March 2013 Newsletter
For This Reason...I Pray For YouOne of the prayers I pray for you as a congregation regularly is Ephesians 1:15-23. It is a prayer for knowledge grounded in Christ
(v. 17). Paul wants the Ephesians to know something and therefore God wants all believers to know something, including you and me! The main content of the prayer is found in verses 18-19. God wants us to know three things: 1) What is the hope to which he has called you, 2) What are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and 3) What is the immeasurable greatness of his power. Again, all three of these things are grounded in Christ, viz. his resurrection and rule
But before the content of the prayer is given, Paul tells us why he prays in verses 15-16. This gives us the basis for the content of his prayer and in many ways the basis for all prayer. “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” This introduction to his prayer serves as a bridge between what Paul has previously said (vv. 3-14) and what he’s about to pray
(vv. 17-19). And it gives us the basis for his prayer.
Why is Paul praying? “For this reason…” For what reason? Because he has heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love toward all the saints. More specifically, he has heard of their faith in the one described in the previous section (vv. 3-14); the one our adoption is grounded in (1:5), the one our redemption and forgiveness are grounded in (v. 7), the one our inheritance is grounded in (v. 11), and the one in whom we were sealed with the Holy Spirit (v. 13). In Christ God has done everything to secure our salvation! Therefore, Paul gives thanks to God for the Ephesians, because it is God who has done the work of saving them! He doesn’t thank the Ephesians for having faith and love. No, he thanks the God who granted them salvation and faith. And he thanks the God who is still at work in their lives.
I offer three take-aways from these observations. 1) God’s work in our lives should elicit praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (v. 3). 2) God’s work in our lives and in the lives of others should elicit thanksgiving: “For this reason…I do not cease to give thanks for you.” 3) It is on the basis of God’s work in our lives through Christ that we continue to go to him in prayer; in this case, praying for knowledge of hope, riches, and power! He’s the one who saves and sanctifies in Christ. If he alone is the one who does the work in salvation and sanctification, then we must go to him in prayer and ask him to continue to do the work in the lives of his people. This theology is the theology that fueled Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians. This is the theology that fuels my prayers for you. I hope it is the theology that will fuel your prayers as well.
Missions in the Big AppleFor March 15-22, 19 high school students and 5 adults from First Free will be heading to New York City. We are very excited to partner with a ministry called Urban Impact, which is reaching out to South Asians, West Africans, and Middle Easterners in different parts of the city.
Many have asked, “Why New York City?” In fact, some students were a tad disappointed that we wouldn’t be leaving American soil as we had in the past with trips to Guatemala and Haiti.
First, the statistics about New York City are striking. I’ve read a number of articles, and estimates for evangelical Christians in NYC range from 2-4% of the population. This is among the lowest percentages for American cities. Operation World says Guatemala is 24% evangelical Christian, and Haiti is 16% evangelical Christian, so based on those numbers, New York City actually has a greater need of hearing the gospel.
Second, First Free is putting more emphasis on unreached people groups in missions. These are whole ethnic groups that are less than 2% evangelical, meaning there are not enough gospel-believing Christians among them to evangelize their own people. New York City has massive immigrant and refugee communities representing some of the world’s most unreached groups. Our team will be working with these groups, including Yemenis, Bengalis, and a number of West African people groups. It will be a unique cross-cultural experience and a chance to work with unreached people groups without the cost of crossing an ocean.
Third, we can speak English! Even the new immigrants and refugees will speak some English in NYC. We want our students to have opportunities to share the Gospel. On past trips, the language barrier has made that very difficult in one week. In NYC, we’ll get to use English to share the Good News with people from other countries, and also with any Americans we come in contact with.
Would you please pray for our team? Our biggest requests are for team unity, effective ministry, and servant’s hearts. Pray that our team would be one link in a chain of events that leads people to Christ. And perhaps this month God will use you as a link in the chain, a step in the process for someone coming to Christ too!
Worshiping TogetherI continue to think about and visit with people about the decision we made to have children first grade and older attend worship with their parents during second service. I recently read a couple of blog posts that captured some of the philosophical reasons for this decision and also shared some practical ways for parents to help children transition to big church.
Jen Wilkin, an insightful Christian writer and blogger, wrote about the decision she and her husband made to have their children attend big church with them (full post). She emphasizes their family’s desire to ‘glorify God together’ (Psalm 34:3) and the conviction that they needed to model worship, prayer and attentive listening to their children. She writes, “over time (of bringing their children to church), with clear participation expectations, creative activities and the right combination of consequences and rewards our kids have grown to see ‘big church’ not as a place they tolerate but as a place they belong.”
She later shared some practical tips in the transition of having their children in church with them. I thought these worthy of sharing with you. I encourage you to read her post in its entirety (full post).
Begin with the end in mind. Waiting until children are teenagers to bring them to church is probably too late to begin training them how to participate in worship services. Young children may not catch every point of the sermon, but having them observe YOU paying attention to the sermon will train them to attend to the preaching of the Word. The same is true for them watching you sing, pray, and interact with those around you.
Set the expectation by letting children know what church is all about. “Church is a time for believers of all ages to enjoy worshipping God together. It is a place where both children and adults belong.” Talk to your kids ahead of time about how they should behave, participate, and attend to the various parts of the service. But, understand that they will not do this perfectly!
Set them up to win by preparing. Show them how to use the kid’s sermon booklet and what is in the bulletin. Introduce them to the pastors and the people sitting around you. Sit towards the front so they can see what is happening on the platform. Explain to them the ‘glory, grace, go’ rhythm of our service and the importance of confession and praying for one another.
Debrief by talking about church at home. Pick out a main point of the sermon to discuss. Pray for the needs of the church body listed in the bulletin. Talk to your child about church as though it is their church…because it is!
Finally, PERSEVERE! Make church attendance a priority for your family so your children see it as a priority.
Ross and I recently flew to visit our children in the Washington, DC area. It was interesting to observe the different ways parents and children travel together. We didn’t fly very often with young children, but it seems to me if you want your child to learn to travel in an airplane it will take some effort to train them. It might mean conversations beforehand so they know what to expect or setting expectations in consideration of other passengers. These are things we parents do all the time when we want our children to take part in things that are important to us. Consider the importance of modeling genuine worship and joyful participation in church to your children for their good and the good of the entire church family-and for the glory of God.
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