Dear Pastors and Ministry Leaders,
Thanks for your prayers! The move of our international Home Office from Glendora, CA, to Charlotte, NC, is now complete. It’s been an exciting and busy time. Moving employees, supplies, records, furniture, etc. across 2,400 miles was no small operation!
Despite some challenges, surprises and a lot of work, the move has given us opportunity to hit the “refresh button,” yielding several benefits. First are the significant financial savings (see Mat Morgan’s comments below). Second, the relocation provides opportunity to re-brand GCI a bit (see Michelle Fleming’s comments below).
Third, our new office building (pictured above) is more functional. Our office space in Glendora was about twice as large as what we now occupy in Charlotte. In Glendora, our staff members were widely separated, with break rooms and restrooms in the far corners of the building. As a result, there was a lack of “rubbing shoulders” between the various Home Office departments. Our new building in Charlotte has one central break room and one bank of restrooms, and is laid out more efficiently otherwise. As a result, our staff will interact frequently and naturally, helping us implement new ways of working together, yielding a more interactive work culture than we were able to have in Glendora.
We are pleased with the appearance and functionality of our new office building. It represents well who we are as an international denomination and it gives our Home Office staff a total refresh. Each staff member was given the opportunity to design their new work space, giving them a sense of ownership. Most of these work spaces have adjustable desks so employees can stand while working if they choose.
As most of you know, GCI’s Home Office was in Southern California for the past 70 years. While there were many benefits in being located there, the increasingly high cost of living had become a real hardship for our staff members—making home ownership nearly impossible, especially for younger employees. Charlotte has affordable housing, allowing us to hire younger men and women to round out our staff.
Charlotte is also a great location for our Home Office because it is accessible to a greater number of our U.S. congregations. Over 2/3 of those congregations are in the Eastern part of the U.S., with North Carolina squarely in the middle. We trust that our new location will make GCI and GCS meetings and classes held at the Home Office accessible to more people. We look forward to entertaining more visitors—please take this as a standing invitation to drop by. One of our Home Office staff members will gladly give you the fifty-cent tour!
The greatest challenge related to the move involved the restructuring of our Home Office staff. I am deeply grateful for the GCI employees who served on our Home Office staff in Glendora. Fourteen of them did not move with us to Charlotte. Of those, four will continue as employees (working remotely) and several have retired from GCI employment (for a tribute to several of them from Joseph Tkach, click here). The ones not moving, including GCI President Joseph Tkach, gave us a beautiful, gracious send-off. We will dearly miss these wonderful coworkers, most of whom have been employed by GCI from 20 to as many as 43 years.
Nine of our Glendora Home Office employees have now relocated to Charlotte. In doing so, most have taken on greater responsibilities. To fill out this staff, we are planning four or five strategic hires in the near future. It is our goal that our Home Office staff and facilities will show our members and the public that we are careful and thoughtful about the stewardship of the church. We also want them to see that, rather than standing still, we’re moving forward in ways that will serve GCI well for many years to come.
Relocating the Home Office gives me as GCI’s incoming President, the opportunity to review how we operate and to establish my style of leadership. The new Home Office team is working to reshape the culture of GCI for its next chapter. What an awesome opportunity and responsibility that is—thanks for your continuing prayers!
From Mat Morgan, GCI Treasurer
One of my responsibilities as GCI’s Treasurer is to make saving and refocusing our resources a priority in the way we do business. Relocation often re-energizes an organization by encouraging a reassessment of all operations, and by providing invigorating opportunities and fresh challenges for employees and the organization. This move encouraged all of us at the Home Office to look at why and how we do what we do, leading to better use of human and financial resources.
GCI will benefit from the move in cost savings and efficiency in several areas, allowing funds to be used in new and better ways to support our mission. For example, utility, insurance and employee costs will be significantly lower. Earthquake insurance, which was costing the church about $40,000/year, will no longer be needed. Sales taxes in North Carolina, unlike California, are refundable to churches, saving GCI thousands this year alone. Closer proximity to more congregations and the Charlotte International Airport (see the map below) provides financial benefits. Computer and phone systems have been upgraded providing efficiencies in work flow and reduced maintenance. Many GCI and GCS records have been digitized, reducing storage and retrieval costs. We expect even more financial benefits next year after the office and employees are settled in. Though moving and reorganizing have not been easy, we’re excited about the cost savings and the sharper mission-focus, which will benefit GCI for many years to come.
From Michelle Fleming, Communications and Training Coordinator
Moving to Charlotte begins a new chapter for GCI media, and we have updated our branding to reflect the changes being made. Our new branding honors our history while telling who we are today – an international mosaic of churches knit together by grace, who emphasize the gracious triune God. We are committed to a life transformed, lovingly and enthusiastically proclaiming the incarnational Trinitarian gospel.
Earlier this month we launched the GCI Resources website (Resources.GCI.org) and we’ll soon be re-launching our main website (www.gci.org/). Both websites are aligned with GCI’s new denominational branding, with the Resources website providing downloadable versions of our new GCI logo and other graphics, and a branding book that, in addition to giving guidelines for using the logo, shares the story of the transformation the Holy Spirit is bringing about in GCI.
[Note: Michelle’s job responsibilities and title will be changing in June when she becomes GCI Media Director.]
In the future, I hope many of you will visit our new Home Office. In the meantime, please continue to pray for us as we settle in and continue to follow the Spirit on the exciting path God has mapped out for us. As we often say in GCI, “Thank you Holy Spirit, we’ll have more, please.”
Blessings to each one of you,
Greg Williams, GCI Vice President
PS: Here is contact information for our new Home Office:
Address: 3120 Whitehall Park Drive, Charlotte, NC 28273
Member and donation services phone: 980-495-3977
Church Administration phone: 980-495-3976
By Rick Shallenberger, GCI-USA Regional Pastor
This is number 8 in Rick's series on leadership. For other articles in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.
