Prayer and the Ministry of the Word

When I was five years old, my family changed churches. We were a family of eight, but my mother, sister and I were the only ones who went to church with any regularity. To be honest, I don’t know what was behind the decision to move. But for whatever reason, we left St. Mark’s and went to the big church on the hill. Funny, what memories stick with you. I remember the car ride on that first Sunday we went to the new church. My mother called to me in the back seat and said, “Carolyn, now this is a big, fancy church, and we have to be very quiet during the service. You can not talk during church.” I didn’t remember talking during church before, but I can tell you, I was very quiet at the new, fancy church.

We must have liked it there because we stayed and you know, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just like at the other church, we were still among the last to leave every Sunday because my mother would not go home until she had spoken to everyone.

Maybe that’s why I liked communion Sundays so much. It gave me something to do while I waited for my mom. After church on communion Sundays, while my mother talked, I’d go up to the altar and play with all the little cups that were left there. Now, remember – I was five years old. Five year olds eat dirt at home, so church germs were certainly not a threat.

You know how there is always a little bit of grape juice left in the bottom of those little cups? Well, I could take the leavings from two or three little cups and just about fill up another one. And I could usually down three or four shots before my mother caught sight of me. “You cannot play with the little cups!” she’d say, as she drug me off by my arm.

So I find it ironic all these years later that I make my living talking during church and playing with those little cups (though now, they are big cups).

It is a good thing, too, because I didn’t have a lot of other options. I am not particularly musical, not athletic, not brilliant, artistic or technical. I know a little bit about a few things, but not a lot about anything. But I do have one passion. I love the church. I love it! I love the Lord. He is the reason I live. But I am a pastor because I love the church. It fascinates me that Almighty God, in all his wisdom, chose this organism as his medium for sharing His revelation of Jesus Christ. And my passion is for seeing that organism, the Church, work in the way God intended when he passed the Body of Christ from the person of Jesus to the people of God. I don’t claim to know God’s whole vision for that kind of church, but I do believe he is looking for more than just somebody to talk on Sundays who occasionally plays with those little cups. In fact, I believe he is crying out for the people of God to be the body of Christ.

The apostles themselves laid it out. Instead of allowing circumstances to take their eyes off what was most important, the apostles figured out what makes the church powerful. And they defined it with profound simplicity. “Prayer and the ministry of the word,” they said, “are the center of what we do. Nothing should stand in the way of that mission. And secondly, the ministries of compassion belong to the congregation” (Acts 6:1-7, my take).

Folks, that is powerful. This was long before Paul wrote those amazing analogies about the Body of Christ. There were no consultants, no books to read. But the disciples saw not only God’s vision, but the immense danger of taking their eyes off that vision because of some pressure by some group or another to fill some need.

“Prayer and the ministry of the word are the center of what we do. And the ministries of compassion belong to the congregation.”

That’s the Body of Christ. That’s the Church being the Church – not just talking on Sundays and playing with the little cups – but all of us together bearing the good news of Jesus Christ to a world hungry for a clear vision and the honest-to-goodness gospel truth.

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Why I Will Go To Church On Christmas

Watch for it: a plethora of opinions will be published this month both in support and in defiance of churches holding “church” on Christmas day. Because Christmas happens to be on a Sunday this year, many churches will choose not to have services that day. They will highlight the need to honor their volunteers and staff by not making them show up on this family-oriented holiday, or they may encourage their members to do something missional instead. Or they may just say unapologetically that when Christmas falls on a Sunday, church can’t happen. Its just too much.

I honor all those choices. I would even say that depending on the context, opting out is a valid choice.

I’m confident that those who choose to stay home on Christmas day have solid reasons for it. It can’t be easy to juggle traditions, church responsibilities and sheer tiredness from all that leads up to the big day. I get it.

Be that as it may, I’ll be in church on Christmas morning and while my reasons may not work for everyone, these are the reasons that work for me.

  1. Our whole message centers around the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We get two days a year to really bring home that message: Christmas and Easter. When Christmas and Sunday fall on the same day, I am not less likely but more likely to show up because I worship Jesus and I want to honor the day the honors him.
  2. Jesus has asked me in a hundred different ways in the Old and New Testaments to give my Sabbath to him. I actually think of it as a great gift to be able to go into the House of the Lord and worship him in a season when so much else points toward the secular. Even as a pastor, I count Sunday morning as part of my Sabbath. Yes, I “work,” but I do so willingly … enthusiastically even. I have learned to worship as I lead, so I count the worship of Christmas day as a high and holy privilege.
  3. Where I am physically on Sunday will say something to the people around me. Again, this isn’t for everyone; this is just me. But I don’t want my family to hear that Jesus matters … but not more than the gifts we bought or the “family feeling” of Christmas morning.
  4. I love my family a lot, but they didn’t rise from the dead for me. On Christmas morning, I’ll be sitting in the house of the One who loved me so much that He gave His only Son. And I will preach the good news about the Messiah as if it is the most important present any of us will ever receive.

It may well be that your family travels on Christmas day, or meets with a loved one who is not able to get out. What a blessing that you have that time to give. Don’t let my reasons get confused with your circumstances. My reasons may not even be good reasons but they are my reasons. I will be in church on Christmas Sunday, worshiping and adoring Jesus, the Christ. If your life allows, I hope you’ll be there, too. Then there will be at least two of us, and Jesus says where two or three are gathered …

O come, let us adore Him!

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