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Why Ministry Is So Challenging…..

Mark Jenning's Madonna

A Painting of Jesus and Mary by my friend Mark Jennings. You can find all his art (and order copies) at

A devotional thought for our seemingly broken days…

14  “Return home, you wayward children,” says the LORD, “for I am your master. I will bring you back to the land of Israel— one from this town and two from that family— from wherever you are scattered. 15  And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:14-15 (NLT)

To serve the people of God is to accompany them day after day, announcing God’s salvation and not get lost in pursuing an unreachable dream.

“We tell people the same exact thing, week after week, using different words,” Words from Pastor Mark Jennings while discussing the art of preaching, and ministry. 

The older I get, the more I observe pastors and those training to be pastors, the more I am convinced of this. 

Being a pastor is an art, not a science.

It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about writing a sermon, or celebrating the Lord’s Supper and savoring every word of the liturgy, or holding the hand of a dear shut-in, who health has separated from her church family and friends.  It doesn’t matter whether it is shepherding the leadership of the church or dealing with a pre-school chapel (which I still think is the most challenging of ministerial roles!)

This is an art, an ever-changing masterpiece with the constant of diversity.  Every situation, every step alongside those we care for will be different. 

This is not a science, with simple rules and formulas and patterns to follow. This is art, requiring a sense of vision requiring a sense of seeing the final picture before the brush strokes are applied before the notes are heard before words are attached to the page. 

That makes it a challenge far greater than most of us who serve as pastors and priests, deacons and others in ministry.  A challenge that I believe is a necessity, a challenge that is our greatest blessing.

For then, we can’t depend just on our mind, for it will lock down on the Greek and Hebrew, or it will turn the experiences of those who have gone before us into rules and man-made traditions that are inviolate. Just because John Chrysostom, or Franz Pieper Robert Schuler or Rick Warren did something, that doesn’t mean it can or should be repeated in our place, in our situation. 

We have to consider who we are walking beside, whom it is God is putting into the masterpiece that is His kingdom, that is His church. As a mentor used to say, we need as much time studying and exegeting them as we do the text in preparing a sermon.   We need to know them, to know their stories, we need to see how God uses their hurts to give them halos, their scars to be the stars that guide them to the Jesus, and the Father. 

This is why ministering to people is an art, helping them realize the same thing, over and over, to reveal to them the presence of God in their lives.  helping them realize that HIs presence is drawing them closer so that they can experience His mercy, His love, His peace.  That’s why my friend and fellow pastor said, we give them the same message, the same sermons, the same lessons, the same counsel, just using different words.  He was an incredible artist and a pastor who realized his role was that of an artist.

We aren’t even the artists, we are just the ones who get to see Him at work, we are the servants whom He has shared His vision with, the vision of the redemption of mankind.

This is what we do,…walking beside them, focusing on God’s work in their lives. and realizing he is doing the same in ours.

My friends, when you cry, “Lord, have mercy,” do so, knowing that the Lord is with you!  


Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

What is So Special About the Gospel?

What’s So Special About the Gospel?  Will new camera 12 2008 167
August 3rd, 2014

Romans 9: 1-5

 Greetings to you in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, our author and perfecter of our faith!  Alleluia, amen!


What is so special about the Gospel?

What is so important about the Gospel that Paul says in verse 2 from our Epistle on Romans today that he would be willing to give up everything he has including his salvation and be willing to be forever cursed, that is cut off from Christ, if that would save them?

What is so important and who are the “them” that Paul is talking about?

His people; or who he calls his Jewish brothers and sisters.  Jews, Hebrews, Israelites!

His people, the people of Israel chosen by God to be the Father’s adopted children.

But aren’t these Jews the same people who have flogged Paul with forty lashes minus one? Didn’t they beat him with rods? Didn’t they stone him and treat him like garbage?

With friends like that who needs enemies?

Well it was probably for good reason I’m sure. I’m sure Paul deserved what he got!

So what did he do that was so heinous?

Was he a drug dealer or a terrorist? Maybe he was a gang banger or a thug or thief or a burglar. One thing for sure is that he had gone from a prosecutor of Christians in the name of the Jews to an enemy of the Jews.

No, this all happened to Paul at the hands of the Jews because of his mouth.

He had gone from prosecuting to proclaiming.

