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I will speak at my first funeral tomorrow. Our pastor is officiating, but I have been asked to speak as well since I am the associate pastor and the deceased is a member of our church. To the extent that we are able to know such things, it is a relief to know that he was a Christian. What does one say otherwise? His name is Sammy.
Two things stand out when I think about him. First, it was always apparent that he loved his wife, who whent Home a couple of years ago. They didn’t have a lot of the things we think of as important, but they had love. Life doesn’t have any meaning without that.
The second thing is that our church was his family. Our pastor is managing his estate because there was nobody else who could be found. it points to the importants of relationships in the church. Reach out to those around you. They may not have anyone else. Treasure life. You don’t know how long you will have it. Treasure the lives of others for the same reason. There was no immediate reason to suspect that Sammy’s death was coming so soon. We didn’t know him as well as we probably should have. We did go to visit him a couple of times. His passing has caused me to stop and think about the relationships I have both inside and outside of the church. I am motivated to pursue them with purpose.
I ask your prayers for all of us as we absorb the shock of another death so close on the heals of losing a well loved member last year. We’ve had quite a few since Linda and i have been coming. I believe in the mission of this church, but if we do not find a way to revitalize it, we will quite literally die.
I get to preach on this today and I’m excited. I wrote recently of how despite all my supposed disqualifications God has brought me into the calling He gave me. I want to share the joy of that with our church and illustrate from the Bible that when God has placed a calling on your life, You are not big enough to mess it up. To say that does presuppose one thing, that your heart is right before God. Even so, if He wants it, He will have it. I wish I had time to put it all down in writing, but if you’d like to hear the full message it will be posted later this evening on our web site. If you’re on Facebook, like our page to get notified when we post new material.
I am amazed, encouraged, and humbled when I read about the people God used to accomplish His great purposes in our world. The book of Genesis alone is quite a story. Abraham treated his wife shamefully. Isaac repeated his father’s mistake. Jacob was a liar and a cheat. Joseph had the makings of a spoiled brat. At best he was imprudent in sharing his grandiose dreams with the family already jealous of him. Things don’t get any better for him as he goes into slavery and then to prison on a trumped-up charge. Yet because he remained diligent in all that he did, he became Israel’s first great deliverer as second in command of Egypt, at the time the world’s greatest nation.
Moses had some kind of speech impediment and an anger management problem that got him exiled after committing murder. He offered so many excuses when God showed himself at the burning bush to call him to deliver Israel from slavery that he made god angry (Ex 4:14.) Yet he did deliver Israel and gave them God’s laws. In Judges 6 we find Gideon, hiding in a hole and yet called a valiant warrior by God’s angel (Judges 6:12.) He would go on to deliver his nation with an army of three hundred men.
Then there’s David. We find his story in the books of Samuel. Anointed king while a lowly shepherd, the youngest in his family, seemingly considered unworthy of consideration even by his own father. After proving himself worthy of the honor he was instead exiled as the jealous king Saul tried to kill him. He was called a man after God’s own heart, yet he committed adultery and tried to cover it up with murder. God’s promise remained, and Jesus is called the son of David. The difference between the sin of Saul and the sin of David is their responses when confronted. Saul made excuses. David repented. There are more examples, but let’s move on to the New Testament.
One might have expected Jesus to pick the best of the best to be the followers who would spread His message throughout the world. Maybe He did, but we probably wouldn’t see it that way. A third of his chosen team were fishermen. One was a tax collector, another a rebel, another a pessimistic skeptic, and another a traitor. None of them really understood what he was here to do until after his resurrection. They seemed to be constantly squabbling over who was going to be the greatest in Jesus’ new kingdom (Luke 9:46, 22:24.)
