Blog Space of Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D, pastor at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Ellicott City, MD

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I believe in Stewardship

I concluded last Sunday a series outlining the spiritual journey that led me to the church, into the ministry and eventually to Ellicott City. You can find the latest installment, along with the previous reflections here.

During worship this week I'm returning to some insights from the period in Israel's history when they returned from exile in Babylon and sought to re-establish themselves in their homelands, rebuilding the temple and repairing the walls. This was a demanding task that required considerable financing. We'll take a look at Nehemiah 10:31-39 to see how the people responded.

This is also the season when many faith communities have to consider their budget for the upcoming year. For most of us that's a BIG challenge. It seemed like a good Sunday to take the theme 'I believe in Stewardship'. We'll also this Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian be sharing in the bread and wine of our communion service, symbols that point us to the overflowing generosity of God's love.

What I find significant about the way the returning exiles approach the topic is that they seek to return to the scriptural principles that had been instituted by Moses. These included giving of their 'firstfruits' and offering a 'tithe'. Different offerings are assigned to different people in relation to their function within their community. The bottom line is that their stewardship practice was a spiritual matter.

Whilst there were tasks that needed doing and projects that needed financing they did not give in relation to specific needs. They gave as an act of worship towards God. They found their pattern for giving in their foundational teachings.

The Christian scriptures speak a lot about stewardship. Mean-spirited tithing is condemned. Generosity is encouraged. Cheerfulness is seen as a prerequisite to any commitment a person makes to their God. Stewardship is viewed as something that flows out of the experience of being greatly loved. As we realize how wonderfully blessed we are, so we are inspired to bless others.

As we contemplate the path of service taken by Jesus Christ, we are encouraged to lay down our lives in service. If we claim Jesus as Lord of our lives, we acknowledge that all we have and all that we are has been a result of God's overflowing grace.  We are invited to bear witness to the abundance of God's provision through laying at God's disposal all God has given us.

Acts of service, such as tithing, should be seen, not as ways to give money, but as spiritual disciplines. When rightly practiced they remind us of God's claim on our our lives and that through our lives God wants others to experience that love as a tangible reality.

Every faith community needs finance to flourish and grow. As you consider how to support your community, I'd encourage you to think about the generosity of  God, and respond in a way that reflects the amazing love of Jesus Christ.

For some music: Surrender by Lincoln Brewster

Prayer: Lord our God, You have given us so much. Everything we have, including life itself, is a gift of Your grace. Teach us to share in Your joy of giving. Amen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

This is my Story, This is my Song 3. The Jonah Syndrome

Over the last weeks I've been answering some questions I'm often asked when beginning ministry in a new situation. During worship last week I shared how it was I felt a call to ministry. That sermon can be found here. A further question I’m often asked is 'Why did you come to America?' I have to confess that, until events unfolded that led to myself being involved in an international pulpit exchange, the idea of 'Going into all the world to preach the gospel' (Mark 16:15) was a concept I applied to people other than myself.

The Old Testament prophet Jonah seemed to feel the same way. (See Jonah1:1-10). When God started to rock his comfortable world, his first reaction was to head in the opposite direction. And when he did do as he was asked, he wasn't happy with the way things turned out. I suspect there remains in each of us something of ‘The Jonah Syndrome’. Do you recognize any of these Jonah symptoms in yourself?

When you hear of trouble, you say ‘Somebody should do something about that!’ By ‘somebody’ you mean ‘somebody other than yourself’. When you sing a hymn like ‘Here I am Lord’ you are actually thinking ‘There they are, Lord.”

When you sense God’s call to deal with difficult situations, do you ever want to hide? To Jonah's mind Ninevites were not nice people. Unpredictable. Threatening. Scary. Why would anybody want to help them? It was their own fault they were in such a mess! I admit it. I find some people scary. I worry about getting involved in certain situations because I’m afraid where it may lead. I don’t like being ‘not in control’.

If things turn out good for your opponents, do you get a little sulky? It’s hard to rejoice about the well being of people you don’t particularly like! You would much rather see them brought low and get what you believe they deserve. Jonah thought that ‘The blasting of the Ninevites’ would have made a great fireworks show. Why did they have to go and repent? And why on earth would God show mercy to them?

How easily we forget that we are all in the same boat when it comes to being ‘
sinners who fall short of the glory of God’. (Romans 3:23). Were it not for the grace of God, we’d all be lost! As I say… I suspect we all suffer from the Jonah syndrome. God calls us to reach beyond our comfort zone and we are not always ready to do that. Yet it seems that whenever we do, we are blessed in unexpected ways.

