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What Are We Here For? [1-1-23]

January 1, 2023

Ephesians 3:20-21

"What Are We Here For?"

Today's passage is called one of Paul's "Prison Letters." It wasn't his only time in prison. In the end, Paul was beheaded. Either Nero or one of Nero's subordinates ordered Paul's death. Paul could see the writing on the wall. Anticipating his death, Paul wrote to Timothy, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that Day, and not only me but also to all who have loved his appearing." {2 Timothy 4:6-8} How beautiful that we might one day write such words!

We begin the new year thinking about this race which God has called us to run. I remember back in high school, when I ran cross country, I would spend time getting acquainted with the course, running through it mentally. I would think about every turn and hill. Every point for passing and every point of attack. I wonder what it was like for Paul to think about every place he was going, every church he would plant, every life transformed by God. You know everything Paul did involved more than simply showing up. He had to plan. And think strategically. And also be prepared for God's sudden change of plans or direction.

For your quiet time…for prayer time…for your thinking time…do you have a special place? Do you do it when out for a walk? Is there a specific room you go to? Do you ever just sit and think? I'm really good at doing that. Sometimes I think while I sit. It's always a good thing to think about your place is God's world…how He's using your life…and where He's directing you, both individually and as part of Covenant Church.

As we begin the new year, our church is transitioning to a new kind of long-range thinking. We are thinking about making upgrades to our building. We're looking at the gifts we have. We're looking at the space we have. How can we improve efficiency? How can we improve accessibility? What needs to be updated? And what resources has God provided to address these issues? I'm talking about both financial and people-power. And we're looking at the needs of our community. How will this building serve our needs as the worshiping Body of Christ and how will it benefit ministry in and to and for the place where we live? We're seeking together to discern God's leading for Covenant Church. We have exciting years ahead of us.

I love how Paul ends chapter three of his letter to the Ephesians. This really is our anchor as we move into a new year:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Who would have thought that, over twelve years ago, an Evangelical Presbyterian Church would be started in Tecumseh? God knew. Who knew that this new church would honor the essential beliefs of the Christian faith? God knew. Who knew that this church would risk comfort and familiarity for a new adventure? God knew. So here we are. Covenant Church knows that God changes lives. Covenant Church chose the hard path, not the easy way. God has set us apart as a church that is passionate about following Jesus and impacting our community for Christ. So here we are.

In my quiet time, I think of all the people who have grown in their faith. I think about the people using their gifts to serve others. I think about all those who understand that the church isn't about serving them, but it's about us serving others. I think about those who have discovered they had a spiritual gift and they devoted it to God. I think about those who saw a need and they helped. I think about those who have found healing and wholeness through the ministries of this church.

In my quiet time, I think of people whose eternal destinies have been changed. I'm glad there's a church here that understands the primary purpose of the gospel is to save people from sin and death. I'm glad there's an imperfect church here that cares about the eternal destiny of its neighbors. I'm glad over twelve years ago there were people who had the courage and faithfulness to say "Yes" to God. I'm glad that over four years ago God revealed His plan for a settled home for Covenant Church. Who can fathom the depths of God's sovereign purpose weaving throughout people's lives?

Think about it. God lets us be a part of Covenant Church. It's His church. It's what He's doing here in Lenawee County. And He invites us in. God wants what's going on inside here to bless what's going on out there. Make no mistake. God cares about everybody and everything going on inside the banks and the schools and the hospitals and the factories and the offices and the stores and the donut shops and the repair shops as much as He cares about everybody and everything going on inside this church building.

It's good to ask, "How can we make every person feel welcomed and loved when they come inside Covenant Church?"

When I think about that question, the "we" is all of us. It's not just the staff. Ministry doesn't just belong to the staff. It belongs to all of us. Here's another thing Paul said to the church at Ephesus:

"So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and the teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…"

I love how we think about our church the way God thinks about our church. We see Covenant Church not as a building but as a people. I think about how when we're inside here, God wants us to also see the people who aren't here. We don't just think about ourselves. We think about the people who aren't here yet who will be a part of Covenant Church. Do we love our community the way God loves our community?

