Making a Commitment to Blessing

The ping of a message changed my day: “Let’s take food to a friend who needs encouragement.

“Well, why not?” I asked myself, and began pondering the joyful outcome that always arises from random acts of blessing.

I’ve always wanted to be an extrovert — or at least an optimist.
Failing at both, I’m thankful to be a Christian, for when Scripture presides over any natural tendencies I may have to hunker down and spend my whole life “ordering my private world,” I get to move outside my comfort zone and to make a commitment to be a blessing to others.

Blessed to Be a Blessing

The first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a challenge I return to again and again with its strings of dependent clauses and its long stretches between end punctuation. I may not have it memorized Navigator-style, but this one thing I know from my stumbling repetitions as I walk these country hills on the business end of a St. Bernard’s leash:  God’s blessing (v. 3) and His choosing (v. 4), His acceptance (v. 6) and His redemption (v. 7) will result in an ultimate gathering (v. 10) of all believers and all things — in Him. 

Believers have been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” so that we can be a blessing to others and add to the joy of that future gathering. Having been blessed, I am called to be a blessing.  Given that God, in His providential grace, has already heaped up blessing upon blessing, my church family has designated 2018 as our Year of Blessing. We’ll meet to feast and declare it to one another, we’ll invite others into the blessing, and, most of all, we want to be intentional about it.

Making a Commitment to Blessing

My friend who got the ball rolling with this most recent project is operating out of blessing-based thinking that I want to emulate:

Don’t Wait for a Reason

We’re used to showering people with food when they have a baby or if someone in the family is in the hospital, but what about someone who lives alone on a snowy day in January? If God brings someone to mind, there’s likely a reason for it that only He knows. How wonderful to be on God’s encouragement staff and to receive private memos from Him!

Overcome Obstacles

My Blessing Mentor/Friend offered to be the liason for food delivery. And if our target audience has a freezer that is too small to accommodate the blessing, she has room in her freezer and will take care of the overflow in the meantime.

If the project you have in mind is too big to do alone, ask for help. If you want to help, but don’t know what to do, make a friendly phone call or visit and be a good listener and observer.

Think Outside the Box

Recently, our women’s ministry experienced some setbacks in arranging the details for our Christmas project. Usually we bless a struggling family with children by purchasing gifts, but this year our contacts kept falling through, so we fell back, regrouped, and ended up blessing a recent widow with gifts and a visit for tea. She would never have come to mind if our business-as-usual plan had worked out, and in the process we were able to meet a need that others were not aware of.

Partner with Others in Your Community

There’s really no way we would have known that this is exam week at our local high school, but a para-church ministry in the area knew and invited us to contribute snacks for the teachers during this challenging week.

A couple of courageous women in our fellowship teach a Good News Club at one of the elementary schools in the area, and it’s our privilege to provide snacks for that and to be on call to pray or to help in other practical ways. (This week a call went out for paper towel rolls for a craft project!)

Intentional blessing puts the love of God on display in unusual ways. He wants to be known, feared, enjoyed, and praised because He is gracious to all people, and often believers wonder how to accomplish this, how to make Him known. Practical acts of love, homely blessings that communicate caring are a bridge between hearts, and allow us to extend the blessing we have received to others that they, too, may “enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.”

What practical ideas do you have for being a blessing to others in your church and community?
What has worked well for you in the past?
Please share in the comments below!

Image by Unsplash

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A Bundle of Letters on the Church’s Doorstep

When a pastoral search goes well, everyone wins. Last year when a soft-spoken lobsterman rose to his feet and challenged us at Spruce Head Community to seek a shepherd who would lead us and love us, we began praying and seeking to that end. The seeking and the finding has united us, and we are blessed to have welcomed a godly man and woman who are living small-town life alongside us, all the while holding forth the Word of Truth.

Winn Collier is also a small-town pastor, but with Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church, he’s wearing his fiction-writer’s hat. Nonetheless, his heart for ministry comes shining through along with a clear-eyed affection for Christ’s body, communicated through the character of Pastor Jonas McAnn.

The pastoral search committee of Granby Presbyterian Church had grown tired of searching, weary of interviews, and fed up with the pretense when Amy Quitman, resident of Rural Route 28, took matters into her own capable handwriting and penned a letter that wrapped itself around one question:

“Do you actually want to be our pastor?”

Formalized by four signatures, the letter went forth to all future candidates.

