Confession

It is, perhaps, not the manly thing to publicly admit, but I have felt such a brokenness of late …a sorrow that has left me unusually weepy and tearful.  Perhaps it’s the cultural loss of appreciation for the nobility and sacrifice of a missionary like Dr. Kent Brantley …maybe it’s the horrific suffering of Christians in remote parts of this broken world …the tragic events of Ferguson, MO …a child battling cancer …a much loved uncle battling through a serious health issue …or, friends prayed over and poured into who desperately need Jesus.  These things, plus weariness and disappointment with myself—wondering why I am so often so slow of faith and so susceptible to sin?

I’m tempted to shake off the brokenness of heart—reasoning to self that I just need to put my mind on other, distracting, more pleasant things.  All these things are hard on my heart …too risky to put your heart out there.  Then God reminds me of his word through Ezekiel…

“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”Ezekiel 11:19-20

My head knows lots of things that my heart has forgotten and some things I am convinced I have yet to know.  In many ways I am like a child with a fragile, costly treasure—clumsy and awkward …intimidated by it’s wonder and a bit frightened to abandon myself to living only from the heart God has remade, outside of settings I deem safe—and yet I am mesmerized by it’s mystery.

I believe my life …perhaps every person’s life… is a fight for life from the heart!  While our hardened fleshly hearts are capable of a shadowy, imitation of all the emotion / commitment / and devotion the image-bearer’s heart was intended to have, as long as we remain spiritually dead we are incapable of loving-living from the heart as God envisions. There is no battle until we’ve been given a new heart, but scarcely before it takes it’s first beat in our chest the enemy is out to wound it and scare us away from using it!

I believe that the events (both blessing and burden) that have dotted the landscape of the first half {over half} of my life reflect a spiritual struggle wherein God has continued to do what He WILL complete …making a new man out of me, and one that is fully alive from the new heart—and that of an enemy who has tried to wound me, exploit my proclivity for sin, and scare me back into the land of logic and reason.

I don’t believe anything is wrong with me, really… other than, that is, the fact that I have yet to learn how to live fully as God’s beloved son who dares to live and love at great risk for Christ and His cause in this world!

It’s true, God also gave us intellect, and we ought to use it for all it’s worth, to the glory of a God.  I am not suggesting that we Christians are to check our brain at the door. However, it is helpful to me to remember that faith is a matter of the heart.  A heart of trust is the coin of His realm.  The faith to care, to enter into suffering, to be filled with compassion and to cry out to God—to pray for great things and to believe God for them is not something the intellect can attain, but only the heart!

We easily say, ‘Lord, break my heart for the things that break the heart of God.’ Why then the struggle when we find him doing that very thing?

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Far From Perfect… Then Again, Maybe Not!

20140627-163501-59701414.jpgMy imperfections are many. The truest measure of this man is at best mediocrity, for that is all that my sin could make of me. Mediocre… perhaps not by comparison to some, but with certainty in contrast to the Supremacy of Christ!

Yet, because of Jesus (The Father having hidden me in Him), I am more than the sum of my sins—more than my little successes. In fact, Paul writes in Colossians 1:28, that we are made “perfect in Christ Jesus.” For the mediocre man marred by sin, this is beyond good news …it is great news!

I love what Spurgeon wrote on this verse, “…amidst this sad consciousness of imperfection, here is comfort for you–you are “perfect in Christ Jesus.” In God’s sight, you are “complete in him;” even now you are “accepted in the Beloved.” But there is a second perfection, yet to be realized, …is it not delightful to look forward to the time when every stain of sin shall be removed from the believer, and he shall be presented faultless before the throne, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing? …so pure, that not even the eye of Omniscience will see a spot or blemish.”

What a profound and humbling hope …that I, who can so readily look in the mirror with human eyes and spot my many imperfections, am chosen and adopted by The One who, in His mercy, has so thoroughly buried me in Jesus death and raised me in His resurrection …so infused me with His obedience, His sacrifice, His life, His perfection, that The Father sees none of the me I (and perhaps others) are so often prone to see! What a wondrous mystery …what a Mighty Savior.

Again, Spurgeon, “Doth not thy heart leap for joy at the thought of it? Black as thou art, thou shalt be white one day; filthy as thou art, thou shalt be clean. Oh, it is a marvellous salvation this! Christ takes a worm and transforms it into an angel; Christ takes a black and deformed thing and makes it clean and matchless in his glory, peerless in his beauty, and fit to be the companion of angels.”

For this, and a myriad of other blessings to be counted, I worship Christ Jesus as my Savior and Lord! I would know Him more intimately …love Him more sincerely …and serve Him more faithfully and fully.

How about you? We are better off, I believe, gazing more into the Perfections of Jesus than in mulling over with regret the man, or woman, we behold in the mirror of mediocrity!

And the writer of Hebrews concurs, “…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith… (Hebrews 12:1-2).”

We see Jesus, he says, “seated at the right hand of the throne of God,” which, having been so completely immersed in Christ’s identity is precisely where The Father sees you—perfected and in your place gathered around His Throne! This IS your inheritance …your destiny with perfection. The rest of this life is just pressing in and pressing on as we persevere in God’s glorious purposes for our lives!

Yes, and amen.

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A Necessary (and Important) Predicament

Grateful to be able to encourage and honor moms yesterday at Element Church. I am especially thankful for the opportunity to share words of consolation, encouragement and exhortation with my wife and mother in the crowd. I have learned so much from each of them to help me in this task. We exalted God, pressed in to Jesus, and honored mom …hearts were encouraged and transformation continues. Yay God!

Yet, for me, it proved to be a rough weekend that left me reeling [I’ll spare you all the details]. I’ll admit I am never good at handling such predicaments …I’m a fixer and not terribly patient. What gives? Why are there so many things beyond my control? The combination of these two traits can create an inordinate amount of distress, discontentedness, and disillusionment (and probably some other d’s I couldn’t think of).

Suffice to say, when this sort of thing happens my tendency (and maybe yours too) is to over-complicate things instead of seeking to simplify. I’ll get out a big metaphorical pot and start chuck’n in ingredients: problems large and small, issues, limitations, unresolved questions, frustrations, teen acne, algebra, how was part of Voldemort in Harry …you get the idea. Then, because I’m not God (“[His] ways are higher than my ways and [His] thoughts are higher than my thoughts”Is. 55:9) I wind up in the enemies stratagem, trying to write checks with human reason that my intellect can’t cash—which is why Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

But what happens when you miss the Proverbs 3:5-6 exit ramp and wind up motoring way to far down the “on your own understanding” road? Well, it’s a predicament to be sure, but perhaps one that is necessary and important to our way. Don’t get me wrong… embrace Proverbs 3:5-6, do it consistently, unceasingly, do it perfectly were that possible—it (God) would never let you down and you would never wind up in my predicament.

Yet, sometimes… stuff happens, right? So God used two things to kick me out of the kitchen, or lab, or whatever metaphor you want for solving the mysteries of the Universe: 1) words of truth from a faithful friend, and 2) God’s good Word to my soul.

God gave them to me in that order, and truthfully I wanted to be dismissive of 1), though I believed them to be true words, and could actually hear myself counseling somebody else with them. I knew they were right …their words reliable …and they were what I needed to hear! But THOSE words don’t cure cancer or solve world hunger. I’m working on big-picture stuff here, people. Then, early this morning, I return to God in prayer and to Scripture for His guidance. God gave me Psalm 94 to chew on and I am so grateful that He did. Specifically God drew me to verses 18-19, which says, “When I thought, ‘My foot slips,’ your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up. When cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.”

And there it is… the necessity of my predicament. To be sure, even if not the cause, I am the root problem to my perception that “I am falling …all is lost.” God doesn’t trip us up, but He does allow us to take our foolish escapades …not to bring us harm, but to show us more of His steadfast love. God sometimes lets me get myself into a free fall where my apparent lack of ability to halt it is on display, so that He can remind me that it is He, and He alone that holds me up. Further, that though my heart is apt to get burdened and broken and bent out of shape over a myriad of things; it is His intention to re-order and prioritize all those things in such a way as to not overwhelm me. Here’s the thing, whether all those things are ever resolved or not to my liking isn’t what God is asking me to handle. God’s primary concern is that in the midst of all those things, we not lose our way …that we live each moment; in want or in plenty, in triumph or trouble, with His “consolations cheering our soul.”

I hope that helps you like it helped me this morning. Thank you, God …for the predicament and for your patience with me. And thank you to my wife, Gayla, who is ever my faithful friend. God often inhabits your words with His truthful consolations …and that cheers up my soul!

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A Letter from a Father’s Foxhole (4-post series, pt.4)

[This is a letter written from a dad to his four children. It is real and raw, and reflects the fluidity of a heartfelt conversation.  It was not intended to be a theological treatise, and while it’s intent is to be Scripturally sound, it isn’t comprehensive or exhaustive to all the Bible offers, or that could, and perhaps should be said.  It is an imperfect field manual …a brief, but important dispatch sent in the midst of conflict (not our family’s, but that of a grander, eternal sort).  It has been redacted where appropriate, but I have maintained the parental perspective (though I only have four children of my own and a fatherly concern for the people I am privileged to serve as an under-shepherd.]

Dear Daughter ~ Dear Son ~ Dear Sister ~ Dear Brother, (conclusion)

Here is why I believe it is important that I be a fighter… because when Jesus made that offer in John 10:10, he also said this, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”  Your spiritual infancy and faith-beginnings have, I believe, largely kept you (personally) shielded from that reality (part parenting, part prayer, ALL GOD).  But I want you to know, FOLLOWING JESUS (I mean really pressing in …like the death of self-carrying a cross-kind of following) IS NOT EASY …IT IS A FIGHT!

And while your mom and I have known this for a long time, and have been fighting that enemy on your behalf—we cannot make choices for you about your actively enrolling in Jesus’ revolution, and choosing to battle as part of His resistance against the forces of darkness.  I believe I have shared around this Truth with you in varying ways, but perhaps not as clearly as now becomes necessary if you are going to seize the reins of your life and follow Jesus in victorious living (though a battle), and not be isolated, run-through, and defeated like so many—or worse, to be continually waffling and wasting away in complacency and lukewarm commitment as you serve yourself more than the Savior!

SATAN IS REAL, and he intends to do you far more harm than you have imagined …and again, it is a grace to you that we have labored to shield you from that (you are not without your issues, but you are a clean slate in Jesus).  However, if you want long-haul devotion to Jesus, and all of the hope and promise that are offered you in Christ—then you are going to have to wage bloody war for it!

We can pray for you, with you, over you (we have) …we can preach to you, pour into you, and try to point you in a wise direction (we have) …we’ll fight with you and for you (we have), and if push come to shove, we would, without hesitation, die for you—but, this one thing we cannot do for you!  If your life (however glorious or inglorious) is to be defined by a trajectory that reflects grace upon grace and growing deeper and deeper in Jesus, then you have got to own the daily, week-to-week, season-after-season, lifetime FIGHT TO STAY THE COURSE!

It may feel like it was easy up to a point …it wasn’t, it’s just that you were sitting on our spiritual coattails and our prayerful cries for heaven’s help on your behalf.  Yet, though you’ll always be ours, and you will always be a proud part of our legacy, God has no grandchildren!  I want to clear up any confusion my flawed example might have caused …or your mis-perception of things might have created.  You will have to fight your sin, and your apathy, and the enemy; and it will be the battle of a lifetime.  Please hear me, though, it is worth the fight because you have already won in Jesus!