My friend asked me if I wanted a job helping him install sprinkler systems. I didn’t know the first thing about sprinkler systems, but I needed a job, so I said yes. Besides, how difficult could it be to glue some pipes together, add some sprinkler heads and hook the system up to water. I was completely unaware of how little I knew about installing sprinkler systems. First of all, it’s called an irrigation system, not sprinkler systems, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
GiANT Worldwide’s Apprenticeship Square (see below) provides a clear path for multiplying mentors—mentoring mentors to be mentors. This relates directly to one of GCI’s primary goals–-to develop leaders who then develop more leaders. (Hmmm, sounds a lot like making disciples who make disciples.)
Let me use my experience learning about irrigation to show how this square works. As you read my story, think of your own journey as you learned your job skill. Whether you are a brick-layer or a ministry leader, the four stages of the Apprenticeship Square are applicable.
Within the first hour of work, I began to realize how little I knew about irrigation. Just from observation I knew an irrigation system included pipe, glue, sprinkler heads and water. I also knew it must require digging trenches to lay pipe. As I spent time with my friend, it seemed every time I turned around I found out there was something else I did not know. I went home after that first day marveling at how much there was to installing irrigation systems. And that was just the first day.
I was unconsciously incompetent, I had no idea what I did not know. And the only way I could learn was by observing. Thus, the first step in mentoring is the idea, “I do, you watch.” My friend told me to not do anything until I had first watched him. Over the next several days I watched him as he talked to the owners about what they wanted. I watched him take note of the different trees, plants and gardens in the landscape. I watched him take several measurements – far more than I would have imagined. I watched him check the water pressure to determine the number of valves he would need. Then I watched as he laid out a plan on paper before ever taking a shovel out and breaking ground. This watching confirmed again and again how much I did not know. But this was just the first part of my learning.
In this second step, “I do, you help,” I was able to get my hands dirty by helping my friend. I helped him dig the trenches and lay the pipe. I learned how to glue – who knew you needed to prime the pipe before you glued it. I learned about different pipe fittings and how if you don’t get the fitting in the right direction before the glue dries, you’ve just made your job more difficult. I learned about valves and how to hook them up to the water source. I learned how important it is to flush the system before adding the sprinkler heads. (You learn this when your sprinkler heads get clogged up with glue because you didn’t flush the system.) And I kept learning there was more to learn. I became aware of how much I needed to learn about each step of the process. I learned a great deal from the mistakes I kept making, becoming more and more aware of my incompetence.
The challenge in this second step is to keep moving forward and not fall into the pit of despair. When you become conscious of your incompetence, it’s easy to get discouraged and wonder if you will ever get it right. You might start questioning more than your ability to do the job—you might start to question your ability to even learn. This is when a good mentor steps in and gives encouragement. A good mentor understands mistakes will be made and they are valuable lessons.
I had a pastoral intern who had made some significant mistakes and got quite discouraged. During one of our weekly debriefs, I noted he was discouraged and asked what was on his mind. He said, “Well, I’m waiting for you to address my mistakes.” I told him I didn’t feel the need to address them. He had already learned from them. “Will you make the same mistake the next time?” I asked. “No,” he responded, “once was enough.” Lesson learned!
It wasn’t long before my friend gave me the tools and told me to do things while he watched. As I progressed in my skills, he would leave me with a part of the job and remind me he was just a shout away. He would check each stage of my development, helping me become more and more competent. In this “you do, I help” stage, I was aware of what I knew. I carefully measured, designed, dug trenches, laid pipe, primed and glued all the fittings, hooked up to water mains, flushed systems, added and adjusted sprinkler heads, and set up automatic irrigation controllers. My friend came to check my work less and less as the weeks progressed. I became more and more confident in my ability to do the job. I was aware of my competence.
Over time, I learned to do much of the work without thinking. I didn’t have to stop and think about the next step—I did it automatically. I learned to walk into a yard and know what was necessary within a few minutes. I could pretty well determine where I needed sprinkler heads, how much pipe I would need, and what type of controller would work best. I had a design in my head before I even picked up pencil and papers. This final step in the apprenticeship square is known as the “You do, I watch” step. My friend could work on a different project in the yard, or even leave me at a job and know everything was going to be done and done well. I was so competent in what I was doing, I didn’t have to think through all the steps.
It is in this stage that the apprenticeship square can continue and “you” become the “I” as you find a new person to train (mentor).
This article is by Santiago Lange, one of GCI’s pastors in Germany.
A story is told about the great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (pictured at right), the first person to discover the magnetic meridian of the North Pole and to discover the South Pole. On one of his journeys, Amundsen took a homing pigeon with him. When he had finally reached the top of the world, he opened the bird’s cage and set it free. Imagine the joy of Amundsen’s wife, back in Norway, when she looked up from the doorway of her home and saw the pigeon circling in the sky above. No doubt she exclaimed, “He’s alive!”
Empowered for mission
So it was when Jesus’ disciples first encountered the risen Lord. And though they were sad when he ascended to heaven, they clung to Jesus’ promise that he would send them “another Comforter” (John 14:16, KJV). What joy, then, when the Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost. The disciples were given a powerful, continual reminder that Jesus was alive and victorious.
It’s the same for us today. Jesus is alive and at work, empowering us by his Spirit to fulfill the mission he gave us to “make disciples” (Matt. 28:18-20). Concerning the Spirit’s central role in that mission, John Stott wrote this:
Without the Holy Spirit, Christian discipleship would be inconceivable, even impossible. There can be no life without the life-giver, no understanding without the Spirit of Truth, no fellowship without the unity of the Spirit, no Christlikeness of character apart from his fruit, and no effective witness without his power. As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead.
Following the lead of the Spirit in fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission involves church growth, but what direction should that growth take? Some say the church should focus on growing upward—reaching up to God in worship. Others say the church should focus on growing inward—reaching in to help the church become a more loving community. Still others say the church should focus on growing outward—reaching out to help unbelievers develop a relationship with Jesus. So which is it? Should our focus as a church be on reaching up, or in, our out? When we examine the priorities and methods of the early church, we see that they were led by the Spirit to focus on all three:
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:42-47, KJV)
We may wonder if it’s fair to examine the growth of the church immediately after the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost. Wasn’t the key to its growth the power of the Spirit rather than the activities of the church? The answer is that the growth they experienced involved both. Yes, these first Christians depended upon the power of the Holy Spirit to produce the growth, but they also were active participants with the Spirit in bringing about that growth. The same applies in the church today. The power of God is available to us, but we need to let that power flow through us.
