January 31, 2010
January 31, 2010
The past year has been a good one for Saint Matthew, I believe. Attendance edged up slightly. We had several adult baptisms, which is one of the surest signs of congregational vitality. Two new congregational ministries got off the ground: Servanthood and Parish Health.
I’ve enjoyed my work with the congregation’s young people. The mission trip to Nashville, Tennessee, saw several youth and adults participate who hadn’t gone with us to Grand Rapids the year before. This coming year, I’m excited about our local mission “trip,” which will see us doing some of the same things locally that we have done on our trips elsewhere the past two summers.
Our youth had a better showing at the 2009 synodical Bible Bowl than at the one the year before. We had a great time. Now that the synod has cancelled this year’s bowl, we’re planning to have our own event here at Saint Matthew, involving adults as well as youth.
Participation in the Monday night group adult studies has been good. I hope that the studies have enhanced and strengthened the faith of our people, as well as being a good community outreach tool.
The prayer vigil was well-attended once more this year. I hope to do one again this Lenten season, this one of shorter duration.
One of the less exciting things I intend to work on this year with our church secretary, and the Church Council, is clean the church books. There are many whose names appear on the church rolls who have not been involved in Saint Matthew for years. We need to get a clearer picture of who Saint Matthew really is. But this is a task that has to be handled with delicacy and pastoral sensitivity.
Of course, maybe the most consequential events to happen for Saint Matthew in 2009, didn’t even happen here. Those were the two decisions taken by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) churchwide assembly to allow congregations to ordain gay persons in monogamous, committed relationships and to give such relationships legitimacy. While I believe that all people should be welcome to wrestle with the reality of their sin and their need for God’s grace, I believe that these decisions are heretical departures from the teaching of Scripture and the affirmation of our Lutheran Confessions regarding the authority of God’s Word. I have attempted to provide the congregation both with the background on the Lutheran understanding of Scripture’s authority and on what Lutheran alternatives may exist for Saint Matthew as it strives to be a Biblically-faithful Lutheran congregation. Personally, I remain in confessional resistance to the stance taken by my denomination. What steps the congregation may take are entirely up to the Church Council and the people of Saint Matthew, I hope under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.
In recent weeks, I’ve been excited by the response to the Monday discussion group revolving around the novel, The Shack. This has been gratifying and enjoyable. So was the class I offered in the latter part of 2009 on the Holy Spirit.
In 2010, I’m looking forward to our Lenten emphasis on prayer and to Friend Day happening in May.
During the Lenten season, I’m also proposing that we designate the midweek offerings for Lutheran World Relief’s work in Haiti. This is the single-most efficient charitable organization in the world and every penny will be wisely spent.
The call of every Christian congregation is to pursue both Christ’s Great Commandment to love God and to love neighbor AND Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples. These are our calls not just collectively, but also individually.
One of my primary aims as your pastor is to do all I can to help you feel confident and committed not just to loving God and neighbor, but also to help you reach out to your spiritually disconnected friends, relatives, coworkers, and classmates so that, like you, they can follow Jesus.
If we believe, as Jesus teaches, that He is “the way, and the truth, and the life” and that no one comes to the Father except through Him, how can we withhold eternity from those around us? (One pastor has said it well, I think: “The congregation that doesn’t want to grow [by reaching out to their unchurched neighbors and friends] is telling the world to go to hell.”]
The truth confessed by Peter and John when ordered by the religious authorities in Jerusalem to stop talking about the crucified and risen Jesus has not been rescinded. The two said that they couldn’t stop speaking of Jesus and then confessed: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Nothing will do more to enliven and uplift the life of our community than for all people to have a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the only One Who gives those with faith in Him relationship with God, forgiveness, and eternity. Jesus transforms lives forever and He has commissioned you and me to share Him and His transforming gospel with everyone.
I pray that 2010 will be a year when our commitment to the Great Commandment and Great Commission will sink down into the everyday decisions and priorities of more and more members of Saint Matthew…including me.
God has great plans for Saint Matthew. Let’s let God have His way with us this year!
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Mark Daniels