Thursday, November 22, 2007
Friday, September 28, 2007
Sunday, September 23, 2007
The freedom comes from the change of hours and the extreme decrease in physical exertion that the new job creates. I will have to now work an extra night on the weekend, but I won't go in until 6PM. That means an increase of four and a half hours at home with the boys (and my lovely wife) on Saturday and Sunday. Take out the two hours that I miss on Friday night before the boys go to bed and I get a net increase of 8 hours with the boys. Also, since there is much less labor involved at Domino's (read: almost none), I'm not as tired and zoned-out during the times I am at home. We can spend Saturday playing outside, going to the park, a trip to the zoo, whatever, and not affect my night at work. It is truly a wonderful blessing from God that I was given this opportunity.
Don't get me wrong: Wal-Mart was a tremendous blessing as well. It was exactly the job I needed at the time and it got us through a very hard time. My boss, Mike, could not have been any easier to work for. Any time I needed off, I got it. When I needed to go to part-time right after school started, he said it was fine. Even when I asked to get off at 11:30 on Sunday night when everyone else had to stay until 2-3, they granted it. They were great people to work for, and I am extremely grateful for their help. But, the job itself absolutely sucked, and I am so happy to be through with it.
There's a lesson here: the places God puts us and the opportunities He provides may not always be exactly what we want. As a matter of fact, they may suck tremendously and seem like a particular level of Hell. But that does not mean that they aren't God-sends. It doesn't mean that God was not involved in the process from the beginning. It doesn't mean that there aren't lessons to learn and reasons to rejoice. I can look back and see the chastening, the discipline, and the training that I received while working there. I also have had the privilege of developing a great friendship with Chris, a fellow minister and someone struggling to follow where God leads, even when life seems to go through a crappy season.
So, so long Wal-Mart. May we meet only in the land of shopping. Thanks for the money, thanks for the insurance, thanks for the lessons, and thanks for helping me lose 20 pounds. I'll miss you, but not enough to come back to you. You are a loss I will gladly get over.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Thanks again for all your prayers. Monday is our first day of school and I sure could use prayer again. I will be teaching 8th grade science at Wells Middle School in Spring, Texas. You can see a picture of me with the rest of the science department here. I'm the tallest one.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
This week, I began my in-service for my adventure into the world of public school teaching. While I'm pretty nervous, I'm excited, too. This will be an opportunity for me to minister at the state's expense. This is also great because it provides a steady income with (fairly) set hours so we can focus more on our church plant.
Our mealtime at Manuel's Mexican Restaurant is going very well. We are developing some relationships with the waitstaff and are praying that God will bring us other folks with whom to develop relationships. We feel a great peace and energy about what we are doing. It seems to be slow and pointless at times, but we are confident that God has led us to this and will bless it as we are obedient.
I had another meeting with church planting guru Glenn Smith last week. My meetings with him were a continuation of our Church Planter's Assessment we had in June. It was a great meeting. Glenn was excited about what we were doing at Manuel's and said he had information about just such an outreach on his website. This was just more confirmation to us that we are on the right track.
Possibly the best news that came out of the meeting is that we are now fully assessed. This means the Union Baptist Association and the assessment team have approved us as church planters. What THAT means is that we are now able to receive financial support from both the UBA and the BGCT. There are still some steps to be taken. I'll have to meet with the UBA church planting consultant and with the BGCT regional church planter, but it is still more progress. We are excited to see God continue to work and confirm to us our call to plant Summerlake.
On a personal note, I could use your prayers. I took my teacher certification test on August 4th and feel pretty good about it. However, I won't learn my score until August 24th and increase in nervousness every day closer to the 24th. The difference in passing the test or failing the test is the difference between being paid as a full teacher and being paid as a sub. Pray that I will have peace. Pray that I have passed the test. Pray that regardless what happens, we will continue to trust that God is taking care of us and still in control. Should I not pass the test, it will mean Etta will have to get a job teaching and the boys will have to go to daycare. This is absolutely our last resort and something we pray will not have to happen.
Monday, August 6, 2007
I have a friend--I'll call him Chris--who has been at a particular church for four years: 2 1/2 years as a very involved lay-person, and 1 1/2 years as the youth minister. Over the past 3-4 months he has been praying about, and discussing with me, his feeling that God was calling him from that church. On July 31st he gave his pastor his letter of resignation. He would finish out the month of August, his ministry culminating with a Back-to-School bash he had planned with another local youth minister. He he would be able to break the news gradually to his youth group and allow for a time of grieving and a warm send-off. This would also give the pastor plenty of time to begin looking for a new youth minister. This was very gracious of Chris, and was more than most people would have done in most secular situations.
Unfortunately, the pastor was not as gracious, nor did he have the same heart to allow the process to unfold. He told Chris on Wednesday afternoon, August 1st, that that evening would be his last at the church. Chris had not yet even told his children, who are youth, and he was being forced to tell the youth group that he was leaving immediately. When he protested that he was not prepared to do it that way, the pastor told him that was "the way it was done. It is good business to end it immediately."
Bull! That may be the way it is done sometimes (it was done that way to us), but it is not the way it should be done. THE CHURCH IS NOT A BUSINESS!!! Was that loud enough? It's time for these executive, CEO pastors to understand that the church does not work like the world. The church is supposed to be different. The church is supposed to set the example, not follow it. The church (read: CEO pastor) should not fire a minister with no warning, no chance to change, no severance, and no concern. The church (read: CEO pastor) should not fire a minister that has resigned with graciousness and character the day after he submits his resignation letter.