The church grew upward
On that day of Pentecost, the power of the Holy Spirit came upon the assembled followers of Jesus. Due to their Spirit-empowered efforts, including Peter’s proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, 3,000 people were converted and baptized. This newly-formed church then devoted itself to worshiping God through receiving the Apostles’ teaching, breaking bread (sharing the Lord’s Supper) and in prayer. As a result, “fear” came upon that group—not fear of other people, but reverence for the Lord as they acknowledged God’s mighty power and their utter dependence upon him.
When it comes to church growth (both qualitatively and quantitatively), this upwardly-focused worship of God is first priority. As we grow in our communion with God, in Christ, by the Spirit, we become walking, talking advertisements to the world around us of the goodness and glory of God. As people see our desire to worship God, we become signs that point people to Jesus Christ.
The church grew inward
In Acts 2, we are told that the followers of Jesus were “together,” experiencing a profound sense of “fellowship.” That fellowship included sharing their material possessions with each other, as well as worshiping together. Today, as we come together in mutual care and worship, we do so as brothers and sisters in Christ. Our reaching up to God in worship should lead to growth in oneness as a community. Jesus tells us that our relationship with him cannot be separated from our relationship with each other. In John 13:34, he gave us a “new commandment” that we are to love each other in the way he loves us. As we obey, the church grows inwardly.
The church grew outward
The Holy Spirit led the Acts 2 church to begin reaching out to those around them with words and actions that proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ. When Peter and John went to the temple to pray, they encountered a lame man who interrupted them, asking for alms. Didn’t this cripple realize he was interrupting two leaders of an exciting, growing church? Surely, they were too busy to listen to him! Well, they were not. Not only did they stop, they reached out to the lame man in a personal, caring way. Then, without asking him to confess his faith in Jesus or to commit himself to the church, they told him to get up and walk. Watching all this was a crowd of people, giving Peter opportunity to proclaim the gospel verbally. Many in the crowd believed, and the church grew in numbers.
When we come across those outside the church who need our help, we too are to reach out—not because it’s expected of us, not merely as a method to grow the church, but simply because we care. As we then let people know that what we are doing is for the sake of Jesus who loves and cares for them, we will be glorifying him. The Holy Spirit empowers us for this work of evangelism—expressing Jesus’ love and concern for others through our caring actions and words. That sort of outreach, done in Jesus’ name and by his power, often leads to church growth.
How should we view church growth?
Unfortunately, some shy away from the idea of church growth, seeing it as a worldly endeavor. Some it’s like a club conducting a membership drive. Well, if our motive is merely numerical growth, there is a problem. But when our motive is to glorify God, focusing on church growth (in the ways we’ve looked at here) becomes genuine participation in Jesus’ disciple-making ministry—helping others come into a growing relationship with their Lord and Savior.
Because the church of Acts 2 actively reached up, in, and out, its members became passionate worshippers of God, the church became a loving community, and through outreach the church increased in numbers. Our challenge today is to follow their example, and to be committed and united in doing so.
Though we sometimes feel inadequate to meet the challenge of church growth, we don’t need to feel that way. God is the one who provides the growth. Our part is to cultivate the soil where God sends us, plant the seeds that God provides, and then water and fertilize those seedlings so that they not only survive, but thrive. God can, of course, do all these things without us, yet his desire is that we participate actively with him.
May we all grow in following the lead of the Holy Spirit in participating with Jesus in fulfilling the Father’s mission to the world. As we do, may we experience the presence of Jesus in a community dedicated to him and to each other. May we then actively reach out to those around us. The resulting growth of the church will bring blessings to us but, more importantly, it will glorify our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Here is a video that shows a GCI congregation in the United States doing what is advocated in this article:
On YouTube at https://youtu.be/RKbvRyAFZVs
This month’s Kid’s Korner is from Equipper Editor Ted Johnston.
As noted in Greg’s letter, we’ve launched a new GCI Resources website. It provides a catalog of resources to use in discipling people of all ages, kids included. Here are highlights of what the Resources website provides related to discipling kids:
- GenMin. Beginning with the landing page at https://resources.gci.org/genmin, you’ll find information about Generations Ministries, the youth ministry arm of GCI. Information is given about GenMin’s camps, short-term mission trips and leadership development programs.
- We Believe. At https://resources.gci.org/we-believe you’ll find information about GCI’s newest tool for discipling adults and kids. We Believe provides a comprehensive review of the core beliefs of our Christian faith. There is a version for teaching older teens and adults, and another version for teaching younger teens and older children is coming soon. Check it out!
- Age-graded resources. At https://resources.gci.org/age-graded-resources you’ll find resources (books, articles, websites, curricula and events) useful for discipling people of all ages, including children and teens.
You’ll find many other resources related to disciple-making on the GCI Resources website. We hope you find them helpful in your ministries to kids and to people of all ages.
Scripture Readings: 1 Sam. 17:32-49; Ps. 9:9-20; 2 Cor. 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41 Sermon by Linda Rex from Mark 4:35-41
Trusting God in the Storms
Fear is a powerful force. At a basic level we respond by fighting or fleeing. When we encounter someone we view as unsafe, we typically respond in fear, resisting being in relationship with them. Unfortunately, that’s how some people respond to God.
We humans often see ourselves as all alone in the world. Perhaps in times of trouble in the past we depended on others, only to be let down, even betrayed. Based on that experience, we view ourselves as our only savior. But that’s a big problem, for many of the things we face in life are beyond our capacity to handle. We cannot save ourselves. In his Gospel, Mark tells a story about Jesus and his disciples that speaks to this issue:
When evening came, [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him…
There the disciples were —with Jesus in the boat crossing the sea of Galilee. They likely felt safe and secure in the Master’s presence. But then it happened:
…A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:35-41)
As we journey through life with Jesus, storms come—dangerous, frightening events occur. Bad things do happen to good people. That’s just the way things are.