Some of His disciples got special mention for their human failings. Peter is called a rock by Jesus, yet denies Him 3 times in His greatest hour of need. I could devote a whole lesson to Peter. I actually think we treat him a bit too harshly. He may have sunk, but he also got out of the boat and walked on the water. He may have denied Jesus, but he was also the only one to fight for Him and was one of only two who follow Him to the trial. Jesus made it clear after his Resurrection that Peter still had a job to do.
john, the one who wrote the most about love, didn’t start out very loving. He was mean spirited (Luke 9:52-56) and power hungry (Mark 10:35-39.) He must have thought his close relationship with Jesus would give him unique privileges. Yet Jesus had a special love for him (John 13:23, 20:2, 21:7,20.) John eventually got it because he wrote more about love than anyone else whose writing we consider to be God’s word.
We can’t talk about unlikely candidates for God’s work without mentioning Paul. He started out an enemy of the church until Jesus intercepted him. There’s evidence in his letters that he wasn’t a particularly gifted orator or much to look at. Yet no one did more to spread the message. A joke has been floating around the church as long as I can remember listing Paul’s resume as if he were applying for a pastoral position. The point is that none of us would be very likely to hire him. It’s just one more illustration of how God’s standards differ from ours.
My hope in laying all of this out for you is that you will be encouraged to pursue the calling God has placed on your life. Do not be deceived into thinking that your current circumstances or your past prevents you from doing what He has given you to do. Maybe you do not know your calling. Be assured that you have one if He is your Lord. Even if not, He will have His way with you if He has chosen you. Just ask Paul, Moses, or Jonah.
I am constantly amazed at His mercy and grace. I am just as human as all of these. I have hope only because He is my God. He gave himself for me, and I give myself to Him. Trust Him. Do the best you can, but do not fear failure. He is bigger than your failure. Even that will be turned to His glory. Only keep your heart devoted to Him.
It has taken eight months for me to get around to writing about this, but now feels like the right time. On August 1 of last year, I was officially ordained as associate pastor of our church, Bartimaeus Baptist Temple. God is fulfilling the prophesy He gave to me before I even knew enough to accept Him as Lord of my life. I could never have imagined the path that brought me here. I thought it likely that I had gone too far astray to be brought back, but God’s will is not so easily thwarted. Just thinking about it brings me joy. God’s mercy and grace seem indeed to be boundless.
I am still not sure I understand what has happened and what it means. If you’ve been following me you know that I’ve spoken highly of the book Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna. I am in full agreement with most of what they have to say. I believe the traditional church model, drawn from pagan practice, does not serve the body well. Where we part ways is on the teaching of church authority. By the way, I came to this conclusion before being ordained. J Even so, I did feel a bit of cognitive dissonance on accepting my ordination.
In the end, the decision was made because I have not come to any definite conclusions about how things should be done, but I do know that God has called me to be where I am. It became apparent to me that ordination best facilitated the roll God has given me at the church. It sounds rather calculating written that way, but that is in my nature. I did spend time in prayer and I believe that God intended it to be so.
I am amazed all over again every time I think about the circumstances that brought me to this place in my life. The childhood calling never left my mind, but I doubted its reality more times and in more ways than I can count. As a teenager in a pastor’s home I began to think that I wanted no part of what my father did, watching the trials that ministry brought to him. Yet when called upon to preach my first sermon on a youth Sunday at our church I took on the assignment with fervor. That didn’t end well. I dropped my notes and my confidence scattered on the floor along with them. Maybe I was not meant to be a preacher after all.
I don’t remember giving any serious consideration to a career in ministry. Even if I had wanted to go to a Bible college, my parents couldn’t send me. Because of the extra effort required to get through school with a visual impairment, working my way through wasn’t a reasonable option, and there would be no government assistance for a private religious institution. I suppose that if I had really wanted that we could have found a way, but I don’t think I gave it much thought. I headed back to Arkansas, and thus began what I imagined to be the death of any clerical aspirations I might have retained.
I could wish that God had chosen another way, but God’s choice wasn’t the problem. I certainly did not surprise Him with my choice, but the very pride that He would soon address led me to make the wrong one. The divorce was a humbling experience, if I do not forfeit said humility by the mention of it. I’ve written in somewhat more detail in other posts about the circumstances, so here I will only say it nearly destroyed me. Only when I confessed my sin did I begin to heal. This wasn’t supposed to happen to good little preacher’s kids. It was a strong dose of reality and it showed me who I really was. It is still painful to think about. Surely this meant I could never be a preacher. Some denominations explicitly refuse to ordain someone who is divorced and the rest generally frown on it. At least they did in that time and place.
