given on Sunday, June 26, 2011–ending a third year, read to begin a fourth. . .
[This is not a typical sermon, almost more a personal reflection. I am looking forward to begin a new series with the July 4 Weekend which will focus on the main points from Bishop Schnase’s response to the UMC’s “Call to Action” report.]
My Box or God’s Box?
Too many times I have begun the process of Sunday’s service with my thoughts driving me forward while looking at others. This time I turned it around a bit. I started asking myself what is my box. I have long seen myself as a lateral thinker. Tell me I have to do something one way, and I am determined to find a different way. Ask me to follow the instructions as given to me, and I tend to do the opposite.
Today marks the end of three years as your pastor. An honest review does not make me feel very successful especially after reading the Bishop’s blog concerning the General Conference’s report, “Call for Action.” Bishop Schnase spent six different blogs, no seven, on the report trying to make it meaningful not just for himself as a Bishop, but for all levels of Methodists—district superintendents, pastors whether an elder or deacon or local licensed, right on down to the newest member of any one church.
When I first saw the blog entries, I could not focus on them nor did I think I had to worry about them. But when I began thinking about where the next year of ministry was going to go, I went back to those blogs, printed them off, and then scanned them. Something made me go back for a thorough read and now I find myself using it as the pattern for my box.
The frustration I experienced in January trying to make sure the conference reports from our charge conference and the end-of-year reports probably did more damage to my leadership than I honestly wanted to admit. Yet, after reading these blog entries, I now realize why they are necessary and how it hold me accountable to God’s mission: to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.
Being honest with oneself is not easy, but I believe it is necessary. There are occasional critical comments, usually constructive, but during the school year it seems too difficult to address. Why? I suspect I simply do not want to figure a way out to be more engaged in the community when I have worked all day with an intensely challenging students and an odd ball program trying to meet the students’ needs.
This is my personal weakness and I must be honest about it. II know God does want me to take care of his children, but my box is too small to fill with all of God’s children—even those just in our community. I have to be honest that the ministry God calls me to do is the same ministry he calls each and every one of us sitting here in these pews. It takes a faith community to create a box to fit God’s work.
When leading the 40-day campaign, “The Purpose Driven Life,” I discovered a very important lesson. Leading is not doing, it is letting others join in doing. I was using the top-down leadership style that I have studied and do not approve. I was trying to put the campaign in my box, not God’s box. I had to adapt to using the Holy Spirit’s lead and let others develop their own boxes for their own small groups.
Where does this self-evaluation lead me today? Back to the Bishop’s blog. When First Church in town went through an audit, the report resembled the “Call to Action” report in many different ways. I began to develop my box for ministry as a result of my participation and responsibility in that process. When I began training for a pastoral role, I found myself designing my box for worship as well as for a church-wide program.
After three years serving in this church, I have learned that the one box I had created does not fit either of the two churches—it needs modification and not the same for the two churches, but modifications for each church.
Today’s scripture really broadened my thinking about God’s box. Does a box have to have restrictive sides and a closed lid or can it be flexible and open? Look back at those verses:
43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. –from the CEB
In the study notes from both the Life Application Bible and the Wesley Study Bible, an emphasis was placed on the activities of the new Christians. They were changing their way of life to one outlined by the New Covenant—to love one another as God loved us. The earliest Christians began living in faith communities.
The box of those earliest Christians may have been earthen jars, but as they learned how Jesus taught them to live, their way of life changed. They stepped out of their boxes to love one another and to carry God’s message to others. The earliest figure of Jesus’ followers is identified in the opening chapters of Acts as 120 souls. By the time the council met and Paul was beginning his mission trips, the number has leaped to 3,000 according to the Life Application Bible notes. That growth covered a span of only 30-40 years.
God’s box is intended to hold the entire globe—people, animals, fishes and land. We have a responsibility to continue God’s mission. We may have to use many boxes of all shapes and sizes to get the job done, but we must not give up.
The Purpose Driven Life talks about how living a Christian lifestyle creates such a change in one’s life and that sharing it causes exponential growth in the Christian community. The key is learning how to share, how to identify your own purpose, your own way to serve, your own way to share your faith with others.
After three years, I know I can share my story, but in truth I must have a breakdown in understanding. I must identify the problems with my box in order to create a box that matches God’s needs. Each and every one of us is called into action to expand the community of faith. Each one of us has to identify our mission. Each of us must move into action or there will be no need for boxes.
This week I am making a commitment to try something new again. I am going to lead a small group under the heading of the Pastor’s Plate. During the next four weeks, I am going to share my own cooking style with others. While it is cooking, we are going to watch one of the NOOMA videos. When the video is over, we will share. When the food is done, we will taste. When we are done eating, we will clean up and depart for our own homes. I am outside of the box, but a small group can be developed around almost anything.
Join me this Thursday at 3 pm. Or join me with your own plan for a small group. We know how God has made a difference in our lives, but now we need to open up our box and share with others. Each small group will be a new box filled with God’s love. Maybe God’s box is not just one, but two, three, hundreds, thousands, and even millions. The potential for growth is infinite, but no growth happens if we keep our boxes shut tight.
Dear Almighty God,
I have boxed up three years of your words.
I have sealed them up tight because no one opened them up.
Today I make a new commitment to build more boxes.
Today I leave the box open hoping others will want to see in.
Guide me as I step forward to try new ideas.
Guide me as I open the doors for others to come in.
Guide me as I open minds to box designs.
Guide me as I ask others to build new small groups.
We live in a community of faith.
We love those in our community of faith.
Now let us share that love with others outside our box.
Now let us accept our responsibility to make disciples of Christ
For the transformation of the world—even if it is one box at a time.