Back to Mark—Jesus was exhausted from a day of ministering to the crowds that had gathered to hear him. He is fully human, after all, and so he laid his head down and slept. Meanwhile, a storm arose, and it looked like the boat would be swamped. Their lives were clearly in danger.
These types of sudden furious squalls were common on the lake due to the configuration of the surrounding land with its high hills and narrow valleys that acted as wind tunnels (see topographic map below). Such storms were very dangerous for fishermen, especially in the evening when it was hard to see what the weather was doing doing.
Typical of humans in the face of great danger, the disciples reacted with fear. They were greatly distressed. Such fear comes naturally—it’s how we’re wired. But what we learn from this event is that the disciples needed to have their eyes opened to a reality other than they were looking at out on the stormy sea. They needed to see, through eyes of faith, the incarnate Son of God who was with them in the boat.
The disciples, greatly alarmed by the threat they faced, went to Jesus, woke him up, and said to him (likely shouting to be heard above the wind and waves): “Rabbi!! Don’t you care that we are about to die here?” How like us humans! Bad things happen, and our immediate thought is that God must not care. There are two things wrong with that way of thinking about events and about God.
First, just because something bad or dangerous is happening to us is not an indication that God has abandoned us. God doesn’t go anywhere when our life gets tough. He is just as involved in the bad times as he is in the good. That something bad is happening to us does not mean God caused it, though he is still present with us in the midst of it.
Secondly, bad things happening to us doesn’t mean God has stopped caring about us. God’s love never ends—it is boundless, endless, always present, always faithful. God’s love for us is not determined by what happens to us in our lives. It is determined solely by God’s own being, which is love—the tri-personal communion of the Father, Son and Spirit.
When bad things or painful things, even death, occur in our lives, it is tempting, even easy to say to God: “Don’t you care about what is happening to me?” If that is what we are feeling, it’s OK to be honest with God. But we should also consider that we might be listening to the voice of the Tempter who, from the beginning, has told humans to not believe that God is good. Ever since the serpent told Eve, “Did God really say?” we have listened to his lies about the God who loves us and cares for us always.
Jesus’ response to his disciples there in the boat in the storm is interesting. He says, “Why are you afraid? How is it that you have no faith?” The Living Word cut straight to the heart of the matter. The disciples did not yet trust in the loving care of their heavenly Father, nor did they understand who was with them in the boat. They did not recognize what was actually going on. They were blinded by fear and anxious care.
Their only concern at that moment was survival—how not to drown in that storm. But Jesus loved them so much, that he wanted them to see what was much more important than mere survival—he wanted them to understand that they were drowning in their fear and lack of faith. They were drowning in their lack of understanding concerning Jesus and their heavenly Father. Fear was blinding them to that spiritual reality.
Jesus got up and rebuked the storm: “Hush, be still,” he said. The Living Word of God merely spoke, and the forces of nature obeyed. There was complete calm on the lake—all was at peace.
This is when the disciples finally asked the right question: “Who then is this that even the wind and sea obey him?” Who, indeed! Their eyes were now beginning to open a little and they caught a glimpse of the truth. In our lives, we begin to see the true spiritual realities when we learn to ask the all-important question: “Who is Jesus?”
The Jews believed that only God had the power to control nature in this manner. This meant that the disciples needed to come to terms with the possibility that Jesus was someone other than who they believed him to be. In his humanity, he became exhausted enough to fall asleep in the boat. And yet he commanded the storm to be calm and it obeyed. Clearly, Jesus was much more than who they thought he was.
Jesus wanted his disciples to know his heavenly Father and theirs—he came to show them the Father’s love. In the storms of life, our loving God does not abandon us, but is always present with us. Sometimes we must weather storms—but God never abandons us. He goes through the storm with us. Other times, when we cry out in our fear and need, God calms the storm. Either way, God calls us to trust him—to know that he is the God who is love, who cares deeply for each of us. He is the God who is with us in every situation, and who will not abandon us or leave us to perish.
God came to us in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. In doing so, he joined with us in our storm of brokenness, evil and death. He was willing to go to and through the cross, to die in our stead, so that we would rise with him to new life. Jesus, as God in human flesh, has shown us in a significant and unalterable way that God really does care, that he really does want to save us from the storm of sin, evil and death, and indeed, he has done so, through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and through the gift of his Holy Spirit.
As Jesus asked his disciples, sometimes he asks us, “How is it that you have no faith?” What we believe about Jesus is critical. What we believe about God and about his love for us is vital. Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully human, has stepped into our storm of sin, evil and death, and has declared God’s peace. The Living Word has spoken the love of God over all he has made by joining us in our humanity, living, dying and rising from the grave. He has sent his Spirit so we can share in the love and life of God both now and forever.
The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has come to assure us that we are indeed included—held safe and secure in God’s love and grace. We are not alone in our boat of life—our deliverance, our salvation, despite the storms, is sure. When life gets difficult and scary, we have no reason to fear, for God is with us—he lives in us—strengthening us, encouraging us, and empowering us in all the trials of life. In every moment, God, who is present with us, calls us to trust him. We are to trust in his perfect and faithful love, grateful for our deliverance through Jesus Christ.
We may face difficulties in this life, but we have nothing to fear. Our walk is by faith, not by sight—keeping our eyes on Jesus, not on the storms. Our Abba loves us and watches over us, and in his Son Jesus, he will see to it that we safely reach the shore where we will be with him in glory, forever. By his Spirit, we grow in our understanding and faith in the love and grace of God, as we trust in the perfect love of God expressed to us in his Living Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. With Jesus, we walk by faith through all of life’s storms.
Abba, thank you for your faithful love and grace expressed to us in your Son Jesus Christ. Thank you for never leaving us or forsaking us, but faithfully traveling with us through all of life’s circumstances, including its storms. Grant us the grace to trust you—to believe and know to the core of our being that you love us, that you hold us safe in your arms. Open our eyes and hearts dear God, to see and to know the truth about who you are as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And grant us faith—the perfect faith of Jesus, who trusted you all the way to the cross, to death, and beyond. We gratefully receive your deliverance, forgiveness and salvation, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
In this issue, Greg Williams explores the benefits of GCI’s Home Office relocation. You’ll also find articles on church growth and leadership development, along with the May prayer guide and sermons for June.
