Passion and Fire

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As I travel and minister I see, in my churches and individual Christian lives, a serious lack of passion. They are lukewarm about the things of God and the Church. This lukewarmness is a sin and will, in the end, cause trouble for believers and churches alike. Jesus said: “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16).

Paul, in writing to the Church in Rome stated (the Holy Spirit said): “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” The Message Version of this verse is even more direct: “Don’t burn out, keep yourselves fuelled and aflame…cheerfully expectant” (Romans 12:11).

So, it seems that it is possible to lose your zeal and passion – otherwise, why would Paul say “keep”? So, we need to be aware that our passion and deep love for Jesus can fade slowly until one day we wake up and realize that our passion is gone and the fire is out. So, it is imperative that we pay attention to our passion for the Lord and the things of the Lord every day. Monitoring our passion level and making adjustments as needed. After all, the cares of this world and all the various aspects and demands of daily life can and do steal our love for and passion for Jesus.

John Wesley, Anglican priest who got saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit once said: “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.” So true, even today. Passion for Jesus is so rare that, when seen, it will attract others and make opportunity to share the love of God and His life-transforming power.

People need to see passion to then seek and see Jesus. The world has this contagious level of passion for football, hockey, politics, social rights… but, most Christians are simply on simmer and are not on fire for God in a way that others can and should notice. This needs to change. “Don’t burn out, keep yourselves fuelled and aflame…cheerfully expectant” (Romans 12:11).

Whatever it takes, time to make a change and fan the embers back to a roaring fire of enthusiasm, excitement, and expectancy. Passion is so lacking and so needed today in the Church and in the life of believers.

 

The Emphasis Today

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There is so much teaching available today for those who are followers of Jesus. New books are published almost daily. There are podcasts, web sites, texts, Tweets, blogs … and the list goes on. A lot of the information is “fluff and puff.”  Some is decently researched and contains good, biblically balanced material and relevant information.

However, just as often the material is heretical or simply someone’s current pet topic being presented and not well researched nor presented in a balanced manner. One can even wonder if some people just put material out there to help keep their name in the public eye or to bring in income to grease their ever-increasing ministry machine. Topics, of course, are wide-ranging and often have nothing to do with the real Church that Jesus is building or the expansion of the Kingdom.

This is regretful as God does have an emphasis or focus currently in His Kingdom. He always does. And, it is often the less known and smaller ministries that preach and teach on the current focus. The ones without the podcasts, books, television presence, or a large staff.

The reason for this is that often the current emphasis is not popular and will not open doors to big conferences and large honorariums. To be on the speaking circuit of the big conferences you need to have a big church or a well-known ministry and teach on topics that let people know all the rights and blessings they have because they follow Jesus. There are exceptions – but they are few.

What God is saying is often not popular and requires us to examine ourselves and dig deep into heart issues. Not to mention, make a serious commitment to what He is doing… and it is always something that will cause us to be less comfortable and secure. It usually deals with responsibilities and obligations and not inherent blessings and things we wrongly think God must do for us because we are an entitled generation.

Currently in the Kingdom and in His Church Jesus is emphasizing the need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit so as to receive the power needed to be a witness for Him. Not “do” witnessing, but to be a witness as we live life as disciples 24/7. This includes moving in the nine supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit so as to show the world that Jesus is alive and thus put God on public display as we fully proclaim the Gospel (1 Corinthians 2:4-5; Romans 15:18-19).

He is wanting a supernatural Church which sees its members going into all their world, winning the lost, discipling the new believers, and planting churches as the lost are gathered into house churches in local neighbourhoods. He is activating the priesthood of all believers and destroying the religious clergy-laity divide which has never been biblical.

None of this is new. But, in almost all cases, it has been neglected and thus lost from sight … even in those churches which declare that they are “Spirit-filled.” Around the world I witness powerless churches which were born in the fires of the supernatural and now are simply playing and living in the ashes of that fire. It is time to go back to the basics and back to the Bible and, like Jesus, “be about our Father’s business.” It is time to be supernatural and actually live like new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

This is true – regardless of the personal cost to the believer or the cost to the local church. Either we are following Jesus and becoming fishers of men (Matthew 4:19) or we are simply deceiving ourselves believing that everything is good when It is not.

 

It Is Not About You!

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I have a monthly overseas trip to minister in a number of nations. And, I am fully engaged in ministry here in North America when home. I minister in all types of venues – small numbers and substantially large numbers. I minister in young church plants that are growing and older churches that are stagnant and comfortable and thus not growing and even declining. Conservative to liberal. A fairly wide spectrum.

