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The church is an amazing thing. It’s made up of all kinds of different people – male and female, rich and poor, people from every tribe and tongue, and people with all different personalities. And these realities are true among us to some degree as well. We have different backgrounds and points of view that we bring with us into this congregation.

But according to Scripture –

We are all made one in Jesus

“Jesus is our peace,” having broken down the barriers that divide us (Ephesians 2:14) Paul says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28).

So now, although we are many different people, we are one body in Christ and members of one another. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5).

And now, although we are from many different families, we are one family of brothers and sisters in the Lord.

  • Jesus teaches us that it is his disciples who are his true family (Matthew 12:48-50). These are his “brother and sister and mother.”
  • Paul says that we are “of the household of faith” – Galatians 6:10.

But we almost have to say these things by faith. For in truth –

We still have conflicts

This is why the New Testament talks so much about conflict and the need for peace. Those apostolic congregations needed it. Listen to these admonitions:

  • “Be at peace with one another” – Mark 9:50
  • “Be at peace among yourselves” – 1 Thessalonians 5:13
  • “Live in harmony with one another” – Romans 12:16
  • “Pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building” – Romans 14:19

And there are others references that could be added. All of these calls for peace give the distinct impression that this is not something that just happens. Peace is something we have to work toward. It is something we have to work hard toward.

But also notice that in these verses the call is to peace, not just trying to cover over our conflicts so that no one thinks we have conflict, which is hypocrisy. Peace means being honest about it and working through our conflicts in love, so that we all have good relationships with each other and live in harmony.

We are to work hard at this so that we can work together as one body, and so that we can get along as one family.

Now, if I may say so, the problem today is that if there is conflict, instead of being at peace with one another, we just leave and go to another church down the street. We avoid conflict. We don’t do the hard work of loving each other enough to hang in there and sort things out.

Let me say more. I wonder what it would be like if there wasn’t a church on every corner. What if being committed to a church was like being committed to a marriage – where you have to work things out?

This is what God calls us to do. So let’s look at some ways to do this.

1. Grow in your love for others

This is a commitment each of us needs to make.

To remind us what love is, here are some phrases from 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is kind. Love is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. Love is not irritable or resentful.”

And then in Colossians 3:14-15, Paul tell us to – “. . . put on (this) love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”

Love is the source of our peace. Let your love for each other grow cold, and you will see our peace disappear.

Here’s a different way to look at all this. God has put us together for a reason, so that we can grow in our love for each other. So maybe that person you can’t get along with is specifically here to help you grow. Maybe that person that rubs you the wrong way is here for your benefit; a gift of God to you, to help you learn to love more deeply.

And so if you go off to another church in order to avoid them (thinking perhaps that other churches don’t have such problems), maybe you are really running from God. And who knows? Maybe God will put someone just like them in the new church you go to – for your benefit.

Does the person annoy you? Ask God for more love. And ask God to give you his eyes for that person so that you can see what is good about that person and why God loves them. And pray for that person. This not only is a blessing for them, it is a tremendous way to change your heart and your attitudes toward the person.

We’ve got to grow in our love for one another.

2. Let love break down relationship barriers

We have to be careful not to let our differences divide us. For instance, those who are older and those who are younger – generational differences. Or those who live in the city and those who don’t. Or even something as simple as the youth letting what school they go to divide them.

We can’t just go off and be in our comfortable clicks, around those we like and who are like us. Such partiality is not consistent with the call to love each other. As James 2:8-9 says, “If you really fulfill . . . ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

Love should push us to be with others. And our love should pull others into our circles. We are all a family here, brothers and sisters in the Lord. This is what defines us, not our differences.

3. Bear with one another

This is a particular part of love that I want to highlight here. 1 Corinthians 13 also says, “Love bears all things” and “Love is patient.” Paul says in Colossians 3:12-13, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another . . ..” We need all these things, but I am especially focused on patience and bearing with one another.

People can rub us the wrong way. And so we need patience. Patience means longsuffering, or the ability to suffer for a long time – in this case with other’s weaknesses. We need to learn to bear with each other’s quirks and idiosyncrasies (and of course, hope and pray they bear with ours).

