Saturday, July 25, 2015

Great Expectations

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21)

I cannot recall the number of times I have quoted this verse or used it as a benediction but sometimes found myself struggling to internalize its truth and power. It has been especially difficult as my husband and I have been trying to discern God's will for the ministry to which He has called us. We recently started attending a new church ironically named "New Vision." The pastors are a husband and wife team who I met by "divine appointment" at a Christian bookstore. During that meeting I shared with them my story of how we were looking for a community of believers where we could fully use our gifts. The pastors were very encouraging and assured me that there was a place for my husband and I in their fellowship. They gave me their card and hoped that we would visit. I experienced a sense of joy and a real hope that we may have finally found a church home. However, there was a part of me that was cautiously optimistic. My husband and I began visiting the church off and on and during this time of discernment another opportunity opened up at a church we had formerly attended which was now in need of a full time pastor. This former church had a very poor track record in terms of pastors staying and the last pastor unfortunately left due to illness. The ministry at this former church is very challenging with the congregation demonstrating little motivation to change the culture of the church and an unwillingness to be open to the Spirit leading them in a new direction. I felt somewhat of a dilemma as to what direction the Lord was leading me. However, the more we attended New Vision church the more connected we became with the community. I still felt a need to proceed with caution as we had grown connected to other communities only to end up leaving the church. During one of my times with the Lord, I was reading one of my devotionals which ended with a quote from missionary William Carey, "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God." I was drawn to Acts 19 where Paul is ministering in Ephesus. Paul had entered the synagogue and preached the gospel boldly for about three months but there were many who opposed him so Paul left and continued to preach in a different location that was outside of the synagogue. The passage goes on to state, "God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them." (Acts 19:11-12) The Scripture does not say that Paul actually went to personally attend the sick and demon possessed but rather it was enough that Paul expected great things from God and attempted great things for God, through ordinary acts like giving his handkerchiefs and aprons to those in need. In another one of my devotionals I was reminded to follow the Lord closely and have an attitude of expectation. The devotional passage stated, "Though the path is difficult and the scenery dull at the moment, there are sparkling surprises just around the bend. Stay on the path that I have selected for you." Although Paul was not always welcomed in the synagogue, he stayed on the path Jesus chose for him, preaching if necessary in Gentile locations. As a result, God showed him "sparkling surprises" through the miracles the Lord performed through him. In sharing my story with my Christian brothers and sisters about the two potential church opportunities, the majority of the feedback I received pointed to New Vision church. The church is a young church plant in that it has only been in existence for about three years. The congregation is still rather small and there are many who are young in their faith. The congregation also has a higher than typical ethnic population which is something for which I have prayed. The town in which the church is located is very economically depressed and has great potential for sharing the gospel. My husband and I began attending on a regular basis about six weeks ago. At the time we started to attend regularly the pastors had begun a seven week preaching series. I had sent the pastors a copy of two of my sermons and they reported that they were greatly blessed. I assumed that after attending for some time I may get the opportunity to share with the congregation. However, the "sparkling surprise" the Lord promised came when the pastors asked me to preach one of the messages in the series. I could hardly believe what I was hearing! After only six weeks attending I was given the opportunity to use the gifts the Lord has given to me. There was no hoop jumping or litmus test as to my abilities or gifts. The pastors did not appear to demonstrate ego issues or self doubt about their own gifts compared to mine. They did not insist that I preach like them or be someone that I was not. Their words of encouragement to me were just to be myself. For me this has been a confirmation of all that I have been praying for as far as ministry. In a way I feel connected to Paul's situation in Acts chapter 19. After all the places I thought I fit communicated that I wasn't really welcome, the Lord sent me to an unlikely place where people were open to hear from Him through me, His chosen vessel. Can we have great expectations from God? The answer is a resounding YES! I pray that I will also be open to  attempt great things for God as He empowers me through His Holy Spirit.
All Glory to Him!
Pastor Sheree

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