However, they seem to have one thing in common. When you listen to the teachings, pay attention to what is being asked in the prayer lines or during informal, after the service, conversations, and think about the songs churches use to worship the God they love and serve … Wow! It literally has little to do with God the Father or His Son, Jesus Christ. It has to do with the people. Oh, it is subtle but it is true nonetheless. It is all about our needs, our wants, our feelings, our lack, our desires, our hopes and dreams. The focus is very often me, myself, and I.

It is a universal problem,. It is as if people think (dare we say that they are taught) that Jesus is here to meet all their needs and take care of everything in their lives. It is subtle but we often state or sing in our services that Jesus is our servant – forgetting that we are here to serve Him as His bond-servants (read: slaves). Surprise of surprises – He is God and we serve Him. He is God and we obey Him. He is God and we follow Him. He is God and we exist “in Him” and work as a vital part of His Body, the Church. Note the word “work” (Ephesians 2:10; John 14:12). We work for Him – He is God. It is not all about us – it is all about Him; His plans and His purpose. His agenda.

Because the focus appears to be about us – it is difficult if not impossible to get people to take their eyes off themselves (their favourite subject) and put them on Jesus and His purpose in coming. He came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). And, He commissioned His Church (not our church) to do the same when He said, “Go into all the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). So, our focus should not be us – but them. You know, the ones who do not believe and thus do not come to our weekly assembly on the weekend or our small groups during the week.

This is a major paradigm shift … but, unless it is made, many of today’s churches will not exist in the near future. Statistics show that the Christian Church is declining in both attendance as well as influence in almost every community in most nations. So, major changes are needed and they all start with each and every believer recognizing that it is not about us – it is all about Him.

 

When God Asks a Question

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When God asks a person a question He is not looking for information. After all, He is omniscient – all knowing. He is not asking a question so that we can inform Him of something that He does not know or happens to be unaware of. He asks us questions so that we, in the process of answering, will discover something that we need to know.

There is a story in the book of Genesis about Jacob and Esau. They are brothers. Esau is the older of the two. Apparently he is more interested in food than he is in his birthright as the oldest. So, he “sells” his birthright to his younger brother. Later on Jacob deceives his father and receives the blessing that rightfully only belongs to the firstborn – Esau.

Jacob, as a name, means “holder of the heel” or “supplanter”, because he twice deprived his brother of his rights as the firstborn son. Other meanings of his name include: trickster and con artist.

Jacob really did not know who he was. It seems that he was always trying to be someone he was not – his older brother, the right man for his uncle’s daughter in marriage, a wealthy man with herds and family. He never seems content with who he is or what he has. He is always striving for more, strutting to be noticed, and struggling to live life in some meaningful way. He did not accept the fact that he was ‘second born’ and yet still loved by his parents and by the God that he and his family worshipped.

Then, one day, Jacob encounters the God that he and his family believed in. In Genesis, chapter 32, he wrestles with God all night. During the struggle he comes to his senses and realizes who he really is and the nature of his character as exhibited all through his life. God asks him a question: “What is your name?” (Verse 27). God was asking Jacob – do you know who you really are? In Hebrew culture, your named defined you. And, Jacob had always strived to be someone he wasn’t and to have what really did not belong to him.

So, God asks him, “Who are you?” God knew – it was Jacob who didn’t have a clue. And, as soon as Jacob answered the question and admitted that he was simply Jacob – a thief, supplanter, con artist … immediately, God changed his name to Israel. A new name that would bring about a new character, a new understanding, a new future as he walked into his divine destiny and became who God created him to be in the first place.

So, today, maybe God is asking you: “Why are you?” Not who have you become as a result of the pressures of life, the expectations of others (including other Christians and the Church), or what you do for a living. Who are you? When you take away all the external trappings what is left – who is left?

This is what Jacob needed to discover. This is what each and every true follower of Jesus is invited to discover. And, in this discovery there is freedom, joy, purpose, and fulfillment. And, only after discovering this can you then move into God’s plan and purpose for your life.

I Am Amazed…

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I am amazed at the number of true disciples of Jesus who are simply ignoring The Great Commission to “go into all the world and make disciples.” In other words, win people to Jesus and His Kingdom. Go fishing. Jesus said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). In other words, if you are not fishing then you are not following – you are simply self-deceived. And yet, there are so many true believers who are ignoring the command to go.

Jesus came “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). And, He left the Church the same mandate or job description. That’s the task of every believer – not just those called to be five-fold evangelists. It is a call on every believer – not just those with the gift of evangelism as there is no such gift in the Bible. Everyone who believes is called to “go and make disciples”.

