Someone responded to my most recent blog with the comment..."forty-two years serving a god who does not exist". What a sad commentary. I hope my blog did not solicit his response.
For the record...those forty-two years that have been punctuated with good times and bad times, typical of life. Some of the "bad times" have been the result of decisions I have made and paths I have chosen that were self-indulgent or just acts of pure rebellion against God. Other "bad times" have been the result of sin in a fallen world, and the choices of others around me that impacted me with a measure of pain and discomfort.
The "good times" in ministry have been frequent--people rescued from addiction, marriages restored, lives enriched, fulfillment discovered, relationships healed--all the result of relationships built with the God who does exist.
The existence of God does not mean "bad times" are non-existent. It does introduce us to a divine resource that equips us with His grace and mercy for life's most demanding situations.
Forty-two years and counting...what a privilege to serve God!
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
As I listened to someone's story today, I thought to myself, "This is so unfair!" Armed with my "fix-it skills", I lamented the fact that there was nothing I could say or do that would make any appreciable difference. The suffering this person was describing, though seemingly undeserved and misplaced at the hands of evil men, is her life.
I am reading Randy Alcorn's voluminous work, IF GOD IS GOOD... It is a book of more questions than answers but it has challenged me to work through my own subconscious interrogation of God when I can't make sense of things. For my own survival, I decided a long time ago that He is not just sovereign--BUT good. It wasn't as if I figured that out--it was a point of affirmation of faith that I embraced because in most situations I could see God's hand at work; in the situations that I questioned, I purposely determined to defer to God's infinite wisdom.
I applauded the indomitable spirit of my visitor today--she is surviving, though barely--in the midst of heinous circumstances. The road ahead will probably be even rougher; she is anticipating that with the appropriate apprehension. I see her fragile faith searching for a resting place, and as I prayed for her, I asked God to help her face the day with new courage and strength.
It doesn't seem fair. It isn't fair. It is unfair.
I will be praying for her this week. It is what i can do.
Friday, December 18, 2009
This morning I read the 103rd Psalm. A friend joined me later and I reread it to him. Later this after as I prepared my sermon for Sunday, I envisioned how it would be a fitting climax to my Christmas Sunday message about God’s matchless grace.
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse nor will he harbor his anger forever; He does not treat us as we deserve or repay us according to our iniquities, For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us…” verses 8-12.
These words are like a subtle fragrance in a smoke-filled room, a beautiful melody hummed in the corridors of a crowded mall. They breathe something so foreign to the normal environs that when noticed they cannot be summarily dismissed.
I entered the haven of my office early today with a dull headache and an upset stomach that would eventually cause me to cancel my care group and to come home early. Still, when I opened my Bible to read and meditate these words settled in my soul and have carried me into the quiet reflection of an unusual evening at home (most Wednesdays I am at our care group).
As I enter my 62nd year and I face the recurrent challenges of the ministry, I am struck by the theme of this Psalm---God loves me as a father loves a son. The characteristic that most draws me into His care is the notion that “He does not treat us as we deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” This statement of how God chooses to deal with us in the midst of our failures is a compelling component of His compassion and grace.
When I review the past year I think of unmet goals and unkept promises. It isn’t it important to list them—many have to do with the physical disciplines of exercise and diet and my ongoing struggles to treat my body as “the temple of God”. Other areas of ongoing concern include my penchant for worry, my tendency towards “workaholism”, my need to prioritize…and the list goes on. Sadly for me, many of these things were are areas of reoccurring concern, a signal that I am not growing as I should.
Still I am buoyed by God’s affirmation that His love is incomprehensively greater than we can imagine when we “fear Him” and seek to honor Him in our lives. Our heavenly Father is gracious in his forgiveness of our sins and His ongoing commitment to be “abounding in love” towards us.
Equipped with that knowledge I face a new year with an encouraged heart. I can remember my father saying to me “You can do better”, whether I was reluctantly mowing the year or begrudgingly assisting him a painting job as a teenager. Interestingly, I supported myself as a college student and young pastor through yard
work and painting, skills I honed at home growing up. All of that discipline and training was critical in my personal growth and development and my loving father administrated his care with a firm but gentle hand.