The church is a place of love, truth, forgiveness, and grace. For lay people and staff. That can never be forgotten, though it appears many have. I'm not saying anything goes, that there are no reasons to fire someone; but it can always be done with grace. I know of staff members fired for moral reasons, but they were still given severance and opportunities for counseling and help. That is the love of Jesus. Kicking people to the curb or throwing them away when they have served their "perceived" usefulness is not the love of Jesus.
The culture has to change and it begins with those of us who have had it done to us. We must change the culture by first making sure the culture of the churches we pastor is different. We then change the culture by taking every opportunity to tell CEO pastors, who we know are doing things the world's way, how ungodly that way is.
Jesus said that the world will know we are His by the love that we have for each other. When the world hears of the wretched way pastors (and committees, for that matter) are treating staff, they don't see Jesus, they don't see love, and many of them wonder if we are His to begin with.
I must say, I don't see Jesus or love in it either. And sometimes I wonder too.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Which leads me to the new activities for Summerlake. Tonight and every Tuesday night hereafter (at least for a while) the entire family will eat supper at Manual's Mexican Restaurant in Summerwood. This is to be an opportunity to get to know people and build relationships. You can read a little more about it at the Summerlake website.
Your prayers for this new outreach opportunity are greatly appreciated.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Pray for us as we travel. Pray for the week: that we are taught, we are energized toward the church plant, we gain new insights and ideas, and that we are refreshed by the worship and the mountains of New Mexico. This will be our only vacation this summer, and boy, do we need it.
We'll let you know how things went when we get back.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Prayer and Bible reading make the day go better!
I know, you're as blown away as I am. Maybe I should write a book. I'm sure there are many people that need to know this.
Obviously, I hope, you realize this is a bit tongue-in-cheek. But only a bit. What is truly amazing is how easily we forget the power of God's Word and prayer in our lives. This is not really a new discovery for me, but it was something I was reminded of recently.
As I've written before, I'm not the greatest at expressing my hurt or frustration with people or God. While this past incident wasn't a direct result of that, it had some basis in it. Primarily, it had to do with not believing I had enough time to pray and read as I should. But (and this is no surprise to anyone) the lack of prayer and reading led to frustration and fear. Shocker!!
I was worried that we had missed the call. I don't have the personality to plant a church. We don't have the necessary resources. We live in the wrong place. I don't have time working two jobs now and that won't change when I start teaching middle school. We don't know enough people. A church called that was interested in me as their pastor. It's time to give up and go to an established church and forget about this church planting thing, at least for now. It's just too dang hard and requires too many freakin' sacrifices. I'm tired. I'm not qualified. I can't do it.
Woo-hoo!! Go, pity-party!!!
So I decided to go back to what had gotten me through these feelings before: Bible reading and real, earnest, just-me-and-God, not driving-down-the-road, prayer.
And you know how many questions got answered? Zero. But that's okay. What I did get was peace. I did get a couple of small confirmations on the call but mostly, I just got peace. I read 2 Thessalonians, Psalm 61-65, Proverbs 13, and Galatians. No answers on how we are to plant this church, no vision of a house in Summerwood that would soon be ours, no call to an established church. Just peace.
Isn't God great? We go to Him wanting answers. "We need answers God!!" we yell. And He gives us peace. You can almost here Him say "Ssshhhhh. No, you don't need answers. You just need Me." And, lo and behold, He's right. All we need is Him.
So, maybe this is all elementary for you, but if not, try it. Go to God for answers. Yell, cry and throw things. Tell Him your hurts and needs. Then, remember to tell Him how great He is. And when He doesn't give you every answer to every problem, or any answer to any problem, but gives you peace instead, be amazed with me at how that peace calms you better than the answers would.
Saturday, July 7, 2007
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Now, understand that the article took no theological look at the implications of the findings. But, the fact is, we are born into sin.
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.
Just like green eyes and brown hair, sin is a part of our make-up and has been passed from the first father, Adam. We are born with it. And it starts at the earliest possible age. Also, if you think about it, every one of us was with Adam the day he sinned. What we needed in order to exist was contained within his procreative package. We were not a conscious part of the sin (duh) but were there to experience it. Therefore, we actually participated in it and became sinners. AND, that nature was then passed on to us. So, we are born (and pre-birth) sinners.
For some, this may beg the question of the death of an infant and "the age of accountability." Millard Erickson covers this well in his Systematic Theology. I'll paraphrase his explanation.
We are born with both the propensity to sin and the guilt of that sin. However, the ultimate punishment for the sin (eternal separation from God) is not carried out until we "accept or approve of our corrupt nature." We become condemned sinners once we can understand we are sinners...and like it. Prior to that moment, we have not--and are unable to--acknowledge our sinful nature any more than we are able to accept and acknowledge Christ as Savior at that age. So, the death of a child, while a devastating time, is not a time to worry for her eternity. A couple of scriptures help us here.
2 Samuel 12:23 "But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."
David was confident that he would see his dead child again one day. Then later, Jesus said something that allows us to assume children who have died go to heaven.
