TEETH TROUBLE TIMES

Orlando Here I Come for a Dental Redo

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What else is new, right?

Ever since 2015 my choppers have given me pretty much nothing but grief.

The latest episode unfolded in the dentist’s chair at the end of my book launch trip last November. After an hour of trying to dislodge the bridge from the implants, my persevering doctor concluded:

What we have here is a failure in design. It’s time to start over from scratch. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to come back after the first of the year.

In fairness to Dr. P, last August he attempted to equip me with a span of teeth which could remain in my mouth permanently–requiring removal for cleaning only every couple of years. It proved to be problematic in multiple ways.

Worst of all the heads on the screws securing the teeth to the four implants have stripped. He’ll have to destroy the bridge WHILE STILL IN MY MOUTH in order to get at the screws a different way. Really looking forward to that. Then he will start to install Design B.

The good doctor has spent the better part of January going back and forth with the labs and consulting with various other doctors about the best way forward. Every pro says the same thing: Never seen anything like my case. Terrific!

But a new approach awaits next week. Visit number one is scheduled in Sanford for February 12 at 10 AM. Additional treatments–not sure how many–will be required to get things right. I’ve booked a return flight for February 25 to give plenty of time for any necessary adjustments. Hopefully the end result will far exceed the look of My Friend Flicka above.

Jan will remain in Idaho to hold down the fort at our home. Please pray for her during this time apart from each other and for the success of this latest twist in my RoboJaw Journey.

I will have considerable non-dentist time while in Central Florida. We’re praying about the personal and ministry connections the Lord would have me make. Some appointments are on the calendar already.

If you have a need or desire for some time, ministry, or fellowship for any reason, please reach out and we’ll see what we can make happen.

Thanks for praying!

Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight

Lincoln
Just finished my monthly neighborhood book club. My turn to host. My turn to facilitate. My idea what to read – 101 Great American Poems. The La Floresta book club had never traveled down this road before, poetry that is. I took a chance. I made the suggestion as much for my sake as anyone else’s. I have little patience for poetry. I have enough trouble taking time out of my busyness to ponder Scripture let alone pause over verse that makes me scratch my head.
The night went better than I thought it would. Among other things each of us shared a poem with which we connected. I learned a l0t about my neighbors. We laughed. We paused. We felt. We reflected. I think I will try to venture into this genre more often in the future for its various benefits. My choice to read? I learned, by the way, poetry is meant to be read aloud for a proper appreciation.  I could have turned in numerous directions. It struck me how many poets, at least in this connection, wrote about death. I connected for obvious reasons.But this work by Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931) won the prize. Perhaps it was because I couldn’t sleep on Saturday night before a busy Sunday of ministry. I just identified. Occupational hazard.
Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight
(In Springfield, Illinois)
It is portentous, and a thing of state
That here at midnight, in our little town
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the old court-house pacing up and down.
Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards
He lingers where his children used to play,
Or through the market, on the well-worn stones
He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.
A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,
A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl
Make him the quaint great figure that men love,
The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.
He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.
He is among us:—as in times before!
And we who toss and lie awake for long
Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.
His head is bowed. He thinks on men and kings.
Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?
Too many peasants fight, they know not why,
Too many homesteads in black terror weep.
The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.

He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.
He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now
The bitterness, the folly and the pain.
He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn
Shall come;—the shining hope of Europe free;
The league of sober folk, the Workers’ Earth,
Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.
It breaks his heart that kings must murder still,
That all his hours of travail here for men
Seem yet in vain.   And who will bring white peace
That he may sleep upon his hill again?

Some days I hardly want even to be a pastor. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a president. Lord, have mercy on the Commander-in-Chief as well as the preacher.

Another Conclusion That Wasn’t

discipleship 101

No, I’m not planning to make a habit of this.

The member family meeting we called for after the service today caused me to trim some things.

As promised, here is the way I planned to land the plane had the runway been longer:

Let me close this message with these eight principles in mind with nine no-brainer steps of application:

One, get equipped to disciple. Get a copy of Trellis and the Vine and read it.

Two, use means. Grab some of the Randy Pope discipling plan packets and get busy. We’ve got a bunch of these for free at the office.

Three, become a member in your local church. Membership solidifies your commitment to be a discipler somewhere and gives you the ideal outlet for it.

Four, become a sanctified busybody. Determine to be the kind of believer that gets in somebody else’s face – IN LOVE! Someone paid our church the best compliment a while back. “I’ve never been in a church where the people are so involved in everybody else’s business.” And she didn’t mean gossip!

Five, take initiative. You have not because you ask not. Reach out to others; don’t wait for them to reach out to you.