Still, you will have to be broken, crushed, and emptied …you will face discouragement, despair, and sometimes the tempting desire to walk away—GET REAL SERIOUS AND REAL CLEAR ON YOUR CALLING IN CHRIST, AND DO IT NOW IF YOU WANT TO WEATHER THOSE STORMS.  You have been graced much, and I have always believed God wanted to, and would, do great things in you and through you (His will).  However, that will demand the very best, and even at times the well-intentioned worst, of who you are!  If you thought Satan was just going to lay-down-and-roll-over while God lavishes abundance on you, then you’ve unwittingly excluded yourself from the first part of what Jesus said!  Let me assure you… IT. DON’T. WORK. THAT. WAY.

Some of you have gotten knocked down of late (it happens to all of us), and doubtless you had a hand in it …as did others perhaps, or circumstance, or whatever—but the primary reason is because Satan hates you and he means to have you dead, or at leased maimed to the point you are reduced to the status of a spiritual cripple who walks with a limp of ineffectiveness!

So you get knocked down… it sucks, believe me, I know!  But take a moment while you’re down there to count your blessings …see all the grace and goodness lavished on you …see the sure promise of Jesus …reflect on how great it is to be entering the fray of following Christ having been trained largely away from the field of battle (though imperfectly) before having to take up the fight for yourself.  Also, while you’re down there, remind yourself that you’ve already gotten far more and better than you deserved, and that Jesus is infinitely worthy of every ounce of devotion you can muster.  THEN, cry for help, crawl, scrape …do whatever you have to, but GET UP, DUST YOURSELF OFF, and for God-sake …for Christ sake …for your sake and the sake of those you love, don’t just stand there… FIGHT!

A lot is wrong with you, but probably not the stuff you dwell on …mostly it’s that you’re an ‘in-the-process-of-being-redeemed’ soldier in an ‘over-your-head-but-not-His’ war of the ages.  Instead of picking up your metaphorical sword and swinging with all your might to slay your enemies in Jesus name, recognize that it is your propensity as a fallen human to waste time whining because life knocked your ice cream cone out of our hand, and nobody wants to cry with you, and nobody wants to buy you another one!  WAKE UP, SLEEPER, THE ENEMY IS TRYING TO KILL YOU!  FIGHT!!!  You’re the only one who can do that for you.

Crowns aren’t given to crybabies… Yes, we gotta cry, but let it be the tears of noble warfare waged in The Good Name of our Great God—for our souls and for the souls of others!

All my love,

Your-wounded-but-still-warfare-waging-dad

Field Note to Friend-Readers:

Too many Christ-followers are living far beneath the level of their inheritance—they are weak of faith, the church is anemic as a result, and the mission of Christ to a lost and dying world suffers because of it.  Like me, you have probably overlooked the problem or your own sin too often, underestimated your enemy too much, and not looked longingly enough into the atoning work of Jesus on your behalf!  Too many have relegated the significance of the cross to a point of decision in their past instead of the present-tense imperative of ‘deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.’ 

Christian, can I just implore you to begin daily heeding the words penned by the Apostle Paul in Romans 12, which says, ‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

I know that my kids love Jesus, as do my wife and I …and I could guess that you do as well.  Yet, here’s what Scripture says about all of us: we (like any living sacrifice would) have a real bad habit of crawling off the altar.  This is why the command is in the aorist tense, it is ongoing, something that must be done daily.  Also, Scripture makes it plain that we have a very real, and very powerful enemy who was the enemy of our God first.  He is quite cunning in lying to us, luring us, and leveraging our flesh in order to entice us from said altar.  Change your mindset.  We are not to be looking for the good life in this world, but in the next.  We are residing in a world that is very much at war and you are a soldier for Christ.  Reveille.  Fall in.

By way of the gospel,

Larry

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A PRAYER FOR THE UNPLEASANT

Tough ChoicesA prayer for this day, and the unpleasant and undesired difficulty it brings. Such is the nature of the unavoidable collateral damage of another’s obstinance, sinful choices and willful rebellion. Repentance and mercy and restoration are so much preferred for they are life-giving—beautiful and desired by the redeemed.

The troublesome task should never be taken to lightly, yet, there are times when carnal choices demand a righteous response—when a stand must be made for principle and truth—where doing what’s right means getting your hands dirty and willingly paying a price!

“17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all (Psalm 34).”

The righteous are not exempt from trouble or the painful hurt it brings, but God delivers! Still, He does so only as we actively align our lives with what is right. This is a reckoning that can either re-create you in righteousness …or, crush you in your rebellion. Truth. It is easier in the short-run just to pretend or run away than to fight, but without the stand we only serve to seal another in their self-delusion and self-destruction (and this has grave consequence in the long run).

We have reached this sad place despite many prayers for the unrepentant …and after a costly course requiring sacrifice, serving, compassion, long-suffering patience, and truth offering genuine turn-around have been met with disdain, disrespect and constant deception.

This I, and others’ (assured of our own desperate need for Jesus and abiding in the truth that God alone–and that which He commands–can be called right and good), humbly align ourselves with the justification that is ours in Jesus, by grace through faith alone—we seek only to obey the dictates of His Word knowing that this matter is beyond our repair, and that to remain is to stand in His way. God alone is Judge, but we are compelled to seek and to stand for justice.

“1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load
(Galatians 6).”

May your day be pleasant …but may you also be prepared for the day of unpleasantness!

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A Letter from a Father’s Foxhole (4-post series, pt.3)

[This is a letter written from a dad to his four children. It is real and raw, and reflects the fluidity of a heartfelt conversation.  It was not intended to be a theological treatise, and while it’s intent is to be Scripturally sound, it isn’t comprehensive or exhaustive to all the Bible offers, or that could, and perhaps should be said.  It is an imperfect field manual …a brief, but important dispatch sent in the midst of conflict (not our family’s, but that of a grander, eternal sort).  It has been redacted where appropriate, but I have maintained the parental perspective (though I only have four children of my own and a fatherly concern for the people I am privileged to serve as an under-shepherd).]

Dear Daughter ~ Dear Son ~ Dear Sister ~ Dear Brother, (continued…)

As parents, we have led, managed, instructed, disciplined, cajoled, cried, prayed, and a bunch of other stuff to get you to this place…

  • A place where you are as minimally damaged by your depravity as possible, though dead from the start
  • A place where you could respond to the convicting work of the Spirit to repent of sin, accept the forgiveness of God and be made alive in Jesus; devoted and growing
  • A place where you’d be steeped in a sense of the promise of God’s purpose for you, a purpose you are meant to chase after as you follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit; and to be prepared… for a life of faithfulness, and maybe a spouse, maybe kids to raise, and definitely lives to touch, etc.

…but we wanted to get you THERE in as healthy and whole and capable a shape as possible because we knew a time would come/will come when we can no longer make all the choices—each of you has to make them in adulthood for yourself, and there’s a myriad of them to make—but NONE more important than the big-picture trajectory of your life, your devotion, and your discipline before God.

Sure I have my regrets, I have made you to know (both in my failings and in frequently modeling repentance and seeking your forgiveness) that I am just a sinner being saved by God’s grace.  My regrets are not for my own flaws and failures as these have been where I have most deeply experienced redemption …this work of sanctification has shaped me into the man I am. Mostly it’s the thought that I have at times, by my words and actions, complicated your journey. I have known for a long time that each of you would carry a wound you most likely received from me as a fallen father, as I am just another in a long line of Adams.  However, because of Jesus, I feel pretty good about the position God has you in …I’m hopeful for you!  I feel those same verses I mentioned before, and a bunch more for each of you …I pray them for you!!!

I know that you love me, you want for me, and you worry about me just as I do for you.  Granted, I’m certain that watching my life has seemed for you at times like watching a high-speed crash in slow-motion!  LOL.  I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes in drawing wise boundaries around what does and does not need to be shared.  I’ve been messy, but that messiness is born of a genuine desire for authenticity, and a belief that you are, in the long run, better served by my transparency and vulnerability.

Ok, so I’m not perfect …I’m sorta screwed up, but the final chapter on my life (and yours) is victory in Jesus …and that covers all the perceived losses and it accounts for all the promising wins.  And, it’s because of that very real hope in Jesus that I want you to know—whether winning or losing, celebrating successes or suffering set-backs—I AM A FIGHTER (for a life that is faithful… ‘to the God who loved me and gave his life as a ransom for me’).  Regardless of what comes of my life or career-exploits, I hope that that you will have learned this about me …from me!  I have chosen to self-disclose my frailties—at times reflecting God’s gracious triumph and at other times glaring through my own troubles—in the hopes that you would find me to be a fighter for the right thing!  In triumph or trouble …whether things go well or things seem worse, I am fighting to get closer to the perfect Father—so that I might become more like Him, and that I might fuel your own sold-out abandon to His adoption!

Field Note to Friend-Readers:

Our Sovereign God is providential over all of life.  Scripture tells us that he is a God of order.  Here’s the truth: God gave you life through a pair of imperfect parents and they represent his good commitment to a life lived under authority.  Every one of us is capable of stunning amounts of let-down for those around us, and this is especially true of parents given their high degree of proximity to us.  Even the most ideal of dads and moms buckle, break and drop the ball under the enormous weight of representing the first line of God-ordained authority in a child’s life.  As you read this, your mind may even flood with past hurts and failings you experienced from a parent …or a massive void over their absence (metaphorical or literal).  Hurts are real, and they need a healing that God alone can ultimately bring.

Yet, it remains, God gave you your parents, and it is in their imperfection that they can fuel a thirst in us for a perfect Father.  This doesn’t mean going out of your way to try to heap burning coals on their heads for those imperfections.  Perhaps surprisingly to you, the God-ordained pathway to this place of blessing is the 5th Commandment, which says, “Honor your father and mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you… (Deut. 5:16).  Whether you perceive it to be hard or easy, find a way, and go out of your way, to honor your parents.  This is a grace-giving ministry to imperfect parents to whom God entrusted you (right, wrong, or indifferent), and it is a life-giving practice for you and your future imperfect experience as a parent!

(To be continued… pt.4)

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A Letter from a Father’s Foxhole (4-post series, pt.2)

[This is a letter written from a dad to his four children. It is real and raw, and reflects the fluidity of a heartfelt conversation.  It was not intended to be a theological treatise, and while it’s intent is to be Scripturally sound, it isn’t comprehensive or exhaustive to all the Bible offers, or that could, and perhaps should be said.  It is an imperfect field manual …a brief, but important dispatch sent in the midst of conflict (not our family’s, but that of a grander, eternal sort).  It has been redacted where appropriate, but I have maintained the parental perspective (though I only have four children of my own and a fatherly concern for the people I am privileged to serve as an under-shepherd.]

Dear Daughter ~ Dear Son ~ Dear Sister ~ Dear Brother,

Luke 12:48b says, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom much is entrusted, will more be demanded.”

These are words about blessing, position, promise, expectation, and responsibility. They have also been, to me, a beautiful burden—a sobering truth I feel I have failed to live up to!  Nevertheless, they have also been an anchor for me …a tether to the hope that He chose me on purpose; to the possibility that maybe I will; and the hope that it can and will happen in and through me before I breath my last.  I suppose this idea born of my faith in Jesus, is, as much as anything else, what the Spirit uses to keep me going, fighting, and even if failing–at least failing forward.

I, and I alone am to blame for all of my sin, for a lot of my circumstance, and the liability of my scars and wounds.  I have, I feel, been too slow and too small of faith.  I don’t pray enough. I’ve often overreached, underestimated, forgotten too much I’ve been shown, and at times wrestled with pride that tempts me to think I haven’t gotten what I deserve—BUT, I have pressed on—perhaps not uniquely, not inspiringly, not successfully, and certainly not sinlessly—but I’ve hung in there (by grace through the work of the Holy Spirit).  Even now I don’t know what will come of my life and ministry-calling, but I have tried, against heart-crushing experiences, confusion, and my own self-inflicted sin, to remain true to that belief.