Matthew 19:14 But Jesus said, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
This would be an odd statement to make if all children who died went to hell. We can safely say that a child, not old enough to choose Christ or sin, is chosen by Christ.
To put the entire post more succinctly, sin is as much a choice as salvation. The problem is, our nature is to choose sin and we must fight against our nature to choose Christ.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Also, don't forget to read my new post below.
You can also read all about the results of our Church Planters' Assessment on Etta's blog.
I'm afraid we have a glamorous view of faith (thank you Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Jesse Duplantis, Joel Osteen, et al). We tend to think if we can verbalize it God will materialize it. I'm afraid it doesn't work that way. We may want healing or deliverance or wealth but it may not come the way we think it should. We may want the path that we know God has set before us to be smooth and non-threatening, but life isn't made up of such.
If we think otherwise, we must conclude that the Apostle Paul had no faith. Shipwrecked, beaten, left for dead, maligned, ridiculed, and ultimately, tradition tells us, beheaded at the behest of Nero. What a faithless idiot! All he had to do was name it and claim it and God would have made him a wealthy success with his own internationally famous ministry tour, a private boat, no health problems, and mass conversions at the mere sound of his voice. He just didn't know what he was doing. He should have consulted Benny or Jesse.
Or maybe, just maybe, Paul knew something we need to learn: that faith is ugly and grace is beautiful. There are no clear-cut answers to faith. Yes, some are healed by faith. Some find their paths smooth. Some have successful ministries. But some, with equal or stronger faith, don't. Are we to assume Jeremiah had no faith either? When was the last time we saw Benny weeping that no one was responding to his message? To hear him tell it, he never fails. And Benny hasn't gotten his own book in the Bible.
The point is, faith is not clear cut. We have faith that God will see us through. Paul had it. Jeremiah had it. But faith does not mean everything will be easy. Faith means that we hope in and trust something stronger than ourselves when it is obvious we can't do it on our own. Again, it's ugly because we don't know the end result; we just have faith.
But grace is beautiful. Grace tells us that, not only will God see us through, but that there are great things in store for us. Grace says that, though our strength will fail, we will be lifted up. Grace tells us that when faith doesn't get us what we think we need, grace is all we need. Paul was told, when faith did not make things easy, that God's grace is sufficient. Here, read it for yourself.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Doesn't sound like a man concerned that he didn't get what he wanted, but that God gets what He wants. He wants our faith, ugly as it may be, because He knows the beauty of His grace. He knows that grace says when we are weak, we are strong in the power of Christ. When we can't, God can.
So, while we may be able to speak of the blessings of God and the deliverance from any variety of trials, the stronger testimony is the one that tells of all-sufficient grace; of not seeing the deliverance but seeing the power of God in the life determined to follow through the darkest valley. It's in the dark that the beauty of grace shines its brightest, and the power of an ugly faith-beaten and bruised and bloody-is fully felt.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Colossians 3:14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.Beyond what things? Well, the previous verses say...
Colossians 3:12-13 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
So, if I read this correctly, we as Christians (the church) are to have compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, and be forgiving. But above all this, love is the perfect bond for the church.
So you say, "Michael, this is silly. Everyone knows that the most important thing in the church is love. Duh!" Not so fast, blog-reader. Everyone apparently does not know that. I know personally of a pastor who does not believe this. He routinely mocks and derides as weak churches that "just looooove everybody". The most important thing is truth, not love. And, please, don't misunderstand. This is not "speaking the truth in love", as Ephesians 4:15 commands us. Love is not even considered a part of the truth.Christians are to love: the saved and the lost. Without love, we have no "community" in the church. Without love, evangelism becomes a rote exercise, accomplished in order to win brownie points with God. We are never told to be truthful but not love the person with whom you are sharing the truth.
The result of truth without love is a church that, ultimately, can allow no one in, except for those who, living in the height of arrogance, think they have perfectly attained the truth. A church like that exists. Members are allowed to join based solely on the pastor's opinion of them. Approved activities are based on whether or not they attract so-called "undesirables". Does this sound like a church? No. It sounds like the Pharisees. The church should be after the undesirables, because that's who God desires. The church is not the place for those who have it all together, but that was the model for this particular church.
Now, I'm not talking about membership in the church, being a part of the body of Christ. That is based upon salvation and obedience, not the vote of a church or pastor. However, I am talking about allowing the people that need the gospel most to darken the doors of the church. In the church mentioned above, people were escorted out the door and told never to come back. Why? Because they were rude, loud, often drunk, labeled as trouble-makers or had some other characteristic deemed undesirable. Are there times that drastic measures need to be taken to ensure safety in the church? I think so. Were these people beyond the help of the gospel and our church? Only if you think you have all the answers and can perfectly discern the mind of God and the souls of men.
Is my point here to bash a church? No, it's for the reader to understand why I vehemently say that Summerlake will not be this way. We will have plenty of issues with trouble-makers, loud-mouths, and generally bad folks. But that's the lost for you, acting like sinners. But that's who we are after. If it offends the pious deacon that a hooker stumbles across our church in her work clothes, he can leave, not her. She doesn't know any better than to look in the church for hope in the middle of her worst-case scenario. The pious deacon definitely knows better, or least should know better, than to expect a sinner to behave like a Christian. We have to have the ability to reach people where they are. We also have to be willing to walk a long path to get them there. And it will take a lot of love, along with the truth, to do it.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The other update is that Kingwood First Baptist had a series of meetings this week that had support for Summerlake on their agenda. Pray for the results of those meetings and for the people of First Baptist as they look to support the vision God has given us.
