Political Thoughts Can Cloud Our Witness for Christ

The United States is a polarized country. This shouldn’t be news to anyone. Everything is clouded by the win-loss arguments of politics. For instance, yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling regarding the Affordable Healthcare Act was seen not as a constitutional exercise of judgement, but a game of politics of who won and who lost.

Politics is everywhere and impacts everyone. The partisan nature of our country has created divisions that will take years to repair. As a result, we live in a nation of distrust.

Sadly, too many Christians are willing participants in this culture. We want to be defined by being a liberal or conservative. So much so that we will only attend a church if it is a “proper” reflection of our political leanings. The moment we believe a church is too liberal or too conservative, especially if it is counter to our personal thoughts, we are out the door.

This isn’t new. A quick look through the church’s history in America will find that Christians have been too willing to align the message of the cross with the message of one’s favorite political view. Pastors during the Revolutionary War period claimed that America was the joyous example of freedom. During the Civil War, pastors from both the North and South used the pulpit to express how God was fighting for their side.

Several things happen when we are more defined by politics than the cross, especially as leaders in the church.

We limit our influence.  We may believe people see us as a messenger of the gospel, but we lose that voice when we are too defined by conservative or liberal views. Instead, we become seen as a representative of the political parties wrapped in Christianity. This hinders the message of the gospel and makes us, as Paul says in Philippians 3:18, enemies of the cross.

We end up speaking on things we do not understand. Pastors should speak on social issues, but we must be educated about the issues at play before speaking. If we do not understand an issue our best practice would be to not speak. A pastor would be wise to wait until he or she can speak rationally on a given topic. When we don’t understand an issue, we are more susceptible to being influenced by outside voices who seek to define what we say and how we influence our communities.

We end up making disciples of partisan politics instead of Jesus Christ. When we are too focused on our favorite political party in the church, we fail in our call to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The disciples we end up making are representatives of whatever party we adhere to. This is dangerous, because the gospel challenges the practices and thoughts of both the left and the right.

As we move further into this election cycle, let us be careful about our witness and ask ourselves these simple questions: Are we witnessing for Christ or are we witnesses for our favorite political party? When someone sees me, do they see a Christian or a representative of a certain political thought? Am I too defined by being a liberal or conservative than I am by being defined by Christ?

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Ten Hard Questions

Here are 10 hard questions that are on my mind this morning, and perhaps yours as well. I do not intend to offer answers, but merely to pose questions for our own reflections:

1) In the church, are we more concerned about the church being aligned with the “left” or  the “right” than the Kingdom of God?

2) Do we minimize the impact the small congregation church can have in reaching a changing culture?

3) Are we more interested in being popular than being a servant?

4) Would we get angry if someone told us we were wrong about something?

5) As John Wesley would ask, “How is it with your soul?”

6) Are you defined by missional expectations or church maintenance expectations?

7) Would someone know you are a Christian by the way you live your life?

8) When was the last time you said, “I’m sorry,” and truly meant it?

9) When was the last time you took a day off and relaxed?

10) Are you content with your life?

Sunday Sermon: A Kingdom Prayer

Adoration. Confession. Thanksgiving. Supplication. Can you guess what these four words have in common?

Besides being five-dollar words to start a sermon, these are worship attitudes that are part of a prayer formula known as the ACTS prayer. This is the form of prayer I follow during the pastoral prayer. Each portion or petition relates back to an act of worship and helps us to focus our thoughts and energies.

The prayer begins with adoration. We give praise and honor to God, because of the glory and holiness of God’s name. From there, the prayer moves to a time of confession. It is an act of confessing the sins we have committed against God’s desires. Confession is not a one time act. It is a continual process of naming our sin and seeking God’s forgiveness. Following the confession the prayer progresses to a time of thanksgiving. We thank God for the gift of forgiveness and the blessings given to us. Giving thanks to God is an important act of worship. The final petition is a time of supplication. Here we raise our concerns to the Lord. In my prayers, I like to begin this by focusing on the needs of the world and then moving inward. It is an act recognizing that we are not most important and that we are called to be a global church.

This is just one example of a prayer formula. There are many others. A prayer formula helps to center our thoughts, which helps us to be attentive to the presence of the Holy Spirit. However, there is a danger involved with prayer formulas. They can become ritualistic to the point where we do not understand what it is we are praying. The words become so common to us that we are not sure what they mean, but we know we need to say them.

