Church News

God is bigger than your situation

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KenHildebrand-1.jpgHow would you think of God's role in your life if you struggled through and overcame crippling Polio, abuse, and a crushing injury that nearly killed you, resulting in the loss of your leg? Would you blame God for allowing these things to happen to you, or would you thank him for giving you the strength to overcome them? If you are Ken Hildebrand, you would give God the glory for his provision, protection, and power and for the testimony to God's greatness that you now have. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get everything together to record Ken's testimony when he was at Abundant Springs this weekend, but all those who were there will tell you what an inspiring time it was. Ken directed me to a piece that was done about him for broadcast television. It really is quite the story, and though it avoids bringing Ken's faith into the equation, it is well worth watching.

The next time you're going through hard times, don't blame God. Just remember the faith that Ken has in God and know that God is bigger than whatever problems you may be facing.

You can view the video here.

--Pastor Stephen Valcourt pastorstephen

The Ten Commandments: Guideposts to Living Free

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The Ten Commandments have a bad reputation. They've been used to try to impose our beliefs on others--specifically the unchurched and those from other religions. They've also been used as a guilt-laden way to try earning the forgiveness of our sins (called "salvation"). We look at them and snarl, "They're just a bunch of laws. I don't like laws!" Or we say, "They're so restricting, telling me 'don't do this or that'!" Despite our tendency to look at the Ten Commandments negatively, they are actually a great blessing given to us by God Himself. To understand this, I think it is important to briefly look back at the circumstances surrounding their origin. Israel, God's chosen nation, had been in slavery in Egypt for 440 years before we are told that "God heard their cry" and set events in motion to save them from Pharaoh (the ruler of Egypt). The people of Israel were free! They were now able to worship their God as his people. But that wasn't what happened. The people of Israel started to live in ways that caused them great pain and danger--drawing them further away from God and instead enslaving them to sin. Knowing that they needed to be shown the way to live free--how to live in the very ways of God--He gave them Ten Commandments as the guideposts to free living.

Just because the Ten Commandments were given to Israel under the Old Covenant does not negate their importance for us today. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17 that he had come to fulfill the law, not abolish it. Then, in Mark 12:30-31, Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments in two broad commandments which, if followed, would lead to the natural fulfillment of all Ten Commandments.

Of course, the really great thing is this: these commandments are not a set of guidelines that must be followed in order to gain salvation. You see, John 3:16 tells us that God loves us so much that he sent his son, Jesus (who is also God Himself--I know, the Trinity is confusing), to pay the price for our sins (i.e., misdeeds, mis-thoughts, rejection of God, etc.). All we have to do is accept the free gift offered us by believing in the supernatural work of Jesus and submitting to him and we are saved! So, the Ten Commandments do not earn us our freedom, but are used to show us how to live out the freedom those who are true Christians have already received!

Furthermore, these commands from God do not take away our freedom, despite telling us not to do certain things. This is because they protect us, our relationship with God, and the rights and freedoms of those around us. For a community to live free, they have to watch out for each other! We can understand the protection aspect like this: a good father will create rules and boundaries around his children in order to keep them safe so they do not get killed or find irreparable harm. A father who lets his children do whatever they want is not giving them freedom, but condemning them to a poor existence. Likewise, our Heavenly Father (God) has given us boundaries to keep us safe from the harm that can come from certain things, and also to prevent us from slipping back into slavery to that which we have been delivered from--sin and eternal death.

Abundant Springs is in the midst of a series on the Ten Commandments and I invite you to follow along--either in person, or by listening online here. We'd love to hear your thoughts and comments on this post, so leave them below or on our Facebook page.

--Pastor Stephen Valcourtpastorstephen

Why Church Membership is Important

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Church-Membership-MattersWhat is the point of becoming a member of a church? Why should I do it? What's the catch? What does it do for me? What does it require that I do for you? Does the Bible say anything about membership? These are some of the questions that you may be wondering as you consider church membership, whether at Abundant Springs or at another church you regularly attend and call home. With our Annual General Meeting just around the corner I want to encourage you to consider membership, so let me try to answer some of these questions.