Six, get help. Ask your elder or somebody to assist in matching you up with others. Don’t expect everyone to comply. Not everyone has the bandwidth for an ongoing relationship given their season in life.  Some folks don’t want this, even though they claim to be followers of Jesus.  Also, be a discipleship matchmaker without being asked. Look to connect people wherever you can.

Seven, keep on growing in your own walk by the Word and Spirit so you have something to offer to others.

Eight, train others you disciple to do the same things with others. Multiply yourself. Plan to attend one of the new Equipping Hour classes this fall starting September 7 WITH someone else.

And, nine, mediate daily on the gospel of grace that you might not live for yourself but for Him who died for you and therefore gladly spend and be spent for others (2 Cor. 5:14-15; 12:15).

The Power of Kindness

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I finished my day today with a visit to my atheist friend’s house in our neighborhood. Regretfully his wife is dying. Cancer has overrun her body, particularly her brain. Stupid disease. The extended family has camped out for the duration. Hospice has coached all concerned about what to expect. Her body is shutting down. It’s only a matter of time. Once again the the specter of death haunts my 2014, though not at my own doorstep in this particular situation. Sigh.

My wife found me a card this morning to express our sentiments. A small potted plant seemed an inadequate but at least well-meant token to present at the door. For thirty minutes I sat with my buddy with whom I have had numerous conversations about the gospel, at least to this point to no avail, along with his son, and just sought to be kind in loving my neighbor as myself and feeling the weight of their grief. At this point, having said just about all I think I can say in numerous lunches, I am banking on the power of kindness to carry the day in my relationship with this man, whether he ever believes in Jesus or not.

The apostle Paul extols the virtues of love in his well-known treatise on the subject in 1 Corinthians 13. As he begins to describe its qualities, he leads off in v. 4 this way: “Love is patient and kind.” While it seems some in my profession can occasionally forget it, and Lord knows I admit my share of failures in this regard, kindness as a virtue simply must characterize any pastor’s way of relating with others at every turn. Consider 2 Tim. 2:24 – “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone.” My sincere apologies to every one of you whom I have failed over the years in this respect.

As I was reading this evening a section of Alexander Strauch’s book, Leading with Love, I came across this illustration of the power of kindness. It comes from the life of St. Augustine who, in his book Confessions, testifies to the impact, even in his unconverted days, of the kindness shown him by the renowned preacher and bishop, Ambrose:

300px-Augustine_of_HippoThat “man of God” received me like a father and expressed pleasure at my coming with a kindness most fitting in a bishop. I began to like him, at first indeed not as a teacher of the truth, for I had absolutely no confidence in your Church, but as a human being who was kind to me (Strauch, 2006, 45).

My dear friend has little to no confidence in my church, that is to say, our beliefs. I pray his confidence in my feeble attempts at kindness may one day lead to an Augustine-like transformation in his life.

Someone has said “kindness is love in work clothes.” Let’s get to work.

 

 

Not Your Average Pastor’s Prayer

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Hand it to the Puritans.

They knew how to go for the spiritual jugular.

Introspective overstatement or not, I resonate with this so-very-different prayer of pastors on so many levels. It is a fitting prayer, in my estimation, for anyone ordained to gospel ministry. If Jesus did not pitch a tent of grace in my weakness, I would have closed down my version of pastoral ministry and became a Walmart greeter long ago.

O God,
I know that I often do thy work
without thy power,
and sin by my dead, heartless, blind service,
my lack of inward light, love, delight,
my mind, heart, tongue moving
without thy help.
I see sin in my heart in seeking the approbation
of others;
this is my vileness, to make men’s opinion
my rule, whereas
I should see what good I have done,
and give thee glory,
consider what sin I have committed
and mourn for that.
It is my deceit to preach, and pray,
and to stir up others’ spiritual affections
in order to beget commendations,
whereas my rule should be daily
to consider myself more vile than any man
in my own eyes.

But thou does show thy power by my frailty,
so that the more feeble I am,
the more fit to be used,
for thou dost pitch a tent of grace
in my weakness.

Help me to rejoice in my infirmities
and give thee praise,
to acknowledge my deficiencies before others
and not be discouraged by them,
that they may see thy glory more clearly.
Teach me that I must act by a power supernatural,
whereby I can attempt things above my strength,
and bear evils beyond my strength,
acting for Christ in all,
and have his superior power to help me.
Let me learn of Paul
whose presence was mean,
his weakness great,
his utterance contemptible,
yet thou didst account him faithful and blessed.
Lord, let me lean on thee as he did,
and find my ministry thine.

