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Kim-Marie Coon

23
Aug

Why I’m a follower of Jesus Christ

 

By Allen Moyer

I love good theatre. When it’s written and performed well, the audience benefits greatly from experiencing new insights into the “human condition.” In fact, when I study scripture, I try to imagine the drama in the characters, circumstances and context of what I’m reading. Imagine a modern day drama that involves someone like you and me.

Setting: A modern day big city skyscraper. A man (or woman) enters the elevator, call him/her “Witness”. Visible on Witness’ forehead are the following words: “Follower of Jesus Christ”. Another person, call him/her “Curious”, enters the elevator and the doors close, beginning the slow rise to the top of the building. In the next few moments the following scene plays out.

Witness: Hello.

Curious: Hi. (Curious notices Witness’ forehead)

Curious: So, I see you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, Why?

Witness: Well, for several reasons actually. First, followers of Jesus belong completely to God – we are CREATED IN HIS IMAGE, special and separate from the rest of His creation, and there’s great hope in that knowledge. You see GOD HAS NO EQUAL and there exists no suitable substitute for Him, like idol worship or our own pride. And you know, God teaches us that we are to love Him and our neighbor. (pause for effect) BUT THERE’S A PROBLEM (prompting Curious to ask)

Curious: What’s the problem?

Witness: Well, SIN BLOCKS US from obeying God and none of us is perfect and righteous. GOD’S LAW validates our sinfulness and our inability to obey Him. It’s a mirror into which we find it very hard to look. (Witness takes a step toward Curious) Here’s the harsh reality though: Our lawlessness and our disobedience will not go unpunished! (Witness pauses for effect) Now WHAT DO WE DO? Because the holiness of God cannot tolerate sin.

Curious: (Tries to break the seriousness of what’s been said, and is a bit curious) So, what do we do to fix it?

Witness: (Solemnly) Unfortunately, we can’t do anything to change our situation. Only God can change it by his choice. THROUGH GRACE GOD ACTS so that we are saved from bearing that punishment.

Curious: HOW?

Witness: Only ONE that is FULLY HUMAN like us, and FULLY DIVINE like God could satisfy God’s wrath and our punishment, (with emphasis) and that’s JESUS CHRIST! He’s the only possible ransom for us. He’s a man without sin.

Curious: How did you come to know all this about Jesus?

Witness: THE HOLY SPIRIT LEADS US to belief, faith and obedience; and He transforms the body, mind and soul; and consequently we put on Christ and live in Christ. When others see us in action, they should see Christ. You see WE ARE JUSTIFIED and declared righteous THROUGH FAITH, not works. Good works will flow out of a transformed, spirit-led life.
Curious: Tell me more about this spirit-led life.

Witness: Well PRAYER is the way you pour out your heart to God, steadfast and never-ending. And SCRIPTURE, the Holy Bible, is our code; and it holds the key. The Bible can be understood, but not completely comprehended. And the SACRAMENTS, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are reminders of God’s divine acts on our behalf.

Curious: So you go to church, right?

Witness: Yes, the CHURCH is God’s elect COMMUNITY OF BELIEVERS united to act on God’s behalf. (The elevator comes to a stop at the top floor and the doors open. Curious goes to leave, but hesitates and looks back at Witness)

Curious: What do you hope comes from being a follower of Jesus?

Witness: Our hope is in HEAVEN – ETERNAL FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. (Witness pauses and looks intently at Curious, and finally breaks into a warm smile)
What could be better?

If you are familiar with the New City Catechism, portions of which have begun to appear in our Sunday bulletin, then you will recognize its basic truths in this drama.
You see, 1 Peter 3:15 is very clear about one of our key responsibilities as children of God and followers of Jesus Christ. “…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

Want to know more about this subject? R.C. Sproul has written a book called, ‘Everyone’s a Theologian’ that’s a solid read. Also, this month’s Ligonier Ministries Tabletalk devotional magazine is focused on how to answer this and other questions from the curious ones that cross our path. Check it out.

While it might be easier for a pastor, due to training and preparation to answer the question: ‘Why are you a follower of Jesus?’, it seems clear to me, that 1 Peter 3:15 is challenging all believers to boldly step up and provide a reasoned and loving response.

We don’t know how the drama above ends. Does Curious ultimately come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? Providing a witness to others about the hope we have in Jesus is like planting a seed. Growth and ultimate fruitfulness is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, but led by the Spirit, we can be a catalyst for God’s salvation simply by planting the seed.
What are your thoughts? I’d appreciate hearing from you on this subject. Please email me at amoyer56@aol.com.

