Take the Christian Test

2 Corinthians 12:20 – 13:9test

Listen to the entire message from Sunday morning, May 3 here.

Calling yourself a Christian does not make you one.  Sitting in church does not prove that you are going to Heaven.  Owning a Bible does not mean that you possess eternal life.  Your baptism certificate does not signify that you are born again.  There are people who say they are Christians and even people who think they are Christians who are not.  Today I want you to take the Christian test.

Let me summarize what Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians 12:20-13:9.  He is telling them that he is going to come and see them soon for the third time.  He says, “When I get there I want to find you in a good condition.  I want you to be in a condition that we can enjoy some time together.  I don’t want to have to confront problems when I come.  And there are some people among you who I have challenged already and I have sent messages to and told that you need to deal with the way that you are living and the way you are treating other people and the lifestyle that you have before I come.”  They were being immoral and they were being disruptive.  They were being critical of him and turning away from the teaching of the truth that he had given to them.  He said “There are some of you have continued doing this and when I come I will deal with you.”

He is not scolding them.  He is speaking to them with love but also with the authority God had given to him as an apostle.  He said he was coming in power and not weakness.  He said, “In light of the fact that some have continued sinning and I am coming, you need to take a good, hard look at yourselves because for some of you, the evidence indicates that there is a question about whether or not you are really Christians.”

I think that we, like they, need to take the Christian test.  If this confirms what you believe to be true about yourself, rejoice and praise God for that.  If this convicts you of what really is a need in your life, then I plead with you to take care of that.  I hope you will be open to whatever God wants to show you today.

  • Do you experience chronic conflict? (12:20)
    • Bickering and battling
    • Envy and resentment
    • Losing it, blowing up
    • Look at me, getting ahead, one-up
    • Accusing one person to another person
    • Spreading hurtful information
    • Self-importance
    • Disrupting unity, resisting authority.
  • Are you sexually impure? (12:21)
    • Habitual acts
    • Uncontrolled desire
  • What is your response when you are challenged?  (13:1-4)
  • What is your basic principle of life? (13:5)
    • Works or grace
      For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
    • Seen or unseen
      Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
    • Self-will or submission
      And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7).
  • Is Jesus Christ in you? (13:5)
    • Galatians 2:20
      I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

The wonderful thing is

  • It is possible to know if you are a Christian.

This is not something beyond possibility.  You can know that you are a Christian.  My burden is not to raise doubts unnecessarily but to plead with you to be sure.  If you have a question about it, I can’t tell you that you are saved or not.  However, I can take you to truth and concrete, definite statements from God that will help you either to be sure or to make sure.  I hope you will.

  • It is possible to be restored to unity and harmony.

We recognize that Christians do fail, Christians do fall.  Christians are weak; Christians struggle.  Note again 2 Corinthians 13:9 “… and this also we wish, even your perfection.”  He was not talking about being sinless.  This word “perfection” means to be restored.  It was used of mending torn fishing nets; it was used of setting and the healing of broken bones; it was used of refitting and refinishing worn ships returning from months at sea.  This is what God does for us – He restores us.  He wants to restore you.  He wants to restore the unity and harmony in your life.  If you are having a problem with conflict, He wants to help you resolve those issues as much as within your power.

  • It is possible to be restored to wholeness and usefulness.

If there are problems with impurity, other sins which have defiled your life, He can cleanse you and make you whole and put you to work and see you bear fruit for Him.

I cannot tell you whether or not you are a Christian.  God can and will.  Ask God to show you what is right and true.  If He convicts you of your need to become a Christian, repent of your sin and believe on Jesus Christ.  If he confirms to you that you are a believer, rejoice and be blessed and thank God for that.

TEXTimonies

j0439835What we did

Our church is pretty conservative, so I’ll admit it was with a little fear and trembling that I introduced “textimonies” as part of our service last night.  No ominous-sounding voice mails or “You’ve done it now” emails awaited me when I arrived at the office today, so I think I’m safe.  Actually, it worked well and seemed to be received well.  I think it was a fresh, effective way to encourage participation and express praise.

We needed to praise the Lord together for the good things He is doing for us (Matthew 7:7-11) and in us (Philippians 2:13).  I offered three ways for people to participate and share what God is doing.  We used our “roving microphones,” three pastors taking wireless mics to anyone who raised a hand and wanted to share a verbal testimony. We asked for song requests, encouraging people to select songs that expressed their thanks and praise to God.  And we asked for textimonies.

