Summary: It is difficult but essential to put the Greatest Commandment into practice when life's circumstances are difficult.
I am very pleased to report that we had a great family vacation, and I hope you will be pleased to hear that I am back at work ready to tackle a new season of ministry together. In many ways it does feel like a new season, and I want to talk about that a little more in a few moments. But first I want to thank Colleen and Gail who preached for us these past two Sundays, I’ve had A LOT of people tell me what fantastic messages they both were and am so appreciative for the depth and willingness we have here. I got a semi-panicked email from a pastoral colleague in the city while I was away, who was needing to find someone to preach for him and was wondering if we might spare Pastor Garret or Pastor Sue for a Sunday morning coming up quickly, and it just reminded me how incredibly blessed we are to have so many people who are capable and willing and who can stand up here and share from God’s word and encourage us and point us to Jesus.
A second thanks I want to share is to all of us. Another email I got while on vacation was from our church treasurer, Joyel, and I only chose to read it because it was titled, “We’re in the black”. Yes, together we ended 2012 with a small surplus financially, and I want to just specifically thank all of us for giving to our little corner of the Kingdom of God here at Laurier, and I know you join me in praying that God will be pleased with our stewardship personally and also corporately. Giving is not just about paying our church bills, it is an act of worship to God, and expression of our recognition that God is the only true “owner” and we all have the privilege of being stewards of the resources God entrusts to us, and it is a radically counter-cultural action – in a world that screams about accumulating wealth and stuff we joyfully give money away, and so break that hold of greed and insecurity that can trap our spirits in an ugly box of selfishness and “more more more”.
I said a moment ago that it does feel like the start of a new season, and there are a bunch of reasons for that. Obviously, it is the start of a new year. Also obviously, we have just come through the season of Christmas, so we are beginning the next season. Significantly, we once again have a whole facility available to use and so the season of facility crisis and priority is over (though there is still a lot of work to do to finish up, the season has changed from that being a major focus to it being a much smaller focus). But there are some more subtle indicators as well: I am watching the re-awakening of some ministry gifts that have lied dormant among us for a season. I am rejoicing in hearing a bunch of different places where God has called people to pray about a certain thing at a certain time, and those people have obeyed and prayed and even relayed that later on to the people for whom they were praying in a deeply, deeply encouraging way. I am participating in conversations again about ways to lead us as a community to be more and more the Church that God has placed in the middle of the world like a city on a hill or a light on a lamp stand. I am watching strong, powerful expressions of love not in sappy feel-good ways but sometimes in incredibly hard self-sacrificing ways, and it just reminds me of Jesus and His love for us. I am seeing people powerfully impacted by the peace of God amid the reality of death. I know of people making tough choices to deal with issues that in many ways have held them back from the fullness of life in Christ for much of their lives, and seeking God for change in those hard places. I am seeing younger people growing solid in their faith, and maturing in their relationships with peers, and stepping out of a self-consumed focus and starting to look at others around them with a heart to serve. Already this morning I have watched people genuinely enter the presence of the God of the Universe and give God a gift of passionate worship. I see people who have been tired and feeling beaten up by life saying “I refuse to give up or quit, because my Lord Jesus is with me.” I hear people in seasons of grief or struggling with illness saying “Lord, Your will be done.” And I see everyday a community of people who get up and walk through the day following Jesus as Lord.