15
Aug

Sent into the World

by Chris DiVietro

What have we seen so far? In the Old Testament, the temple was the focal point of worship. As the people of God worshipped, the nations saw and were attracted in. In the New Testament, however, Jesus came to earth as the true and better temple. He literally “tabernacled” among humanity – He was sent to us, and so sends us out (John 20:21).

God’s people are therefore sent into the world, and in being sent can be considered missional or on mission. Being missional is at the very heart of our denomination’s identity.

The church’s mission flows from God’s mission—God did not make a mission for His church, God made a church for His mission. Mission arises from the heart of God himself, and is communicated from his heart to ours. Mission is the global outreach of the global people of a global God. The very being of the church is constituted in and through its participation in God’s mission in the world. The church is not an end in itself and mission is not optional.

It would be inaccurate to say the church must become missional. Rather, the church— when expressing its true identity—is considered a missional manifestation of God’s redemptive work in and through creation.

Mission is not to be primarily understood in functional terms: mission cannot be defined by the number of “missions” activities. Rather, mission must be understood as the fundamental nature and being of church—when rightly considered, the missional church is an authentic expression of the church’s true identity. Emil Brunner famously stated, “The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.” Mission cannot be simply be reduced to strategies or programs.

The missional church is not just another phase of church life but a full expression of who the church is and what it is called to be and do. To be missional means to move beyond our church preferences and make decisions locally as well as globally for the sake of those not yet reached with the gospel.

Our concluding point, then, is this: To whom are you sent? What preferences are you willing to surrender for the sake of the gospel? How are you embodying the mission of God today?

08
Aug

A Missional Primer

By Chris DiVietro

Our denomination – a Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians – ranks “missional” as one of its core defining values. However, what exactly does missional mean?

Appearing to the disciples after His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father as sent me, even so I am sending you.” As God sent Jesus into the world, so too does Jesus now send the church into the world.

And here is where our current blog series intersects with the church today. If the Old Testament modus operandi of God’s people was attractional in nature—centripetal— than the New Testament paradigm is centrifugal—God’s people are sent into the world to worship as opposed to calling the world to the worship at one location. As God sent the Son into the world, so too is the church sent; at their very core, Christians are sent people—missionary people.

The Great Commission texts in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt 28:16; Mark 13:10; 14:9; Luke 24:44-49) are much more than a collection of Jesus’ final words before He ascended into Heaven. The Great Commission texts contain specific directives for how the disciples were to go out into the world with the Gospel. Matthew’s version of the Great Commission has the disciples acting on the authority of Jesus (v. 18) and going to all people groups to baptize and teach (vv. 19-20); the disciples are to be disciples who make disciples. Mark 13:10 and 14:9 not only predict the Gospel will be proclaimed, but direct that it must. Luke’s account is complementary to Matthew’s, adding the caveat that the disciples are empowered by the Spirit to be Jesus’ witnesses (24:48).

What does it mean for the church to exist as a sent people? As a missionary people? We’ll discuss what implications this has for the church in our next and final post in this series.

01
Aug

The Glory of God in the Presence of Men

By Chris DiVietro

In the Old Testament, the Lord condescended to dwell among Israel at the temple. In the New Testament, the Lord also condescended to dwell among men, but in a drastically different form. John 1:14 reads, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Or, as Eugene Peterson wrote in The Message, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” John 1 connects the Lord’s Old Testament presence in the temple with His New Testament presence in Jesus Christ by using a word, skayno’o, which is taken in Scripture to mean, “the dwelling of God among men,” or, the tabernacle.

In other words, while Isaiah’s prophecy of the nations streaming to the temple to worship God was certainly directed towards the future, the now-but-not-yet motif of the Kingdom of God allows for a reading that sees Isaiah’s’ vision partially fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Christopher Wright says,

The incarnation of God in Christ brings two new factors into our theology of mission: the inaugurated presence of the kingdom of God and the incarnational model and principle itself. In Jesus, the reign of God entered human history in a way not previously experienced – though the expectation of it and the ethical implications of it are thoroughly rooted in the Old Testament. The dynamic action of the kingdom of God in the words and deed of Jesus and the mission of his disciples changed lives, values, and priorities, and presented a radical challenge to the fallen structures of power in society.

The incarnation of God among man in the person of Jesus Christ carries extensive implications for the church and how it ministers, and we’ll unpack those implications in our next post.

