by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

July, 2015

One weekend last month, my wife, Charlotte, and I were actors in a local short, low-budget film project. At one point, I asked, facetiously, “What’s the troll’s motivation?” (Yes, that’s right, the troll. I was the troll guarding the bridge the heroine had to cross in order to save her sister. And no, sorry, you won’t see it in your local theater any time soon.)
Actors are concerned with the motivations of their characters. The reason someone is doing or saying something influences how the actor plays the character or the scene. As Christians, we’re also concerned with motivations, why we do the things we do.
Not long ago, a report by the Pew Research Center revealed that people—especially younger people—are less likely to be affiliated with churches, particularly mainline denominations like the United Methodist Church, than in years past. As you would expect, there was a fair amount of hand wringing and wondering how we, as Christians, should react. “What can we do?” a lot of good folks asked. “What should we do?”
But most reactions were focused on “What can we do to save our denomination/the church/etc.?” rather than “What should we do to bring souls to Christ/make sure people aren’t turning away from God?” As much as I love being a United Methodist, I know our denomination or our local congregation isn’t “the church.” The church is the body of believers and Christ is the head (Col. 1:18), and our first allegiance is to him.
Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3:17 NRSV). We don’t serve God to accomplish our own ends and goals; we do it to bring about God’s purpose. Things might happen that disturb or perplex us but we can have faith that God’s purpose is unfolding as it should and that it cannot be defeated (Rom. 8:28). Paul also wrote to the Christians in Corinth, “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:58 NRSV). If we labor for God, according to God’s will, we won’t labor in vain.
And when we ask “What should we do?” we’re in good company. The people asked Jeremiah, “‘Let the Lord your God show us where we should go and what we should do.’” (Jer. 42:3 NRSV). Jeremiah answered “Do not be afraid . . . says the Lord, for I am with you,” (vs. 11a & c). Trust in God. When the people asked John the Baptist “‘What should we do?’” (Luke 3:10, 12, 14 NRSV), he answered “‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise. . . . Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you. . . . Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’” (vs. 11, 13, 14b). In other words: Take care of your neighbor and do what is right. Three years later, on the day of Pentecost, when the people asked, “‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37b NRSV), Peter answered, “‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.’” (vs. 38a). And, as a result,
“. . . about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (vs. 41b). That’s what we can do: Trust in God, take care of our neighbors, do what is right, share the gospel and promote repentance. And if we do, the church will grow. Jesus said, “‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’” (Matt. 6:33 NRSV). Seek God and God’s will first and God will take care of the rest, growing and sustaining the church. You know, it’s just crazy enough it might work.
“I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great
congregation; . . .
. . . I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.” (Psa. 40:9a, 10 NRSV.)

Copyright © 2015 by David Phelps