Paul had these things happen because of the Gospel that he was proclaiming.

What is so important and so incredibly powerful to Paul that he would give up his own salvation so that his enemies who hated him and persecuted him would know and be saved?

What is so important to you?

Is it the Gospel of Christ? The Gospel which witnesses to Christ descending in the Incarnation and being born the savior of the world in a feeding trough? Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that through Him sacrificing His own life atones for our sin on that old rugged cross?

Is it the witness of that blessed Easter Sunday of the true and living resurrection of our God?

Is it the power of the Gospel that frees us through Christ from our sin and calls us to baptism and where we die with Christ only to live in the resurrection eternally with Him?

Is it the Gospel of Christ given, witnessed and heard for all people even your enemies or people that you just don’t care for?

Like Paul are you willing to give up everything including your own salvation so that another might come to Christ and hear the call?

Or is only for you?

The Gospel is great as long as it meets in my wheelhouse or comfort zone. I believe in Jesus but I don’t want a messy Gospel or ministry!

Maybe your sincere intention is that you really want all people to believe and know Christ; but in a convenient, leave me alone sort of way. Let’s put up signs and keep it chained up and locked up and keep those in our lives we deem undesirable out of the way. Jesus would say and do this but I am no Jesus, yet we are called to be little Christs are we not?

All these ideas may That may seem logical and valid until you read what Paul wrote in verse 2 about his Jewish brothers and sisters when he wrote, “My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief.”

How do you render that? Paul ached for these people, his people to know the freedom of the Gospel and the relationship repaired that all God’s children share in that adoption into Him.

He was torn apart that even his very enemies who scorned and despised him and more importantly Jesus, didn’t know Christ and His free gift of reconciliation.

How did they not get it? These were the people of Israel, remember Israel? His name was Jacob but it was changed because he struggled with God. They were God’s people, descendents of Jacob or Israel. God had chosen them like He has chosen us to be His people. Israel, His adopted children and He has revealed His glory to them and us in the risen Christ.

He had and has given them and us the privilege of worshipping Him and living and living in and receiving His wonderful promises.

These enemies of Paul had it right there in front of them and they rejected it and even despised it. Isn’t that our M.O. every time we sin? Isn’t it right there in front of us? Yet we reject God all the time but still His heart desires us and His heart is filled with bitter grief and sorrow whenever someone rejects Him.

These enemies had it right there in front of them as Jesus walked among them but yet they rejected the cornerstone. As I hear Paul cry and suffer for these people I am reminded of Jesus doing the same. Jesus wanted nothing more than to gather these people and die and suffer for them and live for them so that they would live but no…yet even on the cross he forgave them.

But weren’t they his enemies? Weren’t they enemies of God who rejected Christ.

Wait a minute, weren’t we enemies of God? Do we really deserve to be saved and adopted into Him? If God does this saving work through His Son and willingly gives Him up to die for His enemies, what does that say to you and I and our enemies or those we struggle and have difficult times with?

In the eyes of the world, Paul should just cut his losses and run, shake off his sandals and go.

But the power of the Gospel wouldn’t and won’t do that. The promises that God gives to Paul and to us through the Holy Spirit will not give up on us or anybody else even to people who are trying to do us harm whether it is by thought, word and deed and even people we want to harm in thought, word and deed.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ transcends our human feebleness and frailty and our sinfulness and like last week’s parable seeks to catch us like a net.

What is so important about the Gospel that it crosses lines and dividers and smashes down walls, breaking chains and unlocking doors and ripping signs down? How does it make enemies become brothers in Christ? Not by anything or the work of you and i! It is the message of Christ Himself, the very Son of God who takes our sin and God’s wrath and heaps it all upon His shoulders so that you and I through the Holy Spirit may share in His joy and His peace as brothers in sisters of the cross.

It is the Gospel of Christ that wades through all the garbage and all the junk that Satan tries to use to pull us from God in our lives outside of church and even in the church. Boil it all down and what does it come out to? It has to be about Christ.

If it is about Christ then it is about life not death, life in Him for eternity, even eternal life with people that we may not enjoy or get along with so much. You have been called by God to be His. Through the Gospel we have been given a relationship with the Father of confidence in hope as we trust in faith, a faith given freely through Christ to all those who proclaim Him.

