Love God, Love Family, Love Church
When looking ahead to the vision and mission of our church in 2022 last September, the pastors and elders had the same feeling after praying and communicating for a long time. Now it seems that we are more certain that this is God’s expectation for our church this year. Why is the theme of our church in 2022 “Love God, Love Family, Love Church”?
First of all, let’s look at the current situation. From the perspective of the social situation, the epidemic has been repeated and continued in the past two years. Recently, the epidemic broke out again, which resulted in a surge of hospitalized patients, passengers stranded at airports due to flight cancellations, and even an increase of the number of sick children. The number of infected brothers and sisters in our church also increased. Therefore, on the one hand, we should remind brothers and sisters to pay attention to safety, and on the other hand, we should encourage brothers and sisters to care for each other and call others to greet them and check if they are healthy and safe. If someone is infected, we should also pay special attention to help him and pray for him. Pray that the Lord will take care of our brothers and sisters so we can safely get through the epidemic and those who have been infected will recover quickly.
Under the influence of this situation, the physical fellowship gatherings have been reduced because the number of people for physical worship was limited. This not only affects the worship life of the congregation, but also affects the relationship between us and our God. The most precious relationship in a Christian’s life is the relationship with God, a vertical relationship between “God and man,” because the Lord Jesus clearly stated that “the relationship between God and man” takes precedence over “the relationship between man and man.” In Matthew 22:35-40, we are taught, “One of them (the Pharisees), a lawyer, asked him (the Lord Jesus) a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”
The greatest commandment defines who you are and what you value most. A Christian who truly loves God “uses God’s words to define the meaning and purpose of his existence.” In this world, there is no one person, one political party, one thing, money, fame, or status that can define who a Christian is because we are “God’s children and servants of the Lord, belong to the body of Christ, are travelers on earth, and are citizens of heaven.” This is our true and eternal identity. Therefore, all the decisions we make, how we speak, work, and live, how we use money, and how we have relationships with others, are based on our identification with this God-given identity. What we value and treasure most is our desire for God to have all our love. We love God with all our desire, will, and passion. We pray to God, meditate on His words day and night, and obey Him.
How much enthusiasm do our brothers and sisters have for loving God – the greatest commandment? Only those who love God with all their hearts will do their best to love and serve people. Therefore, we were moved to propose the theme of “Love God.” In addition, we were also concerned that under the epidemic in the past two years, “the sense of alienation between people will be greater, the understanding of each other will be reduced, and love will become cold.” And the epidemic has made “anxiety and depression spread around the world.” People felt more depression, and our love and patience began to run out. It not only affected the family relationships between husband and wife and between parents and their children, but also affected the relationships among church members. Therefore, we care about the unity of husband and wife and the unity of parents and their children so much that we have the theme of “Love Family.” At the same time, we also care about the restoration and reconstruction of the relationship among brothers and sisters, so we have the theme of “Love Church” and ask God to revive our life of loving each other in our church.
We proposed these three themes based on “building character of life.” The pastors and elders all believed that, in 2021, God has guided our church on the path of “building character of life to be like the Lord Jesus’s” through various crises and trials. After the crises and tests in the past year, we found that the brothers and sisters in our church have never stopped loving God. They have always shown their love for God in a relatively “quiet and firm” way and with a desire of living out the Lord’s life character in difficult times. The pastors and elders saw their love of God and felt the same way. Our church is now on the right path of rebuilding. After a year of testing of the external environment and internal personnel, we have gradually become a church with the life character of the Lord Jesus. We believe that God has entrusted an important responsibility to our church.
How do we determine how strong and solid a group of people are in their faith, love, and character in God? It depends on how the group reacts when facing crises and trials. A book named “Catastrophic Crisis: Ministry Leadership in the Midst of Trial and Tragedy” (Steve Echols and Allen England, 2011) used case studies to analyze what leadership qualities a church needs most when facing tragedies and trials caused by catastrophic crises.
Let me introduce the first case in the book, NOBTS (New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary), also named School of Providence and Prayer. The seminary was established in New Orleans because the city had low moral standards. The school had a vision to become a mission base for the city and hoped to one day change the city’s response to the gospel. The city of New Orleans is five feet below sea level and is protected from flooding by levees. However, if the flood rises above the levees, the entire city will become a large pond. Unfortunately, on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina broke the levees. The entire city was submerged in the flood, causing the largest flood damage in American history.
The seminary president at the time, Chuck Kelley, had to make many difficult decisions. First, he evacuated to the city of Birmingham before the flooding. On the evening of Sunday, August 29, when he knew that the hurricane had passed, he thought they would be able to return to the city in a few days. Unexpectedly, the levees broke on Monday, and the seminary began to flood. It was also heard that some thugs started to rob people everywhere and even had shootouts with the police. Principal Kelley worried about the safety of security staff and whether the library was flooded. But because the communication had been cut across the city, he was not able to find out. He was very anxious. Not knowing any news, he was fortunate that one of the most important communication channels was still open, which is the channel of prayer to the Father. Under the great pressure, God encouraged him through Psalm 46:1-3: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”
Therefore, when we face a crisis, it first tests how much faith we have in God, whether we trust God with all our heart, pray to God with all our soul, love God with all our mind, and rely on God to overcome the crisis.
