DIFFERENT DAYS & ASSIGNMENTS

How Ecclesiastes 7:14 Informs Choices in Plenty & Want

In recent years I have returned to this text time and again:

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

Adversity has characterized the better part of my last three years. Great loss, grief, physical sufferings and more have visited my household.

assignment

The wisdom writer calls for different responses for different days. Adversity necessitates reflection.  Consider is the assignment. God brings both plenty and want into our lives. He is sovereign over all. We ponder this truth that we may not find out anything that will be after us.

Puritan commentator Matthew Henry observed:

Day and night, summer and winter, are set the one over against the other, that in prosperity we may rejoice as though we rejoiced not, and in adversity may weep as though we wept not, for we may plainly see the one from the other and quickly exchange the one for the other; and it is to the end that man may find nothing after him, that he may not be at any certainty concerning future events or the continuance of the present scene, but may live in a dependence upon Providence and be ready for whatever happens. Or that man may find nothing in the work of God which he can pretend to amend.

I have done my fair share of considering of late. That has been true even most recently as well. It explains in part the absence of blog posts for more than a month.

I developed a post-op infection in my hip following my November 2016 jaw reconstruction surgery. A draining wound has plagued me ever since. Doctors finally determined the need to debride the hip on March 10. They feared the presence of bone infection that would necessitate continuous IV antibiotics for six to eight weeks.

This past Tuesday proved an occasion for rejoicing. Frankly, I prefer this assignment. Who doesn’t? My Miami surgeon gave me a good report about the incision. He removed the stitches. He does not think I have any lingering infection. I should be fine. Talk about a day of prosperity!

That, in conjunction with my marriage last Saturday to Lady Jan, has brought me into a season of great joy. I’ve not been this happy for a long time. Thanks be to God.

Still, I remain mindful that I don’t know what providence will bring in the future. Different days will require different responses.

May God give grace to rejoice or consider as assigned.

SUPERIOR SATISFYING TASTE

Experiencing a Taste Better Than 10,000 Kinds of Food

Yesterday in Miami Dr. Marx examined the scan of my jaw now two weeks post Operation Robojaw Two. “Everything looks great,” he pronounced. And then, turning back to look me in the eye, added, “Only one more week to go.”

wires

My heart sank. I had nursed a slim home he might release the Miami Vice Grip inside my mouth a week early. Not a chance. “The bone graft is about the consistency of cardboard,” he explained. “Still needs to harden some.” Doc knows best. I kept my mouth shut. What else could I do anyway?

Honestly, the jaw wired shut thing has proven less problematic than I imagined. I could do without the sharp edges digging into my cheeks, but I quickly discovered orthodontic wax to help on that score.

The biggest deprivation? Food and its taste, of course. I posted about this from the get go. I have another week to drill down deeper on the spiritual satisfaction level through this latest episode of cancer and its dramatic impact in my life.

It’s not that I don’t get to taste anything. The choices on a liquid diet, however, are quite limited. I suspect I won’t make another smoothie for months once I can chew again.

I was reminded recently with Gordon Meier’s help, in his book Taste: My New Life Without Food, how the Bible uses the concept of taste with respect to our spiritual lives. Psalm 34:8 provides a perfect example: Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

The Hebrew word translated “taste” occurs eleven times in the Old Testament. In all but two instances it refers to literal tasting of food and drink. But two times it carries this figurative sense of experiencing something to discern its pleasantness.

Proverbs 31:18–referring to the virtuous wife–helps get the meaning of the poet in Psalm 34:8. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night (emphasis mine).

The Psalmist invites us–actually commands us–to sample the Lord, like a sommelier sips a fine wine, to discern/perceive His surpassing excellence to our soul’s palate. Those who do, he declares, find great blessing having taken refuge in Him.

So I have another week to go without the heavenly taste of stuffed omelets, fried potatoes, grilled salmon, chocolate chip cookies, just to name a few. How does a certified foodie like me do that? He has to focus daily, by God’s grace, on the superior satisfaction of Jesus and His ultimate goodness.

