The Sacrifice of Praise

sacrifice-of-praise_t-960x250Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 17 (22) (August 28, 2016)


Hebrews 13:1-8 | New Living Translation (NLT)

13 Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.[a] Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.

Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.

Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said,

“I will never fail you.
    I will never abandon you.”[b]

So we can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper,
    so I will have no fear.
    What can mere people do to me?”[c]

Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Hebrews 13:15-16 | New Living Translation (NLT)

15 Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. 16 And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.


The Sacrifice of Praise

The title of this week’s devotional reminds me of the old praise and worship chorus of the same. name.  I remember that it seemed quite contemporary at the time, even though it seems dated now.  In the late 90’s the writer added some verses, slowed it down to get rid of the um-pa beat. It was one of those songs that we sang so much that we got tired of it and yet the principles that are listed in this week’s scripture are as relevant today.

These are the final paragraphs of the letter to the Hebrews – a letter that was written to the Hebrew people that were scattered throughout the world.  It was written to show the place of prominence that Jesus had over the Old Covenant – Jesus was the perfect replacement for the old.

In these few verses, we see some things that would have been familiar to God-fearing Hebrews.  The writer admonishes them not to forget the down and out – the aliens and strangers – to keep on loving each other. It’s interesting even to see the parallels to Jesus’ teaching – to show hospitality to strangers – to visit those in prison – to give a cold cup of water in Jesus’ name.  We are suppose to have empathy and compassion – the writer says remember those who are being mistreated – as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.  In our culture today, it is way too easy to dismiss. After all we need to assert our rights – I say that sarcastically, because that is not what the writer is saying…the writer says have a compassion for those who are not well-off – it really doesn’t matter how they got there.  It is interesting because while Israel did get in trouble for not remaining holy as God is holy, they also got in trouble with God because they forgot the alien and stranger – the widows and the orphans – those who were down and out.  God gives the Israelites some very specific instructions – in fact, we see some of those in the book of Ruth, when Ruth is gathering the grain that has been intentionally left behind for those who couldn’t afford it – the widows and the orphans.

The writer then goes on to remind the Hebrews to keep marriage sacred – to remain faithful to your partner…God will judge those who are immoral…and those who commit adultery.

We are getting quite a list of things that honor God – a list of the sacrifices that please God.  We are reminded – much like Paul writes in Philippians to be content with what we have…not to be lovers of money.  For remember…money is not the root of all evil, but the love of money is.

We are reminded to be content with what we have — interesting – that could apply to money or things – or even what is mentioned in the paragraph above about relationships.  So many are looking for the right relationship, that they forget the relationship they have right in front of them.

We are to remain content because God will take care of us.  This was something that became very clear in the year that we were in transition.  Even now God is taking care of us.  I try not to worry – I think that is some of my personality – but God is taking care of us.  The words of the writer remind me of the Christ Tomlin song Whom Shall I Fear God of Angel Armies. The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people to do me?

We are then reminded to think of leaders who have set the pace – who have been faithful to preach the Word of God – the examples that they set – the great cloud of witnesses – and we are encouraged to follow after them.

These things are what the author means when he says to offer up the continual sacrifice of praise.  Even though we don’t need to constantly sacrifice animals because of Christ’s once and for all sacrifice, we are commanded to praise him continually – to do the things that please Him – because through this we proclaim our allegiance to God.  I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to pledge allegiance to anything but God and his Kingdom.

The writer finishes with where he started – don’t forget to do good and share with those in need, because these are the sacrifices that please God.  I want to encourage you today – even as I preach about worship on Sunday to offer up to God the things that are pleasing to him.

Your Church Needs Two Side Doors

The front doors of many churches today are closing. “Front doors” is a term that describes how most newcomers first come in contact with a church—as visitors to worship or to some other special event.  It is out of this visitor pool that churches have traditionally identified prospective new members.  However, in the past 20 years both the total numberof church visitors has been declining, as well as the percentage of visitors to total attendance in most churches.

If you want to see your church survive, let alone thrive, I suggest that you build some new “side-doors” that will create new ways to connect with people in your community.

What is a “side-door”?  Here is a definition:

Side-door: A church-sponsored program, group, or activity in which a non-member/non-Christian can become comfortably involved and develop meaningful relationships with people in the church.

A side-door provides a place where church members and non-members develop friendships around something important they share in common. And such friendships are an important key that describes the most important means by which people come to Christ and the church.

