Ministry, Sermon Prep

Single-mindedness

At the end of Luke chapter 9, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). It is with this resoluteness that Jesus continues the rest of his ministry: a singleminded focus on the plan of redemption for which God had sent him. He is determined to do the will of his Father and to bring the Kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven. It is through his determination that he heals the broken, confronts the authorities, questions loyalties and meekly endures scorn and shame, all on the journey to the cross.

This is the meaning of discipleship, a resolute following of Jesus to ministry of the Kingdom of God. This call to be disciples of Jesus requires a radical commitment. It is a call on each of our lives and it may result in alienation, in setting aside cultural norms and in making choices that go outside of the boundaries of family expectations. You have been warned.

And what is our task? What is this ministry of the Kingdom of God? Our singleminded focus is to live in step with the Spirit of God so that our submission to his will may result in fruit. Yes, the fruit (singular) is the result of our submission to the Spirit, our following of Jesus with resolute courage. Our individual lives will begin to be characterized by this Fruit which only the Spirit of God can make grow in us. And this fruit is not for us alone, it is for the transformation of our community, for the common good.

So root deeply into the community to which God has called you and begin calling out the Fruit of the Spirit in one another. Make it a common and resolute purpose to follow Jesus undistracted, pedal to the metal, and watch that Fruit multiply.

The call from God for each of us is to follow Jesus in the singleminded task of the ministry of kingdom of God: to Love one another. Our focus is to submit to the Spirit of God and allow his Fruit to grow in us and transform our earthly community into the Kingdom of God on earth. 

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Ministry, Sermon Prep

Persistence in Prayer

Very often, it seems that our spiritual lives can be marked by seasons. There are seasons of action, seasons of waiting, seasons of darkness, seasons of sadness, seasons of joy, seasons of peace. In seeking what the Lord would have me to do right now, his answer was PRAY. I reiterated my question to him, thinking that perhaps he didn’t understand; I was asking what it was he wanted me to do. I even wrote down a few tasks, good and righteous work, that I thought I should be spending my time doing. My spirit quickly course-corrected as I felt that prompting from His Spirit, “No, you’re not going to do that good thing. You are going to pray.”

“That’s it, Lord? Of course I’ll be praying, but what do you want me to do? I really prefer action and crossing things off of my to-do list. Praying seems so inactive.”

But friends, the Lord is teaching me that prayer is exactly the opposite of inactive. Prayer is active. Prayer is where we meet God. Prayer is where we step deeper into trust and faith. Prayer is where we pour out our truest longings and come to know more of who God is calling us to be. Prayer is where we sit in the presence of God and enjoy him. Prayer is when we listen quietly to his voice. Prayer is where we wait and watch and know God will do the work. Prayer is humility. Prayer is powerful. Prayer is God on the move.

And so the Lord has called me to a Season of Prayer. Seasons can be days long or months long. I don’t know what this season will look like, but that is the beauty of prayer and staying in touch with His Spirit – He will tell me where and when to move next. And He will do the same for you.

In this Season of Prayer and through these lectionary passages of Scripture, God is revealing to me three essential aspects to a life defined by persistent prayer.

First of all, a life defined by persistence in prayer involves boldnessLet us then approach the throne of grace with confidence that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16). In Luke 11 Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray and he uses a story of a rather demanding friend to demonstrate the generosity of God. Imagine a friend banging on your door well after your family is asleep, seemingly desperate for loaves of bread to share with another friend who showed up at his house. He persists, even after receiving a rejection and eventually, this good man likely wakes up his entire household to get to work baking bread for a friend of a friend. Let us be more bold and more brazen than that man when we approach the throne of grace. Let us knock incessantly on the door of God’s throne room, beseeching him for help even in our darkest hours or with our most basic needs. Even when we could probably conjure up a solution all on our own, baking our own loaf of bread rather than pestering Almighty God, let us set our pride aside. God is waiting to give us what we need, and not only meeting our needs with good gifts, but giving us the Holy Spirit, his very presence to be with us always.

Abraham was bold and brazen, too, when he continued to bargain with the Lord for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18. He cried out again and again for the Lord to save the city if he could find even 5 righteous individuals living among the sinfulness. God could have rejected Abraham’s request or refused to listen, but Abraham refused to give up and God honored that tenacity.

Secondly, a life defined by persistent prayer involves consistency. Keep knocking, keep asking, no matter how trivial or how out of reach your request may seem. As I mentioned in my last sermon, spiritual disciplines such as prayer are not to be acted on once or twice or even occasionally. These disciplines produce righteousness in our hearts and connection to God’s Spirit through our continued practice. Prayer involves consistency, invoking the name of Jesus again and again and again. Sometimes it seems redundant, like once we’ve prayed for so and so or for this request or that, we should cross it off the list and be done with it. But persistent prayer means consistent prayer. The more we come to God the more bold we become. Verse 3 of Psalm 138 confirms this: When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me.