Have you responded to the invitation to taste and see that the Lord is good? Why not see for yourself? Sample some of His fare from the Bible where the words are counted sweeter than honey to the mouth (Psalm 119:103). The Psalms make a great place to start tasting!

Are you experiencing some deprivation of God’s good gifts leaving you hungry and empty? Choose moving toward Him for your soul’s satisfaction for the taste so superior in every way. You’ll be blessed in the refuge He provides.

Taste and see that God is not only good; He is enough.

 

 

OPERATION ROBOJAW TWO

Ways To Pray for My Latest Jaw Journey

In about an hour from writing this post, I head for Miami. Tomorrow morning the oral surgical team at Jackson South will open me up for measures necessitated from massive radiation treatment for head and neck cancer back in 2005. Nice way to spend a Thanksgiving, eh?

Jaw dental x-ray scan front view

I must keep this brief as time escapes me. In most ways my prayer requests remain much the same as they were for Robojaw One. You can watch that video post here.

However, a few specifics come with this second major step in the four-part journey to return some form of normalcy to my mangled mandible.

Before listing those, here is a brief synopsis of the strategy for step two. The procedure should last about six hours. It is scheduled for 8 AM on 11/23. It involves taking bone marrow and stem cells from my hips, mixing that with a protein I can’t pronounce, along with cadaver bone from the hospital reserve (nice huh?).

They mix that into a paste and rebuild what they call the “vestibule.” I asked the doc if he could install a narthex while he was in there, but I don’t know that he got my attempt at church humor.

Now for the fun part. They wire my jaw shut for three weeks. Imagine the irony. A preacher with his jaw wired shut. One of my armor bearing brothers at OGC has taken to calling it, Operation Miami Vice-Grip. Nice.

So, here’s how you can pray and I am SO thankful that you might:

  1. That I adjust quickly to the wiring of the jaw and am able to take in adequate nutrition so my weight does not drop too far.
  2. That I recover sufficiently that while I’m out on this medical leave I might make major headway on writing my book.
  3. That I might be able to return to the pulpit on Jan. 1. I really, really, really want to preach the New Year’s message for my church’s joy and encouragement, if the Lord wills.

Again, thanks a ton. Hope to report on another blog post soon from the other side of Robojaw Two!

POLITICS & CHURCH PEACE

So many things threaten the peace and purity of God’s church. Differing opinions about politics can divide God’s people in challenging ways. I offered the following to my church to help ground us in a kingdom view for guarding our oneness.

I awoke Wednesday morning to learn that Donald Trump tweeted a revised bio on his feed: president elect of the United States.

Illustration of presidential campaign buttons

Honestly, as with the pre-election realities―unlike anything I can recall in my lifetime―I find myself on this side of Election Day scratching my pastoral head as to what to make of our state of the union.

If ever I would categorize something as a Psalm 131:2 “too-high-for-me/above-my-pay-grade” scenario, the political drama unfolding before our eyes in 2016 qualifies as much as any of the other mysterious providences to enter my life this year.

While wrestling frequently over where to cast my vote, I have resisted occupying myself with the outcome in a hand-wringing, anxiety-ridden, prideful occupying of myself with what I can’t control. God has helped me calm my soul with weaned-child perspective born of His persistent work in my sometimes frantic fretting over baffling providences.

No doubt a wide range of emotions exists within our body this week, regardless of individual political preferences. In this article, I want to point us to David’s exhortation in Psalm 131:3 to hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. Consider these truths from God’s word to garrison that hope in your heart.

One, God is sovereign over all things. Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:3). Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning  and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,  and I will accomplish all my purpose’ (Isaiah 46:9-10).

Among all the things that moved and shifted overnight last Tuesday, Jesus didn’t. He remains enthroned in the heavens at the Father’s right hand until He brings all His enemies under His feet (1 Cor. 15:25). He reigns!

Two, God’s sovereignty prevails in specific over rulers, kings, prime ministers and presidents alike. For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another (Psalm 75:6-7).

Regardless for whom you voted—and I hope you did exercise your US citizen stewardship responsibility to do so—God has judged. He put down Secretary Clinton and lifted up Mr. Trump. Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it (Amos 3:6)?

