Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Adapted Wesleyan Covenant Service

We recently did a Wesleyan Covenant Service at our church, the first ever.  I was a little apprehensive about it just because it is much more formal than our normal services, but with adaptations, it seemed to go very well.  The Spirit was clearly present and people responded to that holy movement.  Because I scoured the internet for resources on this, I though I would share what I have.  I used the original as much as possible, but referred to three other modern adaptations for guidance, including versions by George Lyons and Jeren Rowell.  However, I didn't feel comfortable embracing anyone else's work so I ended up doing most of the adaptations myself with a few exceptions.  I hope it is of some help to people.  I also have an accompanying powerpoint and booklet I'm more than happy to share.

Kingston Covenant Service
Taken and adapted from John Wesley’s Covenant Service

Welcome, History, and Purpose
Grace and peace to you, the Lord’s church.  Today is a special day.  Last week, we heard the story of the three magi and the mission of God for the entire world.  We were reminded of the vision that God has given to us as God’s church: Encounter God, experience community and enter into God’s mission.  As I explained a little bit last week, today we are going to participate in a Wesleyan covenant service.  It will be a little bit different in some really simple ways.  The worship songs will be sung throughout the service, not just at one time.  A few people from the congregation will be doing some readings throughout the service and you will be called to participate in a couple short readings.  There will be a time for a response at the altar as well.  You have a booklet today that will guide you through the service itself.

John Wesley, one of our primary forefather’s in our faith tradition insisted that to be a mature disciple of Christ required the joining of believers in a covenant “to serve God with all our heart and with all our soul.” In August of 1755, Wesley conducted one of these services and about 1,800 renewed their covenant with God to which Wesley said, “the fruit of it shall remain forever.” And that is the desire of your pastors’ hearts; that the words that are spoken today, the covenants made and renewed to serve Christ will produce fruit that will last. 

The whole purpose of this service is come together at the start of this year 2012 and be reminded of our deep need for God’s grace.  We need to acknowledge that our need of his grace is deeper than just forgiveness for wrong acts, but rather goes beyond to the cleansing work of God’s Spirit at the very core of our beings.  We set aside this morning as a time to pause and reflect on the year ahead and on our commitment to the Lord Jesus this year.  It is too easy to be satisfied with the spiritual state of our hearts.  It is too easy to allow the status quo to continue unquestioned.  So today, we will stop and consider our need for God’s forgiving and cleansing work and renew our commitment to be a disciple of Christ in 2012, renew (or perhaps begin) a covenant with God.  The word covenant may sound foreign to you.  It is simply a sacred vow made between two parties, much like wedding vows.  Each party makes a commitment to the other.  So today, we will enter into or renew a covenant with God, for he has already made a covenant with us, by sending his Son for us and for our salvation.

Let’s pray: Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Come let us join ourselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant, which will never be forgotten.

Hymn: Take my life and let it be (455)

As we think about (contemplate) the significance of covenanting with God, we must consider three things that undergird this eternal decision:
1.     We must remember that eternal things are much more considerable than temporal things, things of this life.  It is easy to become so wrapped up in day to day living that we neglect those things of eternal significance.  We must intentionally remember that eternal things are much more important that temporal things.
2.     We must also remember that things unseen are just as certain as the things that are seen.  The author of Hebrews tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Just because we can’t see something with our physical eyes, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
3.     Finally, we must remember that our eternal lot depends on our present choice, to follow or not to follow Christ. 

That in mind, as we enter 2012, we must make our choice, to the right or to the left.  Choose Christ with his yoke, his cross, and his crown.  Or choose the devil with his wealth, pleasures, and curse.  Ask yourselves: What is it going to be?  The crown or the curse, bearing in mind that we must be content to submit to the cross and yoke of Christ, his service and sufferings if we want to share that crown. 

This isn’t a one-time decision, made at the altar of a country church long ago or at the altar of a children or teen camp or even in the privacy of your home.  This is a decision that requires continued renewal and recommitment.  If we say we aren’t quite sure about this level of commitment to Christ, we have already made our choice for darkness.  A middle of the road commitment isn’t an option.  It is yes to Christ or yes to the Evil One.  There is no other option, no neutral territory.

Let us make the choice to adventure with Christ!  Let us acknowledge our inability to save ourselves or make ourselves clean and instead throw ourselves on his righteousness.  We could make 1,000 resolutions to do better or be better, but apart from Christ, we are separated from the presence of God and destined for death.  We can do nothing a part form him.  But, Christ reaches out his hand to us and asks, “Will you adventure with me?  I alone can bring you to God.”    

So, Jesus we ask you, if I stop trying to save myself through good works and religious ritual, and instead trust only in your blood and righteousness, will you bring me to God?  We must acknowledge our sin before God and our great need of a Savior, not only once but continually.  To acknowledge our sin regularly before God does not mean that we don’t believe that we can be freed from sin, but it rather it is an admission that we are fallen and we continually make mistakes, sometimes on purpose and sometimes without even realizing it.  So, we are right to confess our sins, both conscious and unconscious, to God.  Follow along and join in where it says “people”

PASTOR: Do you deeply sense your sins and hopelessness without Christ?

