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Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.
Jesus is still ministering in the region of Galilee and he enters a small village called Nain with his disciples. This is still in the popular early stages of his ministry and the crowds follow him. As he is entering the town a man who has died is being carried out of the town, in a coffin most likely itself resting on a platform or bier. This man was the only son of his mother, who is also a widow. A large crowd from the town walks out of the town with her. And so the two crowds meet, one following Jesus going into town, the other crowd following the widow and her dead son going out of the town.
When Jesus saw the woman he had compassion on her. This means that he had a deep awareness of how she was suffering and a desire to alleviate her suffering if he could. For she most surely was suffering.
When death entered the world through sin it brought with it a tidal wave of sorrow and affliction and loss. Human beings were not mean to have their relationships dissolved and broken by death. The loss and sorrow that we experience when one dies is as real as real can be. There is little in life more real and painful. To lose a child, as with the woman of Nain, is more painful still, for even in this broken world we have accepted to a certain degree death due to old age.
The passage says nothing about Jesus’ compassion on the dead son. His concern is with the suffering mother. He looks at her and says what at first seems to be cruel or just insensitive, “Do not weep.” But then he reaches forward and touches the bier. This is one of those quiet gestures that everyone knows means stop, be still, watch.
Jesus speaks to the dead person, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the man who was dead rises up and begins to speak. He probably said something like, “Uh, what’s going on here and why are you carrying me outside of the city?”
You know, even back then dead people didn’t normally come back to life, and the people were duly awed.
But I want you to notice a simple little phrase, “Jesus gave him to his mother.” Jesus had had compassion on the mother. He healed the son for the sake of his mother. Now, as if giving her a gift, he gives the young man back to his mother. The dissolution that death had caused had, for now, ended. He had given her back her son.
2 Thessalonians 4:13-18
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The Apostle Paul did not get to spend adequate time with every congregation that he founded. He was often dragged away before he could really get going. It is amazing that many of the fledgling churches survived at all. Paul did not get to teach them about every matter, and he had to do much follow-up teaching through his writing. I would guess that he wrote hundreds and hundreds of letters.
In the church at Thessalonica many of the brethren were suffering grief over the death of dear loved ones. Their suffering was made worse they because they despaired over the eternal fate of their departed friends or family members, believing that if one died before Jesus’ return then they had missed out on the glory to come.
This caused the living to grieve as ones who had no hope would grieve – whether he means by this no hope either of the well being of the lost loved one or no hope of a future a reunion with them. But Christians, says Paul, because of Jesus’ resurrection, and hope of their own future resurrection, are those who do not grieve as those who have no hope.
These days, in 2008, it is only hard core atheists who grieve as those with no hope. Almost everyone else thinks that when a person dies his or her spirit goes to “heaven,” and he or she looks down upon us, watches us, maybe helps us along the way, sees us hits homeruns and sing on American Idol, and waits for us to come join them. This is an equal opportunity popular religion based on nothing but fantasy. It is a wall built against reality. This modern popular religion has co-opted the Christian message and undermined its power and can make our message of resurrection and glory, even to us, seem blasé after a while.
For Paul there was one specific reason why Christians, unlike others, could grieve as those who had hope, and that was the bodily resurrection and imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus had been raised from the dead. He was reigning as Lord. And he would be returning as mighty King. When he comes back it would be visible, audible, and quite public. And when he comes, not only will those who have died believing in Christ be raised, but their bodies would be raised first, to join finally with their souls or spirits in the air. So, not only have they not missed the boat, they will be first in line at the party.
Paul ends this bit of pastoral teaching with these words, “encourage one another with these words.” Again, dealing with death and the sorrow and grief that accompany it, Paul’s concern is less for the ones who have died as for the ones who remain. Their burden is greater. They have experienced great loss. But because of the resurrection of Jesus they can hope for future blessing for their loved ones, and perhaps even also a future reunion with them.
The living still grieve. This life still must be lived with the losses and sufferings all too common to it. But there is a real and lively hope for better things. We should encourage one another daily with such truths.
Third Homily: Revelation 21:1-4
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
The Book of Revelation ends with many of the same themes as which the Bible begins. On Genesis 1:1 it says that “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth.” In Revelation 21:1 it says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.”
