Dear Immanuel Bible Church,
By God’s grace the state of Immanuel Bible Church is strong and getting stronger. Indeed, at the dawn of a new year I am encouraged to see a community of saints growing “strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Eph. 6:10).
Annual meetings are a time to reflect on God’s past faithfulness even as we look with hope to the future. In 2013 God’s faithfulness was on display in countless ways including baptisms, welcoming new members, growing Bible studies and Sunday school classes, hymn sings, service projects, mission trips, retreats, new staff members, weddings, births, and funerals when dearly loved brothers and sisters in Christ went home to be with the Lord. These activities and events help make up our life together as we strive to “live . . . worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). And so in the New Year we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
What does our faithful God have in store for us in 2014?
While the specifics are yet to be revealed, this much I know: “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). All good, all the time. This is what God promises those who are in Christ Jesus. And because this promise was purchased with the very blood of God’s Son, it is sure and certain. “This cup that is poured out for you,” Jesus says, “is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:20). Because of the cross we can sing with David “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Ps. 23:6). This, of course, does not mean a year absent trials. Suffering will come. But we know when we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death our faithful Lord will be with us, guiding our every step toward green pastures.
With this bedrock conviction we also know that God calls the church to make disciples. Our mission is set out clearly in our Lord’s parting words before His ascension: “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” (Matt. 28:18-20). What this means for Immanuel Bible Church is that all of our programs and activities should be feeding discipleship. Think of it this way: discipleship is the ocean that the river of our activities must be flowing toward.
The elders are prayerfully working hard to ensure that we as a church are being faithful to this ultimate end of becoming more whole-hearted followers of Jesus Christ. And we are excited to add to our leadership teams in the New Year so we can do the work of discipleship still better. In His kind providence, the Lord has been steadily bringing new families to Immanuel. It is a great joy to see all the children scamper down the aisles for children’s church, and to hear of the growing Sunday School and Awana attendance. And I trust the swelling attendance for Sunday morning worship is evidence of true spiritual growth at Immanuel. We long to be good stewards of the people God is entrusting us with in the faith. My prayer is that what was said by the Apostle Paul of the Thessalonian church would be true of us: “For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything” (1 Thess. 1:8).
In the New Year we would do well to ask, “What does discipleship look like in a local church? In other words, what are the marks of a growing, maturing body of believers?” Let me suggest at least these five things:
1. A growing church longs to know Jesus Christ.
- John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
- John 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”
- Jesus is the treasure hidden in a field and the pearl of great price that the parables speak of in Matt. 13. A growing church sings from the heart, “Hallelujah! All I have is Christ. Hallelujah! Jesus is my life.”
- Therefore, let us resolve to know Him more in 2014.
2. A growing church craves the Word of God.
- Psalm 19:10 “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.”
- Matt. 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
- Our love for the Word of God will show itself by being the obvious foundation for all we do in our preaching, teaching, singing, praying, meetings, fellowship events, etc.
- Therefore, let us resolve to crave the Word of God in 2014.
3. A growing church loves people here and abroad.
- John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
- But our love does not stop at the doors of our church. It must be so strong that our walls cannot contain it. Our love for each other must have an outward impulse expressed in love for the peoples of the world. If God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, how can we not lay down our lives for the good of people whether in Whatcom County or Papua New Guinea or Kenya or Turkey or Thailand or Peru?
- Therefore, let us resolve to love people here and abroad in 2014.
4. A growing church diligently seeks unity.
- Eph. 4:1-3 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
- Biblical unity does not mean uniformity. We are different in Christ—each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made. And we may not always agree. But we are unified in the most important way possible: we are all one in Christ. We stand together at the foot of the cross and have covenanted together to live a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Therefore, let us resolve to diligently seek unity in 2014.
5. A growing church strives to do everything for the glory of God.
- 1 Cor. 10:31 “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
- Our lives exist to promote the glory, the honor, the supreme worth of the triune God. This is what the Apostle Paul means when he says in 2 Cor. 5:9, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”
- Therefore, let us resolve to live not for self, but for the glory of God in 2014.
By God’s grace this year will be a year when we, individually and as a church, grow in discipleship. But it won’t “just happen.” God is calling us to apply ourselves with a holy determination to this glorious “work of faith and labor of love” (1 Thess. 1:3). In the strength that God provides, will you join me?
With you in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ,