LAUGHING AT THE FUTURE?

future

It never ceases to amaze me. Reading through a passage of Scripture I’ve viewed so many times before only to find this time around something captures my attention like never before.

It happened this morning as I turned to Proverbs 31 and the familiar passage about the virtuous woman who fears the Lord. Verse 25 grabbed me by the jugular. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.

Really? She laughs at the time to come? I’m waiting typically for the next email bearing bad news to hit my inbox DAILY. Good humor about future developments in a broken cosmos doesn’t usually describe my frame of mind. Not so the godly woman who stands in awe of God. Her rally cry? “Go ahead future. Give me your best shot.  I laugh in your face!”

This woman must sink her anchor deep in the bedrock of God’s sovereignty to take on an uncertain future with such good humor.

I suppose it caught my attention in part because of what I read the day before about Nancy Reagan in Peggy Noonan’s best seller biography of President Ronald Reagan, When Character Was King. The author interviewed the president’s wife about what it was like to cope with the idea of walking into history as Mrs. Reagan. She admitted she had no idea that was the case. Noonan inquired, “So how did you learn to do your part?” She replied:

reaganOh, Peggy, you take it each day and you learn along the way. You know, somebody at the hospital recently, when Ronnie broke his hip–someone told me, ‘We were afraid to tell you about it, that his hip was broken, we were afraid it would be too much for you.’ You know, I looked at them and I said, ‘Listen, think back on my life for a moment. I’ve seen my husband shot, I’ve seen his two cancer operations, I’ve seen him thrown from a horse, I’ve seen his brain operation. And if I didn’t fall apart for any of those, I’m not going to fall apart for this. Don’t worry about telling me what you have to tell me” (p. 136-37).

OK, so maybe that doesn’t equate to laughing at the future, but it certainly comes close. And it reveals a secret to facing the future with faith rather than fear. Calculate the faithfulness of God in seeing you through a perilous past and you may well find the strength to step into the future with a trusting-in-God smile on your face.

Thank you Proverbs 31 woman. You make me want to be a Proverbs 31 man.

Gracious Uncertainty

Gracious-Uncertainty

As I pass the one year anniversary of loss, I return today to the duties that lie nearest. Study, sermon writing, board meeting prep, pastoral care, etc.

Before me lies the uncertainty of Nancy, my bride’s, health and what the rest of 2015 will bring on that front, not to say numerous others.

This good word from Oswald Chambers expresses my desires in moving forward:

Certainty is the mark of the common-sense life: gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. utmostforhighestThis is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. Immediately we abandon to God, and do the duty that lies nearest, He packs our life with surprises all the time. When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him. Jesus said, “Except ye become as little children.” Spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, but uncertain of what He is going to do next. If we are only certain in our beliefs, we get dignified and severe and have the ban of finality about our views; but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy. “Believe also in Me,” said Jesus, not – “Believe certain things about Me.” Leave the whole thing to Him, it is gloriously uncertain how He will come in, but He will come. Remain loyal to Him.

To quote Forrest Gump and perhaps balance things a bit, “I think it’s both.” The virtue of gracious uncertainty which embraces God in the future includes shouts of joy AND sighs of sadness.

Grateful that Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 is in the Book.

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.

State of the Church 2012

I delivered this report at our annual meeting on Sunday night. I wanted to make it today’s blog post in the interest of informing those who could not attend.

Overall, I praise God that I sense before the Lord that the state of Orlando Grace is better than it ever has been for as long as I have served among her leadership in one way or another since January of 2001. I base that on the following considerations.

First, we are at peace and have been so consistently for nearly ten years. Not only that, but our commitment to and proficiency in the biblical practices of peacemaking continue to increase. This is no small matter, particularly in a season when, for going on two years now, we have undertaken the construction of a facility. That we have experienced only a very few bumps along this road in the way of disagreements and, to my knowledge, have resolved those impasses where necessary through conflict coaching and mediation, is a great mercy to a church that wants to reflect the unity in the Godhead by the unity of its people. I plead with us to see this project to the end with a high commitment to preferring others over ourselves and guarding ourselves from trampling one another underfoot as we may zealously campaign for a preference or concern for how something is done or what it looks like.

Second, and this is related to the first consideration, we are a people committed to godliness of behavior, agodliness more and more fueled by the power of the gospel to transform us and not our own legalistic effort. A combination of elements seems to have converged to help us in this regard. My own regard for the importance of the gospel and the need to motivate from the gospel and only the gospel both in my preaching and in pastoral care is something the Lord has drilled into me, sometimes quite painfully, over the last year like never before. The influence of the Acts 29 Network has contributed to that for me personally, and though we still have yet to forge officially a strategic alliance with an association, denomination or network, whether Acts 29 or some other entity, even informal cooperation with these churches serves us well to this gospel end.

