Oct 2017, Christ Mountain Top
to Worship, Psalm 119.97-104 (inserted)
Moment: Rachel on photography camp/church camp
a teenager, I read Amos and was blown away by those lines in chapter 3, verses
7 and 8. I memorized them out of the
translation I was reading at the time:
few years later, Robin and I were married and we moved to York to intern at a
small city church in a small Pentecostal denomination. The money for the position ran out, we were
having a baby, and I was looking for “real work”. I put in an application at 84 Lumber on route
30. The manager accepted my application,
looked down at my name on the form, and asked, “James, what do you want to be
doing in five years?” The words almost
jumped out of my mouth: “A pastor or missionary.” But, no, I managed to stifle them and say
something less than convincing. I went
home, Robin and I talked about this undeniable calling, and that very night we
received an invitation to look into ministry in The United Methodist Church.
is foundational Scripture in my own spiritual journey, in the story of my life,
in “the gospel according to JP”. There’s
a spiritual retreat community, in which I’ve had the privilege of serving a
couple times, called “The Walk to Emmaus”.
In the Maryland group, their tradition is to create a shirt for each new
team member that features a Scripture that has driven their life. For me, at least in terms of my calling, it’s
been this text from Amos.
context of Amos’ ministry: He himself
was from Judah, the southern kingdom of the Israel-Judah split. But his call was to preach in the north and
to warn of coming judgment when times seemed to be the most stable and
prosperous. No one wants to hear that
kind of message, even in bad times, but in the best of times it seems like
time and, just like today, paid prophets were subject to the influence of those
who paid the bills and the cynicism of the general public. He is a farmer, caring for sheep and
figs. But . . .
second college summer I served a small Southern Baptist church as youth pastor
and did other work on the side. One of
those side jobs was with Deacon Oliver Massey, a wonderful man with a
face-splitting smile, a serious nod, and his entire file cabinet in his shirt
pocket. He ran his whole operation, the
thrift store and other enterprises, out of that pocket. Both of his daughters were married that
summer, in the same service, and I was invited.
It was outdoors, each bridal party had its own color, teal or fuchsia,
and the one bridesmaid in both parties had a gorgeous two-tone dress and a shoe
of each color. At the declaration of
intent, the traditional “do you take” questions were asked and the traditional
“I do” answers given.
his father, in a front row, called out, “Speak up, boy!” And that grown-up boy squared his shoulders,
stuck his chest out, and spoke up: “I do.”
time to time, people who are exploring the pastoral calling come to me to talk
about their sense of call. I always ask
them why they want to become a pastor.
And there is one answer that will find me always pushing back: To share
my faith with more people. Two things:
First of all, it is an occupational hazard of pastors that they share their
faith with a small circle of people and they are almost all IN the church . . .
that evangelical calling can quickly disappear under the pressure of regular
meetings, planning, and pastoral care.
Second, if you struggle with sharing your faith now, you’re not going to
get any better as a pastor. Remember
Amos? “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s
son” (7:14). But . . .
take a quick poll.
about your faith?
recipes or about your faith?
bargain or about your faith?
if our faith is so important to us, why can’t we share it more easily? If the Sovereign LORD has spoken in our
lives, if God is active in our lives in any way, who can but prophesy?
reasons we struggle with sharing our faith:
wrong end of a zealous jerk’s attempt to convert them. Things like, “Did you know that if you don’t
follow Jesus, you’re a child of the devil?”
(I’m not making that one up either.) There are too many real life horror stories
and we don’t want to be one more, and we don’t know how to get over the
barriers that people erect to protect themselves from such offense.
directly. He was no professional. He delivered his message and went back
home. Indeed, he may have had to go back
home before he finished his preaching tour . . . and write his message down to
send back by courier. We don’t have to
be a professional to do most things that people do for love. We don’t have to be pros to play baseball or
soccer in the backyard. We don’t have to
be pros to sing or play an instrument.
We don’t have to be pros to share our faith.
I don’t have a good answer. Well, on one
hand, how do you expect to learn? But,
to address that fear itself . . . we need to completely change the assumption
about sharing faith. It is not about
addressing a series of questions but about sharing Jesus. Very few of us come to faith because someone
answered our questions. Paul the
Apostle, who devoted his life to sharing faith all over the world of his time,
reflected, “Christ [sent] me . . . to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent
wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. . . . Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim
Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:17-23).
reasons we need to share our faith:
very well may mean as much to a friend or coworker as it does to us.
NIV translation, verse 6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith,
so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in
Christ”. While there are some issues
with translation there, there is a clear connection between sharing faith and
deeper understanding of faith. Our
English teachers told us that we didn’t understand things unless we could write
about them. Sharing doesn’t have to be
in a written form, but the sharing we do expands our own understanding.
practical ways we can share our faith:
talk about a struggle or question they are facing. And, follow up later to see how things are
going. There’s nothing like the
reassurance of knowing that a person of faith is truly praying for you.
Ask your friend for their story of church or faith or big questions like
God and suffering. Stories are meant to
be shared, not argued over, so you won’t need to get stuck defending
anything. When you hear the doozies, the
crazy awful experiences that have turned off many folks to church and faith,
there’s no need to defend. When I heard
an adult woman’s story from her childhood of her and her sister going to church
on their own, and a church lady locking her sister in a classroom because she
was disrupting the worship service, I wasn’t about to defend that sinful
behavior! Whatever the story, most
people are happy to share theirs. And,
if we truly listen, most people want to listen to ours.
you may say, “But that’s not Amos’ situation.”
Exactly. We’ve got tremendous
advantages over Amos today. His message
began with judgment. Ours begins with
grace. He spoke as an outsider in the
northern kingdom. We usually find ourselves
talking with friends, with others that we naturally know through work,
speaks today. God is still active in our
lives today. Who can but prophesy?