Having just finished writing the 27-part small group Bible Study series, Building A Covenant Community, many of us have now come to realise just how important the concept of Christian community is. Each of the 27 imperatives (an imperative is something you must do) in Romans 12:9-21 are given by the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul as the gold standard for Christian maturity. From the outset of the first imperative, “Let love be genuine”, it becomes immediate (and perhaps, uncomfortably) obvious that Christ does not tolerate the nonsense of those who say they love God, yet do not belong to a local church. Not one of the 27 imperatives can be done in isolation. Not one! Each of them require a commitment to a New Covenant community. Belonging to such a community is somewhat like belonging to a big family. It requires accepting people as they are, yet challenging them to be what they should be. It requires humbling asking for forgiveness when mistakes are made, yet holding each other to account when wrongs have been committed. As I consider each of these growth imperatives, I realise afresh why I need you in my life.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:18
YOU ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU THINK
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Romans 12:10
In First Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul told his Greek audience that every member of the church was placed there by God to fulfil a function necessary for the health of the church. He used the analogy of a human body. Sometimes we might feel like an ear and lament that we are not a hand. After all, hands get a lot of attention whereas ears seem to do nothing. They just hitch a ride with the head and hang around. I think this ingenious analogy by Paul highlights how we often mistake value for visibility. Unless you’re an ophthalmologist, I doubt whether you really appreciate the true value of ears. That is, of course, unless you’ve ever been in the situation where you went through a tough season in your life and someone with ears used them well to help you through it.
One of the constant topics at our weekly Pastoral Staff meeting is to check on how well we’re doing in caring for those in our church who, like ears, are incredibly valuable; perform an enormously important function; are always there; are often not highly visible; and just like ears, don’t make a lot of noise. These people are one of the main reasons our church is as healthy and attractive as it is!
I don’t want the ‘hands’ in our church to feel unappreciated though. These are the people who open doors; greet people; show people to seats; distribute the communion elements; play musical instruments; sing; bring encouragement from the pulpit over the communion, the offering, and the preached Word. I often think that it demands greater humility to fulfil these highly visible tasks, not less.
¶ For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? First Corinthians 12:14-17
Our church is, as Paul says, like a human body. Like that body, we need all our ‘body parts’. We need you. I need you.
¶ The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” First Corinthians 12:21
NO ONE LEFT BEHIND
One of the frequent comments we receive about our church is just how remarkable it is to people of all ages worshiping together in our church. In the United States, from our experience, it was very common to see that the only time families were together on the day they went to church was when they were in the car on the way to church! We were very surprised to see that upon arrival, children were immediately checked into children’s church; teens went to youth church (where they often just played games together); and we oldies went into ‘big church’. I like that we have a facility that enables us to all worship together. Don’t misunderstood me. I believe in age-appropriate ministry. (I hope we can start our Young Adults ministry soon). And because I believe in families worshiping together – and – in age-appropriate ministry, those who serve in our Kids ministry and Youth Ministry, are helping to make our church effective.
But I don’t want anyone to think that we only particularly focus on the young and very young. This year we are launching ministries designed to minister men, and a new ministry designed for women: Thrive. We are also exploring commencing a new daytime outreach for older folk in our community who may be experiencing isolation. We really do want to be a church for all the family – however that family is comprised (singles/single parents/parents with children/widows/young marrieds/never marrieds). We don’t want to exclude anyone. We don’t want to leave anyone behind. To do this effectively, I need you.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.Never be wise in your own sight. Romans 12:16
YOU ARE NEEDED
I remember when Kim and I came home with a new addition to our family that Tyrone, our first-born, was a little put out that a) his mother had neglected him for a few days, and, b) there was another little person in our home who got some of the attention he used to get. Even though he was very young, he was a little stand-offish from Kim for sometime. I think I’ve seen this same sort of thing in churches over the years. I recall coming to Legana in 1995 when there was a very small band of dedicated members who were praying weekly for people from our community to be saved and added to our church. The odd thing was though, that whenever such a person ventured into our little church they were treated with some suspicion and the existing members seemed to have felt neglected. It wasn’t odd, it was very odd. If you join us in weekly congregational prayer meeting each Sunday night, you will now hear people praying for the hurting, lost, lonely, confused, and broken to come to Christ and into His church – our church. But more impressively, as we are now experiencing God answer these prayers week-by-week we are also seeing these same pray-ers welcoming these people into our church family. I have a very strong sense that these two things (praying and a willingness to be an answer to these prayers) are thedetermining factor for our church’s future. This is why I am being encouraged by the growing numbers of people who are coming back to our Sunday night service to join us in these prayers. I need you to pray in this twofold manner.