Please don’t misread me. I’m not implying I consider the president elect a disaster. Nor do I necessarily regard him a monumental blessing. My political sentiments as a citizen of our country are my personal business.

What I’m simply saying by citing that verse is this: even if Donald Trump proves to be the worst thing to ever happen to our country, the best thing, or likely somewhere in between, God will have done it. Furthermore, I want to caution us to exercise care in the way we judge. J. D. Greear said this very well in his post-election article:

I’d encourage us to be cautious about declaring definitively God’s intentions in this election. I’ve already seen social media filling up with some declaring Trump as “God’s answer to the prayers of his people,” and others declaring him to be the “judgment of God on America.” A better posture is to encourage Trump where he works for justice and pursues righteousness, and speak against him where he promotes injustice. It is almost never wise to appoint yourself God’s spokesman about contemporary events. (That has led to several devastating chapters in history!) Based on what you see in Scripture, stand with righteousness and against injustice wherever you see it (emphasis mine).

As I think about preaching 1 Peter this Sunday and the plight of the persecuted church, I find myself grateful that the beast Nero doesn’t rule over us. We could be worse off—far worse. As Scripture urges honoring even tyrants like Rome’s emperor (1 Pet. 2:17) and prayer for all in authority over us (1 Tim. 2:1-2), let us make that our default response to our country’s recent turn of events.

Mr. Trump’s heart, as with President Obama and every other White House occupant, is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (Prov. 21:1). The Lord’s eyes keep watch on the nations (Psalm 66:7). The USA is no exception. God’s got this deal!

Three, our citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20) supersedes all allegiances on earth, including our beloved country. I’m grateful to possess a US passport; I’m infinitely more excited that my name is written in the book of life (Luke 10:20). Every US citizen who follows Jesus is longing for a better country, a heavenly one―or should be (Heb. 11:16).

Are you crushed by Tuesday’s outcome? Are you unsure what to think? Has it left you with a sense of angst to some degree? Let the longings stirred up as a result set your mind and heart toward your heavenly kingdom. Redouble your energies for being on mission for Jesus—knowing Him to make Him known.

Jesus never said, “I will build the USA and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” He never said that about Israel as well, nor any other geopolitical entity. No, He raised that banner over His church and her alone (Matt. 16:18). The church of Jesus Christ alone ultimately triumphs through election cycles, centuries, and millennia.

Good news, church. We win! He is coming again with myriads of angels to make all things right (1 Thess. 4:16). He will judge the living and the dead (2 Tim. 4:1). The New Heavens and New Earth remain our treasured inheritance kept for us by God’s power (1 Pet. 1:5). So hope in the Lord, church of the redeemed, from this time forth and forever.

After a friend of mine shared his sentiments about the outcome of this election, he proceeded to say this to me: before the day is out I plan to read through the book of Daniel in one sitting. Not a bad place to ground oneself in these too great and marvelous times in which we live.

ON GRIEVING

Personal Reflections About the Journey Through Loss

Though off topic in terms of my usual subject matter, this day demands it. The wife of my youth, Nancy, would have turned 67 today had the Lord granted her length of days.

Dried rose on old vintage wood plates

Anniversaries present their own peculiar challenges to the grief process. Her birthday marks the second of these for me. My birthday last month was the first. The next? What would have been our 42nd wedding anniversary this December 21. One at a time.

The content for this post actually crystallized for me on a prayer walk beside Lake Michigan during my bereavement leave. While I don’t consider myself an expert on this subject by any means, losing a son and a bride within the span of three years time tutors one in a way like little else can do.

Perhaps this post may help others navigating what C. S. Lewis likened to the amputation of a limb. I would prefer “limbs.”

My penchant for acrostics carried the day for these five reflections. What can I say? I love this format for remembering content.

Gguard your heart from resentment. Prov. 4:23 warns, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” That’s hard enough to do on the mountain top let alone walking through the valley of the shadow. “The heart knows its own bitterness” (Prov. 14:10).

Few things poison one’s inner being worse than resentment lodged in the heart. I’ve prayed often on the battleground of suffering, “Lord, please protect me from resentment’s assault.”

