I recently had the privilege of attending an Amy Grant concert as part of the Breakforth 2013. If any of you know Amy Grant, you know that she’s a talented singer and songwriter. It was a delight to sing “Thy Word,” “Sing Your Praises to the Lord” and “Lead me On” with her that night! But what touched me even more than these old songs was her humility, her calm presence and her joy. You could tell that she loved singing these old and new songs and working with her band. She loved reaching out to the audience. And she announced that she’s been doing it for 35 years! So how has she remained creative and joyful in ministry? Now I’m sure that she has dry times and seasons of discouragement. (If you know her story, you’ll know that she experienced divorce.) But overall she seems to have flourished as a minister of music. This has got me thinking about a life of ministry. How do we remain humble, creative and joyful in ministry over a lifetime? This sounds like a good question to reflect on for a while. Please let me know if you have any thoughts.
This week we begin a new worship/sermon series called “The Joy of Generosity.” It was originally developed by Robert Heerspink, and was published in the March 2001 issue of Reformed Worship.
So why a sermon series on stewardship? Well, I’m asking myself that question this week as I prepare for this series. You see, this isn’t a comfortable topic for me, as it can be controversial. And yet just as we should review our personal budgets, spending habits, values and goals from time to time, so should we occasionally review the topic of stewardship as a church. Money can be an important tool for life and ministry, but it can also be a hindrance for life and ministry. As Robert Heerspink says in his introduction to this series: “Maintaining spiritual vigor in the midst of great wealth was a challenge for the church of past centuries–and still is for the church today. We have been entrusted with incredible resources. How do we prevent that wealth from sapping our spiritual strength and making us simply a congregation of consumers? By seeing ourselves as stewards of the Lord’s riches.”
We ended our Epiphany sermon series with the fishermen laying down their nets and following Jesus (Matthew 4). So what “nets” are keeping you from fully following Jesus? It’s time to lay them down. And what “nets” can we use to maximize our Kingdom impact in the community and effectively fulfill our mission? I invite you to reflect on these questions with me as we begin our series on stewardship this Sunday. (Week One: “Trees, Time, Talents, Treasures”)
For those of you who read my blog, you may have noticed that I’m not writing as often these days. This is intentional, as I’m trying to focus more time and energy into the writing of sermons and journal entries than on writing blog posts. I’ll likely continue writing the occasional post, as I do love to write and I want to communicate with any who will listen. The main thing I want to say today is that my current pastoral priority is preaching. This may seem obvious to you. Shouldn’t every pastor make preaching a priority? Well, I suppose so, depending on your actual pastoral position. But the fact is that as a pastor of a small (but growing!) local church, I do more than preach. But that’s no excuse to not grow as a preacher. So how do I do that? Well the obvious things come to mind: read about and listen to lectures on preaching; read and listen to actual sermons; spend more time studying the Biblical text and writing the sermon manuscript. I’m sure all of these strategies will help. But this morning as I sat in solitude and silence with the Lord, the most effective strategy, but perhaps not the most obvious one came to mind: to be mentored by the master preacher and teacher himself: Jesus. So I plan to spend considerable time studying the Gospels in the next few months with a view to learn how to preach from Jesus.
Many people make New Year’s resolutions in January. I do that too. For example, one of my resolutions for 2013 is to pray daily for the church family I serve. Another is to telephone my grandmothers at least once-a-month. But as significant as resolutions can be, I’m more interested in mission, and January is a good time to review it. So what am I called to be and do as a follower of Christ? Happily, the Holy Spirit, through my daily devotional reading, guided me to meditate on 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 NLT this week, which has reminded me of my identity and mission.
“Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” Thanks be to God! I belong to Jesus. I am a new creation.
“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’ Because I am a new creation; because God has reconciled me to Himself through Christ, I am now an agent of reconciliation.
So when is the last time you called someone to come back to God? Last night the Lord gave us an opportunity to do this. We were swimming at the local pool. A conversation began with a stranger. When the topic of work came up, as it usually does, and when I announced that I was a pastor, she confessed that she used to worship the Lord, but hasn’t done so for some time. Thus began a signficant conversation in which I, more or less, called her back to God.
Sometimes I wonder why I don’t take more opportunities to do this. I guess I get caught up in my stuff. But is there really any more important mission? Brothers and sisters, let me remind you at the dawn of this New Year that if you belong to Jesus, then you are a new person. And as one of God’s new persons, you are called to be his ambassador in the world. So what does that look like in your life? How will you shape your life, including your daily work, to help you become a more effective ambassador for Christ? I look forward to exploring this theme with my church family this year, especially, I suspect, when we study the book of Acts this spring.