Faithful Friday – December 1st

Dear Disciple of Christ,

I don’t know if you can imagine what it was like for my two daughters to grow up with me as their father (or, for that matter, my wife to have me as her husband). All things were connected so that which I learned as a husband or father impacted what I did and thought as a pastor BUT, what I learned and practiced as a pastor impacted my life as a father and husband. I have to admit, what I thought were great insights and important practices as a pastor often seemed to drive my kids crazy (I’ll leave my gracious wife out of this). 

One of the most “paining” for my kids was my frequent question to them or us as a family for a day off, “What’s the plan?” I always considered it an innocent question.I wouldn’t be suggesting any particular activity on their part or our family, but I felt it was important to make a plan. As Benjamin Franklin was quoted as having said, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.” The default state we live in is a lack of planning (until you come up with one). Each new day calls for a plan based on what you want to do and a plan helps you accomplish it.

But, in my mind, the plan is subservient to the goal. If you don’t have a goal, it’s not likely you’re going to achieve it. We have to decide what is important. Each and every day we ought to be considering what is most important for us to do and set up a plan to achieve that goal. It’s almost like each day is a time for a “New Year’s resolution.” Considering our health and the time we have and the opportunities we have, what will we do today to “tackle” those important goals? I’ve heard nutritionists and exercise gurus talk about the importance of recognizing set-backs will take place. The ones who succeed are those who make a new resolution each day, to work toward their goals.

Finally (at least for today), there is my oft used phrase, “If not now, when? If not us, who?”  When you’ve struggled with weight (and most of us have), did you ever start a diet the day you felt you needed one? Wasn’t it always “tomorrow”? Mine all were. And for that reason, a great majority of them failed. When we don’t answer that initial question of when we will do something, it is often beginning by being put off. It is for “soon” or “not yet”. If something is a good idea, then it most often would be a good idea starting now or today. There may be reasons why it can’t begin today. That’s ok. The answer to the question, “If not now, when?” might be “tomorrow” or “next week” or “Never.” I’m not suggesting we have to do everything right away, but I’ve noticed that unless some action is taken close to the determination of what is a good goal, it is more likely not to be started or achieved.

Those approaches to planning and goals and timing I’ve honed and perfected over years of life and experience as a pastor and parent and spouse. I will drive some people crazy when we have a meeting and I ask them (each time) to identify what the goal is. So, for example, we are currently meeting to plan the Vacation Bible School (VBS) for the coming summer. I’ve always asked, “What’s the goal?”  Initially, and with new participants, there is usually an incredulous stare. Some haven’t considered that before. We’re simply doing what churches have done ad infinitum (always!)- we’re holding a VBS. “But why?” I’d ask. Often blank stares but I’d push to put the question before us all. Why do we do VBS?

There are lots of reasons, of course, like helping our kids learn more of the faith (but they do that each week in Sunday school and have parents living out and talking about the faith as Christians at home). It gives the parents a break during the summer (but if all we’re doing is “baby sitting” we’d get few volunteers). If you’re trying to think about it, does Matthew 28 come to mind? “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Really? Could VBS be an evangelism tool, and outreach the primary goal? 

If that is true (and I absolutely believe it is true), it will guide our advertising and our programing and what we consider a successful program (when we do evaluation at the end). If our goal is to touch children (and families) with the gospel who are not connected to a church and/or the faith, our program will look different and reach out to new children (who are not members of our church).

And that is what we did in Brooklyn based on that outreach goal. To encourage parents to send their kids, we offered a VBS that was two weeks long and ran from first thing in the morning until late afternoon. We did classes in the morning, they brought a bag lunch to eat and then we headed out on a trip to various sites in the city using free subway passes provided by the city. Because we wanted to have those kids have a full two week program (including weekends), we held a community fair the weekend between the two weeks of camp. It included games and prizes and activities and involved them two weekends in church with songs they learned in VBS presented at worship. The program and activities were designed to achieve the goal of getting them the gospel. 

I can tell you from experience, being clear about goals can make all the difference in the world and be immensely exhausting and fulfilling. New ideas spring up from within disciples when our goal is related to (or based on or flows from) God’s will. He wants all to know of His love that comes in His Son. When we are working toward that goal, He gives ideas and strength to accomplish the goal. Those two plus weeks were among the most exhausting of the year but also some of the most productive for the witness of our little church. I’ve always been thankful to God for what He does through us when we serve Him and fulfill His eternal plan. 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.   He destined us in love to be His sons through Jesus Christ              Ephesians 1:3-5

Peace in His service,

Pastor Johnson

Scripture Readings for Friday, December 1, 2023

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Zechariah 14:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18