Paul knew why the Gospel was and is so important and what they were missing. It was so crucial that he would even give up his salvation so they would know it in every fiber of their being.

So that it would affect and circumcise their very hearts and they would be washed and made new creations. So that they could live in the perfect promises of the Trinity.

He was so sure of the Gospel that he would stake his salvation so that others would have the same thing on it.

Would God take his salvation from him? No. God will never take our salvation away. He will never deny us the forgiveness of sins and our faith.

Your salvation has been freely given through Christ and for God to take it away would make His promises deceitful and untrue and not faithful to His people.

The point is Paul through being convicted and called by the Holy Spirit knew how important the Gospel of Christ was and is. He knew that it is a life restorer and saver and he knew tht this free gift of mercy, love and grace was given through Christ on the cross.

Do we? Do we really understand not from our heads, but from our hearts and would that change us and would it change how we see the world, our lives and our church?

Would we be filled with bitter grief and sorrow over those who don’t know the life saving Gospel of Christ and complete joy when ones proclaims and confesses Christ?

It might get messy and yucky. It might even get uncomfortable. It may cause us to suffer and It may even cost us our lives.

But that’s ok because we live through Christ in the power and the glory of the Gospel and through that we are the body of Christ called in baptism and united in Him who suffered and gave His life. It was messy and it was uncomfortable and it was God’s love for you and I.

What is so important and special that the Gospel would unite enemies together?

Jesus Christ given and shed for you and for all.

Alleluia, amen.  

A Sermon written by Deacon Mark Jennings

June 24th, 2012

2Corinthians 6: 1-13

 Deacon Mark Jennings, soon to be Vicar Mark Jennings is a deacon who I’ve enjoyed working with for nearly four years.  He actually is to enter the SMP pastoral preparation program this fall – having shown the aptitude to be a pastor, as he cares for a congregation that has responded to that care – and urged him to continue his preparation – that he may serve as their pastor. Together they have committed themselves to together to make it happen… to raise up there own, that God’s word be shared in their presence…here is one of his sermons.. read and be blessed!

May you know His grace, His mercy and His peace as you live in this temporary time knowing that through Him you will be eternal.

To Him be all the glory!

Alleluia, amen.



Have you heard the story about the reporter who is sent to a senior citizen’s home to do a public interest story? Now you might ask what is so special about a facility for seniors?

Well this one was a little different because it was a home for seniors who had been in the entertainment industry and they had been primarily stand up comedians. When this young reporter travels up the steps he notices on the front porch that there is a bunch of rockers filled with people. Suddenly one of the guys stops rocking, stands up and yells out the number ‘21’. At that everybody starts busting out with laughter. After that another yells out ‘17’ and everybody giggled and laughed some more.

This keeps going on and the reporter is becoming more and more perplexed. He finally asks what this was all about. They proceeded to tell him that being comics, they knew all the jokes so to save time they assigned each joke a number.

The reporter thinking this is pretty ingenious decides to try it out and proceeds to stand up and yells out,’21’. Nobody laughs.

The reporter tries calling out other numbers but to no avail. Nobody laughs. It is dead as a doornail. He can’t figure it out.

Just then one of the retired comedians stands up, goes to the reporter, puts his arm around him and says,” Son, it’s all in the timing.”

It’s all in the timing.

Time and timing.

They are such important things in our lives. Let’s face it; they make the world go round! It’s hard to know when to do things sometimes. It’s not always easy to discern that perfect timing for something. When is the perfect time to ask your boss for a raise or maybe to ask that special someone out on a date?

The battery in my watch died this week and it was like losing a hand. I felt lost without it.

So much rides on time and timing. If you say the wrong thing at the wrong time that could turn into a less than pleasant situation (trust me, I know). If you are not on time for work everyday you’re gonna get canned. And just so some of you won’t squirm in the pew I won’t even mention about being late for church, which starts at 10:30 A.M.

By the way, does anybody know what time it is? Whenever I asked my grandpa what time it was he would always reply, “it’s time all fools are dead, don’t you feel sick?” And no, it’s not Howdy Doody time or Miller time.

Paul knew the time and in verse 2 in our Epistle reading, he quotes from Isaiah 49: 8.

“At the time of my favor I have answered you; on the day of salvation I have helped you.”

