There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as being present when young people you’ve worked with make a public commitment to Christ.
I had that opportunity April 3, when three young people at one of my wife’s churches and two at the other all took their vows of confirmation. Actually, it was a joy-filled day all around because in addition to those five people taking such a big step along their faith journey, we had seven baptisms between the two churches.
Talk about a high, holy feeling!
My wife, the Rev. Amy Seifert, gave me the privilege of delivering the message that day. Using the lectionary text of John 20:19-31, I used the story of “doubting Thomas” to share how we can live out our vows to serve Jesus through our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness to make Christ visible in today’s world so present-day doubters can see and believe.
You can watch the video of that message. But the crux of the sermon is that we have to do those things so we can build our own relationship with Christ while, at the same time, helping others discover Him, get to know Him and seek out a closer relationship with our Savior themselves.
The key points:
We’ve all heard it: You have to be present to win! In this case, there is no “winning” or “losing,” but rather a chance to be renewed. I know some people think they can worship God out in nature, either while fishing from a boat on a gorgeous lake or while resting on a scenic hike. But as the Rev. Darrel Hinshaw taught me many years ago at the United Methodist Church we served in Utah, there is a big difference between worship and meditation. As he explained, meditation is important. It’s a time to reflect, to think, to gather in emotions. Think back to your confirmation days, and you may remember the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. I tend to think of meditation as a means for us using our experience and reason to reach decisions. Worship is done as a group. I think of it as an opportunity to praise God with fellow believers. I guess you could call it a faith support group. And as with all support groups I’ve ever read about or seen, the goal is to lift up all within the group. You can’t be part of that effort if you aren’t present in worship.
We’re concluding an adult Bible study of “The Call,” by the Rev. Adam Hamilton of Church of the Resurrection at one of my wife’s churches this week. It’s a journey through the missionary journeys of Paul, but it also forces the reader to think of how he or she would put their skills to work for God as Paul did so many years ago. And, just as we had our confirmands do, I asked the adults in that class to complete a spiritual gifts assessment. These things are not scientific, but I love how they get you thinking about what your gifts for ministry may be. I tend to rate high on teaching and administration, with a few others occasionally mixing into the top three. What these assessments really are meant to do is to make you think critically about what your spiritual gifts may be and how you could put them to use in a practical sense in ministry – perhaps in your local church or even in the community in which you live. Here are two spiritual gifts inventories that I find particularly useful for forcing people to think of how they could serve God.
Once we know what our spiritual gifts are, we can get to work in an area in which we have the skills necessary to truly make a difference. You may have an idea about these things already because of passions you may have. But I urge people not to confuse passion for gifts. Indeed, someone who may think they would be great at visiting shut-ins may not have the gifts and graces necessary to listen patiently to people who crave interaction or to provide advice related to issues faced by those people. Yet, I firmly believe we all can serve. One woman at the church we served in Utah was pretty far up there in age and couldn’t stand for any length of time. But she could sit and talk to people, so whenever the church hosted a yard sale, craft fair or special dinner that charged an admission fee, took a love offering or required payments for goods, you could bet that lady would be there at the cashier’s box sharing her vibrant smile and beautiful spirit with guests. Could she build a Habitat for Humanity house or renovate a shelter for battered women like some of us in that church could? Of course not. But she found a way to serve. And it wasn’t a one-time thing for her. She made it a point to be there to help whenever she could, however she could. We all are called to serve.
This one gets kind of scary because it takes us out of our comfort zone. Witness can be simply living out a Christian life of loving God and loving your neighbors. That’s something all of us really should be doing anyway, right? But I would argue that we have, at minimum, a third bullet point in our job description as Christians: Make disciples. I think that’s a full-time job for us Christians if we:
But how do we make disciples? My opinion is we have to do those first two things really, really well. We have to allow people to see that we love God. And we have to be willing to let people see us love our neighbors by providing merciful ministries and by taking to heart the need – and acting on those needs – for justice in our world today. Making disciples requires us to openly talk about Christ and the intense love He must have for us to endure the pain and shame of crucifixion on our behalf. When he conquered death, he provided us with the gift of grace – a gift that we need only to accept. To make disciples, we have to love God and love our neighbors, but we also have to evangelize. That word, “evangelize” paralyzes many Christians. Especially those of us in the laity, we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “When was the last time I invited anyone to church?” And we need to ask, “When was the last time I talked about my faith with someone?”
Those vows of serving Jesus via our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness shouldn’t be taken lightly. If we do all of those things, I truly believe we have an opportunity to provide shine the light of Christ on the doubting Thomases in today’s world.
Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church. He can be reached via phone at 402-464-5994, ext. 113, or via email at email@example.com. Opinions expressed are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Great Plains Annual Conference or the United Methodist Church.