In a half-hearted search of his own, Jonas McAnn saw in the letter a reason to reply with his own epistle, and finally, to leave behind his safe and predictable life in an insurance company cubicle, and to risk following his heart back into the trenches of pastoral ministry.

What follows is a bundle of letters from Pastor Jonas to his flock, randomly spaced and warmly personal. They have landed on my doorstep as well with their revelation of one side of a “spacious” conversation between a man who knows he was not called into the pastorate to fix anything or anybody and a group of people who have committed themselves to contributing “disruptive input” to each other’s lives.

With engaging characters and a page-turning narrative arc, Love Big, Be Well is a satisfying read for the story alone. Shades of John Ames of Gilead and Tim Kavanagh of Mitford made me hope for a sequel to follow Jonas’s return from sabbatical and future ministry at Granby Pres. However, at the risk of being banished to Wendell Berry’s desert island of exile for finding a subtext where none was intended, I will share that I came away with valuable insights — not in the form of a treatise on ministry, but rather more like thoughts overheard from a corner table at Stu’s Mud.

Thoughts on Calling

Jonas came to life in Granby with the settled conviction that he was committing himself to a web of relationships:

“So I committed my life to walking alongside people who I hoped to call friends. I committed to learning how to help people pray. I determined it would be my job to simply recount, over and again, that one beautiful story of how Love refused to tally the costs but came for us, came to be with us, came to heal us. . . “

Thoughts on the Role of a Pastor

Jonas McAnn came from a long line of pastors and proudly owned his heritage as one who fulfilled a unique and valuable role in the community:

  • to “live with people” (42);
  • to pray with them;
  • to ponder Scripture with them;
  • to “speak in good faith to other people who are trying very hard to listen in good faith” (47);
  • to receive the wisdom of God as “a slow drip, not a sudden knowing,” (60) and then to keep showing up where it will do the most good;
  • to “not take a position” when that is the most honest response;
  • to take cues from the farmer who “tend farms small enough to know and love, using tools and methods they know and love, in the company of neighbors they know and love.”

Thoughts on the Role of the Church

Amy ruefully described Granby Presbyterian to a friend and managed to capture every other church in the process:

“Unfortunately, if you’re looking for people to disappoint you, we will provide the material. In spades.”

Even so, under Jonas’s leadership, the church was called away from a shiny and boisterous presence into a resourceful availability to clean up messes — with the humble admission that the church is called to go first in admitting to our own messiness. “This is why we need the church all the more . . . [for] the only thing worse than our failing to inhabit mercy and holiness would be our making no attempt at all.”

On a practical note, the pastoral/congregational relationship gets off to a good start when the body is there en masse to greet and unload the moving van. From that point forward, the liturgy of even the most non-liturgical band of worshipers is one of “showing up, doing the work, being together.”

Thoughts on Love

Pastor McAnn’s eponymous “Big Love” comes down to “simply circling and staying near.” It was God’s big love that called Granby Pres. member Don Brady into the kingdom and that carried him through the rigors of cancer treatment as he wisely concluded:

“Love’s the main deal.”

Thoughts on Prayer

When elderly Miss Nelson prayed over Don’s cancer treatment, she reminded me that even when we do not know the will of God on a matter, there’s nothing wrong with reminding Him of how much we love and need someone in our community.

Given my own uneasy relationship with prayer, I collect wisdom to keep me in the game. Jonas related a homely parable on prayer from a fruitless fly fishing adventure with Luther that left him flat on fishing, but tutored him in the practice of prayer:

“‘Why would anyone torture themselves with this galling pastime?’

‘I like how you’re just in it. You’re in the water, in the woods. Everything’s happening around you.’

I’ve concluded that my problem (aside from how I have no idea what I’m doing on the river) is my focus on casting properly, on actually catching fish. Luther, however, comes to the river in a much different way. ‘I like being in the water,’ he explained, ‘with the breeze and the scent and the solitude. Even when I don’t catch anything, I come back different than when I left.‘”

Jonas McAnn wrote letters to his congregation from a desire to pay attention and to help his people do likewise. He wanted to remind his readers that life together is good and it consists of shared stories — shared experiences that call us toward the Light. For anyone who is committed to this calling over the long haul, Love Big, Be Well is a benediction, a reminder that ministry is “shot through with blessing,” and a celebration of the dignity of the slow work of ministry in community.

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This book was provided by William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.