Prayer: Lord, thank goodness You don’t treat us the way we treat each other. Help us to see all people as being Your much loved and special children. May our lives reflect Your mercy and our ways reflect Your loving kindness. In Jesus name we pray. AMEN.

Monday, October 13, 2014

This is my Story, this is my Song, 2. Go Forth

As part of a series reflecting on some of my own experiences I preached this past Sunday about how I first became in the church through an unlikely combination of chocolate bars, rock music and the influence of godly friends. That sermon, titled 'Called to Be Free' can be found here.

This week I'll be reflecting on a question I'm often asked when people find out I work for the church. 'What made you want to be a minister?' For a passage I'll be looking at Genesis 12:1-8 and I'll be referencing in  particular Genesis 12:1 “Now the Lord said to Abram, Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you”.

By way of a pre-sermonic bible study, consider the following things about Abram’s calling …

Abram left a lot behind. In the kind of patriarchal world in which Abram dwelt leaving the house of your relatives and your father was a radical move. The extended family was his entire support network. Family ties were not the sort of thing you messed with! It is hard to leave that which we love and have grown accustomed to. Yet such is the journey of faith Jesus calls each of us to make. Declaring Him as ‘Lord’ pushes all other relationships (even our closest ones) into the shade.

Abram didn’t have a destination. Some where “I will show you” is not a physical address. He heard God’s call and followed not knowing where the journey would actually take him. The only assurance he has is that because God is leading him, it would turn out to be somewhere good. God never seems to show us the whole map of our lives at one time. All we hear is ‘Follow'.

Abram was obedient. He followed. He sensed God’s call. Without doubt he had a head full of questions. But he put all of that behind him and moved forward into God’s promises. Our journey of faith is a one step at a time process. We don’t know where it will take us. We don’t need to know. Our motivation can simply be that we know that our God is with us!

Prayer: Lord, You call us to ‘Go forward’. Yet so often we cling to what we know rather than taking those risky steps of faith. Remind us that wherever it is we are called to go, we have the promise that You go with us. We don’t need all the details. What we need is Your love. Amen.

For some music... "Go Forth" by Graham Kendrick

Monday, October 6, 2014

This is my Story, this is my Song, 1. Called to be Free

In worship last week we reflected on the theme 'I believe in mystery'. The sermon can be found here. One of the mysteries of our faith is how God guides our lives.

Since moving to my current church a number of questions have been re-occurring. 'How did you become involved in the church?', 'What made you want to be a minister?' and 'Why did you move from your home in Great Britain to the USA?' To answer those questions I’m preaching a series of sermons I'm calling 'This is my story, this is my song'  the first of which will be this coming Sunday, October 12th. For a bible passage we'll take a look at Galatians 5:1-13

This is something I've done in my previous churches, and it's usually received a good response. If you have folk you were thinking of inviting to a service, this series might be a good one to bring them along to!

Offering a personal word of testimony has for many years been an evangelistic tool adopted by many preachers. The danger is that putting one self on a pedestal may draw attention away from God and towards the person speaking. I assure you, my intention will be to focus people on the grace of God, with the hope that as I speak of the way God has worked in my own life, folk will seek for God to work in their own lives.

In the sermon time I'll be reflecting on a verse that has had a deep impact on my own life :- Galatians 5:13; “You were call to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature. Rather serve one another in love.” By way of a pre-sermonic bible study, some thoughts...

Freedom is a Calling. God calls us to come out of lives that are self-seeking, self-satisfied and self motivated and discover that seeking the Kingdom of God is the true path of freedom. This involves us making some hard choices and definite decisions. We choose to listen for God’s direction through scripture. We decide that the pressures of this world will not mold our existence, but rather the prompting of God’s love.

Freedom is not self-indulgence. We have this warped notion that freedom is doing whatever we want to do. In reality following such a path leads to nothing but ingrained habits, addictions and the inability to make realistic choices. Jesus invites us to make His love the center of our being, a love we can know and experience through the Holy Spirit.

We are set free to serve. As we allow ourselves to be inspired by the Holy Spirit our focus shifts from ourselves to others. The two great commandments about 'Loving God' and 'Loving our neighbor' take on a sharper focus. We find ourselves not only wanting to help make a positive difference in peoples’ lives, but greatly enjoying it!

For a musical break enjoy Hillsong United "In Your Freedom"

Prayer: Lord, You call us to freedom. But freedom is not what we always think it is. True freedom can only be found as we surrender to the influence of Your love. Help us to find our center in You. Amen.