I need you because Christ has given you something we need. I need you because I don’t have what you have from Christ. I need you because God has made you in a way that adds beauty to our church. I need you because your contribution into the lives of others is invaluable. I need you because God connects you with people I would never come across. In fact, not only do I need you, I think we need each other.
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:6-8
Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. Daniel 1:3-4, 6
Daniel’s world changed the day the invading King of Babylon forcibly entered Jerusalem. Taken from his family, his familiar surroundings, a language he grew up with, he was confronted with the land of his conquerors where they spoke a foreign language, held radically different views about what it means to be human, an utterly condescending view of his religion, and a diet of food he was forbidden to eat. All the while, he was offered previously unimaginable privileges if he would just compromise on some of his convictions.
¶ But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. Daniel 1:8
Daniel’s people were no longer in charge. The culture he was immersed into hated what he believed and stood for. Yet Daniel resolved not to compromise or back down on what he believed or the convictions he held. Not much older than the young Daniel was the prophet Jeremiah who had written to Daniel and his fellow exiles:
¶ These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon…But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:1, 7
Daniel resolved to do just that. Despite how abominable he found the Babylonians and their ways, he would be a blessing to them without compromising his convictions!
Daniel was away from his parents’ supervision. He no longer had the priests of the temple or the elders of his people holding him to account – yet, he chose to seek God. He chose to pray. He chose to the Scriptures, especially the prophecies of Jeremiah. In short, he deepened his relationship with God. He learned how to hear God and perceive his voice in dreams and visions.
Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel 2:19
He didn’t, and couldn’t, do this in isolation from other believers. He knew that time spent in worship with God’s people was essential to his own spiritual health – no matter how few they were in number.
¶ Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Daniel 2:17-18
Over time Daniel, despite his ethnicity, despite his religious convictions, despite his age, won the respect of the Babylonians.
¶ Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. The king answered and said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.” Daniel 2:46-47
Daniel was prepared to consistently live out his faith in the God of the Bible without the need for others to agree with him. The result for Daniel was the widespread respect and admiration by the Babylonians for his proven character.
Do you see a man skillful in his work?
He will stand before kings;
he will not stand before obscure men. Proverbs 22:29
Daniel proved himself to be a man who could carry responsibility. He sought to live in obedience to the word of the Lord through Jeremiah and to be a blessing to the people and land to where he had been sent (Jeremiah 27).
¶ Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. Daniel 5:29
With the enormous responsibility that Daniel received, he continued to maintain his devotion to the Lord. His religious commitment in no way diminished his ability to serve in the government of Babylon.
Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Daniel 6:3-4
As Daniel aged and weathered life’s storms, his heart enlarged for people and their situations. He could be forgiven for growing increasingly bitter about all the negative aspects he had been through (exile, friends thrown into a fiery furnace, threatened with death by the king, cast into a den of lions, the overthrow of the kingdom and his position in it). Instead, as Daniel continued to grow in his relationship with God he became increasingly aware of the plight of others. Not only did Daniel become sensitive to those in distant lands, he also became concerned for the plight of people – for generations to come!
The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true, but seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.” ¶ And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king’s business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it. Daniel 8:26-27
Daniel’s view of his life was enlarged over time from concerns about his own life and friends, to concerns about people he did not know or had ever met. He even became concerned for people yet to be born. His vision of the future went from thinking a few years ahead to thinking about the next few hundred years ahead! This concern for people beyond a person’s own postcode and era is the common experience of those who walk a long time with Christ.
in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. ¶ Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. Daniel 9:2-3
Near the end of Daniel’s life he received increasing revelations about the coming Messiah and the end of the Old Covenant and its elements (the temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices – Dan. 9:27).
