Dealing with Delays

You can see by the sign our latest thinking. Hopes are high for a CO by the end of April, CW – city willing. We should close out construction relatively soon. Then everything depends on passing all the necessary inspections. Please continue to pray for favor.

Even so, we don’t expect to publicize an official opening or hold a dedication service until we have a few weeks or so in the building to get established and work out the bugs. I suspect we may well draft a tentative schedule for soft opening dates leading up to an all-systems-go at our leadership team meeting set for the end of the month. We will keep you posted along the way.

In total, our delay will have dragged on for two months. I thought my disappointment quotient might have run higher. Maybe it hasn’t because ever since that sign on the property went up we’ve included the initials LW at the end. Lord willing. For good reason. James says in chapter 4 of his epistle that we don’t have any idea about what will happen tomorrow. Life is nothing more than a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. His counsel in v. 15? You ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that. Opening new church buildings definitely falls under the broad category of this or that. Plan, but hold everything loosely.

Do you find yourself experiencing delay on some front? Remember who is in control. Our capacity to go anywhere, do anything, be any place, accomplish any objective either sooner or later rests ultimately not with any city or person(s) but with Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will (Eph. 1:11). He’s never late but always right on schedule. Wait on Him.

A Sure Cure for Evil Boasting & Temporal Arrogance

On Saturday, as we dressed for our third funeral in as many weeks, Nancy, my wife, said to me, “We’re dressing in back a little too often lately.” Indeed. Three funerals in three weeks even for a couple hovering around sixty years of age seems a bit much. It has me thinking a lot lately of those words in James 4:13-17 where that concept of life as a vapor appears in the writer’s plea for a certain kind of attitude shaping all of life.

Essentially James warns us about the folly of a certain kind of talk – “Come now you who say” (v. 13, emphasis added) – that talks big about the future, immediate and distant. He describes it in terms of saying things like “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit” (v. 13). It’s not the planning James objects to; it’s the arrogance that presumes certain outcomes he has a problem with (v. 16). He probably has Proverbs 27:1 in the back of his mind: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

He objects for three reasons. First, boasting ignores the uncertainty of life (v. 14). Life is a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. The word for vapor in Greek is atmis from where we get the English atmosphere. What figure could better communicate the uncertainty of life? Nobody has any gilt edge guarantees about what tomorrow may bring. We number our lives in terms of years each birthday celebration, but God tells us in Psalm 90:12 “Lord, teach us to number our days aright” (emphasis added).

Second, boasting denies the sovereignty of God (v. 15). Here James describes how we ought to talk in all our planning, personal or business: “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” Perhaps James has another proverb in view: “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel – that will stand” (19:21). A well-placed, meaningful “If the Lord wills” that prefaces all our dreams for the future communicates intentional dependence upon God for the outcome in anything we endeavor and confidence that His purposes shall prevail.

Third, boasting constitutes the epitome of evil (vv. 16-17). James minces no words here: “All such boasting is evil” (v.16). The word evil is pornea from where we get pornographic. In other words it is obscene in God’s eyes when we make grandiose plans probably born of greed (notice the emphasis on buy and sell and make a profit in v. 13) that take no account of God in the process. That he calls plainly “sin” in v. 14.

Tomorrow I mark the seventh anniversary of my surgery on my tongue and neck and the joy of that many years cancer-free. On April 29 we hope to dedicate a new church building to the glory of God. That God would give me any additional years of service and that He would be pleased to let us have decades of prosperous ministry to come in our facility at 872 Maitland Avenue, and everything else we presume upon Him for the future, must come with the qualifier if the Lord wills, so that we might avoid evil boasting and temporal arrogance, sins that greatly offend Him.

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

Whoever coined that little saying, got it right. Making a plan and working a plan can make all the difference on so many fronts in our lives from the physical to the relational to the spiritual.

For over a decade now I have followed a plan of one sort of another of daily Bible reading that ensures I will read through the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation in the course of the calendar year. Elsewhere in this blog I have made my case for this discipline outlining 16 reasons why it makes sense to give oneself to such a practice. You can read that post here.

Rather than repeat myself, I want to direct our readers this year to an excellent post by Justin Taylor called Bible Reading Plans for 2012. It includes motivational, practical, and multiple options on the subject. My favorite link is to The Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers, a must for anyone who considers discipline a four-letter word. I considered inserting the link but decided I wanted to make you click through to JT’s blog to do so in hopes that you will read more than just the one option.