Between these two events sin and death have entered into the world, and God has carried out his great plan of redemption trough Jesus Christ. Now all things are being made new. The curse upon the earth and upon mankind is being removed. God had promised death as a result of sin; now He has thrown death into the lake of fire. Death will be no more.
After Adam and Eve’s sin God brought judgment. This judgment impacted all of creation. It is this judgment that we call the curse. God cursed the serpent, mostly meaning the spiritual person animating the common beast. He cursed the women who would have great difficulty in childbearing. He cursed the relationship between man and the woman, and in a sense all relationships. He cursed the ground, meaning the whole created order. He cursed human work. Worst of all He cursed mankind with death itself. He also cast Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden, the place of special blessing, the place where God walked freely amongst them, and talked with them, the place where they enjoyed unfettered fellowship with Him. Then he cast them into what would be for them a hostile world.
Tears of sorrow and pain and loss entered into human experience at so many levels. But nothing has caused more tears in human life than death and the piercing pain that the loss which that death creates. We are created for relationship. We are created for love and affection. A dear person is there, is part of our lives, and then is not there, and we are empty, devastated. It’s like we die a hundred deaths as we wait for our own death to die.
But praise be to God that that is not the end of the story. God has his own purposes, and acts for His own glory. But he also acts out of love for what and whom he has made. He created us in love that we might share in His love and glory. The raising of Jesus from the dead is not meant just to help us individually feel better about dying. It has to do with all of creation. The ultimate fruit of the resurrection is the removal of the curse. It is the death of death. When Jesus returns to establish his kingdom he will come with plans to renew the heavens and the earth. There will no more sin. There will be no more death. Fellowship with God will be fully restored as the covenant bond between God and man is finally realized to the full – “I will be their God and they will be my people.” There will no more pain, no more mourning, no more crying.
Like Jesus intervening out of compassion to raise the son of the woman at Nain, the Apostle John speaks of the New Heaven and New Earth through eyes of compassion for those who know life this side of the curse, for those who know tears and sorrow and pain. He wants us to know deep down that all those things are coming to an end. Hang in there. There will be no more death, for the old things have passed away.
Just because wordlings have stolen and co-opted the Christian message doesn’t mean we cannot proclaim it and live it and rejoice in it. We should. The Lord God almighty reigns, and He is ushering in a brand new day.
This final reflection is more of a request, a double request, as we move forward together into 2008 and beyond.
We are currently in the process of doing two related things. One is that we are undergoing an effort to try to rewrite our Vision Statement, bring it up to date, and have it be more forward-,looking from where we are today (as compared to where we were 15 years ago before there even was a CF!)
The second is that we are wanting to look at ways we can make our Sunday gathering both more reflective of that updated Vision and also, well, less the same all the time. It is worth noting that every church, even the most anti liturgical or most charismatic, has a liturgy, whether it is called that or not. Likewise every church has a creed, even if its creed is that it
has no creed. (WOW – a hawk just flew by my living room window with several crows in pursuit!) Anyway, all churches have patterns. We have patterns. These are not arbitrary, and often have arisen after much detailed practical conversations. But there is nothing set in stone that we MUST do things every Sunday the same way all the time, or the same way that we do now.
So here in this final reflection I have two requests to make of you for feedback. Before I make them I must say the obvious. Not every suggestion can be implemented or implemented immediately. Sometimes two different suggestions are polar opposites of the other. But I want you to feel free to throw lots of ideas back to give us as much as possible to chew on.
First, I would like for you to consider the totality of who we are and what we do and suggest things that you think would allow us to better reflect our core values in our life, practice, and teaching. I have listed 13 of these core values below. The list is not exhaustive but a pretty decent overview. My third year end reflection about the “gifts” that we can give, given certain fundamental commitments or values, is also a kind of expression of those core values. We are not going to be doing an overhaul of these core values so ideas and suggestions should reflect these as much as possible. And really, everything is on the table – small groups, preaching, community outreach, teaching, prayer, small groups, facility, music, the whole kit and caboodle. Just brainstorm and put it out there. Please, though, just “reply” and not “reply all.” I will compile all of this input and we will use it as we go forward. You may want to go to our web site – (http://www.covenantfellowshipgreensboro.org/”www.covenantfellowshipgreensboro.org) – and click on “Vision” and read the Vision and Q and A to get your mental juices flowing. Or not. You don’t need to.
