Don’t bring God

I love when people begin to understand more the fuller mission of the church. We aren’t here to be a club or even a mere network of friends. In Christ, we are his embodiment to the world. That makes what we do on Sunday mornings and any other time as the church so important.

So, be careful with the “I language,” particularly in worship. I liked that music. I enjoyed the sermon. I felt good about being in church. Worship isn’t about you. It’s better to consider, What did God tell us? How did our time together prepare us to be the presence of Christ in the world? In what ways did the message edify our walk with Christ?

Those kinds of questions deepen our understanding of the church’s mission.

So, as someone gets that deeper perspective, it’s a bit confusing when I challenge the next step. Church vernacular suggests that we bring God to people. We say it all the time. We bring God to those experiencing homelessness. We bring God to people in need. We bring God to the lost.

Or we might say, “God showed up when we went there!” “God showed up this Sunday.”

Let’s tighten up our language. As United Methodist Christians, part of our understanding of God’s grace is that it precedes our revelation. That is, God is always reaching out to us even before we recognize it. So, you and I don’t bring God anywhere. God is already there! God was already there when you first decided to follow Christ, too.

It’s better to say we bring good news. That’s the gospel: Christ is Lord. We can share the good news to someone in need that the God of all Creation walks with them. Is there with them already to bring comfort and peace.

God doesn’t show up. God is already there. We become aware of God’s presence. It’s better to say we recognized God’s presence.

We see this in the story of Jesus feeding four thousand people.

Mark tells us that Jesus had compassion on the people gathered with him. They had listened to him for three days in this remote place. Now, he was leery of sending them away. They would collapse from hunger as they went home.

He told his disciples of his concern. They responded with practical insight. Their question doesn’t seem to be an unfaithful one. The NIV translates their question like this: But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?

Without explanation, Jesus collects the food they do have available. His first response was to give thanks for the provision that was already there. Before long, the disciples fed thousands of people. And they were satisfied.

God didn’t show up in that moment. Jesus knew to give thanks to God for how the Lord already provided. The disciples didn’t bring God to the people because God was already there. They joined in the work of Jesus to share what was given for all.

And that’s part of our mission as well.

The way God feeds our souls in worship, study and prayer prepares us to share with the world around us. But we aren’t bringing God. We’re sharing the message that Christ is Lord, which brings God’s peace and blessing.

Stay blessed…john

The one in front of you

There are big numbers in the book of Acts.

That is, we read about multitudes of people coming to faith in Christ. It’s an inspirational reminder to people of faith. Peter once told people he didn’t know Jesus. In Acts, his first sermon reaped instant fruit. Three thousand people believed in Jesus because of him.

Have you ever failed Jesus? Most likely, you didn’t hear a rooster crow after you did, but Acts reminds us our failures don’t have to be our future. If God used Peter, God will use you.

In another instance, religious leaders arrested Peter and John for teaching people about Jesus. What they said about the resurrection of the dead annoyed the leaders. So, they put them in jail. I’m sure I’ve annoyed church leaders with my sermons. I’m glad to say I’ve escaped sermonic arrest.

Their preaching and arrest were not in vain. Luke tells us that five thousand people believed what they said about the Risen Christ. Any preacher would love to boast the fruit of those two stories alone. But the numbers don’t stop there. The church continues to multiply.

Often, those big numbers astound us. Have I ever even had the chance to address thousands of people at one time? There’s no way I could look forward to thousands of people coming to Jesus because of me, right? I ask that as one pastor, but our churches ask those kinds of questions, too.

It’s hard for us to imagine having that kind of reach. But we try.

And there’s nothing wrong with wanting more people to know the love of God. That’s what God desires. I just don’t want us to be so enamored with big numbers that we miss a more important one.

It doesn’t appear to me that the apostles are always looking for huge crowds. They preach where they are. Sometimes, the multitudes heard a sermon only because the apostles stopped to talk to one man who needed healing. They were faithful with God’s message wherever they went. Even if the people weren’t there yet.

Now, you may remind me that you are not an apostle. Well, I’m not either. But the message of the Risen Savior is ours. God gave it to us.

What do we do with it?

What we can’t do is wait for thousands of people to show up before we share it. God loves every person you meet. Every person. I don’t want to ignore the one person in front of me because I’m pursuing the thousands I want to preach to.

I don’t want you to miss the joy of offering Christ to someone you meet because you’re waiting for your church membership to grow.

Some might think this is no time to share our message. The world doesn’t want to hear what we have to say. Friend, that has always been true. Why do you think the apostles were in jail? Are you kidding? It feels like the world has never needed to hear about Jesus more!

Don’t wait for the crowds, though. Speak the love of God to the one person in front of you today.

Stay blessed…john

Letter 82

From the Values and Voices website:

American Values, Religious Voices: 100 Days, 100 Letters is a national, nonpartisan campaign created from the conviction that scholars who study and teach our diverse religious traditions have something important to say about our shared American values. This project aims to contribute constructively to our national discourse, reaffirming who we are as Americans and modeling how we can learn from one another and work together for the common good.

I hadn’t heard of this project before today. I plan to read through the 2021 letters this week.

Dr. Clark-Soles was my favorite professor in seminary. When I teach Bible studies and classes to churches, I channel my inner Clark-Soles. Here is her letter to Biden Administration and Congress.

Imagine if we learned to weep with one another. If we learned to walk humbly before God, hand in hand with those in need. Greater things, indeed.

Stay blessed…john