A part of this is learning to overlook minor issues. Proverbs 19;11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” So don’t get angry over every little thing that happens. Be able to discern what is a minor issue and what has to be dealt with because it is truly important.

When there is real conflict –

4. Deal with the person involved

This principle is taught in Matthew 18:15. Go to the person in private to talk. Often the conflict is based on misunderstanding and can be settled easily.

This also makes sure we avoid two really big mistakes. 1) Judging by appearances. We assume we know what is going on based on what we can see from a distance. And we usually assume the worst of motives in others. But we don’t know the whole story. In John 7:24 Jesus says, “do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” You can’t do this until you talk to the person to find out what is going on.

2) Gossip. Don’t involve others inappropriately in the conflict. The issue is between the ones in conflict and so don’t go around telling everyone your point of view so that people start taking sides.

Both of these are real temptations, but we must learn to deal with the person face to face.

Also, when there is conflict –

5. Hear the other person’s point of view

It’s easy only to focus on making sure others know where we are coming from. But love compels us to seek to understand where the other person is coming from.

James 1:19 says in part, “Know this, my beloved brothers and sisters: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak . . ..” Quick to listen to others, slow to say what we think. This isn’t something that comes naturally.

Finally, when there is conflict –

6. Find a way to work through the issue

If you need to, find a compromise. Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” It’s not just about us and getting what we want, there is also a concern for the other and their needs and desires.

If this fails, let some mature believers help. 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 tells us first of all, don’t take each other to a secular court! Then he asks in v. 5, “Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers . . .?” Surely God has given congregations those who can help settle disputes. And we need to be open to a mediator or even an arranged settlement that puts an end to a conflict.

 

So these are some ways that we work at living in harmony with one another. I encourage you to act on them as there is need.

And remember, what makes us different from the world is not that we never have conflict. It is that we love each other enough to work through our issues and that we do this in a loving way. This is our witness to the world – that Jesus makes a difference in how we live.

William Higgins

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I believe that God gives us our local church as a gift – to strengthen us and to support us in our Christian lives. And with the influence of the world all around us and the weakness of our flesh – I also believe that it is difficult, if not impossible, to be a healthy, growing Christian without being a part.

But your local church, Cedar Street, also needs you so that we can be strong and effective as a Christian community. And so I want us to look today at some things you can do, or can continue to do, to support our congregation.

Now I was sick all week. So I will share what I have and then ask for your input at the end.

1. Come regularly

Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

When we meet together we are able to make each other stronger. We grow in our faith together by stirring each other up and encouraging one other, as the Scripture says. When we don’t, these things don’t happen to the same degree.

So you need to take this into consideration for the sake of your own Christian growth. But also for the sake of the effectiveness of our congregation. When you aren’t here, you aren’t able to encourage and stir others up. The congregation isn’t all that it can be. Sharing fellowship is a powerful thing. We draw strength from each other. And this requires coming.

So we need to consider how we prioritize our weekends. Is church the first thing we cut, when it’s been a long week or if we have plans for the weekend??

2. Invite others to come

In Luke 14 Jesus tells a parable about how a man invited many to come to his feast. But most, those whose lives were busy and going well, didn’t want to come.

And so the man told his servants, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” (Luke 14:21). But there was still room, so he said, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:23).

The man, who represents God, wants his house to be full. He sent out three different invitations.

  • And just as in the parable, God wants people to be a part of what he is doing in the kingdom of God and with his people, the church.
  • And just as in the parable, we, his servants, are to invite people to come, so that his house can be full.

And this is the primary way that we will grow and reach out, as we have seen before. It happens when you invite others to be a part.

3. Pray for our congregation

In Ephesians 6:18 Paul talks about “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints . . ..”

And in the same way, we need to pray for each other and for our leaders and the vision of our congregation. We need to pray for our ministries and for renewal.

Don’t assume or take for granted that someone else is praying. You know, the pastor is paid to do this. No! You pray also. It’s about all of us imploring God for him to do a great thing in this place for his name’s sake.