Finally, a life defined by persistence in prayer starts with thanksgiving. I will praise you, I will bow down to you, O Lord, the psalmist says. We have endless reasons to offer thanksgiving to the Lord – for his marvelous deeds throughout history, for traces of his grace and goodness in our own lives, for his faithfulness and love and great mercy. It sometimes seems impossible to find reasons to be thankful, particularly when we’re in a season of darkness and despair, where the Spirit of the Lord seems silent and we can’t find any answers. But in those dark days, press into the Lord even harder. Begin to hunt for evidence of Him in your everyday life. Find his grace in simple things, like the reflection of a rainbow in the bubbles of your kitchen sink or the way a baby giggles in the grocery store aisle or finding your favorite comb you thought you’d lost forever…thank God for those things. Thanking him in the small, seemingly meaningless moments of life, will root you firmly into his character and carry you through those dark days. Everyone who seeks finds, right?

Two aspects of my own journey of prayer stood out to me as I studied these passages and contemplated a a life defined by persistent prayer. Concerning the call of God to step into a season of prayer, I thought I would share what that’s been looking like. When I was at annual conference, I spent a lot of time in the church nursery with my baby girl. Across the hall was a room designated as a prayer chapel to be used by anyone during the day. There was a pastor who was stationed there and spent most of the day alone. At one point in the afternoon, through two closed doors, I heard this pastor literally crying out in prayer for at least an hour. He was likely praying through the book of reports, covering each church and each pastor in heartfelt prayer. I was in tears listening to his tenacity, his boldness, his sincere intercession for people he’d never met, believing God’s will would be done in our Southern Michigan churches. I began to pray that way more consistently. I take walks almost every day and when I walk by myself I take the time to pray. I choose a 3 mile path that is mostly secluded so as to pray all the more boldly. I find that praying out loud helps me to focus my thoughts. And so I pray.

I probably look like a crazy person walking through the cornfields of Keegan Rd, talking to myself, sometimes crying, other times grinning like a fool. Those are my very real encounters with God. It takes a while to set aside my conscientious pride and put away my flippant thoughts and truly focus on intercession, but once I do, man, it is the most emboldening experience. Almost always I begin by praying for my church – our church. The ministry I am a part of in this congregation and in this town is a gift that I am incredibly passionate about. I believe God is at work in our church. I believe He is changing our lives and drawing many of us into a lifestyle defined by prayer, transformed by Scripture, committed to honest relationships and conflict resolution. I believe He is freeing us of our dependence on finances and moving us into effective ministry to the hurting and the lost. I believe wounds are being healed – wounds inflicted by church, by friends, by spouses and children. I believe God is pulling our little congregation out of a place of frustration and desolation and into a land of passionately pursing holiness…together. I pray for all of those things.

I pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to move among us, to change us in ways we never imagined. I pray for each of us to be pliable under His firm but gentle hand, willing to endure whatever formative encounters He may have for us. I pray for the state of our church finances; that we would step into a new mindset of budgeting and be willing to give to missions and ministry first, above and beyond what we could possibly afford on our own, believing God will honor this Kingdom-use of money. I pray for miraculous things to happen through our generosity – that our hearts would be changed and become increasingly trusting of God’s goodness, and that we would give God all the glory for the way He will surely provide and even multiply our resources. Oh, may we be faithful!

Then I start to picture these pews and I begin to see your faces. I name you before God praying for fervor for whatever needs I know of and interceding on your behalf for needs that the Holy Spirit brings to my mind. I pray for each of us to be so in love with Jesus and completely committed to weekly corporate worship. I pray that we’d each be moved with compassion for our coworkers, our neighbors, our waiters, and our cashiers that we would begin praying earnestly for each of them and inviting them to join us in church, to be a part of our congregational experience of God.

I begin to pray for needs of my other friends and mentors. I pray for my husband, for wisdom as he pastors this congregation, for passion as he seeks Jesus through prayer and study, and for continued strengthening of our marriage. I pray for my daughter that she would grow into her name – to be a follower of Christ by the grace of God.

And on and on.

Secondly, I thought I’d bring a visual example of how I’ve prayed and encourage you to do the same. These are my prayer journals from March 2014 to now. I use these not only for prayer but also to guide my time with the Lord. I read the daily scripture passages which are included in our bulletins. As I read I write down passages or words or phrases that stick out to me. Sometimes I write out my thoughts about those passages or spend time rereading those lines and ask the Lord what it is that He wants me to hear. If I’m also reading a devotional or a book about the spiritual life, I write important quotes down so I have a mind-body connection to the words and the time to let their meaning steep in my soul. And throughout those types of journaling, I write out my heart’s prayers.