What Does the Bible Say About Membership?

Does the Bible really say that I need to be a member? In so many words, no. However, there are numerous passages that do make a good case for church membership. First, let me point out Hebrews 13:17: "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you." This verse raises the issue: who are these leaders I should submit to, and why do they have to give an account for my soul? If we refuse to accept any form of membership, we are refusing to put ourselves firmly in submission to any Christian leadership, and are also losing out on having that same leader committed to keeping watch over you.

Secondly, in 1 Corinthians 5:1-12 Paul brings up a matter of church discipline stating, "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you." Here and elsewhere Paul clearly lays out a plan for church discipline. However, if a church does not have members, but just informal regular guests, how can church discipline be carried out?

In 1 Timothy 5:3-16 an organized system is put in place for enrolling and caring for widows in the church; Acts 2:37-47 shows that the early church kept numerical records of who was added to their midst; Acts 6:1-6 shows the early church holding elections to fix a problem; Romans 16:1-16 shows Paul listing those who he knows are a part of the church in a certain place. As you can see, the Bible does have a fair bit to say about Christians being in membership at their local assembly.

What Does it Do For Me?

While the ultimate goal of membership in the local church is not about what it does for each person, let me try to bring some of the benefits of membership to you. First of all, because churches work under the government's charity laws and have certain constitutions put in place, only members are permitted to vote in any church election or vote, including the Annual General Meeting, and even deciding who their pastor will be. Without membership, you lose your voice in the assembly.

Secondly, membership prevents you from getting lost in the crowd. When you commit to membership at your local church formal records are made that show you attend there and that you are a part of the family. Pastors have a responsibility to those who are family, or "of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10) first.

Third, membership offers help. In Ephesians, Paul states that widows that belonged to the church should be enrolled so as to help them. Widows that did not belong and did not meet certain requirements were encouraged to gain help elsewhere. As well, when you become a member your local assembly commits to overseeing your discipleship. In other words, it commits to personally taking an interest in your growth in Christ.

Fourth, membership gives your church the opportunity to officially and publicly affirm that your salvation and baptism are credible.

Finally, membership ties you to your local church and places you in submission to the leadership there. Wait? What?! I thought this section is about what membership does for me?!? It is! This submission is essential for you to grow as a Christian. I believe Matt Chandler from the Village Church puts it best when he writes, "If you view church as some sort of ecclesiological buffet, then you severely limit the likelihood of your growing into maturity. Growth into godliness can hurt...But when church is just a place you attend without ever joining, like an ecclesiological buffet, you just might consider whether you’re always leaving whenever your heart begins to be exposed by the Spirit, and the real work is beginning to happen." Growth in Christ hurts, but it is worth it! You need to put down roots so that, when the winds blow you can stay put and continue to grow. Therefore, there are benefits to membership!

So What Is Expected of Me?

When you become a member you are formally saying, "This is my church--my family--and I agree with what it stands for." So it is important that you go to your church's website and find their statement of beliefs and read it. Make sure you agree with it, because you are deciding to make a commitment to this family to be a part of it!

When you become a member of Abundant Springs, you are expected to be a Christian who has been baptized in water. We also expect members to have been with us for about a year or longer before applying for membership, as we want to make sure you are serious about your commitment. In the membership package you will sign a commitment form which spells out what is expected of you. You will be saying:

"I will protect the unity of my church by acting in love toward other members, by keeping my conversation edifying, by following the leaders. I will share the responsibility of my church by praying for its growth, by inviting the unchurched to attend, by warmly welcoming those who visit, by praying for my pastor and his family. I will serve the ministry of my church by discovering my gifts and talents, by being equipped to serve alongside my pastor(s), by developing a servant's heart. I will support the testimony of my church by attending faithfully, by living a godly life, by giving regularly (tithes and offerings)."