One prayer formula that fits this description is the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer we are familiar with. We recite it each week in corporate worship. However, the words can be hard to understand. When we pray for God’s name to be hallowed, for instance, what is it we are praying? What about when we ask for the Kingdom to come and God’s will be done? Or to deliver us from evil? What does it mean for us to pray the Lord’s Prayer?

The Lord’s Prayer is found twice in the New Testament in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. Luke’s version is the smaller of the two. In Luke’s description, Jesus is responding to a request from a disciple. The disciple wants Jesus to teach him in the same way John taught his disciples. In those days, a teacher would teach their disciples how to pray. This disciple wants Jesus to teach him how to pray.

Matthew gives us the Lord’s Prayer in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. This is Jesus’ grand teaching on the law of God that takes place early in his public ministry. Before giving the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said that our prayer time is not about being honored by others, but about being in communication with God.

By giving us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is giving us a specific prayer formula. These words give us a clue on how we should pray. The prayer is Kingdom oriented and counter-cultural in nature. It is important for us to understand these words, what they mean, and how they call us to a deep relationship with God.

We are going to walk through the Lord’s Prayer by using the translation found in the New Living Translation. This is the translation that we use each Sunday morning. The reason for this is that it uses words that are common to us. When we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we are saying the words that come from the King James translation. It is a translation that dates back to the 1600s. It uses a form of English that is not used today. The King James was an adequate translation for the time, however we want a translation that we can understand. A good translation is true to the original Greek and Hebrew, is understandable, and helps us to see and hear God’s word.

As we work with the text, the first thing you might notice is that something is missing. The King James includes the words “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever,” but these words are missing in the New Living Translation. Did the translators ignore part of the Greek, or is something else going on? The familiar phrase is not part of the original Greek manuscripts. It is a part of a doxology that was likely added to the text. Jewish custom held that a prayer ended with a doxology. The early church likely added a doxology, which was an adaptation of 1 Chronicles 29:10-13, in response to this custom.

You might also notice the prayer has different sections or petitions. The prayer has roughly seven petitions. The first three focus on the Kingdom of God and God’s coming reign, when Christ returns in full glory. The final petitions focus on our current needs as we live in the present reality of God’s kingdom.

Jesus begins the prayer with the phrase, “Our Father in heaven.” The word “Father” signifies a family relationship. Jesus is calling us to see God as a our Father. This was the primary way Jesus addressed God during his earthly ministry, and the churched picked up on this description, such as in Romans 8:15, where Paul writes of the Holy Spirit giving us the ability to try out Abba Father. To call God “Father” is to address God with a term of affection. We recognize that God is our provider, comfort, and strength. The Lord’s Prayer is an affectionate prayer with the God whom we love, adore and worship.

After the opening, the prayer moves to a request of “may your name be kept holy.” It is here we often use the word “hallowed.” We pray that God will be seen as holy and loved by all. It is a petition that asks for all to see that God’s name, which is about character, is true, good, and holly. The petition is kingdom focused in it seeks Christ’s return. We desire that God will establish his eternal rule. Something else is going on here. When we pray these words, we desire that God will help us keep his name holy in our lives. It is a petition that God will guide us in our worship, discipleship, and growth, so we may claim the name of Christ in a deep and committed way.

The next petition directly asks that the Kingdom will come and God’s will be done. This is a very counter-cultural prayer. We live in a consumer-driven culture that says it is about us. This view can often affect how we see the church. No matter who we are or how old we are, we can fall into the temptation of believing that worship, and our relationship with God, is about us. It is about what I get out of worship. It is about what God has done for me. It is about my style of worship or my agenda for the church, and so on. None of this is true to Scripture or true to Christ’s desires. This petition calls us to abandon ourselves and to be aligned with the Father’s will. It is not about what we want, but about seeking God’s will in our lives, our churches, and our communities. In praying these words, we desire that God’s desires will be primary in our life and that we will seek and do God’s will. The call of Christian discipleship is counter-cultural to the message of the world that says it is all about us. The call of discipleship is to abandon ourselves, to hear the Father’s will, and to live in obedience.

Following this petition, Jesus moves to petitions of provisions. These focus on our needs in the world and recognizes our dependence upon God for all things.

It begins with the petition to “Give us today the food we need.” This is also counter-cultural. Often, we go to God with a list of our wants. We want the fortunes of life and the joys of the world. How often do we ask God for what we need to survive for this day? In saying these words, we pray that God will gives us exactly what we need to survive and do the Father’s will. We ask that not when we are in deep need, but every day. These words recognize that God is the provider of all that we have. God gives us exactly what we need. The things we have are blessings that come from God, and this prayer is our recognition of God’s love.

