Looking Back and Looking Ahead
Happy Anniversary! The month of October is anniversary month at Schoeneck, and this year we will be celebrating the church’s 278th anniversary. Instead of just celebrating on a single day, we will be taking the whole month to thank God for His faithfulness in preserving our church through so many generations. Each Sunday we will set aside a moment in worship to tell the stories of different members of Schoeneck, either past or present, who gave their lives to be servants of God. We will learn about how they glorified God with their lives and how we can go and do likewise. In a way, we will be taking time to look back, and we will also be taking time to look ahead.
In our commitment of faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord emphasizes the importance of looking back. God commands that we do it, and it is actually to our benefit that we do. Psalm 78:4,5-7 declares, “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord…He decreed statues for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands.” This psalm tells of the importance of passing on the stories of God’s greatness from one generation to the next. Again, God commands that we do it. Why? A clue is found in verse seven. The result of sharing our testimonies of God is that this new generation would then “put their trust in God.” Passing on our faith stories helps others to believe. It makes God real for them so that they too would want to believe in Him and follow.
We have to do this. We have to keep on sharing the recorded history of God’s deliverance and mercy to our congregation. By doing so, God is brought closer to all of us. Our love of Him is increased, and our commitment to Him is strengthened.
Next to sharing stories of the past, we also look to the future. Just as important as it is to think of where we have been, we also have to remember that God calls us to the now as well. These stories of God’s praiseworthy acts of year’s past are meant to quicken and bolster our faith, but they aren’t meant to stagnate it. We can easily get lost in talking about the “good-old days” and forget that God calls us to do something today. We can easily succumb to holding on to the baton given to us by the previous generation instead of taking it and continuing the race. Our ancestors have done a good job in being faithful to God’s call to let His light shine in their time. What will we do to keep that light shining?
Joshua in the Old Testament gives us a great example to follow. Like us, he too was handed a baton, and a pretty big one. Moses was the leader of the people of Israel. He brought them out of Egypt and guided them through the wilderness. Before Moses died, he gave the reigns of leadership over to Joshua. It would have been easy for Joshua to look at the profound ways God had used Moses and think, “There is no way I can live up to that!” It would’ve been easy for him to wonder how he would ever be half the servant of God Moses was. But he didn’t. Rather than live off the revenue of Moses’ achievements or get stuck in feelings of inadequacy, Joshua heard and responded to the Lord’s command to keep on going. God said to Joshua, “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give them” (Joshua 1:2). Joshua’s response? We read, “So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: ‘Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’” (Joshua 1:10-11). Joshua did not hesitate. He saw that there was work to do, and he carried on the Lord’s mission. Maybe he had a moment of fear of how he might measure up to Moses. But in that moment, perhaps he remembered that though Moses did great things, he was simply a man with a stuttering problem who allowed God to use him (Exodus 4:10). And look at the result.
Like Joshua, we too have work that God has given us to do. We have children who need to be taught about the salvation of the Lord. We have a community in need of the Gospel and God’s hand of mercy. We have a confused generation in need of God’s truth. Looking at the past, we see the hard labor others have given for the Lord. Can we give the same to God today?
Revs. Garritt and Sanette Fleming, Pastors
Is the Church relevant today?
Many churches and denominations are experiencing a steady decline in church attendance and membership. Whenever we speak with individuals and families who haven’t been to church in a long while or those who only attend seasonally, we typically ask them how they are doing. We ask them out of genuine concern about the status of their lives and to see if there are any needs that we as the body of Jesus Christ here at Schoeneck are able to meet. Unbeknownst to us, the answers that are given are typically telling of why the Church, particularly in the western hemisphere, is on a steady decline.
We can often hear the tiredness, the fatigue, and occasional stress as individuals and families express to us just how jammed-packed their schedules are. Thus, making it to worship or participating in a church activity simply isn’t feasible for them. Translation: there is no opening on their schedule for Jesus Christ. Let that sink in for a moment.
This is not a “casting of stones” movement. We have all been there at one point or another. Having been there, however, and understanding the situation doesn’t legitimize the excuses. We are choosing to prioritize everything in the world above Jesus Christ who gave His life for us. This is a conversation the church ought to be having openly. Again, this is not a “casting of stones” but rather diagnosing a problem in hopes that we will be willing to engage in honest dialogue, and we will be willing to seek the Lord’s treatment plan.
This is a spiritual “pandemic” facing many western churches, and it forces us to wrestle with some questions. These are some of the questions we will raise in our sermon series for September 2021. The questions are listed below. We invite you to take some time to ponder these questions in you heart.
Is the Church relevant today?
Can’t I just worship at home by myself permanently? What is the difference between being spiritual and religious? Do we need a church building? Do I really believe in Jesus?
Can a true believer in Jesus really abandon worship? How does this affect our witness, our faith?
When did we become comfortable with putting Christ out of our lives?
Am I willing to change? Am I willing to do and speak about this?
Revs. Garritt and Sanette Fleming, Pastors
From Screens to Relationship
In a 2016 report from Apple, the tech company reported that the average iPhone user unlocked his or her phone approximately eighty times per day. One can only imagine how that number has only increased over the last five years as more people have come to own smartphones, and more time has been spent on them especially during the pandemic. While electronic tools like our iPhones or Android phones have enhanced our lives in many ways, they have also subtracted from them as well. Whereas we used to drive by the bus stop in the morning to see youth conversing with one another, now we see each youth’s eyes glued to a phone. In reference to the iPhone statistic mentioned above, Christian writer Arlene Pellicane wonders how life would be different if, for all the times we reach to unlock our phones, we instead reached out to our spouse to interact with him or her.1 Can you say that you have pursued your husband or wife even just eight times a day, let alone eighty times a day? Can you say that you have reached out to a friend or family member more than just a couple of times per week?
