As I write this edition of Notes from the Sheep Pen, I am reminded of a saying that I often heard as a youngster and still hear some today: “the dog days of summer.” But where did that term come from, and what does it mean? The dog days of summer aren’t just when your dog starts panting on a sweltering summer day. These days once coincided with the year’s heliacal (at sunrise) rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. Ancient folks thought that the “combined heat” of Sirius and the Sun caused midsummer’s swelter. The rising of Sirius does not actually affect the weather, but for the ancient Egyptians, Sirius appeared just before the Nile River’s flood season. They used Sirius as a “watchdog” for that event. Because it also coincided with a time of extreme heat, the connection with hot, sultry weather was made for all time!
At first you may think, “what in the world does any of that have to do with faith?” Well, if we think about a story in the Bible, an important one for the Christian faith, which also has to do with stars and astrologers, we think of the story of the Magi or Wisemen. They followed and read the stars for over two years, and they believed that the stars would lead them to a very special king. They did just that some two years later when they led them to King Jesus, the young child of Joseph and Mary. The Magi followed the stars in times of heat and wind and rain and cold and every other element. The stars guided them when people said those crazy nut jobs are wandering around looking for something they will most likely never find, and while I’m sure there were times that giving up and turning back sounded more logical, practical, and comfortable than pressing on, they continued their journey.
We, as the SJUMC family, were invited about one year ago to embark upon a journey we know as Step Up. It has not been easy. There have been times when it was more comfortable to quit, go another way, and just say we are on a journey leading us nowhere!
But we too follow the star.
We know Him as Lord, Messiah, Redeemer, and Savior. I know much of what was, is, and will be asked of us is not comfortable and does not make sense. It pushes us to uncomfortable places in ways that we’d rather just ignore and turn back from. I’m sure many of the questions we have and are asking are ones such as:
- Why now?
- Why with a new pastor?
- Is there something wrong with our church?
- Are we sure we’ll see results?
All of these questions are valid, and all are questions asked by those who set out on the journey following that first star.
As one journeying with you, and leading that journey, let me be clear about a few things. Step Up has not been comfortable for your pastor; it has been, is, and continues to be a journey with unexpected twists, turns and disappointments.
However, I still believe that SJUMC has NOT seen its best days!
I believe that there are tons of low-hanging fruit in our community and surrounding areas that are ripe for the harvest if we will but submit to God and the movement of the Holy Spirit. We must dare to risk new things and admit to our growing edges and places where we need God to move us in mighty ways both individually and as a church.
Why have I asked you to do the things I have? Is it to see how many changes could be made? Was it to see if I could upset people and increase frustration and the sense of discontentment on high numbers of faces each week in worship? Was it to change our favorite things?
NO! Let me be very blunt, ABSOLUTELY NO!!!
It was to see more people come into relationship with the Lord and Savior of the Universe! It was to see the people of SJUMC and this community grow in their faith and discipleship! It was to see Revival and transformational ministry happen in people’s hearts and lives. That will always be my goal and calling as your pastor and leader on this journey together.
I pray for, want, long for, and desire us to be a church on fire for Jesus and the work he has called us to be about.
Step Up is an intentional process to help us do exactly that! I still believe that God and the Holy Spirit are waiting to be invited without limitation to come move in the hearts, minds, and lives of the SJUMC family.
Step Up will be what we make of it.
While Step Up leaders made certain recommendations based on churches that are doing the things Step Up is asking us to do and they are vibrant and growing churches both spiritually and numerically, ultimately, we will NOT get a list of 10 or 12 things to check off and magically have a full church and extra financial reserves.
It will take HARD and possibly uncomfortable work. (I’m guessing the cross was not easy or comfortable for Jesus!)
It will take us:
- Inviting the Holy Spirit in
- Becoming more effective at communicating and the ways we operate
- Opening ourselves to new ways of thinking and doing the awesome work of ministry.
And with all that said, I believe God is ready to do great things in and through us! I believe our best days are yet to come! And, I believe there is still a star that leads us and guides us and the name of that star is Jesus. He’s the one we follow and seek, and we do it during the Dog Days of Summer, and every other day! May there be unending and unfathomable joy in the journey as draw ever closer to heart and mind and likeness of Jesus as we seek to bring him glory!