Much to do, little time to do it and today I woke up with a huge head cold. It feels like someone is squeezing the top of my nose between my eyes with a pair of vice-grips. Fun fun!
* update * - Medicine kicked in, I can breathe again.
Flipping through channels I came across the "Praise the Lord" show on TBN. None other than DOG "The Bounty Hunter" Chapman was giving his testimony. He was as clear as one could get about Jesus Christ being Lord of his life. Pretty cool to see.
Victory in Jesus
Sorry to have freaked out a few of you by my last couple of posts. I appreciate your emails and conversations. The truth is we're always in Spiritual Warfare and sometimes it's not pretty. I've come to realize that it's better to act like you're in the battle and get dressed accordingly rather than to walk as a pedestrian through the middle of the battlefield with your ipod in hand ignoring what's going on around you. So... don't cry for me Argentina... the drama has never left you (or me).
Well, if the title of my post illudes to something cool that has happened. It has.
Going through the church mail today has been a treat. The garbage going on I've dealt with this week started to take a toll. Fortunately for me I have built a network of friends and family who 'got my back' (literally and spiritually) so I was fine by yesterday evening. Today I have had a great day and just a few minutes ago it got even better.
Today I opened up the mail to find that the church received 3 checks from 3 different places and all were unexpected. One was an offering from a former member of the church who moved away. As encouraging as that was the other two put a huge smile on my face.
One of the checks is from an elderly woman in another state who wrote me a note saying that her grandaughter recently gave her life to the Lord and has started attending Focal Point. This young woman spoke highly of Focal Point and the grandmother was so excited about what the ministry has done for her grand daughter that she was compelled to send a note of thanks and a small gift to help with our efforts. This note made my day because I obviously know her grand daugther. I've prayed for her and I've seen her go from uninterested to fully committed under our care. I LOVE these stories!
The final check that came in the mail came from a couple whom I don't even know. They enclosed a screenshot of our website with a note that simply said "Thank you for the kindness of ice cream at Caravel's" This event was an event we sponsored as an outreach to our community during the final week of July. This couple decided to help offset some of the cost of the event with their generous gift. Wow. How amazing is our God? What an encouragement.
So while I'm positive I'll never find myself out of the proverbial woods of Spiritual Warfare (we battle not against flesh and blood) I will continue to praise Him for he is good and faithful to complete the work he began in us. It's going to be an exciting ride!
Please pray a prayer of blessing on each of these who were such a blessing to us. I believe God spoke to each of them and they responded out of the overflow of their hearts. It's great to know that God is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I'm glad I'm on his side.
Spiritual maturity and growth is on my mind a ton these days. Robert Pooley has a fantastic post about it today....
"I chose to grow in my faith. Spiritual growth doesn't happen automatically. That's a myth. Spiritual growth doesn't happen because you attend a church... or serve in a ministry. It happens because you choose to pursue a relationship with God."
Amen to that Robert!
I've never been one to make everything that happens a Spiritual Warfare issue but it seems right now that I'd be blind to deny that I'm in the middle of it.
The Humility Commission
A few weeks back we licensed Calvin into the work of the ministry. Calvin is proof of the God-changed life. Lately Calvin has been teaching me more than I could teach him.
During the commissioning I washed Calvin's feet as a sign of servanthood. As I read from John 13 I told Calvin "Calvin as you pursue the Kingdom of God you will be misunderstood, attacked and disrespected. People you love will for whatever reason walk away. Your motives will be questioned and your vision challenged. In all of this remember that you're not serving for your name on a billboard or an up-front parking space. You're doing it for the Lord and you have to be faithful to Him."
I didn't realize how true those words would have to ring to me in a matter of a few weeks. This past week was one of the most challenging, frustrating, confusing and yet rewarding all at the same time. Several different balls were juggled in the air and some were tough and some were great. In the end I pray that the all work out in God's soverignty.
In the middle of all of this I was questioning my responsibility and how to respond to some of the things brought my way. Then I read a passage from John Piper's devotional (that I happened to start to work through this week) and it says the following:
What is Humility?
In 1908 the British writer G.K. Chesterton described the embryo of today's full-grown, adolescent culture called postmodernism. It's already a worn-out phrase. Someday readers will have to look it up in a history book. One mark of its "vulgar relativism" (as Michael Novak calls it) is the hijacking of the word arrogance to refer to conviction and humilty to refer to doubt. Chesterton saw it coming:
"What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert--himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt--the Divine Reason... "
An Outsider at "church"
Last night our small group did not meet so instead I chose to visit a local church to take in worship with people I don't know.
