And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom 5:3-6)

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel. (Psalm 69:6)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On the Eve of a New Ministry

As I get ready to start my new pastorate tomorrow, fear overwhelms me.  Not a fear of timidity, but one of reverence.  It is a fear of what it means to be a shepherd of God's sheep.  Though I am not the man A W Tozer was, I am inspired by his prayer on the night he was ordained.  It is shared below.

Saints of Ekron Baptist, may we all fear and tremble before the Lord, but may we worship Him in His awesome being.

The Prayer of a Minor Prophet

This is the prayer of a man called to be a witness to the nations. This is what he said to his Lord on the day of his ordination. After the elders and ministers had prayed and laid their hands on him he withdrew to meet his Saviour in the secret place and in the silence, farther in than his well-meaning brethren could take him.
   And he said: O Lord, I have heard Thy voice and was afraid. Thou has called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour. Thou art about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. O Lord, my Lord, Thou has stooped to honor me to be Thy servant. No man taketh this honor upon himself save he that is called of God as was Aaron. Thou has ordained me Thy messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and hard of hearing. They have rejected Thee, the Master, and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.
   My God, I shall not waste time deploring my weakness nor my unfittedness for the work. The responsibility is not mine, but Thine. Thou has said, "I knew thee-I ordained thee,I sanctified thee," and Thou hast also said, "Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thoushalt speak." Who am I to argue with Thee or to call into question Thy sovereign choice? The decision is not mine but Thine. So be it, Lord, Thy will, not mine, be done.

  Well do I know, Thou God of the prophets and the apostles, that as long as I honor Thee Thou wilt honor me. Help me therefore to take this solemn vow to honor Thee in all my future life and labors, whether by gain or by loss, by life or be death, and then to keep that vow unbroken while I live.

   It is time, O God, for Thee to work, for the enemy has entered into Thy pastures and the sheep are torn and scattered. And false shepherds abound who deny the danger and laugh at the perils which surround Thy flock. The sheep are deceived by these hirelings and follow them with touching loyalty while the wolf closes in to kill and destroy. I beseech Thee, give me sharp eyes to detect the presence of the enemy; give me understanding to see and courage to report what I see faithfully. Make my voice so like Thine own that even the sick sheep will recognize it and follow Thee.

   Lord Jesus, I come to Thee for spiritual preparation. Lay Thy hand upon me. Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet. Forbid that I should become a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling. Save me from the curse that lies dark across the face of the modern clergy, the curse of compromise, of imitation, or professionalism. Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering. Help me to remember that I am a prophet-not a promoter, not a religious manager, but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping.  Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

   I accept hard work and small rewards in this life. I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that could make life easier. If others seek the smoother path I shall try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly. I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes. Or if, as sometimes it falleth out to Thy servants, I should have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Thy kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows. Teach me to use whatever I receive in such manner that will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power. And if in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.

   And now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Thy servant to do Thy will, and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven.

   Though I am chosen of Thee and honored by a high and holy calling, let me never forget that I am but a man of dust and ashes, a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men. I pray Thee, therefore, my Lord and Redeemer, save me from myself and from all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others. Fill me with Thy power by the Holy Spirit, and I will go in Thy strength and tell of Thy righteousness, even Thine only. I will spread abroad the message of redeeming love while my normal powers endure.
   Then, dear Lord, when I am old and weary and too tired to go on, have a place ready for me above, and make me to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting.  Amen. AMEN.

A.W. Tozer

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Thoughts Within an Empty Office, the Last Days of a Ministry in Transition

In approximately one day I will complete my last sermon at Holiday Shores Baptist after eleven years.  The turning of the calendar over and again in this mission field has had a profound effect upon my heart and mind.  My thoughts not only look to the time spent here, nor the times I have spent with many people in their sorrows and triumphs, but the weathering of my edifice, the changing of who I am.

Eleven years is a long time to be somewhere. I have been impressed by sources and hearsay that the average pastor in SBC life stays at a church less than three years.  Many coming out of seminary today will not last five years before quitting ministry all together.  I thank God for calming the storms of ministry in order to keep me active.  Honestly, there have been times I wanted to quit.  But the fear of shame before God was greater than the troubles of the day.  The grace of God was greater still. Thus, when I was sinking as Peter did when walking on the water, I too needed His hand to hold me.  Thus, Persevering Pastor was born.  It has been a means for reflection upon the sufficiency of Christ and the need to encourage other ministers to finish the course to run the race.