This belief is tied to another of Jesus’ words found in John 10:10, which says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  I believe God gave me some ability (though I have a more humbled view of that now), and I believe Jesus wants for me life in abundance—a life that is fruitful and joyful and rightly successful (successful in righteousness).  I get tired, but I am still hopeful for more and greater increase.  Still, I have not found it easy, but rather, difficult—a fight, really.  I love my parents, I am grateful for my home of origin—the many lessons I learned from my dad and for a mom who led me to Jesus—but my growing up was not terribly focused on spiritual matters (that was a deficiency in me).

This made it far more of a challenge for me, but all along the way God graced me (at times even unknowingly) to discover more (“abundance”)!  I still don’t feel as though I’ve ‘made good’ on all that He has given me, and I suspect I will feel the same on my last day—though I know that I rest completely in Jesus (upon his merit) and that what God has tasked me to focus on is faithful obedience, leaving the fruit up to him.  That said, one thing your Mom and I have tried to do was to provide a climate, a context, an environment where each of your own lives would be awash (from early on) with things we did not discover until sin had become a deep-seated, long-running, terribly ingrained reality (me more than she, I’m sure).

To be sure, each of you are sinners, but I believe (and pray not naively so) that through proactive-parenting shaped by Scripture, informed by faith in Jesus, and through prayer (though not nearly as much as I wish) you have been both guarded from some dangers (which has hopefully prevented systemic sin issues you’d have to fight against being defined by in adulthood) …and… discipled to some extent in a way that nurtured your young faith.  That is not to say that you don’t have a very real sin nature or that you won’t face temptation toward sin—you do and you will!  Still, most of you are close to being on your own and all of you have done awesomely (not as good as your mom yet, but you are way better—more Jesus-sensitive and centered—than I was at your respective ages).

Field Note to Friend-Readers:

The disparity that exists between the blessedness of God’s adoption and the life of abundance prepared for you in Christ, and your life at present is a more a matter of your sin than your circumstance.  The single greatest thing any one of us can do in progressing in our faith is to remain at the first, which Jesus said was to “repent and believe.  As Martin Luther stated in his 95 Theses, When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent”, he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  Regardless of your family of origin, the environment and experiences that shaped you, there will never be any one who does more to undermine your life than you.  Don’t waste time spinning your wheels always pointing fingers at others.  Choose to forgive, leave others to God to handle …and you, you be serious about your sin, and pressing into your faith in Jesus who alone can transform you and make all things new!

(To be continued…, pt.3)

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A Letter from a Father’s Foxhole (a 4-post series)

When it comes to conversation with my kids, I love any and all forms of meaningful interaction.  Nothing delights this dad more than trade talks with these wonderful treasures that God has granted me the privilege of stewarding!  However, from time to time over the course of their lives, there have been those occasions that especially seemed to call for a ‘letter from dad.  A letter allows me to follow a stream of thought to heart-crafted completion, and it gives them something that they can hang on to in the hope of seeing it help them along their way.  Each one of my kids possess a variety of such correspondence from me—some of them have even wound up framed and displayed as spiritual markers in their lives (from bedroom to dorm room to first home-away-from-home).  I’m grateful for that because I believe each time I have put ‘fingers-to-keyboard’ on behalf of my kids it was God who was prompting me to do so!

As an aside, can I encourage you to make it your goal to become an overcommunicator when it comes to the words that give life as they are poured into the ones who matter most to you!  A favorite Proverb my wife and I like to repeat around our home is Proverbs 18:21, which we paraphrase, ‘The tongue holds the power to give life or take it away.’  Most of us allow far too much trivia to pass as substantive discourse …all the while the ones we love are craving to hear words of substance, meaty words, bedrock words …words of love, truth, grace, and life.  Say those words.  Say them often.  Say them, and then say the last 10%!

In the interest of that, I thought my most recent installment of ‘a letter from dad’ might be worth sharing.  It reflects my earnest desire to see them take responsibility for the life God has given them, and earnestly resign themselves to the joyful, triumphant, but also difficult journey of following Jesus with all their might!  Gayla and I can’t do that for them, and I wanted them to know that the life which, ‘seeks first the kingdom’ …the life that ‘stores up treasures in heaven’ …the one that’s most apt to hear, ‘well done,’ or prove out to be ‘good soil’ is not the life born of lukewarm spirituality, or the casual, ‘what’s-in-it-for-me’ brand of participation in Christ’s cause.  A life of carrying a cross just might cost you everything, and it will, inevitably and inextricably, change you in every way!

I am concerned for my kids, for the people I pastor, and for many, many professing Christians I have encountered.  I am concerned that, in a culture that caters to individual whim and contends for a person’s time and treasure on an entertainment-level, Christ and his church suffer a similar sort of superficial reductionism that tends to leave Christ’s followers spiritually anemic and atrophied—living beneath the level of their inheritance at the very least—and possibly self-diluted, unchanged and deceived by another gospel (Matthew 7:21-23) at the worst.

I am humbled and will be eternally grateful to the Father for answering the repentant prayer for salvation in Jesus that each one of my kids has prayed.  I know that God has regenerated their souls as I have seen in so many beautiful ways how he is transforming them, making them faithfully like Jesus and fruitful.  I also believe Romans 10:9 for you—that, “if you have confessed with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believed in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you have been saved.”  My purpose is not to call your faith into question any more than I would want to do that with my own children.  I do, however, desire that we be abundantly clear on what it means to follow Jesus …resolutely, devotedly, completely—that we understand that neither a parent or a pastor, a spouse or prayer warrior, can do the painstaking work of daily slipping into the easy yoke and pressing in to Jesus for us.  I share this series of posts for that reason.

Finally, perhaps you had or have incredible parents—ones who modeled faith for you, demonstrated the disciples’ discipline of repentance and faith with vulnerability and transparency, pointed you reliably to the only perfect Father, and filled you up with weighty words of wisdom that continue to serve you well.  That is awesome!  We should praise Jesus over and over again for the grace of imperfect, but redeemed moms and dads—especially when so many children in the world today are suffering not only a famine of spiritual parenting, but of a dad or a mom of any kind.  Even if you were fortunate to have a dad (present), maybe you didn’t hear those words.  If not, I hope the Father will perhaps speak to you through this ‘charge from a father’s foxhole.’

[Note: In just a few weeks we will celebrate Mothers!  Yay God!  Moms are vital to the possibility of life and family—to the nurturing and loving and cultivating of children who can become healthy, whole and capable adults.  It was my mother who so faithfully prayed for me and pointed me to Jesus.  Thank you, Mom.  ‘A letter from dad’ is in no way an attempt to minimize mom!  Beyond the providential working and grace of our Great God, I attribute the blessed individuals our kids have become in large measure to their mother, my wife.  Yet, a dad (so tragically absent in homes, churches, and throughout our world) is desperately necessary to the adequate preparation of kids who can survive outside the home in a harsh world that is at war.  In truth this letter represents the hopes and wishes of both a dad and a mom.]

(To be continued… pt.2)

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God Is Watching You

“And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13).”

Do these words comfort you …buoy your life with confidence? Or, do they cause you some consternation? Perhaps a bit of both?

The thought of all of Heaven watching on—that neither the angelic host or God Himself ever misses a moment of your struggle through this life is (or at least ought to be) a little unsettling.

And it is why we are exhorted in verse 11 to “strive to enter that rest” which is ours in Jesus! In truth, if you are “in Christ” then God sees you as complete “in Him!” Yet, the living remains …the working out of His Shalom in our lives—this is sanctification …discipleship …the Christian life.

Yes, there are sins …and struggling, but there must always be the corrective of repentance and faith, which leads us striving to enter that rest—coming to truly know (and distrust) ourselves, humbling ourselves before God (decreasing in our prideful and self-deceived appraisals), looking only to Jesus and pressing in to His life (in us, through us, as us) in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.

The aim of verse 13 is to see your life (word, thought and deed) so thoroughly identified with Jesus that He becomes IN YOU what truly He is …your obedience, your righteousness, your very life, and that experientially knowing this you are at REST. As God’s work in us runs course, that thought (v.13) which was once unsettling becomes a sobering and supportive motivator for the good fight of breaking from idle distractions, and earnestly battling our sins. Here’s what that looks like:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).”

To know this—to make this journey in your faith (from 4:13 to 12:1) requires, among other things:

• seeking Jesus
• truly knowing yourself
• daily walking the path of repentance and faith
• refusing to deceive yourself
• not using the relationships God has given you as a game for control or ego, but as life’s laboratory for working out redemption and reconciliation

I could go on…

But here’s the bottom line. I am frequently trying to hammer into my kids, the people I’m privileged to pastor, and people I meet—there is one thing between the “rest” of verse 11 you are meant for in Jesus and the sobering thought of God’s all-seeing eyes in verse 13, and that is verse 12 of chapter 4:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).”

The path you must walk to enter the peaceful rest that is yours in Jesus—to find comfort in knowing that NOTHING is trivial because Heaven watches on …to live, in increasing measure, the life that is uncluttered by idle pursuits and sobered to the war against sin—is that which can only result by consistently (daily is what your propensity toward sinfulness requires) yielding your life to the work of the indwelling Spirit who takes the surgically precise Word of God and does …for, in and through you what you cannot do for yourself!

To ignore this is not only to live sadly beneath the level of your inheritance in Jesus, but it is to grow cold …to become carnal and calloused. And despite the rhetoric of cheap talk, prideful posturing and self-affirmation—when we are not nurtured by God’s Words, renewed in our thinking, and transformed by the work of the Spirit—we are apt to find that when the going gets tough we, with shriveled and shallow faith, will know little of that “rest.” Instead you will more likely find you remain full of yourself, beset with sins, frightened instead of fueled up by the knowledge that God is watching. You will likely feel lonely, isolated and alone—and left in the wake of the life you insisted be on “your terms” will be the collateral carnage of a string of wounded and broken relationships …relationships through which God sought to work, to bring healing, help and hope—but you stood in the way.

What we most crave leads to choice, and choices, you see, have consequences.

Oh, how I pray for the corrective work of God’s Word in the capable hands of the Spirit to remove the veil from our eyes, wreck our lives with the vision of His beauty and greatness, and reform us to the uttermost for His glory and our joy!

I pray that for me.

I pray that for you.

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Run With The Son!

Went for a run with my son, Seth …we were only going to run together for a bit because he was running for time and I, well I don’t know why I am running (other than to stay alive—ironically it always feels like it’s killing me).

Anyway, a lot sooner than I’d planned it was time to part—I’ve spent his whole life trying to set a reliable example he could follow. It’s been my job to lead and his to follow, and, if there was ever any leaving to do it would be me leaving, and him staying behind …at home …with mom …with sisters …and with the stuff of childhood.

Funny, in an effort to hold each other accountable and get in some exercise I got a whole lot more than just working up a sweat and a tight knee for later. As my son (with relative ease) slipped his tranny into a gear I no longer seem to possess and broke from my side …quickly putting distance between us, I was reminded that mine is a privilege that vanishes like a vapor—that the moments to lead well, to pray fervently, to teach wisely are all to fleeting and must be handled with an incredible sense of urgency!

Oh, I know I’ll never grow tired of the idea of being with my kids—hanging together …talking with them …teaching them …having them go for a run while pushing me in my wheel chair—the truth is I can’t keep up with him (them). They’ve got to run on into an expectant future that Father has planned for them. If they lag behind to run with me, then they won’t know the inexpressible joy of yoking up and running with Jesus. I want that for them more than anything.

For now, for the season, it’s mine to lead by example, teach Truth, and love by word and action …my prayer remains that despite my many imperfections that I have faithfully shown them and pointed them toward Jesus.

Oh, and to all you testosterone-laden young 12-year olds out there—when you’re on a “run” with your old dad and it comes time to part, don’t make it look so easy …fake a tight hammie for a block or so …look back with a pained expression that in some small way identifies with the very real pain your tired, old dad is enduring.

