A few months ago, my pastor from my early teens years came up to me during a break where I was speaking. Pastor Watson told me that he had recently taken himself off cancer medicine and that he would die soon. He then asked me if I would officiate at his funeral. He said it in a matter of fact way. I was taken a back and said sure, but I am praying it is a long time from now. It was, in fact, this past March. I have been to two funerals this year of two people who played pivotal roles in my life during the same period of time. Tragedy had come to my family and my happy little existence with my grandparents abruptly ended as my grandfather died of a massive heart attack on the parking lot of the factory where he worked. As my family tried to sort things out I was sent away for the summer to stay with relatives. These relatives did not go to church and for the first time in my life I spent a significant amount of time out of church. I was reeling and felt as lost and confused as a twelve-year old boy could feel. Let me tell you what it was like. It was like I was living in a foreign country, and I did not know the language or the culture. At the end of summer my grandmother and I returnedto my mother’s home. There was no one who would or could take me to church. And, I had now entered the world of junior high with its own set of issues. One day a lady from my home church called and asked where I had been and that I needed to come back to Sunday School. I think my answer was something like yeah, right, okay, sure. Well I would like to, but I don’t think it is going to work out. She must have thought I did not take her sufficiently seriously enough so she decided to call out the brand new pastor. On a Friday afternoon having just arrived home from school there was a knock at the door. I opened the door and there for the first time I met Pastor and Mrs. Watson. I knew he must be the pastor, he had the look. I did not even invite them in. I just came out on the porch and talked to them. He introduced himself and said ‘you need to get back into Sunday School and church.’ “Yeah well, I can’t. I don’t have a ride and…”” “That is no problem someone will pick you up between 9:00 and 9:10 AM.” He took my excuse away. I said okay. I was in my first week of the 7th grade. That Sunday the Millers picked me up for Sunday School and church. From that day forward I missed only one Sunday until I went to college. Several people picked me up over the years. The Millers were one of the families. Along with their four children, and few others of us, we made our way to the South Side Church of the Nazarene in Fort Wayne. You have to remember there were no seat belt laws or child car seats in those days.
I have always loved the promise found in Jeremiah 29:11-14
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will callon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.[b] I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
When I went forward to get saved, Pastor Watson prayed with me. On one Sunday evening I went forward and prayed for direction. He opened his Bible and read to me Matthew 6:33 and then he had me read it from his Bible. No one back then ever heard of the idea of a life verse. But I have made Matthew 6:33 my life verse from that evening forward. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. Pastor Watson took me and several other teens to Olivet when I was in the 8th grade. Somewhere during that trip, I made up my mind I was going to Olivet. Not because someone from the school contacted me, but because my pastor took me to the campus. The Watsons took me to Olivet Nazarene to begin my freshman year. He was also district secretary of our district so his name is on my first district license. Hanging on the wall in my office today is my ordination certificate with Pastor Watson’s signature affixed to it. During an youth zone revival, I went forward to be sanctified, there was pastor Watson once again meeting me at the altar to pray. Once in a while, I wonder: “where would my life be today had Pastor and Mrs. Watson not come to my house on a Friday afternoon and knocked on the door?”
All around you are broken, lonely, disappointed, confused, lost people. You are in this alien culture as a subversive. You and I are not of this world, we don’t really belong here. But God has placed us here to let the light and love of Jesus shine. We have been placed here to live as people who possess a hope and a future. Our hope and future is not based on an economic philosophy, or what political party is in power, or who the president of the United States is. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness! Some of us have stopped living! We are waiting to go home. We complain about the country, the culture, the millennials, the sports leagues, the schools, and on and on. We have forgotten we are aliens living in a strange land. And we are exactly where God wants us today!
God has plans for you! God has plans for your church! His plans are to prosper us and not harm us. Do you believe that God has a plan for you? For your congregation?
God has plans for us. His plan is to give us hope and a future. It is hard to have a hope and a future if we are fixated on the past. Now, most of my life is in the past. Today I want to live in the here and now. You know that plaque hanging on your wall, that coffee mug that has this Scripture on it, reread the words “hope and a future.” This is all we have to offer the communities in which we live and minister! This is all we have to give! This is why the message of Jesus is countercultural. It is the message that the world is desperately longing for, a hope and a future.
Think back over your life, God strategically placed people all along the way. It may have seemed like happenstance, or circumstantial, but it was providential. That neighbor, that friend from school, that relative who shared the good news of the Gospel with you. Remember when you were discouraged and someone stepped out of the shadows and encouraged you and told you that you were going to make it. Do you remember? God has used people strategically placed to help develop you into the disciple that you are today. The Bible tells us that ‘to whom much is given much is required.’ We are not in existence to run programs, and dabble in evangelism and missions. We are not in existence to pay allocations. We are here because we believe the great commandment, “Love God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Is still in effect! We also are here because of the great commission: “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” This is not done by programming alone, or by slick presentations, or shiny buildings. This is done only by the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told a group of followers who wondered how they would take the message into all the world the following: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
We need to be cleansed and filled by the Holy Spirit, our services need to be marinated in the dependency that comes through prayer and is fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The day I opened the door and went out and stood on my front porch was the beginning of a new life. Pastor and Mrs. Watson offered me the greatest two gifts that day: A Hope and A Future. My life has never been the same. Thanks Pastor, church and all who have invested in my life. I still have hope and a future!