God bless you.
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
In a previous post, I wrote that I had forgiven those that had hurt and betrayed me. I believe that at the time of the writing, I had forgiven them. The problem with forgiving a hurt done to you is that the consequences of the hurt continually remind you of the hurt. With the reminders come new anger and a new round of unforgiveness. That, in turn, puts you in the position of needing to re-forgive the offender.
I think that is the true fight of forgiveness. It may take months or years of separation from the hurt to be able to leave it in the past. There are many times in the past that I have been hurt and have had to forgive, but enough time has passed that it is no longer a struggle to live in that forgiveness. It is much more difficult to live in that forgiveness when the wound is still fresh.
So, if you still find yourself struggling over forgiving past hurts, even when you thought you had forgiven the person/people, everyone understands. Peter understood. Jesus understands. And He let us know we must be in a constant state of forgiveness. There is no limit to how often we may find ourselves needing to re-forgive, and there is no limit to the number of times we are required to.
A quick PS: Our Church Planter Assessment is this Friday and Saturday. Your prayers for God's guidance would be greatly appreciated. Also, one of the churches that has agreed to pursue how to partner with Summerlake Church is meeting this Sunday to discuss it. Pray also for God's will in this partnership. Thanks.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
In 1966, the World Council of Churches...adopted the bizarre dictum, "The world must set the agenda for the church."
Theology, former Queen of the Sciences, has lost her throne and is now earning her living as a runway model in the fashion houses of today's thought.
Is the culture decisive and the audience sovereign for the Christian church? Not for one moment. God forbid. The client and the consumer may be king for free-enterprise. Serving the shareholders may be obligatory for the directors of corporations. But the church of Christ is not under the sway of market totalitarianism--even in America where capitalism is king, pope, and emperor all rolled into one. From the prophets' "This is the word of the Lord" to the reformer's Here I stand; so help me, God, I can do no other," the message, not the audience, is always sovereign, and the culture is always potentially the world set over against Christ and His kingdom. To think and live otherwise is to recycle the classic error
of liberalism and to court the worldliness, irrelevance, and spiritual adultery that it represents.
It is not too much to say that the combined efforts of...Protestant liberal renegades and revisionists are a key part of the story of the loss of the West by the Christian church. More importantly, such ex-believers, who put other Gods before God, and weakly believing re-interpreters, who put other gods beside God, are the main reason for the loss of the Christian gospel in much of the Christian church in the West today.
With rare pockets of exception, the European church has capitulated to the triumph of the modern world much as the French did to the Nazis, and with the same resulting demoralization and divisions.
The crying need of the Western church today is for reformation and revival, and for a decisive liberation from the Babylonian captivity of modernity.
Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue. -La Rochefoucauld
It is sad to note that today many evangelicals are the most superficial of religious believers--lightweight in thinking, gossamer-thin in theology, and avid proponents of spirituality-light in terms of preaching and responses to life.
He who marries the spirit of the age soon becomes a widower. -Dean Inge, St. Paul's Cathedral
Needless to say, Jesus' appeal in the gospels is as strong as his authority. No one in history has ever been more truly friendly to seekers. His hard sayings are no more the whole gospel than are his comforting sayings. The good news appeals far more than it repels, and it repels only to appeal at a far deeper level.
One...seed of Christian renewal has been the notion of sin, the church's "doctrine of its own failure." If all of us always go wrong, then corruption is no surprise and correction should be an automatic and needed response. The other seed of correction and renewal has been the church's belief in the word of God, which means that the church always has "a judgement that transcends history." The church may fall captive to this culture or that ideology, to this philosophy or that fashion. But when the Word of the Lord speaks and is listened to, the church wakes up to herself and the captivity can be thrown off.
God is always bigger than our misunderstandings of him.
At least five times the Faith has to all appearances gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases, it was the dog that died. -GK Chesterton
Friday, May 18, 2007
Well, as if God didn't know everything about me already, He now knows the silent treatment from me. (Yes, this is more of the preacher being honest with his own struggles. But I've had enough of preachers that have it all together when we, in fact, know they don't.) This is not the first time I've given God the silent treatment, but it's the first opportunity I've had to write about it.
God did not provide what I thought we needed in the time frame that I laid out. I've already written of frustrations with God's timing, but I honestly expected the answer to come soon after. It didn't. And it still hasn't. And it doesn't matter the source of the need; the frustration is natural for all of us when things don't work the way we think they should.
So I clammed up. I didn't pray. I basically existed as if God didn't. And that isn't a fun place to be. See the irony? I rejected my only source of comfort and direction. In the midst of my need that was not met, I rebuffed the only source for the answer. I quit praying when I didn't get what I prayed for. And you know what it got me? A big old pile of nothing. I didn't feel better. If anything, I felt more hopeless. Nothing was solved. The situation was only worsened. Therefore my plan to silent treatment God into giving me what I thought I needed didn't work. Not that I ever really thought it would.