BUT, just as soon as you round that first corner of life …you know, the one where you know you’re just out of my sight—you round that corner hard, fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, don’t look back or second-guess, lean into your course and run it with all your might!

…man, when this started I was just gonna grip about being old.

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Doing Life Together …With Jesus!

Last night I participated in the start of a new Life Group at Element Church. Loved it! It was a great time …great discussion …great fellowship in the presence of Jesus. It was such a wonderful reminder to me of the words of the Psalmist, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity (Psalm 133:1)!” Whether you recognize it or not, you were made for community. God shaped you for relationship—with Him and with others.

You see, if you haven’t discovered it already, you need others and others need you. To be together; to know, love, laugh, share with, encourage, pray for …is to ultimately experience God creating a beautiful tapestry of oneness from diversity, and that is an awe-inspiring thing! Christian community is a place where we gather together to lay our claim on Jesus’ promise, that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there in the midst! On the opening night of this new group’s journey together God gave us a taste of the promise of His presence—and it was good and pleasant!

Maybe it’s time for you to engage Christian community! Whether you’re at Element Church or attending somewhere else …let me encourage you to take the step, make the commitment, lower your interpersonal defenses, drop the agenda, and learn the joy of locking arms with a group of people who are ready, willing and hungry to encounter the presence of Jesus!

There are simply some issues in life you will never overcome alone …some levels of maturity you will never attain on a solo-journey …some spiritual wonders your eyes will not behold apart from Christian community!

You will not regret doing life together …with Jesus!

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Seek The Greater Glory

To see the unseen God is to believe that he is there …to know the conviction of your own moral indebtedness to him, to turn in repentance and receive by grace through faith the saving work of the Son, Jesus Christ. This is the Gospel: Jesus accused, tried, condemned and crucified in my place. Laid in a grave that could not hold him and resurrected to a new life he has made available to me …and to you.

Have your eyes been opened? Have you seen God …and come to know him as Father? Perhaps the greatest test of the certainty of our spiritual insightfulness and the depth of our conversion is the conviction and constancy with which we speak to others of the One who has so radically loved us and transformed our lives. This is the great call upon every one who would confess him as Savior and Lord. He has assigned you to no less (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8)!

Yet, often, instead of a resolute faith and confidence that compels a boldness of speech, Christ followers are reluctant to give voice to the love, grace and gospel of the invisible God—made known to us in the God-Son, Jesus. Instead, many accommodate a secret belief which they only faintly speak of, and at that typically only in Christian circles. This is contrary to a genuine encounter with God. Isaiah encountered God …he saw his glory and he spoke of him. This is ‘The Way’ of which the Scriptures speak. The more deeply we experience the reality of God the more convinced we become of our desperate need of him …and not our’s alone, but others all around us! This is the mission essential.

To invite someone to church seems risky. To work hard at building a relationship with the lost can be uncomfortable. To share your faith is challenging. To engage the unbeliever or skeptic often seems a daunting task. Yet, for the one who’s life has been redeemed there simply is no other path. To confess Christ—to live for him and speak of him—will always stretch us out of our comfort zone, but this is the means by which our faith and experience deepens, and it is also the means by which others may come to see and know.

I was struck with conviction for our fellowship this morning when I read these words in John’s Gospel:

“Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God (John 12:42, 43 ESV).”

I wonder, do you readily seize the opportunity to make your confession known? Do you speak with your mouth what the eyes of your heart have seen? Or, does fear immobilize you? Are you more concerned with “the glory that comes from man” …to anxious to seem normal …to be liked or approved …to not be labeled a spiritual fanatic?

Opportunities are ever-present, all around us. All that is really lacking for most secret saints is a depth of encounter with the Sovereign over all things! Such an experience unavoidably leads us to speak of that which we know and believe. I assure you that when this life is over no one will ever ask you in eternity, ‘why were you always talking about Jesus?’ They just might on the other hand ask, ‘why didn’t you tell me about Jesus?’

Tonight I pray for Element Church. I pray for you—that together we will seek the greater glory! I pray that your salvation is sure, and that the conviction and courage of the Spirit will be yours …to name the Name that is above every name. May Jesus be continually upon your lips and as common to your conversation as the weather, or sports, politics or current events! Take a step of faith …invite some one to church, start up a friendship with someone in your sphere of influence, ask God to open your eyes.

Seek The Greater Glory!

By Way of the Gospel,
Pastor Larry

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A Nehemiah Moment

Nehemiah’s story offers so many invaluable leadership lessons for the life devoted to God. One of my favorites comes at the outset of his story …it is perhaps the most dramatic moment.  It’s that pivotal scene that gives purpose to the telling of ‘the rest of the story.’ By the time this ‘moment’ arrives a lot has already taken place.

Nehemiah, an exiled Jew in Persia around 458 BC, is in the service of king Artaxerxes. Nehemiah receives a report from one of his brothers regarding the disrepair of his home land. Brokenhearted, Nehemiah turns to weeping, mourning, fasting and prayer before God to plead for a reversal of fortune for Jerusalem and the land of Israel.  Nehemiah’s selfless and sincere prayer of repentance and his desperate cry for mercy are recording in chapter 1.  At the close of the prayer is where Nehemiah adds the dramatic note, “I was cupbearer to the king.”

Now a king’s cupbearer was a position of great responsibility because he was the one to certify that none of the wine the king drank was poisoned.  It was also a position of influence since such a trusted servant was routinely in the presence of the king and often became a trusted advisor.  God’s providence in positioning Nehemiah in a place of responsibility and influence is an important reminder to the lives of the redeemed.  No matter what our station in life, as Christ followers, we should live soberly, knowing that a sovereign God delights in leveraging the responsibility and influence of his own (no matter how small or great) for the accomplishment of his purposes.

This was Nehemiah’s reflexive thought upon hearing the report from Jerusalem.  So, it’s in chapter 2, when he returns to work, that our climactic moment arrives.  “In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid (Nehemiah 2:1-2).”

Here is the first lesson from this vignette in Nehemiah’s life: to surrender one’s life to God, seeking to leverage your responsibility and influence, often comes with the sacrifice of risk. A king would continually have a lot on his plate and he didn’t need his closest servants introducing more stress into his life.  Servants were expected to be positive, upbeat, encouraging …perhaps not detailed in the job description, a critical part of a servant’s role was to telegraph (verbally and nonverbally) to the king that, ‘it’s all good cause you-da-bomb.’ To do otherwise was not merely bucking for demotion, but hazarding one’s life! Nehemiah recognized the inherent risk, but he was motivated by the reward of living for God. He was prepared to role the dice because he had conviction that something had to change and because he was convinced that God wanted to use him!

Then Nehemiah, after assuring the king that he’s for him, delivers the report that has broken his heart.  And this is THE MOMENT.  The king could have responded in any number of ways, but he responds with an opportune question, “Then the king said to me, ‘What are you requesting’ (2:4)?” What happens next is a critically important leadership lesson. Nehemiah knew his station in life was one of significance, after all, he had primo access to a man with incredible resource, a man who might well be the human means to the reversal of fortune he was seeking. Yet, of far greater importance to Nehemiah was …his certainty about where he stood with the Creator of all things …his conviction that God is for repentant people who act in faith, and …his confidence that change was in keeping with bringing glory to him (God, not Artexerxes)!

The king asks, and the words that follow provide the twist in the plot, “So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king…(2:4-5) Nehemiah utters a prayer to the God in who’s hand the king’s heart rests (Proverbs 21:1), and then, with humility and courage, he makes his request!  You know the rest of the story – an earthly king moves his fallible hand full of riches and becomes the source of provision to the plans that the almighty hand of God had laid.

I don’t know what challenge or opportunity you’re facing these days, but I encourage you to keep your eyes on the Maker and Mover of heaven and earth …walk humbly in repentance and faith; bank your trust in him and then align your life with what he’s got going on!  I believe he will expand the boundaries of your responsibility and influence …just keep your eyes open for ‘A Nehemiah Moment!’

Me? I’m trying to do the same.  Today marks 7-days of a focused prayer effort for me and my family over something that my wife and I have prayed toward for years.  I have a meeting today and we are compelled by our hearts to believe the sovereign hand of our good and gracious God is in it.  So, I’m waiting for a Nehemiah Moment …one that could appear this afternoon around 3:00 PM.  If you think about it, say a prayer for me, would you? Until then I’m just waiting expectantly with hope, ready for the question, and armed with Nehemiah’s example, “So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king…”

_____________________

Quote for the Day: “Our wildest dreams are so tame compared to what the Almighty wants to unleash in us and through us!” – Mark Batterson

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All Together Now: Wait. Pray. Then Work.

I have learned much about the discipline and power of prayer from mentor and friend, Clyde Hodson (PrayerMentor).  He is a gifted man of intercession whose words and example continually point to the priority of prayer.  Beyond cliché and lip service, he lives out E. M. Bounds words that ‘prayer isn’t preparation for the work, it is the work!’ One of the important lessons I have learned from Clyde regards giving heed to Christ’s words in Matthew 18:19-20, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

I confess that it’s often easier for me to run off on my own, work hard and give my dead-level (individual) best!  Our default setting as humans is self-reliance – we’re wired in our sinfulness for it.  Education and athletics further exploits this by molding us to strive for personal achievement.  Our culture applauds individual effort, self-determination and accomplishment – no matter how fleeting the results.  Yet, there is a limit to what we can achieve.  More to the point, there is a fatal flaw in the default setting of humans toward self-reliance.  The shortest distance from A to B is not the straight line (often more crooked) of prideful, human effort …the shortest distance from A to B is Jesus!

According to Jesus, things work differently in God’s economy.  So much so that human effort is leveraged best when, in partnership with others, it is inactive or stillSynergy. It’s not just a group of 2 or 3 working together, it’s 2 or 3 ceasing from activity long enough to demonstrate dependence on the Father in the presence of Jesus.  Human effort plays a part, yes, but it is of secondary importance, and its not all together essential for the accomplishment of God’s purposes!  Did you catch that?  God doesn’t need what you can do for him …he’s interested in moving on our behalf, once we’ve banded together and humbled ourselves to seek what only he can do for us!

This means, as a consistent part of God’s working in our lives, he is going to allow us to come up against circumstances that seem insurmountable.  The point is not to make us double-down, dig deep and make a way for ourselves, but rather to lead us to the power of what only prayer and dependence can achieve.  And that’s where I find myself just now.  My family and I have come together out of a sense of God’s calling to plant Element Church, and there are more than just a few obstacles.  Yet, there is, in the face of challenge, great opportunity.  One of those opportunities is set for next Thursday, April 14th!  It’s a potentially huge day for our efforts to live gospel-centered lives as we seek to plant a missional church!  I’ll admit that from an earthly vantage point it seems insurmountable.  Perhaps that is the point!

As we spend the next week, waiting for the hours and days to pass by, leading up to this meeting, we are determined to come together in humble dependence and seek the Father for what only he can do.  We’re praying for a miracle.  We’re praying for God to move his mighty hand to accomplish something we could never achieve on our own.  We are, after all, caught up in something for which God alone can be praised and we’re praying for clear evidence of that truth to be manifested in us and through us.  We’re asking, knocking and seeking in hopes of the Father opening one of those doors that can’t be shut.  It’s his specialty!

Drawing from another lesson learned from my friend Clyde; my wife, Gayla and I, along with our four children are doing a Jericho Prayer Effort.  Reminiscent of the Israelites marching around Jericho under Joshua’s leadership, our family is gathering for an hour each day to come together in the agreement of prayer.  Jericho’s wall was an intimidating obstacle for the Israelites!  With no sophisticated battlements or means of breaching the walls, the Israelites could resort to only walking around them, and that was God’s plan.  You have to believe that many prayers of desperation were prayed over the course of those seven days.  Yet, they stuck together, humbled by their human inability and dependent on God.  They prayed, they moved forward and around in obedience, and seven days later …God showed up!

