Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more…. Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. 1 Thess. 4:1,9,10
Paul knew when to rebuke and chastise – there are times when we need to quit what we’re doing – draw a line in the sand – nail the door to the past shut and never go back there. But there is also a time when we need to build on our strengths – be encouraged for taking steps of faith, for living like God tells us to. And this is what Paul does in this first letter to the Thessalonian church
There are some areas where the Thessalonians weren’t reaching their potential – but listen to Paul’s assessment – “You know how to live, you know how to love … keep on doing what you are doing.”
If you want to know what’s wrong with the church, you can always find someone who will be quick to tell you. Lots of people are well aware of what the church isn’t. But Paul knew you follow your focus. If you are always critical, always negative your feet will follow - the church will suffer.
Paul says that success in the Christian life comes from focusing our efforts in the right direction – Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: 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. Phil. 3:12-14. Our goal will always lie ahead of us – because we are human, we will fall short – because we are Christians we will never give up.
The Bible says, “No man is perfect / All have sinned / We have all gone astray.” So do we throw up our hands and say, ‘What’s the use?’ No, because the Bible also says, “Strive for holiness / we are no longer slaves to sin / fix your eyes on Jesus.” While the Bible points out the reality of our human limitations, it also calls us up higher.
So much of what you accomplish depends upon your focus. If you focus on the negative, you will experience paralysis and decline. When you focus on God – even when your efforts fall short, they always take you in the right direction. When you fall, you get back up with your feet pointed toward God. And when you have a church full of people who have that same goal, you become a church that makes a difference.
This has been a year where God has had us in his workshop, working on us and continually molding us into a people who will be useful in his kingdom. This is a place where people are loved, where our community is served, where lives are touched.
The Glenwood church has been a place where God has been active in the lives of his people – think through some of the highlights with me:
· We rejoiced with those who were brought into God’s kingdom in baptism this year.
· We welcomed several new individuals and families into the family of God here at the Glenwood church.
· We celebrated with several of our families who brought new babies into their homes.
· Our Life Groups are bringing us together on Sunday evenings to spend more time in the word and in prayer, but especially building relationships and drawing us closer together as a family.
· In July we gathered at the Dowdy’s cabin for a Family Retreat that was a great time of fellowship and spiritual growth.
· Then in September we had Bruce Utley come from San Antonio to lead us in a Spiritual Renewal Weekend. What at great time of learning and growth that was.
· This year Deena Stanley began working with the children’s Bible school program, and we expanded our Sunday morning adult classes to three different options.
· Our Benevolence Ministry helped many of our families and individuals through some difficult financial times.
· Our mission work continues to reach into all corners of the world – from Mbarara, Uganda to Rio de Janiero, Brazil, from Guatemala City to Tijuana, Mexico, from Orlando, Florida to Southeast Asia. Lives are being touched, the gospel is being preached, souls are being saved.
· We began our sixth year of partnering with Feed My Sheep to house the homeless in our building for the four winter months, seven nights a week and feeding them breakfast every Saturday morning.
· In fact, our building is being used seven days a week for some activity that blesses the community. Besides our own weekly worship service and Bible classes, Boy Scouts, NAMI, Youth for Christ, Feed My Sheep,12-step support groups, home schoolers, Lift Up food distributions, Ski Country pastors, funerals and weddings, and numerous other groups that need a place to gather. We have a reputation in this community of being a church that cares for people and uses its resources to serve everyone in the name of Jesus.
We continue to be a congregation where God’s plan for his kingdom is being fulfilled. It has become the heart of who we are – This is a place where everyone can come and experience God’s love, grow in God’s family, and serve in God’s kingdom.
This year, I’ve seen more people step out in serving others and giving of themselves. I see more people involved in serving, teaching, visiting, cooking, clothing, feeding, writing, encouraging. And, like Paul, I want to tell you to continue to do this more and more.
Who we are at the Glenwood church is not the sum of our human resources or the effective utilization of our combined talents. The bottom line of our congregational ledger is always amended by God’s grace, God’s strength, God’s working among us. And our God, he is alive and working in the Glenwood family.
There is something about a new year that invites us to experience a fresh start and a new beginning. I’m not big on making resolutions, but I do want us to commit together to being more of what God has called us to be.
If you are not actively involved in serving and ministering to others, in growing spiritually, in sharing your faith, I want to challenge you to make a couple of resolutions this morning to change that. In fact, I want to challenge all of us to renew our commitment to the Lord this morning.
I want to challenge you to make this coming year 2014 A.D.
· Anno Domini – “in the year of our Lord”
Make this a year for the Lord. And that doesn’t mean you add a couple of church activities to your calendar, or a few minutes of Bible reading to your day (though both of those are good). Between now and Dec. 31 of this coming year, filter every day, every decision, every activity through the question, “If Jesus is my Lord, what do I do?”
In Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Jesus doesn’t need more casual acquaintances, contacts of convenience, he needs committed disciples – men and women who will die to self, take up their cross and follow him – he needs people who have sold out to the cross of Jesus and live it out in their daily lives.
I want to challenge you to commit yourself to being a vital part of this body here at the Glenwood church.
In the 10th chapter of the book of Hebrews, the writer talks about how important it is that we be together – not with a legalistic hammer to guilt trip people into coming to church – this isn’t a ploy to increase attendance. He knows how much we need and depend on each other and how important those relationships are. Listen to what he says: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb.10:24-25) We need the encouragement we get when we’re with each other, but more than what we get is what we bring – during the week we think about others, how we can encourage them and lift them up and then we come and give that encouragement to others. If you’re here just for what you get out of it, you’re missing out on the best part of church. This is where you come to pour out yourself for others, and give them the encouragement they need.
During the year 2014 A.D. get rid of the show-up when it’s convenient attitude. Commit yourself to being in worship every Sunday, becoming part of a Bible class every week. Get involved in a Life Group. Work at building relationships with people in this congregation – be a real part of the body, not just a drop-in. Find your place – not just to fit in, but to make a difference.
When you come, come not just for what you get out of it, but what you bring with you. Come ready to encourage others, strengthen other’s faith, lift each other up. Paul wrote in Eph. 4, “From him, the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
The unavoidable reality is that until everyone of us is taking our place and doing our part, the Glenwood church will not be everything God has called us to be.
I want to challenge you this year to fall more and more in love with God.
I know, that sounds like one of those strange and mysterious phrases that doesn’t really connect with real life, but I assure you it does. When Jesus said the first and greatest commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your might,” that is what he was saying – fall in love with God. Let your relationship with him grow and deepen as you spend more time with him in his word, in prayer, in worship.
· Sink your roots in his word – spend time reading the Bible and laying up his word in your heart.
· Fill your life with his praise – both in worship together and as you spend time during the week, praying and lifting up the Lord in adoration.
· Practice being constantly aware of his presence and working in your life.
· Be intentional about your spiritual life. Make your relationship with God the most important priority in your life.
The bottom line is a change of priorities. We can talk about change all we want, we can say we’ll do this or that – but it’s no more than a coat of whitewash on a cardboard shack – until we let God start reconstruction from the ground up. New priorities grow out of a new life.
· As much as you may want to – if all you do is try to squeeze in a couple more church activities into an already busy schedule, you’ll never see it happen – you’ll have the best intentions, but you just won’t do it.
· Our schedule grows out of our priorities. And if spiritual things are low on the list of priorities, your schedule will never find room for them.
Only if you determine to make this year God’s year – hand him the keys to your life, turn over your calendar to him, let him rule your priorities – will anything really change. But if you do – you will never regret it and your life will never be the same.