Okay, so I clammed up. But you yell. And you go back to your pet sin. And you bad-mouth God to other people. And you... My point is, we all try to bully God. Something doesn't go our way and we blame God. Then we have our own little method of getting back at Him. We goad Him a little bit. We show Him how it feels. We plan to hurt Him by our little pitiful form of cry-baby rejection.
Here's the thing: He already knows how rejection feels. He's rejected daily. He knows rejection all the way to the cross. He's rejected by people who have no love for Him. And He's rejected by people who claim to follow Him that got their feelings hurt. So why the rejection? Because He rejected us, right? He didn't give us what we wanted. My four year-old uses the same logic.
There is no argument that we feel hurt when we feel we have not been given something we think we need. The question obviously then becomes whether we needed it or not. (And, yes, I definitely need what I'm praying for. I'm sure you do too.) But if we look with eyes fixed on the reality of the situation, we will see that God does not set out to hurt us. The gift of the cross was given to save us, to keep us from ultimate hurt. It is the ultimate example of supplying needs. So why do we think God has suddenly changed His mind and decided it's fun to needle us a little bit? I'm sure most of us will grudgingly admit that we really don't think God intends to hurt us, but we act as if we do. So we get back at Him.
So I'm still waiting. I'm wondering if God remembers our calling and knows all that we need to accomplish it. I'm wishing He would hurry up. But I'm also trusting. God is faithful to complete what He's begun. He prepares those He sends. When I withhold what Jamie, my four year-old, thinks he needs, I'm not doing it for sport or to see him cry. I do it because I know what's best. And I can't even see the future. My heavenly Father can. When He withholds, it's with my best interests in mind. We need to accept what heaven hands us and understand that our petty attacks on God accomplish nothing. It doesn't help us and it doesn't change God. God is working good for us. Even when it appears He's holding out on us.
No matter how much I don't like it.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
--Pray, and...oh yes
You will periodically (maybe daily) receive an email with specific topics for which you can pray. If you would like to be a part of this, email me and let me know. It is not just lip-service to say that prayer is the most important thing we can receive from you. It truly is THE most important thing. God bless.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
You will need the PowerPoint viewer if you do not have Microsoft PowerPoint. Click here to get the viewer.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
We can be confident that God is working - He isn't on holiday. But sometimes it would be just lovely if He would drop us an occassional line to update us on how things are going. I guess that wouldn't require faith.
Sometimes, faith isn't fun.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
I admit, while Lewis's statement is pithy and humorous, the concept of God drawing us to salvation is nothing new. What may be new to some is that the concept is throughout the Bible, sometimes in places we don't really expect to find it. A good example of this is Jeremiah 29:10-13.
Jeremiah 29:11 is the "verse en vogue" at the moment. Allow me to put the verse in context.
10 This is what the LORD says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 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 call upon 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.Notice, first that God knows what's coming. He has the plan all figured out. Second, notice the progression in the passages that are red. God comes to us, then we call upon Him. God is not sitting back waiting for us to wise up and realize we need him. He is constantly pursuing us, as Francis Thompson put it, as "The Hound of Heaven." It appears that we chase God until He catches us. (For those wondering, this is no endorsement of Calvinism. It is obvious that God does the drawing in the work of salvation. The decision to follow, however, is still up to us.)
We saw this in action with our call to plant Summerlake. When we began to seek God's will for the next step in our lives, we sought God. We prayed about where we should go and what we should do. As we sought God, God drew us away from what we thought the plans were to a whole new set of plans. God used our firing to "come to us" as He did to the exiles in Babylon. When He came, we began to seek and He answered. It is a beautiful thing that God does not wait on us to look for Him, but "hounds" us until we find Him.
Now, lest you think through vast intellectual and theological roamings of my mind I came up with this, Etta and I were actually illumined by studying Os Guiness's book The Call. I highly recommend it. Guiness's turn of phrase is very reminiscent of CS Lewis and he presents a wonderful understanding of the call of God on every person's life.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
We are moving forward with Summerlake Church. You can check out our website at http://www.summerlake.cc/. We have a partner church and some individual sponsors. We need your prayer support. Please add us to your prayer list. Also, if you would like to help fund this church plant, email me with the details at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to give monthly or make a one-time gift, let me know. I will respond and tell you where to send the check. Our partner church is receiving and distributing the funds, so anything you give is tax deductible. Thank you for your help as we seek to follow God's will in this mission.
My friend took issue with the use of the word "Christianity". (He also does not hold to the inerrancy of Scripture.) His issue was that Christianity, as we know it, is fraught with errors. We have an entire history of errors. However, that is not the fault of the Bible, it is the fault of redeemed and unredeemed sinners. Ultimately, it is the fault of sin. True Christians strive for true Christianity every day. The fact is, however, that our sin-affected, human minds cannot grasp Christianity as it should be. We see in a glass darkly. I am fairly certain that some of my interpretations of Scripture are wrong. I'm not disavowing them, but they are still probably wrong. Whose fault is that? Scriptures? No. It's mine.
Here's my main point. If we can't trust parts of the Bible, we can trust none of it. It's a fraud and a fake and not worthy of our time. We know God through the Bible. We know Jesus through the Bible. We understand how to be saved through the Bible. We would not trust an instruction manual if it told the wrong steps. We would not trust a history book if it got many of the facts wrong. Then how can we trust the Book that reveals God's plan of salvation developed through the ages if it's wrong about the people, places, and events it claims to record? We can't. So, if you find that the Bible has errors, throw it out! It's no good to you. Quit attempting to meld your distrust with faith.