In preparing for today, I read through many of these pages. I was looking for excerpts to share with you and in the process I experienced God all over again. As I reread my petitions, I was struck by the persistence of prayer. There were pages where it seemed I confessed the same sins again and again, pleading with the Lord to deliver me. My heart remembered the heaviness of those sin struggles. And then suddenly I recognized the freedom the Lord had given me. Two years ago I was in bondage to a sin I couldn’t seem to shake. And today I stand to testify to the Lord’s faithfulness to the faithful. Even in the privacy of my own bedroom I was embarrassed to read some of my own confessions and remembered what it felt like to write them down over and over again. But, friends, we must persist in prayer. We must be bold even if we look ridiculous and feel bothersome. We must be consistent even if it seems repetitive and pointless. We must begin with thanksgiving because there is always evidence of God’s work around us. When we persist in prayer, we will be able to look back, maybe months or years from today, and say PRAISE THE LORD.

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Kirsten Grace, Letters to My Kids, Parenting

Kirsten Grace – Month 9

My dear, sweet Kirsten Grace,

Every time I walk into your room to get you from your crib, I am physically overwhelmed with love and cannot seem to utter any other greeting than an overly-exuberant, “Hi baby!”

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I know you are hardly a baby anymore. You are growing up before my eyes into a unique little kid, one with a tiny tooth and a gigantic personality. We simply adore you, Kirsten. Sometimes your dad and I fight to get down the hall to your room first, so eager we are to greet your smiling face. We often find  you standing up with your wubbanub puppy pacifier dangling from your mouth. As soon as you see either of us, your excitement is obvious – arms flapping, body bouncing, legs kicking, and a grin from ear to ear filled with a joyous “panting.” This is the same greeting we receive when we pick you up from the nursery or a babysitter’s house, or even if one of us has been gone from home for a while. I don’t think anyone doubts your love and affection for mama and daddy.

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This month you’ve grown fast and furiously. You took your first “crawl”…just one crawl…early on in the month, but still seemed to prefer the cautious safety of sitting or rolling like an old pro. On Monday September 19th – after two nights of 12 hours of straight sleep (glory to God in the highest…the first full night’s rest you’d had since month 3…) you decided to start crawling like it was old hat. By the end of the week you could easily follow the cats all the way down the hall and into the red carpet room. (Thanks 1960s for that beautiful design gift.)

You are pulling yourself to standing with ease and thankfully can sit back down without fear or tears. (Or tears for fears.)

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I am convinced you prefer to wait on any skill until you’re certain you can master it on the first try. This is not unlike your father, which he admits. :)

Speaking of your dad, it is pretty obvious that your looks highly favor his. And I think it’s adorable. Last night, an acquaintance saw your newest pictures and had the thought, “Who’s the new baby? Her looks have changed so much and she suddenly looks just like her dad.” But even so, you are a lovely little girl with your very own looks and expressions and personality.

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We love your vibrancy and enthusiasm and your great big passion for all things!

You are responding to the word “no,” eating practically grown up foods – quinoa, old fashioned oatmeal, peanut butter toast, curried vegetables, soup, and every sort of mashed fruit or vegetable we put before you.

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I am thankful for the gift of a successful 9 months (so far) of breastfeeding. Those first weeks were nearly unbearable but at the time I knew nothing different and forged ahead. Being able to nurse you is a gift. I am so glad you still want mama, but I see your preference for real food beginning to form. You are going much longer between nursings, only once a night and sometimes going to bed or nap without it. It is exciting and a little sad to my mama-heart at the same time.

We love watching you learn and investigate everything. We love hearing your deep, belly laughter. You sing now when I start to play the piano. You “talk” to us all the time…bababa-ing, mamama-ing, dadada-ing all the livelong day.

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You love your cats (especially your new kitten, Dot) more than anything. You can play by yourself with blocks and you love books, especially daddy’s big books. You have pulled the protective covers out of the outlets on the first day they were installed. You ate a fistful of cat food and didn’t seem to mind it. And mom & dad won’t be taking you to a “tipping” restaurant for the foreseeable future, thanks to your falsetto singing screeching vocalizing (?)
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We love having you with us, Kirsten. You have rocked our world forever and we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

love,
mama
PS – At your nine month well-child visit, you received your third hep B vaccine and got great remarks from Dr. Aza and Nurse Julia. We love them!