¶ “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Daniel 12:1, 9
DANIEL’S LESSONS FOR FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST
I find the lessons from Daniel’s life to be both inspiring and relevant for where our culture is at now. It is my hope that this brief overview will encourage you to consider more of the lessons to be gleaned and applied from the Statesman-Prophet Daniel’s life. If you receive this encouragement, I suspect that you will at least conclude that Daniel should inspire us to:
Live uncompromising lives in devotion to Christ and His Word without fear of man (Prov. 29:25).
Be led by the Holy Spirit to become deeply spiritual.
Develop increasing concern for our broader community – despite their possible rejection of us.
It has been one of our family traditions which our children were introduced to from the moment they could talk, that whenever we were driving to church on a Sunday, each family member would pray. Our children learned to pray for our church by listening to Kim and I pray. Although, it became apparent to us that when they were young they didn’t quite grasp some of the nuances of what was being prayed. Hearing us pray for our church to grow, when it was the turn of one of our children to pray, they began to ask God with great gusto for grass at our church to grow! Over time, they each of them began to learn how to pray for our church – especially the Sunday service that we were driving to. I not only want each of my children to continue to develop in how they pray, I would also like each person in our church to learn how to pray more effectively for our church. Here’s how.
Every church has a ‘why’. To paraphrase Rick Warren, every church should be driven by their ‘why’. Every church that has clear sense of their ‘why’ is going to have people praying more effectively for their church. Our ‘why’ is not unique to us. Many (if not most) churches would say they have the same ‘why’ as us – after all, we’re all reading the same Bible. Our ‘why’ is based on the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) and the Greatest Commandments (Matt. 22:37-40). These ‘why’ informants guide us to be a community which: (i) fosters worship of God; (ii) encourages caring fellowship with other believers; (iii) delivers God’s Word to empower Christlikeness; and, (iv) cooperates to reach out to those who are without Christ (we sum these up as: enthrone / encourage / empower / engage).
But, any church will conduct their ‘why’ with the fragrance of the gifts that God has placed within it. If the pastor has the gift of evangelist, the church will probably emphasize reaching out, and most of the church will probably focus their prayers toward seeing the lost saved. However, such a church is in danger of a ‘why’ imbalance by possibly neglecting the other essential ‘whys’. This is why such a church needs, what every church needs – people who know how to pray appropriately for it.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, Second Thessalonians 1:11
WHY PRAY FOR YOUR CHURCH
Yesterday morning, in my daily Bible reading, I read in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus told His disciples that certain miracles can only happen with (much) prayer.
And He said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Mark 9:29
A few hundred years after Jesus said these words, a monk was copying this sacred text as part of his life’s work and could hardly believe that prayer alone could be the cause of such a miracle. In the margin he added the words “and fasting” (something monks had to do a lot of). Later monks copied this baffled monk’s addition words into the text proper, and eventually the King James Version translators incorporated into their translation. But as any good recent English translation will point out in its footnotes, every older copy of the Gospel of Mark does not have these two extra words in their text. This makes Christ’s words about prayer worth taking note of more carefully. Added to this, the next time you are reading through the Gospel of Luke, note how often he describes Jesus spending nights in prayer. Then consider why He did.
After you’ve done a bit of pondering on this, consider that the Apostle Paul prayed more for the churches that he planted than he did preaching or writing to them. And to help you consider this, let’s conclude by noting how he prayed for these churches and why it should influence how we pray for our church.
¶ Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. Hebrews 13:18
WHAT TO PRAY FOR YOUR CHURCH
¶ And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14
1. Don’t cease praying for your church, especially its leaders
2. Ask God to fill everyone in our church with the knowledge of God’s will, especially our church’s leaders
3. Ask God to give your brothers and sisters spiritual wisdom and understanding into God’s Word, especially our church’s leaders
4. Ask God to enable those in our church to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, especially our church’s leaders
5. Pray that your church family will be fully pleasing to God, especially our church’s leaders
6. Pray that everyone in our church will bear fruit in every good work, especially our church’s leaders
7. Pray that your brothers and sisters will grow in their knowledge of Christ, especially your church’s leaders
8. Ask God to strengthen everyone in our church with the Holy Spirit’s power, especially our church’s leaders
9. Pray that God will enable our church family to endure life’s difficulties with patience and joy, especially our church’s leaders
10. Ask God to deliver those who attend our church, but are yet to surrender to Christ, from the domain of darkness into His glorious kingdom of His Son, that they might know redemption and forgiveness from God.