The first command of God in the book of Genesis given to Adam and Eve was “be fruitful and multiply.” That is still the command for the Church that Jesus is building. Be fruitful – not just faithful. He expects healthy sheep to birth more sheep. Maybe, just maybe, the vast majority of believers are simply not healthy. Thus, they are unable to reproduce.

Well, Jesus is the Healer and the Word of God is “spirit and life” (John 6:63) and “sharper than a two-edged sword dividing between soul and spirit” (Hebrews 4:12) so there is really absolutely no reason to not be healthy. After all, when we were born again we became “new creatures in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is time to start living and acting like we really are ‘new creatures.’

The Great Commission … “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” … is found in five places in the New Testament. It was important enough to repeat five different times in five different situations. You will find it in Matthew 28:1820, Mark 16:15-18, Luke 24:47-49, John 20:21 and Acts 1:8. Just maybe it is important seeing it is recorded that many times.

We have so many Jesus-loving believers who raise their hands in worship and declare publicly their love for Jesus. And yet, Jesus states: “If you love Me you will obey Me” (John 14:15).  So, maybe, just maybe, we have a lot of hypocritical believers or simply followers who have not made the commitment needed to truly be followers of the Lord.

I believe it is time for the local church to begin to preach and speak the truth in love. It is time to challenge believers to do what Jesus said to do and accomplish what He left us here to do in is Name. It is time to call a sin a sin and no longer have The Great Omission… but instead actually fulfill The Great Commission.

A Pastor Is Not a Pastor

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Jesus is building His Church (Matthew 16:18) and it will look and function very differently than the current one we see which is often man-made and functions on a business or political model and organizational structure.

Today we see churches that are led by a “pastor.” He is the shepherd of the local church, the flock. The Greek word we translate “shepherd” is poimen. This word, in various places, is listed as the work that elders do (shepherding). Paul instructs the elders in the church to be both shepherds and overseers, saying: “Keep watch over yourself and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseer. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). So, caring for the sheep was the role of the local elders who had oversight of the life and health of the local body of Christ.

Peter refers to elders as shepherds in 1 Peter 5:1-2: “To the elders among you… Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing…”

Whenever the Bible talks about spiritual shepherds in the early church, it is always talking about elders. And, the only time the word poimen is translated as anything other than ‘shepherd’ is in Ephesians 4:11, where it is translated as “pastor” instead: “So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.”

This single aberrant translation of the word poimen has caused a whirlwind of confusion in the Church. This is the one and only time the English word “pastor” appears in most popular translations of the Bible. And there is no good reason to translate the word any differently in this instant than the way it is translated everywhere else. Everywhere else it is translated “shepherd” and refers to one of the many roles of the elders that lead each local church. Plus, the English word “pastor” means ‘shepherd’ anyways. So nothing is gained by using a different word. Other than to confuse how the early church – and thus today’s biblical church, should function.

It is abundantly clear the elders were the only shepherds in the early church. There was no solo pastor who headed up the organization. Simply a team of elders (men and women) who acted as spiritual parents – spiritual mothers and fathers. Yet this bizarre, once only, translation of the word poimen has disconnected it from all other uses of the exact same word, setting the imaginary “pastor” apart from (and often higher than) the other elders. And, confusion reigns as we function with a non-biblical model of the church that man has created, designed, and built.

And, one step further … the term “pastor” in the five-fold ministry team of Ephesians 4:11-12) is a five-fold pastor or shepherd (to translate it correctly). This means that, like the others in the five-fold ministry team, this person is trans-local, moving from one local church to another. Churches that they are relating to. And, their task is to teach and train the people (the Bible calls it “equipping”) in how to care for one another. They teach the sheep about ‘body ministry’ so that the 59 “one another” verses in the New Testament can be carried out and fulfilled by the people – not by a paid professional pastor.

Thus, the sheep minister to the sheep under the spiritual oversight of a team of local elders whose biblical mandate is to “shepherd” … and the shepherd / five-fold pastor continues to help and equip them as they learn and grow in their abilities. The local elders oversee the ‘shepherding’ to make sure all are being cared for correctly – but they don’t do the work of the ministry – the people do. This is what Paul was referring to in 1 Corinthians 12 regarding all of us being members of the body, connected to one another.

As a result, the role of a local, full-time, paid, professional pastor is done away with and the life of the local church is overseen by a team of elders … and the “pastor” or “shepherd” within the five-fold ministry of Ephesians 4 is free to fulfill their function the same was that the apostles and prophets do – trans-locally.

 

Relational Not Positional

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The early church – Christianity – was relational. The church as we see it today – Churchianity – is almost always positional. We look at the early church as seen in the pages of the New Testament and we see names or titles such as bishop, presbyter, overseer, shepherd, elder, and pastor. These tend to give us the impression that there were various levels and positions in the early church and thus positional leadership and thus positional authority.