You are becoming our little circus peanut, hanging out in the low end of the percentiles, but looking  happy, healthy, and full of life! You are 26 inches tall (grew just half an inch since your 6 month appt!), putting you in the 8th percentile. You weigh just an ounce under 18 pounds (just 2 pounds up since June), which is the 33rd percentile. And your head circumference remained the same, putting it in the 63%. Yay for all the brains! :D

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Kirsten Grace, Letters to My Kids, Parenting

Kirsten Grace – Month 8

My sweet baby girl,

You are growing up so beautifully and (just as I’ve been warned) so quickly. I am cherishing your gummy grins while they last (for your teeth still haven’t decided to make an appearance). I am soaking in our moments in the rocking chair, nursing you before nap times and bedtimes (for I already see glimpses of their disappearance). I am trying to remain calm when you are shrieking like a banshee whether out of glee or anger (for I know eventually the days will come when you’d be mortified to have anyone witness such outbursts). I am loving your growing affinity for mama and daddy (for your love for friends…and Lord, help me, boys…will someday be upon us). I adore you bouncing gleefulness and your cheerful arm flapping (for I know you will be on the move before we know it and I really don’t mind your lack of mobility at the moment).
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first time exploring Lake Erie with mama

This month you have tried more foods that I could probably list, and you seem to love them all. Green beans, watermelon, peaches, zucchini, tomato, and all sorts of summer produce have graced your plate (and your face and arms and hair). It definitely appears that you are teething, but we don’t see anything poking through just yet. You gnaw on everything like your life depended on it. Beyond my better judgment you chewed on the edge of a table in the restaurant last week, mouth gaping and tongue waving in eagerness every time you began leaning forward to gnaw once again. It was hilarious and disgusting and adorable all at once.

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Like most kids, you seem to enjoy non-toys almost more than actual toys. The best way to keep you occupied and quiet in public is sitting you on the floor next to something like mom’s bag to just look at and poke at and grab and of course chew on. Paper and napkins and books are your favorite items, loving the crinkle and the texture. There is nothing that gets you more quickly angered than taking away a piece of paper you were chewing on. Wow, the wrath surfaces instantly. (But, Kirsten, my dear, we just really don’t want you to eat paper, that is gross and unhealthy.) And currently you are sitting on the kitchen floor joyously and inquisitively playing with a metal spoon and sauce pan. What fun!

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Aside from those items, you do have a few favorite toys.  Your puppy dog pacifier now goes everywhere with you. It is a must for bedtime and nap time, but also nice to have when we go out, keeping a pacifier from rolling tables away from us. (The Wubbanub is an incredible invention.) A couple weeks ago, you had your first encounter with your very own baby doll. She is a soft-sided Cabbage Patch handed down from your Zia (Aunt Ashley). You just light up when you see her. Blankets (especially their tags) remain a favorite and your crinkle book is a winner (we just happened to misplace it, unfortunately.)

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You are rolling over professionally now and getting close to pulling yourself to standing or rocking into a crawling position. You just seem a disinterested or perhaps fearful, or maybe a little of both. Like I said, I am content with your immobility at the moment, for it makes some things a little easier. I do really look forward to the day of walking hand in hand with you to the church, though, or having you crawl into my room just to find me. (Let it be known that I do not look forward to those eerily quiet moments when you are sure to be doing something mischievous, like climbing onto a bookshelf or getting into the Vaseline or plastering your body with my makeup.)

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You seemed to have adjusted to using the church nursery as your second bedroom, napping more readily most days of the week while we work or have worship practice or whatnot. I have constructed various baby monitors out of tech devices using Google hangouts. (Though your screams are heard throughout the church building if all is quiet.) There had been many times a poor unsuspecting parishioner entered the church for a meeting or a service project and woke you up without meaning to. They felt so terrible, and yes, I would love for you to sleep, so I made signs to hang in the hallway to ask people to be as quiet as possible, or at least warn them that you are asleep. It’s a little jankity but it works alright and we’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do.

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cherished kisses from great grandma Mary Fish (93 years old)

We are still faithful users of the cloth diapers (you’ve avoided rashes for many months now). You still adore bath time (which happens most frequently in the kitchen sink). You go to sleep well, but you have slept through the night since sometime in the third month when you led me to believe we had won some infant parenting award. Nope. Not even close. You wake up yelling (yes, yelling) at least twice a night, sometimes three or four times. (I cannot even remember what it was like to get a full, undisturbed night of rest, which just blows my mind because it was of utmost importance less than a year ago. My, how times change.) During one twilight rendévous I typically change your diaper because it is pretty inevitable that you will spring a leak otherwise. But you will then go back to sleep after nursing, keeping me up for just about 15 minutes each time. Not bad, I suppose. (And thinking of my future self who will likely be laying wide awake in agony when you are experiencing some sort of high school crisis or deciding on college or staying out past 8pm with your friends, I will take these sweet innocent nighttime encounters any day.)

Kirsten, I love you, everything about you. You are crazy and intense, yes, but you are MY crazy and intense girl. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. You know what you need, you have vast expressions that rival my own, and you have a smile that can instantly win over the sourest of moods.

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Keep being you, Kirsten Grace. We love you.

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