In addition to that, curricula like How People Change in our growth groups and other gospel-shaped resources serve to keep us from experiencing more bouts of gospel amnesia than we might otherwise suffer. Our leadership is more focused on the gospel than ever before and I believe we as a people are orienting our lives more thoroughly around the gospel as well. This is huge and must ever remain a principal concern for the wellbeing of our assembly. For this reason and by God’s mercy and His providence, our experience of church discipline has remained confined for quite some time now to only steps one and two of Matthew 18:15-18 and only rarely has even the threat of step 3 – tell it to the church – come into play in the shepherding of our people. In that God is holy, and means for His church to reflect that holiness in the way it conducts itself in the world, this too, I believe makes me a happy pastor and servant in His church, saying much indeed is well.

Third, our march toward building our first-ever church home has resulted in our taking a hard look at areas of weakness and seeking to address them with God’s help. For example, we have tackled our weaknesses in community by multiplying growth groups. We now have more than ever before with nine different groups total, I believe. The Soul Talk curriculum of the fall quarter equipping hour and the Graces of Gospel Shaped Community sermon series last year saw us make strides also in learning better how to love one another. And I watched our people come through heroically in most recent crises in the Mangrich and Willson households where we put our best loving feet forward to those facing crushing need. As the church is meant to mirror the love within the Godhead, this growth in community and love, not the only expressions mind you, but some of them, stands out as a reason for rejoicing.

Another significant way we have improved as we think about opening a building, doubling our space, and likely growing in significant ways, is the overhauling of our Christian Education and nursery/childcare ministries. The addition of the Praise Factory program for children as a gospel-shaped curriculum is enormously important in the way our church comes along side of our families in educating their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. The addition of Katie Fairey to our staff as the coordinator of the nursery ministry, along with Evan her husband’s help and the help of a number of others has led to a far better stewardship of the protection and welfare of our little ones that should make us all sleep better at night knowing that those most vulnerable in our midst have policies and procedures in place to secure their best of care.

Much progress has been made in the realm of discipleship as well. Kudos to the CE evaluation and subcommittee chaired by Will Powell as they have led us into our three year scope and sequence adult equipping hour curriculum overseen by Scott Devor and launched in January of this year. We now possess an identifiable, strategic curriculum for adults that addresses a comprehensive number of classes and emphases that once completed constitute legitimately a body of knowledge, if consistently applied in everyday life, that will contribute to our living more than ever as fully devoted followers of Jesus.

Operation Nehemiah, what we have called the rebuilding of the walls at OGC ever since our last major conflict in the summer of 2012, while largely finished, continues in some strategic ways. Building a facility and having our own church home has always been one of the nine action steps related to that campaign for church wholeness and health. We are drawing so close to completing arguably the most challenging of those steps. We gave last year in hard work to it. We are giving this year in even harder work to it. When concluded, and I remind you we have undertaken the task in a recession economy with nearly everyone pitching in through sacrificial giving so that God gets the glory and not us, we will no longer be an invisible entity in the community but rather possess a visible and permanent presence that will result making ministry in the community more viable in so many tangible ways. And we, the covenant members of OGC, during this season are the ones who have gotten to do this. No one else. It has been our privileged stewardship. No one will regret that reward. Heaven will make amends for every sacrifice.

Of course there remain concerns for the future. We have ministry areas that need leadership. I am pleased to report that there are some women who have been praying about stepping into leadership of an overall women’s ministry at OGC. We hope in this year to form a women’s ministry team. If you have an interest in serving on that team for a year or so, let your elder know. Similarly, we have someone interested in taking point in a local outreach team, a team which has been somewhat dormant due to a lack of leadership other than my own limited time to contribute to it. And this leads to areas of concern related to completion of Operation Nehemiah that lie before us.

  1. Continued growth in a missional commitment as a congregation. Whether that means church-wide and/or group participation in mercy ministry or other strive-for-the-welfare-of-the-city kinds of initiatives, or the commitment of each covenant member to pray for unbelieving people and to engage them in the places where we live, work, and play, or initiative evangelism in public places and from door-to-door for those who thrive in that kind of thing, we need to continue to turn up the heat on the thermostat of our commitment to outreach. Praise God that I hear more and more people asking for prayer for lost people, their sharing their faith with lost people, and making time to build relationships so that there is opportunity to be salt and light and reap souls where God might bring a harvest.
  2. We must solve our staffing issues with the potential of losing three of four support staff in Greg, Evan, and Katie. As you can imagine, this is number one on my list of concerns in a year when the obligations of ministry will likely spike with the opening of our facility that we would lose such valuable servants. That being said, I am trusting God that He has replacements in such a case or volunteers or both, who will come to serve in strategic ways in our church. We will not lack His supply.
  3. We still need to pursue affiliation options and pray for God’s direction in this regard. That being said, I rejoice that between the Spurgeon Fellowship and Acts 29 regional Gospel Cohort, we are not isolated. We have churches to whom we can turn if we have need and to whom we can lend aid if necessary.
  4. In 2013, Lord willing, we need to tackle the first-ever revision of our by-laws. Something to look forward to as God leads.

I am certain a great deal more could be said about the state of OGC. However, concerns notwithstanding, God has been very good to us and we have every reason to trust that He will do nothing but good to us in hard and sweet providences alike in the days ahead.

Praise be to His excellent name.