However, a study of the words used in the original texts (Greek) and the context where those words are used will show the reader that these words are all speaking of the same thing. These “positions” were really all one and the same and not positions at all. They were roles to be fulfilled within the “family of God” and were filled by qualified, mature ‘spiritual parents.’ who were generally called elders.  Just the way the Greek was translated into our current language makes them appear to be different positions and different levels of authority within the structure of the Church. But, they were relational and not positional. And, all held by those referred to generally as “elders.”

Many times the same word is translated differently depending on the context where the term is found. And, the translation causes major confusion and becomes the basis for many false teachings about church structure, women in leadership, women in ministry, and the need to submit to someone in authority. The major misunderstanding is the role of the pastor within the life of the Church.

There is a common myth about church leadership. We have believed religion that gives us the idea that bishops, presbyters, overseers, elders, and pastors were separate persons. These were not separate people; they were different terms for a single group of people. These terms denote spiritual parents. Most of the time, these leaders were simply called elders. They were, at times, referred to as shepherd, overseers, bishops, presbyters… But, they were all elders who were functioning in various roles within the Church. And, elders were eventually appointed in all of the churches, as seen in Acts 14:12…”And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Elders were the spiritual overseers of every church.

The truth is: as you study the various words we have in the more modern translations of God’s Word in the original language it becomes quickly apparent that the religious bias of the translators and readers supply a filter by which we see and understand these terms. And, the basis of our understanding is that these titles were positions to be occupied by people in an organizational structure. In reality, there were no positions in the early church. The functioning of an elder in the early Church was relational, not positional. The early Church did not have titles and positions, they simply had spiritual parents. So, in the early Church there were spiritual leaders – parents – but no organizational hierarchy.

Without going in to minute details … if you read through the book of Acts with fresh eyes rather than filtering the text through the lens of tradition, you will quickly discover the elders (also called presbyters) were the sole shepherds (also called pastors) and overseers (also called bishops) of the early Church. These elders were a team that ministered in spiritual oversight and were a reflection of the Father, meaning they were more like spiritual parents than administrators.

So, today’s positional leadership in the Church is not biblical. We may use biblical words to define roles within today’s church but we have totally redefine the meaning of these biblical terms to fit our man-made church model.

Never Graduating

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Jesus gave to the Church some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the church for ministry. But ministry is not the end goal because Ephesians 4:12-13 tells us the real end goal: “So that the body of Christ may be built up until all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

These verses are packed with meaning. But let me just highlight a few of the things worth noting. This passage tells us that the Body of Christ is built up whenever church members exercise their calling as the priesthood of all believers. They also tell us our goal should be complete unity, which we know is Christ’s heartfelt desire for His Church. They also talk about knowing the Son of God and attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Among other things, this speaks to the eternal life we have in a Person, not eternal life as some kind of separate thing.

So, the end goal is a mature Church where the members are all ministering to Christ and each other – teaching, preaching, praying, evangelizing, discipling and mentoring the younger believers bringing them into maturity as well. In other words, healthy, reproducing – could we say multiplying – disciples.

These verses also clearly explain the end goal of equipping (the same end goal of all spiritual parenting): to produce fully mature disciples. To reproduce and multiply as God’s first command to the human race states: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Most believers never reproduce. And, if they do bring someone into the Kingdom and disciple them they are in the minority… and this is simply ‘addition.’ God said, “multiply” just as most couples do in marriage. MY wife and I had six children … we didn’t just replace ourselves by adding two more human beings to the human race – we multiplied and saw six added… and that has multiplied well into the mid-teens currently.

But, is it possible to produce fully-mature disciples in a manner that multiplies the results within the church as we currently see it functioning? I don’t believe so. It seems to me that in the system of a church being led by a pastor or a church staff that those who attend and are members never reach the point where they are mature, reproducing disciples.

The system of the “paid professional” leading an organized church holding weekly “assemblies” to teach and minister to the people never brings about the unity nor the maturity that the verses we are looking at mention as the end goal. Such a church model is designed to produce many life-long learners but very few teachers. Any ‘children of God’ but few spiritual parents. Or to put it another way: Sunday school is the only school from which no one ever graduates. But Christ wants us to graduate and become a true priesthood of all believers, empowered to exercise genuine spiritual authority.