The very nature of salvation is faith and trust. You can't trust and not trust. If our knowledge of salvation is from the Bible, based on faith and trust, how can we not have faith and trust in the Bible? And before you accuse me, I'm not speaking of Bible-worship. My faith and trust is in the Author of the Bible, the One who breathed it, the Word that became flesh. I cannot and will not believe that a God who created everything from nothing cannot protect His Word from alteration.
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
This isn't easy. I still have to drive by the church and see the new construction that my salary, in part, is paying for. It still hurts. But I have to let it go. I have to let it go for me.
Tonight, our pastor continued a series he's been preaching on the Lord's prayer. The phrase we are on is "forgive our debts as we have forgiven our debtors". He pointed out that the word for 'debts' is translated 'sin' in Luke. I cannot forgive the sin that was done to me - only God can forgive the sin. I can, however, forgive the hurt that it caused me. In so doing, I in turn can be forgiven the sins that I have comitted in this whole process. Allow me to expound.
Obviously, losing the only source of income you have immediately presents a financial bind. Duh. However, a portion of our current financial struggle is our own doing. We banked on the future we anticipated, and failed to properly handle our finances in the midst of financial blessing. So now, we are in worse shape than we might have been. That is our fault. That was our sin. We fully admit that and I have personally confessed that and asked for forgiveness.
Here's the issue: I had not forgiven the men who fired me. Therefore, I don't believe I have experienced the full forgiveness for financial sins we made. Did I lose my salvation? No. Was there ultimate forgiveness at the cross? Yes. Did this sin nullify the forgiveness purchased at the cross? No. What it did do was create a wall between me and God. I could not experience the fullness of that forgiveness until I forgave. Now I can.
Two warnings come with this, however. First, there is always the assumption, by some, that this is only apparent forgiveness. I'm doing it to fool you, the reader, or God. Well, God isn't fooled. Turns out, He knows me pretty well. You, the reader, can believe what you will. I can't prove it to you. But know that this blog does not exist for me to put on spiritual airs and attempt to impress you with my holiness. That is not the type of pastor that I am. I'm real. I struggle. I fail. I fall. I don't have it all figured out. To quote an author I'm currently reading, I'm a person in need of change helping people in need of change. My prayer is that when I learn, you learn.
The second warning is that forgiveness for my sin does not necessarily mean I get a get-out-of-jail-free card. I do not anticipate a check in the mail tomorrow clearing us of all our financial problems. I don't believe it works that way. What it does is clear my relationship with God. I am now able to hear Him again. I am able to accurately respond to His leadership through both church planting and the financial maze we have created. Do I still hope for a miracle? Absolutely. Do I hope my forgiveness leads to it? Certainly. Do I think I deserve it? No. Do I deserve anything? No, unless it's condemnation. But Romans says I don't get that either. I'm forgiven.
So I'm moving on. There will still be some hurt, some anger, a good bit of mistrust, but this will dissipate. Especially as I pray for the ones that wounded me. So here's the proof, you doubting Thomases: if the ones who hurt me read this, or hear of this, call me. You know my number. Allow me to tell you I forgive you and that God meant this for good. That would be a far cry from what I planned to tell you if I ever saw you again.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
So, now you have some details to pray for. The name of the church, the location, and the neighborhoods we intend to reach. We covet your prayers. There are a million and one things to do and just about that much money is needed. Please, remember to lift us up to the only One who can really provide all we need.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Here's why that's funny. Some people believe in a clock-maker God. Sometimes I wonder if God's clock isn't broken. See the irony? Let me explain.
The problem here is that God is not on our agenda. I can't see later on tonight, much less months down the road. And He can. He knows what we need before we need it. He knows what our bank account says, He knows the upcoming bills, He knows the work involved in planting a church and all the things that I need to accomplish.
The hard part for us is the waiting. I want to know now what will happen in a few days, months, years. Or at least I want a few details so I can make plans. But, there I go, wanting to make plans. The main thing is that it isn't about me or my plans. The world does not revolve around me, it revolves around God. Most of the time, I don't like that. Occasionally, it's a good thing, but usually only when I'm counseling someone else. I don't like it for me.
This is a dilemma for every Christian. We want just enough information to head out on our own. "Thanks, God. I'll take it from here." I've made that mistake too many times in the past. I know the repercussions and I know the warning signs of when it's about to happen. The stupid thing is, I usually forge ahead anyway. Let me tell you, it's a struggle not to run out ahead now, too.
So, what do we do? Well, we wait. We wait when it doesn't seem the bills will be paid, even when you know you are exactly where God wants you to be. We wait when it seems the current task is about to overwhelm us. We wait when we aren't sure of the next step and the answers aren't rapid-fire from the mouth of God. We wait.
Here's another reality: we might not be rescued the way we think we should. We might not pay the bills. We may have to struggle more than we'd like. The next step might not be the direction we want to go. We can take a great lesson from Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). When threatened with the furnace, they said it was okay. God would take care them. But here's the kicker, and I'll quote:
Daniel 3:17-18 "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. "But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."Ain't it great? Even if they weren't protected, they would still follow God. And it is just as much idolatry to go our own direction in decisions as it is to bow before a statue. We're just worshipping our own plans rather than a golden idol. And our attitude has to be the same as theirs. Regardless of the consequences, we must follow God. It may not make sense to anyone, including you, but we have to follow. Regardless of the fire. Regardless of the trials. Regardless of the fact that it seems God's clock is broken. It's not. We just need to set our clocks to God's.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
...brings good not evil?