PEOPLE:  We do sense our need.  We see ourselves as sinners in need a Savior.

READER 1: The Spirit of God has awakened us; We cry, "Lord, what am I! What is this darkness that surrounds me?  These chains that weigh on me?  Is there no hope of escaping out of this wretched state? I am dead, if I continue as I am. What must I do to be saved?"
READER 2: When we realize our sin and its danger, we look for help, but we tend to look everywhere else before we turn to Christ.  It is as if we must hit rock bottom before we turn to Him.  We try to just be better and turn away from bad habits.  We may try religious with prayers and sermons and Christian practices and look for salvation there. 
PASTOR: But all of these things, though useful in the right place, are no help.  These things are cry out, “You are knocking at the wrong door.  Salvation is not in us.”  Do you now utterly give up your own goodness, or do you trust in anything but Christ?
PEOPLE: Lord, be merciful to us. What shall we do?
READER 3: We dare not remain as we are, and we cannot help ourselves. Our praying will not help us. Our hearing will not help us. If we give all our goods to the poor, if we should give our bodies to be burned, all this would not save our souls. Woe unto us. What shall we do?
PASTOR: You must let your sins go. You must let your righteousness go. Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. He came to seek and to save those that are lost.
- Nothing but the Blood
- Grace Greater than all our sins
Will you now adventure with Christ?  We will covenant with him?  Will you, this year, commit to a life of complete devotion to God?  You have three powerful reasons as assurance:
1.     God’s initiative.  God sent his Son, born of a woman, to be sin for us, that we might be saved through him.  Jesus is redeeming and reconciling the world to himself.  This is all God’s doing, apart from any action, good or bad, on our part.
2.     God’s command.  God has commanded us to believe on the name of Jesus Christ, His Son.  If you believe that Christ Jesus is Lord, you will be saved.
3.     God’s promise.  God sent his Son into the world so that whoever believes in him, will not die, but have eternal life with Him.  We have God’s word on the matter.
Because we have these three assurances from God (his initiative, command and promise) we may be bold and courageous to adventure with Christ this year, 2012.
SONG: I Will Follow
Let us pray.  Follow along and join in where it says “people”
PASTOR: Lord Jesus, here I am, a lost creature, an enemy to God, under His wrath and curse. Will You, Lord, take me as I am, make me right with God, and save my soul?
PEOPLE: Do not refuse me, Lord, for if You refuse me, to whom then shall I go?
PASTOR: If I had come claiming my own righteousness, You would have sent me away; but since I come at your command, do not reject me.
PEOPLE: Lord, help me. Lord, save me.
PASTOR: We come, Lord. We believe, Lord. We throw ourselves upon Your grace and mercy. We trust Your saving death alone to save me. Do not refuse us. We have nowhere else to go. Here we will stay.
PEOPLE: We will trust You, and rest in You, and risk ourselves for You.
PASTOR: On You we lay our hope for pardon, for life, for salvation. If I perish, I perish on Your shoulders. If I sink, I sink in Your ship. If I die, I die at Your door. Do not bid us to go away, for we will not go.
ALL: Amen.
Pastor: Now that we have confessed our sins, the time has come to make our commitment to him. 
I ask you, as we enter into 2012, yield yourselves now to the Lord. As His servants, give up being in charge of yourselves and turn over the authority to Christ. "Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God." " Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.  You are God’s servants; obey Him! Yield yourselves so fully and finally to the Lord that from here on out, you may be only the Lord’s.
Those who yield themselves to sin and the world say in their hearts, "Sin, I am yours; World, I am yours; Riches, I am yours; Pleasures, I am yours."
Rather, with the Psalmist, let us say to the Lord:
ALL TOGETHER: I am Yours, My God; I reverence You. I dedicate myself to Your service.
PASTOR: In so giving yourselves to the Lord, you affirm that with all your heart, you will be contented with what He asks you to do as your service to Him.
Let Him assign you to your work. Christ has many services to be done; some are more easy and honorable, others more difficult and menial.
Some are suitable to our preferences and interests; others not so much (are contrary to both). In some we may please Christ and please ourselves.  These are the sweet works of a Christian.
But then there are other works. In these we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.  Confessing Christ and His name is never easy when it costs us shame and ridicule. It is never easy to run into the wind, swim against the tide, or surrender our rights and privileges because Jesus Christ is our Lord.
In Romans 12, Paul lays out what it means to give it all to Christ:  “So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
PASTOR: Let’s pray: Lord Jesus, if You will receive me into Your house, if You will accept me as Your servant, I will obey you without reserve. Place on me whatever condition pleases You; command me to be or do whatever You will; only let me be Your servant.
Make me what You will, Lord, and set me where You will. Let me be a vessel of silver or gold, or a vessel of wood or stone; I am content. If I am not the head, or the eye, or the ear, one of the nobler and more honorable instruments You use, let me be the hand, or the foot, as one of the lowest of all the servants of my Lord.  Follow along and join in where it says “people”
LEADER: Lord, put me on whatever task You will; rank me with whom You will.