After this prayer of need, Jesus asks us to forgive others as we have been forgiven. This petition recognizes we have sinned against God. With these words we confess our sin before God and each other. Sin is our moral debt, as one writer put it, in our relationship with God. We are praying that this debt will be be forgiven. As well, we seek God’s help so we may be able to forgive those who have hurt us. We cannot expect God to forgive us and then not forgive our brothers and sisters who have wronged us. Forgiveness is a two-way street that is both equally received and equally given.

The final petition is a petition of protection. We pray that God will keep us from temptation and protect us from doing wrong. Each of us are faced with temptations on a daily basis. The temptations we face are different, but they are common to us all. Temptations seek to keep us from the kingdom and hinder our relationship with the Father. We need God’s protection and guidance during times of temptation. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul writes that God is faithful in helping us through any temptation we may face. By saying these words, we pry that God will show us the way out and, even more, that we might be willing to take the way out of temptation when it comes.

The Lord’s Prayer is a deep prayer. I hope that after today these are not empty words we say each Sunday, but are meaningful and powerful words. They are words of commitment to the Father. Words that signify we are in desperate need of God’s provisions and care. Words that articulate our desire to live for God’s will and not our own.

When we pray this prayer, allow it to bring you to a deeper connection with the Father, through the life and mission of the Son, through the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit. May these words guide us to a deeper level of faith, as we seek to live in the present reality of the Kingdom of God.

I Was Wrong About Title IX

Before entering ministry, I was a writer. I worked as a sports writer for several newspapers in West Virginia and worked for a higher education public policy group in North Carolina. I enjoyed my time as a writer and it has helped me to be a better pastor today.

One of the topics I often wrote about, and sometimes negatively, was Title IX. This is part of the 1972 Education Amendments, which paved the way for equal opportunity in colleges and, as well, athletics. In several articles, I wrote that the original intent of the legislation was commendable, because it allowed for women to be involved in athletics and did away with discriminatory practices. However, I would follow that argument with a call to reform Title IX’s provisions based on the fact that Title IX had led to several athletics opportunities for males to be eliminated. I’d argue that Title IX’s reform would not eliminate opportunities for women in sports, but would make things truly equal.

Looking back on what I wrote, which is a joy of modern communication, I wish I would have hit the delete key and tossed out my idea. I was wrong about Title IX.

While Title IX might need reform, it is possible to conclude that I was advocating an end to the federal regulation. This would have a disastrous affect on society and athletics. Without a provision for equal opportunity, there would be no incentive for college and high school administrators to provide athletic opportunities for women, especially in sports that lose money.

Title IX restricts athletic departments from only providing sports that are profitable and play well on television, such as football and men’s basketball. If Title IX was not law today in our media and consumer driven culture, the only women’s sport we would see would be college basketball, and even that would be doubtful.

What Title IX does is it keeps administrators accountable for their decisions. It provides opportunities that still might not have been available to women. In an ideal world, we would not need Title IX. Everyone who wants to participate in athletics would have an equal chance. Sadly, that world does not exist and protections are sometimes needed so that fairness and equal opportunities are provided.

Title IX is not perfect, but what piece of government legislation is perfect? Simply because Title IX is not perfect does not mean it should be eliminated. It should be reformed, but not cast aside.

In my writing career, I covered women’s athletics more often than not. I saw a lot of talented women play the sports they loved. Yes, their fathers and mothers gave them the passion to play and their coaches helped to develop their skills, but without Title IX the doors to the gym would never have been opened, and that would have been a shame.

I Am Not the Church’s Savior

I am 32.

According to most Christian researchers, writers, and church leaders, I am the future of the church. I am the person who will “save” the church from its membership decline, from its lack of vitality, and its structural problems. I am the one who will lead people back to Christ, create new ministries that reach to the broken and lost of our world, and find ways to be relevant to a media-obsessed culture. I am the person who will redeem the church in our culture.

As a young adult (someone under the age of 35), I am the considered as the “answer” for all the church’s problems. We are told that we are the future. The people in the church, especially pastors, who are to take charge, take the lead, and fix what has been handed to us. We are to bring our fellow brothers and sisters along with us, and redeem the church. We are marketed as such by our church leaders who, rightly so, want to reach the young adults who are missing in our congregations and church life. We are proclaimed as the church’s hope.

