Tuesday, December 20, 2011

new years...

We have come through a busy Christmas season, and, hopefully, we have escaped without injury—too many credit card bills, family fatigue, and the post-seasonal “blues”.  For Beverly and I it has truly been a wonderful season with intentional time spent contemplating the true wonder of the season.  That coupled with my November ministry trip to Haiti, Thanksgiving a family trip to Dallas,  a gathering of the local Barrett family on Christmas Day, and a myriad of special church opportunities to worship and celebrate has made this a truly blessed season!

And now it’s on to a new year…with the same potential hazards—exhausting ourselves emotionally and physically in frantic pursuit of all that a new year offers   If that sounds vague let me suggest that there is value in intentionally evaluating meaningful goals in a new year.  Prioritizing what is important helps in that discipline—negotiable and non-negotiable demands on our schedules.  I am doing that again as the new year starts.  I reflected today on my personal goals when I first came to Amador County the second time fifteen plus years ago.  I was  impacted by my reading of Petersen’s THE CONTEMPLATIVE PASTOR; in his preface he asks, “ How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule to make everything fit into place?”  He concluded that if no one asked him to do anything, he would do these three things as a pastor—pray, preach (“drenching” himself in the Word), and listen (it requires “unhurried leisure”).

I confess my years of ministry have not always reflected those three priorities to which I committed myself when I arrived to help birth Grace Fellowship Church.  But I believe they are still valid for me as a leader today, even in a time of personal transition.
1.       I want to practice what I say I believe about prayer.
2.       I want to preach (and teach) what I have discovered for myself to be true in God’s Word.
3.       I want to listen with “unhurried leisure” so I can better respond to the needs of others.

Petersen writes near the end of his book with regard to congregational expectations, “There are many other things to be done in this wrecked world and we are going to be doing at least some of these, but if we don’t know the foundational realities with which we are dealing—God, kingdom, gospel—we are going to end up living futile, fantasy lives.  Your task is to keep telling the basic story, representing the presence of the Spirit, insisting on the priority of God, speaking the biblical words of command, promise and invitation…”

Pray, preach and listen—these are priorities I affirm once again as I enter this season of transition with you.  It won’t be easy-my personal history reflects that.  But it is essential for me as I seek to pass the baton of pastoral leadership off to Pastor Mark and the other godly men with whom I am privileged to work.
What are your priorities?  How far away are they from the true landscape of your daily life?  Let’s seek God together and commit, with His divine enablement to a more intentional discipline in our lives of loving service to Him—that in the spirit of Romans 12:1, as an “act of spiritual worship”.  If we purpose to do that we may more readily escape the injuries of self-inflicted busy-ness and unfulfilled expectations.  Let’s hold each other to it!  Happy new year!

Monday, December 19, 2011

GRACE, PEACE AND HOPE...gifts that last

Someone walked into our home last night and looked bewilderedly at our tree. There are no gifts under our tree. They did not ask "why?" but I sensed they thought it strange. Maybe we are strange.

. 1. We told our family--no gifts for us. If you want to remember us, make a donation to "Dale's Fund for Haiti"--a fund to support pastors and teachers there.

 2. We don't need ANYTHING. Additionally, we may be moving in the years ahead and we have already accumulated more stuff than we care to move.

 3. For us, a Christmas card with a personal message is as valuable as anything we receive. It is nice to be remembered by our friends and family this way.

 One of our favorite Christmas activities is to sit on the couch and reread all of the Christmas cards and messages we receive. Most importantly, we are in receipt of the greatest gifts we can receive this side of heaven. I have had the privilege of teaching about those the last three weeks at Grace where I have the joy of teaching and preaching.

Grace, as revealed in John 1:14-18, is the gift revealed in the Incarnation of Jesus--God in the flesh--"full of grace and truth". What a blessing to know that because Jesus came to earth as a man--bearing our sins on the cross and paying the price for them, thus providing access to the Father--I now have forgiveness and am a child of God. That truly is a miracle of grace!

Peace is the result of Christ's work as well. Because He was the sacrifice for our sins, and because we stand by grace in His finished work in our behalf, we now have peace with God. Romans 5:1-11 details how that peace, the gift of God in Christ, allows us to live without the emptiness and hopelessness of our own pursuits.

Hope, then, is ours through the "encouragement of the Scriptures", the Word of God. In Romans 15:1-13, Paul concludes by saying, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

I've received lots of cookies and candy--thanks to all our gourmet cooks at Grace. Other tokens of love and appreciation have been graciously extended to us. Soon enough the cookies and candy will be gone, and the festive Christmas tree in our living room brimming with colorful ornaments and bright lights will be packed away. What remains will be memories of a wonderful Christmas season to be sure--and the enduring matchless gifts of grace, peace and hope in Christ.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Christmas dinner to remember

Fifteen of us gathered together at a beautifully-decorated home of one of our church families last night. There we enjoyed a dinner "fit for a king"--creamed shrimp and cracker appetizers,fruity sherbet punch, honey-wonderful green salad, honey-glazed ham, cheesy potato casserole, carefully-baked carrots, perfectly-cooked asparagus, with a finishing delectable chocolate cake and/or a tantalizing homemade raspberry-blackberry cobbler! Does it get any better than that?



First of all, all of us work together,and we do that in the context of serving others together through our local church.

Furthermore, we all share life together. Some of us have vacationed together; others have traveled to foreign countries together to teach the Word. Still others have labored together as staff members through good and difficult times.

Finally, we all love one another--this in spite of differing opinions, changing relationships, personal crises and the inevitable seasons of life.

So...while the setting was spectacular and the food was indescribably delicious...what I will remember about last night was the people who sat next to me and across from me--people I will always love and never forget, because they have enriched my life.

Thanks to my special friends.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Time with a daughter

I love my children--all four of them--and two step-children who I happily consider my won, Additionally, I have three daughters-in-law and one son-in-law who are a special part of the extended family we call our own.

Occasionally--not nearly often enough--we get to spend time with our children. We were recently with two of our sons and eight of our grandchildren over Thanksgiving and we will be with one of my sons and a daughter and their families--including three grandchildren!--over New Years. These are special times for me, especially as I grow older and relish our times together.

Last week my youngest daughter who is single and a licensed therapist joined us for a few days, all the way from Nashville, Tennessee where she has lived for the last twelve years. Needless to say, I don't see her nearly enough so this visit was one I anticipated with excitement.

When i reflect upon our time I realize that we really didn't do anything spectacular---except spend quality time together. That included a morning walk, a trip down Main Street in Sutter Creek (worth coming to see for yourself!), dinner out at a local Mexican restaurant, a favorite place in El Dorado hills, a brunch at Andrae's (everyone in Amador County has sampled their exquisite homemade breads), and a quick stop on the way to the airport at Burger King(ugh!). We also drove to some familiar territory in Pine Grove where we once lived, attended church where I preached, and played cards (Shanghai, any one?) and sampled cheese and wine together.

A highlight was a Barrett reunion where all local family member joined us including Grandma, and pregnant cousin, Stephanie, who will become a mother again later this week. It was a special time of catching up with one another and sampling Beverly's exquisite snacks and Christmas cookies.

That sounds like alot of activity, but the centerpiece of it all was just being together. I loved reminiscing, talking about matters of personal significance, sharing our dreams for the future, listening to counsel from a loving daughter (remember, she's a therapist...and we asked her), and reaffirming the special place she has in my heart.

Daughters are special. They have a special niche in a father's heart and this past weekend my heart was warmed and enriched by time with my daughter. Hopefully, we'll do it again soon..