Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Pursuing a Proper Perspective"

Text: 1 Chronicles 29:10-19

Psalm 21:1-7

 

As we’re looking ahead to 2015, and preparing to ask for your commitments of support vis-a vis the ministries of Central Presbyterian, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride regarding where our church has come over the course of the past several years.

We’re growing numerically, having received a significant number of new members of all ages. Our worship attendance has remained fairly stable in spite of having to bid farewell to many members who have gone on to Kingdom glory; to many others who – for one reason or another – are no longer able to attend, and to still others who have relocated geographically, most of whom were week-in and week-out attendees. These folks no longer are in the dozens, but in triple digits. There are a good number of children around these days where there were relatively few just a decade ago. And, of course, they bring along their parents. There has been a wonderful blending of generations with eight month, and eight year, and eighty year olds worshiping God together – the elder teaching the younger, the younger bringing joy to the heart of the elder, and everyone in between enjoying being part of an increasingly multi-generational church.

            Every generation of this church family has exhibited tremendous generosity. VBS children continue to annually support worthy efforts such as back-to-school collections for needy students and the Heifer International Project for example. Individual and family giving units in this church have regularly increased pledged offerings, and many have gone a second mile to help cover deficits in our annual operating budget. Support for our street-level Door Ministry has been amazing with members and friends of Central contributing funds and food to help those hungering persons and families in our community. Support for our Needy Lunch, Clothing Ministry, Second Helping Meal, Mountain of Food, and Share-a-Gift allows us to continue to meet real needs in our city. And our church family consistently responds to special appeals for emergency aid and support with near astounding liberality. I could go on half the morning recounting your benevolent efforts.

            Along the way, we’ve had the appearance of new ministry groups, and resurgence of long-established ones – The quilting and shawl groups, and our newest Warm Fuzzy Ministry; the Hope Rebekah Circle; the Men’s Study Group; PALS Christian Preschool which is, for the first time, offering afternoon programming; Mothers of Preschoolers [better known as MOPS]; LOOP, which is a group that reaches out to families of incarcerated persons; ABLE’s GED classes, and of course the Dream Team which is serving as our long-range missional planning ministry.            Recent history has witnessed significant improvements in our physical plant: new heating and air-conditioning systems; new flooring in the kitchen and social hall; improvements to the kitchen pantries, new chancel furnishings; renovation of the Memorial and Westminster Rooms; acquisition and improvements on what was once the Massillon Club property; addition of a rest room on our upper level, along with many smaller projects too numerous to mention.

            And of course underlying all of this is the most important growth of all – spiritual growth; growth in our commitment to being Disciples of Christ in the heart of this city; growth in our devotion to the gospel and all its expressions in hands-on ministry and outreach. I trust that you share with me that sense of pride in where our church has come in recent history. But here is where a caution flag must be raised, and a proper perspective pursued. Don’t you know that healthy pride has an insidious way of turning into unhealthy pride. It’s all too easy to get puffed up [using the apostle Paul’s language] as we reflect on things like growth, accomplishment, possibility, and potential. Several weeks ago, I got a call from one our presbytery’s retired pastors after he had read an edition of our “Communicator.” He was simply calling to give us a pat on the back for where our church has come in our ministry. As I hung up the phone, I laid down my pen, leaned back in my chair, clasped my hands behind my suddenly growing head, and thought to myself how cool that call was. I then returned to the work at hand, and began to leaf through my Bible for a verse upon which to base what has become this week’s message. I was figuratively slapped upside the chops when I opened to a book of the Bible from which I have rarely felt compelled to preach. Let’s continue reading there.

            (Read 1 Chronicles 29:14-19)

            Yes, Central Presbyterian Church has come a long way in the past several years. But who gets the credit? The pastor? Hardly. This church was here long before I came, and this church will be here long after I leave. I’m just, as they say, “passing through.” The officers? You’ve been faithful and steady and capable. You’ve answered a call, sacrificed your time and energy, and responded with your varied talents. But again, on a longer timeline, you as well are just “passing through.” The saints of the church who give liberally of your resources, praying constantly for the ministry of Central Church? Well you, along with your pastor, your ruling elders and deacons, your staff, your Sunday School teachers, your volunteers in programs and outreaches, can do nothing without a spiritual motivation. And that motivation comes from One, and One alone: Almighty God.

            In our scripture reading, we find King David shortly before the end of his earthly life giving the nation of Israel a proper perspective through which to view their successes. David and the people under his leadership had been witness to many great things. Battles had been won. Enemies had been overcome. Territories had been occupied according to God’s promises. Wealth had been accumulated at near astounding rate. Good religious practices had been established under the leadership of many gifted and devoted persons and groups. And now David is ready to pass the mantle of leadership to his son Solomon. In Israel’s future, centered in the great city of Jerusalem, a temple would be built to serve as, in David’s words “a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God.” This house was to be magnificent – vestibules, chambers, treasuries, vessels, and other articles of service made of the finest gold and silver, items of bronze, iron, wood, onyx, gemstones. It would be something never witnessed before.

            Yet David had seen the insidious and corrosive effect of healthy pride turning unhealthy. He’d seen how it had ruined the reign of his predecessor King Saul. In his own life, David’ s prideful lust and sense of entitlement had devastated and divided families. So on the threshold of this great new day for the nation, he gathered the people to effectively say, “Watch out! Blessed first and foremost, folks, is the Lord!” David offers a public prayer: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is…… is yours.” David gives credit where credit is ultimately due.

            David proceeds to acknowledge that the people have given of themselves; have offered willingly toward the work of God’s house, but that he and they are sojourners, “like a shadow” which is here at one moment, gone in another; as they say, “just passing through.” It is God whoabides; God who provides abundance; God who makes every work of men and women possible.What the people bring is a free and joyous response to the One who is the Master Builder and ChiefArchitect. To the people’s credit, their response is to be commended. But remember whose building this is, and whose blueprints are on the table. David publically prays in conclusion that his beloved son will rule from this same heart of humble acknowledgement as God’s Kingdom is built and served.

Here’s the question at hand: Is it okay for us as members of a growing, forward-thinking, for ward-moving church to feel a sense of pride? As we move into 2015 reflecting on the past several years of good things, is it right and proper to commend those who have been a part – pastors, officers, staff, volunteers? I certainly believe it is. But the yellow flag is this: let’s not get all puffed up with pride. Let us not self-righteously luxuriate in our sense of accomplishment. Let’s not pursue an improper perspective on our work. It is God, and God alone, who makes possible the good things going on at Central Presbyterian. Every blessing we share is traceable back to God. We are effective in ministry only because God fits and equips us to be effective in ministry. That goes for your pastor, your officers, your staff, your volunteers, all of us. If we lose sight of that, the walls will sooner or later come tumbling down. And nothing deflates pride like being under a pile of rubble.

 

            Friends, as we continue to work on building this church in 2015 and in the years ahead, may our prayer be David’s prayer. Let’s bow our heads: “O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own.” Amen.