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Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year. As a kid I remember being thankful for the four f’s – family, food, free from school and football. But not necessarily in that order. I think I have a broader perspective now and a better set of priorities.

In our congregational meeting today one of the things you will be asked to do is list five strengths of our congregation. You will also be asked to list two weaknesses. The difference in number is intentional because we are much better as a church at finding our faults than in seeing our strengths. At least, this is my observation in various conversations I have been in or heard. But we also need to acknowledge and give thanks for those things that God has blessed us with as a congregation. And these will help us to see, I believe, what God wants to do through us. Perhaps as I share today, this will prime the pump for your sharing later in the meeting.

To set the tone, we begin by looking at –

Paul’s congregational thanksgivings

In his letters to various churches he almost always has a thanksgiving section at the beginning where he talks about some good things in the congregation. These are things he gives thanks for as he prays for them. Let’s look at some of these.

Romans 1:8 – “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” He goes on to talk about his desire that there might be a mutual sharing of faith between them, if he can come and visit with them.

1 Corinthians 1:4 – “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.” He seems to be thinking in particular about various gifts or abilities that God has given to them.

Ephesians 1:15-16 – “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you.” He is grateful for their faith and  also their love for fellow believers.

Philippians 1:3-5 – “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” They were faithful givers to support him as he did his mission work. This is what partnership means.

Colossians 1:3-4 – “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints . . .” This is very similar to what he said in Ephesians, a focus on faith and love.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 – “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here we have the familiar faith, hope and love. There is an emphasis on their work of faith and labor of love, and their continuing hope in Jesus despite being persecuted.

2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 – “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.” Here the emphasis is on the increase in both their faith and love, and also again their steadfastness in trials.

So Paul knew of their weaknesses and he dealt with these in his letters. But he was also constantly giving thanks for these congregations and their good qualities in his times of prayer. And we should also be focused on seeing the good and giving thanks to God for how God has blessed us. So let me share with you today some of –

My congregational thanksgivings

1. Like Paul, I am thankful for our faith in Christ. As I have been a shepherd here I have seen a number of you go through some really difficult times. And I have been encouraged to see your faith expressed and acted on; to see you endure and stay strong in your faith.

I have also heard some of your life stories and testimonies and how you have trusted God’s promises and how God has come through for you. In our personal conversations and in our praise time, I so often hear of how your faith is strong and growing and I thank God for this.

2. I am grateful for the love that we have for one another. God has given us each other to encourage and support one another and to care for one another; to lift each other up and carry each other’s burdens.

And we do this. Time and again when needs are expressed people respond and rally around to help – taking a meal, working on projects to bless a family, visits, checking in on each other, praying for one another, encouraging one another. What a blessing it is to be in a group that share’s Christ’s love with one another.

3. I give thanks for hard workers in our congregation. So many people with servant hearts, who are willing to work behind the scenes.

I have been in churches where there are few workers and it is difficult. Do you understand how truly blessed we are in this way? Let me mention just a few names. Jeryl, our treasurer, takes care of our finances and does an excellent job. Alvin who is almost always here early working in various ways with sound, power point and other things. Gene and Fern who come early and make coffee and bring snacks. All our children’s Sunday school teachers and leaders Melanie and Cindy. Our trustees, Les Martin, Al Shands, Mike Martin who do a ton of work behind the scenes. And our food committee who has been busy of late, and is making a meal for us today – Dorothy Hoover, Linda Martin and Amy Zinn.

These are just a few. I am very grateful.

4. I give thanks to God for good leaders among us. I don’t carry the whole weight of the congregation. We have many very fine leaders who I work with. We have much wisdom and leadership skills on our Elder team, our Deacon team and our church council. And this is a blessing. And we have always had a good rapport.

Along these same lines I am grateful for our youth leaders and also the former pastors who are a part of our congregation.

5. I praise God for our worship team and all our musicians and singers here – whether you are on the worship tead or only do special music or prelude. God has blessed this congregation with musical gifts. I have been a part of churches where this was not so. And although God loves a joyful noise, it is also nice to have beautiful praise to offer up to God.

We have people who are gifted in leading worship and in putting together worship services that lead us into the presence of God. And the worship team puts in a ton of work coming an hour early every Sunday and also have extra practices from time to time.

6. I love it that we are an intergenerational congregation. We have people of all ages here. So we have the wisdom of the older generation and the energy and life of the younger generations. We can get input from each other and help each other out. And this gives us balance. We aren’t just focused on one group, but have a place for anyone to fit in.

7. I am grateful that God has blessed us with resources. Yes, I am talking about finances. God has blessed many of you in your jobs and businesses and you have been generous.

Our building is paid off. We made it through the recession intact. And I am blessed that you support me full-time. Thank you! We also have resources to put toward the work of the kingdom as we think of the future.

8. I thank God for the stability of this congregation. You are steadfast and even keel. You don’t get too excited about things or too nervous when there is a problem. Being a pastor here is not like being on a rollercoaster. You have deep roots and deep relationships.

So I share all this to get us started thinking along these lines for our meeting today. But also, along with all the other things that you give thanks for this thanksgiving, include your thanks for this congregation that God has given to each of us.

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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