Have you ever seen the movie The Bucket List with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson? It’s about two terminally ill men who develop a list of all the things they’ve always wanted to do. They face their task with a great sense of urgency. Today we will explore our bucket list for the church. This week’s heart card asked you to consider what you would most like to see happen in the church in the next year. Consider now what you would like to see happen in your life in the same time. In what ways do your passions for the church align with your personal desires? Because we don’t need to separate between our spiritual life and the rest of our life, our spiritual life can be a part of our whole life. Today, I will share my passion for the church in the coming year.
Our Scripture for today comes from three different passages. The first one is Acts 2:16-17. The second is Colossians 3:1, and the third is Matthew 6:33. They are listed in your bulletin along with the page numbers in your pew Bibles if you wish to read along.
Hear the word of the Lord.
Peter said as what was spoken by the Prophet Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”
Continuing on to Colossians 3:1
Paul writes: “You have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”
And finishing with Matthew 6:33
Jesus says, “First seek God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all of these things will be given to you as well.”
On the day of Pentecost, when the church received the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter quotes the Prophet Joel and offers direction for us, as we consider our vision of the church. Vision comes about as God inspires people to prophesy, dream and have visions. What has God inspired you to envision for the coming year?
Colossians instructs us to set our hearts on things above. It is very difficult to focus our attention on God when we are distracted and overwhelmed by the cultural influences in our lives, but that is the call on our lives.
Matthew’s Gospel sets our personal and community priorities. Together in community, we help one another to seek God first in all things, to strive for righteousness, or right standing, with God.
These verses give us the starting place for understanding what God has called us to do and be as a church in the coming year.
We have a beautiful building, and we call it the church, but it is not the church. We are the church, us going out and caring for God’s people. My vision for the church in this upcoming year is taking what we have and expanding on it.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus proclaimed his mission. He quoted the Prophet Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus fed the hungry. Healed the sick. Showed compassion for people. He taught and trained his followers. As his disciples (his students), we are called to do the same. But whatever we do here, it is to make a difference out there.
In Matthew 28:18-20 it says, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you to the end of the age.’”
That is our commission, our call.
The role of the pastor according to Ephesians chapter 4:12 is, “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so the body of Christ may be built up.” It is to prepare the people, not to do instead of the people. It is for me to help you.
Through intentional faith development classes, Bible studies, community groups, we build up the body, but that is not to sit here and feel good about what we know, how will close we feel to Christ, to God. Those are good. They are necessary, but it is meaningless if we don’t take it out to the people, the world.
A new thing from this past year has been going to the Single Board Governance leadership model, and we have been going through a learning curve with that. It is designed to simplify and streamline governance to make it easier. We no longer have committees just for the sake of having committees, but we still need teams, ministry groups to do the work of the church. Getting people involved in areas that they are passionate about, not just trying to fill a slot. It means working with people’s gifts to make it a joy to serve. We will address that this year, as well as providing better communication to the congregation.
I have a vision of increasing the vitality of our worship, to learn and know what worship really means. Worship is not for us to get something out of God, or the pastor, or the worship leaders. It is an offering to God that we make in praise and thanksgiving for everything that God has given to us: life, forgiveness, unconditional love, his saving grace. This is what the Gospel, the Good News, is all about, and that is what we are commanded to share with the world. That’s why we worship God. That’s why we do it together because it is more powerful when our voices, our hearts, our spirits are joined together. Time alone with God is great. I love it, but there is something special and unique about joining together to worship this mighty God we serve.
And with radical hospitality, we will continue to make the people who visit us feel part of the family, regardless whether they are visiting the area for a day or a week or they are looking for a new church home.
Part of sending people into the world though is building up the body, building us up in the faith through intentional faith development. We have our Tiny Little Church groups, and if you’re unfamiliar with them, there is no disrespect meant in that description. It refers to small groups meeting in people’s homes to study, to share, and to be in each other’s lives, like a tiny little churches. I have visited most of the groups, and they are great. In my vision for the church, I see us adding to that by starting new groups and resuming old ones.