So, here’s to the next seven days …here’s to banding together in our human inability and our dependence on God.  For now, we walk obediently, pray persistently, and wait … for God to show up!  We are trusting he will …he always has before.  And while we may have fashioned in our minds eye how we think this would best turn out, we are willingly surrendered to whatever he want’s to do (“not my will, but thine be done”).  As you think of us over the next week, join us in praying for the mighty and miraculous hand of God to move on our behalf!

Your prayers are powerful and they are certainly appreciated.

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Parenting Milestones

I don’t remember exactly when it was, but somewhere along the way I became captivated by the value of establishing spiritual markers in life.  Often seen in Scripture, the idea benefits our lives in incredibly ways.  Spiritual markers serve to remind us of where we’ve come from, and they are also an important reference point to look back on when tempted to question or when we are up against challenges.

The idea for me was born out of study in the book of Joshua.  There, in chapter 4, as Joshua is leading the Israelites across the Jordan into the land of God’s promise, Joshua is instructed to have the people gather 12-stones from the river-bottom, carry them to the other side and erect a memorial.  “These stones are to serve as a sign …a memorial to the people of Israel forever (4:6-7).” God was doing something important, and he didn’t want them to forget (God’s faithfulness in leading them through the wilderness, the miracle of parting the Jordan, the gift of a land to call their own).  This reminder would be of vital importance to them because there were challenges to face, obstacles to overcome, and wars to be waged.  When the going got tough, as certainly it does in life, God didn’t want them to forget that he is always faithful!

And, as important as this was for those who were crossing to settle this land of Promise, God seems especially concerned for the generations that would follow; “When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord (4:7).” In short, ‘your forefathers came this way …it is the way of faith, and God, who went before us then, continues to go before those who trust in him and remain faithful to the path he leads us on!’

My wife and I have taken this idea of spiritual markers serious in parenting the four children God has blessed us with.  We have attempted to erect parenting milestones in the lives of our kids …to help them connect with God, to make much of Jesus and what he is doing in their life, and to provide them with truth-filled reminders of the way God has worked in their past.  We’ve done this in the prayerful hope that whatever comes their way, they will always be able to turn back to these reference points in their life and be reminded that the journey is worth it …that the God of their past is also the Immanuel of their present and the returning King of their future!

With that said, I had the privilege of erecting another memorial this past weekend with my youngest, my son, Seth David.  As with each one of my daughters (Chelsea, Lauren and Madelyn), right about the time adolescence appears on the horizon, I’ve taken each of them to a ‘coming-of-age’ breakfast (similar to our birthday breakfast tradition) where I retrace the past, talk about the challenges of the present and roadmap where we’re going in the future.  A lot of this talk turns on what I call the three P’s (more on that in a moment).  This time with each one of them has ended with the presentation of something to ‘mark the moment’ (in our case, it has been a ring, to be worn on their wedding finger as a reminder that they have entrusted their heart to me – their pastor, provider, protector – standing in the Father’s stead).

We have been enormously blessed to see each one of our children entrust their lives to Jesus as their Savior and Lord …we’ve had the privilege of baptizing them …discipling them …watching them learn to share the gospel and be used of God to reach others …and we have been deeply gratified to see each one of them respond to the challenge to pursue Jesus and learn to live, in obedience, God’s best wishes for them.  This past Saturday morning it was my privilege to draw a line in the sand for my boy who will become a man, ask him to step across it, and join me in this journey toward Christ-centered masculinity!

It was an awesome time, and though I am keenly aware of the challenge of raising a godly man who can fend off the many fiery darts that are coming his way, I am optimistic for what God wants to do! In the days ahead I will routinely ask him, as I do with his sisters, ‘you still wearing my ring,’ and if it still represents what we covenanted together when we met over breakfast.  I want to continually remind them of the milestones we’ve erected in the formation of their faith.  That’s what the ring stands for …it’s a symbol of their commitment, not to me, but to Jesus Christ.  He is the source of the power they’re going to need to overcome their own sinfulness and walk upright before God …Jesus is the priority relationship that helps you keep all others in their proper place …and Jesus is the pathway of purity that leads not to perfection, but to progress in a life that glorifies God and gives us lasting joy.

I’m humbled and grateful to God that my son accepted the challenge.  I know that the real work of making a man out of him is something Jesus alone can do, but I’m aware of the part I play as his dad, brother, mentor, and friend – and I am excited for the road that stretches out before us.  Our children have to ‘own’ their own journey with God, choosing Jesus and living a life of submission as his disciple is not something we can do for them.  However, we can and should leverage all of our energies to make sure the path is clear, the signposts stand in plane view, and that our sons and daughters are fully aware of how the battle lines get drawn for those who want to live God’s kingdom.

Some favorite resources that have influenced us:

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Words of Encouragement

The following is a guest post from my College daughter, Chelsea Nelson (far right), who is in her sophomore year as a pre-law student at Dallas Baptist University.  Because words of love and affirmation should never go without saying, her mother and I are enormously proud of the young woman she is becoming.  She’s smart, responsible and full of aspiration.  She also has a admirable work ethic.  Of greatest importance to us as her parents is her love for and devotion to Jesus Christ!

Now, this post might seem a little self-serving, but I wanted to share an email that I received from my daughter just this past week for a couple of reasons.  First, the email came as a very welcomed word of affirmation for us in the work that God is preparing us for and called us to (church planting).  Second, it’s a good reminder to a dad like me that my greatest shot at a legacy of any substance is found in my ministry to the children God has entrusted to me (and you in the case of your kids).  Third, it’s an often overlooked reminder of just how much we need words of affirmation and encouragement, and it’s deeply gratifying to have one of my own turn my oft-repeated words to her back on me.  Finally, it’s a teachable moment to remind moms and dads that of all the things you can give your child, the most important is a love for Jesus and a devotion to God’s Word.

By way of caveat let me add that my wife and I are completely humbled by what God has done in our marriage and family.  We are nothing apart from his grace in our lives, and we are continually reminded that were it not for loads of his grace and merciful intervention in our family things would be vastly different.  To God goes all of the glory!  I am far from being a perfect father and it’s taken a lot of grace, love and forgiveness to bring me to where I am.  Perhaps the thing that has made the biggest difference in the lives of our children is our willingness to admit our faults, ask for forgiveness when needed and consistently point our kids to the only perfect Father.  In the final analysis, I’m aware that my kids are biased …that I fare better in their clippings than in the appraisal of others, but I believe that’s how it should be.  If everybody loves their impression of you, but your family is beaten down by the ‘real’ you, then something is dreadfully wrong!

Lastly, in sharing with other parents, I hope that this will inspire you to redouble your efforts to give your dead-level best to incarnate Jesus before your kids, live the gospel before them, and model of life that’s devoted not just to hearing the Word, but to doing it!  So, with that, I give you the words of encouragement of my firstborn:

Dad,

I love you and I am so proud and thankful that you are MY dad!  If you lined up all the dads in the whole world I would choose you every time without a doubt!!!  I am so inspired by your’s and mom’s faith in God and the plan that he has for you!  All that being said you can never be encouraged too many times that God has a plan for you and he never fails!  I love you and not one day goes by that I am not reminded of how blessed I am to have parents like you and mom!

Also, I thought I would give you a couple verses that I think are awesome!  In John 14:1-4 Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  And you know the way to where I am going.” Then, in Galatians 6:9 it says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Isn’t that amazing that our good God will give back.  I believe that you are meant to be the Pastor of this church (Element), and while I know that God’s timing and provision are a continual faith challenge, I do have faith that God will provide!  Ok, one last verse, in 1 Thessalonians 2:9 that says, “For you know how, like a father with his children,we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” I know that these things are 100% true of you and mom, that you both urged not only me but Lauren, Madelyn, and Seth to walk in a manner worthy of God, and that encouragement the Holy Spirit used to call us to be part of His kingdom.  I am and will be forever grateful for the guidance and love you and Mom have given and continue to give me.  I love you Dad and I hope that this reminds you of how much you are loved and how you have impacted my life and continue to do so!

Love, Chelsea Page

Truly it is said, “out of the mouths of babes.” Thanks Chels for encouraging your dad …and thank you, Father, for so richly blessing my life!

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Element Church’s Christmas Eve Gathering, 12/24 at 6:00 PM

We’re excited to announce that Element Church will have it’s first gathering to celebrate the Advent together on Christmas Eve.  The Advent of God’s Son literally brought heaven to earth and it set in motion the redemptive plan of God fashioned in eternity past.  The birth of Christ marked the continuation of something eternally significant, but also the beginning of something revolutionary here on earth.  What better way for the ministry of Element, just now in its infancy, to begin – by marking in celebration the infancy of the God who became man and then grew up to change the world!  As we consider Element Church from the outset, it is our deepest desire to grow a community of Jesus that brings glory to God by transforming lives with the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We will gather for this special service at 6:00 PM on the evening of December 24th.  We will meet at 3535 Marathon in Pantego, Texas (at the Pantego Lion’s Club, see the map below).  Our time together will include worship, the Gospel from the Christmas story and the commemoration of communion.

We invite you to join us for a meaningful time for family and friends.

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e is for element, c is for church, pt.3

For the final part in this series of posts I want to explain the thought(s) behind our logo design.  Images are significant in that they can communicate something meaningful, and as I stated earlier we are definitely striving to create a meaningful ‘brand experience’ in this church. However, this would be a good point to throw down an important reminder: lives aren’t changed by well-thought out names or clever graphics.  At best these things merely represent (in part) the best intentions and hopes of a gathering of regenerated believers in Jesus …devoted to Christ and his cross, changed by his gospel, and striving to live in faithful obedience to the Scriptures to the glory of God.

With that caveat, let me briefly explain the ‘e’ and the ‘three rings’ imagery.

As the title of this series of posts says, ‘e’ is for element.  Hopefully you’ve read part two of this series so you know why we chose the name element.  If you haven’t you can check that out here (part 2).  As for why just an ‘e’ …well, because it’s simple, basic, uncluttered – elemental!  There is historic-richness and spiritual depth to the legacy of Christ’s church and his followers, and it has at times been a messy and complex journey.  Still, in every age the movement of God has been guided by a simple and singular divine mission (missio Dei) – to seek and to save that which is lost.  We recognize that we to are part of this messy journey and we are blessed to consider the diverse tapestry of Christianity as our heritage, yet, we believe that it is the profound, but simple message of the gospel that has unified the church and propelled it forward.  For us, the ‘e’ is a statement of simplicity with a missional focus on the evangelistic cause of Christ.

As for the ‘three rings’ imagery, they are symbolic of that which is most basic or essential – elemental – to all of life: the Trinity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  The concept, and the mission of Element Church, is inspired by the Apostle Paul’s encounter with the Athenian culture in the Areopagus in Acts 17.  In this account Paul met an otherwise spiritually-minded culture where they were and presented them with the truth of God’s grace:

  • Paul took the time to understand where they were coming from
  • Paul understood their underlying spiritual interest
  • Paul looked for positive points to build on in the way they saw the world
  • Paul faithfully presented to them the answer to their hearts longing – Jesus

All of life originates in the Triune person of God.  Though life is different from culture to culture, every man, woman, boy or girl bears the image of God …we are created in his likeness to bring him glory.  Yet, we are estranged from him by birth into our sinful family.  As a result there is, within each one of us, a God-shaped hole which can only truly be filled when we have established a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Paul put it this way to the Athenians, “In him we live and move and have our being …for we are indeed his offspring (Acts 17:28).”

