Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Irene

So, Irene has come and gone. Not without a lot of hype, and a truckload of rain. Rain which made its way through a window and into my basement late Saturday night. Rain which caused some damage to some of the ‘stuff’ that is in the house. But, a few days later (and a few hours of sleep recouped), I have found myself grateful for several reasons.
  • My kids weren’t present. Shawna had taken them to Pennsylvania to spend time with her parents. I have not tried to picture what it would’ve been like if they had been there.
  • Because we had flooding recently with a previous hard rain, our basement had been “rearranged.” If it had not been...ugh!
  • I "happened" to be in the basement (due to a tornado warning) which allowed me to hear the water coming (trickling then pouring then gushing) in the basement window. If I hadn’t been down there, much more damage would’ve been done.
  • My neighbor is willing AND able to help at any time for any reason. He made the trek down to my house amid a tornado warning. I feel sorry for the rest of the world that doesn’t have the neighbor I have. I feel blessed beyond words.
  • Our electricity never went out. Messing with flooded basements in the dark would’ve been a big-time bummer.
  • Our sump pump which had not needed to run for the previous 3 years we have lived in the house actually worked!
No furniture was damaged. Not much was lost (nothing that really matters). Thank you God.

Ironically, Irene is a family name of Shawna's family (and now ours). The name has more significance now than ever.

Some Priorities (in retrospect), part 3

Continuing on from a series of posts (part one, part two)

“There really is no such thing as a herdsman who takes care of a generic herd.” I think those were the exact words that my friend Mike used when describing West African herdsman. He should know. He has lived there for a long time. The herdsmen know their herd, know their cows/animals individually, know who’s a part of the herd and who’s not. If they don’t know their herd, they really aren’t herdsmen! I’ve not forgotten the conversation. It reminds me of the calling I have to Ogletown, and certainly has shaped my priorities in being here. I was not called to pastor a theoretical flock, or a generic flock, but was called to be here, with these particular sheep that comprise our church.

I have mentioned in recent days that the process of being called here was somewhat of an “arranged marriage.” I didn’t know the congregation well, and the congregation did not know my family well. However, in one day (and one vote) our spiritual lives were knit together. In an arranged marriage (at least some of them), I would imagine that it takes some time to get to know each other. I KNOW it takes time, because my marriage wasn’t pre-arranged by my parents, and it has taken me time to get to know Shawna.

The last four years that I have been at Ogletown have been a season of getting to know each other. It hasn’t been entirely easy because of size and the fact that we live in four states. There are a lot of people who call OBC home, and often my only interaction with many of these people is on Sunday morning (which always seems busy). Every now and then, I will be able to sit down during the week with someone and hear their own personal story of faith, and many aspects of their journey. I have valued those times, and believe that God has drawn me closer to this congregation as a result. I am glad for the times when I can speak to individuals. My prayer (and hope, and ambition) has always been that I won’t fall in the rut of being a “generic” pastor.

In addition, I have prayed often that God would give me insight into OBC as a whole: that I might be able to discern our church’s strengths and weaknesses. That I might know when we need still waters or the rod/staff. That I might have understanding as to why God has placed us here and what specific purpose we might fulfill (as well as the purposes that God has called all churches to fulfill). I feel like if I am just someone who can ‘plug and play’ readily in any church environment, I would miss a vital aspect of my calling here. I am called to THIS church for THIS season to grow together with THESE sheep. I am grateful for the opportunity.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday's Reading Update, 8/29

This week I finished...
  • Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl by N.D. Wilson
  • The Word Became Fresh by Dale Ralph Davis

I am still reading...
  • Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch
  • Family Ministry Field Guide by Timothy Paul Jones
  • Revival by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

I am reading with friends/staff/deacons...
  • Dug Down Deep by Josh Harris (with the staff)
  • The Trellis and the Vine by Col Marshall and Tony Payne
  • The God Who Is There by D.A. Carson
  • Think Orange by Reggie Joiner

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In light of services being cancelled tomorrow...