25
Jul

Attractive Worship

By Chris DiVietro

We’ve been discussing the extent to which the community of God’s people is attractional in nature. For Israel, the temple was the zenith of attractional worship. As the center of religious life in Israel, the temple was more than merely a religious building; the temple was the holy palace in which the Lord resided as He dwelt among His people. And in the same way that the quality of Israel’s life would attract the nations in, so too would the nature of their worship. This image is portrayed in Isaiah 2:2-3:

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills, and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways, and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

A prophecy given during King Uzziah’s reign, Isaiah is describing God’s future kingdom and His ultimate plans for Zion. While chapters 2-12 juxtapose the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of man to show the tension that exists between the two, vv. 2-3 of chapter two paint a clear picture of what will happen when the Kingdom of God ultimately triumphs. Specifically, God will transform the world through His presence in Zion, His teaching of those who are humble, and His judgment of those who dare war with Him.

“It shall come to pass in the latter days,” is an expression that refers to this future time when God’s purposes will find ultimate fulfillment, but the forward-thinking scope of the prophecy is not intended to undermine the message being communicated: The Lord desires those who do not know Him to run towards Him in peace to learn. While God’s presence is sufficient to draw the nations unto Him, the confluence of His presence and His peoples’ worship—all centered in the temple—attracts others.

Even though Isaiah’s vision was for a time at some point in the future, the presence of the Lord still attracted attention and interest when the temple was first built. In 1 Kings 10, the Queen of Sheba, “heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD,” (1 Kings 10:1). After observing Solomon’s wisdom and the greatness of temple, she exclaimed, “Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel. Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness,” (1 Kings 10:9).

If the Queen of Sheba represented a small window into the coming fulfillment, that leaves us eager to know: what is the shape and scope of that fulfillment? We’ll discuss that next time, and begin to see how this reality affects the church’s worship and evangelistic identity today.

20
Jul

Attracting Others to the Gospel

By Chris DiVietro

On Monday we recalled the God of Jacob is our fortress not so we can retreat from the battle, but so we can be equipped for the battle. To fully see how that bears true for us as the New Testament church today, we need to back up a little bit.

In the Old Testament, when Israel worshipped the Lord faithfully other nations took notice. God intended for foreign nations to see Israel’s devotion to the Lord and His greatness, and subsequently be drawn to Him. That is the main thrust of Deuteronomy 4:5-8:

See, I have taught you statutes and rules as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statues and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today.

In the context of Deuteronomy 4, Israel is told the ethical quality of their lives – obedience to the law—would attract the nations to the living God. If Israel would live as God intended them to, the nations would notice—the content and quality of the Israelites’ lives would attract the nations to Israel because of its nearness to the living God. Lives lived in worship of and devotion to God—by their very nature—attract others to observe, learn, and even understand. An attractive community is one that obeys faithfully, lives faithfully, worship unceasingly, and relies on “missional magnetism” to attract others to the Gospel.

The church is in some sense an attractive community, it seeks to attract nonbelievers to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christopher Wright says, “God’s people are to live in such a way that they become attractors—not attractors to themselves, but to the God they worship.” Elmer Towns and Ed Stetzer define attractional churches today as those that have established buildings and staffs, gather at prescheduled times, promote programs, and function as institutionalized organizations. The attractional church—a redemptive community that exists as an established institution to which others are attracted—has its origins in the Old Testament and in God’s purposes for Israel, seen in Isaiah 49:6, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the earth.”

However, churches must not be attractional alone. Attracting others to worship God is only one half of the equation. Next week we’ll unpack more theology behind the attractional emphasis in ministry before seeing how it has shifted now that Jesus has come to earth and sent the church out.

18
Jul

Sent out in the Puposes of God

By Chris DiVietro

Sunday’s sermon saw us spend time in Psalm 46. Specifically, we saw that God is good to us, that He may be good through us. God delivers His people in victory, that His glory and renown might then be made known to the nations. The Lord of hosts is not with us so that we can run to Him and hide, but so that we can run with Him and see victory.

The God of Jacob is our fortress not so we can retreat from the battle, but so we can be equipped for the battle. We’re not told to be still and know God is God to alleviate our concerns of a financial, relational, physical, or emotional nature. We’re told to be still and know God is God to alleviate our anxiety over the supremacy of God in a world that increasingly runs from Him.

Major themes presented themselves in our study of Psalm 46, and a Sunday morning sermon did not leave nearly enough time to unpack them with the degree of seriousness they deserve. In the coming blog posts we’ll trace themes related to the temple, the presence of God, and Jesus Christ and their connectedness, with more intentionality and attention given to their implication for the church and our mission to make disciples.

