On Sunday, March 11, 2014, at The Glenburn Community Church, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, the morning sermon was interrupted. For those who have been following along in the parallel series in Samuel-Kings (“The Kings of Israel”) and the gospel of Mark (“The Kingdom at Hand”), the two previous posts along with this post summarize the main points of that sermon from Mark 4:1-20 entitled “Thirty, Sixty, and a Hundredfold.” To those who have expressed their concern for the parishioner experiencing a health crisis in the midst of the sermon, please know that they are doing well and are very thankful for the support and encouragement they have received.
In order to maintain and enhance your spiritual and mental health, it would be wise to Lower Your Expectations about the proportion of professing Christians who will actually engage in service to Christ and others. Rather than yield to the temptation to increase your workload by a factor of four in order to make up for the three-quarters whose labors are temporary, at best, you would also be wise to Limit Your Involvements. But these are only partial remedies at best, and they are unlikely to be effective unless your first, and foremost, Learn to Love Your Calling. It is your calling that helps you to focus your involvements into areas where your passions, gifts, and experiences converge into effective service. And it is your calling that allows you to lower your expectations of others to as nearly zero as possible, focusing on your own relationship as a servant of Christ and others, entrusting Him with the results and consequences that ensue because of your obedience to His leading.
How do we get this so terribly wrong so often? It is because we are led by pastors who are trained, just as I was trained and sought to train others, to measure their success, and thus their value, by the statistics on their monthly, quarterly, and annual denominational reports. Further warping our self-esteem, pastors also face those for whom statistics are irrelevant, so long as there is a good story of great victory in some work of evangelism, discipleship, or spiritual warfare.
If I am being unclear, then let me try being brutally frank. Many churches cannot love their calling, because they are constantly instructed, persuaded, motivated, and “inspired” to love their reputation, image, and popularity, just as their pastors do. Do we pastors yield to that temptation without exception? No. In fact, even the most self-aggrandizing pastors I know have shown moments of great clarity and integrity in their service of Christ and others. But even the most humble servants of my acquaintance have equally amazed me with their enhanced and self-congratulatory remembrances of particular anecdotes, or even simple attendance counts.
What does it mean to love your calling? It means to willingly choose not to love your reputation, your promotability, the popularity of the church you attend, or even the “legitimate” measures of ministry success: conversions, baptisms, new members, and developing disciples. If we are to understand our calling, then we should listen to Jesus when He says, “Listen! Behold, the sower went out to sow.” (Mark 4:3) Why is this emphasized so passionately? Because the story has always been about The Seed.
We are blessed with the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:14-15), the seed of Abraham (Genesis 17:1-8 and Galatians 3:16), the seed of David (Jeremiah 33:19-26 and Romans 1:1-6), the seed of the gospel in Christ (II Timothy 2:8-10), and the seed of Christ in and through believers (Revelation 12:17). We are branches of the vine, bearing fruit, and we cannot help but scatter seed wherever we go (Matthew 28:18-20).
To love our calling is to love who we have been made to be, first in being created to bear the image and likeness of God, and then in the process of being restored, redeemed, and renewed, having been regenerated/reborn from the damage and degradation of sin. More than what we are called to do, we bear fruit and scatter seed as a result of simply being who we are in Christ. When a sower goes out, he sows…simply because he is a sower.
One caution, though, to those who would imagine that this allows silence, or avoidance of sacrificial service. “Actions speak louder with words,” and “I don’t care what you know until I know that you care.” Be sure to scatter words and deeds together (Romans 10:8-10).
Some will note that this message was intended for Mother’s Day, and ask “What does all this have to do with that?” I wish I could say that there are no Dilettantes when it comes to mothering children. But some dabble at it, admire other moms, but never really embrace it as a career. Some start out great, of course, but other matters intervene and they become Backsliders. And I have known some, too, who are actually Pretenders. They did not go through the labor; they do not choose to make the sacrifices; they just enjoy having the title, and fully expect to get the cards and flowers from those they have not bothered to raise.
But then, there are the mothers who inspire us to be devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. If you’re one of those, you know that you’ve had to Lower Your Expectations – because not everything is going to go exactly as you have planned and hoped. You’ve had to Limit Your Involvements – because you can’t be everything, everywhere, all the time. And even if you could, your children have to be who they are, too. Finally, despite the difficulties, the challenges, the boundaries, and the pain, if you’re one of those mothers, you’ve had to Learn to Love Your Calling, and leave the results and consequences to God.
So, my prayer for Mother’s Day was to have been: May God help us to emulate the best of what it means to be Mothers, in leading us to raise up Devoted Disciples, fellow-heirs in the family, ever –blessed children of God through Christ.