I headed for a large predominantly Caucasian congregation a few miles from my home. I arrived about 15 minutes early and went in to take my seat. The ushers gave me a bulletin which I read when I sat down. It was a prayer list of nearly 100 requests. I then looked at the inside of the guide and realized that I walked in on their 'prayer meeting'.
Although I pray and I normally wouldn't mind a prayer gathering, I felt that I really wanted to experience 'church' somewhere else so I found an exit and got back in my car. On my way out to this bigger church I recalled seeing a predominantly African American congregation much closer to my home. So I thought "why not?" and drove on over to this church. I've been in many 'black' churches so that wasn't as much of a big deal but I hadn't really been in an upper-class black church before.
Pulling into the parking lot I quickly noticed that I was out of place. As I parked my Maxima I scanned the parking lot and I saw Lexus, Mercedes and all sorts of expensive cars. Coming out of those cars were people dressed in some of the finest clothes I had seen in a long time. Very sharply dressed and sharply groomed men and women began to head for the main entrance.
I thought to myself "Okay, this must be the church in my area where most of the wealthy African Americans attend services." I was dressed in my sandals and Old Navy shirt and I was definitely the only 'white guy' in the whole place. As I approached the front door I noticed a woman handing out bulletins dressed in all white complete with white gloves. I thought "that's different". When I walked through the doors I noticed that she was not alone. ALL of the ushers and ministry personnel wore bright white outfits and all of the ushers had white gloves. It was very different from anything I had seen before. On their website the church claims 3,000 members. I'd guess there were more like 250 in this evening service and the room probably seated 1,000.
I won't go through my entire experience because it would take an hour to describe but I'll highlight a few thoughts from the evening.
1. They value decency, order, quality, education, respect, loyalty, beauty, among other things.
2. The way they took up offering was by having everyone stand and line up toward the center isle. As the usher dismissed your row, you walked to the altar and placed your offering in the basket. Nearly everyone (during an evening service) got up and brought 'something' forward.
3. Many of the African American worship songs speak to overcoming struggles. I knew that before but it was a huge reminder to me last night. David Crowder doesn't get much play there :)
4. I could completely see why so many African Americans embrace 'church' as a form of social strength and pride. Throughout the night I observed the Pastor pointing out SO MANY who have achieved something (degrees, promotions, etc.). It was obvious that he was sending a message to his congregation that "you can do it" and "there are plenty of role models in this church". I think it's safe to say that if a young black man attended this church for very long he'd get the support, encouragement, training and anything else he'd need to succeed. It was almost as if the Pastor takes it personal to be sure his people do not make excuses for less than the best in their lives. This attitude was actually pretty biblical too. It wasn't a 'name it, claim it' theology. It was very much one of "walk in faith and obedience and God will bless your efforts" type of thing.
5. These people LOVE and adore their Pastor. He's been there 23 years and apparently all day yesterday he did not speak. He had 3 up and coming ministry candidates speak. This Pastor trains people in ministry and apparently yesterday three of his students delivered the message. The woman who spoke during the evening service is currently getting her Masters in Theology. She did a very good job with her presentation and was right-on theologically. Prior to her intro a guest musician told the congregation "You have a fantastic Pastor" and the whole place rose to their feet to give he and his wife a standing ovation. I thought that was very special. He's obviously been a strong but loving leader to this congregation.
With this experience I was definitely in the minority. My jeans and sandals were not the norm. I am white. I didn't know all of the church traditions so I found myself watching others. I didn't know the lyrics to the songs so I had to fake it for the most part. No one took time to talk to me. Granted, this was an evening service and one where they do not see many first time guests but that was the only downside to the whole thing. I liked it though. Being a Pastor I haven't felt like there were many occasions where I could feel like a genuine guest again. This church brought me back. Now if I was a true guest I wouldn't have known other things in the service like the 'doxology' and various biblical references the audience was expected to know.
All in all I am glad I ended up there. It wasn't my comfort zone and I think that's a good thing. I think heaven will initially be out of my comfort zone. I'll be in awe for a long time in heaven and it will be nice.
This experience more than anything caused me to question much of what we do at Focal Point in the way of caring for our guests. Different is good. It was a cool experience.
When was the last time you worshiped outside of your comfort zone? Do it. It will be a learning experience.
Congrats to my boy Tadd! Go God.
If you haven't read Tadd's account of what God is doing for their new church plant, go check it out. I LOVE God-stories like this. Many times when you're out busting your tail you miss seeing God's hand because you're too busy trying to fix it all. It's refreshing to see God's hand CLEARLY all over this church in the womb. What a rush Tadd must have right now. Congrats again Tadd!