So, we need to change the hierarchical system of a lead pastor and paid staff where the professionals do all the teaching and ministering and allow the priesthood of all believers to function, to learn, and to grow into maturity. Maturity is never reached by simply constantly learning – it is reached when the believers reproduce winning others to Jesus and then apply what they are learning as they minister, disciple, and mentor. Although a hierarchy is an effective model for grooming successors and directing subordinates, it is insufficient and inadequate for raising spiritual sons and daughters and releasing the priesthood of all believers.

It is time to reexamine the way we structure the Church and “do church.” As is, it is simply not becoming what the Lord envisioned nor is it accomplishing what He has commanded. It is time to grow up and graduate.

 

The Builders and the Millennials

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Researchers divide the population by generations and also name the generations … So, we have:                                                                                          GI Generation or the Builders born between 1901 and 1926.                                                         Mature / Silent Generation born between 1927 and 1945                                    The Baby Boomer Generation born between 1946 and 1964                              The Generation X group born between 1965 and 1980.                                     The Generation Y or Millenniums born between 1981 and 2000.                            The Generation Z or Boomlets born between 2000 and now

Each of these generations sees and lives life differently than the others. So, a church, wanting to reach one or more than one generation, needs to have some idea of what each generation is looking for with regards to live, reason for living, and what they are willing to commit to and invest in.

Based on some research of 557 churches from 2004 to 2010 nine out of ten churches in the United States of America are declining or growing at a pace that is slower than that of their communities. Simply stated, churches are losing ground in their own backyards. The same, it seems, is true in many if not most countries today.

When looked at generationally, about two-thirds of the Builder Generation, those born before 1946, are Christians. But only 15 percent of the Millennials are believers. The Millennials are the largest generation in America’s history with almost eighty million members, And, the Church has all but lost that generation.

We can blame it on the secular culture. We can blame it on the godless politics of the nation. We can blame it on the churches, the hypocritical members, and the uncaring pastors. Lots of Christians are doing that.

But, really we who are church members need to look in the mirror. I am suggesting that local churches are weak because many who call themselves church members have lost the biblical understanding of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ, the local church.

We join the church expecting others to serve us, to feed us, to care for us.

We don’t like the hypocrites in the church, but we fail to see our own hypocrisies.

God did not give us local churches to become country clubs where membership means we have privileges and perks. He placed us in churches to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to teach, to give, to share, and in some cases, to die for the Gospel of the Kingdom. The Church is to “go into all the world and make disciples” and, because we are not doing this, the Church is weak and ineffective and generations are being lost. We have turned the meaning of true biblical membership upside down. Membership means servanthood. it means giving and not just receiving. It means being a part of the priesthood of all believers and reaching others for Jesus.

It is time to attack and defeat the entitlement mentality of many church members and learn to give instead of just receiving.  It is time to come to an understanding of the priesthood of all believers where every member is minister.

 

I Am a Church Member

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From the book: “I Am a Church Member – Discovering the attitude that makes the difference” by Thom Rainer…

I am a church member.                                                                                                   I like the metaphor of membership. It’s not membership as in a civic organization or a county club. It’s the kind of membership given to us in 1 Corinthians 12: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Because I am a member of the body of Christ, I must be a functioning member, whether I am an “eye,” an “ear,” or a “hand.” As a functioning member, I will give. I will serve. I will minister. I will evangelize. I will study. I will seek to be a blessing to others. I will remember that, “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

I am a church member.                                                                                                    I will seek to be a source of unity in the church. I know there are no perfect pastors, staff, or other church members. But neither am I. I will not be a source of gossip or dissension. One of the greatest contributions I can make is to do all I can in God’s power to help keep the church in unity for the sake of the gospel.

I am a church member.                                                                                                    I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires. That is self-serving. I am in this church to serve others and to serve Christ. My Saviour went to the cross for me. I can deal with any inconveniences and matters that are just not my preference or style.

I am a church member.                                                                                                    I will pray for my pastor every day. His work is never ending. His days are filled with constant demands for his time – with the need to prepare sermons, with those who are rejoicing in births, with those who are travelling through the valley of the shadow of death, with critics, with the hurts and hopes of others, and with the need to be a husband and a father. My pastor cannot serve our church in his own power. I will pray for God’s strength for him and his family every day.

I am a church member.                                                                                                    I will lead my family to be good members of this church as well. We will pray for our church. We will worship together in our church. We all serve together in our church. And we will ask Christ to help us fall deeper in love with this church, because He gave His life for her.

I am a church member.                                                                                               This membership is a gift. When I received the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, I became a part of the body of Christ. I soon thereafter identified with a local body and was baptized. And now I am humbled and honoured to serve and to love others in our church. I pray that I will never take my membership for granted, but see it as a gift and an opportunity to serve others and to be a part of something so much greater than any one person or member.

I am a church member.                                                                                               And I thank God that I am.