...helps provide for her family while still being a Mom and Wife?
...makes sure her family is prepared for any scenario?
...takes care in her appearance?
...is dignified and faces the future with a smile of faith?
...is wise and kind in counsel?
...is a firm manager of her home?
...is praised by her children?
...is extolled by her husband?
...is charming, but not deceptive?
...is beautiful, but not vain?
...fears the Lord?
I'll tell you what's so great about it: it's great that I have one. I have a Proverbs 31 wife. I have a wonderful wife who wipes my tears, prays for me, fixes my lunches for work, cooks my meals when I'm home, picks up my clothes, washes my clothes, raises our children, and does her part to attempt to make financial ends meet, among 10,000 other things. She loves me regardless, forgives me often, doesn't get hugged enough, doesn't get kissed enough, doesn't get told how wonderful she is enough, and definitely doesn't get told enough how much I love her.
Honey, I love you more than my life. Second only to my salvation, you are the greatest gift God has given me. You most definitely should be praised in the city gates. And on the internet.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Joseph had every reason to be bitter. Admittedly, he had many years to get over his bitterness (and often this is how long it takes us, too), but scripture gives no indication that it took him that long. He at least was not bitter toward God throughout his ordeal. That much is clear from what he said about the temptation by Potiphar's wife. He said he could not sin against GOD, not just that it was bad to do it.
But, by the time Joseph came into contact with his brothers, he was not bitter and looking for revenge. He had forgiven them and was eager to reconcile. How much harder was it to forgive family that had done such a horrible thing than it is for us to forgive a church or pastor? No church has never plotted to kill me and then acquiesced to only selling me into slavery. And, again, they aren't family! Yes, they are a Christian family, a community, but they aren't blood. You might expect this kind of treatment from acquaintances but not your own half-brothers. Yet Joseph showed only love, kindness, and forgiveness.
Now, don't tell me all the horrible things that Joseph did to his brothers when they finally met. Joseph had to know if his brothers had changed. He had to know if they could be trusted. We can forgive a person, but it doesn't mean we immediately trust them again. Broken trust is more arduously regained. If you go back and read the story, it was Judah that offered himself as surety for the life of Benjamin. Judah - the same one who had the idea to sell Joseph into slavery. This is change. This is when Joseph knew that his brothers had repented of their sin.
This is what we pray for in those that have hurt us. We pray for obvious change. If we have been mistreated, sinned against, we should pray for a change of heart of the one that has done the hurting and that there can be a future reconciliation.
This begs the question: Am I ready for reconciliation with those that have hurt me? No. Not yet. Even though I know that what they meant for evil, God meant for good, the wound is still too fresh and the repercussions of their decisions are still too immediate. My prayer is that reconciliation can one day be achieved, but not yet. As the title says, bitterness continued.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
"I sense a bit of bitterness towards the church from you as well. How do you get over that? How do you forgive a place that hurts you, but yet is supposed to be the ultimate picture/place of love?"Outstanding question. The short answer is that I'll let you know when I get over it.
The truth is, this is not the first time I've been hurt by a church. I would dare say it has happened, at some point, at every church in which I've served. So I've been through it before and know the process fairly well. And it's no easy process.
The first thing to remember is that, though churches are supposed to be the ultimate picture/place of love, only God truly possesses that kind of love. When we want to see/feel/experience true love, He should be our first choice, not a group of people. But wait a minute, I didn't say forsake church in favor of a Kum Bah Yah experience in the middle of the woods. Church is extremely important. "Do not forsake our assembling together," the writer of Hebrews tells us. The problem is that the church/fellowship is made up of sinners, right up to the pastor. I know for a fact that every church I've joined has had at least one professional sinner as a member: me. This is a vital point to remember. We expect church to be utopia. Heck, most new Christians expect the Christian life to be utopia. It ain't. "In this life, you will have trials," said Jesus. Utopias don't have trials. They have Kum Bah Yah.
In the sinfulness of those that make up a church, you will have 110 agendas for every 100 members. Jesus prayed that we would be one, and occasionally, we are. But the majority of the time, sin is winning with many of the people involved. Sometimes with the pastor, sometimes with other staff, sometimes with various members. Those are the times we struggle. Those are the times that those of us who on that particular day just happen to be in tune with the Spirit have to trust the most. We trust that God will change hearts. We trust that His perfect plan will be accomplished. We trust that tomorrow, maybe more folks will be in tune with Him and we can move forward.
So the question remains, how do you forgive and move past the bitterness? Time and a continual revealing of God's perfect plan. Was it God's will for me to get hurt? I don't think so. Was it His plan for me to get fired? Maybe. Will the pastor who fired me be held accountable some day? I think so. Remember that Cyrus was used by God to punish Israel, but then Cyrus was punished for his arrogance. Judas was a primary instrument in the work of salvation, but he gets and deserves no kudos for it. So first, see the hurt in the grand scheme of God's sovereignty.