How it worked

Anyone who had a cell phone or other text-capable device could send a brief word of praise to a number displayed on the projection screen.  Two guys in the technology center received, edited, and entered them into a PowerPoint slide.  When a slide was full, it was put up on the screen.  The slides were changed as new ones were ready with more textimonies.  At first we were going to put the slides up only while we sang and not while others were sharing verbal testimonies.  But there were so many texts we had to run the slides continuously.

Here are some textimony samples:

  • I praise God for bringing trials into my life to show of the real meaning of love following His example at the cross.
  • I asked God to show me his will in a situation.  He did! It wasn’t exactly the answer I wanted to hear, but the peace and strength he has given me is overwhelming.
  • The Lord was working in my heart and I re-assured my salvation almost a month ago.
  • I’m thankful to see the Lord answering prayer in healing the marriage of a friend.
  • I thank God that He is my Father and I can talk to Him about anything.
  • For the past several months, I’ve been praying for God’s provision & guidance in buying a car.  It’s been amazing to see him provide a car for this summer.
  • I’m thankful for Judy and Gretta.  Since my freshman year they have always sat in the back [of church] and asked me how I’m doing and pray for me.

Benefits

  • People participated who would not normally feel comfortable talking to a large group of people.  This was probably the greatest advantage.
  • We were able to include many more testimonies than if we only used the “roving mic” method.
  • We allowed anonymous textimonies.  Some people’s testimonies might embarrass them or others.  Remaining anonymous freed them to share more openly.
  • It was fresh.  Breaking out of routine engages thought and attention.  This did.
  • Dare I say it was fun.  No, I don’t think we have to make church fun, but it’s ok for fellowship to be fun, isn’t it?

Problems

  • The response was much greater than I anticipated.  Next time we’ll be ready.
  • Some people wrote paragraphs.  Next time we’ll give instructions about limiting the length to a brief sentence or two.
  • Our techie was typing each textimony into the slide rather than having a way to copy and paste.  I’m sure there is a way to retrieve the texts from a website and paste them in.

Concerns

I had read about Twitter church services in which people send messages that appear on the screen throughout the service (including the sermon).  I’m not going there.  But I thought we could use what is now a very natural means of communication in a positive way in our service.  I was concerned there might be people in our congregation who would be bothered by it.  I thought hard and talked with others to discern how textimonies might be offensive.

We have a large number of “seasoned citizens” in our church, whom we love and respect.  I do not want to disturb or alienate any of these dear members.  The truth is many of them are very tech-savvy and open to the use of technology in ministry.

There are individuals in conservative Christianity who interpret the use of new methods as a sign of movement toward a contemporary style of ministry.  I am not adopting contemporary church-growth philosophy or practice.  But, as I told our congregation last night, when churches first started using microphones and slide projectors (anyone remember those?) there were probably people who considered it worldly.  This is 2009.  We are simply using current technology for effective ministry.

Another concern is that I did not want to encourage people to use Personal Electronic Devices inappropriately during church.  When I announced what we were doing, I told kids to be sure to get the “ok” from their parents before participating.  I am not bothered at all by people using laptops, PDA’s, Smartphones, etc. during church to take notes, look up verses, etc.  I probably shouldn’t acknowledge this, but the occasional urgent text message during church doesn’t concern me, just like it doesn’t bother me when people whisper to one another occasionally during a service.  Texting is just remote whispering.  NO, I don’t want people texting during church!  Mature people will know not to take advantage of my tolerance.  Reality is people have their gadgets with them in church, and as long as they are not being disruptive (e.g. cell phone ring, showing pictures to friends) or inattentive (e.g. texting friends, online shopping), I’m ok.

The bottom line is I honestly could not think of a reason that someone in our constituency would be genuinely offended or even bothered.  So we did it.

Conclusion

The immediate feedback I received last night and today have been overwhelmingly positive.  I loved it.  We’ll do it again, with some tweaks.  We sent sacrifices of praise to heaven (Hebrews 13:15)!

I am sure this has been used elsewhere.  However, I Googled ‘textimony/ies” and came up with very few results that are similar to what we did.  Most of the results were misspellings of “testimony.”  So maybe we have a new word for the Christian vocabulary.  We do have one more way to give thanks to God and encourage one another in the good that God is doing in our lives.