The first test Principal Kelley faced was when the school was flooded and the classrooms were no longer be able to be used for a year: Should the whole school be closed for half a year, or even a year? Should he fire some staff and postpone the graduation of students, or continue the classes? How to settle all the staff and students? After praying, he decided to continue the classes and to temporarily move the school and teachers to Atlanta to continue the classes. When some teachers came to check in, they had no clothes to change into. It had been too late to move out all their belongings, so they were all soaked in the water by the storm and flood. But many churches in Atlanta donated clothes and took care of the families of the teachers so they could continue teaching. Principal Kelley even promised that the December graduation ceremony would be held as usual for 400 students in Atlanta and 1,200 students from campuses around the world. He decided to increase online teaching so that the courses would not stop. It was a visionary approach to start online courses in 2005. In December, a graduation ceremony was held in Birmingham, and137 graduates and many guests attended. This graduation ceremony was a representative step of the school’s efforts to rebuild after the flood crisis. It also demonstrated that the students experienced together that God is the help in times of trouble and that he is a faithful and reliable God.
The next, more difficult challenge was the financial and personnel situation. In that year, many schools in the city of New Orleans fired staff. But Principal Kelley ignored secular principles and decided not to fire anyone or reduce personnel expenses. It really took a lot of confidence, courage, and financial pressure. However, Principal Kelley believed that the faculty was the seminary’s “most important asset.” Therefore, he decided not only to pay all faculty and staff their monthly salaries, but also reimburse them for their relocation to Atlanta. Where would the millions of dollars come from? Principal Kelley did not know either, but he believed in God’s provision.
Thank God! Because of their faith in God, the seminary was able to pay salaries on time every month. A year later, when everyone returned to the campus in New Orleans, there were more professors than before. This shows that those who love God with all their hearts will also love their neighbors as themselves. In time of the crisis, the principal did his best to take care of the needs of the staff. This love for man was rooted in his love for God. In the fall of the next year, the school buildings were rebuilt, and teachers and students moved back to the campus in New Orleans. Unbelievably, the enrollment rate of freshmen that year was comparable to that of the previous year. Many freshmen wanted to attend the school to study when they heard what God had done in NOBTS. When students come to the school’s gate, they will see “When we passed through the waters, God was with us.” (Isaiah 43:2)
The third and most critical challenge was to decide whether to give up rebuilding the campus in New Orleans and move to other cities, such as Atlanta. Principal Kelley suggested that the original vision of the seminary when choosing New Orleans was to become a mission station in the city. He believed that they should weep with those who mourn since there were countless people who needed the comfort and encouragement of the gospel. He suggested that it was the time to go back there quickly, not to leave. The board agreed. A year later, when the school was rebuilt and the students returned to the school, they found out that the seminary was one of the buildings that were built first. In the dark nights, when the electricity of the whole city had not been fully restored, people could see the light of the cross at the school church from far away, testifying that God’s salvation was coming to this city. After returning to New Orleans, the seminary started a reconstruction service and missionary action in the community, comforted the residents of the community who had lost their properties, and organized tens of thousands of Baptists to help the reconstruction after the disaster. After the flooding, the residents in New Orleans were more open to the Gospel than ever before, which proved that rebuilding the seminary in New Orleans was the right decision.
When NOBTS was hit by Hurricane Katrina and the flood, all the staff and the students were tested by suffering to see how much faith they had in God, who they were, what they valued, and whether the couples in their families were of one mind. They were also tested on their love for others. Thanks to God, they showed a life character of faith and love. They did not stop classes for half a year, did not fire any staff, and did not forget the missionary vision entrusted by God. They went back to New Orleans to rebuild the seminary despite all the difficulties because everyone, from the principal to the students, was full of the will to love God and love others.
The author also compared the performance of the mayor of New Orleans at the time. Because he did not want to lose the opportunity to make money from tourists, the mayor delayed the release of the time for citizens to leave the city, which caused huge losses. In a crisis, you can tell who a person or a group of people are and what they value.
Although we have not experienced any natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, our church has experienced the epidemic and personnel shocks in the past year, which were relatively serious trials. During these trials, what attitude did our brothers and sisters have to face these “various trials”? Who were we when we showed ourselves to others? What did we value? 1 Peter 1:5-7 promised us that “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
First of all, we saw that our brothers and sisters did their best in donating based on their faith: the financial deficit in 2021 turned to a surplus of $46,391, with a total donation of more than $1,010,000 dollars. This proved that our brothers and sisters love God fervently!
Secondly, we saw that the pastors, elders, and deacons are more united in heart and trust each other. They can express different opinions. They respect each other and listen to each other, so that when making the final decision, everyone can obey and support. The process was full of joy and laughter.
