Pastor's Blog

When we were still in the old building and we still had prayer meeting on a Wednesday evening, Mel Zohe (one of our elders) and I were the only ones at prayer meeting one evening.  We were in the old auditorium and Mel was praying, when I heard the door into the building slam.  Someone had come into the foyer.  I waited to see if the guest would come into the sanctuary.  They didn’t.  So I went out to see who it was.

There in the foyer was a somewhat dowdily dressed unkempt older gentleman.  I asked if I could help him with something.

“Don’t you recognize me, Chris?” he said.

I told him I didn’t, and he seemed perplexed.

“Are you sure you don’t recognize me?” he repeated.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “Where would I know you from?”

“From Mountain View Chapel.  I’m here every week.  I’ve been here almost every week since you started pastoring here.  Don’t you recognize me?”

I was really taken aback, as I’m usually good with remembering names and faces – especially of those who come to church regularly.

“I didn’t catch your name,” I replied, trying to find something to jar my memory.

The old man looked at the floor, seemingly discouraged.  “My name doesn’t matter,” he said.  “You’re sure you don’t recognize me?”

I apologized and said I didn’t.  Then he said, “Well, that’s okay.  I was just coming to check up on you and be sure you’re all right.”  And with that, he turned and went out the door.

I went inside and Mel looked up.  “Is everything okay?” he said.  I related the story of the old man in the foyer.  Mel came with me and we went outside to try to find the man.  He wasn’t anywhere to be found.  There hadn’t been a car in the parking lot, so I assumed he had walked to the church.  But there was no one walking on the road.  He had just disappeared.

A few years later – after the new church was built and I had my office – late one afternoon after my secretary had gone home, the old man appeared again.  He was peering in the door just outside of my office.  I jumped up and invited him in.

“So you remember me, do you?” he asked.

“Well, I remember the last time you were here,” I said.

“I’m here every Sunday,” he insisted with a smile.

We sat down at my table and he asked me how things were going, and I told him about the Lord’s blessing on our church.  He smiled and nodded his head.  And then he began to tell me about his life, his involvement in World War II, and trivia about his upbringing.  I asked him his name again, and again he brushed me off.

“You don’t need to know my name,” he replied.  “I was just checking to be sure you were all right.”  And then he invited me to come visit him at his home in Pottstown.  He told me to write down the address as he gave it to me.  And then he got up and left.  There was a car in the parking lot waiting for him this time.

A few weeks later I decided to pop in on him.  The street address was down in Pottstown, near the middle school.  I found the street and began following door numbers.  I don’t recall the exact address today, but when I was looking for the house number, I discovered that it didn’t exist!  The house number was something like “124”.  The number “122” ended one block and then there was a crossroad.  I expected the next house would be “124”.  It wasn’t.  It was “126”.

I got out of my car and looked around, thinking maybe there was a rear apartment or an upstairs apartment that I had missed.  But there wasn’t.  The address didn’t exist.

It was an odd experience.  Maybe it was just an old man who was entering dementia.  But how had he known my name?  And why would he come all the way up to our church from Pottstown?  He said he was there every week, but I had never seen him at church in my life.

Or was he at church every week – an angel in our midst of whom we were all unaware?  If that’s who he really was, the thought that he was checking on me to be sure that I was all right was quite comforting.

I’ve never seen him again.  But who knows?  Maybe he’s still out there checking on me…

I am very sold on the importance of covenant relationship (as opposed to personal relationship) with God.  I see God’s work as more oriented toward the church as group than I do toward me personally.

However, there are times where things have happened in my life – things that seemed to coincidental to be merely coincidence – and I’ve chalked them up to providence and God’s comforting and affirming hand in my life.

One of the most vivid was when were trying to raise money either to purchase the property on which the present chapel sits or for the building itself (the exact detail escapes me).  But the board had set a goal of raising a certain amount by a target date.

We were a week away from the target date and we were still about $12,500 short, so I announced in church that we needed to raise that amount by the following Sunday if we were to move forward with our development plan.  I was very discouraged as that seemed an astronomical amount to raise in a week.  We had been trying to raise the funds for several months and everyone’s resources seemed to have been exhausted.

There was a visitor there on the Sunday that I announced what we needed to reach the goal the following week.  I knew who he was but didn’t know him very well.  He had shown up periodically at our services over the years.  Never seemed to react to the service or the message.  Always sat there with a seemingly cold, straight face.  Never gave any feedback.  Just sat through the service and left immediately when it was over.  Then I wouldn’t see him again for a few years.

This visitor showed up the following week and caught me in the parking lot before the service.  Stern faced, he handed me a little envelope and said, “I want you to read this after church.”  All I could think of was “Oh great.  What did I say to offend THIS guy last week?”  I put the envelope in my pocket.

We were in double services at the time, so I preached both services.  The special offerings that we received trying to reach the $12,500 didn’t even get close to the target.  I think we took in something like $200.  I remember thinking that we were NEVER going to get out of our tiny building. 

In the days of double services, my wife and children would attend the first service and go home.  So I was alone after the second service.  I was disheartened and discouraged.  I got in the car and remembered that the visitor had given me something to read.  I figured it was criticism of the previous week’s message, and since I was already down, reading a little criticism wouldn’t make it much worse.