For more prayers of substance like this, consult The Valley of Vision: a Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

God of the Hard Thing

Death of Ezekiel's wife

I’ve read through the entire Bible each year for over a decade now. That’s not to impress anyone. When Jesus quotes the Old Testament while under Satan’s temptation that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4), I figure that behooves me to make a priority of reading all the word of God on a regular basis. One of the benefits of this discipline among others is that you come across otherwise obscure passages you might never read and that you rarely hear preached.

A prime example for me, which never ceases to astonish me as a smitten, taken, covenant-bound married man, shows up each year in Ezekiel 24:15-18.

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.” So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

Good grief. Really? Apparently Ezekiel felt the same away about his bride as I do mine. And God knew it. The Lord referred to her as the delight of his eyes. Just like that. All it takes is a sovereign stroke and she’s gone. On top of such a blow comes the prohibition of grief. No mourning. No weeping. No tears. OK, you can sigh, but under your breath only. Customarily an Israelite mourning a loved one would have put on sackcloth, lain on the ground, tosses ashes on his head, and so on. No emotion allowed whatsoever. I can hardly begin to imagine how excruciating the prophet would have found the Lord’s will in this instance.

Tell me God doesn’t require hard things of His servants! This sobers me when I think about what makes men faithful pastors of their people. It sobers me when I think about what makes faithful servants of God’s people period. This week a colleague of mine in the gospel lost his son to suicide. A month ago dear friends of mine lost their twenty-year old daughter after weeks watching her languish on life support. When people ask me if such things are God will, all I can do is point them to texts like this in Ezekiel and words like Job’s after he suffered the loss of all his children – “Naked I cam from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). There are more examples of course, but you get the point.

Take away? God’s ultimate purposes trump anyone’s personal agenda. End of story. Ligonier Ministries explains the big picture well:

Such a death seems to be a drastic, almost “desperate” step for the Lord to take to get His point across. Of course, in reality, God never finds Himself in a desperate situation. But from a human perspective, the covenant community’s refusal to believe that the Lord would let Jerusalem fall was a desperate situation, and desperate times required desperate measures. The death of Ezekiel’s wife prefigured the loss of the temple, which was “the delight of [the Jews’] eyes.” God strove to make His intent clear so that the people would have no excuse. Despite the hardship in the loss of Ezekiel’s wife and temple, however, all would be for the good of Israel (vv. 19–27). Through the trouble, the people would come to know that He is the Lord.

Of course, I hope the Lord never requires such a thing or anything near it of me or you as his servant. He has asked me in the past, or at least I have interpreted things this way, to do hard things and I have sought to do them however imperfectly. But I would like to think, God have mercy, that if so required, I would take my cue from the prophet and do as commanded.

Would you?

Live Like a Missionary

Yesterday morning our church planter in Salerno, Italy, Jutty Valiquette gave a moving message from Daniel 7 entitled Missionary God, Missionary People. You can listen to the audio here.

Last night, in our monthly concert of prayer, I led off with a devotional from 1 Peter 2:9-10.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The connection between the two texts lies with the word proclaim. As missionaries of sorts in the places where we live, work, and play, God has made us His own for the purpose of humbly proclaiming the excellencies of Jesus to those who don’t know Him. A person with a gospel-shaped identity gets this and lives it out by God’s grace on an ongoing basis.

Tim Keller, in his book Center Church, comments:

Christians should  be engaged with others. Mission for a contextualized believer is a matter of everyday life–of developing nonsuperficial relationships with their neighbors, colleagues, and others in the city.

Then he goes on to offer practical, simple ways to do this with neighbors in particular:

  1. Take regular walks in your neighborhood to meet others who are out and about. Keep a regular schedule. Go to the same places at the same time for groceries, haircuts, coffee, shopping. This is one of the main ways you get to know those who live geographically near.
  2. Find ways to get to know others in your building or neighborhood–through a common laundry area, at resident meetings, and in numerous other ways [like neighborhood book clubs!]
  3. Find an avocation or hobby you can do with others in the city. For example, don’t form a Christian backpacking club, join an existing one.
  4. Volunteer alongside other neighborhood residents at nonprofits and with other programs.
  5. If you have children, be involved at the school and get to know other parents.
  6. Participate in city events–fund-raisers, festivals, cleanups, summer shows, concerts, etc.
  7. Serve in your neighborhood. Visit the community board meeting. Pick up litter regularly. Get involved in neighborhood associations. Find individual neighbors (especially elderly ones) and find ways of serving then.
  8. Be hospitable to neighbors–when and where appropriate, invite them over for a meal or a movie, etc.

Why not prayerfully pick one or two of these suggestions to implement in your own “live-like-a-missionary” life and see what God will do?