From Greg: Hitting the Refresh Button
Greg looks at the benefits of moving GCI’s Home Office to Charlotte, NC.
Church Growth: Up, In and Out
Santiago Lange explores the example of the Acts 2 church.
On Leadership: Multiplying Mentors
Rick Shallenberger offers advice on how to multiply mentors.
Prayer Guide for May
Here are topics for prayer for each day in May.
Kid’s Korner: GCI Resources Website
Ted Johnston shares information about the new GCI Resources website.
RCL sermons for June 2018
Here are Revised Common Lectionary-synced sermons for June:
– Sermon for June 3, 2018
– Sermon for June 10, 2018
– Sermon for June 17, 21018 (Father’s Day)
– Sermon for June 24, 2018
In case you missed the sermons for May, here they are:
– Sermon for May 6, 2018
– Sermon for May 13, 2018 (Ascension Sunday)
– Sermon for May 20, 2018 (Pentecost)
– Sermon for May 27, 2018 (Trinity Sunday)
Scripture Readings: 1 Sam.15:34-6:13; Ps. 92:1-4, 12-15; 2 Cor. 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34 Sermon by Sheila Graham from Mark 4:26-34; 1 Sam. 16:6-13; 2 Cor. 5:14-17; Ps. 92:12-15
That’s How Our Father Thinks
Today is Father’s Day—a day to honor our fathers and those who have acted as fathers in our lives. Fathers are important, not only to the stability of the family and as an example to their sons and daughters, but to our view of God as our heavenly Father.
When we think of God, many of us tend to think of him as we do our human father. If we had an easy-going, rather laid-back father, we may think of God as sort of our anything-goes good buddy. If our father virtually or actually abandoned us, we may have a difficult time trusting God. If our father was harsh or abusive, we may find it hard to have a close relationship with God. But God is not like any of our fathers. God is love! Not just loving, he is love. He is so amazing! —glorious, perfect, all-powerful, has everything, needs nothing, yet is focused on a tiny rocky planet and those sinners (that’s us) who inhabit it.
When you stop to think about how much God loves us, it’s overwhelming.
Understanding how God thinks
We are human beings, weak, sinful and vulnerable. But, when it comes to us and our world, the Scriptures show how passionate our heavenly Father is in his concern for his children. Let’s look today at several examples of how this most powerful being who is God thinks when it comes to us humans.
First, he includes us in his work establishing his kingdom on this earth. When Jesus described how the kingdom of God would come, he said it would be from a tiny start, like the smallest of seeds, to eventually cover the entire earth. God’s plan is that we would have a part in the establishing of his kingdom—working with him to share the gospel with the whole world. Notice how Jesus describes the kingdom of God:
This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come. (Mark 4:26-29
Jesus also said this:
What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade. (Mark 4:30-32)
That’s how God thinks.
Here’s another example: Though God has all power, he chooses to work through those we might consider the least important. Remember the story of the prophet Samuel’s anointing of David as the new king of Israel? Samuel thought for sure that Jesse’s oldest son was the chosen one:
When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:6-7)
As Jesse paraded his seven handsome sons one at a time before Samuel, God said no to each of them. Samuel was confused. He knew he was there to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as king. Have you no more sons? he asked Jesse.
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. (1 Sam. 16:11-13)
God looks on the heart, not on the outward appearance. To Jesse’s, Samuel’s, Eliab’s and the other brothers’ surprise, David, the youngest, was chosen as the next king of Israel. (No doubt to David’s surprise too.) He’s the youngest son, sent out to care for the family’s sheep, one of the least esteemed of occupations. David’s greatest concern up to this point was facing down bears and lions threatening his father’s flocks. Suddenly, his life changes forever. He is going to be king! That surely gave him something to ponder on those lonely days and nights watching the sheep.
God so loved this shepherd boy that many generations later the Messiah would be born of his family lineage. And like David, his choice was a surprise to the people then. The Scriptures point out that Jesus wasn’t a movie star lookalike. God didn’t give Jesus any especially outstanding physical features. He looked like any other Jewish man. He had to be pointed out in a crowd.
Even his birth had a rough start. Jesus was born of an unwed teenage girl in an animal shelter, perhaps a cave used to house livestock. Then, his family had to leave the country to save him from Herod’s killers. God could have created totally different conditions for the birth of his Son, but God humbled himself even more in allowing Jesus to be born in such circumstances. That’s how God thinks.
Though God might choose an insignificant and humble shepherd boy to rule over Israel, and a carpenter’s child to be his Son on earth, he didn’t leave David or Jesus to their own devices. As David looked to God, he reigned successfully over Israel. And, Jesus? He was fully human but also fully God. He was human, born of the virgin Mary, yet he possessed all the attributes and powers of God as the second person of the Trinity.
Jesus: the true Superhero
Speaking of such power, have any of you seen the movie, Justice League? It’s one of those superhero movies inspired by comic books. You know, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America and others. It was high on the most-watched movie list last year. Unlike God, we humans look down on the poor, weak and powerless and look up to those with special abilities and strengths. We seem to enjoy the idea of having some super powerful hero dropping out of the sky to rescue us.
Though all these Justice League superheroes are powerful with their special strengths, if you’ve seen the movie, you know they all have weaknesses. Even Captain America with his high ethical standards seems a bit self-righteous to me. They learn that if they are going to overcome the powers of evil, they must work together.
We may enjoy watching them on screen, but we don’t need made-up superheroes. Jesus is all powerful and absolutely perfect. Excuse the analogy, but he’s already come down to earth to rescue us. He is our Superhero for real!
What about us?
Now, I’m going to get personal. What about us—you and me? What does God think of us? (Hmmm, well, I know God loves me and he forgives me a lot. I’m thankful for that, but I’m sure no superhero.)
Is that how we think of yourself? Do you think you’re too young to serve God? If so, remember the child Samuel and the teenager David. Or maybe you feel you’re too old? Think Noah, Abraham and Sarah and a host of prophets. Female? Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla and Anna, among others.
