If you are visiting this morning you need to know that the nature of this message is somewhat personal to the corporate life of Kingston Christian Fellowship. This does not mean that it will be without benefit to you. There is something here for all of us regardless of our present affiliation.
At 62 years of age, and having been raised in the church, and now in my forty first year of ministry – while I do not claim to be the sharpest tool in the shed – I would hope that you can accept that just on the basis of experience alone I have arrived at some observations worth your consideration.
About three quarters of the way through this message I will present the scripture reading from the book of Hebrews; scriptures that do not get a great deal of “air time.” And yet it seems to me they are critical to any mature understanding of the church.
But first this: No living entity can remain the same; the fact of life and growth dictate change.While there is never a moment when change is not occurring much of that change is imperceptible – we have no particular sense of it happening. At other times it is very acute, very obvious. These times of obvious change we tend to refer to as seasons – very distinct and definable. For instance in the cycle of the year we are right now in an obvious season of change; it’s called fall.
I believe that the Bible supports the truth that much of spiritual reality is reflected in the natural order of things. Just as it is with all living and growing entities in nature the church is likewise a living and growing organism. This means perpetual change is occurring. Some of it is imperceptible, while some of it is “in the face obvious”. I will use the same word to describe these obvious times of change in the life of the church – which word is ‘seasons’.
To illustrate what I mean by seasons of change consider the following slides from my personal collection. The first five speak of summer – that season of flowering, of fragrance and colour. The last slide speaks of fall – that season of seed, of leaving home, of being planted in other places.
A two part question: “Which season do you prefer, and how did that flower of summer become that white headed cluster of seed in fall?” The first I cannot answer for you. The second I can answer for us all: That flower of summer became that white ball of seed in fall one imperceptible change at a time.
We here at KCF are right now in a season of obvious change – not imperceptible change but obvious change. What we must guard our hearts against is the rush to making interpretations and projections of what it is all going to look like.
There are various factors involved in this; the core one being the health issues our founding and senior pastor is facing right now. Other factors are the coming of some new families and the departure of others such as Andrew and Hanna, now on the west coast, and today we will release Karen to continue her journey of faith.
I could take you back to some prophetic testimonies in our distant and not so distant past where the Holy Spirit spoke of coming change. There were words like: “Change is at the door.”We also heard, “A corner is being turned.” We heard words about restoration and renewal; words about being brought into a place we have never been before. And just recently despite Pastor Dave’s health challenges he was given a word in the night that God was going to fill this place with hungry people. I could add to this a couple of recent dreams that were highly prophetic concerning this house.
I am sure that we welcomed those witnesses of the Spirit and likely felt real excitement. We were excited over where God is taking us, but what we didn’t know then (although we thought we did) was the processes of change God would use in getting us there. Most times where God is taking us is exciting, and equally most times how He gets us there is far less exciting. This is not unlike the experience of the apostle Paul. He had a deep passion to preach the gospel in Rome. And sure enough the day came that he arrived in Rome. There was just one “minor” issue in that; he arrived a prisoner of the state.
There are three things I know about Kingston Christian Fellowship this morning. 1) God has enormous Kingdom purpose for this house and He will faithfully bring us into the absolute fullness of that purpose. 2) The way into that fullness will involve constant seasons of change. 3) We do not know what those changes are going to look like. So let us keep ourselves free of interpretations and projections.
Concerning seasons of change there are a couple of things we need to understand. Firstly, we have little to no control over them. We do not create them and have very little ability to alter them. Secondly – and this is the particular point of this message – during a season of changeeach of us will make a core choice. That choice is the same for all of us, and that choice is:‘How am I going to respond to this season of change I/we are presently passing through?’
Every member of this KCF family is being touched by this present season of change. Beyond that every member of this KCF family is responding to this season of change. Presently that response may be nothing more than pondering how you intend to respond, but even that is a response. This is where I want to go to the book of Hebrews. And in closing out this message I want to address an incredibly serious and sobering question: ‘What is the basis upon which you are building your response to this present season of change?’
Heb.12: 18 – 24 (from JB Philips) You have not had to approach things which your senses could experience as they did in the old days – flaming fire, black darkness, rushing wind and out of it a trumpet-blast, a voice speaking human words. So terrible was that voice that those who heard it begged and prayed that it might say no more. For what it had already commanded was more than they could bear – that “if even a beast touch this mountain it must be stoned”. So fearful was the spectacle that Moses cried out, “I am terrified and tremble!”
