Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Without Commitment

I recently came across an interesting quote on commitment while reading a post by Jack Price of Crossroads. The quote is by the German poet, Johann Wolfgang Goethe:
"Unless one is committed, there is a hesitancy; the chance to draw back; always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiative and creation. There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no one could have dreamed would come his way. What you can do, or dream you can begin it: boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now."
There's really nothing quite like commitment. Almost universally feared before actually making one, once the decision is made, commitment brings a sense of fulfillment and purpose that is unattainable from partial support. "Partial commitment" is an oxymoron - it's not a halfway decision, something one is free to back out of. That's not partially committed, that's uncommitted. Mirriam-Webster defines commitment as "a consignment to a penal or mental institution." Oops! Wait, that's something else entirely! Its second definition is "the state or an instance of being obligated or emotionally impelled".

There's power in commitment. My friend Don (who is much more down-to-earth than Goethe), likes to ask "How many chickens does it take to pull a wagon?" The answer is: you can't pull a wagon with a bunch of chickens, but get one or two committed horses and you can pull an amazing load. Friends, if you're involved in ministry, that's fantastic. But are you committed? Do you fill in 'when needed' or can the leader count on you to be there regularly. Will you stay or go when the chips are down? It may seem like a small point, but for the ministry leader, and for the ministry itself, there's a huge difference.

Don't hesitate, don't wallow in ineffectiveness, decide what's important and commit to it. Step up - and be part of fulfilling a dream!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Praise her at the city gates

My wife is taking advantage of the kids' spring break to visit family and has been bravely trekking east. Things have been going extremely well until this morning when my oldest son pulled a major 'what-were-you-thinking???!' maneuver. Dawn is pretty frustrated at the moment; his timing just could not have been any worse - right as they pull into the parking lot of a ski lodge for what is supposed to be the big adventure of the trip. I love Dawn! She takes thinks viscerally. She's a great mom, and her hopes, dreams, and moods soar (or dive) frequently along with their activities. An old quote I saw recently in Mark Batterson's blog pointed out this subtle difference between the two of us...
"A woman knows all about her children. She knows about dentist appointments, best friends, favorite foods, secret fears and hopes and dreams. A man is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house."
Back in Old Testament times, when the men would meet in the city gates they would talk about the pressing issues of the day. Since there was no Monday Night football, on occasion they had to talk about their family. Would they say good things or bad? Well, today the internet has joined the realm of the city gates, a place where men can talk about their wives and families. Today I just want to shout out in public and say I think my wife is the best, and I love her very very much!!
"Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate." (Proverbs 31:28-31 NIV)

Thursday, March 8, 2007

What to Look for in a Worship Pastor

A few months ago we were looking for a new Worship Pastor, as Matt was moving on to a great opportunity to help a church plant. There was much discussion over what we needed to look for - and the possibilities were all over the map. By far the most useful and succinct criteria came from my 8 year old daughter. Out of the blue at dinner one night she was asking about the search and I asked her what she thought we should look for...
"Well, mostly he should love Jesus. He should like music, but love people more. He should sing nice and play guitar good, maybe a little drums. He should love kids - if he's a Dad that's good cuz he'll already know how to do that."
Wow! She nailed it! (When the search team was discussing the final candidate who would get the call, he matched this description perfectly.) My youngest son had some ideas too. He said he agreed with his sister's comments but felt it important to add...
"He shouldn't jump off the side of the trampoline cuz that's not safe and he might bonk his head!"
Whether or not Lorin will abide by this advice, time will tell! Given his background as a youth minister however, I'm not betting on it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

When I'm a Dad...

I've found no better mirror of the state of your walk with the Lord than the words of your youngest children, and your own words to them when correcting them. "Son, you know you're not supposed to do that. That was a foolish decision, you know it's wrong, and you're being disobedient to continue with this behaviour." All the while saying this I can feel the tug of the spirit telling me - "Listen closely to what you're saying. Why do you continue to disobey with things you know are wrong?" It's not a comfortable feeling, but at least it reminds me of God's mercy and encourages me to reaffirm my love for my son, a love that isn't dependent on his actions.

His words recently were especially painful as a mirror, after he overheard some arguing. I come downstairs to hear this question from my six-year old son, "When I grow up and become a Dad, will I get to yell at Mommy?" Yikes! Only the lamest of excuses come to mind: "But I was right!" or "Well no, actually I was yelling back, not yelling." Time to get out the fork for another piece of humble pie. "No, son. Dad was wrong to do that, and I'm sorry - to Mom for being disrespectful, and to you, for showing you a bad example. We all get angry from time to time, but that's no excuse for that type of behavior. Why don't we pray together, for me to be the best Dad and the best husband I can be, and for you to grow up to be the type of man that God wants you to be."

His little head nods in understanding, a sense of relief and a small smile comes to his face, and he bows his head with me to pray...

Monday, March 5, 2007

Now That's Theology

My Savior loves, my Savior lives,
My Savior’s always there for me
My God He was, My God He is,
My God He's always gonna be

If you don't recognize this chorus of the song "My Savior My God" by Aaron Shust (Anything Worth Saying album) then you really need to check it out at YouTube. Sure, one could learn a lot more about eschatology or soteriology at seminary, but the depth of theology in the lyrics of this song really speaks to my heart. Someone who truly believes that chorus and lives in a way that reflects it is someone who knows Jesus Christ.

