To the Glory of God, HELPING PEOPLE . . .

(This is part two in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

Why “Helping People”?

When we want as few words as possible in our tagline, why should “Helping People” make the cut? In reading the Bible we learn that God has always had a focus on helping people. One example is the giving of the the law. Consider the words of Jesus:

The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” Mark 2:27 (NLT).

When God gave the law He was not arbitrary in choosing its commandments. The law helped people. A day off for rest is helpful. It still is! We choose many other examples. If you were keeping God’s law, you were forbidden from sacrificing your child in fire as some religions from Biblical times required. That too, is helpful! God’s law also helped people to realize their need for grace which brings us to Jesus. He was always helping people through his teaching and miracles. However, Jesus also helped us with our greatest need, reconciliation to God. In Jesus God offers the grace we need. That too, is helpful! Since God has always had a focus on helping people we can expect that His Church will be called to help people also.

What are we helping people with?

Consider the story of Jesus helping a man and his son:

He replied, “Since he was a little boy. 22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
23 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
24 The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:21-24 (NLT)

Jesus is asked for help in a very practical way, the curing of the child through the casting out of the demon. However, the father also asks for a help with his spirituality: “I believe, help my unbelief”.  Churches may help people with very practical things, helping with food, clothing, shelter, and the like. But there is a spiritual help that will only come through the Church. Jesus spent three years helping people by working miracles, but it was only three years, and it was only in a small corner of the world.  However, Jesus has helped people across the world and throughout the generations by offering the cure for what alienates us from God. We do good works as Christian people, but they are not the core of what we are about. We are to do something that only we as Christians will do; that is, point people to God in Jesus Christ. If all heaven rejoices over the repentance of one sinner, then the people called the Church will be reaching out to that sinner. If the Father runs to welcome home the prodigal son, then we want to call the son home.  While helping people with the practical stuff of life is important, our main focus is on helping people to connect with the Giver of Life Himself, to help people walk with Jesus.

Whom are we helping?

Jesus teaches us to love our neighbour, and through the parable of the Good Samaritan we learn that our neighbour is anyone and everyone. But are we to focus on helping the people who are the Church, or people beyond the Church? Our neighbour includes both. Churches which do not help Christian people walk further with Jesus have a wide open back door. Churches which do not help non-Christian people begin, or at least consider, walking with Jesus do not have a front door.

Who is helping?

We could phrase this question another way. Is the task of Christians to support the church financially, then the staff of the church will help people? Ephesians 4 will bring some clarity:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

The entire church body is involved in ministry, the entire church is to be involved in helping others. The people of our church family have passions and gifts which I, the pastor, do not, so they can be of greater help to a greater number of people. They also have connections with neighbours and friends and acquaintances which I do not. Any church which limits its helping of others to its staff is severely limiting its capacity to help people. The mission of the Church is always to be carried out by all the people of the church.

Are there any icebergs ahead? Is there anything that might sink a church in helping people?

There is a subtle slide that can happen.

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 (NRSV emphasis added)

Here we read about “the body’s growth”. We might, therefore, try every trick in the book to “grow” our church. However, we can lose sight of the fact this passage is about people. Just as we saw last week that the church is the people, not the building, so too we must realize that each church is the people, not the organization.  Just as the Sabbath exists for people and not people for the Sabbath, the organization exists for people, rather than people existing for the organization. There is a subtle difference.

Conclusion

It has always been about the people. When God introduced religion, it was about the people; a better way to live, a way to live that pointed to the need for a better way to relate to God. Now that God has come to us in Jesus and we relate to him, not through religion, but through relationship by His grace and through faith – it brings glory to God, but it helps people.

To the glory of God, may the people called “Church” always be helping people.

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TO THE GLORY OF GOD . . .

Why does Calvary Baptist Church exist? Why does any church exist? What is our primary purpose? There may be quite a number of answers to this question based on mission statements and what you see churches do. But is there a purpose which is common to all churches whether they think they are accomplishing it or not, whether they articulate it or not in their mission statements?

