The yellow paint was drying just as this week’s chill blew in. Our picnic table has served us well, but the paint was chipping and another winter buried under snow would have likely left scars that may have rendered it useless.
Cliff L. gave us that picnic table in 2010. He was moving and couldn’t take it with him. Cliff had been a part of the River of Grace family since he’d been released from NHSP. Jesus had found him while he was doing time and Cliff’s life was never the same. He was also one of the most generous people I knew.
Cliff didn’t have a lot of cash. He dealt in junk cars and metal. Often he’d show up to church with his pick up and trailer stacked full of valuable trash that he’d take in to scarp yards in exchange for cash. Cliff made enough to live on, barely. But he’d share what he could, especially his time. He was always willing to volunteer, and when he came upon something in his travels that someone could use, he’d happily donate it. He was marked by generosity.
Cliff died tragically in 2011. I remember because his funeral was the same day as my dad’s so sadly I couldn’t attend Cliff’s. Imagining Cliff and dad walking into heaven together still makes me smile. As I painted our picnic table, bright yellow this time, I thought of Cliff and his generous life.
One of my privileges as a pastor is to help create a Jesus-centered environment where people from the most stingy state in the union become some of the most generous people in the world. Generosity isn’t just about giving 10 percent, or making an annual GiG commitment at years end (Global Initiative Giving – more on GiG next month), or giving to RoG’s Benevolence Fund, or participating in the may charitable fund drives that happen around your community. Generosity is a way of life. It can be expressed in giving generously of your time, your attention, your body or your ability. It can be demonstrated in a meal shared, an embrace extended or skill invested. It means sharing of your abundance, even if you don’t have spare cash.
“God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). The Lord is generous, “abounding in riches for all who call on Him” (Romans 10:12). Cliff’s generous grin still comes to my mind, reflecting his heavenly father’s generous heart. Our yellow picnic table is an ongoing gift from a generous man who had come to know a generous Jesus.
My heart frequently condemn David Pinckney. He is no good. Certainly not good enough for God. He fails too often. He can’t keep the good laws of God. But when my heart condemns me, I preach to myself “there is now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:1 and “God is greater than our hearts” 1 John 3:20. Some days i’m just overwhelmed by despair. My mind is weighed down with problems. I want to hide under the covers and pretend it will all go away. But then I preach to myself, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28-29 and “Cast all your cares on the Lord because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7. Yes, I need to hear the gospel over and over and over again. I need to hear that Jesus has taken all my condemnation. I need to hear he is a friend of sinners Matthew 11:19. While I’m not a great preacher I do benefit from hearing myself preach the good news that Jesus is all I need.
My morning devotions have been in 1 Samuel. It’s a great read. I recommend it to you. A chapter a day works. One of the phrases that has smacked me in the head says, “the Spirit of God rushed upon him.” Theologians get distracted by debates about how the Holy Spirit operated differently among Old Testament people and New Testament people. All that discussion is important at certain levels. But you need to know that the Holy Spirit of God came upon you when you were born again. And we are instructed to “not be drunk with wine, but to be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Like an alcoholic keeps taking in liquor which effects the whole person, we are to be constantly opening our minds and hearts to the influence of the Holy Spirit, that he may rush in and do what he wants with us. The more decisions, events, and discussions we include the Spirit in, the more we are lead by his wise, powerful and gentle ways. Or he may rush in. However he works, I pray we become intoxicated by his presence.