Can we really expect to grow in our faithfulness and effectiveness without this? I don’t know about you, but I want God to do something special here, that goes beyond the weekly routine; that makes the kingdom of God a reality in our midst in a new and powerful way.

4. Give of your finances

If someone were to ask me, “How much should I give?” I would tell them that I don’t think there’s a set amount for giving in the New Testament. The tithe of 10 percent is a good place to start with a goal of being even more radically generous. (Most people end with the tithe, but it’s better seen as a place to start). As our faith grows and we see that God does indeed keep his promises to us to take care of our needs when we give, then we can step out and give more.

Scripturally, we are to give to those who minister the word to us.

Paul says, “the laborer deserves to be paid” – 1 Timothy 5:18; Matthew 10:10.

This is applied to pastors and missionaries.

And we are to give to help the poor among us.

Jesus said, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy” – Luke 12:33.

When you have more than you need (that is, shelter, food and clothing) give to those who have needs. First give to the needs in our congregation and fellow Christians. Then also give beyond this to any who lack.

And practically speaking, whatever else we commit to, like a building, electricity and water – we need to give to cover these expenses as well.

5. Use your gifts to minister

1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Each of us have a gift from God. Find out what God has blessed you with in terms of spiritual gifts and also natural abilities. And use these to strengthen our body and to minister to people’s needs.

And, given the experience I have as a pastor I would say also – do this in a way that builds up the body, working with the leaders and others. Not in a way that focuses on yourself or brings division to the congregation. And also, listen to counsel when it comes to discerning what your true gifts are. Sometimes we need input to know what our gifts are and what they are not. Someone might think they are musically gifted, but in fact are not. And they need to be told this in a kind way. And someone might have a gift of encouragement, but isn’t aware of it or doesn’t have enough self-confidence to use it. And so we need to give them a boost to step out.

The bigger point is that each of us need to move from being one who is primarily ministered to, to being one who ministers to others. This is what growing and maturity is all about. It’s time to grow up! You can’t be spoon fed your whole Christian life. Move from being just a receiver to being a giver.

6. Help out wherever needed

I looked for a text for this and came up with

Ecclesiastes 9:10 – “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might . . ..”

There are lots of things “to do” that could use your focus and might in a congregation. And much of it doesn’t require a special gift, or special training, or a special calling. Some things just need to be done, like keeping up the grounds, fixing things and cleaning up.

Or to go in a different direction, you say your gift isn’t evangelism, but you can come Christmas caroling or help hand out invitations for church events. You feel your gift isn’t being up in front of people, but you can teach a children’s Sunday School class.

All of us need to work, in whatever way we can, for our community to be vibrant and healthy.

7. Work through relationship difficulties

Personality conflicts, disagreements, misunderstandings – these are normal in any human relations. And we also often fail one another.

  • Being Christians doesn’t mean these things will never happen.
  • What makes us Christian is that we care enough to work through things in a loving way.

In Mark 9:50 Jesus said, “Be at peace with one another.”

He knew we would need to work at this. And he doesn’t mean fake peace – where you just pretend things are OK and sweep things under the rug. He means working through things so there is reconciliation.

For instance in Matthew 18:15 Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.”

He is saying, don’t pretend, but deal with things. We need to work things out in love, because without healthy relationships with each other we become weak and easily divided.

We don’t all need to be “best friends,” but we need to get along with each other so we can do the work of the kingdom together.

8. Have the same attitude as Jesus

Paul says in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

He goes on to say that we are to have the same attitude as Jesus, who became our servant and sacrificed for us. Even though he was the Lord of all things, he humbled himself to serve us.

So it’s not about me – or you, so that we might ask:

  • Why am I not being recognized for all I do??
  • Why doesn’t the church do things the way I want them done?? You know, the right way.
  • Why aren’t my needs being met??
  • Why aren’t people giving me enough attention??

We have to set aside our self-centeredness and care about others. We need to ask, “How can I help?” or “How can I give to someone’s needs?” It’s not about getting what I want. It’s about what I can give to others. As Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life . . ..”  In the same way, we need to lay down our lives for each other.