No, you have been allowed to approach the true Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have drawn near to the countless angelic army, the assembly of the church of the first-born whose names are written in Heaven. You have drawn near to God, the judge of all, to the souls of good men made perfect, and to Jesus, mediator of a new agreement, to that cleansing blood which tells a better story than the blood of Able.
Let me read that verse 18 from four other translations: What you have come to is nothing known to the senses.
Unlike your ancestors, you didn’t come to Mount Sinai—all that volcanic blaze and earthshaking rumble.
You have not come to something that you can feel.
For you have not come [as did the Israelites in the wilderness] to a [material] mountain that can be touched.
In these verses the writer of this letter is contrasting the Old and New Covenants and how each Covenant is engaged or experienced. He tells us that the Old Covenant was a highly physical thing. It was no less God but it was God manifesting in very physical realities and structures. This meant that experiencing God or engaging that covenant was in large part based upon the five physical senses. That whole scene described in verses 18 through 21 was highly physical, tangible and very visible.
In contrast to that he brings us to the New Covenant and what we find there is spiritual reality, invisible realty, the whole angelic world and the spirits of the saints who are already in glory. Notice we have come to God. And what we know about God is that He is Spirit. We have also come to Jesus, but notice we have not come to a physical Jesus.
Paul wrote this in 2Cor.5:16 – Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Whatever else this means it certainly means that in this New Covenant we no longer engage a Christ in a physical body; we now know Him after, by, in and through the Spirit.
And that is the point and the superiority of this New Covenant. It is S/spirit, it is nonmaterial, it is invisible; it is a reality completely outside of and beyond our five physical senses. And thisCovenant – this new reality can only be engaged or experienced on the level of our spirit and by faith and faith alone.
So here is the question: Why does religion try to reduce this New Covenant of spiritual reality to Old Covenant physical realities that were limited to the five physical senses? All of those physical realities associated with the Old Covenant were just the shadows of the nonphysical and invisible spiritual realities of the New.
I believe the Bible makes it clear that the human spirit (along with all spirit entities) has its own set of senses or sensory capacities. When the Bible speaks of the eyes of our heart being opened it is not referring to the physical eyes in our head. When the Bible refers to having an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying it is not referring to our physical ears. It seems clear enough that there is a seeing and a hearing and a touching and a knowing and understanding on the level of spirit that completely transcends our five physical senses.
But what does this have to do with seasons of change and the choices we make in responding to these seasons of change? I can tell you it has everything to do with our choices and here is how. During this season of change I can engage everything that is happening on the basis of my five physical senses and make my choice accordingly. Listen (and this is the scary part) I can even reduce God to my physical senses and call it confirmation of the choice I made.
Or I can come to true New Covenant living and engage everything that is happening on the level of spiritual reality. I can hear with my spirit, see with my spirit, touch with my spirit, know and understand with my spirit – then based on these realities respond to this season of change in keeping with the will of God regardless of what my physical senses are telling me.
When I hear people talk about the style of music, the style of worship, the personality of the pastor, the structure of the service, the glory of the building I realize that everything they are looking at is related to the sense realm. That is the sadness I see across the face of the church today. It is dominated by the sense realm rather than by faith in relation to the invisible realm of S/spirit.
Through whatever seasons of change God may take us there are some core values that are permanent – at least as long as the present generations of leadership are in place. One of those values is we will always be a people of the word. A second is we will strive to be a people of Kingdom community and relational accountability. I do not speak these values as a judgement of any other house in this city or beyond. And yet I must tell you that I do have a deep concern regarding a fast developing trend in the church at large which also includes our city. That trend is the defining of Christianity by events and venues. I understand the appeal of that – it’s an appeal to the senses whereby we reduce spiritual reality to a physical measurement in order to define success.
The purpose of this message is not to cause us to be fearful of making choices – not at all, but I do appeal to you to make certain those choices are based upon spiritual reality as opposed to the realm of your physical senses.
A Strange Pastoral Choice: In this “seeker sensitive culture” we must take care that we do not create a culture of “easy believe-ism” in which the message of Christ and Christian discipleship become so watered down that it produces no real change. One pastor who practiced all of that in the name of church growth discovered that the turnover in his congregation was endless. People came but seldom remained.
Somewhere in that journey he realized that when people come for nothing they will leave for less than nothing. Come easy – go easy. He and his leadership made the hard choice to tighten things up and present a more Biblically demanding and challenging message. Surprisingly their growth did not diminish, but far more importantly the growth was solid with far less turnover.