Second, focus your thoughts on what we do on Sundays during our Sunday gathering. We are thinking of developing some alternative formats as well as improving things we do no matter what the format. Think details, time flow, people flow, how we eat together, how we learn songs, how we may sing better together, the break, the sermons, the sermon outline, Sunday School, Open Time, how we use the physical space and arrange ourselves, how we present materials, the transition from one thing to another, communion, children, etc. For example, I would like to see us better implement our core values of
participatory and intergenerational worship when we gather. How? What would that look like? I would like to see the sermon be more accessible to everyone. How? What would that look like? I would like to see Open Time reflect what I wrote about in Year End Reflection number three in the section “the gift of our worship.” How? What would that look like?
Think about it. You don’t need to reply right away. But do give your feedback. I end this request and reflection with a needed caveat of sorts.
I remember well a time in my life when, for better or for worse, I was a catalyst for much needful change in a certain situation. I learned then that my thoughts and ideas had to be mediated as it were through others. I learned that in the end maybe 25% of my ideas were really good ideas in the first place, and maybe fewer than that were finally adopted, and those often with some changes. I was quite discouraged by this at first. Why couldn’t everyone see how brilliant my ideas were! But then I realized several things. Some of my ideas were in fact good ideas, but that the timing wasn’t right for implementing them. Other of my ideas, upon closer inspection, really just weren’t all that great after all. I had not thought of or considered this or that. Other ideas had potential but needed tweaking. I had to learn to accept the percentages. But this I knew. Unless I kept putting ideas out there – even if only 25% were adopted in the end – none of them would ever be adopted! So I kept putting out the ideas –and maybe with a better humor and attitude. This process is not unlike songs that people write, or even the hymns we sing. If, for example, Isaac Watts hadn’t cranked out hundreds and hundreds of hymns, we wouldn’t have the several dozen today that are still sung by the church. Unless a songwriter writes lots of songs he or she will never have a hit, and often it is not the expected song (or idea) that is the hit. This is the nature of creative
Here are the core values that have been compiled and reviewed by the session. Really, your ideas will be of much greater use if they reflect these core values.
I look forward to your feedback.
Core Values and Characteristics
1. Organizational Simplicity
2. Relational Ministry (as opposed to Program-Oriented Ministry) (and including specific applications of a weekly meal together and small group
3. Commitment to being “in the world” (or 24-7 Christianity, Jesus Lord over all of life, etc), and to the significance before God of life in “non church” spheres – home, school, work, neighborhood, plus a commitment to equip people for living christianly in these spheres of life)
4. Intergenerational Corporate Life (The promotion of relationships and ministry participation across generational lines)
5. Reformed and Covenantal Theological Perspective (but patient with people “in process”)
6. Participatory Worship (Including maybe as subsets, 1) the idea of the voice as the primary instrument of praise and 2) the idea of “blended worship”
7. Personal, individual, contextual evangelism (sometimes called lifestyle evangelism, or in our lingo, “out there” evangelism)
8. An understanding of parents as having fundamental responsibility for the Christian nurture of their children
9. Leadership by elders working in a Presbyterian context with equality of authority and with a consensus approach to decision making
10. Commitment by members to worldwide missions, including this place as part of the wide world
11. Emphasis on small group ministry and participation (small groups being an outworking both of commitment to relational ministry and commitment to equipping ministry)
12. Expository biblically based preaching from a reformed perspective
13. Affiliation with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Dear Church Family,
In this fourth of five year-end reflections I am going to talk about myself. I am going to share thoughts of a nature that could be shared in an Open Time, but that are, well, longer. This is personal and rather autobiographical, and I understand if you may not feel inclined to wade through it. It is my nature it seems to put such thoughts into writing.
These thoughts were inspired by a significant event in my life this past year. This even has given me pause to think about other such events that have led me to where I am today, to think about blessings God has given me in my life – blessings that were confirmed as it were by the event of this year – and to think about some challenges I have faced this year and will face going forward from here. I hope at least some of you will bear with me and read this narrative. I covet your prayers.
As to the event.…I was just driving down the road. I had thought it all through. It all seemed to have been confirmed to me as right. I was embarking on a new adventure. I was driving south. I was going to school. And then suddenly, in a moment, I knew – I was to turn around.
