December 1, 2002
ENGRAVING OUR HEARTS:
WHAT COMES NEXT?
I remember years ago when new basketball poles were installed at the camp where I spent my summers as a child. The poles were carefully positioned in the ground, and concrete was poured into the holes. Soon after the men finished the project, they invited my friend and me to press our hands into the concrete and to write our initials beside them. Needless to say, we eagerly complied. Decades later, I returned to the camp and eventually made my way to the basketball court. There they weremy palm prints and the initials TLB. Both were permanent, etched in stone.
The book of Deuteronomy, and in particular chapter 6, is also about etching things in stone. As the context for the book, Israel is poised to enter the Promised Land, and Moses climbs to the pulpit to lead what Bruce Feiler refers to as a mass seminar on the desert floor. As he preaches, Moses recounts the Israelites hike through the wilderness, rehearses the laws, and reminds the Israelites of their responsibilities as a people. Here in chapter 6, which we looked at earlier in our first sermon in this series on our new purpose statement, Moses also warns the people of various risks and dangers awaiting them when they enter the landthe monkeys jumping around in our minds, as I called them back then, of spiritual forgetfulness, conflicting goals and dreams, and declining commitments. Remembering Gods laws, Moses encourages his congregation, will enable you to avert such dangers. Remembering God and his instructions will help you to develop an identity and to flourish as a community in your new homeland. Etch these commandments in stone, Moses therefore concludes. Even more, engrave them on your hearts.
One notices here in Deuteronomy 6:1-9 an unmistakable degree of intentionality right from the start. Just look at all of the so that phrases in these few verses: so that you will fear the Lord, so that you will keep his commands, so that your days may be long, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly. Everywhere we look in this passage, something is intended to happen. The welfare of the community is clearly not left up to chance, nor are the people instructed to live in a purely spontaneous waythe whatever happens, happens mentality. On the contrary, the Israelites are to plan and organize. They are to be intentional about what they do.
Keep these words, Moses continues. Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home or away. Bind them on your hand. Fix them on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Keep my commands always before you. Dont leave your lives to chance, Moses declares.
The majority of us here today plan most facets of our lives rather carefully. We follow recipes when we cook unless we are already familiar with the item we are preparing. We pay attention to the courses we take in high school and college so that we have the appropriate number of credits at the end of the road. We plan for our retirement and keep a watchful eye on our investments. We are intentional about such things. We think ahead. We plan. Why, then, do we often leave our individual and corporate spiritual lives to chance? Our new purpose statement can help us here. Our new purpose statement, I might emphasize, can help us here, but it will require us to use it effectively and consistently. We will need to engrave it on our hearts.
The question then is: How are we to put this statement into practice? What are we to do with this new symbolour purpose statementnow that we have it? Where do we go from here? We can begin to implement our statement both in our homes and in our congregation as a whole.
In our homes, this statement can help us plan and conceptualize our family priorities and activities. Years ago, Deb and I began to set aside time every summer to get away together and prayerfully reflect on our family. We thought about where we were and where we wanted to go in the weeks, months, and years ahead. Back then, we typically evaluated our family in terms of spiritual growth, physical well-being, social adjustments, scheduling, and so on. Where were we in these and other areas, and what steps might we take to bring about improvements?
When we discussed our familys spiritual well-being, we often thought in terms of the obviousfamily devotions, involvements in the church, and lifes priorities. I remember a particular time when Deb and I were especially concerned about raising our children in a culture that is obsessed with material goods and commodities, and how we as parents might counteract such influences. Rather than simply railing against what we perceived to be the dangers of our culture, we decided at that point to expose our children to the needs and experiences of others. Growing out of that conversation was a commitment to intentionally place our children in eye-opening situations. On the grander scale, we took them to live in other cultures for periods of time, which many of you may not be able to do right now. On a more reasonable scale, we began involving them in soup kitchens and other ministries in Harrisburg. We did not want to leave our lives and those of our children totally to chance, so we established guidelines and references points to help us think intentionally about such things.