Also see the hurt as a lesson in what you will NOT do to people later. Will there come a time when I, as a pastor, must make the choice to fire a staff member? Probably. Will I do it without any warning, no opportunities to rectify, a termination letter that does not match the presented reality, and no severance pay for a family of four with a mortgage? Absolutely not. Even when administering deserved punishment, there can be graciousness. Learn from your hurts.
Finally, pray for those that hurt you. Sounds Biblical, doesn't it? This, I believe, is the hardest. I know when I pray for the man that fired me, it's fake. I don't mean a word of it, unless I'm praying for his downfall. But that isn't what we are to pray for. So I have to pray for his good anyway. Sometimes we have to pray when we don't want to because we have to. If we begin by praying that God will expose the wrongdoing to the ones that hurt us, it will make it easier to move on to better prayers for them. I hope that my prayers for the man who fired me result in him not doing it to someone else, and result in a softer heart for people in general. Our prayers must be for the betterment of the ones that hurt us or we just feed the bitterness. It may never happen, though. The people who hurt us may never change. But we will change because we prayed. Prayer doesn't just change people we pray for, it changes us as well.
Go into every new situation/church with fresh eyes and a fresh heart. Pray that it won't happen this time. Will it? Probably. Don't be naive. But if we go in with our guard up, we won't minister, we won't relate, and we won't reach people. We can't have the attitude that we'll hurt them before they hurt us. We have to be willing to be hurt. We have to come to the point where we can take to heart what James says:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Friday, March 9, 2007
I hope that it doesn't get too deep and philosophical, though that is to be expected at some point. I want whoever may come across this and read it to actually be able to gain insight from it as well. If God is speaking to me on an issue, chances are someone else is going through the same issue. My prayer is that what I learn will help them as well.
To give some quick background:
I was fired, by the pastor with no input from the congregation, from my position at a local church in October 2006. I'm not completely sure of the reasons because the information on the termination letter doesn't fit with actions of the previous 4 months. My assumption is that I was fired because of money. Millions of dollars of debt put into a building and land apparently necessitated the removal of a full-time staff member.
In the ensuing months, as we struggled to make ends meet without the benefit of any severance pay, God was beyond good; He was great. I had enough retirement saved to last us, I thought, 3 months. Through God's grace, it lasted a little over 4 months. We look back and we wonder how. Family and friends marvel with us at how we've made it through. Nothing is late, nothing has been lost. God has seen us through.
After serving in that church, it was clear to Etta and me that God was now calling me to be a pastor. So that was the direction I pursued. What I didn't understand fully until about a week ago was that He was calling me to pastor a church that I would start. We are going to plant a church. This is blow-me-away scary. There is no way I heard God right, and yet, it appears I did.
The fun part is how we got to this point.
I was put together with a gentleman who is pastor of a church he planted two years ago. He was interested in me being their worship leader. It was clear that this was no longer my calling, and we agreed that I was not the person for the job. He made an interesting statement, however. He said it was obvious God had brought us together for a reason, though it wasn't what he thought. There must be something else. I really thought no more about it. Until recently. Most conventions, in order to receive financial support from them, require new church planters to have a coach. Turns out, my coach will be the gentleman who knew God brought us together for a reason.
Other things led us here. As a CARES Team with ApartmentLife, we learned to make relationships with people in order to get them involved in church and/or lead them to Christ. Time spent in various churches, with various types of pastors and leadership models, prepared us for the type of church we will start. Times of previous financial hardship prepared us for a time when we will have to raise the funds start a church and, in the meantime, live on very little. The path we have been led down has been rocky sometimes, turbulent others. But throughout, God has been preparing us.
The most recent example is the church from which I was most recently fired. We have no doubt God called us here. The firing was not necessarily a part of God's will for us, but what the pastor meant for evil, God meant for good. You see, we have a home with a loan and interest rate we should not have gotten, a great family neighborhood with parks and pools, a church family that loves us and we love, and are settled in a place where we can raise our children and put down roots. God brought us here and gave us this place. We thought we would lose it, but it seems we were wrong. The church we will plant will be in an area near where we live. Kingwood will remain our home and we are grateful.
I've been studying Joseph lately. He didn't know why he went through what he did. He only knew that God was with him. What he found out later is that God was preparing him for greatness. This was done in 5 ways.
...Presented him to the proper people - beginning in the household of Potiphar connected him with Pharoah immediately (God worked it so I was introduced to my church planting coach long before I knew I would plant a church)
...Blessed beneficent behavior - when Joseph was faithful, both he and Potiphar were blessed (God has taken care of us through this time as we have struggled to remain faithful)
...Tested tempting traits - Joseph was handsome and could have been susceptible to lust and the political benefits that may have arisen from sleeping with Potiphar's wife (it has been tempting for us to take the reins and figure a way out without waiting on God, because I tend to believe I can handle it)
...Refined roughly - Joseph, though he did what was right, was still thrown in jail. He still needed to be further refined to the future position (Working three jobs to make ends meet is no picnic for me, but I know that this is one more step in the process)
...Further furnishes favor - Joseph was a blessing even in prison and was rewarded accordingly (I'm excited to see what God will do in the next few weeks in our lives)
If we are faithful to the God whom we serve, regardless of the circumstances, we and those around us will be blessed. Will it be easy? No. The best diamonds have suffered under the most intense pressure. But it's worth it. Even being fired is worth it. Because, we are being prepared for greatness.