I recovered, eventually getting myself together and starting a career as a computer programmer. To this day there remains a part of me that wonders if I missed what God really intended me to do with my life, but I worry about that far less than I used to after seeing what God did through it. It was all part of His plan, all my missteps included. Because I got a job in Dallas a couple of miles away from Hillcrest Church, I began attending. I began to understand love. I met my wife Linda there. Because of Linda, I came to Bartimaeus. Because of what I found there, I am now walking in the calling God gave to me.
While I was at Hillcrest, I became involved in small group ministry and led one for a while. I thought maybe that is what God meant. After all, wasn’t I doing essentially the same thing a pastor does? I liked that idea. I still had no desire to lead an entire congregation. The only problem is that’s not what God said. It is reasonable to suppose that He spoke in terms that I would understand as a child and that I might learn later the true meaning of what He said. That’s true however one interprets His words, but He said I would be a preacher. I believe He communicated exactly what He meant to my young mind. The only notion of a preacher that I had was the man standing in front of the Church on Sunday morning.
Eventually we all moved on, and I found new grounds for doubt. I didn’t feel that I did a very good job as a small group leader. Maybe I had sabotaged God’s plan for my life. This thinking was only reinforced after I got married. I might be treading dangerous ground here, but I do not think I’m saying anything that Linda and I have not discussed. Especially in the first couple of years, I thought maybe I was going to be punished for the rest of my life for marrying Linda. After all, we were both divorced and one can reasonably conclude from scripture that we should not remarry. At first she had no interest in the kind of ministry I was drawn to and absolutely did not want to be a preacher’s wife. Did I go against the will of God and finally destroy all hope of fulfilling my calling? Honest students of scripture may disagree on the rightness of what we did, but regardless of that I have no more doubt in His mercy in moving beyond it. Linda went through her own transformation, and she is the one who is responsible for bringing us to our current church home. She is the one who founded the ministry to the disabled that I only talked about. She wholeheartedly supported my decision to be ordained, knowing where it leads. She has embraced our calling and lives it daily. While I’m still caught up in my work, she is out making a difference in the lives of real people. I could not ask for a better wife.
I continue to be plagued by doubts about my calling. I seem so unequipped for the job a pastor must do. I do not speak well, though I am earning. I do not relate to others all that well, especially people I don’t know. I have been consumed with the desire to understand and experience God’s love, but I think I am a poor example of it. I am not able to drop everything and come running when needed unless Linda or someone else is available to help me do it. I have so much to learn. I still can’t fathom that God is willing to use me in this roll, but here I am. I am not and do not wish to be the senior pastor where we are now. Pastor David Whitmore is the man for that job. It may not be Sunday morning when I get to speak, but I am confident that God is bringing about exactly what He said. The when and how is in His hands. I marvel at what He has done and can hardly wait to see what He will do next. If he has made so much good out of my error, how much more when we give our whole harts to serving Him? I’m sure I’m not done making mistakes, but I no longer live in fear of them. He’s bigger than my mistakes, and He will accomplish His purposes.
The below paragraph is excerpted and modified from my prayer journal this morning. If you’re dropping in for the first time, this will make more sense when taken with previous entries. To provide minimal background, I am legally blind, my wife has Multiple Sclerosis. We attend a church that is designed to serve people with disabilities and we have founded our own organization to build more congregations that facilitate participation in ministry by everyone regardless of disability.
I can only do what I can with what I know, but I still can’t shake the idea that we should be bringing healing, not excuses and ways to make the best of life as it is. I know God uses evil for good, but should we then embrace the evil for the good He will do with it? If we ask that question with the word sin in it, few would ascent to it. Sickness or disability isn’t sin, but it’s still bad. Though we may thank God for using the bad for good, should we be thankful for the bad? It doesn’t compute for me.