There is. Jesus get us on the right track on discovering it by his prayer in John 17:1 “Father, the hour has come; . . .”. Given that this prayer occurs just before his arrest, trial, death, burial, and resurrection, what might you expect next? Perhaps ” . . . save Your people, reconcile Your people to Yourself”? What he says is, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” Of all the great things we can say about the work of Jesus on our behalf, his primary purpose is the glory of God. Of all the many things we can say about churches and what they are and do, their primary purpose is the glory of God. If God’s glory is central to Jesus, it is central for us!

We are reminded of our primary purpose most Sundays as we conclude our worship service. Those who attend Calvary Baptist in Cobourg will know that I tend to use this same benediction:

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (emphasis added)

I might have chosen the “Aaronic Blessing” as my favourite, the one that goes, “May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you . . .”, but I have not. And for a reason. We tend to think that we attend church to glorify God, then we leave with the expectation that God will bless us in the week ahead. I think we have it backwards. We are blessed as we gather to worship, and we leave to bring glory to God with the week ahead. Even as we hear my favourite benediction from Ephesians, we may still be wrapped up in us. We may concentrate on what God can do in our lives; that is, “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” While that is important and sometimes we will need to focus on that, we can remember that God’s power in our lives is not the central thought of this benediction. The glory of God is.

But doesn’t “glory in the church” mean “here in this place”? There were no buildings referred to as “churches” when Paul wrote this, so no. The word refers to the people. This is not “glory in the church building”, but rather “glory in the people who are the church.” Snoop Dog gets it right with the opening words of his latest album; “Church, say Amen”. He is speaking to people, not a building or an organization!

How do we bring glory to God as a church? What does that even mean? To roughly quote one Bible teacher; “the very existence of the Church brings glory to God”. The existence of a rescued people brings glory to God. The existence of a redeemed, forgiven, Spirit-filled people gives glory to God. There are many small churches like our own which may feel quite beat up over not being able to offer this, that, or the other program. There is no shortage of guilt in smaller churches for not measuring up and giving proper glory to God. However, the existence of any group of Christians, no matter the form of worship, or how well they are organized, or how many programs they can offer, already brings glory to God! That is not an excuse to not pursue excellence. But it is an encouragement.

That being said, is Ephesians 3:20,21 a prayer or a resolution? Do we hear this benediction and think, “God, we pray You make Your glory happen in us this week?”, or do we think “God, our resolve is to make Your glory happen in us this week?” Let us think again of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. God in His sovereignty made it happen. Jesus was arrested, suffered, executed, buried, raised, and he ascended, all by the sovereignty and to the glory of God. However, Jesus was also resolved to stay the course as we learn from his prayer later in Gethsemane:

He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Mark 14:36

We do well to make our benediction from Ephesians a prayer in dependance upon God while we also watch for opportunities to participate in God’s work as His glory unfolds.

We do have some guidance while we watch for those opportunities. One definition given for glory is “giving God his proper place”. We cannot do that if we are trying to take his place. We have bad examples of giving glory to God in Adam and Eve who were quick to want to be just like God. We have good examples of giving glory to God including John the Baptist who pointed beyond himself to Jesus (John 1:27,303:30). Unfortunately, we often find it easier to talk about ourselves than about God. In the same way, we likely find it easier to talk about our church than God: “we have the best music, the best programs, the least boring pastor, try us, you’ll love us”. While we will want to aim for excellence, we do not want our tag-line to be “I’m lovin’ it”.  We will not give God his proper place if we are trying to get into his place, and take the glory for ourselves. God is glorified when we take the place he has prepared for us. Our best opportunity to glorify God is not in the loudest and most professional sounding rendition of the hymn “To God Be the Glory”, but in often-quiet, Christ-redeemed, Spirit-filled lives.

Why does Calvary Baptist exist? Calvary Baptist church exists for the same reason as every other church, which is no less that the same purpose for which Jesus did all he did – for the glory of God!