Quite frankly, I can easily imagine families in this congregation using our new purpose statement in a similar way. Rather than merely exposing our children, and ourselves, for that matter, to all of the sporting and musical opportunities that our local community has to offermany of which are goodwe can begin to consciously use this statement as a guide to shape our familys identity. We can, in other words, intentionally choose activities and experiences that promote the values described here. Many of you come regularly to worship together, and you are careful to include your children as well. What about the other items in our statement, however? Are you at all intentional about them, too? To increase your familys appreciation of diversity, for example, you might plan experiences that introduce all of you to other types of people. To help each other follow Jesus more faithfully, you might encourage participation in Sunday School, Youth Group, and Prayer Meeting, and you might watch less T.V. and play fewer computer games so that you talk, read, and learn to appreciate silence. To increase your familys sense of compassionto learn to be more caringyou might go serve among the homeless or give away toys and clothing just before each Christmas. And to help each other take seriously your roles as Gods agents in the world, you might invite people into your home or to come with you to church. Our new statement, which so many of you prayerfully helped to fashion, can serve as a lens through which all of us can begin to look at our individual lives and our families in new and more balanced ways. Let me encourage you this morning to engrave it on your hearts.
Our new statement can help us in similar ways as a congregation. To begin with, this statement can provide guidelines within which we can evaluate our current ministries as well as determine new ministries that we might want to start. In terms of evaluating existing ministries, we need to periodically ask at least two questions. First, does a particular ministry help us accomplish some aspect of our mission? We are all scheduled peoplesometimes too much sowith no shortage of activities calling for our time and attention. I certainly do not want to place unnecessary and unhealthy demands on all of you who call this your church home, and I do not want to waste your time. It is important, then, that our various ministries here count for something. Those that enable us to enact some aspect of our statement ought to be developed and promoted, and those that do not should be abandoned.
The second question that must be asked of our existing ministries is an intriguing and challenging one to me. Looked at collectively, do the existing ministries of our church provide a balanced and wholistic approach to the Christian Faith? If, for example, someone moves through our children and youth programs, will they be taught and nurtured in all of the areas reflected in our purpose statement? Will they learn basic biblical content, for one thing, but will they also be encouraged to become caring, welcoming people who share Gods love and peace with others? Will newcomers to our church, perhaps infants in the faith, be intentionally trained through our small groups and Sunday School classes so that they become mature disciples of Jesus? Our new statement again provides a grid by which we can begin to measure such things. If in evaluating what we do we realize that we are deficient in certain areas, then we know where to concentrate our energies. If we aim at nothing, we will surely hit it.
Beyond evaluating our existing ministries, our new statement can help us use our resources more wisely and effectively. As we periodically look at the broad range of our ministries, we will want to be sure that we provide appropriate support for all areas. Already this year, we are beginning to reconfigure our budget so that, rather than simply developing a general wish list of sorts, we designate funds to the various items in our purpose statement. When we do that, we can begin to see where we need to designate greater amounts of funds and where we can perhaps level off for a while. Presently, for example, we give between 19 and 27 percent of our budget toward each of the following: worshipping, following, caring, and sharing. We spend only 12%, however, on welcoming new people into our midst. Figures like this can help us know how to establish clearer priorities as we move ahead.
Finally, our new statement can help us develop useful organizational structures and clarify both staff and congregational assignments. Structures are not sacred in and of themselves, and we need to organize ourselves in such a way that we can carefully and efficiently address the several aspects of our purpose statement. Groups whose primary responsibility falls in one particular area need to be in creative conversation with those in other groups. Likewise, it is a significant part of my pastoral philosophy to be sure that our paid staff are assisting and empowering all of you to be involved in ministry rather than doing all of the work themselves. If these aspects of our purpose statement represent the areas where we need to focus our attentionand we have agreed that they arethen I want to be sure that each area is appropriately supervised and staffed so that all of you can carry out the work of this church with enthusiasm and support.
Our new purpose statement reflects an obvious degree of intentionality. Isnt that the way God wants it to be? After all, he carries out his own plans within the world with considerable care and planning. As we move into Advent and begin celebrating the arrival of our savior in the world, we cant help but realize that God worked very intentionally to bring about our salvation. When the fullness of time had come, Paul phrases it, God sent his Son, born of a woman to redeem those who were under the law (Gal. 4:4). With similar intentionality, we at the Grantham Churchwith others around the worldhave been given a significant role to play in building Gods Kingdom. We find ourselves in a strategic and challenging location, and we have clearly been entrusted with a life-changing message. We dont want to leave it entirely to chance. We want to plan. We want to be intentional. Like the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6, we want to engrave the phrases of our new statement on our hearts and devote our time, money, and energy to living them out.