I’ll keep doing what seems to be before me, but I can’t help wondering if we’re missing God’s best. I hesitate to even post this. I’ve wrestled with this question in my own life almost as long as I can remember. I was raised with all the scriptures. I don’t need to hear them again from self righteous children who have never had to live with these questions. Yet I write in the spirit of openness, desperately seeking an answer that makes everything fit together. Maybe I must wait until the Holy Spirit Himself chooses to enlighten me, and that might not be While I remain on the earth.
I should point out first of all that this is not a proper book review. To be true to my word to the person who commented on my opinion of Pagan Christianity By Frank Viola and George Barna, I read the follow-up book, Reimagining Church. If I am to do the book justice, I need to carefully study all the scripture references it contains and see if they really back up what Mr. Viola is saying. What I’m writing down today are just first impressions. I’m intrigued enough to go back at some point and do that research, because much of what he says makes sense to me.
I’ve also waited too long to comment on what I’ve read, so that all I am left with are impressions that largely preceded the book and that it only strengthened. So why write? I don’t have a good answer for that, except that it’s on my list of things to do and I like doing it.
I’ve gone to church all my life. I’ve spent time in several types of services. I’ve been Baptist, Pentecostal, Assembly of God, and Charismatic. I’ve visited a Catholic service and even a synagogue. One thing is common to them all. They all engage in a set of ritual processes that vary little from week to week. They all put people in front of the congregation who conduct them through the rituals. The people may participate only to the extent they are permitted. They are all different in many ways, but I have not been to one yet where I didn’t eventually begin to wonder, “Why am I here?”
I’m sitting on a bench or chair for one to two hours while we go through the same motions each time we come. In some churches I may stand for a while. Some people may even dance around a bit or run up to the front for a little emotional stimulation if the venue permits such things. Occasionally if people get real excited the preacher might give up his sermon slot to let it continue, but most of the time I am not convinced that anything more than that occurred. It’s not that I think it can’t. I’ve seen God work in those situations. I’ve received ministry in those settings. Any time God’s truth is spoken He can use it. Any time He is truly worshiped He will respond.
I am coming to think there’s a better way, and yes, the book encouraged me in this thinking. The traditional church setting, whatever flavor you like, cannot provide for the needs of the people efficiently. Churches have recognized this. The small group movement has been one of the best answers to the problem, and I am not sold on the idea that small groups within a traditional church can’t still be an effective way to deal with it.
That still leaves some good questions unanswered. If the best ministry occurs in the small group setting, do we need the large corporate meeting? They can be enjoyable, and there are many gifted teachers out there with much good to say. It would be a shame to limit their reach, but what of the resources it takes to maintain them? How much of a typical congregation’s budget must go to maintain a large meeting facility? Would not that money be better spent addressing the needs of the poor, funding missionaries, etc?
Yesterday Linda and I attended our first public gathering in support of Mission Accessible, the non-profit she has just founded to promote the spread of disability related ministry. It was a small group, some of whom were in open opposition to some of Christianity’s core beliefs. Yet as the discussion progressed I felt that we achieved in that gathering something rarely managed in a traditional church setting. Each person got the opportunity to share, and some felt comfortable enough to reveal aspects of their lives we had not known before and that I feel fairly certain would never have come out in church. That meeting had within it the seeds of a real “organic” church experience. Because we did not set out to do this and had no real plans other than to get to know one another and investigate the possibilities, I would not characterize it as a church meeting, but who says it needs to be? In future I would be more purposeful in orienting the group toward the pursuit of Yahweh, but I was excited by the potential. Honestly I am a little frightened by the prospect of trying to build something on our little group. We don’t seem to have the foundation we need, but there is still and will always be opportunity to add more. That’s what we’re about.
