Monday, October 27, 2008

The Two-by-Four Effect

How does one determine God’s will in a matter as compared to simply following our own path?

I’m reminded of Balaam and his ass (to use a KJV expression). (You can read about this account in the Bible in the book Numbers chapters 22-24) Balaam is a prophet hired by an enemy of Israel to curse Israel so that they could be defeated in battle. Balaam first resists but he is eventually convinced to curse Israel. On his way to the cursing his donkey stops on the path three times each time the donkey sees what Balaam is incapable of seeing, the Angel of the LORD with a drawn sword blocking the way. After enduring three beating for Balaam the donkey is miraculously enabled to speak and basically chastises Balaam for being so blind as to miss the Angel of the LORD standing in front of him.

It was one of those “DUH” moments in the Greek it’s called an ‘agogic” moment when we slap ourselves on the head and say something like “How could I have been so blind?”

I had one such moment recently. As you know, I became the pastor of Grace Community several months ago. Even before coming here I had a list of “goals” I wanted to see accomplished here at Grace. One of those goals was the creation of a prayer team to pray for the worship services and any specific prayer requests while the services were going on. In my mind this was an important goal but was a ways down the list of my priorities.

A new friend of mine who recently joined our grace community had been telling me about such a ministry he had been involved with at a former church and he was excited to share this with me and encouraged me to think about starting one immediately. I thanked him and assured him that it was on my list and I hoped to get around to it soon. (After I dealt with some other goals I felt were more important – at least in my own mind)

A couple of days ago we met again and over lunch he again brought up the prayer time and this time I was a little more receptive. I told my friend that I would be bringing it to the elders that evening at our elders meeting. My friend sent me some information that he had used when he developed this ministry at his previous church and that afternoon I made copies for the elders and stuck it in my folder for the meeting.

Our elder meeting run based on an agenda and the pastor gets an early slot for anything he deems necessary to share. I shared some things but decided to wait on the prayer meeting idea until later in the meeting depending on how time went.

The next item on the agenda was a discussion of how our latest series was going and if we needed anything to help bolster the series. One of my elders said that he had been praying this past week and the Lord had impressed on him the necessity of more prayer for our Sunday messages and he felt compelled to start some kind of prayer service for the messages!

Some people believe in chance encounters when it comes to spiritual things. I’ve come to believe that with God there are no chance encounters but God encounters.

I threw my hands up and said “OK God we’ll do it on your time table and not mine!” I told the elders about my meeting with my friend and showed them the material I had brought to the meeting.

We have not yet officially established the prayer time but we are off and running and in the process of creating it.

Sometimes God gives you an elbow nudge, sometimes a shove and sometime he brings out the 2 X 4 and smacks you upside the head to get our attention.

Here’s hoping that you learn to recognize the nudges of God

No one likes the 2 X 4!

Pastor Val

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I'm Sorry

Recently I guest lectured at a men’s nondenominational Bible study and the passage I was asked to deal with contained three doctrinal hand grenades. Each was potentially incendiary depending on one’s particular faith tradition. I thought I had managed to negotiate the mine fields rather successfully speaking truthfully about the various views and stating them accurately and then giving just a short explanation about why I felt that one view was most likely correct.

I was dealing with the last issue regarding Jesus and the possibility of siblings. I came to the end of the issue and stated that being a man I could not believe that Joseph would live his life married to Mary and continue to be celibate. I mentioned that while I had accepted the invitation to speak that my wife had come in to visit me and that I was anxious for the meeting to end because I was looking forward to spending the rest of the evening with her.

I heard a week later from the facilitator of the group that the following week about 10% of the men were offended that I had told them that I was anxious to get back to my wife so I could “be with” her (as an aside, I wonder who they think I should “be with” if not my wife)

The entire lecture was negated in the mind of these men because of a comment attempting to explain that the natural course of a marital relationship included something that God had hard wired into every man’s DNA including Joseph.

I asked the facilitator if he had suggested to the men if they should speak to me about the situation which would be the correct way of handling the “offense” but to date none of the men have seen fit to do so.

So I have decided to blog my apology for the world to know.

I’m sorry for offending you and hope that you will forgive me! My intention was righteous if perhaps inappropriate.

Wow that felt good

Maybe I should get some more things I sorry for off my chest, too.

I’m sorry that I had to follow Matthew 5’s teaching to go to the men I offended so that I could worship on Sunday.

I’m sorry that these men have yet to be obedient to Matthew 18 in coming to me to discuss the situation.

I’m sorry that my house has not yet sold and I only get to see my wife every few weeks.

I’m sorry that in an attempt at being authentic you were uncomfortable

I’m sorry that I can’t live as a celibate!