Until then, my prayer for our church family is the same: This week may we have anxiety over the purposes of God rather than the purposes of ourselves; may our prayers concern the purposes of God rather than the purposes of ourselves, and may we be sent out into the world to pursue the purposes of God rather than the purposes of ourselves. Then, let us each be still and know the Lord is our God. The Lord of hosts with us; the god of Jacob is our fortress. Know He will be exalted among the nations; know He will be exalted in the earth.

02
Dec

A Gift of Value

By Allen Moyer, Stewardship Chair

In Mark 14:3-9 we find an event described in the last week leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus: His anointing at Bethany.

Mark tells of an expensive gift of pure nard used by Mary to anoint the head of Jesus at a gathering in a local home.  With his disciples and others in attendance some start to grumble at the waste of this valuable gift on the head of their rabbi. Anointing with Nard

However noble their reasons for objecting (it could’ve been sold for money to help the poor), they missed the importance of worship and giving our best back to God in that particular moment.

Certainly this perfume was very valuable – 300 denarii, a year’s wages in those days.  We might view this as contradictory, love for neighbor versus love for God, but the lesson here is that God receives gladly the gifts we value.

As you pray about your pledge to First Presbyterian church, meditate on the fact that God owns all of creation.  He gives us abundant resources to steward and one way we show our gratitude is to give back to Him those things that we highly value.

May we be willing to give up what is valuable to us for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Some material taken from Tabletalk Magazine, October 2016

03
Nov

Stewardship Update

By Barbara Macczak
The end of the year is quickly approaching. To date, we have been blessed with more than $155,000 in Pledges. As Allen Moyer has presented, we must examine our hearts to determine what soil we are most like. We should ask: What is my heart like? Where will my heart lead me as I consider how best to use my money and my talents, essentially my gifts from God?

Please read these thoughts from Kim-Marie Coon. When I read this, I was reminded of Matthew 13:16-17. “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

-Barbara

When I Said I Wanted to Start Tithing

by Kim-Marie Coon

When I said that I wanted to start tithing, someone asked me if I was tithing on my gross or on my net income. Well, net… I don’t actually get the other part; the government gets it. Then they asked me if I wanted to be blessed on the gross or on the net. Dang.

That is a surprisingly hard question. Of course I want to be blessed on the gross, but I don’t want to have to give up any more than I have to. It’s mine. I need it. Then just as I was fretting that answer, a check came in the mail. It was a refund from the IRS six months after tax day. It seems my accountant dropped a zero on my withholding. The difference in what I owed and what I paid was substantial.

Now the question became more pressing. Do I want to take money from a God who blesses me, or do I want to send it out and bless others with it? Do I want to take the grace God has shown me and show it to others, or do I want to hoard it for myself?

To me, this is what the parable of the sower is saying when it talks about the seed thrown on the bad soil not sprouting into grain. We’re the soil, God’s grace is the seed.

Some people don’t even notice God’s grace when it’s been given – those people are the hard path, the grace gets carried away without ever making an impact.

Some people notice, but don’t acknowledge that it’s from God: “Well, that was a lucky break!” Those people are the rocky ground. Something sprouts, but not enough to take root in their lives.

Some people receive God’s grace, but don’t reflect it out into the world. “I deserved it, you don’t.” Those are the sprouts that get choked out by the weeds of the world. God says I should know better, but the world says I earned it, it was for me and me alone.

Then there are those who receive the grace of God and feel every tiny seed of that blessing. God has given me a good life. I love my life and I love my God. God would want me to share some of my blessings with others as he shared those blessings with me. Those are the people who bless the world “one hundred, sixty or thirty times as much.”

God looks out for me. I feel every tiny seed and I want to be the fertile soil in which it grows. Pledging isn’t as hard as it seems. I have mine set up automatically so I don’t even notice that it’s gone. I don’t have to write a check. I don’t have to think. I don’t have be tempted to take it back because it’s mine. It’s not mine. Everything I have been blessed with was a gift from God. All I have to do is give a little of it back.

20
Oct

What Are You Learning from the Parable of the Sower?

By Barbara Macczak

Do you bear good fruit for Christ? Or, do you spend your time, talent and treasure constantly acquiring more toys, clutter and junk. Our time, our talent and our treasure are gifts that God has given us. What we do with them is our gift back to God.
sower

We are all called to graciously give back to the Lord in proportion to the blessings we have been given. This means everyone isn’t called to give the same amount, but is called to give equal sacrifice. No amount is too small or insignificant! Open your heart, how is God calling you?

A person’s reception of God’s Word is determined by the condition of his heart. Salvation is more than a superficial, albeit joyful, hearing of the gospel. May our faith and our lives exemplify the “good soil” in the Parable of the Sower.

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First Presbyterian Church
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Reading, PA 19602

610-375-3389
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