Wednesday, December 11, 2013
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:15-18)
Jesus, the Creator, is sustaining everything (Colossians 1:17). He for sure doesn't need our help there. Jesus is preparing a place for us in heaven (John 14:2-3). You and I clearly have no role in that work, although I am beyond confident we will be blown away by what He has waiting for us. Jesus is busy but not overwhelmed or burdened. As my senior pastor likes to say, He can do all that with His feet up.
But there is one part of Jesus' work that His followers are to be busy with right up until His long-awaited return or our call home -- i.e., building His church. (I know we are to make disciples, but that happens in the context in the local church.)
If you are busy building the church of Jesus Christ, be encouraged and keep at it. You are doing the work your Master called you to.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ but aren't busy building up His church in the local body, I simply ask, "Why not?"
Our Master is busy building His church. We are His bondservants. Let's help build up His church in love (Ephesians 4:11-16) and be found faithful (1 Corinthians 4:1-2) in that work when He returns or calls us home. It's the mission He called us to -- build!
Saturday, September 21, 2013
1996My wife, Kim, and I walk into Harvest Bible Chapel for the first time nearly 18 years ago. Our young family – our sons, Zac, and Alex, were 6 and 3-1/2 – is looking for a new church home. Kim and I had come to salvation in Jesus Christ ~6 years earlier at another church in the northwest suburbs. I remember enjoying the worship, feeling drawn into it that first Sunday. That was a lift to my soul after a few months looking for a new home church. Then the pastor got up to preach. I don’t remember that first message, but I do remember thinking as I heard James MacDonald preach for the first time, “I hope Kim likes this because I don’t want to go anywhere else.” I had just experienced two of the four pillars of Harvest Bible Chapel – Unashamed Adoration (John 4:24) and Unashamed Preaching (2 Timothy 4:2).
1997(Stick with me. I promise there won’t be an entry for all 18 years!) Kim and I are invited to join a small group led by Pastor James and Kathy. It was my first up-close glimpse into how intentional James and Kathy are. This small group would be focused on developing leaders. Many current HBC leaders were in that first small group. 2 Timothy 2:2 in action, multiplication of leadership modeled to us. That small group distinctive has been at the core of the growth of Harvest throughout these years. As I have taught many times in small group leadership courses, when we prepare leaders, God brings the people.
Alex is baptized in front of the whole church with my parents and my sister in the front row. I was shaking with joy.
I join the Harvest Bible Chapel elder board where I continue to serve with 30 godly men who are committed to God, His Word and take the ministry entrusted to them seriously.
2013Kim and I lead another short-term mission trip taking a team of 10 to Chisinau, Moldova where we serve alongside the brothers and sisters at Biserica Metanoia Chisinau. The focus is similar to our Braila trip. We have the privilege of being part of the worship service with the first baptisms for this church. The scene is joyous as the congregation celebrates as 8 adults obediently and boldly bear witness of their faith in Jesus Christ. We are blessed greatly by our time with Pastor Cristi and his wife, Ludmilla, and all our new friends at the church in Chisinau.
TodayKim and I just celebrated 28 years of marriage. Our marriage is stronger than it’s ever been. We are enjoying our empty nest and giving ourselves to building the church of Jesus Christ globally.
Harvest at 25God is at work at Harvest. In his classic, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby urges the Christian to “find out where God is working and join him there.” Harvest is such a place. Here is a glimpse of Harvest Bible Chapel at 25:
Saturday, November 10, 2012
On a cool March Saturday years ago I struck up a conversation with another dad as we watched our sons practice soccer in the forest preserve in north Hoffman Estates. It turned out to be a conversation that would carry on for 18-1/2 years with one of the best friends I will ever have. Given that Mark, my dear friend and brother in Christ, stepped into eternity as his earthly life ended last Friday night after a 2-1/2 year battle with mantle cell lymphoma -- yes, cancer -- I cannot confirm this part of the account with him, but knowing Mark it is more likely he started the conversation.
