a tremendous blessing and evidence of God’s Spirit moving among us.
Sacrificial giving. Many people have given sacrificially to the work and progress of Emmanuel … because they first gave themselves to God. Giving to support the ministry of the church is an overflow of knowing the Lord. In addition, giving makes us more like God, the One who gives us everything we are and have.
Let’s beware of the benign sins. If we are aware of the possibility (probability) that they exist in our lives, the Lord can work and give us victory as a church !
I officiated at a memorial service in Columbia on Saturday which I had never in a million years anticipated I would be doing. It was for my good friend, Rich, who passed away last October 31. Rich was my best friend growing up from 7th grade through high school and through our studies at the University of Missouri. His visitation and memorial service were attended by a large crowd. It was something of a time warp for me, as I was reunited with people I hadn’t seen for 25 or 30 years – old friends, a high school teacher, Rich’s parents and large extended family ; even a former governor of Missouri was there.
It was humbling to know someone who was so extremely loved by so many others. Rich’s three nieces, all in their mid-20s, gave powerful and tearful eulogies to their uncle. It was humbling to me to know that I myself was loved by this very unique person and by his family. For me to share in the service about his life, and then to share the Gospel with such a special group of people, was truly an honor. I sensed the Spirit of God holding our attention, transmitting His message of hope.
Two important lessons from that day are etched on my mind :
1. Life is fleeting. That would naturally be a thought at the funeral of a 52-year-young person. In a conversation I had with another one of my buddies, I was made to ask myself why at our age we still insist on life being done our way. As this friend said, it’s actually kind of nice as you approach your mid-50s to realize that you don’t have to be in control of events or people as much as you once thought you did. Life is passing by quickly ! Why not concentrate on what’s on the Lord’s heart instead of what’s on my own heart ? In ten years, we’ll be in our mid-60s, and it will matter even less that things are done “my way.” The lesson of the Book of Judges for us is to be “Jesus people.” That’s what’s truly important about our short lives spent in a world that’s falling apart.
2. Be steadfast in being a Jesus person. The Apostle Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 15:58 comes to mind – “Therefore, remain steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Friendships are important and have long-lasting, perhaps even eternal, consequences. Some simple act of kindness, done in the Lord’s name, may impact someone forever. A simple sharing of your faith with someone may eventually contribute to a change their eternal destiny. God is knitting all things together ; we should be steadfast and patient in obeying Him.
I’m grateful to see your steadfastness at Emmanuel …
people putting Thanksgiving meals together last Saturday
men organizing themselves in order to increase ministry to men
Christmas shoeboxes brought in to be sent out into the world
people hanging around to decorate the church and make it more hospitable for others.
Thank you for all you do – whatever it is – for the Lord at Emmanuel and beyond !
Keep in mind some important dates coming up !
Forms are available at the church for you to nominate three people to serve on the Pastoral Search Committee. Please fill one out and turn it in.
Noon prayer tomorrow at the church. Everyone invited for a few minutes to pray for the church, ourselves, and the world.
Men’s Ministry & Bible Study, Sunday, December 7, 5:30 pm, at the church.
Staff Meeting, Monday, December 8, 6:00 pm, at the church.
Congregational Meeting following worship, December 14.
Christmas Eve Open House & Worship, December 24, 10:30 – 5:30. We need volunteers to bring cookies that day and to take a turn reading through the Book of Ruth and some other Christmas-related Scriptures. Sign-up sheets available this Sunday !
Have a happy Thanksgiving, and see you Sunday !