lessons in appreciation


…appreciate those who diligently labor among you” (1 Thessalonians 5:12 NASB).

It was cold that morning when we woke up. We had driven for hours the previous day so we could see the beautiful Fall colors of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We stayed overnight at the Appalachian Advent Christian Campground at Blowing Rock. I was destined for some lessons in appreciation that weekend. My first lesson came as we enjoyed breakfast with the camp caretakers – Rob and Pam Buchanan. It was such a treat to spend time with those wonderful people. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had not had much time together with other couples in ministry.

But we had been determined to see some Autumn leaves, so we tore ourselves away, and went back to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It seemed that everyone else on the planet had the same idea that day. We shared our hike in the mountains with a lot of other sightseers. It was still magnificent.

As we returned to our car for lunch at an overlook on the Parkway, we discovered a dead battery. Our key fob did not work for the car doors, and the key only worked for the trunk. So, I could only open the doors by emptying the trunk and crawling through a small square panel into the back seat.

Then we could get into the car, but the battery was still dead. We have a AAA membership, but it would have taken hours for a service vehicle to go through the bumper-to-bumper traffic to get to us. There were thousands of people flowing through the parkway, so, even though our phones had no signal, it was not long before we found a willing stranger to pull out his jumper cables, and give us a boost. That was another appreciation lesson.

IMG-0998Lots of Advent Christians celebrate pastor appreciation month in October. It is very encouraging to get a postcard, or a greeting card with words of appreciation from members of one’s congregation. I have also been using this month for another kind of pastor’s appreciation. During the announcements, I have been mentioning people with prominent ministries in our congregation, sometimes praying for them.

At the worship service yesterday, the congregation presented me with a gift. It was one of those portable battery boosters that we can carry with us – just in case we need a boost again. I really appreciate these folks.

the message is ministry

IMG_0203The word gospel is usually translated “good news.” It can also be translated “excellent message.” I like that translation because it helps me to realise how important sharing the message about Christ is. There are any number of good things I can do for others as part of my ministry.  But the most important thing is to get this excellent message to them.

Mark started his Gospel with the words “This is the beginning of that excellent message about Jesus Christ (1:1).” From then on, any biography of Jesus was called a Gospel. But Mark was not using the word to indicate a new literary genre.[1] He was talking about the unique message about Jesus that John the Baptist started preaching, and he was essentially saying “now here’s my take on that excellent message.” It is like Mark was also challenging me to write a Gospel according to Jefferson Vann. Of course, I was not there to write the beginning of the message, but that message has impacted me, so I get to help pass it on.

Jesus himself preached that excellent message, and commanded others to believe it (1:14-15). To believe the message is to believe in Christ himself. You haven’t really repented unless you do. To believe that message is to take up your cross and have your soul put to death for it (8:34-35). It is worth leaving your family behind for (10:29). It’s worth more than simply liking it when someone posts it on a social network. It’s worth giving everything for.

The mission of reaching the nations with this message is so important that Jesus promises not to come back to earth until it is done (13:10). All those stories in the New Testament will be told to the whole world (14:9; 16:15) as a witness to everyone of the impact that Jesus had when he came to visit this little planet. The message includes what Jesus did and what he taught his followers to do. So, each generation needs to ask whether we are doing things that spread the message or stifle it.

Each church needs to ask a similar question. Lots of things are being done, and money spent on “missions” projects that have little to do with giving the excellent message to those who have not heard it. We used to invest lots of money in these strange animals that we called missionaries. The missionaries would leave their home country and invest themselves in the lives of people in another culture in order to get the message into that culture, and establish proclamation posts (churches) in that target culture. I know that still can happen. I am a missionary myself. But the club is not a very popular one in this generation.

Now, I know I’m being simplistic. Ministry in the name of Jesus is more than just sharing the message about Jesus. When the world looks at a church which just preaches, they see a museum exhibit with a caption underneath “archaic and soon to be extinct.” We owe it to our neighbours to love them as we love ourselves, which will mean feeding them when they are hungry, and helping them heal when they are broken. There is a lot of ministry that we can do, and we should do in the name of Christ. I think the pendulum has begun to swing back in the direction of serving others in this generation, and that is a good thing. But we should not lose sight of the message completely as we minister. The message is ministry.

[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text. (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002), 4.