As some of you may know, I was ordained into gospel ministry by my church this past weekend. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life! As a part of the questioning time, one of the pastors on my panel asked me this question: “If you were to write a letter to the church in Baltimore, like Paul did, what would you say?”
I decided to actually write a letter. I pray it encapsulates much of what I feel as I am stepping into this new season of life.
Feel free to respond in any way in the comments section below.
A grateful servant of our Lord Jesus Christ
and a fellow laborer in the vineyard of our Master,
To the saints in the city of Baltimore;
my fellow workers in the harvest of our Lord,
Those he has purchased with His very own self,
Those who he has adopted into His family,
Those who serve the Body of Christ and the city,
Those who are endeavoring to see the reign of our King extend over our city and to the ends of the earth;
I thank God that I am counted as among you, that I get to be named along with you as the Church in Baltimore; a planting of our God in the city, for the city. Ever since my time in coming here, I am continually amazed by the work that God is doing here. I have had the joy of learning so much from many of you who have been working faithfully for our God in our city for years upon years. I know many of you have been praying for God to do a special work in our neighborhoods, on our streets, in the hearts of our neighbors. I want to rejoice with all of you, whether we be sowers or reapers, that we can rejoice together that the time for the harvest is now!
And it is happening. God is moving. The questions I would pose to all of us (myself included) would be:
Are we awake? Do we see? Are we ready?
Are we awake?
We see groups of people everyday; in our churches, neighborhoods, communities, and jobs. As we live and work and play in the city, sometimes these crowds stay just that: crowds of people with no personal identity. I would encourage us to see them differently.
The disciples seem to really reflect our attitudes when it comes to crowds of people. They wanted Jesus to send them away. They saw overwhelming needs, mouths to be fed, wounds to be healed, and maybe even moods to appease so that they don’t get too rowdy! You may even find your prayers being something like this: “Jesus, these people need much and demand much and, sometimes, frustrate and frighten me. I feel overwhelmed. The ground is hard.”
But Jesus response to seeing the same people we see was markedly different. He had compassion. He saw what was lacking. They needed people to lead them and care for them.
So Jesus turned to the disciples and said, “It’s time for a harvest. Pray that God sends more people because there is a lot of work to do.”
Do we see?
A harvest. Where we see barren land, hard ground, and no growth, Jesus sees an opportunity to harvest. Could it be that we are not seeing our city the way Jesus does?
Today, before writing this, I took my morning bike ride through the city. This is quickly becoming a wonder-filled experience for me; a sweet time to reflect, to pray, and, hopefully, to get in shape! Today, it was the same route, the same pot-holes that never get filled, the same rows of abandoned homes, the same neighborhoods that seem to change from one to the next in the blink of an eye, the same groups of day-laborers by the 7-11, the young professionals on their way to work, the panhandlers trying to find daily bread, and the same crazy drivers that almost run me off the road (bless their hearts)! Today’s ride was the same, but, in a moment became totally different.
I saw the city with a fresh perspective. (There is something to Jesus healing so many blind people.) In reflecting on this passage from Matthew 9, I was awakened to the fact that Jesus sees this city as ripe for harvest. The issue is not the ground. The issue is not the seed. The issue is not the growth.
He asks us to pray for workers.
My desire with my ordination this weekend is to say that I am joining your ranks as a worker in the field of Baltimore and as a shepherd of the shepherd-less.
But, we all know that the work is not limited to the “professionals”, those who have been called into gospel ministry by profession, calling, or giftedness. We all are ministers in the Body of Christ. We are all co-laborers.
So the call remains: pray that God will send workers. And from where do these workers come?
Are we ready?
That is the final (but most central) thing I would admonish us to do: make disciples and teach them to work!
As a Church, we work on many things. We host incredible events to meet tangible needs in our communities, we fix up schools and parks, we show those infected of/affected by HIV that they are loved and valuable, we speak prophetically to our leaders in the city to call them to God’s way, we mentor and love our children, we fight against sex-slavery, and we seek to proclaim the reality that Jesus is Lord.
And these are all wonderful, God-honoring, Kingdom-oriented things that we should continue in. Indeed, God has prepared them for us that we should walk in them.
But let us not forget the core of our mission: we must make disciples. If we do not, we will fail in our mission as a Church, fail our King as it relates to our obedience, and there will be no one left to carry on the works God has for us when we are gone.
Our city needs committed disciples of Jesus who make committed disciples of Jesus.
I know I have much room to grow and learn as it relates to this. My prayer for us is that we never lose sight of the centrality of Christ’s call on us and that we may always partner together for the furtherance of this mission. I look forward to gleaning wisdom from you all in this area.
Are we ready?
Are we ready for the messy, difficult task of discipling? Are we positioning ourselves for life-to-life interactions? Who have we called to follow us? More importantly, are we proving ourselves, by God’s grace as people worth following?
These are all questions that I face each day, praying that God allows me to both answer them and be the answer to them!
May God’s will be done in Baltimore as it is in heaven.
The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you, so that His Greatness may be known in our city and the world!
What an incredible weekend we had! As I write this, I am amazed at how many parts of your body can be sore at once, yet praising God that I still have a voice! What a joy it was to be able to join in with my church family and friends (and their family and friends) and celebrate the good news that Jesus is Messiah and King and has defeated death!
We began our gathering with Angus Dei as our way of unburying the alleluias. This brought our Lenten journey full circle as we had removed the word “alleluia” from out weekend liturgies since Ash Wednesday in preparation for Easter. And it showed. What our church deposited then by burying, they dug up with interest and really lifted their voices, even when we sang in Spanish!
We then sang two hymns that I love. the first, All Creatures of our God and King, was originally penned by Saint Augustine and then arranged more recently by David Crowder. We then transitioned into the song In Christ Alone. To be honest, it is difficult to get through this song without getting choked up. The Gettys really know how to compact a rich Christology into 4 verses. This line gets me every time : No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me / From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny / no pow’r of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand.
Ellis taught on Mark 8:31-9:1 in a teaching he entitled Antonym. He did a masterful job displaying how much we think that Jesus is the opposite of what he really is (i.e. Peter’s rebuke).
We then responded with more singing. A song that has become a sort of anthem for our church is All the Poor and Powerless. This song is by one of my new favorite worship artists, All Sons and Daughters. If you don’t have their latest full album, buy it. And if you do the iTunes thing, buy the LP on iTunes because it comes with chord charts and videos.
Then keeping with the ‘alleluia” theme, we did a rewritten version of Jef Buckley’s Hallelujah called Another Halllelujah by Lincoln Brewster. I LOVED singing this one with all our voices! We then ended our set with Gungor’s This is Not the End. This is such an epic sounding song and I have to give strong kudos to the band for working through the difficulties of this song (it changes time signature in the middle of the song and then goes back again!)
Thanks again to my bandmates and all our volunteers who made yesterday possible. It is an honor to serve with you all!
Grace and Peace be with you…