But to each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’ (When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?…) Ephesians 4:7-9 Christmas is real. The Messiah came to the world in the flesh. God “descended” to us because that’s how God is. God’s love never quits seeking out the lost. In our humorous “Christmas at the Movies” series, we learned that in Buddy the Elf we also see God, on a quest to bring us back to the ‘Nice List.’ Not because we are naughty, but because we are broken. With Christ at the center of the church, will we, too, descend? Will the church follow the path Jesus set before us, I wonder? See if you can locate on your GPS where Jesus tells our patriarch, Peter, to go. “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Did you catch it? Did Jesus say, “take my church to heaven?” No, Jesus tells Peter to take the church to “Hades.” Hell. “Go to Hell, Church!” Who says this? Our Lord said it! You know that gates don’t travel. Where would the church need to be in order that the gates of Hades fail in prevailing against it? Jesus wanted the church to be on the edge of Hell. Jesus declared that he came for the sinners, the sin-sick, not the healthy. He called sinners like me to the Gospel feast, and the Great Commission is for us to do likewise. Friends, the church is supposed to be on the offense. Jesus never said that our gates withstand Hell, but that Hell’s gates fall under our invasion. With 90% of churches in decline, I wonder if we need to check our playbook and see how our offense is doing. Is this decline because there is no hell on earth to rally against? Is there no brokenness? Is no one hungry or suffering? Let’s stop messing around with God. There are 78 million young adults in the Millennial Generation, and only 15% of them go to church. Who will put together a game plan to reach them? Never believe that we’re too old for this. Psalm 71:18 declares, “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” The psalmist inspires us to pray, “Lord, make us still effective to reach the next generation with your good news.” If you want to be playful about God’s vision, remember that it is like the ‘Code of the Elves’ that states, “There’s room for everyone on the Nice list.” If you want to get serious, remember that God promised Abraham that “all nations” would be blessed through him. God promised Isaiah that he would be “a light to the nations.” If you need hopeful encouragement, recall that Simeon said of Jesus that he would “bring all to salvation.” If you need a rebellious message, recall that the Old Testament forbade astrology, yet that old rascal, God, goes and uses a star to proclaim Jesus to the Magi of the East. God never stops seeking us, all of us. Jesus carried out God’s game plan of salvation. The work of inviting those who aren’t here yet is ours to continue. Some will sign up for this effort in pencil and in six months erase their names. Others will sign up in pen and after a year or two decide that St. Andrew Church’s vision isn’t theirs and leave. But others of you will sign in blood. You will be God’s “F.A.T. people” (Faithful, Available, Teachable) who stay and do great things. May God bless your commitment in 2016. Pastor Biel
The comic genius Lucille Ball told us, “The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.” One of the greatest lies is that we are “nobodies”. Most of us have at some point felt like a nobody – insignificant, invisible, worthless. The Gospel of Luke is a first century portrait of Jesus with a particular focus on his ministry with those who were considered nobodies. This August, join us as we read through the Gospel of Luke together. Each week, we’ll turn our attention to specific stories that illustrate Jesus’ concern for those who were marginalized by society, and as we do, we’ll hear his word for our lives today. Join us for “The Gospel of the Nobodies.”
In a home near you…Friendly chatter warms the living room as drinks arrive. In the other room children’s laughter bubbles up. Led by the Spirit, we share stories that connect us. In response to a short video we weave questions and answers, convictions and doubt, wisdom and hope and prayer. Together we foster a love of Jesus. Together we dedicate ourselves to life ordered around God’s love for us. You can be a part of such a movement with the small group study, “Dare to Dream” by Mike Slaughter beginning in mid-September.
Our last all-church small group this past spring drew 24 participants into 3 homes to pray and learn about John Wesley together. I know our response to six weeks of “Dare to Dream” can be even greater this autumn. Books will soon be available to purchase. Perhaps you’d like to open your home to this kind of experience.
I hope you’ll live into the expectation we have at St. Andrew Church that EVERY MEMBER is growing in their faith. Attending worship, daily prayer, Bible study, giving, and participation in a small group are hallmarks of a growing disciple.
In Christ, Pastor Biel