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

He is Risen! But Mark’s Ending is Strange Indeed.

Mark has spent fifteen chapters telling us about Jesus, his life, his teaching, his miracles, his arrest and execution. If that were the end of the story we might consider it to be a great tragedy. But Mark goes on to tell us more:

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:1-8 (NRSV)

The strange thing is, most Biblical Scholars agree that this is all Mark tells us about the resurrection. Everything from verses 9 and following are considered to have been added later and so Mark’s Gospel ends here. This might make us wonder how confident we can be that we have the original accounts about Jesus. Has the Bible been changed so that we can not have confidence in it?

Actually, differences in ancient copies increase our confidence that what we have is close to the original. We have no original manuscripts of any ancient document, yet scholars in Classics departments have  great confidence that they are working with accurate copies of Greek and Roman writers. The manuscript evidence for the New Testament documents is far better than any ancient writer. We have way more copies, they date closer to the time, and we have many translations plus quotes from ancient teachers that match up to the manuscripts. Despite the variations, the manuscript evidence gives us great confidence in the Scriptures. They also, along with changes in language and style of writing, help us say with confidence that verses 9 and following were not in Mark’s original account. Thankfully, handling venomous snakes never caught on in our Canadian Baptist churches anyway.

But if Mark’s account of Jesus ends with chapter 16, verse 8, what are we to make of the ending?

“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:7,8 (NRSV)

What are we to make of the lack of resolution? It ends with women frozen in fear and trembling rather than doing as the angel requested. Mark’s Gospel account seems to end on a note of failure. It is unresolved.

Perhaps the story of Jesus remains unresolved for you? You appreciate how Jesus is an inspiring figure in history, but when you hear that the tomb is empty and Jesus has been raised, well, you are not sure what to do with that. Many people have this experience of being unresolved in their thoughts about Jesus.

As we consider this lack of resolution, there are a few things for us to consider:

First, anyone who reads the Gospel of Mark knows that the story does not end with fearful women keeping the news of Jesus’ resurrection to themselves. Even without the other Gospel accounts of Matthew, Luke, and John, the fact that you can read Mark is evidence that the resurrection was not kept secret. It did not end in failure.

The original readers of Mark’s Gospel may have been acquainted with Peter or the other apostles, and would therefore know that people who seemed to fail in the pages of Mark’s account, are now on mission. They are now willing to be killed for their testimony that Jesus lives.

Even today, anyone reading Mark will generally be aware that the news of Jesus’ resurrection has spread far and wide. Christianity has stood the test of time, has weathered many storms, has attracted all kinds of people, and for those who do the research, has had an incredible and positive impact in the lives of individuals and upon societies alike. The silence and fear at the end of Mark’s Gospel account was not the end of the Gospel of Christ.

This is good news for us when we fail, when we have those moments where we seem to be stuck in silence and fear. God’s work will never be stuck, God will always deliver on His promises, even when we seem to get in the way.

But if you are unresolved in your thoughts about the resurrection of Jesus, then you need to know that your lack of resolution will not stop God from doing what God has said He will do. You may remain unresolved in your thoughts on what actually happened on that fist Easter morning, but God the Father remains resolved to rescue people through the death and resurrection of God the Son. You have the opportunity to respond. You have the opportunity to follow where the evidence leads.

Second, with Mark ending at 16:8 we can also note that the last words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel are,

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34 (NRSV)

The tragic death of Jesus takes centre stage in the Gospel of Mark. The resurrection of Jesus is not given near as much attention. But the resurrection of Jesus confirms that the death of Christ is effective. Without it, Mark’s Gospel would be a tragedy. But since Jesus has been raised, Mark’s Gospel is good news. There is forgiveness of sin. There is reconciliation with God. There is no resurrection Sunday without Good Friday and Good Friday is not Good without resurrection Sunday.

Finally, Mark’s Gospel ends abruptly because the story goes on. More important than finding out what the women do next now that they have discovered that Jesus is alive – what will you do next?