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The Gift of the Church Calendar

Here’s a great article from Seedbed on the Church (Liturgical) calendar

The Gift of the Church Calendar

As Christians, we all celebrate particular days as holy. Most of us go a step further to recognize distinct seasons of worship, following the Christian/liturgical calendar. In theory, this keeps us unified as s single body of Christ while remaining distinct congregations; even while separated in time and space, we come together as a collective to offer praise and worship to our God in common ways.

In practice, however, things somehow get muddied a bit. Special events such as homecomings and revivals tend to shove the liturgical calendar sideways as they demand more and more preparation and planning – not to mention actual observance. Pastors can feel pressured to keep up with the demands of their parishioners as well as the necessities of marking Christian time.

Read More…

My favorite paragraph of the article?

When we decry the liturgical year as some overly-Roman Catholic artificial contrivance, we lose sight of what it truly is—a way to organize our days to help us along the path of holiness. We live alongside the life of Christ so that we may become more Christ-like. What’s more, we seek sanctification through community, realizing we cannot truly practice our faith in a vacuum. The Christian calendar unites us as a worshiping community, and as a community of faith we move forward along the road which leads us to the one whose name we bear.

10 Ways the Enemy Gets the Upper Hand In Church

number-ten

via Thom Rainer

By Chuck Lawless

Let me start this post with a clear caveat: Satan will not ultimately win as he attacks God’s church. Jesus broke the powers through His cross (Col. 2:15), and the enemy will eventually be cast into outer darkness (Rev. 20:10). In the meantime, though, the devil strategically attacks us. Consider these ways he seeks to get the “up”per hand.

  1. He wants us to mess up in sin. The results of our sin are numerous. Our witness loses credibility. Our prayers are hindered. Our joy wanes. Relationships often suffer. The world looks at us and sees no difference– and the enemy temporarily wins.
  2. He wants us to cover up our sin. He did it in the Garden of Eden, and he still does it today: if we sin, he wants us to hide like Adam and Eve did. That way, we never confess it and turn from it. Likewise, the enemy wants the local church to ignore the sin among its members.
  3. He wants us to get hung up on difficulties and discouragement. “You’ve served God faithfully,” he says to us, “but what good has it done? You’re still struggling and lonely.” He delights when we cower in the cave like Elijah (1 Kgs 19), forgetting God’s previous blessings and focusing on only the trouble at hand.
  4. He wants us to clam up in evangelism. God has only one plan to get the gospel to our neighbors and the nations: believers tell the story to others (Rom. 10:9-16). It’s the enemy who points out reasons for us not to share the gospel. Maybe you’ve heard messages like “You’re going to lose your friendship” or “You really don’t know enough to do evangelism.”
  5. He wants us to bow up over position and power. The enemy who himself sought the throne of God is pleased when we guard our turf and protect our positions in the local church. “You’ve served in that position for years,” he reminds us, “and why should you give it up? Nobody can do it as well as you can.”
  6. He wants us to break up. This strategy, too, started in the Garden, where Adam turned on Eve and blamed her for his wrong. From the beginning, the enemy has sought to sever marriages, families, friendships, and congregations. He knows the church will hardly make a difference when we shoot each other in the back.
  7. He wants us to build up our own kingdoms. He does not mind when we talk about the kingdom of God as long as our real focus is our own kingdom. “Serve God,” he says, “but make sure others know just how much you’re serving Him. In a ‘humble’ way, be sure to get the word out about the size and influence of your ministry.”
  8. He wants us to cloud up the message. Without question, the enemy rejoices when the gospel message is decidedly and clearly forsaken. At the same time, though, he is pleased when the message is subtly changed so the gospel disappears while still sounding like a biblical message. The cloudiness of the message thus keeps non-believers from hearing the truth.
  9. He wants us to give up on prayer. He points out unanswered prayer, reminding us that God has at times not heard us in the past. Why would we then seek God’s presence and power today?
  10. He wants us to get puffed up with ego. In fact, this strategy is the root of the rest of these strategies. When we reside on the throne of our lives, the enemy is at least temporarily winning.

What other ways have you seen the enemy get the “upper” hand in a church?

8 Elements of a Healthy Small Church

From Church Tech Today:

What does a healthy Small Church look like? It looks like a healthy big church – in all the ways that matter, anyway.

