All in spiritual formation
As the plane pierced through the clouds, we got our first look at the Mediterranean. The sun glistened off the sea and islands dotted the endless blue tapestry below us. About twenty minutes after that astonishing experience, we saw the Holy Land. I had a feeling deep down in my stomach, one that I hadn’t felt for a long time. I felt at home.
As I’ve concluded nine years in pastoral ministry and transitioned to a new season of ministry at the Berkshire Institute for Christian Studies I’ve taken some time to reflect on my experience as a shepherd of God’s flock – the ups, the downs, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I’m not at all claiming to have enlightened reflections, superior wisdom, or the keys to ministry success – and it didn’t take me nine years to figure that out. Nevertheless, by God’s grace and mostly through error, I have learned a lot. So I humbly offer these reflections as an expression of my gratitude for God’s sustaining grace and for the seemingly limitless patience of my Faith Church family.
Recently, I read a book by serial church planter Peyton Jones. Towards the end of the book, he takes aim at church leaders, church members, and those who have been part of “the machine” for years. He writes, “There are millions going to hell, and statistical evidence points to the numbers increasing with every passing year…
Who am I to be even suggesting that this beloved hymn by John Newton is lacking or deficient in any way? I must be nuts! Don't get me wrong everything that these lyrics proclaim is true and indeed wonderful...
Where your treasure is, there will be your heart, your life-focus, and your true lord and master.
“You do not know what tomorrow will bring.” As if these words in James 4:14 aren’t unsettling enough, the verse goes on to remind us of the uncertainty of our existence: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” In other words, tomorrow…life could be drastically changed forever.
Corey McLaughlin and Tom Loghry have levied some heavy charges over the last couple of weeks. They have indicated that it is our responsibility as Advent Christians to hasten the Second Coming of Christ. I want these good and well meaning servants of Christ to know this…I’m not ready for that. I certainly want Christ to return, but can’t he wait until I’ve gone on vacation first?
There is possibly no greater challenge to the faithful Christian than living this life with eternity in mind. Paul warns us in Romans 13:14 that we should “make no provision of the flesh, to gratify its desires”. In 1 Corinthians 15 we are reminded that if it is in this life only that we have hope, we should be pitied. Indeed, our life is not our own, it belongs to God, “For none of us lives to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:7-8).
“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!”
Each Advent season, these words are sung in churches around the nation and likely, in some form, around the globe. They are words of hope and longing. They are words of expectation and yet to be fulfilled promise. They are words that capture, very well, the mood of the Israelite people at the time of the incarnation. There was longing and pain, yet there was hope.
“Mommy, can we open the gifts right now?” Wait for a second. Let’s go back approximately 12 hours before to a short exchange between my wife and I. After our bedtime routine with the boys, my wife says to me, “I think I am going to start wrapping presents tonight.” My wise and all-knowing response: “Okay, but you do realize as soon as the boys see the wrapped gifts they’re going to want to open them immediately.” Now fast forward 12 hours. Our youngest sees the presents and yells, “Christmas presents!” The oldest asks….and asks…and asks, “Mommy, can we open the gifts right now?” Their voices are full of excitement and anticipation. With one fell swoop, mommy and daddy crush the excitement—but hopefully not the anticipation—with a “No, we have to wait until Christmas.” Then comes the all too familiar whiney “Please?!”
“Born thy people to deliver…born to set thy people free.” These words sung of Jesus in Charles Wesley’s well-known Christmas hymn could as easily be sung of another baby, the one whose birth brightens the otherwise dismal opening to the book of Exodus. There we find the chosen people of God suffering as slaves at the hands of a Pharaoh who knew not their forefather Joseph, nor their Father God.
I stand at the open door staring at the number of single socks accumulating on top of the dryer. The other darks — underwear and jeans — were gathering clean, folded, soon to return to their assigned spots in my dresser. As the items piled up, I wonder how many socks must be removed before two can be paired and moved to the folded piles. For me the general rule of thumb — one of every pair.
My evangelism professor in seminary was Jack Miller. He not only believed the gospel, he loved the gospel. He was gospel-centered and from that center he overflowed with joy and love. He was also a risk-taker. He believed the words of Paul in Romans 8 that if God has given us his Son then we can face death all day long. We can take risks for Jesus’ sake and Jack did. I am not sure how anecdotal this account is but I was told that he would often go up to a complete stranger and introduce himself by saying, “Hello, I am Jack and I am a recovering Pharisee.”