PEOPLE: Put me to doing; put me to suffering.
LEADER: Let me be employed for You, or laid aside for You, exalted for You, or trodden under foot for You.
PEOPLE: Let me be full; let me be empty.
LEADER: Let me have all things; let me have nothing.
PEOPLE: I freely and wholeheartedly resign all to Your pleasure and disposal.
ALL: Amen.
LEADER: Friends, such a commitment to Christ as you have now made is the essence of discipleship. When you have chosen God to be your everything; when you have placed all your hopes in Christ, casting yourself totally upon His righteousness; when you have thoughtfully and courageously surrendered and given up yourselves to Him; then you are Christians indeed, and not till then. Christ’s people are a willing people, and Christ won’t accept a half-hearted “maybe or kinda” but only a bold “Yes!  Take all that I am!”  to what He requires. He will be all in all, or He will be nothing.
In a moment, we will sing a song and our altars will be open.  But before we do that, take a moment to search your heart, whether you have already and or can now make this commitment to Christ.  Will he be your all in all?  This isn’t a covenant to be entered into lightly.  We must count the cost before we build the tower, right?  Consider what Christ has asked of you and whether you are ready to set aside your way for His way.  Don’t be held back by the faults you see in yourself.  Do not trust your own strength, but grab ahold of God’s strength.  Throw yourself at his feet and trust his promise of grace.  Having surrendered to him, resolve to be faithful.  God doesn’t have a draft.  He invites.  We have to cooperate with him in obedience.  Are you ready to do that in every part of your life this year?  Let’s have a couple minutes of quiet reflection and singing.  The altars are open.  Come now and surrender yourselves to Jesus, or recommit your heart to Him as we begin 2012.  The altar is not a place of judgment or shame but of joy in God’s presence. 
Let us sing together: “I Surrender All”
PASTOR: O God, we ask You to accept us, for we know we are prodigals, rebels.  All of us were once, or are even now, far from You because of our sins. We all deserve death, and we made ourselves a thousand times worse by our sin. But out of Your infinite grace You have promised mercy to us in Christ, if we will only turn to You with all our heart.  Since we have heard the call of the gospel, we now come, we quit resisting your call, and submit ourselves to You.
And because You require, as the condition of our peace with You, that we should put away our idols, we here and now from the bottom of our hearts renounce them all, whatever they may be: money, family, pride, etc.. We firmly covenant with You not to allow ourselves to continue in any known sin. Instead, we will do everything we can through the power of your Holy Spirit to separate ourselves from what we know is wrong. This is the firm resolution of our hearts, to forsake all that is dear to us in this world, in order that we might follow you more closely. We will guard ourselves against all temptations, whether from prosperity or poverty, pleasure or pain, so that they may never draw our hearts away from You.
And since You have, out of Your boundless mercy, offered graciously, to be our God through Christ, we call heaven and earth to witness this day, that we do here solemnly acknowledge You as the Lord our God.
Church, Pray this with me in your hearts:
I do take You, O Eternal God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be my God. Be my portion. I give up myself, body and soul, to be Your servant, promising to serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of my life.
O blessed Jesus, I know am unworthy of your love, but because of your great love for me, I with all my heart accept You and take You for my Head, to love, honor, and obey You before all others, to the grave and beyond. I acknowledge You as the Lord my righteousness. I reject my own wisdom and do here take You for my only Guide. I reject my own will and take Your will for my law.
And since Your word has told me that I must suffer with You if I am to reign with You, I do here covenant with You to accept my lot, as it falls, with You and by Your grace to risk everything for You. May nothing, neither life nor death, separate You and me.
Now, Almighty God, You know that I make this covenant with You this day, without any known deception and holding nothing back.  I ask You that if You see any self-deception in my commitment, anything hidden in my heart, reveal it to me and help me to put it right.
PASTOR: As a symbol of this covenant, we will take communion together as a church.  Through Jesus, God made a way for us to be right with God and with one another.  As we take these elements this morning, let us celebrate what Christ has done on our behalf. 
On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he took bread and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body which is broken for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, he took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.  For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
PASTOR: Let us stand. Glory be to God, who has adopted us as his children.  Glory be to Jesus, who loves us and has cleansed from all sin by his blood, and glory to the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to turn from sin and turn toward God. 
Oh God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you have become our covenant-friend and we, through your grace, have become your Covenant servant.  And the covenant, which we have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. 
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise him above ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost

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