William Higgins

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Covenant Renewal

We are beginning our time of Covenant renewal this morning. Leading up to today, we have been looking at spiritual renewal for the past few weeks, specifically . . .

Five Marks of Spiritual Renewal

This is what we have covered:

1. Instead of compromise, sin, excuses and apathy – we are honest with ourselves, see our failures and yield every part of our lives to God.

2. Instead of a damaged and broken relationship with God – we ask for forgiveness for our sins and find renewed relationship with God.

3. Instead of damaged and broken relationships with others – we find renewed relationships with others when we make things right with those we have wronged, and forgive those who have sinned against us.

4. Instead of grieving and quenching the Spirit, shutting the Spirit out of our lives – we invite the Spirit to work in us so that we are strengthened to do God’s will and bear the fruit of the Spirit.

5. Again, instead of grieving and quenching the Spirit – we invite the Spirit to work through us to minister to the needs of others with the power and abilities that the Spirit provides.

The reason I have shared on this leading up to our time of recovenanting is that this is meant to be a time of spiritual renewal.

This is certainly the way it worked in Israel. There are a number of examples of recovenanting in the Old Testament. For today, we’ll look at . . .

Joshua’s covenant renewals

He was a part of the original time of covenanting at Mt Sinai with Moses. But beyond this he was a part of three other recovenantings (at least as far as we know, there may have been more.)

1. Just before Israel entered the promised land – Deuteronomy 29. Israel had failed in the wilderness and most of that generation had died off. Moses gathered the people together on the plains of Moab.

  • He recounted to them the story of God’s salvation.
  • He repeated the Law of God in their hearing and expounded on it (which is where the name Deuteronomy comes from – the second giving of the Law).
  • All the people committed to obey and serve God

This was time for them to be reconstituted as a people. The earlier generation had failed, and now the new generation was coming forward. This new generation was reminded of God’s Law and called to commit to this.

2. After the failure at Ai – Joshua 8:30-35. Because of Achan’s sin Israel was defeated before its enemies. And then, after they recovered from this Joshua gathered the people of Israel.

  • They offered up sacrifices
  • They wrote the Law in stone
  • All Israel stood before the ark of the covenant
  • They recounted the blessings and curses in the Law
  • The Law was read before everyone

So this recovenanting came after deep failure on Israel’s part. It was a way for them to get back on track and recommit themselves to serving and obeying God.

3. Near the end of Joshua’s life – Joshua 24 he led the people in a covenant renewal.

  • He gathered all the people together
  • He recounted the story of Abraham, the deliverance from Egypt, and their victories over their enemies
  • Joshua charged Israel to be faithful
  • The people responded, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey” – v. 24

There was no failure here. The recovenanting was simply a part of the people being called to full commitment to God.

What we can learn from this

In each of these cases, covenant renewal was an aspect of their overall spiritual renewal.

  • When there was failure, it was a time to regroup and repent
  • When there wasn’t failure, it was a time to refocus and remember their commitment to obey and serve God.

Similarly for us recovenanting is an opportunity to

1. Honestly examine our lives and deal with our issues. One of the themes I have tried to highlight is that we have to be honest with ourselves. If we can’t do this, we won’t see the areas in our lives where we are failing. And if we can’t see where we are failing, we can’t act to make things right through repentance. We get stuck in the same rut of failure and compromise.

But if we are honest, we can make progress in our Christian lives.

Recovenanting is also an opportunity for us to 2. Reaffirm of our Christian commitment to God and each other. Whether we are struggling or not, it gives us a chance to remember and refocus. And this is what we want to do this morning.

William Higgins

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Christians and Politics

Well, I’m talking about politics today. They say there are two things you should never discuss in polite company – religion and politics. They stir up too much controversy. And here I am doing both at one time!

My desire in this, of course, is not to cause conflict, but to help us get focused on who we are as Christians in the midst of this highly charged political environment, and to encourage us to think and act in ways that are in line with our Christian identity.

I had wanted to share with you before the political conventions, but decided to wait – although with everyone all fired up now, I hope that you will still be able to hear what I want to share with you this morning. (more…)

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