I guess I haven’t lived in Florida long enough. It’s not really that cold around DC these days. At least I don’t think so.
Archive for December, 2005
I spent most of the day last Thursday reading Thomas Watson’s “The Doctrine of Repentance.” Right now it’s packed in my bag to hopefully be read again during the week at home. It’s a very easy-to-read book, with edges that cut deep. Let me start by saying that I hghly recommend it for those who think too much. (Which would be the reason why I need to read it again!)
One quote that jumped off the page at me was this: “So we see that repentace is both easy and joyful.” I think I scoffed a little when I first read that. But I was almost immediately hit with an amazing sadness. Sadness that this cynicism would be my first reaction to such a beautiful truth. Sadness that my experience with repentace has often been the opposite of ease and joy. And yet in the cold recesses of my jaded heart, Watson’s words echo inside me like sweet Gospel music.
In this way, Watson’s book taught me that you don’t just pray prayers of repentance for the grace of God, but you pray for repentace as a grace of God. I’m very used to the idea that I should be praying prayers of repentance. One of the wonderful things I learned from the liturgical tradition is that rhythm from Isaiah 6, that when we are faced with the glory of God our appropriate response is repentance. That is beautiful and true, but to me that can often read like a book of standard operating proceedures, rather than recognizing that God is gracious to reveal His glory to His people, and it is the graceful work of the Holy Spirit that enables me to repentance. Reading Watson’s words about the hot tears of sorrow and hatred of sin, I found a disconnect between my experience and Watson’s words. I don’t weep for my sin. I know what I do is wrong, but I’ve gotten used to it. It’s become the dull ache that I simply live with. Watson reminded me again that it is only the Grace of God that can convince me of the sinfulness of sin. He doesn’t expect me to just figure that out on my own. He desires to show me. It’s not a mental ascent; it’s a weight that ought to tug on my heart for a while, so that I can know the true sweet joy of release.
Praying for that — praying like that — is scary. I’ve tried to do it a few times since last Thursday, and each time I’ve found myself distracted or tempted or otherwise dissuaded. But I hear the call of the Spirit, urging me to pray in this way. So now I fight with my flesh, that resists such humiliation and honesty. Sounds like the best place to start.
I have Bill Fullilove to thank for that little quip. That’s what he told his wife right after I told him that I decided to take the job at Pine Ridge. For those who remember (or will read about 2 articles down), this is the conclusion of the “Prayer and Choices” post earlier on. After exams last week, I finally had (or took) the time to sit and pray and wait to see if God desired me to take this call. I’ll be starting in February. That makes it over 6 months since I originally met with Pine Ridge’s associate pastor. Yes, that’s a long time to try and make a decision.
Many of my friends have been asking me if I’m excited about the new job. The short answer is yes, but I am apprehensive. I know in many ways God has been preparing both me and this church for this time of collaboration. I also know that I’ve got my work cut out for me. I also know that I’m going to have to be more intentional in many of my relationships and personal growth than I’ve been. But that’s a good thing. I know it’s a part of God calling me to Himself and calling me to His church. And that makes me excited. That gives me peace.
It also reminds me that I’m going to need a lot of prayer. The most reasurring thing in this whole process has been the support I’ve had from friends and family. These are people who believe in me and my abilities. What’s more, they believe in God, and have been interceeding on my behalf throughout this time. And I am very thankful. Those who have been in prayer and are reading this, you have my deepest thanks. Words fail me. But know also that I will continue to need your prayers in the months ahead as I integrate and make changes at Pine Ridge. Know also that you are in my prayers.
In the latest issue of the PCA’s e-mail newsletter, they had an ad for The Dynamic Giving System – which is apparently a church program that promises to “Increase Your Church’s Giving 10-60% in 5 Weeksâ€”Guaranteed.” The fact that this guy is charging $300 for this system causes a slight amount of cognitive disconnect for me. Moreover, I’m a little surprised that the PCA is advertising this guy. Anyone who offers that kind of a guarantee just strikes me as a little bit greasy.