No, a healthy Small Church is not just a miniaturized version of a healthy big church. Pastors who try to do that are usually concentrating on the externals. And it never works out well when we do that.

8 Elements of a Healthy Small ChurchBut underneath, every healthy church looks the same – no matter what size it is, what style of worship it utilizes or what denomination it does (or doesn’t) belong to. The principles that make big churches healthy are the ones that make Small Churches healthy. And the same missteps can kill that health, too.

So the elements of a healthy Small Church are the elements of every healthy church. But what exactly are those elements?

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Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing?

Here is a great article by Ed Stetzer – interesting to look at it in light of our Wesleyan context…

Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing?

Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing?

There are parts of the globe where the greatest church growth is happening through the Pentecostal movement. One of the most asked questions is, “In a world where the church seems to be declining in many areas, how they are bucking the trend?”

There is never one reason why a movement succeeds. But some factors rise to the surface. Pentecostals will say they are growing because the Spirit is moving in a powerful way. I get that, and actually would affirm that as part of the reason, but from a sociological perspective, other things are happening and worth exploring.

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Why Millennials Long for Liturgy

Is the High Church the Christianity of the future?

Here Are 10 Ways to KILL Your Church

Via churchleaders.com

6.26.ChurchMembers_238768845Recently, one of the senior members of our congregation — who has been there for all 80 plus years — handed me a church newsletter that was written in 1959. As I delicately flipped through the tattered pages of this precious document, one article in the newsletter pricked my attention. The title, which I have borrowed for this blog post, was simply “10 Ways to Kill a Church”.

The thing that interested me the most is how this list of “church killers” written in 1959 looks so much like the usual suspects in many church deaths today.

Here is my slightly paraphrased version of the 1959 list of “10 Ways to Kill a Church”:

Two Questions

Two QuestionsIt seems hard to believe that District Conference happened over seven weeks ago.  District Conference was an amazing time and it became clear that God was speaking to us as a district and Pastor Barry, Pastor Pam and I felt that God was speaking to us as a church – about the importance of renewal and revival – about making the main thing the main thing.  Over the last four weeks we have been hearing about those four main things:

  1. Evangelism – God has called us to be Fishers of Men
  2. Worship – God has called us to be a worshiping church
  3. Prayer – God has called us to be a praying church
  4. Family – God has called us to be a place where relationships are important.

Last year about this time I was introduced to a book called “When Hurting Helps,” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  One of the key pieces to Parkway’s DNA is missions.  You heard about that last week.  Several months ago our missions team decided to look at this same book.  During our last meeting together, we discussed the first chapter of the book “Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?”  The first chapter of the book begins with these two important questions:

  1. Why did Jesus come to earth?
  2. What is the primary task of the church?

I know that in a congregation of this size this morning, I could ask this question to each one of you and it’s possible that each person might give me a different answer, especially to the second question.

So let’s take a look at the question, “Why did Jesus come to earth?” If you ask this question of many believers, they would say that Jesus came to earth to save people from their sins.  If you said that, you would be correct, but the answer would be incomplete.  Some of you may question why, but we will get there.

The second question asks, “What is the primary task of the church?” Like I’ve already said, the answers are all over the map on this one.  Some would say the church’s task is evangelism – some would say discipleship – some would say worship – some would say missions – some would say relationships with other believers.  Those would probably be the top answers at least.  While I was studying for ordination, I read a book “Exploring our Christian Faith.” It was written by Nazarene professors and written in the early 60’s. One of the chapters was “The Nature of the Church” and in that chapter they boiled down the purpose of the church as:

  1. Worship
  2. Evangelism
  3. Discipleship
  4. Ministry Service
  5. Fellowship

Let’s fast forward to 1995, a book was released that year called “The Purpose Driven Church.” Amazing the author came up with the same 5 purposes.  The difference is that he created systems for these 5 purposes.  If we look at Acts 2:42-47, we find these words:

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

We can see that the early church – just days after the Holy Spirit came – were involved in these purposes and yet I believe that this passage implies something even deeper.   Jesus came for something more and therefore the primary task of the church is something much deeper.