God can work through anyone or anything, even a donkey. Balaam can attest to that! Recall Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday when his followers were praising and worshiping him. The Pharisees were offended and told Jesus to stop them. But Jesus said if they were to stop, the stones themselves would cry out (Luke 19:39-40). You’ve heard the phrases “stubborn as a donkey” and “dumb as a rock”—if God can use donkeys and rocks to do his will, he certainly can use us!
Our Father has given all of us gifts. Some have the gift of hospitality, some have compassionate hearts. There are those who are good at teaching and those powerful in prayer. Others just love to serve, wherever they’re needed.
In our reading today in 2 Corinthians, Paul says to think of ourselves not as we once were, in our sinful nature, but as new creations who no longer live for ourselves but for Christ. Our sins are forgiven and forgotten by God, past, present and future. Why? So we can focus on others and not on ourselves all the time.
Yes, we have our faults and bad habits. Try as we might to avoid it, we do sin. But don’t let that hinder you from serving wherever God has placed you. Christ’s sacrifice is greater than anything we can do to offend our Father. Note what Paul says:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor. 5:14-17)
Christ held nothing back, even his own life, in bringing about this new creation. Paul says that this kind of self-sacrificing love should motivate us to share his love with others. Like the superheroes in the comic books, we all have our weaknesses. Yet, God has given each of us certain strengths, certain gifts that we can use in a team effort for good.
Let’s end today with what God told Samuel when he was checking out the sons-of-Jesse fashion parade. Samuel thought for sure Jesse’s tall, handsome, oldest son, Eliab, was the chosen one. But God said, “The LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” With that in mind, note how God sees us, those, who by grace, have been made righteous in Christ:
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Ps. 92:12-15)
In Christ, we are the righteous! Just as with David, God looks on the heart, not on any physical appearance or attribute. Our hearts have been transformed by Jesus through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Through our adoption in Christ our brother, we have been made our Father’s beloved children. And, just as with David, as we step out in faith with Christ, despite our limitations, to serve our heavenly Father, he will never leave us to face our battles alone. He is always there to support, comfort and encourage us.
That’s how our Father thinks. He is the perfect Father. Happy Father’s Day.
Scripture Readings: Gen. 3:8-15; Ps. 130; 2 Cor. 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35 Sermon by Michelle Fleming from Gen. 3:8-15 and 2 Cor. 4:13-5:1
Know Your Limits
No Boundaries, Limitless, Breaking Through—these could easily be titles of three New York Times bestselling books. All three titles reflect our insatiable desire for inexhaustible strength and the unfettered ability to fulfill our wildest dreams.
Our culture inundates us with lies, constantly hawking products and lifestyles that promise to make us better, faster, stronger, happier, healthier, wealthier. But the reality is that we humans are extremely limited, and we are dependent upon a gracious God for our very breath. Without the air he provides, we won’t survive more than about three minutes; without water, more than about three days; without food, more than about three weeks. And if we go a few miles above or below sea level, we’ll die within a few minutes. No boundaries? No limits? Hardly.
But the limits we experience are gifts from a benevolent God who created a perfect environment for us within those limits—not only that we might survive, but that we would thrive. The boundaries God has given are for our good and his glory. Like a parent protecting a toddler from a hot stove, or from the edge of a cliff, the boundaries God gives us are for our protection—given to keep us out of danger.
The tendency we have to want to live without limits is the human story. Believing the lie that we don’t need limits is what caused Adam and Eve to fall prey to Satan’s schemes. God gave them every plant in the Garden of Eden for food except one. In eating the forbidden fruit, they shifted the human story. Breaking through the limits God gave brought shame and suffering, not only to them, but to the whole of humanity.
After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid in shame, but our loving God, who relentlessly pursues us all, went looking for them:
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Gen. 3:8-10)
God explained that because Adam and Eve had gone beyond the boundary he had set for them, suffering would come upon all humanity. But then God showed his unfailing love for humankind by covering their nakedness to reduce the shame they were feeling. Whereas they had made coverings for themselves of plants, God provided coverings made of animal hides—a way of pointing forward to the ultimate covering of their sin through the sacrifice of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
To cover our sins—our going beyond the limits God set for our good—God sent his incarnate Son Jesus to earth as the second Adam to live the perfect life we could not. Taking upon himself our sin and shame, he suffered our death on the cross. In doing so, he submitted to the Father’s perfect will on our behalf. And now, as we await Jesus’ return in glory, we participate, through the Spirit, in the work Jesus is doing to spread the Father’s kingdom in the world. As Paul notes in today’s reading in 2 Corinthians, as we participate, we often face hardships that involve suffering. Yet, we are not ashamed, we are not downcast, we are not destroyed. Why? Paul gives the answer out of his own experience:
…Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. (2 Cor. 4:14-5:1)
Paul emphasizes that the trials we encounter in this life are temporary, but the glory God is sharing with us is forever! Beyond our time of trial is not just a season of goodness, but an eternity of good. Paul is thus encouraging us to look at our lives with an eternal mindset—focused on the joy we have with Jesus, knowing that God redeems all things and gives us the grace that we need to get through the most difficult of times.
Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth at a time that was particularly trying for him. He was being unfavorably compared to other preachers who were more charismatic and gifted. These preachers were spreading false claims about Paul and preaching false gospels. Rather than being destroyed by these troubles, Paul humbly continued to do what God had called him to do—present the true gospel. Rather than throwing his weight around as an apostle, Paul operated within the limits God had defined for him, patiently continuing to serve Christ by caring for God’s people in Corinth and elsewhere.
Like a caring father, Paul warns the believers in Corinth to not get caught up in playing favorites—to not classify and compare, but to understand that all of us are recipients of the same grace in Christ. None can or should boast about anything other than Christ! Later in this letter, Paul notes the limitations God had given him, including what he calls a “thorn in the flesh.” Though he asked God to remove it, when God answered no, he came to see the limitation as a gift rather than a burden:
Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. (2 Cor. 12:9-10, The Message Bible)
As with Paul, when we are unable, Christ shows up, fully able to give us the grace we need. What limitations are you struggling with? Perhaps a lack of energy, time, capacity? Perhaps distractions, grieving, burnout? May I encourage you to see these limitations as opportunities to turn to God—to commune with him, to rest in Christ, to receive God’s supernatural strength as a gift from the Spirit.
