Our church theme this year at Amazing Grace Church is Practicing the Presence of God. The first two services of 2017 introduced this theme and set the foundation for the year. Just in case you missed these (or if you want a review), I'd like to explain them here.
This theme emerged from a couple of different concerns. As we entered the New Year, we sensed an urgency to do our part to help the Christian church, and our church in particular, get back on course, back to its central identity and mission. We sensed that millions of Christians in America, and even some in our own church, were being distracted by fear, anger, pride, hatred, suspicion, disillusionment, depression, and a host of other ailments. We were especially concerned for those whose lives and relationships were being compromised and diminished by anger and bitterness. We sensed a calling to return to the "pure and simple devotion to Christ" (I Cor. 11:3). Our prayer for our church is that we would "grow up healthy in God, robust in love" (Eph. 4:16 MSG). Our goal is that we would emphasize the main, central practices and purposes of the church - that we would keep it simple, go back to the basics, and become settled and grounded again on the ancient path, the way of Jesus (Jeremiah 6:16). The Apostle Paul summarizes this goal of ours in Eph. 4:
I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. (Eph. 4, MSG).
In the first service of the year, we emphasized the first part of the theme: PRACTICING. The next week, we focused on the PRESENCE OF GOD. Here's how it all fits together:
1. We live in a World Gone Wrong. Even though God created the world "good and beautiful" - the world is now full of violence, death, disease, and sorrow - all because of sin and rebellion.
2. God has not given up on the world, however, and is committed to healing the world, righting the wrongs, rescuing the oppressed, reconciling relationships, forgiving sins, and renewing the world. In other words, God is going to change the world for the better. He is going to heal his broken good creation.
3. Ultimately, God will change the world through the faithful presence of Christ in the world: the body of Christ, THE CHURCH.
4. It is not our job to change the world. It is God's job to change the world. It is our job to be God's FAITHFUL PRESENCE. Our calling is to be God's presence, his dwelling place, at worship and in the world (loving one another and our neighbors).
5. We will not be the presence of God automatically, however. To be formed into the presence of God we must PRACTICE THE PRACTICES of the Christian faith. We are not formed so much by what we believe or by what we think. We are formed by what we DO - and we do what we love. We love what we do and we do what we love. We ARE what we LOVE. (And we may not love what we think we do). We must not underestimate the power of habit. This year we will look again at the basic formational practices of the church, especially the Lord's Supper, the Word, prayer, acts of service, corporate worship, etc. Another way to put it: what we do (our regular habits) forms our hearts. And our hearts determine our life. That's why the Biblical wisdom says:
Above all else, guard your hearts for everything you do flows from it. (Prov. 4:23)
6. We will not THINK our way to a healthy happiness and holiness. We will not BELIEVE our way to happiness and holiness. We will not FEEL our way to happiness and holiness. We can only ACT our way. If you want your family more healthy and whole, more Christlike, twelve months from now - IT WILL BE BASED ON YOUR DAILY AND WEEKLY HABITS. You and I will either be FORMED by the WORLD or FORMED by Christ and his CHURCH. We will either make Christ and the PRACTICES of the Christian Faith central and vitally important in our daily lives, or we will be formed by the secular liturgies and practices of which we aren't even aware. The biblical command, "TRAIN YOURSELF TO BE GODLY" (I Tim. 4:7), was referring to these disciplines (habits, practices) that God uses to grow us up in Christ.
7. The local church is the body of Christ, the dwelling place of God, THE PRESENCE OF GOD, his sacred and holy temple (I Cor. 3:16). That's why God makes our loyal participation in our home church such a serious matter. If we try to harm or destroy the church - or cause division - we are in grave danger. "If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for God's temple is sacred, and you together are that temple." (I Cor. 3:17).
Grace and Peace to all of you. Looking forward to following the Holy Spirit together in 2017. If you have any questions about this theme, please contact any pastor. Also, remember that these sermons are online on this website. May God bless you.