Sunday, July 14, 2013

Forgive Our Crumbs and Hand-me-downs

Lord, do we cause so many problems in this world  
     because we have forgotten who You are?
Have we forgotten to fear Your mighty, awesome power?   
Have we forgotten to take our shoes off to show respect
     for You and the Holy ground on which we stand
     when we come into Your Presence?  
Or do we come before You begrudgingly and disrespectfully,
     with dirty hands and feet that are unfit to serve You?
Are we ceremonially unclean?
Have we forgotten to prepare our hearts to make them suitable,
     welcoming dwelling places for Your Holy Spirit?
Are we truly grateful for the cost of our eternal life
     or do we take it for granted and fail to thank You
     for caring enough to reach out to us sacrificially
     giving us the greatest love we will ever know?
Have we forgotten that the Son of Man willingly, obediently,
     died to redeem us from  the darkness of death’s eternity?
Have we forgotten that You can rock our world
     anytime You want and shake us up to get our attention?
Have we become so absorbed in our own self-importance
     that we see You as being made in our pitiful image
     instead of believing  that we are made in Your image,
     to serve You and bring glory to Your name.
Lord, have we forgotten the importance of having a humble spirit?
How dare we be so pompous and so full of ourselves
     that we would think we might usurp Your position   
     and so proud that we might think of ourselves as God! 
Lord, forgive us for not giving You the honor and respect we should.
Forgive us for putting You last when we should put You first.
Forgive us for giving You our left-overs,
     our crumbs, our hand-me-downs,
     when we should give You our first fruits,
     the first of our time, the first of our money,
     the first of our love, the first of our talents,
     the first of our attention, the first of all our resources.
Impress on us the need and the joy of giving You first place
     in our hearts and in our lives.
Lord, lead us back into fellowship with You.
Make us worthy of all that You have given us;
      let us be who and what You want us to be.
Guide and direct us to do what You want us to do.
Thank You for the blessings You continue to bestow
     upon us even when we fail to appreciate or deserve them.
Thank You for loving us in spite of ourselves.  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Prayer of Confession for June 30

Searcher of hearts,
You know how often we confuse Your guidance
     with our own desires.
We prefer our own choices and avoid Your nudges
     that urge us to be more inclusive in our love and
     more generous with our time and possessions.
But it is in You, Loving Father,
     that we find our true freedom.
Forgive our shortsightedness.
Renew our spirits to unite with Your Spirit
     so we might live joyful lives.
Slow us down.
Bend us close to you
     so we may be renewed in Your love and
     recommitted to Your justice and peace.

In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Church: How is it Doing?

The mission statement, written on the front of our weekly bulletin, says that we are a church that

1. loves God, 
2. loves and serves others, and 
3. makes disciples for Christ.

Indeed this mission statement takes into consideration and includes the Great Commission and the Royal Commandment given by Jesus Himself to His followers.  Looking at what is going on in my congregation, however, I worry about how well we are doing as a   church in fulfilling the three claims we make and wonder what kind of report card grade God will give us when He Himself evaluates us.

Many of our members stubbornly insist that we are doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing while others challenge them by pointing out our continued small attendance for worship service and a lack of participation in our fellowship programs. We have had several members graduate to that glorious heavenly kingdom in the past four or five years, but we haven’t added any new members to replace those precious, departed saints in our pews. Many of our members complain that “we” aren’t going out beating the bushes to find new members; but, for some reason, the “we” never seems to include “them”. 

Looking at the first criteria in our mission statement: Yes, we love God, or at least most of us—or many of us---do, or at least we claim we love God; but do we love the God we make in our own image or in whose image we are made?  And if we love Him, we should want to serve Him by loving and serving others. 

Considering the second item listed: Yes, we love and serve others, but do we love and serve only those others who are friends and family and are almost the same kind of people we are, or do we love and serve all our neighbors as much as we can even if they have different life styles, are of different races, ethnicities, or even of different religions?  Are we an inclusive or an exclusive church? Do we really want to move out of our comfort zones to seek and invite those who are socially, economically, and politically different from us?  I guess what we need to ask ourselves is how much  we honestly love our neighbors---all our neighbors, which means all those in our world whose paths intersect ours. I believe we can serve without loving; but can we truly love others in Christian love without wanting to serve them?  

Like many small rural churches, my church was founded over 200 years ago by a few families, and many of their descendants are members today. It is easy for newcomers to be intimidated by the exclusive intimacy of the family groups. It is also easy for the old-timers to want our church to stay the way it has always been and to be intimidated by threats of change suggested by newcomers or “new-blood.” If each of us truly loves Jesus and wants to share the message of His love and His kingdom and the message of salvation with others, we must all sacrifice our selfish motives and ideas of what church is supposed to look like and act like.  We must, however, always keep our minds and hearts focused on glorifying God and doing all things in accordance with His will, not our personal will.

When it comes to making disciples for Christ, I think my church is very weak.  When it comes to going out and inviting people to join us for our church services, we fall short.  At the moment we don’t have much at all to offer our children and teenagers which means they are often absent from Sunday school, worship service, and we don’t have an active youth group for them to attend. How are we going to train people to be disciples for Christ, and how are we going to share our love for Christ with them if we rarely see them?  Again, I hear people giving their opinions on what “we” need to do for the youth; but I don’t see anyone coming forward with the love and vision needed to make a difference in their lives.  As one of the characters in William Faulkner’s short story “The Bear,” said, “We don’t have the dog yet,” meaning we don’t have the person, who can make a difference, coming forward and saying, “Here I am, Lord; use me Lord.”  We need people who are willing to come forward, to accept Christ’s call not only in developing youth programs, but in developing other programs in our church.

I love my church, and I pray for her.  She is the bridegroom of Christ, but she needs to be getting herself ready for His arrival. She needs to be fulfilling the calling given in the Great Commandment and in the Great Commission. She needs to show her love for God by loving and serving others and by making disciples who will go out into the world to tell others of the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ which makes our restoration and salvation possible.  As John Piper says, if we do not do this, we waste our lives, and life is much too precious to waste.