Our January worship series at First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville is entitled All In! We are exploring what it means to love God with ALL of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:28-31).
I invite you to consider these questions: What would our lives, families, church, and community look like if we went all in for God? What changes would we have to make in our lives? What would we need to start doing? What would we need to stop doing?
One of the books I read in preparation for the series is entitled All In by Mark Batterson. Mark is the founding pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D. C. The multi-campus congregation reaches tens of thousands weekly at our nation’s capital.
I traveled with a group of Methodist clergy to D. C. last fall, and we had the opportunity to see Mark Batterson. The meeting occurred in a coffee shop the church founded near Capitol Hill named Ebenezer’s. The business/church embodies the innovative spirit of ministry National Community Church practices.
Batterson has published several books, and he is an excellent word smith. (As a sometimes author, I confess to the sins of covetousness and envy over his talent to turn a phrase!)
Here are some quotes from All In that have continued to challenge me as a Christian and pastor:
- When did we start believing that God wants to send us to safe places to do easy things?
- Jesus didn’t die to keep us safe. He died to make us dangerous.
- Faithfulness is not holding the fort. It’s storming the gates of hell.
- The complete surrender of your life to the cause of Christ isn’t radical. It’s normal.
- It’s time to quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death.
- It’s time to go all in and all out for the All in All!
Batterson’s emphasis on total commitment reflects John Wesley’s preaching on Christian perfection. He believed God had raised up the people called Methodists to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.
At ordination, the first questions United Methodist clergy must answer with a resounding “Yes” include:
- Have you faith in Christ?
- Are you going on to perfection?
- Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
- Are you earnestly striving after it?
- Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and his work?
After thirty-three years of ministry, I must confess my commitment to these standards varies on a regular basis. On my best days, I come close to approximating an affirmative response to Wesley’s questions. On my worst days, I fail abysmally.
I have always appreciated John’s words which reflect both the goal and reality of Christian discipleship. He begins by writing: My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. Then the prophet turns pastor as he continues: But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ the Righteous One (1 John 2:1-2).
The goal is to become perfect in loving God and others. The reality is our daily lives. However, the latter never excuses us from pursuing the former with our entire being.
After asking if ordinands were going on to perfection, Bishop William Cannon would pause and add: If you’re not moving towards perfection, then what direction are you headed?
What direction ARE we headed? The Holy Spirit woos, calls, nags, and challenges us to go ALL IN for God.