Rrelish the memories of the past. This has helped guard my heart. I’ve determined to focus on the gift of nearly 42 years with a rock-star woman rather than what years we won’t ever enjoy together. I didn’t deserve one day of those we shared anyway.

Normally Nan and I would have spent her birthday on the deck of our Idaho home overlooking the Clearwater Valley. Few things gave me more pleasure than hearing her voice, talking together, wiling away the chill of the night with the fire pit aflame before us.

Psalm 77:11 has sweetly charted my way through these five months–“I will remember the deeds of the Lord . . .  your wonders of old.”

Iinvite your friends into the process. This has been huge! How grateful I am for brothers and sisters who have wept with me in my weeping (Prov. 12:15).

Withdrawal from others in lament has its place. I’ve needed alone time to process. But isolation presents a slippery slope potentially robbing one of wisely chosen community with those skilled in drawing out the heart (Prov. 20:5).

Eengage your emotions in the present. What a roller coaster! Though honestly grief proved more challenging with Josh’s lost than with Nan’s. Our son passed with no warning; Nancy traveled the valley for months and it happened right before my very eyes. Hospice calls it anticipatory grief.

Still, one never knows when sadness will hijack the feelings. I took a personal day today just so I would have some latitude for dealing with this prospect without the demands of my everyday ministry responsibilities. And how grateful I am for the elders at OGC and her people for granting me twelve weeks bereavement leave for doing the same last summer.

F–faith your way into the future. By God’s grace, I’ve never dropped my shield of faith in my fight with this formidable foe, grief (Eph. 6:16). Perhaps no promise ever means more for leaving the past behind and pressing on into what God has for me in the days ahead than Rom. 8:32. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

God has already done the harder thing. Jesus died for me making me His own. How can I conceivably entertain the prospect that He won’t graciously give me absolutely everything I need for the future, even though in His wise and always good providence it no longer includes the once delight of my eyes?

SAD NEWS ABOUT MY NANCY

The Latest on Her Battle with Cancer

Yesterday, May 27, we admitted my bride to the hospital. Over the last week her physical distress rose alarmingly fast. Thankfully doctors quickly stabilized things. She is much more comfortable today.

NanGravatar

This morning we learned the cause for her symptoms. The spread of disease now  compromises some major organs. The weakness of her condition furthermore prohibits the possibility of any standard of care chemotherapy treatment.

Nan grasps the gravity of the situation. She has fought her fight with the courage of her personal convictions. She has done so without complaint. The joy of the Lord has been her strength and remains so (Neh. 8:10). She does not despair knowing what pleasures await at her Savior’s right hand (Psalm 16:11).

A hospice rep will meet with us tomorrow. Joel, our son, arrives tonight. He plans to join us for that appointment with the nurse. As soon as arrangements can be made, likely no more than a day or two, we will move Nancy to the comfort of our home.

Words cannot convey my unique privilege to serve both as Nan’s husband and pastor. We talked and wept together over the news earlier today. I reminded her (and myself) that God regards as “precious”–the Hebrew means significant, weighty, no small thing in His sight–the death of His saints (Psalm 116:15). Her times are in His hands. He will walk with her through the valley of the shadow; she fears no evil (Psalm 23:4).

Lately I’ve spent a fair amount of time meditating on Phil. 4:11-13. Paul writes from prison:

11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

This turn of events brings me low–lower than my own cancer, a broken jaw, even the loss of our beloved Joshua, or any other hard providence we have faced. My schooling in the secret of contentment faces its biggest challenge. Though I expect the degree of difficulty to grow exponentially in the days ahead, I hope to bank everything on the massive promise of v. 13–I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Please pray for Nan’s comfort and care during this time. I want to love and serve her well at every turn. She’s pretty weak. I’m not certain at what point, if at all, she will desire visitors. We will just have to see how she does once we get her home. Many thanks.

Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10), we press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14).

SWEET REASONABLENESS (2)

How To Cultivate This Relational Virtue

In my last post, I wrote about the Philippians 4:5 challenge of being well known for a sweet reasonableness–a perfect courtesy, if you will, in dealing with others.

