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Report of the Pastor
Livingston First Church/Shiloh Church
Rev. Dr. Craig A. Green, November 8th, 2017
“Anyone who intends to come with Me has to let Me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, My way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Mark 8: 34-37 Msg.)
If suffering, self-sacrifice, and losing ourselves in order to be found in Jesus—if these are the marks of true disciples—and they are—than we have had a banner year as a church family!
In many ways, we have walked through some of the same soul-searching corrections and clarifications the Lord walked His First churches through, as recorded in the Revelation of John.
Like Ephesus, we have had to recognize our love for each other wasn’t as deep as we pretended it to be. But in the process, the Lord has shown us that His love cannot be reduced to the sharing of similar incomes or interests or inclinations; our love must be anchored in the fact that Jesus dwells in us individually and especially in-community and has called us to be a family—one that is divinely appointed and one that must not be discarded.
Like Thyatira, He called us to confront a spiritual/sexual Principality that has caused untold pain as it has attacked marriages, led women into emotional and physical affairs with each other and husbands to passively—or aggressively—neglect their place of spiritual authority within marriage. I have never walked through anything so difficult in my 25 years as a pastor as this confrontation; but knowing that Thyatira walked through this before us has brought me a measure of peace.
Like Laodicea, He has called us to embrace both the hot waters of Holy Spirit healing and the cool waters of Holy Spirit wooing. This is harder to drink than it seems, and is definitely not the prevailing spirit of the American Church, which has embraced various degrees of lukewarm shallowness in the name of “love” and inclusiveness and forward-thinking, terrified that the Truth might scare people away. Truthfully, He will—even as He welcomes and refreshes and heals those who truly seek… HIM!
And finally, like the Church in Smyrna, we have undergone a short but intense time of trial and testing. We have endured rumors and accusations; we have weathered offenses and misunderstandings. Additionally, this congregation—at least those who are still here today—walked through stage-4 cancer surgery and chemo treatments with Tina and me with great compassion and love. The Lord warned me at the beginning that some would not be able to walk this road with us—that a sick pastor wouldn’t be “cool.” I am so grateful for those who were willing to love beyond appearances and trust God despite weaknesses. Truly, at the end of my rope, Grace is prevailing!
SO, our heart to be like the FIRST Church is proving to be costlier than we may have first thought. It appears that following the real Jesus like real disciples is really not popular in our culture. It wasn’t popular in Jesus’ day, either.
With all that said, let me be clear—WE ARE HEADED IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION, AND OUR FUTURE IS BRIGHTER AND MORE GLORIOUS THAN OUR PAST! The Lord is saying loudly to us, “Look forward with hope! Look forward with vision! Be a Gateway Church so My Church in the Third world can infiltrate and permeate your land. Be a Lighthouse Church by sharing deep Christianity with those who are willing to receive it—the same people who could receive it from Me at the First—the poor and outcast in rural and neglected villages that matter much to Me even if they don’t to the world.”
It’s time to yoke with and receive the international church here; it’s time to plant their (our!) DNA in rural and poor areas much like our own—where the neglected and forgotten are invited to embrace the full and true Gospel—the one that costs everything and demands all; where suffering is expected, self-sacrifice encouraged, and Jesus is actually, LORD…!