I have a problem with this, because I am not the church’s savior. I am not the church’s solution. I am not the answer to any one set of problems.

What I am is a servant who is seeking after God’s own heart. I am a disciple. I am a leader. I am a pastor. I am a teacher. I am a writer. I am many things, but what I am not is the church’s solution or answer.

Why do I feel this way?

First, the church already has a savior. The church doesn’t need me to act as “Jesus” and save the church. We need the church to believe Jesus is alive and is present through the Holy Spirit. Vitality in the church will come when we are in relationship with Christ and are desiring to be led by the Spirit in our communities and world. It will not come through marketing schemes that seek to make the church more appealing to younger generations. The church must be relevant, because it seeks to be an authentic and transparent community that seeks to live in a faith relationship with Christ and in community with one another.

Second, we must be unified together. One of my biggest struggles with the focus on young adults being the future is it ignores the contributions of older generations. I am saddened when the church fails to listen to the needs and concerns of older adults simply because of their age. Our older adults have much to contribute to the life and vitality of a congregation. The church should not ignore others because of a person’s age. This is ageism and it has no place in the church. The church of Jesus Christ should not be segmented into factions that puts older adults in one corner and youth and young adults in another. A vital church focuses on all people.

Third, it’s not about me. Many of my fellow young adults have embraced the idea that we are the church’s future and have attempted to grab the leadership mantle with both hands. This is a mistaken approach. You lose your ability to speak to all people when you seem to be more interested in power and authority than true change and engagement. As pastors and leaders, regardless of our age, we must remember that it is not about me. It’s not about what I want for the church. It is about being the church that Christ has called us to be and living in response to that calling. This might mean that our dreams are never fulfilled and our agendas are never accomplished. Many of us might need to spend time wrestling with that. If our dreams and goals are not fulfilled would we feel as though we were obedient to the Kingdom? In other words, is it about me or is it about Christ?

I expect to be a leader and a voice in the church for a long time. I hope that I will be influential and a servant to Christ in that role. However, I am not your savior. I am not your solution. I am not the answer.

I am merely a servant seeking to lead others to Christ and proclaim the name of Christ in our communities.

Why I am a United Methodist

I am a United Methodist.

That statement shouldn’t come as a shock to those who read my musings on a regular basis or know me personally. I am a candidate for ordained ministry in the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist. One would hope that if I am seeking ordination in a particular faith tradition that I would, at the very least, claim to be associated with that group, which, in this case, is the United Methodist Church.

For me, to claim to be a United Methodist goes much deeper than that. It even goes even deeper than the fact that I have spent the majority of my life in a United Methodist congregation. It’s not because of guaranteed appointment, a nice parsonage, or even our pension package.

So, why am I a United Methodist? To say that I am a United Methodist gets to the heart of my faith and how I understand and relate with God.

I am a United Methodist, because of our strong view of grace. Wesleyan theology, which finds its heritage in the thoughts and ministry of John Wesley, has a deep appreciation of God’s grace and presence in our lives. We do not see God as distant and away from the world, but truly present and active in our lives. Where we see this is in God’s grace. Wesleyans hold to three main views of grace – prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying. Prevenient grace is the grace that goes before us. It is the grace that is available to us, for instance, before we recognize who Christ is. Justifying grace is the grace of pardon. We believe we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and that on the cross Jesus stood in our place and bore the punishment of our sin. In other words, Jesus died our deserved death. Sanctifying grace says we are not alone in this. It is the grace that goes with us. We are going to make mistakes, and sanctifying grace, through the Holy Spirit, brings us to a deeper sense of holiness and relationship with God.

I am a United Methodist, because we believe God’s grace is available to all. We do not believe God’s grace is only for a select few.Wesleyans maintain Christ died for all. Grace is a free gift available to all who would receive it. I have a hard time believing God would save one person and not the other. I do not believe this is true to Scripture. In sending Christ, God made a way for all to know the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is beautiful and characteristic of our loving God.

I am a United Methodist, because our view of free will. The fact humanity has a sense of free will in its relationship with God is important. It recognizes our decisions play a role in how we accept God’s grace. In fact, we believe someone can reject God’s grace. We see this in our lives when people sadly refuse, for whatever reason, to believe God loves them. I do not believe God lords grace over us, but instead offers it to us freely. As well, I believe it is important that we believe you can fall out of grace. It is hard to maintain “once saved, always saved,” when we see in Scripture how some, for instance Peter, sinned after accepting God’s grace. Redemption is a continual process of renouncing our sin and turning towards Christ. It is not a one-time act.

