(Prompted by an email about Faith in Action)
For 2007, Forest Grove Christian Church accepted a challenge from our Elders given in November 2006 – Set three areas as priorities for the year – Ministry with youth; Visitor attraction and retention; and Active outreach. Living into these priorities, the congregation has agreed to spend over $15000 from Savings during 2007 to fund Evangelism, Youth Ministry, Vacation Bible School, Charity Concerts, and a Youth Ministry Internship. These have been bold steps, which I celebrate.
I do have a concern though, as I look at my ministry, and that of our congregation. As our Ministry Council and Staff work to develop programs that advance those priorities and move FGCC deeper into the will of God for this congregation, my concern is that we risk leaving folks behind. A congregation will be transformed – this congregation will be transformed – only to the degree that its people are transformed. And transformation is a work of the heart, not the wallet or the calendar. The wallet and calendar will follow, in the long run, the inclinations of the heart.
I believe that God through Christ calls us to a new life – and that new life is not simply one where we avoid a prescribed list of ‘sins’. That life is one which is radically and inextricably linked to Jesus as Lord. Everything I think, say, do, all that I am becomes an outgrowth of my walk with Jesus. And this will result in our giving with reckless abandon and radical generosity of our resources: time, talent, treasure. But the goal is transformed lives. Jesus’ own goal is that we might have such an experience of the grace of God that rather than continually having to come to the well to draw water, that our lives themselves would become springs of living water from which others might drink. Rather than needing to be ‘in church’ each week so that we can get ‘recharged’ our lives become church as we go out into the world, or as we come together as the Body of Christ, so that others receive the nourishing of the Holy Spirit through us. We take Christ to the world, because He lives in us – even more, because He is our life! (1 John 5:20). After all, Jesus himself said, “I have come so that you may have life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10). His desire is not that we live on a spiritual subsistence diet, but that we have abundant life, and then that we be channels of that life to those He came to save.
What will you and I need to do in order to become the people Jesus needs and wants us to be so that He can accomplish his purposes in our lives and through us to the world? What will we need to cease doing – things of the flesh which lead to corruption, or simply neutral things which distract us subtly from His best for us? Where does my ministry as Jesus’ disciple end and my ‘normal’ life begin?
Yes, that’s a false question – a trap! Yet, isn’t it how so many of us live? Or I should confess rather than accuse – It is how I live much of my life. I want a new life. I want a life that is free to pour out grace and mercy without regard for the consequences. I want a life that is able to convey to others the great peace and joy that I have because of Jesus. I want a life that makes a difference for others, that brings healing to the broken-hearted – the Healing of Jesus. I see so much heartache around me – in my family, in the church, even here at Forest Grove. So many people are broken and hurting – and many of us at our own hands. We suffer the curse of our own prosperity, our own success, or the cultural curse that what I want is really what matters most.
Where did we ever get that lie, that what I want is what matters most? That my own personal needs are superior to the needs of family, community, world? Or that my desires trump the will of God – even that what God really wants for my life is just to for me to be happy – on my own terms?
Yes, God wants us to have abundant life – a life marked by Joy, Peace, Contentment, Faith, Hope, Love; a life overflowing with the bountiful fruits of the spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control. And that is just the point – these qualities, attributes, or whatever we would call them, are fruit of the Holy Spirit – they are the outgrowth of the tender nurture and care of the fragile seeds planted in our lives by God.
The longer I am a Christian, and the longer I am a pastor, the more convinced I am that life is simple, that the simple questions are the ones that matter, and that most of the rest is stuff I bring upon myself. My friends in recovery have a way of saying it for themselves that makes such sense, “What do I have to do today to not drink?” A simple question, with simple (though not easy) answers. And for me the question is similar, “What do I have to do today to be faithful to Jesus?” There is a lot in my life that calls me elsewhere. How do I nurture the voice of Jesus in my life so it is the loudest, strongest, and clearest – so that Jesus gets control of my life today?
And frankly, I want to be either with people who love Jesus that way too, and are asking those same questions and “working out their own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). OR, I want to be with people who have no time for God at all. I think I understand what John heard when he then wrote, “15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Rev. 3) The most frustrating are those who think they are following Jesus, when in reality they have created or bought a cardboard Jesus like a Movie Theatre Lobby prop – there may be a similarity, but its very thin, and has no power or life in it and can do nothing for you – except that if someone saw you in just the right picture, taken at just the right angle, they might think Jesus was really with you.
Jesus wants to see faith in action and so do I, in my own life and in the lives of those around me. And I want to invest in those who are seeking to put faith into action, or those who are longing for that but don’t know where to begin.