Our time of deliverance and rescue is here now and it’s found in the grace of our Father who in His perfect timing and who on no merit of our own sent His Son who is Jesus the Christ to rescue us from certain destruction and death.

That time has come when God’s grace, which knows no bounds, pours out and overflows upon His people. Jesus the Christ dies for all so that all would live forever in that perfect gift of love, mercy and grace.

Because of His grace. He has answered us with the free gift of eternal life.

We have this incredible thing but yet we don’t always put it first. We sometimes put God in a glass box to be opened only on Sunday morning or broken open and used only in the event of an emergency. Other things become so much more important and crucial to us that they become our god and that grace is received in vain. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s cheap. So much so that Paul talks about it in verse 1, “Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”

It’s not about us. When we depend on ourselves or this world that we are visiting, we aren’t focused on God and His grace. It’s like gambling. You may think that you win in the short time but in the long run you will lose and you will have used your money in vain. That’s a proven fact. Just ask any Vegas casino!

What looks good isn’t. Looks can be deceiving, empty, lifeless and hollow.

1 Corinthians 15:2. “By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain.”

If your not holding on to the Gospel given to us in grace for dear life then you’re already dead and it was and is all in vain. But if you trust and have faith and depend on God… You know that God’s grace never deceives. God’s grace is never empty and lifeless. God’s grace is always teeming with abundant life, it is the new life that we now have in Christ. That is what we hold on firmly to. It is perfect and His timing is perfect.

“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

God’s timing to call all to him is right now. It’s not after the game or starting Monday morning, it’s right here, right now. It began before this planet was even created. This day of salvation was accomplished by Jesus the Christ on that nasty, horrible chunk of wood at Calvary and finished at that empty tomb.

We are called and chosen people not because we are good people but because YAHWEH is so great and extends that gift of grace to us simply because He loves us.

“Behold, now is the favorable time.”

Now is the time. Through Christ you have received faith. Don’t worry about whether it is the right time to talk to God and ask for forgiveness. God does not keep regular office hours and your timing could never be better. Don’t worry about the timing. Any time is the right time. God is waiting for you. Hurry, don’t delay! He wants to hear from you and unlike we who sometimes don’t listen to each other, or our children, he hears everything his beloved children say.

So we know that God’s timing is right and favorable and because of that our day of Salvation is here and we are saved as Ephesians 2: 8 says,

“ For it is by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God.”  Because of God’s grace we now through Jesus have a new relationship with our Father and we find that in the Word.

Paul also says something I thought was very interesting in the opening verse when he says, “ As His fellow workers.”

Does he mean that we partner with God? We work together? The answer is yes! Now don’t get me wrong, we don’t partner in our salvation, that is God and only God who once again in His perfect timing calls us and bestows on and in us His grace though Christ.

But God has called us and chosen us to work in the vineyard and we do it with Him. It is fitting today that after the sermon we will be installing our new officers for the coming year today!

The Holy Trinity is like a general who leads his troops into actual battle and is not afraid to get his hands dirty.

As we are called and sent, God will provide the timing and the time to witness and tell about His glory and that perfectly timed plan of salvation. While we live in this world temporarily we are given the tools we need from the Holy Spirit or the Paraclete who walks alongside us and strengthens us as we tell those who don’t yet know or understand the glory of the cross and what that means.

We are servants of God, which, by the way in Greek is the word diakonos, which is where we get the word deacon from. We are able to stand through these temporal afflictions and hardships and struggles because of that grace given to us in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works together with us to make our timing right and to know when and what to say so like Paul says in verse 3,

“ We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found in our ministry.”

The only obstacle that we put in the way of anybody is the truth. The truth of God’s grace, which calls and chooses and lifts up and changes people. It is the truth that the time of the day of salvation is here, praise God!

The truth of Christ crucified is an obstacle for sin and for death and for that evil deceiver who would have us focus on the world and ourselves.

But for those who believe, it is sweet comfort and relief to know what God has done through His Son for not just you and I but for all people.

We trust and have faith knowing that God’s time is not our time and we know with confidence and hope that our Father’s timing is perfect as we await that glorious day of resurrection when our King returns to take us home for eternity.

It’s all about the timing.

It’s all about His timing!

To Him be all glory forever!

Alleluia, amen.


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