Keller also has some suggestions for ways to engage with colleagues, coworkers, and friends. Lord willing, I will include those in my next post.

Responding Redemptively to Ruining Sin

With reports of a local pastor’s resignation from his ministry for reasons of infidelity, those of us fortunate enough to escape the same pitfall by the grace of God experience a wide range of emotions and an avalanche of thoughts.

My default response whenever I hear of such unfortunate and grievous turns of events is 1 Corinthians 10:12 – Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

No one is immune. Everyone is vulnerable. The moment you think you’re morally invincible then the enemy comes in like a flood and plunders your pastoral stewardship.

So in sad circumstances such as these, men of God must take stock of their own lives and redouble their efforts to fight sin and pursue righteousness.

There are so many other things that could be said about this. The obvious are pray for the man, his family, and his church for God to take what Satan has meant for evil and somehow turn it to good. Pray that the gospel so grips those dealing with the fallout that casualties from the debacle will be kept at a minimum. Avoid gossiping about the situation and contributing to rumor or judgment. And no doubt, a great deal more. I resist going too far for the distrust of my own heart in unnecessary commenting about another man’s demise or another church’s misfortune.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t plead for this redemptive response to such a painful development in our community.

Pray for me, Greg, the elders, deacons and any other man of God you know for his relentless ability to watch and pray that he might not fall into temptation knowing the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41).

For a super-redemptive list of ten things to pray for your pastor, church leader, favorite preacher, etc. in light of these things, I commend to you this message by John Piper called Avoiding Sexual Sin. His original title for the talk was Ten Steps to Sexual Sin for Christian Leaders and How Not to Take Them.

It is well worth the read and this pastor would be most grateful for such specific prayers on his behalf.  I suspect any of my brethren would.

Disciples Make Disciples

For my anniversary message a couple of weeks ago I preached from 2 Tim. 2:1-2 a sermon entitled A Call to Be Strong in Grace.

I articulated the big idea for the text this way:

The strong in grace transmit the treasures of grace to other trophies of grace.

I mentioned at the end of that sermon a resource called the Multiply Movement and promised that I would put that link on the blog.

Today I am finally getting around to that. It does no good to challenge folks to make disciples and then not give them resources to help them figure out how to do that.

Check it out. Be sure to watch the nine-minute video with these two guys warning not to be deceived on this matter.

The Finer Art of How to Walk Into Church

What better time to consider this concept than having opened a new building?

As we all attempt to carve out our particular spots in the auditorium, perhaps we could take a g0spel-shaped tack in determining our seats from week to week.

How so? Here’s a thought.

Pray about where you sit. This is called the “Pew Prayer’ or in our case the “Seat Prayer,” since we don’t have any pews.

The idea is not original with me. I came across it recently while reading through a great little book on ministry called The Trellis & the Vine. Copies, by the way, are available in our resource center for only $8.

I borrowed it from an article referenced in the footnotes for chapter four entitled The Ministry of the Pew.

Here is the thrust of the idea from the article:

Church is a gathering of God’s people to hear his word and respond in faith and obedience. In this gathering, we are in fellowship with each other, through the blood of Jesus, and, because of our fellowship, we seek to serve each other. We use our gifts and abilities to strengthen one another and build Christ’s Church—‘edification’ is the word often used to describe what goes on in church. All believers are involved in building the church, not just clergy or preachers. The New Testament consistently teaches that in the growth of the body of Christ each part must do its work (see Eph 4; 1 Cor 12-14). Because of this, we aren’t to see ourselves merely as part of an organization called ‘St Hubert’s Church’, but as servants of God’s people, eager to meet the needs of others even if it means sacrificing our own. . . . If at church we are working to strengthen our fellow believers, where we sit becomes important since part of our work will be talking to our neighbor in the pew, welcoming people, helping each other understand God’s word and praying with each other. The ‘Pew Prayer’ was a significant turning point in my understanding of what church is all about. It changed my reasons for going to church. The shift was made from being the ‘helpee’ to the helper, the served to the servant (emphasis added). Church is where we seek spiritual food and encouragement in order to become more godly; but church is also where we go in order to feed other people and encourage them. In God’s mercy, we become more Christ-like in the process, as like him we deny ourselves for the sake of others. But our purpose in gathering with God’s people is to strengthen them and build the body of Christ. We look for opportunities to assist the growth of the church in practical ways.

Good stuff. I commend the notion to us all.

Beginning this Sunday why not walk into church (on time, sorry, couldn’t resist) praying the pew prayer: “Lord, where would you have me sit and help me engage with the word in the power of the Spirit as led?”