Mark was wearing a Mizzou sweatshirt; I was wearing a Wisconsin sweatshirt. Both of us representing the alma mater. We started talking college hoops, the first of many such conversations over the years that would eventually take us on road trips to Tulsa/Oklahoma City, Dayton, Omaha, Kansas City and back to Tulsa/OKC to the 1st and 2nd round of March Madness (or the 2nd and 3rd round now that we have the First Four). That first Saturday, we had that wonderful experience of quickly realizing we were talking to a brother in Christ as we shared our first taste of the fellowship that was at the core of our relationship across those years. We regularly thanked God for the gift of the friendship and fellowship we shared. It is the closest thing I have known to what I imagine David and Jonathan had.
That first conversation was indicative of the easy, free-flowing, deep conversations we would share over the next 18-1/2 years. A more accurate description would be that it flowed like one continuous nearly two decade conversation. Regardless of how long it had been since we last met, we picked up the conversation so easily. Sadly for me -- for all of us -- the conversation has ended.
When Mark and I got together, we talked of our families. Mark was so blessed by Debbie and so proud of his sons; they always made it into the conversation and into our prayer. We talked of our work as we walked through many job challenges and changes together as we together trusted in our God to again provide for us, his children. We talked of the ministry that God and our churches entrusted to us. Mark was often a sounding board and a trusted source of counsel for me in ministry, especially these last 3 years as i have served as an elder at my home church. Mark's experience was so helpful to me. And most importantly we talked of our individual walk with the Lord as we pushed and encouraged each other to walk in a manner worthy of the calling. Mark had a real understanding that the will of God is our sanctification. I remember discussing a line from "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" -- "O to grace how great a debtor daily I am constrained to be." Mark reveled in that grace. He was a model of that tension every follower of Jesus should live in -- seeing our sinful flesh and how we fall short yet moving forward and changing in God's strength while shining brightly to a watching world.
We always closed our time together in prayer. Mark was a prayer warrior for me. He strengthened my hand in the Lord as Jonathan did for David as described in 1 Samuel 23:15-16:
David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. And Jonathan, Saul's son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in the Lord.
As I searched for a story to share what I knew of Mark, the March 2006 NCAA road trip to Dayton echoed for me. There are several things from that weekend I won't soon forget --literally every day wrapped in fellowship even as we ate, drank and slept basketball. One story captures so much of Mark for me.
As much as we waited to catch Mark napping in his seat in the middle of 20,000 screaming fans -- I am still not sure how he could do that -- what really struck me on all these trips was how Mark would strike up a meaningful conversation with the guys seated around him. On that March Friday up in section 300-something of the University of Dayton Arena, Mark talked with some of the Ohio State fans around us and the men from our group. As I left our seats to get something to drink, Mark was deep in one of those conversations. Not wanting to interrupt -- and also wondering how he had the interest and capacity to continue in these conversations even in that setting -- I simply asked if I could bring him back something to drink. A while after I came back to the seats, that conversation ended. I moved into the seat next to Mark and asked what they had been talking about. I was almost floored but then again not surprised by Mark's answer. He had been talking through a difficult circumstance with this man and had the opportunity to tell him of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In the middle of that arena, during a trip centered on basketball, Dairy Queen, more basketball, amidst jokes of hotel reward points and napping, Mark was ministering, he was making an eternal investment in another soul. There are so many more examples from just that weekend -- let alone all the other times we shared across the prime of our lives -- of Mark ministering by listening and talking easily with me and others.
The passage that came to mind as I thought of what to share about Mark, my dear friend and brother in Christ is Philippians 2:1-4:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
When I visited Mark in mid-August before Kim and I left for a 2-week vacation, I sensed that I needed to tell Mark what he meant to me. I couldn't count on another opportunity. After we prayed, I told him that he would leave a huge hole in my life. This week I have wondered how I will fill that gap. And as i prepared to share about Mark, my dear friend and brother in Christ, it occured to me that was the wrong focus. The accountability and prayer partner relationship I enjoyed with Mark was unique. Instead of looking to replace it, i choose to be grateful for it.
Praise to you my God for the fellowship and biblical friendship you gave me with Mark. I know your grace is sufficient for all here as we mourn.
Thank you, Mark, for encouraging and strengthening me and for the blessing that you were in my life.
As we wrestle this morning with grief, we can rejoice that Mark -- who had that great relational capacity and a very keen sense of his daily need for grace -- is enjoying the most important relationship, the most satisfying relationship, as he is in the presence of His Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, the source of that life-giving grace. Hallelujah!