So on Saturday I’ll have part in a memorial service for one of our former elders. Mark McDonald was a most amazing man. He snorted when he laughed and made us laugh! He loved to ride his motorcycle (I watched him wipe out once). He was incredibly devoted. He loved his wife. He loved his children and grandchildren. He loved his church family. He left a legacy. He succeeded in establishing one of the most reputable dentist practices in Concord, NH. He also lead with persistence a small agency called Christian Medical Mission with a compound in Dominican Republic. From earth’s perspective he died way to early. From heaven’s perspective some of the most influential Christians get promoted early. I will miss Mark. But I’m not too sad because I know he’s fully alive now. Yes, I weep for his family, but they too are leaning heavily on the gospel. They miss him. But they know this is a temporary separation. As I prepare to preach the gospel at his memorial service, I’m confident of this: Mark wants me to talk about Jesus. Jesus made the lasting difference in his life. I’ve heard Mark talk of some of his darkest sins. But Mark’s confidence in the cleansing and changing work of Jesus inspires me to live on. Thanks Mark for leaving a legacy of a Jesus-centered life. Thanks for being a friend, a mentor, and a fellow elder. Thanks for not quitting on the gospel, the mission or our church. May the repercussions of your life continue to change lives here in Concord and around the globe. We love you. See you soon!
Below is something a church planting friend of mine wrote. I’m convicted and encouraged by it.
Eugene Peterson writing on the state of the American church when he planted in the 60’s says, “By the time I arrived on the scene as a pastor, the American church had reinterpreted the worship of God as an activity for religious consumers. Entertainment, cheerleading, and manipulation were conspicuous in high places. American worship was conceived as a public relations campaign for Jesus and the angels. Worship had been cheapened into a commodity marketed by using tried-and-true advertising techniques. If so-called worshippers didn’t ‘get anything out of it’, there had been no worship worth coming back for. Instead of calling people to worship God, pastors all over the country were inviting people to ‘have a worship experience.’ Worship was evaluated on the ‘consumer satisfaction scale’ of one to ten.”
And we wonder why worship has faded. Jesus is irrelevant to so many in our culture because we, the professing church, have made him so. We have bastardize worship for the exhilaration of numbers. We pastors have cared more about our egos being stroked than planting the gospel deep in our hearts and minds and thereby planting a culture where Jesus is truly preeminent and the right worship of him is a splendid mixture of creeds and confessions with deeds and loving our neighbors. We settle, we peddle, we lust for our own fame, we look for approval in the accommodation of others all the while forgetting that all the approval we will ever need has already been given. We are made in the image of God. We have been ransomed by Jesus. We have been called to lead and shepherd people in spite of our own brokenness. What more do we need?
Peterson presents us with a differing experience. It was a painful one and it took years to develop but this is what happened with the congregation he pastored, “A way of worship that was non manipulative. A way of community that was non programmatic. One of the things I relished about being a pastor was being immersed in the ambiguities, the NOT being in control that allowed for the slow emergence of insights and resolve that developed into confessions of faith, and the unplanned, spontaneous attentiveness to ‘one another’ that over the years became a culture of hospitality.”
The people of God living like the people of God should give the most compelling reason for people to question the reality of God. What we have produced, God help us, is just the opposite. We have produced a version of the church that gives the greater culture around us every reason to relegate God to the irrelevant all the while fulfilling Nietzsche’s prophecy that “God is dead.” But there is still hope. I think it has to start with pastors who are bold in our repentance and who are willing to call the people of God to live out who they truly are even if it means we don’t see the numbers we so desperately think we need to validate our calling and message.
By Ernie Banks, Savannah Georgia
One of the early disciplines good parents teach children is to say, “Thank you”. Oh to foster grateful hearts in children. The sweet sound of a simple heart felt, “Thank you”. Joy in words.
I’m guessing that is the Heavenly Dad’s joy. He loves to hear words of gratitude. It verbally affirms a belief in the heart that the Father is good. He is good. To respond to his goodness is to be honest.
So why is gratitude so hard in children? We have been molded into thinking that says we are entitled and therefore gratitude is not necessary. We have discounted God’s great goodness and elevated our own importance. We think we are divine and others exist as props in our story.
Ah, so again the gospel works here. It calls us to repent -change course. We are not entitled. God owes us nothing. But he gives us everything. The work of repentance is to be grateful, in everything.
Saying “Thank you” is a sign of restoration. The mind, heart and mouth are restored to a place that reflects the gigantic kindnesses of God. To be grateful is to aligned with God’s eternal glory.
God is teaching me to say “Thank you” not because everything is perfect, pleasant or even manageable. I am choosing to say “Thank you” because God is good.
For this I am grateful