I am taking my New Year’s messages on January 1 & 8 from Acts 20:32 which says this:

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

I will argue for our greatest need in 2012 and beyond to be twofold – seeking the Lord in prayer and hearing/reading His word of grace. Why not get a leg up on application for these priorities by settling now on what plan you will pursue in reading through the Bible in 2012?

In choosing a plan we are far more likely to succeed than if we don’t.

A Needed Fork in the Eye

Once again tomorrow my Tuesday early-morning prayer group will dive into C. J. Mahaney’s convicting article on biblical productivity.

Thus far we have wrestled with the hindrances to biblical productivity (procrastination, laziness, and the tendencies of the sluggard). Now we get to consider practical helps toward the end of becoming more diligent, faithful, and fruitful in our lives and ministries.

Mahaney prescribes three things to achieve biblical productivity:

  1. define one’s present God-given roles
  2. determine specific, theologically informed goals
  3. transfer goals into one’s schedule

This means planning. Some of us would rather stick a fork in our eye than do any kind of planning, but Mahaney insists on the absolute necessity of this discipline if we are to be productive.

The problem for those of us with this fork-in-the-eye approach to planning is that during each day the most urgent requests will compete with and distract from the most important goals and priorities of our lives. Each day the number of requests we receive normally outnumber the time allotted for the day. My experience confirms that if I fail to attack my week with theologically informed planning, my week attacks me with an onslaught of the urgent. And I end up devoting more time to the urgent than the important. And at the end of the week there is a low-grade guilt and dissatisfaction in my soul, because I’ve neglected to do the truly important stuff. I want to have as few weeks like this as possible in whatever time remains for me to serve the Savior. I’m thinking you do as well.

I do indeed. Do you? Stay tuned for more, or better yet, read the article for yourself!

What’s a FL Pastor Doing in the ID Wilderness?

Do you mean besides plugging leaks in plumbing piping?

Do you mean besides patching holes from woodpecker pecking?

Do you mean besides catching rest after capital campaign campaigning?

Short answer? He’s looking for help. Divine help. And lots of it.

I never tire of the view of the Clearwater Mountain range from our place. It regularly reminds me of Psalm 121:1-2.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

Nancy and I come to our place each spring for a week of R & R along with two weeks of P & P & P (prayer, perspective, & planning).

The wilderness affords us the opportunity to step back from the demands of every day ministry so that I might attempt get the Lord’s view of the big picture back home. More than ever I sense the need for His help in knowing how to serve our church in moving into the future.

I felt led to bring these tools with me to aid in the process.

I sorted them from right to left into the three categories of my two-week, work-related pursuit here: pastoral, missional, and intellectual.

Sometimes I end emails with “You make me want to be a better pastor!” Do your best passages like 2 Tim. 2:15 persuade me that shepherds must seek God regularly to make them better servants of His flock. Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, I have read twice before. I assigned it to our summer pastoral intern for our discussion. I read a chapter a day here and journal my thoughts.

Here’s a sample from chapter 9 – Brothers, Beware of Sacred Substitutes.

Ministry is its own worst enemy. It is not destroyed by the big, bad wolf of the world. It destroys itself. One survey of pastors asked, “What are the most common obstacles to spiritual growth?” The top three were busyness (83 percent), lack of discipline (73 percent), and interruptions (47 percent). Most of these interruptions and most of our busyness is ministry–related, not “worldly.” The great threat to our prayer and meditation on the Word of God is good ministry activity (pp. 59-60).

A passage like that makes me think reading Piper’s book again needs to happen more for my sake’s than Kevin’s.

That’s volume two of Ian Murray’s biography of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, arguably one of the best preachers of the 20th century. Alistair Begg called this work the most significant thing he has ever read. I finished part one last spring. Time to tackle part two this year. Witmer’s book is brand new to me. Our elders all possess a copy. The subtitle, Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church, intrigues me in light of our desire as leaders to shepherd well the flock of God entrusted to our care.

The manuals to the left came along with a recent upgrade to my Logos 4 Bible study software. I simply don’t have time to master thent components of this amazing program while going about my regular ministry. I hope to work through both these manuals while here so I can make better use of its resources to enhance my study of God’s word. I’ve finished volume one and have pressed on into volume two.