In order to explore this further, I want us to turn to Colossians 1:15-20.  We sang these words earlier in our service.  It’s appropriate that we did because the “Colossian Hymn” is another ancient hymn that is quoted by Paul in his letters.  The last time I preached, we looked at the “Philippian Hymn” that is found in Philippians 2:5-11.  The key to why Jesus came to earth and the primary task of the church is found in Colossians 1:15-20:

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body.
He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Let’s dive into this passage to answer our two questions.  The first question is “Why did Jesus come to earth?”  We see from this passage who Jesus is – how he is described.  First we are reminded that Jesus is God – that he is the firstborn of all creation and that he existed before anything was created.  We are told that Jesus is the creator of the universe, the sustainer of the universe – he holds the whole universe together and he is the reconciler of the universe.  So yes, Jesus died to save our souls, but so much more importantly Jesus died to reconcile us back to God – that is to put us back into right relationship with the Father and – all that God and Jesus created.

At Christmas we sing the carol, “Joy to the World” which contains this line, “He comes to make his blessings known, far as the curse is found.” The curse that was put on Adam and Eve in the garden is universal in scope – there is decay, brokenness, and death in every speck of the universe.  Jesus – the King of kings and Lord of lords is making all things new and this is the good news of the gospel.

In my research for this sermon, I came across another Christmas carol – one that will be somewhat familiar and yet because of the changes that happen to these songs the original meaning has been lost.  It is one of my favorite carols, Charles Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

1. HARK how all the Welkin rings (not angels – but the whole universe)
” Glory to the King of Kings,
” Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild,
” GOD and Sinners reconcil’d !

2. Joyful all ye Nations rise,
Join the Triumph of the Skies;
Universal Nature say,
” Christ the Lord is born to Day!

3. Christ, by highest Heav’n ador’d,
Christ, the Everlasting Lord,
Late in Time behold him come,
Offspring of a Virgin’s Womb.

4. Veil’d in Flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail th’ Incarnate Deity !
Pleas’d as Man with Men t’appear,
Jesus, our Immanuel here !

5. Hail the Heav’nly* Prince of Peace !
Hail the Sun of Righteousness !
Light and Life to All he brings,
Ris’n with Healing in his Wings.

6. Mild he lays his Glory by ;
Born ; that Man no more may die,
Born ; to raise the Sons of Earth,
Born ; to give them Second Birth.

7. Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in Us thy humble Home,
Rise, the Woman’s Conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in Us the Serpent’s Head.

8. Now display thy saving Pow’r,
Ruin’d Nature now restore,
Now in Mystic Union join
Thine to Ours, and Ours to Thine.

9. Adam‘s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp thy Image in its Place,
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy Love.

10. Let us Thee, tho’ lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the Heav’nly* Man:

O ! to All Thyself impart,
Form’d in each Believing Heart.

 

I’ve always loved this carol, but I’ve found a new love in this carol, especially with the original lyrics – Jesus has come to restore his creation.  On Sunday mornings, we have been hearing about this during our “Faith Lessons” series.  God through Jesus is restoring Shalom back to the earth.  One of the things that we have learned over the last year, is that the Egyptians believed that God wanted to reign over chaos.  However in their scheme of things – it was Pharaoh’s job.  Can you imagine being a Pharaoh and knowing that the job of bringing peace and balance to the whole universe was on your shoulders – because you were considered God?  I wouldn’t want that kind of responsibility.

So Jesus came to reconcile the world back to himself.  That is the Good News.  Jesus gave us a great example of what the church was to be and what the church should be.  In Luke’s gospel, John the Baptist is trying to figure out if Jesus is truly the Messiah or if there is someone else.  Here is Jesus’ reply:

22 Then he told John’s disciples, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. 23 And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’” (Luke 7:22-23)

So what do we learn here? Jesus’ deeds were essential to proving that he truly was the promised Messiah, Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom, and He showed the good news of the kingdom.

Which brings us to the second question: “What is the primary task of the church?”  The task of God’s people is rooted in Christ’s mission.  “Simply stated,” say Corbett and Fikkert “Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom in word and in deed, so the church must do the same.”

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were to be a sneak preview of the coming attraction of Jesus – they were to give their viewers an idea of what the main event would be like.  When people saw the people of Israel they were supposed to say, “Wow! These people are really different.  I can’t wait to meet their King. He must really be something special.” Hence since King Jesus would bring good news for the poor, it is not surprising that God wanted Israel to care for the poor as well. We hear these declarations over and over in the Old Testament – take care of the widows – take care of the orphans – take care of the stranger – take care of the foreigner. If you read Isaiah, one of the Lord’s accusations of Israel is they forgot to do exactly that.  Yes, they made themselves an adulterous nation – they worshiped idols instead of the true god, but they also forgot those who were downtrodden.  So what does that have to do with us?