Why is it that we have become so comfortable reaching out to our devices instead of people? Our devices can do just about everything but wash the car. On them, we can make dinner reservations, pay our bills, check on the game, read our emails, listen to music, watch TV, and this is just touching the tip of the iceberg. With all these distractions, it’s no wonder we reach out to our phones instead of people. Our pocket-sized computers are an endless source of entertainment. There is also the truth that relationships sometimes require work. They aren’t always easy. Differences of opinions must be talked about. Feelings need to be shared. Time needs to be spent paying attention to and listening to the other person. This can be tiring. It can be risky. Sharing feelings risks someone getting hurt. Pulling out our phones seems so much easier, so much safer. While our devices aren’t inherently evil, they often take the place of something that is more difficult but that is far more important and life-giving: relationships.
Rather than encourage us to live separate lives, Scripture implores us to move closer to one another in our thoughts and feelings. The phrase “One another” occurs at least 90 times in the New Testament.2 The command to love one another occurs at least 16 times3 and is accompanied by other commands such as these: be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10), honor one another (Romans 12:16), admonish one another (Romans 15:14), serve one another (Galatians 5:13), teach one another (Colossians 3:13), encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), pray for one another (James 5:16), confess your faults to one another (James 5:16). And the list goes on. The early church serves as an example of the way we ought to be prioritizing relationships in our lives. After approximately three thousand people joined the church on the day of Pentecost, the ranks of new believers didn’t just go about their business but rather they committed to being together, growing in faith together, spending time together: “All believers were together and had everything in common…every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts” (Acts 2:46).
“But relationships are hard!” you say. God no doubt knows that, and Scripture encourages us not to give up on them despite this: “If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). “If you are offering your gift on the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). “Do not let the sun go down on youranger” (Ephesians 4:26). All these Scriptures point out the importance of persevering in our relationships.
“But what for?” After all, our phones require much less effort and are guaranteed to make us smile for at least a little while. The answer is that we should pursue relationships because God has commanded us to, and also because like all of God’s commands, there is great reward in keeping them (Psalm 19:11). Sure we can find relief in the devices that entertain us, but what happens when life gets tough? We need friends, we need our spouse, we need our church family, and we need God who binds us together and gives us the words and the heart to help one another. We need relationship. As Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us, “Two are better than one…if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” We need each other. We can find comfort and joy in many things, but God describes an even greater joy that flows out of good relationships, ones that we have fought hard to maintain and restore. God’s word says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) You can have the finest food on the table, the best phones in the hand, the nicest house on the block, but if that home is devoid of love and relationship, it will always be missing something.
This week, instead of swiping to unlock your phone, reach out to your spouse. Reach out to a friend or neighbor. Ask them about their day. Build relationship. Work through the challenges. And be encouraged because in doing this, you are doing the work God calls you to do, and in doing it there is great reward.
Pastors Garritt and Sanette
1 “Taking Back Your Home from the Phone,” Family Life Today, July 12, 2021: https://www.familylife.com/podcast/familylife-today/taking-back-your-home-from -the-phone/.
3 “The ‘One Another’ Passages,”https://www.mmlearn.org/hubfs/docs/ OneAnotherPassages.pdf.
What Will our New Normal Be?
It is easy to find ourselves desperate to reclaim lost time, lost opportunities, lost fellowship, and the loss of what we once called our normal routine. We all have done it or are doing it, trying with all our might to seek after and reclaim that which we perceive we have lost regardless of what may have caused the experience of loss.
In Matthew chapter 6, the same chapter in which Jesus taught us the Lord’s Prayer, He also taught us what it is we are to truly seek after. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) Have you paused to earnestly, desperately seek after lost faith and intimacy with Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior? Have you paused to seek Him first above all else? Let’s be clear, we are not talking about the loss of a loved one, though in some ways this, too, may apply. Nevertheless, we are talking about the loss of everything else.
God may not have caused every experience of loss, but He certainly does not waste these experiences. In the loss of time, opportunities and so on, we may find ourselves in a position in which everything that once hindered, distracted, and enticed us away from true relationship and worship of Christ have been stripped away. By stripping these things away, we can see clearly that which our hearts truly desire. You know, the Scripture tells us that where our treasure is, there we may also find our heart. (Matthew 6:21) Perhaps God is using loss as a way to reveal what’s truly in our hearts and to draw us back to Him.
Are you desiring Christ, His word, His Kingdom, His Righteousness? Are you coming back to the sanctuary to worship God or are you coming back for something else?
Whatever your loss is, don’t allow it to pull your heart into the wrong places and wrong desires. Rather invite Christ into your loss. He can do for us what no one and nothing can. Jesus values each and every one of us, and He is here for us. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26)
Let us covenant together to seek first Christ’s kingdom and His righteousness in our spaces of loss, whatever those losses may be. Let us covenant to not want what we had, but seek after what Christ has prepared for us in the steps we take next. Perhaps Jesus Christ is calling us to a different, a better, and a more purposeful “normal” guided by His Holy Spirit living inside of us.
Proverbs 3:6 says, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”
Love and Blessings Always,
Revs. Garritt and Sanette Fleming and Baby Esther