Saturday, September 17, 2011

Commitment and Blessing

I begin writing this as I am preparing myself to to preach (tomorrow) and to preside at a wedding (today).  Part of the message the Lord has for us tomorrow was shared on this blog back on September 8 - see "I Will, With God's Help."  I'm being called by God challenge our people to a deeper and more public commitment to the ministry of Crossroads Community Church.

The Lord gave me the confidence to do this as I listened to Pastor Larry Johnson as he spoke at the Youth Encounter commissioning two weeks ago.  His notes are available for download as a pdf at this link.  I plan, like Larry did, to use the blessings of marriage as an analogy to the blessings of other commitments that God calls us to make.

Tomorrow we'll begin the message portion of worship with a reading from Matthew 20, the one where God (pictured by a landowner) gives the same "wages" to workers no matter if they work twelve hours or one.

This produces a problem when it comes to encouraging believers to "get to work" on what God wants done in this world.  If every desperate believer in Jesus is going to get the same reward, what's the incentive to actually do God's will?  Yes, there is the danger that we won't ever get around to doing what God wants done (see Matthew 25 for some warnings about that), but there are also some blessings we'll miss out on if we wait too long.

God wants us to get on the way of blessing as soon as possible, for our sake, and for the good of others--for the salvation and healing of so many who do not yet  know our Lord.  And the way we can get on that way of blessing and to say on that way is through commitment through God's commitment and ours. 

[At this point in my message I'll share some of what I wrote back on Sep. 8. about God's amazing commitment to us and the blessings beyond number that brings to the world.]

It's not easy to make or keep (honest) commitments, but when we do, we reap the benefits (see Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4) as do those we serve.

To use a bus driving analogy, my commitment to drive on Monday through Friday provides structure and builds character in my life, and it also gets the kids where they need to go.  If I just drove when I felt like it, kids would be stranded some days.

Or, when we are raising children, it takes commitment and follow through!  How terrible when parents are ruled by their feelings in regard to their children!  Having our own children, or having foster children or adopted children, that is a wonderful example of commitment, as we stick in there to for their sakes.  But, as we do, we experience blessing ourselves.

The blessing to us personally actually comes from the fact that making and keeping commitments is not easy.  Whether it's marriage, raising children or even committing to a particular group of believers like Crossroads, some of the blessing comes because of the suffering and the trials we face as we stay together and pray together.

I've often compared staying together to a rock polisher, a mechanism that keeps us bouncing off one another, getting our rough edges honed off.  As we hang in there, or here, with others, this bouncing off one another's personalities hurts sometimes, but that, in time, and with lots of prayer and forgiveness, produces strength of character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us. Go back and read Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4 once more.

Making commitments to one another is a way to grow spiritually.  If you want to grow closer to God, pray that he will lead you to a commitment that pleases him.  Don't just go with the flow!  If we avoid making commitments, if we just go with how we feel at the time, if we just  "get out" when the going gets tough, we will not grow spiritually.  If we simply stick around when we feel like it, we will not become mature and able to reproduce, that is, to make other disciples of Jesus as he has commanded us to do.

But there's another blessing that comes with commitment.  This is one that my pastor friend Larry Johnson didn't touch on two weeks ago.  I was reminded of it as I read what Mike Bradley wrote recently in his blog.  In a piece entitled "Don't Underestimate the Power of Presence and Encouragement."  He spoke there about the Old Testament story about David and Jonathan:
"....In 1 Samuel 23... In verse 13 and following we have the story of [future king] David and his men hiding in the wilderness, [reigning king] Saul hot on their trail. David receives word Saul is searching for him in order to kill him.

"Then, as I read verses 16 and 17, Holy Spirit caught my attention. These verses tell us something that on the surface might not seem all that important or exciting. It is the simple story of Jonathan coming to be with David. It is a short story of the power of presence and encouragement...

"David is in a place where he needs courage; and Jonathan comes to be present with him and to give him that word. In verse 17 we read Jonathan’s words of encouragement to David:  '"Don’t be afraid," Jonathan reassured him, "My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware"' (1 Sam 23:17, NLT).
Jonathan has made a commitment to BE there with David.  He has said, "You can count on me."  This gives great comfort and wonderful peace.

This week several of us were gathered at a home in Dassel along with two staff members of the North Heights - Community of Hope group that we're part of.  If you were here last week you heard a message by the senior pastor of those churches--you can listen to it on our website's "worship" page.  As we were at that Dassel home, one of the pastors from those churches looked me straight in the eye and said, "We want you to know that we are here for Crossroads.  We're committed to this relationship.  We're not just going to let you go."

That was very encouraging.  It was a much needed word at the time.  All of us at the table, I think, felt a sense of confidence rising in us as we heard this word of promise.  I've felt that many times in the past few months as we've been growing into relationship with this North Heights - Community of Hope group, and with the whole Alliance of Renewal Churches.  And it's an encouragement we will share with one another as we are willing to step into commitments to local churches, to local churches like ours.

If you have not made a commitment to a local church, now would be a time to pray about doing that.  For your sake, and for the sake of the others, like me, you will encourage by doing so.  I believe your commitment will be a blessing.  And through making that commitment, and through keeping it, you, and your church, will grow.

There are several ways you can commit to the ministry at Crossroads.

After you've experienced the ministry here, and after you've prayed and asked all the questions you need to ask, you can become a Crossroads partner.  You do that simply by signing the partnership commitment that you'll find in the church's front room.  (You can see it on our website's "about us" page, in the paragraph that begins "Our members are ministry partners who...).

Or, whether or not you're ready to sign the partnership agreement, you can commit to something else through this church--you can take the step of deciding to come to prayer on a Wednesday evening--it's the "deciding" to come that constitutes the commitment.  Or you can sign up for the upcoming retreat, or you can say that you will serve with our children or youth or in another capacity.

You can say, yes, count me in, or, yes, I admit it, saying "I am a leader.  I am important!  (At least to someone, at least in some small way.)  I'll quit pretending it doesn't matter what I do, what I say, what I decide."

Taking a step of faith, to say "Yes, I will, with God's help," taking that step will help you grow, and you, and others, will be blessed.

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