We were created to reflect the imago Dei (the image of God) …we were meant for a relationship with the Triune God.  The Gospel is God’s invitation extended to you and I that we might become the sons and daughters of the Divine.  To this cause Element Church is drawn – to know our culture, to identify the particular interests or needs in our culture, to affirm the affirmable and to earn the opportunity to share with our culture the missio Dei.  To paraphrase Jesus’ command, Element Church exists to make disciples of those who reside in our culture and in all nations, baptizing them in the Triune name of God and teaching them to observe all that he has commanded.

E l e m e n t  C h u r c h.  L o v e.  T r u t h.  G r a c e.  L i f e

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e is for element, c is for church, pt. 2

For part two of this three-part series I want to explain the choice of the word ‘element’ for our name. Let’s start by defining the word:

el-e-ment \ n 1 a: one of the four substances air, water, fire, and earth formerly believed to compose the physical universe b pl: weather conditions c: the state or sphere natural or suited to a person 2: a constituent part: as the simplest principles of a subject of study 3 pl: the bread and wine used in Communion

In My Element

We live in a world that fosters busyness and clutter, and we tend to be far too accommodating.  We are prone by human nature to rev up the RPMs of life and try to live at breakneck speed.  We do so oftentimes jeopardizing of our own health, risking the health of the relationships most important to us, and at the peril of our own souls.  Yet, what our souls crave …what our marriages, families and relationships need is an uncluttered, simple existence if they are to know the hope of health and vitality.

Despite good intentions, the church often complicates the matter by adding layers of busyness and complexity.  There is a difference between the simple faith of Jesus and the man-driven religion so often on display in our culture.  Jesus offers a yoke (a way of doing life) that is “easy and light” while religion often offers a burden that is heavy and hard to keep up with.  One is achieved by faith, the other by frantic self-effort.  At the heart of choosing the word element lies a desire on the part of those gathering around this church plant for a simple, basic approach to following Jesus.  We seek to strip away the complexity of religion in order to learn how, as Jesus’ disciples, to live each day in the wake of his simple message, “repent and believe (Mark 1:25).

To discover faith and forgiveness in Jesus is to discover and know life that is abundant and truly free.  It’s the sweet spot we were created for …life in our element!  Apart from Jesus, life is amiss, we are lost in our sin amid a world of strife and striving.  This is just as true for the one who has known Christ for many years as it is for the person who has yet to believe.  So everyday is about learning to live in our element – that for which we were meant.

Elemental

So, what should that look like?  What are the basics …the elementals?  The Old Testament prophet, Micah, put it this way; “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).” Jesus described his highest priorities for his disciples in what we have come to refer to as The Great Commission and The Great Commandment.

The great commission is the modus operandi – Christ’s agenda for his church, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).”

The great commandment represents Jesus simple, yet profound summary of the entirety of the teachings and commands of Scripture, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).”

The Elements

These are simple priorities, yet, apart from the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ they are an impossibility.  So, it begins and continues with the gospel (good news), which Paul summarizes, saying, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared… (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).” The four elements are part of the physical world we were created to live in, yet it is the physical elements of communion – the broken body of Jesus and his shed blood – and faith in his atoning work that brings reality to our spiritual life and purpose to our physical life.  The simplest, most basic understanding of the every day life of a Christ follower is about really living the gospel and faithfully sharing the gospel.  In this God is glorified, true joy becomes our experience, and lives and culture get transformed.

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e is for element, c is for church, pt.1

What’s in a name?  That’s the subject / question this series of posts are aimed at addressing.  A brand is more than a clever logo and a catchy name.  A brand is about experience. According to author and marketing blogger, Seth Godin, a brand ideally accomplishes two things.  First it creates or says something significant about what a person can expect to experience.  Second, if effective, that brand expectation creates an emotional power that fuels continued involvement and experience. Godin calls it the brand formula:

[Prediction of what to expect] X [emotional power of that expectation]

Now, there are no marketing gurus around here, but we recognize the importance of a brand and the experience we hope to create.  We’ve attempted to learn from Godin in choosing a name and designing a logo …and, though we have only just begun, we are hopeful that with the Scripture as our roadmap, the Spirit as our guide, and God’s grace our enabling, we can endeavor to create a brand of experience (represented in our name and logo) that communicates something simple, basic, and yet profound: that lives get changed when people experience the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

So, let me say a word about the name and then the imagery.

First, the word ‘church.’ What we mean by the choice of this word might go without saying, but it’s preference over words like ‘community’ or ‘fellowship’ is quite intentional and significant to us.  These terms are important to the life of any church, but they come short of grasping the biblical and historic significance of the church as the body of Christ. We chose this word because it communicates more fully who’swho and what we are to be. We believe what the New Testament teaches about the church …what Jesus intended the church to be and do …and what we are striving for at Element is aptly described in the following excerpt:

[A Church is] A community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and Communion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy (Vintage Church, by Mark Driscoll).”

In short, the ministry we are endeavoring to birth and grow is not our idea, nor is it something we ‘own’.  Element belongs to Christ, we are a part of HIS body and we exist to obediently carry out HIS commands for the glory of God and our joy.  These ideas are central to who we are and, as such, they are reflected in our vision: Element Church exists to bring glory to God by transforming lives with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow, part 2…

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Element Celebrates First Baptism

Element Church just celebrated its first baptism!  One of the members of our first missional community, a College student named Christian (yeah, ironic) Greene recently came to Christ and we had the privilege of celebrating with family and friends in witnessing his baptism.  Yea God!  May this be only the beginning of the Gospel ministry Christ has commanded us to!  Special thanks to the Greene family for hosting us for the occasion …complete with Texas BBQ.  It was an awesome time of celebrating new life!

UPDATE: With prayerful persistence, we continue with the plan to grow the number of groups through personal evangelistic outreach to between five and ten missional communities before beginning a monthly gathering for what will be a preview service.  Following a period of months (ideally 3) of preview services, we will then move (by God’s provision) to establish a location for a weekly gathering and launch our weekend services.

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Give Thanks for Godly Grief

We continue to lay the foundation for Element, the church God has called us to plant.  We’ve begun by growing a series of missional communities (small groups) with the aim of discipling those God is entrusting to us to live the gospel and share it each day.  My own family, which is my first and most important ministry and core to this calling, is participating together in one of our MCs.

We’ve been teaching through the Gospel-Centered Life, and I’ve challenged my 10-year old son to hang with us.  As a young believer, it’s a real stretch to grapple with the Truths we’ve been uncovering in Scripture, but he’s been a real trooper and I’m incredibly proud of him.  He’s not merely a spectator, but a participant …when there’s shared-reading, he participates among adults …when there are questions to answer, he chimes in.

Yesterday, we were focusing on exposing the ways we practice counterfeit repentance and learning how to move toward genuine repentance.  Too many Christ-followers think of repentance as a negative thing to be avoided when really biblical repentance is to be the norm for the gospel-centered life.  We never stop needing to repent and believe …it’s the discipline that keeps us growing in our awe of a holy God and deepening in our own awareness of sin.  The important result of this work causes the cross to loom large in our lives and leads us in the path of God’s salvation.  “For godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation without regret (2 Corinthians 7:10).”

So, we’re talking about how to practice biblical repentance, and the Holy Spirit did something that just blew me away.  The most beautiful, tender moment I could never have orchestrated took place.  My son, Seth, amid all these other adolescents and adults broke down in tears and confessed a sin that had been on his heart.  What a powerful moment!  I couldn’t help but be amazed at the God who uses the small things to confound the big ones.  God moved powerfully in the heart of a child and his little life became the most profound instruction about the nature and potential of our relationship with the Divine.

Sin IS your condition and not just your actions, so biblical repentance is meant to be your lifestyle.  As Martin Luther wrote, “When the Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” …He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Today I find myself crying out to God for the Spirit-tenderness I witnessed in my 10-year old son.  I’m repenting of being callous to the Spirit’s leading to release some ugly feelings in my heart and to forgive perceived wrongs.  Oh God, let my life bear the fruits of repentance.

So, what are you repenting of today?  Roll with the Spirit on this, and give thanks for godly grief.

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God or World: On Whose Terms Are You Living?

I’m wrestling with the meaning of Jesus’ words for my life…

“If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of it’s own. But, since I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms, the world is going to hate you (John 15:18-19, The MSG).”

Does this apply to believers of every age?  Is it a spiritual truth only fleshed out in the heavenly realms, whether we actually “see it” or not?  Does Jesus have in mind a real hatred that comes to us from worldly people as well as forces of darkness? …that’s certainly what he encountered and it was all too real in the physical and spiritual realm.  The Apostles, and many in the early church also tasted Jesus’ words in quite literal terms.

So, why is it that life in the American church by contrast seems such a pleasant existence?  Could it be that we have actually adopted the “world’s ways” (prosperity, impressive lives and the influence that buys), and thus we are loved and accepted as one of the world’s own!? Could it be that while we have grown rich in the things of possession and privilege we have grown poor at the same time in the power of God; such that little ‘real’ opposition is necessary because we have muted our own voices? We’ve come along way from our humble beginnings where the Son of Man had no place to lay his head!

I’m not suggesting that it’s necessary to divest our lives of everything or that we should be looking to make enemies.  Yeah, burning the Koran makes a self-fulfilling prophecy out of these words of Jesus, but I don’t believe that’s at all what he had in mind. We are called to love …to live lives of compassion and Christlike meekness, to speak truth and peace, to give grace, and to live with a clean conscience that seeks not to unnecessarily offend.  Yet, at the same time, it seems wise to recognize that there is a subtle temptation to think (however subconsciously) that, ‘if we look “normal,” …if our lives even look appealing because they are “blessed” with the creature comforts of this world that people will be more apt to hear our gospel?  There is a sinister lure (I’ve been guilty of biting it and I repent) that if we devote ourselves to living and attaining the American Dream then people will be impressed enough with us to then adopt our “way” of life?

Have we so ingratiated ourselves with the self-help tendencies of the world, that the salvation we call people to is less about repentance in the light of God’s holiness and based solely upon the bloody cross of Jesus than on the fleeting hope of a comfortable life?  More closely to home, have we given our own lives to a gospel that’s cluttered by such things …the results of which have left us anesthetized to the difference?

If you really had nothing but the sustenance of today and nowhere to lay your head …if you were called to endure genuine hatred for your belief in Jesus, would you still be willing to forsake all to follow him?

I don’t know about you, but Jesus words convict me.  I feel like God is gut-checking my commitment and my faith right now.  There is a clear disparity between the way life in the Kingdom is supposed to work (see Sermon on the Mount) and the Christian way of life I’ve become accustomed to living.  To be honest, I find the uncertainty of it scary and a bit disconcerting.  I find it much easier to say I trust God to meet my needs when what I actually mean is that I know he’s already met my needs because I can cover it out of my bank account!

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Trading Comfort for a Cause

I read this morning of the fate of those first disciples …who served the Church as Apostles and whose lives met a cruel end (recorded in the Foxe’s Book of Martyrs).

I am so taken by their total devotion.  We talk a lot these days in our churches about being ‘fully-devoted to Christ’, yet so much of our devotion is devoid of the substance and sacrifice upon which This Cause was established and built.  I wonder if our commitment too often extends only so far as our comfort level. It seems to me that the only death that awaits those who value comfort above all else, is that of insignificance …at best, a tribute to the irrelevance they leave behind.

Against that back drop I read this morning of three house church leaders (anonymous to me, but not to Father) who were executed for proclaiming their faith in North Korea in May.  As so many others who have gone before them, they gave their lives to a cause that was greater than themselves …a cause that will see their sacrifice and service vindicated and honored one day yet future.  They didn’t die paying tribute to a life of comfort now past, but for a certain future marked by truth and glory.

Andrew, one of those Apostles, having been threatened to cease proclaiming Christ or face the penalty of crucifixion, replied, “I would not have preached the honor and glory of the cross if I feared the death of the cross.” With that Andrew was lead to his cross, and there he embraced the death of consequence that His Sovereign God had placed before him.