Here in part two is the first of three ways from the context of that passage for developing this otherwise unnatural disposition, especially when we are wronged.

Negatives Positives Computer Keys Showing Plus And Minus Alternatives Analysis And Decisions

 

We don’t often associate the rather familiar verses of Phil. 4:4-8 with negotiating conflict and preserving oneness in our dealings with others. But the context in vv. 2-3 makes this connection very plain.

Paul calls out publically two godly women struggling to get along. He even enlists the aid of a mediator–“true companion”–to help resolve whatever dispute left the ladies at odds.

Let this hit you right between the eyes. That real church-life struggle sets the stage for the exhortations which follow.

Here is step one from these familiar verses for cultivating a sweet reasonableness known to everyone–especially in your church when conflict threatens to disrupt unity.

One, pursue your joy in God (v. 4). Rejoice in the Lord. He doesn’t want us to miss the point, so he repeats himself. Again, I will say rejoice. The apostle likes this theme. He hit them with it once before in Phil. 3:1.

I’m not sure we can hear this often enough. Our contentment ought not depend on how well relationships work out. No matter how hard we try, things can get dicey with others. When it does, the way to sweet reasonableness lies in a Godward orientation.

Ken Sande puts this so well in The Peacemaker:

Salvation through the gospel, the motivation and power to change, sound guidance through God’s Word and Spirit, the resources of the body of Christ, opportunities that come through a sovereign God–all these blessings are available when you are “in the Lord.” But remember, Satan does not want you to think like this; he wants to keep you worried about your conflict, wrapped up in yourself, and looking everywhere except at God. Resist him! Go to the Lord repeatedly in prayer and worship, and delight in his goodness to you. You will be surprised at the freedom and power that such rejoicing brings (85).

This is precisely why our church offers once a year a class on the subject of spiritual disciplines. Joy in God grows as the fruit of our gospel-driven pursuit of God through the means of grace with which He has blessed us.

How’s your joy in God quotient?

There’s little hope of sweet reasonableness known to all without it.

Stay tuned for part three!

Dear Josh

Josh and Me (2)

Hey, bud.

Two years ago today. Goes by fast. Your damaged heart gave out. Cut down in your prime. I’ll never forget the moment I walked through the door that Saturday afternoon. Your mom trembled the horrific news of our loss. I suspect that scene will never dim in my mind’s eye.

Grief gets easier and it doesn’t. Losing you still ranks first among the hardest things I’ve ever endured. Difficult to imagine anything worse. I’ve said it so many times. No one should have to bury their child.

Honestly, son, things haven’t gotten a whole lot easier since that traumatic day. Oh don’t get me wrong. The Lord has blessed us beyond what we deserve in 2014 and 15. Two of His best gifts are named Blaise and Olivia! How about these cuties?!

But December of 2014 hit hard. Mom got diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer. Since surgery that month she’s worked hard via natural methods to beat the remaining rogue cells in her body. Just today she went to a new doc in Lakeland for the fourth or fifth time. He wants her to have a PET scan ASAP to determine just where we stand. We hope to nail down an appointment for that sometime later this week. Lots of prayers by tons of people going heavenward for Ma. So grateful for all the support.

I’m not without my own issues. Long story, but the gist of things is this. I’ve got a busted jaw. I know the irony of that doesn’t escape you. Preacher’s got a bum mandible! It’s a result of the radiation treatment for my head and neck cancer in 2005. Surgeons plan to replace the dead bone with a titanium plate on February 15. I wrote all about that here. I’m thinking of changing my new Twitter address to @robojaw. What do you think?

For the time being I’m on total medical leave from my duties at the church AGAIN. I’ve seen this movie before back in 2005. I work at my writing mostly, when pain and fatigue allow. But preaching, talking, counseling to any degree? Completely out of the question.

As you can imagine one does a lot of thinking/reflecting when largely confined to the house awaiting a jaw replacement. I keep coming back to the things I miss so much.

Like kissing your mom. Don’t give me that look. You know how crazy I am about her. Do you have any idea how much the jaw comes into play for even the slightest peck on the lips? It’s so frustrating. I do not like in the least this hindrance to our closeness.