I am a United Methodist, because of our connectional nature. Finally, United Methodists recognize that we are not alone. We are in connection with one another throughout our denomination and the global church. Our connectional system brings us together and makes us accountable to one another. Our pastors are connected to other pastors for support and accountability. Our churches are connected to the district, conference, and jurisdiction, and general conference. No one is on an island to themselves. We are in ministry together and in communion with one another.

There are many aspects of the United Methodist Church I could also discuss, such as our heritage, our deep appreciation of the contributions of both the Eastern and Western wings of the church, and our love of potlucks. I love our church, warts and all. I am thankful for the United Methodist Church, and pray God will use me to be a loving presence of revival and renewal in the church for years to come.

Sunday’s Sermon: Waiting for the Kingdom of God to Come

Waiting is not something I do well. In fact, I am pretty bad at waiting. Most of the time my difficulty in waiting comes out when I am in a hurry or excited about something. For example, when I buy something for Abbi, I will call and tell her what it is before I arrive home with the gift.

My troubles with waiting is probably why a pregnancy’s nine-and-a-half months seems brutally long to me. As Abbi and I have talked about having children, I believe this is the part of starting a family that intimidates me. I want the baby to come now and not in 40 weeks. How am I going to handle this lengthy time of waiting? Abbi will probably handle it better than I will. She is more gifted at patience than I am. I will probably have to find something and everything to do while I anxiously wait.

Of course, there is always something to do during a pregnancy. You have to get the baby gear – the stroller, the crib, the clothes, the car seat, the baby bag, the toys, and, I am sure, hundreds of other things. There is work to be done on a nursery and a house, because the baby cannot see the mess the house truly is on a normal occasion. A pregnancy is not an easy-go-lucky time of waiting for the child’s birth. In fact, these 40 weeks of waiting comes with tasks that are appropriate and important for this special time.

This time of waiting is analogous to the coming of the Kingdom of God. Last week, we said the Kingdom of God has a dual reality. It is here in our presence, but it is not fully here yet. We can experience it now, while we wait for it to come when Christ returns. Parenting and preparing for a baby’s arrival has this same dual reality. We can experience some aspects of having a baby, while we wait for the baby to come. The reality of the baby is present, while the new parents wait to hold the child for the first time.

We’ve talked a little bit about what it means to wait for a baby to come. It is a busy time of preparation and anticipation. Waiting is an active time of getting things ready. But, what about the coming of the Kingdom of God? What does it mean to wait for the Kingdom? Often in the church, we think waiting for the Kingdom to come means sitting back and passing the time. Life is what we do now, but it has no importance to the Kingdom that will come. We’re just here waiting to get to heaven. Waiting, then, is just getting by until Christ comes and the Kingdom is realized in its fullness.

This doesn’t seem like God’s kind of waiting. It’s not the image we see in Scripture, which tells us how God used men and women during periods of waiting before something happened. God used Jeremiah to announce the coming exile. God sent John the Baptist to proclaim the age of God’s reign, and the coming of the Messiah. Prior to his death and resurrection, Jesus sent the Disciples out in missions to proclaim that the Messiah had come. Waiting seems to be a time of action for those who follow God.

Is there something here for us today? We are waiting with expectation for the Kingdom of God to fully come and for Christ’s return. What are we to do as we wait with a sense of expectation?

Before we can wrestle with this, it would probably help us to think about what this coming reality will look like. The Kingdom of God is here, but we know what we see is only a glimpse of the kingdom to come. This means God’s reign is present in our life when we accept Christ in our lives as our Lord and Savior. God’s law is written on our hearts, and we are called to act in response to that love in our lives with others. But the entire Kingdom will come when Christ returns. Revelation 21:1-7 and Isaiah 65:17-25 paint a picture of what this might look like. John writes of a “new heaven and new earth,” using language that is similar to Isaiah’s. John says when New Jerusalem comes, God will make his home among His people. There will be no sea in this new creation. It will be a place, as well, of no tears, death, or pain.

There is a lot of symbolism here, which is typical for Revelation. Looking at this symbolism will help us understand what the coming reality of the Kingdom of God will look like. John says it will be a place where there is no sea. In his time, people were separated because of the vast seas that were an obstacle to navigate. The sea was a barrier that prevented relationships from taking place. This metaphor continues today. There are things that prevent relationships from being developed between people, whether it is economics, race, politics, or even location. In God’s kingdom to come, these barriers will be no more. The things that keep us from being in relationship with our fellow brothers and sisters will no longer exist.