Note to preacher: Here is a good place to share your personal story about limits and struggles you've faced that have led you to turn to God for help. This does not always mean that God performed what you had been trying to do. Sometimes it means that it didn’t get done at all, and you learned that it didn’t have to be done.
Let us, like Paul, see our troubles as motivation to turn to God, to commune with him, accepting with joy the boundaries, the limitations, that God has placed on our lives. Rather than chafing against and grieving these limiting circumstances, let us, like Paul, focus on Christ and on what he is doing, by the Spirit, in and through us.
A common reason for us to live beyond the limits God has set for us is that we focus on what we are doing rather than on what God is doing. It is important that we spend time with God, discerning what he is doing and how he is calling us to participate. God is not calling us to be all things to all people. He sets limits for us, ones always centered on Christ and always for our good and the good of others. Saying yes to God involves joyfully receiving what he gives us, within the limits he sets, then sharing those gifts with others.
I encourage you to take some time this week to reflect on these questions:
- What limits am I currently wrestling with?
- In what areas am I being called to say yes to God within those limits?
- In what areas am I being called to more fully surrender to God?
[Close with prayer.]
Scripture Readings: Deut. 5:12-15; Ps. 139:1-6, 13-18; 2 Cor. 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6 Sermon by Martin Manuel from Mark 2:23-3:6
Jesus is our Sabbath
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” was the Lord’s command to Israel as part of the covenant he ratified with them through Moses at Mt. Sinai. As Israel was about to enter the Promised Land, Moses repeated this command in Deut. 5:12-15 (our Old Testament reading today), explaining that God’s intent in giving the Sabbath to Israel was to provide rest for everyone, including Israel’s servants and work animals.
Though Gen. 2:2 says God “rested” from creating on the seventh day, it is not until Israel is at Mt. Sinai that the Torah uses the word “Sabbath.” It was in conjunction with the giving of the Law that God commanded Israel to rest on the Sabbath, which is the seventh day of the week. Apparently, those who lived before that time, including Noah, Abraham and the other patriarchs, did not observe the Sabbath. But why did God rest on the seventh day of creation week? Was he tired? And why did he wait until he made the covenant with Israel to command a weekly day of rest for his people? What did Jesus say about the Sabbath, and what do his words mean for us today? In this sermon, we’ll see.
We begin by noting the Sabbath-related controversies swirling around Jesus in Mark 2 and 3. Early in his ministry, while selecting disciples and preaching in Galilee, often in synagogues, Jesus was confronted by Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders. They questioned Jesus’ way of doing ministry—even accusing him of blasphemy. They questioned the way he hung out with “sinners” (even tax-collectors, no less!). They also questioned why Jesus’ disciples did not fast like the followers of John the Baptist and the Pharisees. Jesus explained that they were failing to understand who he was, and therefore the practices of the disciples who were following him.
The religious leaders were quite dissatisfied with Jesus’ explanations. Being envious of Jesus and the large crowds he was drawing, they began to follow him around, looking for ways to discredit him and his ministry. One thing they looked for was any failure on Jesus’ part to keep the Sabbath in the way specified in the Jewish traditions that added to the Law of Moses.
According to the instructions Moses gave the Israelites at Sinai, they were forbidden to gather manna on the Sabbath (Ex. 16:26). The terms of the covenant given at Sinai then broadened this command to prohibit any sort of work on the Sabbath. By Jesus’ day, Jewish rules and regulations went beyond what the Law of Moses said about the Sabbath, making any sort of “work” on the seventh day illegal. The New Bible Dictionary says this:
During the period between the Testaments… a change gradually crept in with respect to the understanding of the purpose of the Sabbath. In the synagogues, the law was studied on the Sabbath. Gradually oral tradition made its growth among the Jews, and attention was paid to the minutiae of observance.
The minutiae of observance included dozens of Sabbath prohibitions, including restrictions on travel and even restrictions on what could or could not be eaten. For example, eating fruit was permitted, but squeezing juice from the fruit was considered “work” and thus prohibited.
As seen in our reading in Mark today, Jesus did not feel that he or his disciples were obligated to obey these added Sabbath restrictions. On one particular Sabbath, as Jesus and his disciples were walking through the grain fields, they began picking some heads of grain. The Pharisees, observing this, said, “Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
The backstory here is that the Law of Moses permitted people to pluck and eat grain in fields they did not own, and it also permitted people to walk on the Sabbath. Thus Jesus and his disciples were not violating any Mosaic laws. However, they were ignoring certain Sabbath laws that the Jews had added to the Sabbath laws set out in the Torah.
Instead of arguing technicalities of Sabbath law, Jesus responded to their accusation by citing a Scriptural example of meeting a human need at the expense of a religious requirement:
Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions. (Mark 2:25-26)
David understood that the loving and kind God did not expect people to go hungry due to observing technical religious restrictions. The day-old bread consecrated for worship in the Tabernacle, having served its purpose, would have been thrown out. How much better to give it to hungry people?
Jesus’ statement raised the eyebrows of his critics—how dare he compare his actions to those of King David! Even worse, Jesus went on to say this:
The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27-28)
Here, Jesus was pointing out two things. First, that the rules concerning Sabbath observance added by the Jews to the Torah had turned God’s gift of Sabbath rest into a heavy burden. Such added rules made conscientious people nervously careful so as not to provoke what they saw as an angry God. How sad, for God’s intent in giving the Sabbath to Israel was that his people would enjoy rest from the rigors of their strenuous daily labor and have free time to reflect on all the good God graciously gave them.
With these words, Jesus was reminding his accusers of what should have been obvious: God created humanity first, and Sabbath rest came afterward. It should have been obvious that the Sabbath command given to Israel was intended for a blessing, not a burden. God knew that the burdens of daily life would distract his people from considering who he is and their purpose in being his people. God gave them the Sabbath to refresh them and to provide for them time to consider their purpose, and thus adjust their priorities.
Second, in speaking these words, Jesus was claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath—a stunning claim that pointed to Jesus’ identity as Israel’s Messiah—their Lord! His accusers rejected this claim—to them, it was blasphemy. Moreover, it threatened their position.