I felt embarrassed and a little humiliated, and in the moment I didn’t understand it. But it was a clear as anything could be. I was not to go forward with the plans to take classes at NC State. I was to come back. God reached down and touched me.
I’ve been touched by God’s special hand of mercy and direction on many occasions in my life. I remember as a young sixteen year old teenager coming home from a weekend retreat at Windy Gap, a retreat put on by the youth ministry of Trinity Episcopal Church (Team) led by John Yates with the help of his wife Susan. My friend Calvin had invited me. I was skeptical. But I paid attention. I listened. I laughed at the skits. I learned a whole lot of fun Scripture songs (many of which we still sing!) I enjoyed the trudge up and the run down the mountain. I felt the love. Back at home in my bed I prayed. It was a pretty wimpy prayer really. But I woke up a different person. I don’t want to go into details but some bad habits just melted away. I knew something had changed. I was filled with new interests. Yes, I had miles and miles to go, but a new life had begun.
But in truth it progressed with a lot of stuttering half steps. In those days people put a lot of really good books into your hand as a young Christian. So I became pretty well read. I thought of myself as a Christian. But as time went on I seemed trapped between wanting to be a Christian and the sense that I just would never get there. And on top of that the whole issue of vocation and college major weighed upon me like a hundred ton building. I had done well, too well I think, in college, and too many doors were opened. I was an emotional and spiritual wreck. So I left Clemson to take a trip over to England to study at a place called L’Abri Fellowship. Billy Peebles, a friend from Team, that youth ministry mentioned above, who had reached out to me several years before at Windy Gap, well, he had been to English L’Abri, and he recommended it. I left a lot behind when I took off half way through my junior year at Clemson. I would never go back.
When I arrived at L’Abri that hundred ton psychological/spiritual load was weighing down upon me as ever before. But my first night there at L’Abri, in Dick and Mardi Keyes’ flat, during a talk I can’t remember, the load lifted. It just went away. It was there one moment and gone the next. I felt it leave me. So I was able to devote myself to the study of Genesis and Romans and Philippians, along with several other streams of interest, unhindered. God touched me, again. I was baptized before I left, in a bathtub!
It was hard getting settled back into life in Columbia, living at home, attending a new college, having major reverse culture shock. But there I was. Now I knew I was a Christian. I knew I needed to seek out a local church. Just hanging with my Christian buds wasn’t enough. So I went here. I went there, usually alone. I stayed at one place a while, another place a while. I was feeling lost again. Someone told me about this little storefront type church meeting upstairs in rented room in down town Columbia. So I went. I knew the moment I went in that it was the place. I never went anywhere else until I moved away a couple of years later. God touched me, again.
I graduated. I got a job. I should have known better, but Ivory Wilcox was such a dear friend and brother. He worked in the warehouse and was always singing, always rejoicing. He seemed to be living the Christian life on another level. I wanted what he was selling, and he was selling the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Again a weight was on my back that I could not bear. My mind told me that something was amiss, but my heart yearned – for more? I tried speaking in tongues. I prayed for the “baptism.” It was a hard time for me. Then one day, feeling empty and barren, I went on a walk with my dog Clancey down to a lake near where I lived. I sat in the grass and flipped back and forth in the Scriptures. I landed in Matthew 11. I read and reread Jesus’ invitation to “come unto Me all you are weary and burdened.” Uh, that would be me. Suddenly the weight lifted, again. The bottom line? Jesus was enough. I had the Spirit already. I felt whole again. God touched me.
You’d think after a year at a great school getting a Certificate in Christian Studies, plus a year or more under one of the greatest preachers in the country in Glen Knecht at First Pres Columbia that I would be doing great spiritually. But again a weight had grown upon me. I had no peace. I felt distant from God. Vocational decisions loomed again. I had no deep assurance.
So one day I sat out on the balcony of our second floor Devine Street duplex, and I started turning the pages in my Bible again. I landed in Romans 5. I read the passage about that peace that we have with God having been justified by faith though our Lord Jesus Christ, and the statement following – “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Peace. Love. Spirit. Hmmm. I was just sitting there, feet up on the rail, thinking, praying. There was a large Willow Oak in the front yard that had branches that reached over to the porch railing where I sat. And then it happened. A dove (I kid you not), a dove flew from nowhere and landed on a branch maybe two or three feet from my feet. He looked right at me, right into my eyes. I looked at him. I read the passage. He flew away. Peace came over me. I was assured. I have been since. God touched me.