John also says there will be “no more tears, no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.” That sounds great, doesn’t it? This certainly is a world that is filled with its fair share of death, sorrow, tears, and pain. We have all experienced how cruel this world can be. John’s vision of New Jerusalem is what we place our hope in. When the Kingdom comes, as M. Eugene Boring writes, “all that robs life of being fulfilled will be taken away.” The challenges we face and the evils that exist in our world will be fully defeated when Christ returns.

Then there is the image of a “new heaven and a new earth.” What does this represent? Both Isaiah and John speak to this promise. New Jerusalem is the new creation. It is the “fulfillment” of God’s creative purposes. It is the place where God will reside with His people. This is not something we can create, but it is something God is doing and will do when Christ returns.

There should be a sense of familiarity to this image of New Jerusalem. It is what God intended for creation in Genesis 1. New Jerusalem is a return to the Eden that God intended for creation. It is a return to the original purposes of creation, where God lived with humanity and before our sin tarnished that perfect creation. When New Jerusalem comes, everything will be as God had originally designed, and we will be in perfect relationship with God.

So, where will New Jerusalem exist? It sounds like heaven and, indeed, it is. New Jerusalem is the eternal life that we will experience with Christ. We often believe that New Jerusalem will exist in the clouds or cosmos. Yet, that is not the image we see in Revelation or even in Jesus’ teachings. The Kingdom of God will not be in the clouds, but here on Earth. The world we will inherit is the very place we live today.

If the place we will inherit, New Jerusalem, will exist here in the places we currently reside, then it means that we must take seriously the things we do here on Earth. The life we lead and the things we do are not tossed aside in New Jerusalem, but will have lasting impact on the world that we will inherit. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus tells us that what is permitted on Earth will be allowed in the Kingdom of God. One aspect of what this means is that the things we do on Earth, the ways we live into the current reality of the Kingdom of God, will impact the Earth that we will inherit.

This is what it means to wait for the Kingdom of God to come. We live into this reality by being aware that the things we do have lasting implications. There are several ways that this is played out in our world. As followers of Christ, we conserve our natural resources, not because it is the popular or trendy thing to do, but because this is the earth we will inherit. We are good stewards of what we are given, because our decisions will dictate the world the Kingdom will enter into. We wait the Kingdom of God’s coming by preparing the world for its full coming by living into the present reality of the Kingdom of God, recognizing that God’s dominion is present and it demands our obedience in all aspects of our lives.

Waiting for the Kingdom of God to come also calls us to want others to be with us when the Kingdom comes. Kingdom people are called to share the message and enter into relationship with those who are not here. At Annual Conference, this hit home for me. One of the reports was from the conference’s leaders of New Congregational Development. Their responsibility is to lead the conference in planting new churches and congregations to reach our commonwealth. From 2008-12, the conference planted 15 new congregations and saw an increase in membership of 1,000. That is awesome work for the Kingdom, but there is much work still to be done. On any given Sunday, 83 percent of our state’s 4.3 million population is not in church. Eighty-three percent of our people – our neighbors – are unreached for the Kingdom for whatever reason.

In 2011, we did not have any professions of faith and only one new member. This is unacceptable. Each of us know people who are not here and who we can be in relationship with by sharing our story and helping them to see Christ. We each know people who need to experience God’s kingdom alive in their hearts today. We cannot wait for the people to come, but we must go to them.

There are 29 weeks remaining in 2012 and there is growth and people to be reached. For the next 29 weeks, I am calling each of us to invite one person to church each week. I believe when we do we will see the fruit in our congregations and, even more, the kingdom will be experienced in our communities.

As well, I am calling us to consider and be in prayer to seek new ways to reach the people in our communities. We must reach out into our communities to share the love of Jesus Christ and must provide opportunities for the kingdom to be experienced. If you need help or want to talk more about what this would look like, please see me after church, because there are resources and people to help us reach the people of our community for the kingdom.

In a moment, we will partake in Holy Communion. As you come to take the elements, I invite you to pray and seek how God might be calling you to await the kingdom by living into the kingdom today.

Each of us have something to do in this and God has gifted us in certain ways to share the story of Christ by our words, our actions, and our deeds. The Kingdom of God is here, so let us share it. The Kingdom of God is coming in its fullness, so let us tell the world so everyone may experience it.