The process continues for me. A calendar change merely signal that another day has passed and we have tripped over into a new year. Nothing monumental...just more of the same…but the year changes from 2009 to 2010. And with the change, I recognize that for 44 years now I have been a follower of Christ and in September I began my 43rd year in ministry; with that there comes a growing sense of my dependence upon my heavenly Father. I am grateful that He loves me and forgives me., I am confident He will continue to discipline and direct me because of His love that is great for all who fear Him. That fear is a holy and reverential awe, and results in an ongoing astonishment that He, who knows me so well, loves me so much.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
I watched a move on my day off; it was sobering and sad. It is the story of a widowed father's pursuit of his children and their reluctance to embrace him. His wife has been the proverbial "glue" that held the family together and handled the communication. Now that she is gone, the father seeks to take on her role, after a history of heavy-handedness, high expectations and immersion in his work, all which he insists he has done for the sake of his family.
His now grown children are all going through their own struggles, none of which he has been privy to (hidden from him by his wife); upon visiting them he is perceptive enough to discover that life has been painfully hard--even though there are vestiges of success around them--and that their affirmative responses to his critical question, "Are you happy?" are a mask for their real unhappiness.
Nestled in the middle of this drama is the unfolding tragedy of the youngest son, who, before the movie is over, will die of a drug overdose. He is the son Robert Deniro--the father on display--has treated the most harshly in his attempt to motivate him to succeed as an artist and there is a moment of truth when he nearly dies from a heart attack and he confronts the shortfall of his own life. Though it is too late to make amends with his youngest son--he later discovers his son credits him for prodding him to success as an artist--he has a renewed opportunity for reconciliation with his other three children.
I fought some of those same battles as a father--working too many hours ("for them"--I would react defensively), driving my children (sometimes away) because of my perfectionism and not always being a good listener (because I was too busy talking). There were a few tears shed as I watched and did my own personal inventory.
Here's the good news. My kids are a success by anyone's standards. They survived me, and, now, though we might have differing opinions about my failures, I can be comfortable in the relationship we enjoy today. My children live on Nashville, Dallas and London, and I see them once or twice a year (not nearly enough!), but we are always in communication, and, gladly, it didn't take a heart attack to remind me of what matters most. It is the relationships in which we invest that bring the most joy, and, sometimes, sadness. When we know are chidlren are suffering, we experience a certain indescribable kind of pain. But what brings us our greatest happiness are those isolated moments when we know that "everybody's fine".
Go see the movie. Is "everybody fine" in your family?
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Our small groups at Grace are called "care groups", that in keeping with our church motto, "a church that cares". We believe that care groups provide a unique opportunity for people to connect with others in a way that is more intimate than what occurs in a large setting on Sunday mornings.
Wednesday is our care group night and we meet at different homes of those who are in our groups. A different person facilitates the discussions we have that include up to eighteen of us--if every one came. Last night we had eleven, a typical representation. Our care group also includes a time of sharing needs and praying for one another, as well as some refreshments.
At the conclusion of the evening,Beverly, my wife, suggested aloud that maybe our care group setting was what the early church was like. There we sat, huddled together, reading the Word, sharing our hearts, and praying for one another. It was an intimate and uplifting experience...and we had difficulty leaving!
Here's what I took from our care group last night...
1. Habakkuk 3 reports the thoughts of a prophet who is wrestling with God about His apparent reluctance to intervene in addressing man's sinfulness and injustice. In the end, however, he resolves, "...yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God, my Savior." All of us acknowledged our need to affirm the sovereignty of God and the certainty of His promises.
2. Many of our group have family members who are struggling with various issues; we agreed that our family concerns are a priority as we celebrate the Christmas season. We want our joy to be theirs because of Christ. So we will pray for our families.
3. Several of our fellowship have job-related needs. With the current economy we all are experiencing varying impact from the current depression. Those of us with more can help others, even within our group, as God directs us. That, I believe, encapsulates the spirit of the season.
4. There are mundane needs in our group, such as helping someone move furniture, that we can come alongside and share in together. We are waiting for a phone call to "spring into action".
5. Our group was reminded of a single woman who needs recurrent help--some of us have assisted her before--and we are looking for creative ways to respond to a current cry for help.
After coffee cake, hot cider and a cookie--too much for my blood sugar!--we went home chilled by winter's breeze, but warmed in our hearts by the experience of our care group.