Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for the Glory of God

It's my favorite time of day -- morning -- when everyone else is asleep and the house is perfectly still and quiet. Just finished reading a rather lengthy email / prayer letter from Bill Lawrence who is a former seminary teacher of mine. I always enjoy his communications. He's in his late 60s (I'm guessing) but still going strong in ministry, traveling quite a bit internationally. His latest email was a combination of his personal thoughts and ramblings while traveling by train from Budapest, Hungary to Constanta, Romania. His email brought back many memories for me as I have traveled some in that region: airplane from Budapest to Bucharest but also train from Prague, Czech Republic to Poland in the early and mid 90s. I remember the crowded trains, the interesting characters going "somewhere," the constant vigilance for pickpockets and loss of your passport, border guards who would mess with you a little bit, wondering if you brought enough food for the journey, etc.

Dr. Lawrence was a student at DTS back in the 1960s and started a church in southern California where he pastored for a number of years before returning back to Dallas as an instructor. He blends the experience of pastoring with the heart of training. I enjoyed his classes, sense of humor, and downright seriousness when the time called for it. He helped me to realize that my tendency toward being a loner would not be to my advantage when developing as a leader. Bill now heads a ministry called Leader Formation International where he teaches and develops leaders. He is frequently in Hungary and Romania meeting with church leaders and Campus Crusade for Christ staff. He's not a retiree hitting the golf course and driving the RV. He's chugging through the Carpathian Mountains, sharing sleeper cars with bilingual Romanians, and giving every day to building the Church and her leaders for the glory of God.

Lord, I pray you would give me as many years of serving you and that you would expand my personal involvement in the lives of others around the world who are "repenters" and have left behind lives of emptiness for the greater adventure of kingdom work, knowing that there was no loss in dying to self and the world because what is gained is eternal life.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

God's Mighty Power Considered

Last night we took a few minutes before bed to watch a portion of this episode
History Channel: The Universe -- Secrets of the Sun (not sure if the youtube version is legit, but you can see what I mean)
I don't have all the facts down in memory but this type of information fascinates me both for the grand scale in which it all happens (space and time) and the complexity with which it happens and sustains itself. I'm a firm believer that the design of the universe was not a result of blind forces over eons of time but the handiwork of a wise and infinitely intelligent God.

When God spoke to Job, he asked him to question the knowledge and wisdom of God:
Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the ends of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? Have you understood the expanse of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this. Where is the way to the dwelling of light? And darkness, where is its place, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home? Who has put wisdom in the innermost being or given understanding to the mind? (Job 38:12-13, 19-20, 36)

Monday, February 14, 2011

What a pleasant day today was...temperature was in the mid-60s, I only had to work my p/t job for 5 hours, the kids were able to spend a good amount of time outside, and love was in the air. Driving as much as I do gives me the opportunity to catch up on news or listen to NPR. I especially like Tom Ashbrook's On Point program. He is a great host and knows how to sum up a caller's or guest's comments succinctly and understandable. There is a wide variety of subjects that he tackles, and it's hard not to like him.

We shared some chocolate candy with the kids, gave them cards, and -- like I said -- had a generally pleasant day. I'll take it anytime. On the radio were different programs analyzing the concept of love. Of course there were some interesting takes on the meaning of love, but none can truly compare (in my opinion) to the Bible's description: "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) Of itself, the giving of one's life is a surpreme act because nothing of greater value to the giver can be given. But from the perspective of the Savior, it is even more a supreme act of love because it (the giving of his life in death) bore more that it deserved, guilt from sinners, of which He was not one. Not only that, but his death resulted in life. On the one hand, he is able to give life through his death to any who will humble themselves and receive his death on their behalf. On the second, his death was not final, for it resulted in a triumphant resurrection.

To me, this is how we know what love is because He first loved us in this manner. Good night, and Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Evaluating Yourself and Embracing the Struggle

Today's ministry at GBC was not unusual. Sunday mornings begin early, usually around 5am, after a busy Saturday. That combination is not ideal but it's what works for now. With a part-time job and a full-time job that has little defined "hours", I sometimes work 7 days a week. Again, not ideal, but it is what it is. These circumstances and my personality work together to push me into being disciplined. I accomplish more through discipline that I ever will through talent.

For the last 3 years, I've taught Sunday school, then led Sunday worship, then returned in the evening to lead a prayer meeting / Bible study. When Sunday evening finally rolls around, it's not uncommon to let down emotionally, being both tired and thinking through personal interactions, comments and nuances of people's words. The temptation is to let the weight of the day crush my spirit at night, and to do this week in and week out. It's exhausting and many times I feel like a failure.

Reading Christian biography teaches me that this is not an uncommon feeling for pastors. Andrew Bonar wrote in his journals of times of discouragement and defeat, although our evaluation of him today would be as a faithful man of God. Wiersbe writes, "God's choicest servants rarely evaluate their own ministries with accuracy and balance, and often Bonar was too hard on himself." I certainly don't see myself as a "choice servant" but I am sure my personal evaluations are off more than not. Even in the life of Alexander Maclaren, a mighty expositor of the Word, we see that he was never satisfied with his own work. Again, Warren Wiersbe comments, "let God evaluate your ministry, for often when we think we are doing our poorest, we are really doing our best."

One final word from a reading tonight: Maclaren wrote to some students training for the ministry:
I thank God that I was stuck down in a quiet, little, obscure place to begin my ministry; for that is what spoils half of you young fellows. You get pitchforked into prominent positions at once and then fritter yourselves away in all manner of little engagements instead of stopping at home and reading your Bibles, and getting nearer to God. I thank God for the early years of struggle and obscurity. [108]
So let me lay down and rest tonight. There are many who have their opinions of me and point out my failures; there is an enemy of God who harasses and accuses, but there is One who judges with a holy standard, who has already declared me "accepted in the Beloved". These years have been filled with struggle but they are working to my advantage because they are shaping me into the man I want to be. It comes with a price, and that is okay, because I know the purpose.

Congregate or Transform?

It is very easy to build churches in which seekers congregate; it is very hard to build churches in which biblical faith is maturing into genuine discipleship. It is the difficulty of this task which has been lost in many seeker churches, which are meeting places for those who are searching spiritually but are not looking for that kind of faith which is spiritually tough and countercultural in a biblical way.” [David Wells, Above All Earthly Pow'rs, p. 119]