The stack in the middle possesses the greatest challenge for me. I call it the missional collection. All these titles possess similar content. They aim to help church leaders shape their ministries for effective outreach. Crouch’s book, Culture Making, comes highly recommended by our lead worshipper intern. I offered to read it along with Greg so we might discuss, among other things, how the arts might work as a medium for building bridges for the gospel.

The others all have their story as to how they got into my hands. I’ll close this post with some thoughts on just one more, Comeback Churches.

As soon as I saw that book with its particular title I jumped on it. After all, that’s what we’ve tried to make of OGC since 2002 – a comeback church. I’ve picked it up twice in the past only to stall in chapter two. Now seems to be the time. I’ve actually finished it at this writing. I found it gave me some helpful tracks to run on in evaluating how well we’ve done at OGC in becoming a “comeback church.” Stetzer and Dodson admit they start with a fundamental presupposition:

The wrong question is whether your church is “traditional” or “contemporary” and which is better. The real issue is whether your church is biblically faithful, acting as the presence of Christ in the community at large, able to relate Christ to people in culture, and is on mission. In short, is your church “missional” (p. 4)?

I pushed back in my reading at those places that smelled a bit overly pragmatic and church-growth-movement oriented, but all in all I sensed the Lord spoke to me through it. Some concrete ideas for planning, particularly related to outreach to our community, developed as a result.

I have often said that 2010 would mark the point at which I would step back and take a hard look at how we’ve done with Operation Nehemiah – Rebuilding the Walls at OGC. I find myself grateful to God here in Idaho for many ways God has worked over the last seven years in Orlando. But I sense no release at all from the Lord in terms of the rebuilding process until we accomplish, by His grace, two more things: building a facility and getting more thoroughly on mission.

Only one in ten churches in the US grows due to conversion. That makes this second remaining objective more daunting to me than the first. God must give the growth, but we must get better at sowing and watering the seed and I need to help lead us there.

May God give us grace and help to turn our eyes outward more consistently to the lost while remaining devoted to building up one another in our most holy faith.

And that’s what this citified FL pastor is doing in an Idaho wilderness place like this.

Planning for the Lord's Day

Someone recently sent me this excerpt from Tim Challies’ blog about how to plan for our Sundays.

In his book Expository Listening (read Challies’ review here), Ken Ramey offers a list of ways you can “Plan Ahead, and Schedule Your Week Around the Ministry of the Word.”

“For the majority of people, even church members, church is not the priority of their week. Too often school, work, sports, and other activities take precedence over going to church. They make the mistake of letting their time be ordered by the world, which views the weekends as a time to relax, to play sports, to stay up late and sleep in. For Christians, however, Sunday should be the most important day of the week. You should try to schedule your work, activities, get-togethers, and vacations around church. You should live by the principle that Sunday morning starts Saturday night.”

He offers several practical suggestions on how to prioritize the Lord’s Day:

  • Make it a habit to be home on Saturday night.
  • Be careful not to do, watch, or read anything that will cause lingering distractions in your mind the next day.
  • Get things ready on Saturday night to alleviate the typical Sunday morning rush (lay out clothes, set the table, write the offering check, stock the diaper bag, etc).
  • Get a good night’s sleep so you can be sharp and energetic to worship and serve God. It’s hard to listen when you’re nodding off.
  • Eat a simple but adequate breakfast that will hold you until lunch. It’s difficult to hear over the grumbling of your stomach.
  • Work together with the other members of your family to get ready, and to establish and maintain a godly atmosphere on the way to church. Listen to music, sing, and pray together.
  • Arrive at church ten minutes early instead of ten minutes late so you have enough time to find a parking spot, drop the kids off in the nursery or their Sunday school classes, get a cup of coffee, visit with your friends, and find a seat.

“When you fail to plan ahead,” he warns, “Sunday morning ends up becoming a chaotic crisis, and by the time you get to church, you are frustrated and frazzled and your heart is in no condition to receive the Word. But when you plan well and are able to arrive in a relaxed, leisurely way, you will be in a much more receptive frame of mind.”

I trust God might use these suggestions to prepare us all the more for our fellowship tomorrow and every Sunday to come.