Speaking of finishing well...
Yesterday, we had a great speaker at our church. As you may know, our church is in crisis right now. We have been in crisis since 2008 (my view), but since 2011 onward, we have transitioned into major crisis, the kind that could easily cause the church to close its doors. Currently, we have no lead Pastor. We are supposed to get an Interim Pastor from our denomination soon (in August). Time and the Lord's hand will tell what happens to our church. Until then, we have had and will continue to have pastors, leaders, teachers filling our pulpit each Sunday.
So yesterday, we had Jaime Levi, a Pastor and Research Assistant from a local Nazarene congregation deliver the next message in our summer series entitled, "That's Life!" Jaime is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, and I think that is how she came to us. Several of our former Pastors and some staff are graduates of Fuller. I think our Board of Directors (the functional head guiding the church through this difficult period) have asked for a list of pastors, leaders, teachers, etc. who will come and speak when needed. We have had a couple so far -- all have been very good.
Jaime was a very good speaker. I would say she is a good speaker versus being a pastor. She had a great delivery, a very low-key approach, and gave a solid presentation. Her message was on waiting well -- being patient -- and she referenced Mark 4 as her text. I enjoyed her message because it spoke to my heart. She was very optimistic about remaining hopeful, believing in God's ability to deliver, to redeem, to empower, to infuse, and to bring to completion His work. She taught on the Parable of the Seed and the Mustard Tree. Both are really good stories, and both speak to the need to wait while God does His work (inside of us, without our doing).
I have heard messages on these two parables many times, but what struck me most was the way she characterized them as being two stories purposely set together (back to back) for the specific audience that Mark was trying to reach. Let me explain...
In Mark, we have these two stories back to back. In the other gospels, the story of the Seed and the Sower is present. It is the story of the Mustard Tree that is unique. Both stories deal with seeds, but one speaks to the internal workings of the seed itself, and the other to the outcome of that seed. We all get the idea that within the seed itself is the DNA that causes it to germinate, to sprout, to grow. We see the life cycle of the seed easily whether we are farmers, gardeners, or school children. Seeds are planted, they are watered, and they grow to maturity. The farmer or gardener may tend the seeds, may pull weeds, may fertilize the soil, may water them well -- but the seeds themselves will do the work of growing. The SEED knows what to do because it has been created for a specific purpose. It does its job, it is hard coded to sprout, to grow, to develop.
The second story, however, is most curious. I think for most of us, we consider this story from the standpoint of the tiny mustard seed, how small it is, but how large it grows. It is a good reminder that from small things, tiny insignificant things, large trees grow. Typically, this is where the message ends with a warm and fuzzy reminder to not give up, to not lose hope. The tiny SEED implanted in you has the potential of growing a very large tree.
Back to the message on Sunday...
We have the Parable of the Mustard Tree, and we get the idea behind it. God can take small things and make really BIG things from them. I get this, I think most people accept that this is what Jesus' was saying through this story. However, Jaime said something that made my little heart skip. She said that this Parable was specific for the audience. The Jews of Jesus' day were waiting for the Kingdom to come, to be ushered in with an overthrow of Roman authority. The Jews wanted a King to rule again. They wanted another David. They hoped Jesus was the One who would save them from the tyranny of Rome.
The curious part is the way Jesus' explained how the kingdom would come. It wasn't with power and might, it wasn't with a coup. It was with a tiny Mustard seed, a tiny little insignificant seed. But when the Lord was done growing the Church, the Kingdom, it would be as large and grand as the grown Mustard Tree.
The power of these stories is revealed in two distinct things:
- Individuals are grown through the implantation of the Word (the SEED)
- The Church is grown by the SEED germinating, sprouting, and growing into the TREE of God's design
I am not sure why this message stuck with me, but it was probably because I have been thinking lately about how to encourage, to enfold, and to empower individuals to live better lives, lives predicated and supported by the Word of God. I am called to build up the church, to help the church (meaning its people) learn how to live lives that glorify God. Crisis communication is part of that ministry as is other healing ministries (learning how to heal the hurts). God has asked me to focus my research interests on these two things -- how we (the Church) can work to reconcile and restore broken individuals and how we (the Church) can stop hurting individuals through the use of our words and our actions. Pretty simple ministry if you think about it -- I am called to build up and not tear down.
My take away from Sunday was this:
- God works in mysterious ways (we know this is true)
- What may be one thing to me, may be completely different to God
- People are grown (developed and discipled) through teaching of the Word
- Ministries (churches and programs) are grown through application of the Word
- What God starts, He finishes
- Completion comes when God says "It is finished, it is done"
- The Church is not finished growing
Therefore, today I think on Psalm 15 as a reminder of what kind of life God desires for His people. These are the key characteristics of a Godly and Righteous person according to the Psalmist:
- Walk blameless
- Do what is right
- Speak the truth from the heart
- Do not slander
- Do no harm
- Do not use slurs
- Despise wickedness and those who practice it
- Honor those who fear the Lord
- Keep all oaths
- Do not charge interest
- Accept no bribes
Upward: We place God first in all things. This includes our worship of Him as Creator and Savior. It also includes His Word, and the study and application of His Word.
Inward: We apply the Word of God to our own lives first. We allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us to moderate our behavior, to direct our focus, to change our way.
Outward: We purposefully seek to do no harm to anyone. We control our tongue and our behavior. We model Christ-likeness not just at church, but in every moment of our day. We obey and abide in the Word of God. We live it, we breathe it, we manifest it.
If we (the Church) spent more time focusing on ourselves (not from a selfish standpoint) and less time focusing on others (wanting them to change), we would begin to live out the Biblical model of servanthood. We would stop hurting others. We would start loving others. It really does come down to Jesus' words in Matthew 7:5:
Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye.
Yes, Jesus' was speaking to the religious elite of His day. Yet, how appropriate is this Word to the Church, the religious elite of our day?
We have become the philosophers and Pharisees of the 21st century. We are the ones who pick, who moan, who slander, and who harm the Body of Christ. We do not have to worry about outsiders tearing the Church down because we are more than capable of doing that ourselves.
We must stop doing this to each other. We must stop hurting the Body of Christ in an effort to win the world. We must focus on ourselves, inwardly, and we must allow God to grow us to maturity -- in His timing, not ours -- so that we can be steadfast, strong, and stable. Only then can we work to help others see the Kingdom as it should be seen -- as a place filled with grace, a place where there is safety, where there is hope, and where there is peace.
I thank you for today, and for the work you have completed in me and through me over the past several weeks. I look upward today -- seeking your face and trusting you for your provision. I give you all the praise, all the honor, and all the glory as you continue to build me up, to encourage me, and to grace me so that I can be used for your work. I honor you today, I thank you for your presence in my life, and I look forward with great expectancy and hope to see your will unfold in my life. May your Name be praised forever and ever, Amen.