Earlier this summer my kids were watching the 2019 version of Disney’s Aladdin with Will Smith. For some reason, despite my kids having seen this version multiple times, I hadn’t seen it yet. Watching the movie I forgot the not so subtle commentary of our human desire for instant gratification and how often pursuing it can lead to peril. This article isn’t going to be a lecture on the virtue of delayed gratification. Just before I sat to write this, I used my phone to order a new grill cover and I was disappointed it would take 7 days to arrive–all while pouring a cup of coffee. What God has placed on my heart to share today is how God tends to work in our lives and how I am seeing God work in our church.

One thing I have learned through my spiritual journey is God more often works in a steady, progressive march in our lives. On rare occasions God can work as fast as a genie grants a wish, though more often God seems to work slowly, if at all. There have been times in my life where I can look back and feel like God wasn’t really working in my life at the pace I desired, but further reflection shows God was persistently and methodically shaping my life to change it in lasting ways. The discomfort in what I felt was a delay was necessary to make me more resilient and to teach me to trust God more. At the time I wished Jesus would just show up and make it all better real quick. I’m glad God did not send Jesus to act like a genie at my beck and call, but instead by the Spirit came like a wise and patient grandparent helping me along the way–just enough for me to mature sustainably.

I think that’s why I like the old, favorite hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness. It speaks to God’s faithful, persistent work in our lives and the world. The chorus speaks of how day by day God provides a little more of what we need, not because we’re all that great, but because God is great and loves us so much that God does not want us to languish or perish.

Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me

Indeed, morning by morning, new mercies I see in my life as well as in the life of our church. On August 1, I celebrated my first anniversary as Senior Pastor of UMCG. I reflect on the past year and see how our lowest attendance Sundays this summer are about the same as our highest attendance Sunday last summer. I’ve done about as many baptisms in my first year here than I have in my 18 years of ministry prior. We’ve asked God to supply us with a growing church and we are steadily growing. Upon my arrival our building was frozen in time and now it has a fresh look and we’re installing advanced HVAC equipment. We’ve needed funds and God has so generously supplied them through your regular generous support and a large bequest. There is this tired, but true quote, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” God is even changing the systems in our church so that we stop getting the results of decline and death. New meeting structures, new children and youth programs, a new Confirmation program, a new staff configuration, new families and new members; these are God’s gifts to UMCG and God isn’t done yet!  God is calling us to a new structure for stewarding our investment funds via our special church conference this Sunday, a new identity, purpose and mission through our Moving Forward Process and all-church Moving Forward Summit on September 9-10 and so much more. God might not be like a genie fixing everything all at once at UMCG, but clearly God is steadily at work for us and with us. All we have needed Thy hand has and is providing!

Morning by morning God is working through our church in a steady, progressive march to bring about lasting change. God is supplying the call on our shared lives as a community of faith to make and nurture disciples of Jesus Christ who serve the community and the world. We are called to respond in kind. To be open, generous and faithful to what God is already doing: to receive the gift of new mercies that God keeps sending – whether that’s new people, new ministries, or new systems – God is working in our church, We respond in kind when we participate in worship, critical meetings and the upcoming summit. We respond when we invite others to church and go out of our way to welcome those at church we don’t yet know over a cup of coffee in fellowship time. We respond when we volunteer to help in Sunday school and Hesed House and so many more missions. We respond by giving generously to fund God’s faithfulness today.  We respond by praying with our words and responding to the needs of each other and the world.

God is so faithful! Thy hand has provided- and still is providing- all that we need. I am so grateful to be a part of God’s faithful work in and through UMCG this past year and those yet to come! Thank you for being some of the new mercies I see!