Then how about eating? Let me tell you about feasting or the lack thereof. I cannot chew a blessed thing. Nary a bite. I dream about chomping on a blue corn chip, dining on a medium rare ribeye, or even gumming a Five Guys french fry. Can’t do it. The menu these days consists strictly of slush and mush. Nice weight loss plan but I don’t recommend it to anyone.

IMG_0673

By the way, I wanted to keep up the tradition I started last year by dining at Emeril’s today. Dear Michelle even posted on my Facebook wall a gracious invitation to lunch. It hurt to decline, though I did ask for a rain check. I went to see finally the new Star Wars movie instead. I’m glad I waited until this anniversary day to check it out . You loved the saga so much. I think mostly you would have enjoyed episode 7. It was a comfort to me, but not at all like having Fabian serve me one of those mouthwatering duck tacos and reminiscing with him and the other terrific staff at the restaurant.

I could go on, but I’ll finish with the issue of my preaching. I had to stop cold in the middle of my series on Gen. 14. It just hurt too much to speak for any length of time. I’m on the bench, riding the pines, while others occupy MY pulpit Sunday in and Sunday out. Not fair!

Josh, I thought, I hoped, I dared believe maybe I learned in ’05 some of these lessons related to good things that I so readily turn into god things so that they become bad things. Perhaps not as much as Jesus thinks necessary for me. I just have to keep learning and relearning the main thing . . .

Jesus is enough.

My joy, contentment, satisfaction can’t depend on the presence or absence of God’s good gifts. I need to grow more in saying with Paul in Phil. 4:11-13 that I have learned the secret of being content. I need to sing with the poet more earnestly these words in Psalm 73:25-26.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Lips out of commission? Jesus is enough.

Feasting off the table? Jesus is enough.

Preaching out of the question? Jesus is enough.

Maybe I’ll get it through my thick head and slow heart this time, dude. One can only hope.

By the way, this father misses you terribly, but, and I think you won’t take this the wrong way . . .

Jesus is still enough.

He is gloriously, powerfully, graciously, abundantly, and savingly enough.

 

Why Churches Should Require Membership Covenants

Man Signing Contract

Next week, Lord willing, OGC will take in a dozen new members.

Note: for a biblical defense of the concept of church membership click here.

We praise God for the new bunch of folks He has brought into our fellowship. Each of these saints has attended our membership class. They have completed an extensive application and submitted to an interview with two of our officers. They have been approved by the elders in a formal motion at a business meeting and so noted in the minutes. And without exception, each has signed a dated covenant of membership. Copies of that covenant will be made available in the service next Sunday for every member to reaffirm the commitments that come with belonging to a covenant community of believers.

The question I wish to address in this post is why insist on members of a local body signing a membership covenant? Answer? INFORMED CONSENT. What in the world is that? Informed consent is documentary evidence of a church member’s familiarity with the teachings, policies, practices, and requirements of participation in the community and most importantly their agreement freely and willingly to abide therein. Why does that matter? Many reasons, but none more important in our litigious age than in the matter of church discipline.

The reason, among others, that there is a covenant of membership on file in our office with my name and date on it is because I don’t trust my own deceitfully wicked heart (Jer. 17:9). Should I wander off into unrepentant sin, perish the thought, I want my elders and church to come after me with the full force of Matt. 18:15-20, Gal. 6:1-2, and a bunch of other texts aimed right at that heart. Furthermore, I don’t even want to be tempted in the event of such an unfortunate set of circumstances to entertain the idea of suing my church for slander or some such nonsense. Having given my informed consent in the way of a covenant of membership assures that OGC doesn’t have to think twice about even excommunicating me if necessary for fear of an expensive and damaging lawsuit, not to say the havoc such a thing would bring upon the peace and welfare of the church.

Most people I speak with to attempt to persuade them about the importance of church membership rarely even give this aspect of the matter any thought whatsoever. Peacemaker Ministries has done a good job of articulating this and can help to explain:

Church membership is generally viewed by the courts as being a matter of contract, whereby members freely choose to associate with a particular church community and in doing so accept the benefits and duties of that association. The membership process provides an ideal means to obtain informed consent to a church’s policies and practices. Informed consent is easier to prove if you establish membership in a clear and explicit manner.

