Ministering within the Ministry (Prayer Devotional for the week of September 21, 2014)

Like a married couple drifting apart from each other as they start raising a family, sometimes we can get caught up with important things in ministry that detract us from other as-important (or even more-important) priorities. Raising kids is an important calling, no doubt. Cultivating a healthy marriage simultaneously can be difficult but doable, and maintaining strong individual relationships with the Lord is the foundation. Neglecting the foundation can damage the whole house, and there are no magic formulas or shortcuts.

We read in 2 Chronicles 29 that Hezekiah assumed the throne of Judah at only 25 years old. He didn’t wait around before he undertook a massive foundation repair project – literally and figuratively. Verse 3 tells us that he went to work in his very first month to overhaul the temple. It had fallen into disrepair and desperately needed a thorough cleaning. So, he called together the Levites (the clans of priests) and commissioned them to assist in the renovation work.

Hezekiah acknowledged that his predecessors’ priorities had gotten out of whack, and he was committed to making things right before the Lord. In his case, things really were bad: previous rulers had abandoned the temple and quit making sacrifices to the Lord completely. They had neglected their ministry, and God was not happy about it.

I would submit to you that the issues we face as a church family aren’t usually as blatantly obvious as tell-tale foundation cracks in the wall. Sometimes, it can be seemingly minor ways that we begin to neglect to care for each other, the church facility, our pastors, our staff, our volunteers, the community, and our visitors. We begin to expect that things will work smoothly because they always have, yet we don’t make the effort to figure out why or how or what we can do about it. Donuts & coffee magically appear in the fellowship area each Sunday morning. Restrooms are clean and magically stocked with toilet paper. The bulletin magically shows up printed and stuffed with announcements. Volunteers magically show up in the nursery. Canned goods for the food pantry magically appear stacked in the lobby. Of course, none of those things happen magically at all. They require a lot of behind-the-scenes work from several people, week in and week out.

I like how the Living Bible translation sets up verse 12 in saying that “the Levites went into action” when Hezekiah called them to help. The Message paraphrase says that they “stood at attention.” The point is that they were ready and willing to put all hands on deck to reprioritize and get the job done. May we go and do likewise.

“Skip to the end.” (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 2, 2014)

My favorite movie of all time is a fantasy classic, The Princess Bride. One of the climactic moments involves a conceited ruler, Prince Humperdinck, as he is standing at the altar to marry his reluctant fiancée, Princess Buttercup. The Impressive Clergyman (that’s the character’s name) opens the scene with this line in an accented drawl: “Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam …”

(I won’t bother with spoiler alerts, because the book was written in the early ‘70s, and the movie came out in 1987. If you haven’t seen it yet, then you are missing out and need to come over and watch it straightaway. Bring popcorn. I’ll try not to quote the entire film.) Anyway, back to the wedding. Prince Humperdinck loses his patience and his temper, demanding the priest to “skip to the end.” The Impressive Clergyman says man and wife, and the couple is married. Or are they?

We are looking at Matthew 5:27-37 this week, which is a passage of Scripture that has provoked a lot of controversy over the years. I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of it, but I want to encourage you to think about the message behind the words. Using three examples (adultery, divorce & oaths), Jesus states the existing law and then gives a broader interpretation of it. In each instance, his perspective deals with the heart of the matter, not just the letter of the law. Regarding adultery, he focuses on lust as the root issue. For divorce, he emphasizes the broken relationship. And about oaths, he reminds us of our humble place before God Almighty. We can’t skip to the end when it comes to heart matters.

When Princess Buttercup is finally rescued, she learns that she was never actually married to Prince Humperdinck because they never said, “I do.” By skipping that essential, personal element in the ceremony, their marriage was void. Relationships are not about crossing Ts and dotting Is. They’re the wholehearted investment of your life into another person’s life. That “bwessed awangment” is a partnership; it can’t be a one-way effort. You can’t skip to the end and call it done.