It’s that time of year again for….
You thought I was going to say New Years Resolutions, right? Nope, I’m going with the NFL playoffs! My two favorite teams, the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, are in the playoffs although they have a bye this weekend. They’re in the playoffs but they don’t have to play anyone. They can do whatever they want this week.
Like go to Disney World. Or travel the world. Or staying at home and eating all of the potato chips they want to.
But when it comes to next weekend, when they have to play again, when the road to championship continues, they’d be in trouble. It’s not just enough to get to the playoffs; these teams need to keep competing, keep growing, keep moving forward toward perfection. For approximately twenty-four other teams, it’s something completely different: they didn’t achieve what they hoped for, and they can choose to work to get better or assume nothing will change.
Two-time AFC champion and one-time Super Bowl Champion (with my Patriots!) Benjamin Watson wrote this about football and a new year:
I can tell you that it is easy to absolve one’s self from the challenge to change. After all, if I am not part of the “problem,” [C]oach must not be talking to me! The teams that rise from the ashes to greatness, however, are the teams that consist of teammates who understand that they ALL have a role in correcting problems because the apathy, complacency, pride, envy, indiscipline or laziness of one teammate or coach can have a devastating impact on the whole organization. So the challenge, as the coach continues to speak, is to discover your role in this change that must take place, and to make a decision to bravely carry it out. Whether it’s leading by example, leading vocally, changing a position, competing harder in practice or following team rules more strictly.
The New Year is upon us and many of us will be considering different New Year’s resolutions. Many will vow to eat healthier, work out regularly or restore an estranged relationship with a loved one. My hope is that the reality check of 2014, springs us into a 2015 where we, like a defeated football team, discover OUR role in the change we want to take place. We all have a specific platform and sphere of influence. Maybe your role is to forgive. Maybe it’s to ask for forgiveness. Maybe it’s to be vocal and take a stand for truth…New Year’s Resolutions usually fizzle out after a few weeks because actions, no matter how well intentioned, will eventually reflect the condition of the heart. [Full post here.]
The truth is that sometimes, as Christians and sometimes, as a church, we get to a place where we can sit back and get comfortable with our success. Or we can assume that there’s nothing we can do to change anything. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to reflect on what we’ve seen and experienced so that we can see God moving in our lives, but we don’t want to get stagnant.
We don’t want to think “oh, well, we’ve made it,” and then settle for where we are. We need to keep growing.
Jesus is in that position in the second of the two stories in our Scripture today. First, we see two old and faithful people, Anna and Simeon, who have been waiting for the Messiah to be born, and then we see the experience of the teenage Jesus himself in Luke 2:21-52. Sure, it gives us an idea of what it might’ve looked like to be waiting and waiting for Jesus to show up, and how excited they must have been. It’s a reminder to me that those who have been faithful are often faithful for a long time without ever seeing signs of fruition- who don’t always get to see the fruit of their work but they persevere anyway!
Pretty awesome stuff.
But in my reflections lately, I’m struck by what Jesus does – from a very young age. Jesus, fully God and fully man, wants more. He doesn’t settle; he’s not complacent. Jesus, fully God and fully man, is found by his parents “in the Temple, sitting among the teachers of Law, discussing deep questions with them and amazing everyone with his understanding and answers.”
Jesus could’ve settled. His birth was pretty awesome. Babies don’t normally get kings to come see them or angels to sing pronouncements of their birth. They don’t normally have a star stop over their birth house; they don’t regularly receive the kinds of accolades before their birth that Jesus did.
Jesus could’ve done anything with his life, right? But he took the time to sit and talk to the wisest people he knew, to ask and answer, to explore the questions of faith and the universe that challenged the smartest people of his day. Jesus wanted to grow.
His parents, Mary and Joseph, two beloved servants in our faith, didn’t get it. They weren’t immediately thrilled by his dedication (or the fact that he missed curfew) and didn’t understand why he would be there. It’s another reminder that even when we’re doing the right thing, sometimes not everyone will get it.
Jesus didn’t settle. He didn’t settle at twelve, and he didn’t settle on the cross. He didn’t grow complacent in his own relationship with God the Father or with other people or in his own wisdom. And that sets us up to push toward perfection ourselves, to grow toward being the best of what God could do in us and through us. It’s a reminder that even when you’re the Son of God, you still learn, you still want to learn. And if Jesus could want to learn…
I’m sure it’s easy to settle in and get complacent. I look back over the last month and I’m thankful and proud of our church, and our friends, and community. You can check out the video/powerpoint here: OhWhatAGloriousNight. We did good! But it also means that we can do… more.