One is having a Sunday School classes for adults and children on Sunday mornings. Starting new community groups for long-term and short-term studies, support, and accountability. They might be a bunch of guys that work on building things or other mission projects. Some of these may meet in our new fellowship building. These are vital because this is where the building of relationships occur. I have been the anonymous person sitting in the pew, coming to connect with God and immediately leaving after the service is over. I did that for many years. It wasn’t until I joined a community group that I felt the personal love of the body of Christ. It was where I could know and be known by other Christians. It was from the people in my group that I learned what it meant to live the Christian life by sharing directly in each other’s burdens and each other’s joy. Sometimes it meant having a good laugh together. Other times, it meant being there for each other when tragedy strikes. Sometimes it meant discussing and debating the meaning of a passage in the Bible or how we are meant to apply it in our daily lives. It can be casual and light or extremely focused. It depends on your needs, your personality, and your interests. All types are good. If you aren’t already a part of a group, I invite you to consider the ones that we will be starting through the year.
But the point of faith development and relationship building is to prepare us to do the work of God in the community. We already do that, but I see that expanding. With a new fellowship building we can have classes on food preservation to expand the usefulness of the Magic Garden, helping people to provide for their food needs all year long, for example, as well as many other things, classes, events, gatherings- with a building that is accessible to everyone.
The harvest is in full swing with the Magic Garden with money raised, food donated, and children learning about God’s creation through the growing of wholesome food. People are already planning for the Christmas Bazaar and the Children’s Christmas store. We are scheduled for a mission trip to the UMCOR depot in Salt Lake City the last week of February. (That is where the Methodist Church stores all the materials and supplies that they send out for disaster relief.) Of course, we have a close relationship with Wallowa Lake Church Camp with many of you involved there.
An area that I would like to see us expand is local mission service in the Wallowa County community, perhaps starting on the 5th Sunday of the month. Instead of having a regular worship service, we will gather briefly then go out to help with some project locally and return here for lunch. It’s another way to show God’s love in action to the people of our community. I call our church an outpost for the Kingdom of God. This will demonstrate it, demonstrate the Good News of God to our community in a new way, a practical way, a way that goes out to the people and doesn’t require them to come to us. That is what Jesus did. He went to where the people were, and he demonstrated God’s love to them. We are called to do the same.
So, my vision for the church in the coming year is to have increasingly vital worship as an offering to God and making everyone in our midst feel the radical welcome of God’s love. I see us learning and growing together with classes and community groups to help build us up in the faith and prepare us to go out to transform the world. But we need to develop some organization, so that we can get things done. We are Methodists after all. That will allow us to be more effective as we go out to that world we are called to transform, engaging with it, demonstrating God’s love to it by continuing the great work that we are already doing and expanding it in new and exciting ways that touch people’s lives.
As we conclude the third week of our stewardship focus on extravagant generosity, I know that many of us are reading through Robert Schnase’s devotional guide, Practicing Extravagant Generosity. Many of you told me how much you are enjoying it, so am I.
In the Thursday reading for Week Three, the author talks about the Apostle Paul’s own battle with matching up his priorities with God’s. Paul describes this in Philippians chapter 4. The devotional reads:
Generosity derives from a profound reorientation in our thinking about how we find contentment in life. Paul writes, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have,” but Paul was not a slacker, lacking in initiative! He was industrious, competitive, and ambitious for the work of God. Paul realized how seductive our activity and our appetite for more could become. We begin to believe that happiness depends upon outward circumstances and material comforts rather than driving from inner spiritual qualities – love, peace, compassion, self-control, gentleness, prayerfulness. Possessing greater wealth does not mean that we experience contentedness. We can still feel panic, emptiness, striving, and isolation. We feel needy, and our appetites become insatiable. Surrounded by water, we are dying of thirst.
Breaking the cycle of conditioned discontent requires courageous soul work. Abundant living derives from generative relationships, from mutual support, and from knowing how to love and be loved. Contentment arises from seeking that which satisfies. (pp. 58-59)
Over the last few weeks we have considered what we love and value in our church, who has made a difference in our spiritual lives, and our best hopes and dreams for the next year. Next week we will each make a critical decision about how we will express and grow in our generosity. Our leaders have already begun this process to respond to the call. I, personally, have pledged to give approximately 10% of what I receive. I am making my pledge public, but yours will be confidential. As you look at your own giving, 10% might seem like a lot to you (It has to me in the past.), or it might seem like the right amount. You may be moved to give more. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” You should feel good about it. When you receive the estimate of giving card this week, I ask that you please be in prayer and seek God’s direction for your expression of generosity towards the life and the vision of God’s ministry through this church.