There were more touches here and there, some dramatic, some less. There were many lessons learned. Fast forward to the present, driving to Raleigh, like a little school kid going to school for the first time, and it happened again. “Not now. Turn around. Go home. Get to work.”
And so I did. A certain turmoil had built up in me leading to the decision to take the classes at State. I had other interests. I wanted to be prepared to do other things if need be. I wanted to be at least a semi expert at something so that I could busy myself in retirement. I had thoughts of starting an organization. I had anxiety about my future. Maybe I wanted to hedge my bets.
I had always been a bit of a reluctant pastor. I definitely believed that I was called to it based upon the process that got me there. But I never really felt up to the job. I wondered if it was worth it. I wanted to do a lot of other things too.
So God touched me. Inside something was different. Other desires faded. The calling just seemed clearer. He let me see the brokenness of the world and the brokenness of my own heart. He let me glimpse the need of the world for the basic truths of His message. And He took me on a tour down memory lane. He helped me remember the ways He had touched me in the past. He opened my eyes to all He had given to me in preparation.
Take a break, come back, and walk again with me now, briefly, down my memory lane.
When I first responded to the gospel after my weekend at Windy Gap (which I attended because of the invitation of my friend Calvin Marshall, to whom I owe a life debt of gratitude) it took me a while to do anything different on purpose. I had no idea how to go forward. Gradually, as folks from Team realized that I had responded in some real way, and as I began to attend more gatherings, many took initiative and gave to me material to read. Within my first year our two I was nurtured in CS Lewis, JI Packer, Francis Schaeffer, John Stott, John White, and GK Chesterton. Needless to say, this reading immersed me quickly into a solid stream of historic orthodox Christianity. I was deeply blessed. I was off to a good start.
I continued to read and study, though confused inwardly, until I left for England halfway through my junior year at Clemson. Again, I was so blessed in the extremely gifted people working then at English L’Abri – Dick and Mardi Keyes, John and Jill Barrs, Jerram and Vicki Barrs, and Ranald and Susan Macaulay. I mean, it really just does not get much better than that. In my studies I focused at first just on the Bible. I studied Schaeffer’s teaching from Genesis and Romans, and then branched out to other things. I heard lectures that were thought provoking and edifying. I learned a lot from very bright fellow student searchers. And I learned how to sing hymns there. “Praise to the Lord the Almighty” which we sang at breakfast many mornings, stands out.
Fast forward a year and there I am at Christ Fellowship Church in Columbia – a very small church with a half time pastor Paul Wright who otherwise taught at Columbia Bible College, and whose teaching built me up week after week. Nothing fancy, just really good solid teaching from a man who knew his stuff. I learned a huge number of hymns there. It was then when my friend Richard Greenfield took me under his wings to disciple me. I have no idea why he chose me. But he made a huge difference in my spiritual growth.
I was hungry for more, so after much soul searching I decided to head out to Regent College in Vancouver, mainly because JI Packer was there, and because it was on the Pacific coast. I wasn’t expecting Bruce Waltke, Klaus Bochmuel and the many other great teachers. Waltke’s “Old Testament Theology,” Packers “Intro to Systematic Theology” and James Houston’s “Understanding the Creator” perhaps meant the most to me. And there were the other students – including Susan!
Fast forward a few more years and we’re in Columbia attending a church that may have been one of the premier churches in America for teaching and preaching and gospel centered living. I got to sit under the teaching and preaching of Mark Ross and Glen Knecht for almost three years. I mean, one could simply not ask for more.
Again, a few years later, back at Regent College. Due to the sickness of the other systematic theology professor I had a double dose of Dr. Packer. I was also in his advisee group. It is hard to express the good fortune that was mine in having so much exposure to Dr. Packer. Susan also knew him well in her stint at Regent. She had to do her Master’s Degree oral presentations with him for her Masters in Theology, a more academically serious degree than I have. I never could have remembered enough to do well at that. But I had the good fortune to get to know dr. Packer as well as take classes from him, and to be able to go to him often with all my questions. Seriously, God’s goodness to me in that sense is off the chart. Yes, there were other great teachers during my second time at Regent, and yes immersion in the biblical languages was super, but all the classes and time with Dr. Packer stands out.