What I also love about the song is how my young kids perk up and start singing whenever they hear it. "Daddy, my favorite song!" shouts my daughter. My youngest boy starts air drumming like crazy, oldest one is belting it out at the top of his lungs and the middle boy hops up and starts dancing. This happens whether we're in our living room or whether we're in the very front row at church. How many years might some kids sit in Sunday School yet never really understand or feel the full impact of the message of that chorus?

About the song the singer Aaron Shust wrote: 'I was reading my "One Year Book of Hymns" and stumbled across a hymn entitled "I Am Not Skilled To Understand" whose words blew me away. I didn't bother searching for the melody: its obscurity indicated antiquity. So I started from scratch and sang it without the chorus for over a year at our church, which seemed to embrace itas it was. But I wanted to take it over he top. Sitting at a red light one night, a melody of excitement and a lyric that seemed to pull together the concept of Christ, my Advocate, always pleading my case, was born. And the song finally exploded on the choruse like I always knew it should. i do not understand everything, but I know that Jesus Christ loves me and is alive defending me. That calls for a big chorus.'

(As a side note: It's interesting to see the variety of videos appearing at YouTube, from the song above or So Long Self by Mercy Me, to several items
fun to watch but that I wouldn't want to see happen at Calvary!)

Friday, March 2, 2007

Called to Full-Time Ministry

I can't really put a date on in, but sometime recently I became a full-time minister. 'Became' isn't the right word - perhaps 'realized' is closer to the reality of it. I don't mean that I got ordained, became clergy, or got paid for doing ministry. Rather, God made it clear that I'm His servant, full-time, and that in all things I do I'm to serve people and serve His Kingdom. Christian life isn't separated into convenient compartments. Pastors don't "turn their back on ministry" when they spend time with families. Spirit-led women aren't shirking their duty to the church by cancelling a small group meeting to have coffee with a friend going through rough times.

How my view of a minister has changed over the years. In my youth, they were 'the guys with white collars who can't have any fun.' In college they were 'hypocrites'. As a brand-new Christian they were elite holy heroes, by invitation only. Later I started to understand about the 'priesthood of believers' in which we all have a role in ministry, although some of us only part-time. Now I know that my calling is no less real or important than for professional clergy - every Christian's call (to live in a way that honors God and follows His will) is unique, even though the situation we are called from and called to will differ for each person (see I Cor 7:17).

God has 'called' me to be me. No one else can do all the things God has planned for me to do, nor love the people He has given me to love the way I can. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (NIV). I like the way it's phrased in 'The Message': "He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing."

God has placed me in the marriage and family I'm in to serve them. As an adoptive father I enjoy the clarity of a profound truth not understood by most parents: my kids are not mine, they belong to God. They were His before they were born, and will be His after I pass away. Yet it's no accident we're together; God has interwoven our hearts to love and encourage each other, and He has charged me with the unlikely task of demonstrating the love of Christ for them through my actions and words. It would be an absolutely impossible task but for one thing - Christ lives in me!

God has called me to honor Him and serve people in my job. I'll spend by far more time 'at work' during my life than with any other waking activity. My projects, my co-workers, my choices made at work, have shaped me tremendously thus far. Perenniel student, visiting scientist in India, cancer researcher at Harvard, software architect, vice president in a small business - these positions have trained me, shaped or pressured my worldview, brought me in close contact with hundreds of people loved by God, and provided experience that can be used today to make a difference.

God has planted in my heart the passions and interests that shape my 'downtime'. I'm a geek, a gamer, an aging quasi-athlete, even a musician (of sorts!). These have led to me form friendships and engage in activities that not only energize me personally, but which put the soul of a person who yearns for God in the life of some folks that have no Christian witness whatsoever, or who have been burned horribly by the 'Church' or people who called themselves Christians.

Many of these activities seem mundane, but so was Jesus' washing of feet. The question is not how religious are the tasks, venues or people in your life, but whether or not you realize and live out God's call for you to minister - serve God and serve people - in everything you do?

I still have so much to figure out about what are those good works God has prepared me to do - how I can be most strategic and effective in intentional ministry within the church and community? But by being faithful in whatever assortment of 'little things' He has given me so far, I'm hopeful that He will use me to make a life-changing difference in the lives of my family, church, co-workers and friends, community, and even globally. I can't wait to see what God has got in store for me!

II Thess. 1:11 - "With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith." (NIV)

God is calling you to full-time ministry, serving Him in all things at all times, and to live a holy life - one that is set apart for Him.

Step Up to the Call!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Praise Him Win or Lose

I woke up and shot out of bed this morning at 4:00 a.m. with the mother-of-all leg cramps. What made this one special was that I pulled my calf muscle last night playing volleyball; putting pressure on the leg or foot was virtually impossible. I literally cried out "Jesus!!!" as if to let Him know His servant was in agony and if He wouldn't mind terribly, would He be willing to consider healing my cramp. In other words, "Help!!!" - the pain was getting worse and I didn't see any way to make it stop. For some reason an unusual thought came to mind in the midst of this... 'Praise Him!' Rather than take the time to debate this with myself, I changed my cry from "Help! Jesus?!" to "Praise Jesus!" The muscle loosened up almost immediately, the cramp disappeared and I sank to the floor continuing to praise Him.

I knew the movie Facing the Giants had made an impression on me, but I'm thankful it's main message was so clear I was able to apply it under duress - "When we win, we praise Him. When we lose, we still praise Him!" Praise is distinct from thanks. We praise God for who He is, while we thank Him for what He has done. If you're going through a rough time and feel like you have little to be thankful about... praise Him anyway!
Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV) - Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV) - Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.