Michael B Linton

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Summerlake Baptist Church

That is the name of the church we will be planting. It will be near a master-planned community on Lake Houston south of Kingwood/Humble called Summerwood. This area is growing like crazy, to the tune of 7500 K-12 students over the next 3-4 years. It is primed for a church.

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

Funny...some only believe in a clock-maker God.

If the above title seems obscure, let me help you. A very watered-down version of Christianity is Deism. It believes that God does not act in the world anymore. He is kind of like a clock-maker. He created the world, wound it up, and let it loose. Thus, He's a clock-maker God.

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

What's So Great About a Proverbs 31 Woman?

Really, what's so great about a woman who...

...brings good not evil?
...helps provide for her family while still being a Mom and Wife?
...is strong?
...is compassionate?
...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

Bitterness, continued.

The best non-Jesus example of the proper handling of bitterness is Joseph. Yes, this is an outflow of what I've been studying lately. That's how this thing works.

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

Bitterness tastes bad!

Here is a question posed to me:

"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:

James 1:2-4
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

"Hey look...another blog!" or "Being Prepared for Greatness"

I've now entered the fray. My plan is that this be a place where I record what God is telling me at that particular time. Hopefully, it's always profound but I imagine that it will usually only be profound to me.

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.