So I am quite thankful for the shaping of eleven years here.  It has done me well.  There are many many things I would do differently had my son completed his time machine for me to get a “do over.”  Yet, there are many things I would not change, such as my encounters with people.

The times I have spent with people have been weighty.  For years I have taught apologetics to the youth.  We have covered the six days of biblical creation, worldviews, various religions, and practical application of the scriptures to life as opposed to worldly philosophy.  I still believe this has great benefit and thankfully have the testimonies to prove it.  But I look on the faces that I am leaving and am nostalgic.  Some of these I once held as babies or toddlers in the nursery.  Several have spent the night at our house as guests of our children.  Many numbers are basically adopted family.  There is the potential for greatness in each of these.  In just days, two or three will move off to college as others have.  Fortunately, most who have come through our youth group continue to walk with Christ after they leave the nest, I consider this a success.  In my reflections I see that I will miss out on many milestones. I wish to see them wed and begin families of their own, to continue to live lives to the glory of God.

Another group I have been greatly endeared to is our senior adults.  We call them the JOY group, Just Older Youth.  These folks have been great bastions of prayer.  I have buried their mates, held hands in sorrow, and fixed computer problems they did not understand.  I thank the Lord that in these last two years we began a mid-week morning Bible study.  In this time the Lord has given me an opportunity to bring the comfort of the Gospel to them in their winter years.  Walking with these saints in their rapidly changing lives has opened my eyes to the uncertainties that face them.  Often, they have been gripped by the sorrow of loneliness, even in a crowd.   Their fears have been real, they have trembled at the changing world and have knelt upon aged knees to pray for the family they expect to one day leave behind.  Senior saints are a treasure to the church.  We must not forget them.

As I reflect further on the youth, I consider what my life could have been had I only known at 15 what I know now.  I wish I had understood the gospel more clearly.  I weep over my sin. I long to help the youth of today to flee from the mistakes that I have made that are the course of which they are heading.

When I look at my life ebbing towards senior adulthood, I am impassioned to finish well for my Lord.  Paul was right, run the race for the prize and do not be ensnared with worldly pursuits.  Only Christ matters.

Thus I think of how these eleven years have refined, eroded, and softened the granite of who I am.  In ministry you are often solitary.  In a small church this is a significant aspect of your life.  Though HSBC has been a relatively trouble free church I has led me down paths of experience for my betterment.  It has afforded me an opportunity to gain an education and certification in biblical counseling.  The mission field has led me to gain much from the likes of Bob Gailbraith who taught me you could disagree and yet love one another greatly; Helen Hunt, who at 99 continued to bring the best out of situations; and Dolly Swilly who evangelized everyone in her nursing home.  These people have been great teachers by the lives they lived. 

Other refiners have been fellow pastors in the area, Dave Tyler, Craig Wurst, Chip Faulkner, Richard Newcomb, Ron Wenzel, and Gene Spurgeon.  These men have shared their heart and passion and have often brought me great encouragement.

And then there are the members of HSBC that I leave behind. I do not have space not the mental capacity to name them all, but several exemplified aspects of Jesus that I have been forever shaped by.  Ocie, and his passion for worship.  Indira for wisdom.  Evie for compassion.  Ralph and Lisa for the foundation of the Bible in application.  Fred for being quick to listen, slow to speak.  Marcia for relying upon God.  Greg for his enjoyment of God on the business end of a fishing pole. Sid for prayer and holiness.  Doris for faith.  Norma for trusting God for answers.  Ruth B for her thinking always of others despite her own troubles.  Ruth S as she left behind tradition to run to the truth of Christ.  Quinn for her resistance to the world’s influences.  Dave and Robin for the optimism they radiate, and faithful service.  Andrew and Sarah for the way in which they look ahead and choose what is right.  Eddie and Wanda, as they bear others burdens.  Over and again I could find several things to say about everyone.  But this period of my life has left me better.  I have been changed for the good.

HSBC will be a fond and fair memory.  The church in the cornfield has done me good.  I have lived here longer than any place else in my life and though I have a new hometown, my heart will always love these saints.