As we continue our series on the epidemic of spiritual immaturity in the church, based on the book Outrageous Love, Transforming Power by Terry Wardle, we get to the characteristic of ministry, the idea that to be spiritually mature, we need to be servants, wounded healers. The Scripture focus is Matthew 20.20-28, and you can watch the message below, or the whole worship broadcast just below that.
One of the things that our world’s current situation has shown us is that the church can still be the church, even when we cannot gather.
Chances are, we don’t like it – I know I would rather worship God with the people I love each Lord’s Day – but that doesn’t mean we cease to be the church through this time.
As I’ve heard and often repeated over the last couple of months, we may not be able to be the church gathered right now, but we can be the church scattered.
Each of us, individually and as households, can praise God together each Sunday (with whatever online connections we have with our church families) and every day (through personal and family devotional times). And we can act on what we read and hear from God’s Word in the various ways for which the Lord may open doors, whether that be helping the needy; continuing to work in an essential service; praying for the sick, the lonely and the unemployed; getting groceries and needful things for vulnerable people who should not be going out in public right now; or keeping an eye on our neighbours.
We can also share our hope in Jesus with anyone with whom we might have the opportunity to converse.
Our witness is made even more strong when we couple some act of service with sharing our hope.
What can you do in these days that will bear witness to our hope in Jesus?
“[I]f someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it” (1 Peter 3.15b, NLT).
One day, Jesus told his friends a story. “A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Matthew 13.3-8, NLT).
When I was in Bible Society work, I often preached on this passage, because, as Jesus notes later in that passage, the seed is the Word of God, and I was in the business of promoting the reading, promotion and distribution of God’s Word.
It has another layer of meaning, though, too.
When we sow seeds of faith, we can’t always see immediate results. It might take years for those seeds to take root and grow.
I’ve heard a few stories this week of people in whom much has been invested spiritually who are starting to bear fruit. It’s exciting to watch, and exciting to hear these stories.
Here’s another example. A few weeks ago, I was called to oversee a ‘celebration of life’ service for someone who had died. I knew no one in the family at all. In the conversation, I learned that the reason I was called is that a young person in their family has attended our summer Vacation Bible Camp.
Because our volunteers helped a child learn about Jesus while having fun, I now have an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus with a group of grieving family and friends.
We have no idea what may happen when we sow seeds of the Word, seeds of faith. Ultimately, that’s up to the Lord. We may benefit in our own part of God’s vineyard, or some other congregation may benefit. Either way, the Kingdom wins when we share faith.
“Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15.58b, NLT).
I was doing some research for a message this week, and I encountered a prayer-hymn. It struck me to the point I thought it would be worth sharing with you.
It was written by Richard Baxter, a 17th-century Puritan clergyman who wrote widely and deeply about Christian faith. His seminal work is called The Reformed Pastor, which is worth reading even if you’re neither Reformed nor a pastor! (Truth be told, he wrote it in response to The Country Parson, Anglican cleric George Herbert’s work on pastoral care.)
Background aside, I think you will find this a prayer worthy of your lips. If you’d prefer to sing it, it’s set in Common Meter (126.96.36.199).
Lord, it belongs not to my care
whether I die or live:
to love and serve thee is my share,
and this thy grace must give.
Christ leads me through no darker rooms
than he went through before;
he that into God’s kingdom comes
must enter by this door.
Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet
thy blessed face to see;
for if thy work on earth be sweet,
what will thy glory be!
Then shall I end my sad complaints
and weary, sinful days,
and join with the triumphant saints
that sing my Saviour’s praise.
My knowledge of that life is small,
the eye of faith is dim;
but ’tis enough that Christ knows all,
and I shall be with him.
“So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart” (Psalm 90.12, NRSV).
In some cultures, I’ve learned that when an individual is celebrating a milestone of some sort, the individual gives gifts to those who have helped him or her to achieve the milestone, rather than the common North American tradition of others bringing gifts to the individual. I’ve come to appreciate that.
This year, our church decided to try that approach. We are celebrating our 60th anniversary of ministry and service to our community, so last Wednesday evening, we borrowed an idea from a friend of mine, and hired an ice cream truck to roam the streets of town for an evening. We stopped at a seniors’ residence, a soccer pitch, and a community park – and for any passersby as we journeyed along. People were expecting to have to pay for the ice cream.
But they didn’t. We did.
Why? We did it to invite our community to celebrate with us, and to get the word out that serving Jesus and having fun can be compatible.
We weren’t preaching to anyone. We told them St. Paul’s was celebrating its 60th anniversary by giving away ice cream cones. The driver/server of the ice cream truck was so thrilled at what we were doing that he told everybody he gave a cone to where the church is and what time worship begins!
Will this result in higher attendance? Possibly, but not likely. That’s not really why we did it. But if our act of kindness to our community planted a seed or two, it will have been successful. You never know what opportunities may come about down the road because we offered an ice cream cone on a warm evening, in Jesus’ name.
“Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically” (Romans 12.11, NLT).
I know a guy who slipped on some ice not long ago and broke his wrist badly. And let’s face it: there’s never a good time to break a bone, but in the middle of winter, when you have a long driveway to shovel, it’s a particularly bad time.
The story is not all about pain, though. He had to undergo surgery to reset his wrist, and when he came home, casted, he found his driveway had been cleared of snow.
At that point, clearing the driveway was probably the last thing on his mind. But some of his friends had not forgotten it.
You might be thinking that a neighbour cleared it out for him, which would have been very kind indeed. But that’s not what happened.
While he was in surgery, one of his university buddies contacted 9 other mutual friends, and the 10 of them pooled a few bucks together and paid to have their friend’s driveway cleared – for the rest of the winter.
Can you imagine? Having a broken wrist, and not having to worry about shovelling at all until after it’s healed? It’s a really thoughtful gift.
What’s particularly heartwarming is that in our very insular and individualistic society, there are signs that people still care – and care enough to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak.
There are many good lessons from this story, one of which is the importance of cultivating strong relationships. I mean, I can’t think of the names of 10 people I went to university with, let alone be in touch with them in such a way that they would know I was injured and needed help. You might not be able to, either – but it’s not too late to cultivate strong relationships now.
Think about your circle of acquaintance, both within the church and outside. How strong is it? How can you strengthen those relationships – not so that you would get help if you needed it, but so that you could be helpful if it were needed?
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” We can deepen our relationships so we can serve others. And who knows? By serving others, by God’s grace, doors of faith might open.
“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another” (1 Peter 4.10, NLT).
P.S.: If you’re interested in integrating your faith and your work, consider coming to St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton for a simulcast retreat called “Work as Worship” on Friday, February 23 from 8:30 to 3:30. Lunch is provided in the $25 registration cost. Learn more by clicking here.