But then, it’s hard to criticize a guy who is trying to help churches raise their weekly giving, which is a huge concern for many smaller churches around the nation. And if this guy has invested in doing his research and creating a quality product that produces results, he deserves to be paid for his services. On that level, it’s tough to argue with. So I can get over the disconnect of having to pay for a program to increase church giving.
But there’s still the question of that guarantee. You know what’ s wild? The more I think about it, the more I think that this guy is very secure in giving that guarantee. Why? Because many churches today don’t talk about money. Somewhere in the midst of the seeker-sensitive movement, pastors across America got very nervous about talking frankly about money. Back in the mid 80′s and early 90′s – thanks to the wonders of Christian broadcasting – the church got a bad name for always asking for money. A few scandals later, and people became very wary of religious people asking for donations. One of the chief complaints you would hear from non-church-goers is that all “they” (churches) ever talk about is money. Oh, and sin. So we stopped. We stopped talking about money and stopped talking about sin.
Now, most PCA churches wouldn’t be faulted for not talking about sin. It would be quite difficult to satisfy your presbytery that you are faithfully teaching the Scriptures and subscribing to the system of doctrine in the Westminster Standards without talking about sin with both regularity and frankness. But the same cannot be said for money. I honestly don’t remember the last time that I heard a good sermon on stewardship – on God’s vow to care for His people, the Biblical model that we are blessed that we might bless, the imperatives to be caring for the servants of the Word, and passionate calls for giving towards the active work of the church.
You know why this guy can guarantee that his system will work after 5 weeks? If a church were to preach honestly about money for 5 weeks, they would see an increase in giving. There’s a reason why so much of Jesus’ teaching used money as a theme (although often material possessions were not the point): our values on money say a lot about us. It exposes the more comfortable and fashionable sins of our hearts. If this preaching were matched with financial awareness assistance (basic budgeting help), it would be a huge service to the church, and would result in people who are more able to give. Of course, the problem is that many parishoners are ignorant on where their money goes in the first place, and so they get into debt, and then feel that they can’t give to the chruch because it would be a sin to go deeper into dept.
I really hope that where I go into ministry, we have an honest stance on money. Finding a good, servant-minded CPA that is able to train lay-financial advisers would be a huge blessing for the future of the church.
Over the past month or so, I’ve been wrestling with a hard decision. I’ve got a job offer that I’m trying to decide whether or not to take. In many ways, I’m dragging my heels on making a real decision regarding the offer. It’s one of those situations where there are a ton of factors, all of them with different fascets both positive and negative. I won’t rehearse the details here. If you’ve talked to me in the past month, you’ve probably heard too much about it already.
So rather than looking at the factors themselves, I’m finding myself asking questions about the way that I make decisions. I’ve sought the counsel of others that I trust, those that know me, and those that know the church. I’ve had some good input and some unhelpful input, and some things that have only confirmed that the waters really are as muddy as I’d thought. And I know the “right” answer – that I should be in prayer, trusting God to lead me. Cliche, huh? But doesn’t scripture say that those that lack wisdom should pray and ask for it from God? Didn’t James say that we have not because we ask not?
Yet I think my prayers for wisdom are often very ends-oriented. I’m looking for insight, not guidance. I’m looking for another little factor of information that will push my scales to one side or the other – and I can put a sticker on that and say that God has led me. And that recognition has led me to repentance. I repent of seeking knowlege for the sake of autonomy. And, wouldn’t you know it, this is the same lesson that God tried to teach me a few months ago when I was strattling between 2 church plants. God chose to open neither door, because He doesn’t desire that I would simply place positives and negatives on the little scales inside my brain and make my own choices. In some ways, I don’t really know that God cares whether I take this job or not. He wants me to follow Him into the valley.
1″Come, let us return to the LORD
For He has torn us, but He will heal us;
He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.
2″He will revive us after two days;
He will raise us up on the third day,
That we may live before Him.
3″So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.” (Hosea 6)