Friday, October 19, 2012
After a 4-year battle with prostate cancer, my father-in-law, Larry's earthly life came to an end this past Thursday. The sense of loss I have at his death is overshadowed by the emotion I feel for my mother-in-law as she goes on without her husband of 50+ years and for my bride, Kim, as she was there this past week as her dad faded away.
Kim and I visited her parents this summer to minister however we could and perhaps say goodbye to her dad. We talked of his assurance of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone and prayed for him and my mother-in-law. We hugged and gave each other a holy kiss. That was the last time I would see my father-in-law. He is now home in the presence of his Lord, Jesus. Hallelujah!
As his earthly life was coming to an end, I started thinking of what I would say about him, how I could honor him. This is an attempt at that. Here are several reasons I loved my father-in-law:
• He thought the best of and believed greatly in his first daughter, my wife of 27+ years now.
• He accepted me from the beginning.
• He always supported me.
• We had some special times of fellowship from him visiting my men's small group to me flying to Florida to join him and others from his church for a weekend retreat in Leesburg to talking through scripture after a worship service at our home church.
• He had the guts to order fried chicken in a restaurant on the fishing pier in Key Largo -- on more than one occasion!
Larry is home with his Lord, Jesus. Hallelujah! I know he is rejoicing and worshipping and not looking back in the least. With my dad being gone for 14+ years now -- he is with his Lord, Jesus, too -- and now my father-in-law gone, I find myself looking back ... and being thankful for having these men in my life.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
The Beginning - WorshipMy wife, Kim, and I had the privilege and blessing of leading a short-term missions team to Colombia last month with Revealing Hope Ministries. This trip was our second missions trip overall but our first with Revealing Hope and our first to Colombia. (I should mention that this is the second year I have served on the Revealing Hope Board of Directors). This is my attempt to evaluate the experience, to reflect on the trip, what I saw and what God is teaching me. Two of our team members – my wife, Kim, (Colombia Mission Trip 2012) and Scott Lewis (Puerto Caldas, Mansome & Ecclesiastes), a long-time accountability partner – have already written about the trip. I will do my best not to repeat what they have written and to make this personal.
PreparationOur go team of six met three times in preparation for this trip. We worked through materials that Pete Stanke, the Executive Director of Revealing Hope, put together. We prayed together. We talked about expectations. We worked through devotionals to prepare us. The team also participated in the Revealing Hope Benefit Dinner in late May. But honestly, I struggled with preparation for this trip. The previous mission trip that Kim and I led to Braila, Romania in November 2011 through Harvest Bible Fellowship focused on small group leader training and biblical counseling training. So that team had to develop our teaching approach and the trainer and participant materials for the weekday sessions at Biserica Metanoia Braila and for a Saturday conference with several churches in Galati, Romania. Apart from the meetings, the devotionals and trying to focus on it in my quiet times with the Lord, I wasn't sure how to prepare for this trip. But a few things stuck out from the benefit dinner, our team meetings and communications:
- After seeing a video of the village we were going to serve in at the benefit dinner, I was even more drawn in and had an increased feeling that we had to go.
- Everyone on the team was struggling to feel prepared.
- Grace Johnson talked about and got us all praying that we would be able to quickly engage with the team at Seeds of Affection and with those they serve.
On the GroundAfter a quick night of sleep trying to adjust to a new country, the courtyard house we were staying in, a new bed and the temperature, we had some breakfast and were in the van headed out to Puerto Caldas and Seeds of Affection for the first time. Within a few minutes of arriving and being introduced to Jose and Pilar, the whole team was quickly at work preparing food for the lunch that would be served to many in the community. If you know me, first of all, stop laughing. Actually my lack of experience in the kitchen, being in a new place and having the language barrier was a good environment for me to be in that first day. There would be no level of comfort. It was simply a feeling of “I am here to serve in the name of Jesus.” And our whole team had the same approach. We were quickly working alongside the team at Seeds of Affection – an answer to that team prayer.