Other New Testament teachings elaborate on what Jesus was claiming. John 1:3 says that Jesus was the incarnate Word of God—the Word who created all things and, having created, rested on the seventh day. Thus Jesus could speak about God’s intent in giving Israel the Sabbath command with great authority. As Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus had authority to explain the purpose of the Sabbath and the rules of its observance. He did so in these words with brilliant simplicity, unlike the unwieldy complexity of the dozens of Sabbath rules set down by the Jewish religious authorities.
Hearing Jesus’ outrageous claims, these authorities set out to use his Sabbath practices against him:
Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. (Mark 3:1-2)
This man was not merely sick—his deformity would have limited his ability to earn a living. Thus his healing not only made him whole; it enabled him to support himself and his family. How could anyone reject such a gracious, miraculous gift, focusing instead on the day on which the healing took place? Well, the religious leaders did. They cited a Sabbath ruling later written in the Mishnah, that the only time a healing was permitted on the Sabbath was when it was a matter of life or death. Jesus was not constrained by this restriction:
Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. (Mark 3:3-4)
With this healing and his words, Jesus exposed the religious leaders’ sinful plot. He also gave the onlookers in the synagogue opportunity to view this needy man though God’s compassionate eyes, and in doing so to rethink their wrong-headed, legalistic view of the Sabbath.
Though Jesus understood that what these religious leaders were up to would eventually lead to his death, his desire was to save them, not condemn them, though their stubborn resistance stirred his divine wrath and he was deeply distressed by their stubbornness (Mark 3:5a). But instead of retaliating, Jesus in his beautiful humility and awesome authority turned to the man with the shriveled and said, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and the man’s hand was “completely restored” (Mark 3:5b).
The religious leaders refused to understand what had just happened. Instead of submitting to the Lord of the Sabbath, they “went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” (Mark 3:6).
The ultimate Sabbath
Let’s now consider the big lesson of this passage in Mark’s Gospel. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Here Jesus was indicating that who he was and what he did fulfilled what was required of him as an obedient son of Israel in accordance with the Law of Moses (the “Law”). He also was indicating that who he was and what he did fulfilled all that was prophesied of Israel’s Messiah in “the Prophets.” Thus we understand that Jesus fulfills the Law and Prophets—and that includes the instructions (law) and prophecies (teachings) concerning the Sabbath.
Jesus, who is God’s ultimate Sabbath rest for humanity, brings us rest and refreshment from all our toil. Jesus put it this way: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). These words precede the same stories concerning Jesus and the Sabbath we’ve been looking at in Mark 2 and 3. Matthew was wanting his Jewish readers to see Jesus, and salvation in him, as the ultimate Sabbath-rest.
Though as a Jew, it was fitting that Jesus would observe the Law of Moses, he did not expect all his followers down through the centuries to do the same. For example, though Jesus was circumcised, he did not lead his apostles to require Christian males to be circumcised—this is made clear in the account in Acts 15. And though Jesus would have killed a lamb each year as prescribed by the Torah, the apostles understood that they did not have to. The Spirit led the apostles to understand that to be a Christian, one need not be an observant Jew who, like Jesus, adhered to all the stipulations of the Law of Moses.
This understanding did not happen instantaneously. For several years, Jewish Christians in and around Jerusalem continued to follow the customs specified by the Law of Moses, Jesus’ apostles were led by the Spirit to understand that Torah-observance was not required for Christians. They thus did not require Christians to observe the Sabbath.
Though Jesus and his first disciples met in the temple in Jerusalem and in synagogues elsewhere on the Sabbath, we should not conclude that in doing so they were indicating that Sabbath observance is required of Christians. Gentile followers of Jesus did not need to observe the Sabbath because Jesus was their rest. Jewish Christians also were not required to continue customs and practices that Jesus had fulfilled.
Rest in Jesus
But what exactly is the rest that Jesus gives us? First, it is relief, through forgiveness, from the heavy burden of sin. Second, it is hope of a secure and everlasting future. Third, it is a lightening now of the weight of life’s burdens, including the burdens of religious legalism. The rest Jesus is and gives, is way beyond the physical, psychological and spiritual rest of one day out of seven. Thus, in Matt. 11:29, Jesus calls it “rest for your souls.”
This rest is not limited to one day a week—it is permanent and always! Those who find rest for their souls in Jesus are relieved from all burdens, including those of religious requirements intended only for Israel under the old covenant. Those who misunderstand and think they can achieve spiritual rest through observance of days or other Torah practices risk falling short of finding the true rest that is in Jesus alone.
It is not uncommon in our day for some to place their preachers in the role only Jesus can fill. Paul had to remind the Christians in Corinth that humanity’s rest does not come through its religious leaders. As we saw in our reading in 2 Corinthians 4:5-12, ministers are servants of Christ, not replacements for Christ. Jesus, alone, is at the center of everything.
Some Christians mistake the rest they have in Jesus for the entertaining quality of a church that offers a virtual shopping mall of programs, activities and emotional stimulation. But Jesus is not confined to large groups nor small ones. Moreover, Jesus is not confined to a particular culture, nor is he confined to a certain style of music. The rest that we have in Jesus is spiritual—it is a relationship of love, not merely a religious experience. All that is required to experience this rest is to “come to Jesus”—to place your trust in Jesus. If you have never done so, I invite you to do so today—right now.
In resting on the seventh day of creation week, God was not indicating that he was weary. Instead, he was pointing to the ultimate rest that humanity would be given in God’s Living Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. The New Testament clearly teaches that from the foundation of creation, Christ was destined to be humanity’s salvation—our true, complete and final rest. The Sabbath command God gave Israel through Moses pointed to Jesus, God’s ultimate source of rest. Under the new covenant, the Sabbath is no longer a day of the week; it is a person—Jesus Christ!
Some Christians try to keep the Sabbath in the way God commanded Israel. Despite what might be good intentions, they are unable to find true rest until they turn away from Sabbatarianism to Jesus—trusting in him fully and only to be their rest; looking to nothing else but him for their salvation. My prayer is that any who hold on to the belief that Sabbath-keeping is required for salvation will see the truth about Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. Amen.