What is particularly touching is what Brother Shanshuang Yang shared in his resignation speech as a deacon in last December. What he had experienced in the past years was the love in the fellowship and only had a feeling of belonging to the fellowship. But, during the four years of serving as a youth deacon, he felt that he belonged to this church and that the church was his family. Brother Shanshuang usually does not like to talk too much, but when he speaks, he is full of emotion. I was in tears when I heard his speech. I believe he also expressed the feelings of many brothers and sisters. Although the past year was difficult, thank God for being with us and helping our co-workers to become more mature in life character and to love each other more!
At the same time, the ability of our church to care for people in need has grown stronger. Over the past year, when the more young people experienced emotional difficulties, several fellowships were motivated to work with youth ministry co-workers and parents to accompany families in difficulty. This selfless love is very touching. There are also many testimonies of brothers and sisters who “refined faith by fire.” They faithfully worked at their positions in the most difficult times and showed the virtues of the Lord’s servants. There are so many examples that it is impossible to mention them all. May the Lord commemorate them!
Thanks to God, under the epidemic and personnel shocks, our brothers and sisters have proved that our faith in God is more precious than gold that was refined by fire. A team can survive a crisis because they show great faith and complete trust in God and true love for people. Thanks to God, our brothers and sisters are all walking on the faith path of relying on the Lord to overcome crises.
Now, facing the new year, we pray that our brothers and sisters would stir up more love for God. Let us “love God with all our hearts, souls, and mind, and love others.”
Therefore, our first appeal to our brothers and sisters is to “love God with all our hearts.” As 1 Peter 1:8-9 says, “Though you have not seen him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
When Mrs. Chi sees our lovely little granddaughter, she is overjoyed. She cannot express the joy in words, so she simply holds the child, sings, and moves her body to dance. Because of believing in the Lord Jesus, people would “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,” a joy that will never be ashamed! Dear brothers and sisters, I pray that the Lord will light the fire of loving the Lord Jesus in your heart, so you will love God and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible! Specific suggestions include:
a) Strengthen personal practice of devotions and prayers
b) Continue worshiping in church
c) Attend adult Sunday school
d) Attend our church’s prayer meetings
The second appeal to our brothers and sisters is that “husband and wife unite, parent and child unite, and revive your family to love God.” In 1 Peter chapter 3, God promised that “1 wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives…. 7 husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” In this way, the strength of the prayers of a united couple is very effective. Specific suggestions include:
a) Encourage couples to attend educational courses on marriage and parenting
b) Host couple relationship camps
c) Train and support fellowships in caring for families with special needs
d) Build family worship altars
The third appeal to our brothers and sisters is to “love each other and make the church our home.” “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.’” (1 Peter 3:8-11) Specific suggestions include:
a) Strengthen the life of love among brothers and sisters
b) Encourage everyone to participate in serving our church
c) Keep the communication between the PEC and the congregation smooth
d) Build the sense of belonging to our church
We pray and hope that after a year of hard work, at the end of 2022, we can tell the Lord that we are ready to take the greater mission of the next ten years: train “believers who have firm foundation in the Bible and character of Christ,” have the ability to distinguish information and protect the church, build a church that has Chinese-English cooperation and an active second generation, and develop a church that sets up preaching the Gospel as its mission.
Thank God for preparing two new preachers for us: Minister Dongjian Guo, who will be involved in the establishment of fellowships of young families with his wife Hong Peng, and Pastor Sion Kim, who will be involved in the spiritual building of the youth ministry. And Elder Weikang Zhang has returned to the PEC and devoted himself to the ministry of fellowship. This year, we have new visions and new personnel.
Dear brothers and sisters, the 2022 vision of “Love God, Love Family, and Love Church” will not be accomplished by a few core co-workers, but by the efforts of everyone in front of and behind the scenes because we are the body of Christ, “from who the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:16)
Once, I played a five-hundred-piece puzzle with my child. It had a beautiful princess in the center and green grass with blue sky all around. When we wanted to assemble the puzzle, we did not start with putting together the pieces of the colorful clothes that the beautiful princess wore, but found the four inconspicuous corners. Without those green and blue corners and the edges, the coloring puzzle could not be completed because every piece is equally important and indispensable.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us continue to be faithful in serving the Lord in the coming year, no matter if you do housework at home, clean your garden, sing in the choir, prepare flowers at church, participate in children’s Sunday School or youth ministry, visit the people with needs in the community, quietly prepare Bible studies and hymns for fellowship meetings, or pray for others, etc. The Lord remembers you in everything you do for him.
Let us work together in 2022 to accomplish the vision that God has entrusted to us: “love God with all our hearts” more, more earnestly build “families that love God and have husbands and wives united and parents and children united,” and “love God’s church together,” so that brothers and sisters will love each other more and have a deeper understanding of “the church is my home.”
Author: Pastor Allen Chi