Are you waking up every day asking, "God, do you have something for me to do that's full of life and joy and that's going to touch somebody else for eternity?" Paul says, "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think." So we have to ask. And we have to think about what God wants to do through us.

Throughout the Bible God used ordinary people to serve Him. God loves using ordinary people to do extraordinary things. In the Christmas story, God used a prostitute named Rahab and simple shepherds to tell the story of Jesus. Rahab was listed in the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew's gospel. In the Book of Joshua, she hid two spies who spied out the fighting force protecting the city of Jericho. She went on the play a key role in the lineage of Jesus. Beyond Rahab and shepherds, God used people whose names have long been forgotten to write the beautiful Christmas songs we sing. I think about a God who embraces with open arms tax collectors and misfits and those who are spiritually lost and lonely. I think about a God who dances for joy whenever a lost child comes home. At that moment, when we think about how kind our God is, think about a church that loves the people God loves.

God didn't put us here to isolate from our community. God created Covenant Church to light up our little corner of the world with grace and mercy. Jesus transformed life by going to the cross and taking our sin upon himself. He suffered and died so we could be freed from sin and death. We are to love the people Jesus loves. We see our lives for what they are, broken and imperfect. Yet God uses us to His glory. That's why, after Jesus was brutally killed, when they put his body in a tomb, God used what appeared to be an ending for His glory and our benefit. God took the what is of death and showed us the reality of what is new life in Christ.

But that's not all God did. After Jesus got up from the grave, he gathered 11 uneducated, unconnected, clueless followers, and he said, "But wait! There's more. There's more than life, and there's more than death. Between the 'here now' and the 'then later,' I'm going to draw you into a community of brothers and sisters that will be like a family to you." They were scattered and they were persecuted and all of them were murdered, but that couldn't stop God's plan. We are here today because all these simple people were faithful to God's Big Idea. They loved each other and they loved their communities. And that's how God works.

So, what is God's plan for Covenant Church? Thirteen years ago, who knew there would be a church at 5290 Milwaukee Road where people love Jesus, treasure God's Word, and are passionate about helping others? We look around our world and we don't know when or where or how God will open doors…we just know He does. Our God is able. He cares about the doors of every business and school and home in Lenawee County.

God cares about the places where people work. He cares about art and

music and education. God wants to use you in those places. God will use you to encourage a coworker. He will use you to help a student. God will use you to make your neighborhood better. God wants you to be so rooted in His love that you don't care about what other people think or say about you. God wants you to treasure Jesus Christ so much that discouragement and worry simply fade away.

Imagine being so devoted to Jesus that over time concern for self and personal preferences simply lose their appeal. Imagine being driven by a desire to help and serve and welcome others. That is a beautiful thing. Imagine Covenant Church filled with joy because we know God works for good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. Imagine people being rescued from the road to death and destruction because Covenant Church was faithful to God.

Here's one more vision I want to invite you to get a glimpse of. This one is from Jesus. There's a song, "I Can Only Imagine," that touches it. Imagine you die - and we all will - only imagine you don't feel the sting of death because Jesus said, "Whoever trusts me will not taste death." Imagine death is like a door where you come out the other side and there's Jesus. We can only imagine.

Imagine as you walk through that door, there are all kinds of people there on the other side with you. And they're worshiping Jesus. You all are worshiping Jesus. And then someone says to Jesus, "Jesus, this person here," {and they are referring to you}, they say, "This person here told me about you. This person right here noticed me and cared about me. I was hungry, and he fed me. I was lonely, and she visited me. I didn't know anything about you, and they shared with me. And together we became a family that loved you and worshiped you and helped others in your name."

We all are playing a part in that. We all are helping people find a place to belong and to grow. God is using us to change someone's eternal destiny.

We are a church where all of us are loving each other and loving our

community. And long after we're gone, our grandchildren's grandchildren will know the blessings of a church family because we decided to follow Jesus.

We are here for each other and for our community. Imagine, when you die, hearing Jesus say, "Well done, good and faithful servants. Well done." That's why we say:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

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