So I ripped open the envelope…and inside there was a check for $12,500.

It wasn’t a miracle.  The man had heard the need the previous week.  But it was an amazing providence that this particular man was at that service to hear that announcement and that he had the money and decided to give it to a church which he only visited occasionally.  His demeanor had led me to expect a criticism;  instead I received an enormous blessing and an emotional boost. 

I guess any pastor would have been excited to receive such a gift – but it was the way the entire situation unfolded, the way the circumstances molded my emotions, and the way the gift healed the little wound in my heart that made me sense a providence directed pointedly and personally at me.

I don’t expect that to happen every day.  I don’t need it to happen every day.  Just remembering that providence is enough to remind me that God knows my life and my situation and cares about me – even when I’m not experiencing direct and pointed providential intervention.

 

 

Evangelicalism tends to call people to “a personal relationship with Jesus”.
The main concern of the gospel presentation is personal:  your eternal destiny.  Are you going to heaven or hell?  Are you going to ask Jesus to rescue you?
When you pray and ask Jesus to rescue you, the resulting relationship is personal.
So is the resulting “religion”.  Everything is highly individualized.
You have “personal devotions”.  Private Bible reading.  Private prayer.  You can worship Jesus if you want, when you want, and however you want.
Connection with others might be desirable, but it’s optional.  Your relationship with Jesus is personal.  Others aren’t in on it and don’t need to be.  Connection with others, accountability to others, working toward a goal with others – that’s all optional.  If you find it fulfilling – connect with others.  If not – you still have your personal relationship with Jesus and that’s what REALLY matters.

That’s very American because individualism is very American.  But I don’t think these ideas represent at all what Christianity was intended to be.

God always builds a covenant relationship with a group of people.
It is difficult for spiritual growth to take place in isolation from others.
It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone.  (And God said this when he and Adam had a “personal relationship”;  Adam was still seen as being alone and in need of others.)
The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all that you are – but Jesus insisted on connecting a second commandment to it and said that commandment was “like” the first: love your neighbor as you love yourself.
By this will all men know that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.

Love, by default, requires interaction with other people.

When God created the nation of Israel, He gave them the law – governing how they were to be a good and godly society amidst ancient near eastern culture;  governing not only how they lived toward God but how they lived with respect to one another.  And God wanted to dwell in the midst of them.  He was the center and the core, the hub of life, that directed all other relationships.  It wasn’t optional.  The entire design was oriented to that purpose.

When God created the church, He gave us the new covenant and writes the law on our hearts – not so we can feel spiritual, but so that we can obey and do what is right and be a "right society".  God dwells in OUR midst – not just in MY heart.  It is when the church is gathered that there He is in the midst of US.

The church is not merely a philanthropic organization that raises money for the poor or an institutionalized corporation that produces self-help and child-care products that you purchase and use at your leisure -- a "spirituality mall".  The church, each church, is supposed to be a society in and of itself, a sort of counter-culture standing for the things of God even when the surrounding culture doesn’t.  The church is supposed to be a society bound together by a common commitment to Jesus Christ.  We Christians are related to one another by what we believe.  We are related by commitment to the same truths that come from the one true God.

The church is supposed to be a society that wants God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, and it is supposed to be the society that strives to do that now – in preparation for the society that heaven will one day be.

We are supposed to be committed to Christ – and to the group.  God works on the individuals in the group through the interactions and functions of the group.  Luncheons and picnics and Sunday school programs and AWANA and worship teams aren’t just functions and events in themselves.  Each one is an opportunity for differing people to work together – and more importantly, to learn how to work together – to learn how to be patient with and put up with people who are different from you, who do things differently than you do, who have different expectations and understandings.  The interaction is supposed to broaden us if we are too narrow and focus us if we are too broad.  We influence and build each other -- and we are open to being influenced and built as well as building and influencing.

This is what love does and it is how the "believing society", the Bride, is formed.  The Spirit of the loving husband, Jesus, flows from Him and through the connections of the body of the Bride.  As her members grow in love, he is “sanctifying her” – teaching her, showing her, making her holy – “so that he might [eventually] present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, so that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5.26-27).  This is why He gave himself for her (Ephesians 5.25)!

When you remove yourself from this connection to others – when you refuse to connect, when you disconnect, when you quit, when you give up – thinking that’s acceptable because all that matters is your personal relationship with Jesus – you remove yourself from the locus where He does all of his work.

If you cut your finger off, it doesn’t grow.  It dies.  For me, that illustrates the importance of covenant relationship.  For thirty-plus years of ministry I have been trying to convey this concept.  I have found it an almost insurmountable task to overcome the idea of personal relationship with Jesus.  Evangelical is thoroughly American, and American culture is thoroughly individualized – and just seems to struggle with the idea of being a church rather than going to a church. 

Many of my other ideals I have abandoned or altered for the sake of connection with other people.  But this ideal – covenant relationship -- is so much the core of the biblical message that I cannot bring myself to let it go.  We won’t reach it in this life, but I will fight to see as much of it as possible realized until my dying day.

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