A few suggestions...
  • Take the time to read Scriptures (either by yourself or your family). Sing. Pray. Worship is not limited to a space. God shows Himself to be a powerful God in the wind and in the calm.
  • Take the opportunity to make friends of your neighbors. Nothing seems to open doors for conversations and friendship like severe weather.
  • Realize your opportunity to serve others. As Scripture reminds us, we are our brother's keeper, and these days could create opportunities to serve others that might not have otherwise been available.
Let's pray for God's grace and mercy to be shown even in the midst of severe weather. Stay safe.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Some Priorities (in retrospect), part 2

A few days ago, I shared that one of the priorities that I had in coming to Ogletown was to lay a gospel foundation for future ministry. But, there have been other priorities as well.

#2 – Preaching the Word and Sturdy Theology
Because of so many good influences on my life, I had many opportunities to speak and preach even before I became pastor of Ogletown. And yet, the preaching here has been different.
  • First, I feel much more of a weight of responsibility for giving God’s flock at Ogletown a steady diet. I realize that as a teaching pastor here, it is my privilege and charge to lead God’s people to green pastures and still waters. Those pastures and waters are found in God’s Word, not my own personal experiences. I have tried to make sure that the teaching ministry of Ogletown provides a balanced diet. Mostly I have taken chunks of Scripture (i.e. in 2011 we have been in Ruth, Proverbs, Mark, and Revelation) from both the Old Testament and New Testament, and worked through them in the Sunday morning teaching time. However, a balanced diet also means preaching to the head, the heart, and the hands. So, there are times God wants us to think differently, and times God wants us to value/desire/feel differently, but there are times God wants us to act differently. Scripture points us to all three.

  • Preaching at Ogletown has also been a unique experience in that on any given Sunday morning there are likely to be godly, retired pastors in our congregation, sitting near or next to agnostics, skeptics, and even atheists (and everything in between). There are many who would classify themselves as religious, but there are many who would not. The same message from God’s Word is heard by all. That has been challenging, but it has also been very rewarding. It pushes me to make sure I am respecting another’s opinion and even understanding it accurately, while maintaining core biblical convictions. Ogletown does not have the option of just preaching to the “already-convinced,” and I am grateful for that.
In essence, my goal in both preaching and teaching has been that this ministry be built upon something sturdy (much like Josh Harris speaks about in Dug Down Deep). Life is too hard and complex for simplistic answers or Christian clich├ęs. God’s Word gives us more than shallow thoughts. There are deep life-sustaining truths, and honest stories. The characters in the Bible, and the propositions of Scripture reveal to us a God who does not shy away from hard questions, apparent inconsistencies, and a painful world (e.g. Job, Psalms, and Lamentations). The message of the gospel itself is not simplistic, but profound, and it does Christians a disservice when we don’t push ourselves toward sturdy truth.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Some Priorities (in retrospect)

As I reflected on serving at OBC for the last four years, I took some time to look back on what some of my priorities have been. I really didn’t come to Delaware with a clearly defined 5-year action plan of programs, change, and transition. But, I did have some core convictions and philosophical bents, and as I look back those have (hopefully) been evident.

#1 – The Gospel
Because of what I believe in my heart and what Scripture convinces me of, I have desired to keep the gospel in a prime place in our church. I knew this would not be unfamiliar to Ogletown, but still I felt convicted that our gospel-legacy should be held in tact. As I look back on how I tried to make it a priority, it has come out in a number of ways (here are just a few):
  • The message I shared on my first Sunday was called “Of First Importance” and the text was 1 Corinthians 15:1-3. It seemed then, as it does now, that if we get the gospel (the good news) wrong, we are vulnerable to many other distortions of Christianity.
  • On Wednesday evenings last summer, we spent time in a series called “The Gospel-Centered Life.” This summer, we grew through a series called the “Gospel in Life.”
  • Each week we sing the gospel, pray the gospel, teach/preach the gospel, and many weeks we ‘see’ the gospel (through baptism and Lord’s Supper).
  • On our Book Table each Sunday, you can purchase books that describe and define the gospel, that apply the gospel to life, to marriage, to discipleship, to parenting, to church life, to relationships, etc.
  • As we speak of the gospel in our Membership Matters class, we share that the gospel is not just the ABC’s of salvation, but encompasses the A-to-Z of the Christian life.
  • This past Sunday, I alluded to an identity statement that said “Ogletown Baptist is a family of redeemed sinners seeking to display the glory of God among our neighbors and nations by being a gospel-shaped, gospel-sharing people.” Shaped by the gospel and sharing the gospel describe what our culture and mission should be as a church.
The reality is all that passes for truth is not truth, all that passes for ‘Christian’ in a Christian bookstore is not Christian, and all that passes for the gospel is not the gospel. There are watered-down gospels, prosperity gospels, do-better and try-harder gospels, political gospels. The gospel has almost become a buzz-word that is misused, misunderstood, and ill-defined. But, simply stated, the gospel is a simple message about the promised God-man who lived perfectly, died on the cross as a substitute for our own sin, came back to life on the third day, and offers forgiveness from sin, refuge from God’s wrath, and reconciliation with God the Father for those who turn to Him and trust. This has revolutionary effects on our life, on our church, and on our world.

