Gaining Traction

Pastor Diane Gordon

Mt Pleasant FUMC

October 8, 2017

 

 

Scriptures: Psalm 19 CEB and Philippians 4:1-9 CEB

 

          We who have lived in Michigan all or most of our lives are used to winter driving. Snow and ice are a regular occurrence and driving in them or on them, as the case may be, takes a bit of finesse, patience, and practice. Walking on ice is even more treacherous and also takes vigilance and care. We know where we need to go and we know we need traction to get us from point A to point B. Without it, we are stuck, spinning our wheels.

          Traction in the life of the church works similarly. We see where God calls us to go. We problem-solve the things that hold us back. We have the strong desire to move forward – the will and the willingness to do whatever it takes, and then we need to get a grip – to gain traction – as we put things in motion to get where God wants us to be.

          So where does God want us to be? How does God want us to proceed? The mission of our church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. So it would make sense that God wants us to do things that make that happen. How are disciples made? That’s a big question.

          As Paul wrote from prison to the young church at Philippi, it is evident that they were having a rough time. Paul had been their inspiration, their leader, their guide, but he’s been gone a long time and the leaders of the church, Euodia and Syntyche, are not getting along. Their differences are causing problems in the church. Sound familiar?

          Paul urges them to “be of the same mind in the Lord.” He reminds them where their focus should be; on all that is true, honorable, pure, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise. He draws their attention to the peace of God “which surpasses all understanding” and to “guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

          Paul is absolutely right! In doing these things we are reminded of what really matters. It’s when we are distracted by differences of opinion that we begin to spin our wheels. When we keep our focus on the love of Christ we engage and move forward.

          With our attention focused on the love of Christ, we can begin to mirror that love. This will give us the best possible traction because there is no manipulation, no self-serving, self-aggrandizing ulterior motive.

          As churches age and begin to think about their future, it is a problem when they think about attracting new and younger people so they can fill the seats and help pay the bills. It is a problem when we see new people as fresh meat to fill our committees and do the work of operating the church. I don’t blame anyone from running away as fast as they can from that kind of attitude.

          What’s helpful is when those aging churches learn to share the love of Christ. This is what is pure and worthy of praise. To share the love of Christ is the first step in making a new disciple – one who comes to believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. This is done, not for our sake, but for theirs! Whether they have a penny to give in the offering or the time to volunteer at church is a totally different issue. First comes faith, then comes service!

          Do you have faith in Jesus Christ, God the Father and the Holy Spirit – that great Three-in-One? If you aren’t sure how to answer that, then ask God to help you. Ask God to open your heart and fill it with the love that knows no limits. Invite Jesus to come into your life and transform your heart. This invitation has eternal consequences!

This is the first step for every Christian, no matter where or when your journey began. It doesn’t matter if you’ve sat in a pew every Sunday of your life, you still need to have that relationship with your living Lord and want to grow closer to God. Euodia and Syntyche are good examples of those who started out on a good path but let the details of running an institution distract them from the love of Christ and following Jesus.

When we are here because we want more Jesus in our lives, then we will gain traction. When new people see how we are together, loving one another, keeping the main thing the main thing, then they are much less likely to run the other way. When our love of God shapes who we are and how we are together, then there is an authenticity that attracts those whom the Spirit has brought our way. It’s all about relationship – first with God, then with each other, and then with the one who is hungering for what only God can fill.

This year, our church has done a good job of making new disciples. We want to continue this trend. As we are beginning to gain traction, we don’t want to lose momentum by getting overly distracted by the details of running the church. Yes, next week begins our Fall Stewardship Campaign, but we will approach the subject of money not with shaming or laying on a guilt trip, but by focusing on the providence of God, God’s generous nature and how we can mirror that generosity and gain great joy.

The making of disciples is holy work and you are all ministers working together to make this possible as you pray and praise God, offering your service – your talents such as musical abilities, administrative skills, prayers, teaching and learning, artistic creativity, cooking, baking, hospitality and serving in mission together. All these things work together for the good of God’s purposes. All these things, when done with a willing heart, out of love for Christ, give us traction as we seek to grow Jesus’ church.

When driving on snow and ice, the first and most important thing to do is to slow down and pay attention. Notice every patch of ice and don’t make any sudden moves. Plan ahead so you have enough momentum to get through the snow, but not so much that it takes you where you didn’t want to go. Staying in the path where others have gone before you can be really helpful, but watch out that the path goes where you are called to go. Don’t be led astray and end up in the ditch because you got going too fast for the conditions.

The same is true in life. Slow down and pay attention. Notice the things that can mess you up, but don’t focus totally on them. Keep your destination in mind and plan ahead, keeping momentum enough to get you through the rough patches.

And don’t forget to pray – just like you did that time you hit the black ice. Pray and ask God to bring you safely home – even if it takes you a different way than you had planned, takes longer than you thought it would or is harder than you thought you could bear. God’s peace will guard your hearts and your minds.

All we have to do is ask. Amen.