Congrats to Mr. Arment:
Ben recently celebrated the birth of his 2nd son 'Dylan Jefferies'. The Arments are an amazing couple who were a big encouragement for me when I was looking to plant a church. In addition to the new baby, Ben and Ainsley recently purchased a new home (still under construction) and Ben took on a big project for the upcoming National New Church Conference. Ainsley and some friends just recently started a pretty cool site for area moms called RestonBaby.com. I'm so excited to see God's favor all over Ben. On top of all of these events he has been a blogging machine. Everytime I open up my bloglines account he's got two posts waiting. Congrats my friend.
I saw this on the news yesterday: Duane "Dog" Chapman arrested.
Dog was arrested at the request of the Mexican government for arresting a convicted rapist who had run to Mexico to hide. Yeah, the same Mexican government who is in shambles right now over the disputed election of their new president. The same government who until just the year 2000 lived under 72 years of one-party rule. The same government where police make the equivilant to $5/week and you can get away with anything if you bribe enough...
That same corrupt government is requesting an arrest of Duane Chapman because in Mexico bounty hunting is illegal. But apparently using Mexico as a refuge after brutally raping women is not as illegal. Andrew Luster was apprehended by the Chapmans outside of a night club. The kicker to me is that our U.S. Marshal Service went in to get Chapman. So let me get this straight. One of our convicted rapists runs to Mexico. One of our bounty hunters goes to bring him back to justice in America. Mexico says that we can't arrest our people in their country. In the meantime, Mexico extradites the criminal back to America where he is given 124 years for his crimes and DOG is being arrested by AMERICAN authorities at the request of Mexico... the country where a rapist was hiding?
Sweet. I completely understand. ????
By the way, Mark Driscoll enjoys Dog Chapman as a mondern Christian Evangelist.
This morning after our bible study I was driving back home when I noticed that gas prices near my house are coming down. Today they are $2.29 on average. I glanced down at my gas gauge to see if my wife's car (which I steal whenever I can) was in need. To my shock... I mean delight... it was in fact full. My mind shifted to my college days when for one semester gas at a gas station behind the college was only $0.72 per gallon.
The reason I recalled those days was because today when I noticed the gas at $2.29 I got excited. Then I quickly thought "Why am I excited about gas that's 3 times what it was 8-10 years ago?"
My mind then drew a parallel to my own life.
I started to think about how we can easily buy into the temporal circumstances as if they were branding etched into our lives permanently. I think God would be able to use a 'heckova' lot more people for his glory if only they wouldn't buy into their present circumstances. We've bought into the wrong idea of 'contentment'. Paul said that he's content in all things. But he didn't say that he chooses to stay in any one of those circumstances. The reason his life had such a pendulum shift was that God moved him from city to city, people group to people group and from social status to social status. Paul's contentment was not in embracing mediocrity or failure. His contentment was in the understanding that he served a big God. In the meantime he kept growing, kept studying, kept improving whatever place he found himself.
Joseph was another guy. No matter where he was placed he rose to meet the challenge. You couldn't put that dude in a prison because he would quickly rise to the top. God's men and women can be put in any circumstance and they will rise. That (I believe) is a sign of leadership God has called some to.
Then there is the other side. The other type of people tend to buy into their present circumstance. Another illustration would be good here. You see, I was raised poor. Yeah... I know that now. I don't think I fully understood that then. If you watch pro sports you hear guys talk about what being poor did for them. For every person who has succeeded and come out of poverty there are a dozen or more who have embraced that lifestyle. They've made the leap from "This is my present circumstance." to "This is who I AM."
I know what its like to stand in line for welfare cheese. I know what its like to live in a government project. I know what it's like to get jumped simply coming home from school. I experienced a lot as a kid. For some reason (still trying to figure it out) I did not embrace the status quo. I know what a roach fogger is. I know how the banks work to the point I could (If I wanted to) juggle bank accounts to stay barely above board with my finances long enough to cover my bills. But knowing all of these things doesn't mean I've embraced them. Thos situations were simply circumstances. Circumstances from which I rose by God's grace.
This morning we read in 1 Peter 5:6-7:
6Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO PASTORS?
Today I also thought about the men of God who fall from their spiritual positions. None of us are different. We all face the same pressure, same trails, same challenges, same enemy. We all are tempted the same and face the same inward struggles. Sure we try to ignore it and wear the spiritual red cape but it's a front. So what separates the spiritual lightweights from the spiritual giants? The giants don't view themselves as lightweights. They never embrace the lies of the enemy and they have a HOLY DISCONTENTMENT. The spiritual status quo isn't acceptable.