Become a Member!

I encourage you to check out Thom S. Rainer's book I Am a Church Member for more insight into what this means for you. You can buy it on Amazon here. I would also love for you to apply for membership if you are a regular attender of Abundant Springs. Pick up an application at the church or download one here, fill it out, and drop it off at the church.

Catch the Vision

VisionOn November 17 I talked with our congregation about vision. We've already established our mission for the church: "To reach the unchurched and disciple believers to be like Jesus". That mission is a focuser. If we want to do something we pass it through that filter to see if it is worth doing. If it doesn't reach the unchurched and doesn't disciple believers to be like Jesus, then we don't do it--it would be a waste of resources and only serve to sidetrack the church. Vision is different. vision is a look at where we are going as a church. It is our intended destination. This vision is important because, as Lewis Carroll (the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) said, "If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” And he was right. If we don't have any plans or goals as a church we will end up exactly where we intended on going: nowhere.

The first step in getting a vision for the church (or our own lives) is to Seek God's Will. What is HIs vision? Once we have found that through reading the Bible (His Letter to Us), prayer, and journalling we can make it our own. That is what I did over the last eight months, and on Sunday I shared that with you and gave you the opportunity to catch that vision and make it your own--and our congregation did! In case you weren't there, here it is:

Our desire is for us to be a church with one hand in the Kingdom and one hand in the community. A church that is undeniably Christian, but cares unconditionally for the souls of all God’s children. A church that accepts the unacceptable person and asks the Spirit to work within them. A church that is uncompromising in its values and in its reliance on God’s Holy Spirit. A church that has compassion on the sick and the needy, the widow and the orphan, the broken family and the broken individual. A church people can call home, a church body that people call family. 

We desire to be a church where people undeniably experience God’s power through the gifts of His Holy Spirit being used by all God’s people. We desire to be a church where people grow in their faith with Christ; where inclusive groups meet together to teach and support one another and to help others within and without their group. A place where mentors seek out disciples and teach them what it means to be like Christ. A place where it it is not left to the church to attract people, but where the church body reaches their neighbours and friends for Christ and brings them in.

We desire to be a church that is always growing, and not just in numbers but in relationship with Jesus. A church that, through Christ’s blessings, reaches its fullest potential. A church where people love one another and love Christ; where young and old, rich and poor, believer and unbeliever commune together in God’s presence and come to know him and worship him together.

We desire God’s church. We desire to be a church that reaches the unchurched and strives to disciple believers to be like Jesus.

As I said on Sunday, whenever I look at that, I get excited--excited to see what God is going to do in our church and in our community!

"If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." --Lewis Carroll

But it doesn't end there. Instead, this is where everything begins! God doesn't give us a vision for our church and then say "Have at it, I'll be over here." We need to be actively involved in Praying for God's Hand to Work in the Vision. Yes, he doesn't need to be invited--but he wants to be invited into our situation. And there's power in that.

But it still doesn't end there. We need to Act on the Vision God Has Given Us! God tends to work through his people--in other words, he generally works within the natural boundaries that he created 6,000 years ago. Sometimes he will let good things fail if the human vessels do not do their part (just look at Israel's blessings and curses in the Old Testament and you'll see what I mean).

So here is where we stand: will you accept this vision as your own? Will you commit to pray over it each day, or even once a week, and ask God's hand to be upon our church and our community? Will you commit to doing your part to reach those within and without our church and strive to accomplish the vision God has given us?

I hope that you will partner with us as we move forward as a body of believers in Christ Jesus.

May God bless all you richly and work through you to reach those who are unchurched in our community. I look forward to seeing you and speaking with you at church on Sunday!

--Pastor Stephen Valcourt pastorstephen

If you have questions or comments Pastor Stephen would love to address them. Feel free to leave a comment below, or on our Facebook Page!