The church is God’s people and we are more than just a sneak preview of Jesus – we are the body, the bride, and the very fullness of Christ.  When people look at the church, they should see the very embodiment of Jesus!  Wow!  I wonder just how many people see Jesus when they look at the church.

In the letter of James, we find these words, “27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

In 1 John 3:16-18 we hear these words:

16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?

18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.

What is the task of the church? We are to embody Jesus Christ by declaring what He did and what He continues to do through us; declare – using both words and deeds – that Jesus is the King of kings, and Lord of lords who is bringing a kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace.

So what does that have to do with us?  What does that have to do with Parkway Wesleyan?  Several weeks ago we were discussing this book amongst the Global Ministry Team.  We asked ourselves the question, “How do we meet the needs of our community and at the same time – just like Jesus did – share the good news?”  We heard several great testimonies last week during the El Salvador Team presentation about the doctor and his wife and their team that not only attend to the physical and health needs of their patients, but also to the spiritual needs of their patients.  This is a great example of the church at work.

Over the past two Saturday evenings, there have been a small group of people meeting for prayer.  We have been asking God  for several things:

  1. For the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives
  2. For revival
  3. For salvation for those who don’t know Jesus
  4. For us to be able to reach our community more effectively
    1. Preaching the Good News
    2. Touching them in tangible ways.

As the praise team comes to close the service with a song of commitment, let me share one final thought:

One of the things that we talk about at Chick-fil-A all the time is creating emotional connections – creating raving fans.  What if we could do that as a church – what if we could create emotional connections as a church – what if we could create raving followers of Jesus? What would that look like?  Could we make a change in Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County?  I really believe that we can.  It will take much prayer and it will require our commitment to doing the things that Jesus did.  As we close, I’d like us to sing this song that says, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.”

Ten Commandments for Guest-Friendly Church Members

via: Wesleyan Life

I travel a lot and spend a lot of time in different churches. I have had a church consulting firm that did “guest” visits as part of our services. Sadly, many times I do not feel welcome as a guest when I visit churches.

The Bible is replete with admonitions of hospitality and servanthood. I just wish our church members understood that the servant-like spirit should also be manifest when we gather to worship. Guests are often uncomfortable, if not intimidated, when they visit a church. We are to be gracious and sacrificial servants to them.

In response to this need for more guest-friendly church members, I have devised the ten greatest needs, at least from my perspective. I will reticently call them “commandments” and throw in a little King James English for effect.

  1. Thou shalt pray for people in the services whom you don’t recognize. They are likely guests who feel uncomfortable and uncertain.
  2. Thou shalt smile. You only have to do so for about an hour. Guests feel welcome when they see smiling people. You can resume your somber expressions when you get home.
  3. Thou shalt not sit on the ends of the rows. Move to the middle so guests don’t have to walk over you. You’ll survive in your new precarious position.
  4. Thou shalt not fill up the back rows first. Move to the front so guests don’t have to walk in front of everyone if they get there late.
  5. Thou shalt have ushers to help seat the guests. Ushers should have clearly-marked badges or shirts so that the guests know who can help them.
  6. Thou shalt offer assistance to guests. If someone looks like they don’t know where to go, then they probably don’t know where to go. Get out of your comfort zone and ask them if you can help.
  7. Thou shalt not gather too long in your holy huddles. Sure, it’s okay to talk to fellow members; but don’t stay there so long that you are not speaking to guests.
  8. Thou shalt offer your seats to guests. I know that this move is a great sacrifice, but that family of four can’t fit in the three vacant seats next to you. Give it a try. You might actually feel good about your efforts.
  9. Thou shalt not save seats. I know you want to have room for all of your friends and family, but do you know how a guest feels when he or she sees the vacant seats next to you occupied by three hymnals, one Bible, two coats, and an umbrella? You might as well put a “Do Not Trespass” sign on the seats.
  10.  Thou shalt greet someone you don’t know. Yes, it’s risky. They may actually be members you don’t know. And you may get caught in a 45-second conversation. You’ll be okay; I promise.

 

What do you think of these commandments? What would you add?

Dr. Thom Rainer is head of LifeWay Christian Resources, is a much sought-after church consultant, and is a long-time friend of The Wesleyan Church.