In our ministries we can never accept that our present situation is acceptable. Yes it is a fact of where we are today but the moment we embrace status quo and accept the branding, the vision dies and we might as well manage a McDonalds because we lost the anointing of God. I don't care if you church stays at 20 people for 20 years... never lose the passion to reach the lost! I don't care what your present circumstances are... never lose the Holy Discontentment for God's move. Henry Blackaby isn't the only one who can experience God. The message I'd give for the inner city poor is the same I'd give to Pastors around our country... do not embrace a label. Do not mistake WHERE you are for WHO you are. Maintain a Holy Discontentment about your present ministry, your family, your relationships, your study and anything else God has brought you to. You and I should stop only when God Himself tells us to stop. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and I assure you he'll guide you through it.
Just because we were "poor" when I was young, I never thought of myself as "poor". Just because your church runs 20 right now, do not think of yourself as a Pastor who can only lead 20. It may or may not be the case but that is for God's sovereignty to decide, not yours. The movement you embrace your present circumstance as if it is who you are at the core, God can not bring you to the next level.
Men and women of God let us have a Holy Discontentment.
What if everything we've done up until now has simply been a foundation for what God would have us do tomorrow?
I've come to believe that life is in fact this way.
If you're like me, you are a self-starter and driven in your endeavors. You look at obstacles as merely hurdles set as an opportunity to achieve. Without hurdles the word achievement loses its value and the celebration following achievement seems trite.
As I look back and see the 'milestones' in my own life I recall viewing them as culminations, endings and finish lines. Many obstacles I see in the rearview as things that tested my metal. I sometimes catch myself thinking "I'm glad I won't have to do that again". The reality is that each of these trails were simply part of the foundation that has brought me to where I am today.
What if God in his sovereignty put you through everything you've been through because he needs to prepare you for where you're going? What if things don't work out the way you want them to because God is working out a bigger plan? How willing are you to give up everything in your hands to use your life to glorify God in ways you could not do in your present circumstance? Is it your 'plan' or your 'position' or your 'purpose' or is it all about the mission you've been assigned?
Even in our work for the Lord we can find ourselves unwilling to strive for the best because it may involve change for the leader. As we teach people to suffer change for the name of Christ we rest on our past sufferings as if they were the letterman jacket or a class ring that gave us rights to rise above the common folk. I'm at a place in life where I want above all else God to gain glory and I'm finding that on a regular basis He presents me a new challenge that requires every ounce of my past experience to accomplish.
"He must become greater, I must become less."
Life of the Family Man
I figured for posterity and to allow my friends to see into my world I'd share a little Labor Day weekend recap.
Last weekend was a busy weekend for us. We traveled 4-5 hours each day for 3 straight days.
On Saturday we drove over to Lynchburg to visit with my best friend's wife, Amber and son, Lawton. They flew in from their home in Texas to visit their family. We met them at Thomas Road Baptist Church and took the kids to play in the play yard. Their son Lawton is about 5 weeks older than our son Caleb.
On Saturday before we met up with Amber we had lunch with some of our former youth who are now students at Liberty University. Ashley is a freshman and Mikael is a sophomore. Caleb is a ham.
On Sunday we drove up to Annapolis, MD to attend my sister's wedding. This is yet again proof that God has blessed me. How I married such a beautiful woman is beyond me.
On Monday (Labor Day) our family drove up from Annapolis to Baltimore (my hometown) to do some tourist activities. It was so strange on this trip. We really felt like tourists. It was the first time I've ever gone home and felt that way. We spent the morning at the Aquarium and then spent some time in the afternoon at the harbor. If you ever visit Baltimore you MUST go to the fudgery and enjoy the entertainment and fantastic fudge. They make the fudge right before your eyes and they sing to you while doing it. I understand that they have these in other cities although Baltimore is the only place I've seen it. Not to mention the soul and harmony you get in Baltimore is unique I'm certain.
In fact, the sound is so unique that this location produced the R&B group "Dru-Hill". Dru Hill were a few guys who worked together at the Fudgery and won the company-wide sing-off. They were signed to a label and they named the group after Druid Hill... an area in Baltimore City.
We topped our day off with a walk around the Baltimore Harbor. The triangle building behind us is the National Aquarium. It's a great place to visit if you make the trip to MD.
I'm very much looking forward to this fall and winter. We're going to be undergoing some big changes which will dramatically improve our church. God has opened the door to something that will be the biggest challenge I've ever faced in ministry. The great thing is that this will also be possibly the most rewarding move since we started the church.
I've been silent on the blog for a while mainly b/c this is consuming my thoughts and I haven't wanted to get into details. I won't get into details until we've finalized everything but for now just toss up a prayer or two for our church and all God is doing. Thanks.