I’m sorry that in an attempt to be transparent it was discovered that the pastor “has no clothes!”

I’m sorry that because of my brokenness Jesus had to pay the penalty for my sin!

I’m sorry that I have not yet come to the level of maturity that I should be at after being on the journey of spiritual maturity for almost 50 years.

I’m sorry for being a sorry person!

But I’m thankful for a Savior who loved me enough to die in my place

I’m thankful for a relationship with a loving and caring God

I’m thankful for a God who gives second chances.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to grow and continue to mature.

I’m thankful that God didn’t wait until I sought Him but came after me when I was broken

I’m thankful for a congregation who puts up with a less then perfect pastor

I’m thankful for YOU reader, for taking the time to read this blog.

So, what are you thankful for?

Drop me a note. I’d love to hear some of the things you are thankful for, too.

A sorry excuse for a pastor (just ask my critics)

Pastor Val

Friday, October 3, 2008

My Kingdom Go

For years I had heard and often repeated the prayer “Thy Kingdom come” without ever giving much thought to what I was asking God to do. A couple of months ago I read the book IT: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It by Craig Groeschel. He quotes Alan Redpath who said “Before we can pray, ‘Lord Thy Kingdom come,’ we must be willing to pray ‘My Kingdom go.’”

Wow did that quote really strike home for me over the last few months. I moved to a small town where to pastor a church that was involved with a community of churches from many different tribes. Those of you who know my background I’m sure are surprised that I would be involved with churches from different tribes. But then those of you who have followed my evolution won’t be surprised by my change and acceptance of those who come from different traditions. Perhaps it can be blamed on my doctoral studies or my post-modern spiritual bent or maybe God has just been doing a work in my heart and it’s starting to show to the outside world.

Over the last few years I’ve come to realize that different does not mean heretical. While I know that there often legitimate differences theologically and doctrinally, I also know that God’s plan for us is unity even in our diversity.

17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. Luke 11:17 (NIV)
Richard Baxter, Seventeenth-century Puritan minister once lamented “Is it not enough that all the world is against us, but we must also be against one another? O happy days of persecution, which drove us together in love, whom the sunshine of liberty and prosperity crumbles into dust by our contentions.”

As leaders we must be Kingdom minded and His, not our own personal kingdom. Kingdom minded people are more interested in the advancement of the Kingdom then our own personal agenda. Kingdom-minded people are generous and eager to partner with others in order to accomplish more for the Kingdom. It’s about Jesus – no other name under heaven is more important – not even yours! Or mine!

It’s all about Him (or at least it aught to be)!

Several weeks ago I was reviewing my message for the coming Sunday (yeah I try to plan ahead) and I was struck by the passage in Genesis on Abraham and how he lived open handedly and gave a tenth of his wealth to the King of Salem who was a gentile and also the high priest of El Elyon (God Most High). Abraham was the one God promised to father many nations and was the one through whom all of the world would be blessed and yet he practiced living open-handedly.

I was going to be teaching on this subject and I thought, “Won’t it be great if we could put actions with my words.” And sitting in my favorite Chinese Buffet it struck me exactly how we could practice living open handedly and promote unity of the Kingdom of God. We had a neighboring tribe (read church here) that was having a Miracle Sunday in two weeks. They were on their final push to raise funds for a new building. And I thought wouldn’t it be grand if a neighboring tribe we contributed to their building drive with a love gift expressing our unity amidst our diversity.

So after my elders gulped a few times they prayed about it and agreed that this was a God thing. I announced my hair-brained idea to our congregation. Their first though was what about our building fund. And I explained how God’s plan was for his servants to meet the needs of others and that God promised to meet our needs when the time was right.

We gave and I went across the street to deliver our love gift to our neighboring tribe and was very warmly received by the pastor who blown away that we would give to their needs.

Their big Miracle Sunday was a huge success for them and they far exceeded their goal for the day. The interesting thing was that the church sent over a delegation to our church during our morning service to thank our people for our love gift.

They were blown away our people were moved by God to practice what we were learning from Scriptures and healing between our two congregations was begun. God was honored and unity of the body was promoted in a tangible way.

Here are some of the lessons that I’ve learned from this experience

God wants to stretch our faith
God’s kingdom is a very big place.
God will bless us with more responsibility for being obedient
When we share Kingdom unity emerges
We are extending His Kingdom when we are obedient to His leading
We model true Kingdom stewardship
We need to encourage others to radical generosity
We really don’t know what the final outcome will be, because God is not done with us yet.

John Wesley once said: “Do all the good that you can. By all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”

Learning what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom

Pastor Val