And, add to that personal tutelage under a humble and blessed PCA pastor named Doug Codling, and I was blessed even more!
And then our family came here.
My September 2007 turnaround gave me opportunity to reflect upon my call took me back to the wealth of opportunities God had provided for me over the course of my life, not only the great teaching, but real community and real godly example. I am forced to see two and two adding together. Not to make the most of these blessings and opportunities would be wrong.
But I have also had to come to grips with my own limitations and failures and some of the consequences of the sedentary office life. I am not a very good “Office Dude.” I have struggled with organizational effectiveness as a solo pastor. It has been hard for me to focus on anything whenever I am in the office, and my tendency to lose things is legendary. I have not adjusted completely well to the internet/e-mail age. And clearly, over the course of time, the sedentary life has been slowly killing me physically.
And so, in order to move forward, to make the most of what has been given to me, I am having to address some issues in my life. Obviously my health is one of those. Six months ago my heart was kicking into an irregular pattern often, my BP was way too high, my blood sugar was high, and I was significantly overweight. I couldn’t sleep. I felt crummy almost all of the time. There was always stress and tension in my chest. I was as weak and flabby as a wet noodle. I am trying to address those issues via diet and exercise. Things have improved but I have a very long way to go.
I have also had to face the fact and truth of my organizational dysfunction. I would almost go so far as to say I am hopeless. Thus I am trying very hard to implement an improved approach to basic managerial work. It does not come naturally and is a lot of work for me to change. But the internal stress of carrying all these half finished projects and “to do’s around in my head is just too much. To be fruitful and to be able to stay at it I just have to get on top of this. I am using the book “Getting Things Done” to help me get my act together. It may take a while, but I’m trying, hard. I covet your prayers. It is hard to convey how desperate I often feel in this regard.
I also am working on finding the space in each day to have my normal “quiet times” using the St. James Devotional Guide. It is just about impossible for me to be in the “quiet time” mode while in the office, so I am trying to do that at home before I leave in the morning, or during breaks during the day. I just have to do this. You’d be surprised at how this is so much NOT easier just because one is a pastor.
I am trying to be more faithful in my communications – to you in the church, to my immediate and extended family, to old friends and local friends in other churches, and to pastoral colleagues. I want to regain some pre-internet, pre-e-mail patterns of communication. You know, writing with a pen or pencil! Remember that?
I sense a need to reconnect with the books and ministries or people who were instrumental in my own growth as a Christian. I am developing a list of books that were especially meaningful to me early in my life as a Christian to read again in 2008, one per month. This list will include Packer, Schaeffer, Lewis, Chesterton, MacDonald, Hopkins (GM), and Dostoevsky. The latter wrote the first book on my list, “The Brothers Karamazov.” I know that that long book seems daunting but the “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” story has so much insight about the temptations of Christ in the wilderness I just thought I’d start with that book and try to finish before the February sermons on the temptation. In addition, I may try to go to some seminars or conferences this year. I have had very little input other than reading over the past 14 years, and I know I need that just as does everybody else.
I hope that many of these changes will give me more time and energy to prepare for worship as well as to write and address the ongoing issues of our day in a more public setting. Much to my amazement I find that my writing opens doors, and encourages or challenges others, and I think I am supposed to stay at it. But I also want to do a better job at equipping others in our own body. The truth is I find the most joy in ministry in encouraging and helping others in their ministry. I want to do a better job at this within our own fellowship.
I also hope that I will do a better job as a husband and father as I become more organized and less stressed.
I ask for prayer for all of these things regarding myself. I do not wish to bore you or impose myself on anyone. Everyone I know has equivalent needs. I am just writing to you as a person whom you support financially (and whose family you support). I want and need to improve in many ways in my life, not all of which I have mentioned.
I give thanks, looking back on 2007, a harder year than most, for God’s mercy and kindness. Here I am at fifty, a Christian for over thirty years now, but with so much room to grow. I covet your prayers.
Thanks for reading through this. Please forgive any typos or mistakes.