Last night, I finished a book I had been reading for a while. I actually restarted it twice. It was a church leadership book. Over the last several years, I’ve tended to rush through those. I don’t appreciate that the church infatuates itself with business-like approaches to leadership.
This was different, though.
Not that the principles of the book limit themselves to ministry. Leaders in other fields seem quicker at crafting and adopting better leadership approaches. Still, this book was a strong encouragement for me.
There’s one note, in particular, I want to share with you.
One of the leadership qualities discussed in the book was conversation. Yes, simple conversation. In fact, consider conversation to be more important than problem-solving. The author included an exercise used among a group of clergy. Each clergy member shared their call story, how they sensed God first calling them to ministry.
It was a wonderful reminder of the purpose God placed on their hearts.
You see, it’s easy to get caught up in the problems of ministry. You get bombarded with everyone’s opinions and personal agendas. When you’re not careful, you wade into the waters of ministry as a business. There’s too much opportunity for the current reality of church to overwhelm you, and not in a good way.
For these clergy, remembering why God called them in the first place offered a sense of renewed hope.
I imagine folks in the pews need hope, too. We’re all a part of the big machine of ministry. We all see the same things. Fewer people in worship. Giving is down. People seem preoccupied with other life happenings. We’re proud if we can even get 20% of our people to do 80% of the work.
If we’re not careful, we focus more on those things than we do on our love of Jesus. Little by little, that’s how we end up forsaken the love we had at first (Revelation 2:4).
It might be helpful for you to recall when you first came to know, really know the love of Christ. What experience changed your heart? How did faith in God first impact your life? I hope you can sense God’s presence transforming you now, but it’s also important to remember.
The final chapter of Song of Solomon is a beautiful illustration of first love.
The two lovers ride together into the maiden’s hometown. If you’re studying the book, you’ll notice callbacks to previous chapters in this homecoming. For now, notice the two as they embrace and view the woman’s home. As she returns home, people wonder who that is coming from the wilderness. Something within her has changed.
They will come to know what we have already read. The love she shares with her beloved has changed her.
I don’t mean to suggest you and I should throw our hands up in defeat, despair or disregard in light of the church’s current reality. Quite the opposite. The church is God’s redemptive tool. We have a ministry to pursue.
Christ has overcome the world. May it be that you and I overcome what we are facing in and with the love of God, our first love.
Yesterday, we read from Song of Solomon.
I confessed that I haven’t preached much from that book. I’ve prepared even fewer devotionals or Bible studies related to it. So, for good measure, let’s consider what God might be speaking to our hearts from this love song.
The female lover speaks in Chapter 2. She assumes a humble and expectant attitude toward her love. “As a lily among brambles, so is my love among maidens,” she says. As a thankful spouse myself, I have often found myself gazing at the love of my life, too. I am grateful our paths crossed. We came from different worlds, so to speak, but once we connected it was for good.
I’m a nice guy, but I have my faults. Who I am is not always who I want to be. What I do is not always what I said I would do. Still, my imperfection does not keep her from loving me or joining her whole life with mine. In that light, she is a gracious reflection of the love of God. When you experience true grace, it is humbling.
I trust many of you feel the same way.
You see, therefore, how we can relate to scripture’s love song.
When I began preaching, early on I knew how I wanted to present the gospel. The best way I learned to preach was by joyfully offering Christ. I could never shame someone into believing. I don’t know how to scare anyone into professing Christ as Lord. What I know, I share. And what I know is that Christ is far better than what the world offers.
I don’t have to focus and press you on how bad riches are. We can read what Jesus has to say about them. When I preach, I can spend more time showing you how better it is to have Christ than more money. Why would I want to humiliate someone who struggles to forgive someone in their life? I’d rather show them how learning to forgive heals our souls.
How could I deride someone who has yet to live into a full faith in Christ when I know how long it took me? Instead, I can remind you that the love we have to offer God does not compare to the love God has blessed us with. And yet it is enough. God accepts it, as lowly as it may be.
Most people are familiar with traditional wedding vows: to have and to hold for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until we are parted by death.
Our United Methodist liturgy offers other vows to use. Two lovebirds can promise “to join with you and to share all that is to come.”
What a beautiful way to see our communion with God. God offers us an unending love. The Lord receives our blunderous love and promises to never leave us. We are God’s beloved. With that promise, we can confidently join and share all that is to come with God.