It’s the question that pushes me on the days when I get tired. It’s not about doing more for the sake of being busy but recognizing that if God could use us the way he did in December, that if we’re faithful to the purposes God has for us, we have absolutely no way of knowing what he’d use us for next.
End hunger in Prince George county?
Bring parenting classes to families struggling with how to educate their kids and teach them how to be good citizens?
Provide self-help groups through our church, like Alcoholic Anonymous or cancer support groups?
Something we can’t even imagine yet?
What if we realized that our story and our witness, sharing the story and remaining faithful in prayer and actions, would impact others to get onboard with us?
I want to tell you a story that happened to me a little over a week ago. We’d been done with Christmas Eve for a few days, the coats, the toys, and the turkey baskets all given out. Last year was done, the miracle was over, the work was filed away until next year…
And then the phone rang. Rather, the phone had rung and rung several times over the course of the week but I hadn’t been able to handle the call. A man I’ll call Ed Rose, a man from Wilmington, DE, who travels to South Carolina several times a year, had stopped in our church on November 23, and had heard about the kids who needed coats, and the work our church was doing. And he told me I’d be hearing from him… and then I didn’t hear from him.
Until after church last week, when I was sitting at home and the phone rang. And it was Mr. Rose, calling me at home because he looked up my name in the whitepages online and figured he’d give it a shot. He tried one other name similar to mine and it wasn’t me… and then he thought he’d try one more, and suddenly, we were talking.
Mr. Rose told me about how the stories he heard at our church, and seeing all of the children, and meeting some of our people had this impact on him. And he wanted to help – to be part of what was going on here. He told me about how he wanted to donate five hundred dollars in stocks so that the church could use the funds to help out, and he wasn’t sure how that money would make a difference but he felt like he should.
We talked for a half hour, and he asked several questions about our church and the funds. He said we looked like we were doing well (he read the bulletin and its weekly financial report!) and I explained that once a month, we get a supplement from our district. I shared with him that we were actually a bit over ten thousand behind in 2014- something that sets us back with our Conference. I told him that I believed that we were supposed to keep doing what we were supposed to – to be faithful, to pray, and to work- and that at some point, the financial dam would break, and we would have enough to pay our bills.
And then Mr. Rose said he wanted to double his donation, to a thousand dollars in stocks. And that he’d see me in the spring when he was returning again.
Mr. Rose heard a story, heard about miracles, and he wanted more. He wanted to be part of it. It wasn’t a completed thing for him, but rather a “now what?”
A moment where he could move forward.
So I want to ask you today to reflect on what you’ve seen and heard, and consider your life. What steps are you being called to today? Whether it’s a New Years Resolution or a “now what,” what do you need to step up and step out on faith about?
Losing a few pounds or giving up swearing seems too easy this year. I want to challenge you to ask yourself how God is going to use you and how you’re going to grow. But I know some of you will say “I don’t know what you mean,” so I’ll give you some options (grin).
So you’re coming to church but you’re not really committed to Jesus… maybe it’s time you actually let Jesus into your heart. Whether you’ve been baptized or not, become a member or not, your relationship with Jesus is the one that must pass the test. Are you committed? Are you standing still or pushing ahead?
So you’re coming to church regularly… maybe it’s time you actually participated in Sunday School and got to know some of your fellow brothers and sisters. You’d be surprised how those friendships can be a support in time of crisis or in joy.
So you’re coming to church all of the time… maybe it’s time you stop and pray every day or read your Bible at home or start harassing the pastor or someone else with the questions you have about faith, and life, and God’s call on your lives to figure out how God can use you. You’d be surprised how much we can learn if we’d open our minds – Jesus was fully God and he kept learning, too.
So you’ve been giving to church on the Sundays when you come… maybe it’s time you consider what you should give back to God (we’re encouraged to tithe ten percent of our income) regularly- even if you’re not here. You’d be surprised by what God gives us when we let go of what we’re holding onto.
So you’ve been coming for months but you aren’t really involved… maybe it’s time you start finding out ways to serve as a Sunday School teacher in rotation, or an usher, or a greeter, or sing in the choir (that we don’t currently have but we could). Or get involved in the Empty Bowls event to feed the hungry or the Auction to raise money or … something we don’t even do yet. You’d be surprised by what God will do with a servant’s heart.
Mr. Rose doesn’t even go here but he saw something so incredible that he wanted to be involved – to know he was part of the story. Do you desire God’s favor and participation that way? Do you want to give God your money that badly- that you’d call every day for a week and track down the pastor? Do you want to know you’re making a difference like that, even when it’s not Christmas?
Maybe all you need in 2015 is to pray this simple, four-word prayer:
“Okay, God. Now what?”