We cannot improve on this message. We should not try. We need not soft-sell it or think it needs to be made more palatable. It is the power of God to save us (Romans 1:16).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday's Reading Update, 8/22

This week I finished...
  • Am I Really a Christian by Michel McKinley
  • Leading with a Limp by Dan Allender
  • Gospel for Life by Tim Keller

I am still reading...
  • Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch
  • Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl by N.D. Wilson
  • Family Ministry Field Guide by Timothy Paul Jones

I am reading with friends/staff/deacons...
  • Dug Down Deep by Josh Harris (with the staff)
  • The Trellis and the Vine by Col Marshall and Tony Payne
  • The God Who Is There by D.A. Carson
  • Think Orange by Reggie Joiner

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Looking forward to Sunday


This Sunday, I begin a series of messages called "Where Do We Go From Here?" Last night, I was going through some of these things with my wife. She asked, "So how long have you been working on this series?" I don't think the answer surprised her. I guess in some ways, I would have to answer that I have had these things in my heart and in my mind this entire summer. But, even beyond that, I believe a lot of what I hope to share has been shaped in my heart over the last four years (since I first had the privilege of serving as pastor at Ogletown).

So, as I look forward to this weekend, and beginning a discussion with our church family, I find myself grateful for several things:
  • The person who reminded me of Psalm 146. That Psalm brought me fresh joy yesterday in God who is my help and my hope. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down!
  • The support I feel from so many who are a part of the OBC family. I don't just have fellow church members here. I have friends that feel more like family than mere acquaintances. Unfortunately, I imagine that many (most?) pastors do not have the privilege of being loved (and having their family loved) as I do. I am grateful.
  • The encouragement I get from other pastors in our area. I emailed a few friends who are pastors of sister churches in our area. I asked them to pray for me, and pray for our church in the upcoming weeks. ALL of them responded with assurances that they have prayed and will continue to pray that God works at OBC. Sadly, churches often compete and try to one-up another church. Yet, the humble spirit of these men means they are more interested in the kingdom expanding, than they are building their own empire. Thank you, Jesus for these friends!
  • The clarity that I have felt. Ideas, concepts, word-pictures, Bible reading, conversations, emails, have all been helpful in sorting through my thoughts. When you have a lot you want to say, it is a blessing to get clarity on how to say it (and how NOT to say it).
  • The confidence I can have in a God who is more interested in our church, me, my family, than I am. He has promised His church will succeed, and has promised to be present as we live out gospel-shaped, gospel-sharing lives.
I look forward to Sunday, mostly because it seems like we are turning a fresh page in the story of God's church here at Ogletown.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday's Reading Update, 8/15

This week I finished...
  • To America by Stephen Ambrose
  • The Gospel-Driven Life by Michael Horton

I am still reading...
  • Am I Really a Christian by Michel McKinley
  • Leading with a Limp by Dan Allender
  • Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch
  • Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl by N.D. Wilson
  • Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad by Fergus M. Bordewich

I am reading with friends/staff/deacons...
  • Dug Down Deep by Josh Harris (with the staff)
  • The Trellis and the Vine by Col Marshall and Tony Payne
  • The God Who Is There by D.A. Carson

Monday, August 8, 2011

Monday's Reading Update

This week I finished...
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

I am still reading...
  • To America by Stephen Ambrose
  • Leading with a Limp by Dan Allender
  • The Gospel-Driven Life by Michael Horton
  • Am I Really a Christian by Michel McKinley
  • Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch

I am reading with friends/staff/deacons...
  • Dug Down Deep by Josh Harris (with the staff)
  • The Trellis and the Vine by Col Marshall and Tony Payne
  • The God Who Is There by D.A. Carson