“When Christ calls a man, he calls him to come and die (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).”  Lord, grant me not a life of comfort and an insignificant death, but that I might live Christ to my fullest and die for so great a cause!

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A Leaders Litmus Test, pt.3

Leadership in this world is all about learning how to deal with reality.  In David’s case in 2 Samuel 24, reality was that David made a bad leadership decision in the eyes of God, but that’s only part of it.  In truth, David did more than make a bad decision (something we all do), he allowed himself to be driven by his own wickedness.  David was a sinner …someone who fell short of the standard of God’s holiness.  That’s the reality for each and every one of us.  By nature we all want things the way we want them.

Reality IS that the remedy for our fallen nature is not trying harder to make good decisions.  There is only one remedy for humanities condition and that’s Jesus Christ …the Gospel …his death, burial and resurrection on our behalf.  As Paul writes in the book of Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works (good decision-making), so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (2:8-10, ESV).”

Effective leadership …leadership that passes the litmus test is the leader that never allows herself or himself to stray from that reality.  We are capable of staggering amounts of wickedness when we drift from our own personal need for salvation.  That’s what happened to David; he became so enamored with his own greatness and that of his kingdom that he thought it was okay to do whatever his pride wanted.  It wasn’t, and the consequences were dire.  Fortunately (for David, me and you), God is merciful and willing to forgive.  David got squared away with reality, sought forgiveness, and with humility, returned to the posture of serving his people.

In Jeremiah 27 we get a look at a completely different kind of leader, the self-appointed prophets.  At this time in the life of Israel things have not been going well.  Due to their continued rebellion and idolatry, the nation of Israel has been plagued by a continual series of worldly, self-serving leaders who carelessly disregarded God’s commands.  The result was a series of invasions, sent by the disciplining hand of God, that led to the domination of God’s people and their subjugation to foreign powers. At the time of Jeremiah 27, Israel has already seen the might of Nebuchadnezzar who had previously ransacked Israel taking leaders, people and possessions back to Babylon.

In this chapter God sends Jeremiah to warn Israel, and the surrounding nations, that due to their failure to repent and turn from their wickedness, they had been handed over to Nebuchadnezzar and they were commanded to come under the yoke of his rule.  THIS was reality …it was going to happen and there was nothing they could do to prevent the consequences of their actions.  What they stood to gain through obedience was life …only somewhat different than they had come to know it.  Disobedience, however, invited most certain destruction.

Yet, there were a group of self-appointed prophets who, like Jeremiah, claimed to speak for God.  They didn’t like that Jeremiah’s reality and their message to the people of Israel was completely opposite.  They were in spin-mode, saying, “You shall not serve the king of Babylon.” Further, they were telling the people that everything that had previously been taken to Babylon was about to be returned …in other words, lets just maintain the status quo and everything is just going to keep getting better.  Perhaps it’s sort of like the U.S. continuing to try to spend it’s way out of a recessional malaise while the National debt continues to spiral higher and higher, hoping that it will finally get better.

But better days weren’t coming and in this chapter, God repeatedly warns the people that they should not listen to this dissenting voice.  God says in verse 14 and 15, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon,’ for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you.  I have not sent them, declares the Lord, but they are prophesying falsely in my name.”

These prophets were leaders who had become quite taken with their position and status, and in truth, what they had achieved meant more to them than either God or the people they were supposed to be serving.  When leaders prioritize self-service they lose sight not only of what’s in the best interest of others, but they also fail to see things as they are (reality).  This is a failure of leadership that often holds dire consequences for the leader, the employees, the shareholders and the future of the enterprise.

Grant it, in our day such self-serving leadership doesn’t usually result in entire groups of people being shipped off to a distant country in servitude.  Yet, the consequences can be just as damaging to hearts and lives and the work of God.  Leadership, especially in the family and church, ought to honor God and serve others by dealing honestly and obediently with truth in the midst of present reality.  This kind of leadership is critical, even when, especially when, sacrifice, hardship or suffering are a part of reality.

Jesus summed up the Leaders Litmus Test best in Mark 10, You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This seems quite different from what is often seen in the worlds of family and church.

When the primary goal of leadership becomes protecting the status quo then, regardless of what befalls a leader or a movement …despite how long it might take to transpire, the greatest damage has already be done.  The greatest error of self-serving leadership is the attempt to elevate the wishes of man above the will of God.  It didn’t work out for the nation of Israel under king Zedekiah and, in the long run, it won’t work for the church or the family.  Self-serving leadership won’t always cause something bad, but it will definitely compromise God’s absolute best!

I have to say that I’ve learned this lesson the hard way before …but I’m hoping (by God’s grace and not my effort) not to repeat it in the future again!

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Lunch Bunch ’85: Reunion!

I’m playing Mr. Mom …and Mr. Dad this weekend, but it’s for a good (and thankfully temporary) cause.  Twenty-five years ago this year I was a senior in a new and very large High School, Odessa Permian of Friday Night Lights fame.  My family had just relocated back to Texas after a couple of years in Utah with my dad’s work at Shell Oil.

Being new to a very large school, and not accustomed to leaving campus for lunch, I usually just ate in the cafeteria …and, though I’m not a loner, being the new guy with no friends I’m guessing a ate alone a few times.  On one of those occasions my apparent ‘aloneness’ was noted by a group of girls who regularly ate lunch together (off-campus) and who had dubbed themselves the Lunch Bunch.  I had already met two of the four at the church our family had begun attending so they weren’t complete strangers to me.  Nevertheless, I was still pleasantly surprised to get an invitation to join their bunch for a lunch excursion one day.  I’m guessing they felt sorry for me for eating alone, but, hey, who cares what the reason was …I was a 17-year old young man and I had just been invited to lunch by not one, not two, but four beautiful girls.  I can honestly say it was one of those rare occasions when it didn’t matter what we were eating …it could have been salad or yogurt or tofu for all I cared!

It was quite an eye-opening experience …I learned a lot; like, each of the girls was a committed Christ follower, actively involved in their church.  I was also impressed with their confidence and self-esteem, as the presence of a boy did nothing to curtail the ‘belching’ contest, which I learned was part of their tradition.

Long-story-short, one of those girls caught my eye, we fell in love and were married two-years out of High School (“way too young” I now tell my teenage daughters …and, “no, your mother wasn’t pregnant”). Somehow we managed to get through college, then grad school, and have spent 20-years serving Christ and the church together.  Oh, and God blessed us along the way with four wonderful children of our own …and many memorable moments made up of highs and lows!

Each of those four girls has a similar story …school, marriage, the blessing of kids, tough times and times you treasure, bills to pay, tears to dry, tears to cry …all with the passage of time.  Ok, it’s not exactly Wisteria Lane, but it’s a blessed life and it’s real!  Life has happened, and for each of the girls it’s happened in a different place through different circumstances, but despite the passage of time one thing remains the same; they are friends and it’s a friendship they share in Christ.  I’m truly grateful for the Lunch Bunch because I’ve learned how precious genuine, time-tested friendship really is in this life (and, because lunch with you girls was the start of something special between me and my bride).

This weekend, twenty-five years later, the Lunch Bunch of ’85 reunites and it’s the first time they’ve all been together since High School.  I’m praying that God will grant them an awesome weekend together …to catch up, to laugh together, to talk, to cry of course, and, maybe even to drink a carbonated drink and have a belching contest (not really, they’re all way too refined and dignified for that)!

BTW, I’m not bragging or anything, but as I recall, my girl won the contest that day!  However, once wedded-bliss and little girls came along she mysteriously lost her skill …and any recollection of having ever done that!

Here’s to the Lunch Bunch of 1985 …you are each a beautiful princess of the King!

Posted in Friendship, Life, Relationship | 1 Comment

A Leaders Litmus Test, pt.2

Most leadership writing in our day springs from an understandable tendency to want to accentuate the genius of a particular leader.  There aren’t many publishers pushing ‘how to’ book proposals for Bernie Madoff or Tony Hayward (of BP renown).  One can get the impression that great leadership is simply a matter of eliminating mistakes …to be on top of your game …always doing the right thing.  There’s a great deal of pressure (much of it self-imposed) on family leaders and organizational leaders to measure up to a stereotype of leadership that can feel like an exhausting search for perfection.  All we ever know of many leaders lauded in the public forum is how they do things right.  Yet, no one has ever lived or led flawlessly except for Jesus Christ.

Jesus alone sets the standard for perfection because he alone is perfect.  We do well to remember that everyone else we seek to learn from in this life is plagued by the same imperfection that we face.  No matter how much hype a leader gets on the way up, approval ratings ultimately slip because nobody’s perfect.  This shouldn’t be the ground, as it often is, for slinging mud, but rather for practicing forgiveness and helping us more properly frame the pressure we often impose on ourselves to perform perfectly.  We can’t and we won’t attain perfection.  Not this side of heaven anyway!  It’s only as we recognize our imperfection (our fallen nature) that we are ready to face the leaders litmus test.

We all make mistakes, yet by God’s grace those occasions are not necessarily the final word on our lives or our leadership.  They represent the opportunity for us to respond rightly …even in the midst of significant failure.  This is just one of the reasons why the Bible stands apart from every other writing …because, as the Word of God, it deals honestly, transparently with the failings of humankind.  Even among the favorite characters in Scripture it is common to find yourself learning from the human propensity for ball dropping!  It’s the kind of lesson we can learn from the life of David in 2 Samuel 24.

David was a great leader is in his own right.  The list of his leadership achievements is long and impressive.  No greater compliment is made of David than that “he was a man after God’s own heart.”  A compliment not paid to any one else in Scripture.  Yet, David made his share of mistakes (some of them quite large), and the Bible doesn’t seek to hide such indiscretions.  For that we can all be thankful because it’s precisely in the failings of others that we can perhaps relate the most.  Additionally, it is there that we stand to gain the most from the life of another.  To see how they handle a mistake, misstep or moral blunder can help us when we face our own.

In 2 Samuel 24 David provokes God’s displeasure by acting in pride and ordering a second census to check-up on his own greatness.  Despite a plea from Joab, the commander of his army, to not go forward, David persists.  A decision made in one moment took nine months and twenty days to come to fruition, but at the very moment David is given the report we read these words; “…David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people (24:10a).” David immediately came clean saying, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done.  But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done foolishly (24:10b).”

In response to David’s pride, God gave him three options from which to chose his consequences – three years of famine, three months of being chased by his enemies, or three days of a curse in the land.  David chose the third and his motivation is found in his message to Gad the prophet in verse 14: “I am in great distress.  Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”

The Lord sends an epidemic on Israel and we’re told it claims the lives of at least 70,000 men, not counting women or children.  Ultimately, David buys a field, builds an altar and makes an animal sacrifice to atone for his sin and to appeal to God for relief.  God responds and lifts the plague.  Yet, David’s reaction to the loss of so many in Israel and his words to God are the most telling with regard to the test of David’s character.  Verse 17: “Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, ‘Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly.  But these sheep, what have they done?  Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house.”

In our day, we might have expected David to fire up the spin machine to explain away this cruel act of nature or give a national address on the tragedy and how his administration was doing everything to remedy the problem.  That’s the sort of stuff that self-centered, self-serving leaders often do.  Yet, David knew intuitively from prior experience that those things wouldn’t really help, and so he did the one thing that a servant-leader can and should do …he took responsibility before God and he sought to serve the welfare of God’s people!

How rare it is in our own day to hear a leader invoke that little pronoun, “I”, for anything other than self-aggrandizing purposes?  How might our churches and our families be radically different if leaders more often followed the example of a men like Moses, David, Jesus and Paul who would routinely drop to their knees in prayer to seek God on behalf of others.  The only way to be a servant-leader to others is to truly stop serving yourself and get squared away and centered on God as the one whose most important!  When we fail to do that then we are often blind to the reality before us.