After saying that I feel I may need to reassure some of the folks who may read this. We’re committed to Bartimaeus Baptist Temple. We believe that its ministry (our ministry) is vital and have the greatest respect for our pastor and church family. We love you and will be there until God makes it clear to all of us that it’s time to move on. It would not surprise me if that time never comes. We will operate within the framework and authority of the church. We will also be seeking the Lord for what else He may call us to do, and I highly doubt that it will look much at all like a church as most long-time Christians know it. It will be the first of many. Most will meet in some facility or other, not because we need the buildings to be a church, but because the people we mean to serve need an accessible place to meet. Most homes won’t qualify. We will go to where they are and bring them if they can come. If they can’t come we will meet them where they are. It is our vision not simply to minister to people with disabilities, but through them. Our message is that all, whether disabled or not, are created with a purpose in His kingdom. We exist to provide the opportunity for love, fellowship, and purpose in a segment of the population often overlooked or marginalized. This is how I reimagine church.
I’ll start with a confession. My name is Larry and I’m a feedoholic…RSS feeds that is. Each day I have an hour set aside that is supposed to be devotional, but the first two things I open on my computer are Outlook and Firefox. God is gracious anyway, and that fits loosely into my topic this morning. Recently I discovered that Bible Gateway now provides several reading plans with RSS feeds. That’s perfect! I chose the chronological plan and put it at the top of my feed list.
This morning I read about the calling of Moses in Exodus Chapter 4. I’m not going to retell the story, so it might be helpful to read it now. Moses seems to have been one of the least willing people that God has called, despite his evident passion for the plight of his people, illustrated by his killing of the Egyptian. God keeps answering Moses’ objections until he finally asks outright to send someone else. God intends for Moses to do this, even though Moses doesn’t want to. God gives him everything he needs, including another person to be his spokesman. What intrigues me about this story is that God wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. I suppose Moses could have utterly refused, but I’m not sure he would have lived to tell about it. As it was he made God angry, yet God did not rescind his calling.
I believe we have the freedom to choose. Otherwise, the Bible’s admonitions to choose life and righteousness mean nothing. However, there seem to be times when God has chosen certain people for certain tasks and will not be refused. Other people who come to mind are Jonah and Paul. I am encouraged by Moses’ story. I have come to be uncertain of my own calling, and I definitely have my own set of reasons why it can’t possibly be what I think I’ve been told. I would like to think that I would not be so full of fear and doubt if God’s miraculous power were displayed before my eyes and on my very person, but God knows my heart and might well disagree. The encouragement I take from this story is that whatever my own failures or objections may be, if He wills it, He will make it happen. I do hope that I can avoid provoking His anger. He is worthy of all my love, trust, and obedience.
Since it’s been so long, and since just about all I’ve done is rant and stump for issues, I’d like to take a more personal approach today. It has been a busy season. I think I’ve briefly mentioned the new responsibilities I took on at work. I’m the technical lead on one of our department’s larger projects. This is a first for me and it has been a learning experience that sources tell me I barely survived whether I know it or not. It has become my life over the last few months. There are several reasons why I took this on. I’d like to say that the most important reason was the training for my future that it will provide. I suppose that’s true, but I have to ask myself which future I am talking about. Did I take this assignment to gain the leadership skills I will need as a pastor, or am I simply trying to set myself up for advancement in the company? My dreams seem to be at odds with reality. I think it’s safe to say that I have no burning desire for advancement. I am curious whether I could do it and I have gotten tired of my old job, but what I really want is the money. Personally I can be content with what we have, but I foresee the possibility that our needs will increase as my wife’s condition progresses. Medical costs would already be high without insurance and that doesn’t include much more than the medication. Many of my church acquaintances would say I should trust God and “step out in faith.” Maybe they’re right, but I am responsible before God to use what He has given me. I know the teaching on faith. I was raised in the charismatic tradition. I think that if He gave me specific directions I could follow them in complete faith. I don’t have those specific instructions. I know in general where He is taking me, but I do not know the way. I do have faith in His words in the Bible. They say: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim 5:8 NASU) Either I’m doing the right thing or I’m using the Bible to justify what I feel most comfortable doing. I honestly don’t know.
Before I disappear again, I just can’t resist pointing out some more good stuff I’ve run into in the little time I have carved out for keeping abreast of current events.
Another good story from Iraq
Cooling the global hot air
Sending your kid to college? Watch this!
The best defense against airline terrorism
Stem cell research that actually gets results
No more special privileges for atheists
What Discovery Channel should have discovered