The article then proceeds to outline four steps to this end:

  1. Membership Class
  2. Membership Interview
  3. Declaration of Membership – public installation and records to that effect
  4. Written Commitment

Here’s how they unpack that all important fourth dimension:

Further evidence of express informed consent may be obtained by requiring new members to sign a written commitment to membership, which includes a specific reference to having received a copy of the Relational Commitments and to being willing to support and submit to them.

The entire article is worth your time and effort. To read it click here.

Have you thought about this as a professing Christian? It matters a lot to your spiritual welfare and that of the church to which you belong that you do think long and hard about it and that you give your informed consent for the glory of God, the welfare of the church, and the good of your soul.

Another Prayer for New Year’s Eve 2013

aprayerforthenewyear

Scotty Smith has already posted his. Not sure anyone does this kind of prayer writing better than he does. His example prompted me to offer my own version.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-16

Lord who wills all things great and small, this particular “mist” reflects at the end of another year mindful that You have graciously granted him once again length of days free from cancer or any other potentially life-ending threat. My times remain in your hands and You have seen fit in Your mercy to extend them a bit longer for Your purposes. I continue to praise You that I am immortal until Jesus has finished with me. And that You will perfect that which You started some forty-one years ago until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6), for this too I am so thankful. For all the ways I have acknowledged Your sanctifying influences this past year, as well as the many I have missed, it means everything to me that You relentlessly work all things together for my good that I might be further conformed to the image of Your beloved Son,  (Rom. 8:28), my older Brother, who is not ashamed to be so called (Heb. 2:11).

I praise you, Father, for keeping me from the evil one and causing me in 2013 to continue to stand in the glorious gospel which I received and by which I am being saved (1 Cor. 15:1-2). While I have not always greeted the hard providences of 2013 or any year before it with a rejoice always, pray unceasingly, in everything give thanks disposition (1 Thess. 5:16-18), I revel in a gospel that wholly makes up for those shortcomings and every other crime I commit against Your goodness.

In a year when I felt the temptation to abandon my charge more than I can ever remember, You graciously steadied me with Col. 4:17 and Douthat’s Bad Religion. Where would I be without Your Word and good books that come to my rescue in just the nick of time? That you have gifted me as well with a wife I can’t shake, a staff I don’t deserve, a church by all human accounts I shouldn’t have, and a calling to which I never ultimately measure up, these gifts take my breath away and make me want, by your grace, in 2014 to be a better husband, better co-worker, better pastor, and most of all a better follower in practice of the way, truth, and life (John 14:6).

For what I do anticipate awaits me in 2014 in the way of ministry, travel, family, continuing education, and every other detail of life, I ask You to keep me from presumption by reminding me to qualify all expectations with a thoughtful and careful “if the Lord wills.” I do not know what tomorrow will bring or any other day of the new year. However, I resolve with Your help to leave what lies behind and advance forward to what lies ahead in the upward call in Christ Jesus banking on these, among other, exceedingly great and precious promises (2 Pet. 1:4):

  • You are for me and not against me (Rom. 8:31).
  • No weapon fashioned against me will succeed (Isa. 54:17).
  • You dwell in the heavens and do whatever pleases You (Psalm 115:3).
  • You will direct my paths (Prov. 3:5-6).
  • You will hear and answer my prayers (Psalm 116:1-2).
  • Your power will work mightily within me (Eph. 3:20).
  • I will not be subject to a spirit of fear but governed by a spirit of power, love, and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7).
  • You give grace to the humble and exalt at the proper time (1 Peter 5:5-7).
  • Nothing, absolutely nothing can or will separate me from Your love (Rom. 8:31-39).

Finally, One who was and is and always shall be, whatever time I may have left in these headed-for-the-finish line days of mine, whether one year or ten or more or less, as You will, may I be able to say with the apostle when all is said and done “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished the race” (2 Tim. 4:7).

Amen.