Some takeaways from 2 Samuel 24:

  • Don’t let your guard down when things are going great – you’re more susceptible to sin in seasons of plenty.
  • Surround yourself with trustworthy team …and listen more than you speak.
  • Remember that leadership decisions have consequences that often take time to discover, and they invariably affect many more than just the one who made the decision.
  • At the first sign that you’ve made a mistake or committed sin, seek forgiveness.
  • When you feel down and defeated, surrender to the God is merciful and longsuffering in his purpose to redeem your life and circumstance.
  • As a leader, when you drop the ball, resist the temptation to pass the buck …stay in the kitchen and take the heat.
  • Love those you are called to serve more than you love yourself.
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A Leaders Litmus Test, pt.1

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and the world is full of people who rightly consider themselves such.  In truth, every individual possesses at least the potential of leadership influence …no matter how small or seemingly insignificant it may seem.  The world of church is no exception (and, by the way, neither is your own life).  The question that matters most in the realm of influence is what kind of leader are you for the people you’re entrusted to influence?

This is the essential question, the leadership litmus test, and ultimately it’s a question that nobody gets to answer in self-evaluation.  That commentary will be written by others …especially those who are closest to us, those who know us best.  In this 3-part series, I’m reflecting on two separate readings in Scripture that God spoke to me through on the same day this past week.

The stories come from 2 Samuel 24 and Jeremiah 27 and they highlight the difference between the servant-leader and the self-serving leader.  Both of these types of leaders are fallible, imperfect and prone to make mistakes – that’s just the nature of leadership in the reality of this life.  Yet, how a leader handles that reality makes all the difference (as we see in these accounts)!

It seems to me that in every arena of life there are far too many examples of the self-serving kind of leader, but it is especially detrimental in the ministry of family and church.  Too many homes and houses of faith are led by men who put their own personal interests above the best interests of those they are charged to serve.

Grant it, most people don’t start off in family or church leadership with self-serving motivations …it seems to be something that just creeps in, seemingly unrecognized, over time.  Few seem to notice while things have the appearance of “going well”, but when trouble comes …when the pressure is on or when God is trying to stretch us toward something new, character shows.  Leaders often make the mistake of persisting down the adopted path of self-serving leadership simply because they want to protect the status-quo.  Where once they led for the good of others and to make a difference, now they lead to protect the position they have grown into with all of its perks and privileges.

I want to learn from these two examples simply because I recognize the same human tendency toward self-centeredness in me, and because in my heart of hearts I genuinely desire to serve my family well and lead a church in the spirit and example of the servant-leadership of Jesus.  I don’t want to be and I don’t want to be thought of as a self-serving leader!

How about you, do you recognize any self-centered tendencies in your leadership?  We can be sure of this, God’s work in our life is intimately tied to dealing with that natural bent in our humanity just as it was with King David and the poser-prophets of Jeremiah 27.  It’s just part of the litmus test of leadership.  The choice is your’s and mine: we can either expend all of our energy striving to protect our sense of entitlement and privilege (maintaining the prideful charade of control) or we can allow the Holy Spirit to strip us of self, and strive to influence for the glory of God and the good of our family and fellow man.

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Resonating with The Psalmist

I especially enjoyed my time in the Scriptures today!  I’d like to think I’d write that everyday, but my heart was particularly encouraged this morning as I read through 2 Samuel 22.  This chapter is a prayer written by King David who was reflecting on the greatness of God for having delivered him from his enemies.  In addition to the rank and file opposition any king could expect, among those who had threatened David’s life were king Saul (whom he had served faithfully) and his own son, Absalom (who seized the throne from his father).  In the aftermath of coming through all that he’d faced (including his own personal sin), David wrote the 22nd chapter of 2 Samuel.

Outside of having a spiritual enemy who desires to kill, steal and destroy, I can’t say that my life has ever felt threatened or surrounded by enemies.  However, I really resonated with David’s words in this chapter.  As The Nelson’s find themselves in a season of new beginnings, I find my heart uttering the same prayer and my spirit longing for the same blessing from God’s hand.  Maybe you can relate and maybe David’s words will offer you insight into the steps you need to take next…

“God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before him.  When I cleaned up my act, he gave me a fresh start.  Indeed, I’ve kept alert to God’s ways; I haven’t taken God for granted.  Every day I review the ways he works, I try not to miss a trick.  I feel put back together, and I’m watching my step.  God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes.

“What a God!  His road stretches straight and smooth.  Every God-direction is road-tested.  Everyone who runs toward him makes it (2 Samuel 22:21-25, 31, The Message).”

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Many Thanks

We had a send-off reception at the conclusion of each service today at Fielder Road, and we were so touched by the numerous kind words, prayers, hugs and tears that we received from many at Fielder Road.

Gayla and I, along with our kids, are counting our blessings tonight for the chance to hear how God has worked through us (in spite of us, I’m sure) to touch the lives of so many.  For the many thoughtful notes and warm greetings we are profoundly thankful.  And to the numerous ladies that assisted in hosting our reception(s) we extend our love and many thanks.

Let the adventure begin…

Posted in Church, Family, Thanks | 1 Comment

Words: Thoughtful & Bittersweet

I received a very encouraging and thoughtful card in the mail yesterday from a member of Fielder Road, the church I’ve been serving for the last four and a half years.  In the age of email, a card these days on occasions other than Christmas and your birthday can be rare so this one came as a pleasant surprise.  It was just a simple ‘thank you’ for the time I have served at Fielder and prayerful well-wishes for where God is leading us next.

This morning marks a bittersweet conclusion to my time with this fellowship of believers.  It has been a privilege to serve Christ together with so many God-followers …many of whom have become good friends.  Fielder Road for our family was a God-thing, a door God opened at just the right time for us and we hope that as we step away from this ministry that we leave this body in a more missional, Christ-honoring position.

I believe in the redemptive potential of the local church, and I excited to see what’s in store for Fielder in the days ahead …even if I watch it from a distance.  The Proverbs says ‘the tongue holds the power to give life or to take it away.’  This Proverb is an oft-repeated reminder around the Nelson household.  In my time at Fielder Road, it has been my intention to use my words and actions to give the life that is light.  The card I received yesterday did the very same for me, and my heart is grateful for the thoughtfulness of so many men and women who share in God’s grace with me.

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New Direction, pt.3

The Transitional Period

When the end of June arrives I will have officially completed my work at Fielder Road, and though Fielder has graciously allowed me to spend the last couple of months laying the groundwork the work will begin in earnest in July.

We have begun the process of preparing for what’s next.  I am in the process of creating a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation to ultimately serve as the charter for our church plant.  At present the ministry is called Way Of The Gospel Ministry.  You will notice that you are receiving this email from my new email address (larry@wayofthegospel.com).  Please take a moment and update my contact information as I will no longer be receiving Fielder email after June.  Establishing the ministry will enable us to begin raising and receiving support, which we are praying God will graciously provide.  We have also established and are presently working to complete the design of a ministry site, www.wayofthegospel.com. I will notify you once the site is officially rolled out.

Finally, can I ask you to begin prayerfully considering a commitment to monetarily support the Nelson’s through Way Of The Gospel Ministry during our transitional period.  At present we are seeking support to assist us in the journey that will last from July to December.  Of course I want to stress that I am not, nor would I, ask anyone to divert their tithe or any portion of it away from their local church.  Also, let me say, if you are not able to give financially, please know that your prayer support is especially important to us.  Join us in seeking God’s provision for our family.  I will follow-up with you again as the end of June approaches.  We hope to have everything in place with Way Of The Gospel’s Federal tax ID status to begin offering charitable contribution receipts by the beginning of July.  In the meantime, as I have already spoken with some of you who have offered support, it would be a great help if you would contact me (either by email reply or by phone) and let me know of your willingness and the amount.

If you have any questions, or if you would simply like to discuss our plans and vision further please let me hear from you (words of encouragement are always welcome).

May God richly bless you to know and live all that is yours in Jesus Christ!

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New Direction Update, pt.2

The Path and The Place

Returning to the task of church planting for a second round is a daunting task, but we learned a great deal from the 7-years we spent with New Song.  One of those lessons was the invaluable nature of strategic partnership.  As a result, our top priority is to become part of a church planting network.

We have begun the application process with The Acts 29 Network (www.acts29network.org), which includes a Church Planter’s Bootcamp (we attended this in May in Denver).  Following this, we will work towards a rigorous assessment that both Gayla and I will go through as prospective planters.  This process is designed to require between 9 and 12 months, which would put us actually launching a church plant in the early part of 2011.  Upon approval as Acts 29 Candidate Planters, the Network exists to assist church plants with on-going prayercoachingtraining, potential funding and friendship.

The timeline is obviously a challenge to our family, but I believe that being part of a Church Planting Network will make a huge difference in the long run (more about the transitional period in tomorrow’s post).  During the application and assessment process we will continue to seek God’s direction and confirmation over the specific location He is calling us to reach through our missional/church planting efforts.  We have already begun researching locations (cities) that represent the kind of missional opportunity that will yield evangelistic harvest and the establishment of a healthy and growing church.  In the coming months we will gather more concrete data, conduct site visits, meet with community leaders and do prayer walks in an attempt to determine the right place.  We are asking God to break our hearts for the people of a particular city.  We have begun compiling a list that meets the criteria we have to go on at present.  A brief list of those criteria are:

  1. Consideration to where God has us at present
  2. A dense population center
  3. A high-percentage of unchurched/irreligious
  4. Consideration to where we would have the most going for us
  5. Consideration to my family

These are not the only criteria that matter, but they have been part of our thinking in forming the list of cities we are praying over.

Here’s an interesting and sobering fact: each of the cities we are considering reside in a county where, according to 2000 census data, less than 22% of the population attends a Christian church on any given weekend.  That’s an unchurched percentage of 78%.  When I began my ministry in Arlington 15-years ago the percentage of unchurched was 67%.

Please pray for us as we continue to seek God for the location of His choosing.

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New Direction Update, pt.1

I thought I would take the next few posts and bring you up to speed.  Thank you for taking the time.

What’s Next?

I’ve been sensing God’s call to return to plant another church.  This was my first sense of prompting and I believe whole-heartedly in its necessity for advancing the Gospel.  Gayla and I had the opportunity to attend the National New Church Conference (Exponential) in Orlando, Florida and it turned out to be a real God-thing for us.  We both had the chance to hear from God.  We were able to network and establish some meaningful, new contacts.  We also had the chance to talk and pray together about what lies ahead for our shared lives.

We returned home with several things quite clear in our hearts and minds.  First, we are called to live the Gospel.  Yes, all Christ-followers are, but we are sensing that part of what needs to happen in our own lives in the coming months is a stripping away and refining …a simplifying.  This process won’t be easy, but we are genuine in our desire to leverage everything we are and everything we have to serve Christ more fully.  Second, I know that I am called to preach the Gospel.  Of course, I want to share the Gospel in word and deed with others around me, but I believe I was meant to proclaim the whole counsel of God’s Word as a pastor and preacher.  Therefore, we believe it is entirely in keeping with God’s plan for our lives and calling for me to seek a setting that would allow me to use my gifts as God has closed that door at Fielder.  Third, we have a passion for the local church and we believe that church planting is the right mission to invest the remainder of our lives in.  Tomorrow, I’ll say a few words about the path and the place.

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New Direction for The Nelson’s

The Nelson's

Hi, thanks for visiting Way of The Gospel.  I look forward to sharing with you how God will be working in our lives in the days ahead.  We had up a number of updates, but had to reconfigure our site.  The crash took place while we were gone on a family vacation (nice).  Please bear with us while we get things lined up …and don’t give up on us.

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