That first day in the midst of the lunch rush as hundreds were fed from the small building that Seeds of Affection operates from in Puerto Caldas, Pili (as her friends know her) asked me through a translator what I thought. I told Pili I was amazed at how many people were served, at the amount of activity in the space and perhaps even more so by the number and ages of those who served. Several of the girls immediately started serving and obviously were integral to what happens in the feeding program at Seeds of Affection.
One of the toughest parts of the trip for me to handle came up the second afternoon in Puerto Caldas. Jose and Pili had arranged for the team to go into several homes in the community to pray. The team drove up the road, split into smaller teams of 3-4 including a translator and went into homes. In two of the homes – in fairly similar, extremely meager circumstances – I saw the contrast between hope and despair. In the first home, the young mother had a smile on her face and the light of Jesus Christ shining in her eyes even as a tear slowly moved down from her left eye as she told us how we could pray for her and her family. In that second home we encountered a situation I was not prepared for. To avoid embarrassing anyone or any risk of coming across as condescending, I will not share the details here. The young mother in this home cried as we walked in, as she told us how we could pray for her and throughout our time of prayer. If she knew Jesus, the light and hope of our Savior was not yet shining brightly in her. I was greatly challenged to pray and really call out to God when I wanted to cry and just hug that family. But God knew that, which was a reassuring comfort right there as our team wrestled to minister to the young woman and her daughters through prayer in that moment.
We are Made to Worship
Now What?I don't yet know what all to do with my experience on this trip. I don't yet know all that Kim and I should do to help the people, especially the children and youth, of Puerto Caldas. I don't yet know what Revealing Hope Ministries can do and should do to partner effectively with Seeds of Affection. Here is what I have decided:
- I am compelled to pray, plan, act.
- We have to help and help soon to show our friends there that we are with them.
- I will not allow myself to turn my eyes and heart away from what I saw.
In the Waiting – Worship
Sunday, February 5, 2012
I don't even want to argue with you or anyone else about whether you or they are truly busy. As a close friend of mine says, "Do you really want to compare calendars?" Rather let me suggest that we all need to open our eyes and ears to this default "busy" answer. I mean, what is it?
Is it a badge of honor? Is it an expectation? Is it somehow a sin to not be able to answer "busy" when asked how I or how my week is going/was? You know, I am just after all being a good steward of my time.
No, I argue that this "busy" response falls into one of the following categories:
- Sin - Take it from someone who knows this. Often our jam-packed calendars are a reflection of the sinful choices we make whether it is not slowing down for time with God or not prioritizing our first ministry with our spouse and family at home.
- Rationalization - For some reason -- could it be that sin is deceitful -- being busy or saying I am busy seems to be an acceptable reason for sin. After all, if I am busy, well then clearly my quiet times with God have been abbreviated and I should have some allowance for emotional sins (e.g., anger, harshness). Problem is, I cannot find that in God's word.
- Consequence - See "Sin" above. You scheduled it or allowed it to be scheduled. Or you procrastinated on that work project or ministry commitment.
- Circumstance or Trial - If you are follower of Jesus Christ, you should not be surprised when you face a trial. Rather you are to count it all joy, to understand that God allows or brings these trials in the lives of His followers to test our faith and to sanctify us.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
Our "busy" lifestyles are all the more reason to prioritize the things of God, the spiritual disciplines, your daily quiet time in God's Word and your work for Christ, His church and His kingdom. So the next time you start to answer a question with how busy you are or have been, I hope you hear the imaginary buzzer going off in your head. Buzzzzz!!!!! Incorrect or unimportant answer. Don't be satisfied with being "busy." Make the best use of the time.
Monday, January 2, 2012
- Sought Him
- "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?" (Matthew 2:2a)
- "For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." (Matthew 2:2b)
- When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. (Matthew 2:10)
- Now that is a lot of joy! And they had yet to meet Jesus. But they had great anticipation as they went to see this King.
- And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down (Matthew 2:11a)
- Think about it. These wise men encounter Jesus as a baby and humble themselves by falling befor Him.
- And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. (Matthew 2:11a)
- Did they sing to Him? Did they worship with proclamation? We don't know what form their worship took. But apparently it went beyond falling to their knees.
- Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:12a)
- They brought what they had to Jesus.
- Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:12b)
- What they brought to Jesus they brought as an offering. They gave freely of what they had.
How will you respond to the Savior? Will you respond today?