Thursday, February 26, 2009

Preparing to Fast

As I said last week, tomorrow starts a week of fasting and prayer for our church in order to better discern God's leading for some big decisions that our church elders are wrestling with. Here are the three big areas where we are fasting and praying as leaders and inviting others to join us...

1) Facilities - one, should HCB-RR continue our relationship with the YMCA, and two, where does the Lord desire the new church plant to meet?

2) Church-planting - does God what HCB-RR to be involved in church planting again in 2010 in some capacity?

3) Staffing - wisdom for how best to use the additional staffing money we have in our 2009 budget?

SO, as you can see, we have some big decisions in the weeks ahead. We are moving through this season of decision with prayer and fasting so that we can make sure our church is in tune with the Holy Spirit and not just expecting God to bless our plans. I've heard several questions about fasting this week.

Here's a FAQ related to fasting this week:

1) Do I have to fast from food? No, because not everyone can fast from food (like me, since I'm diabetic). However, fasting from one meal a day for a week is the most common method of fasting. Because we spend so much time and energy eating, fasting from food can reveal our inner world in a new way and free up time to seek God. If you can't fast from food, pick something else that you can fast from for a week that will free up time to seek God and pray. I'm fasting from television all week in order to spend more time with the Lord.

2) What do I do while I'm fasting? You can do several different things with the free time. As I've told you many times before, I prefer to journal while I'm praying - it helps my mind to concentrate and allows me to jot down notes when I'm discerning some kind of leading or impression from the Holy Spirit. So I will spend my fasting time journaling, reading Scripture, and journaling some more. I will also spend some of my fasting time praying with my wife and listening with her for direction from God.

3) Why should we fast? As I mentioned in last week's post, fasting reminds us that our desires for food and entertainment and relationship (all things we can fast from) are simply temporary imitations of our eternal desire for the greatest treasure, Jesus Christ. The church historically has practiced fasting in order to celebrate the all-encompassing sufficiency of God, to discipline themselves away from idolatry to things in this present world, and to increase their attentiveness to the Holy Spirit. As mentioned above, we are fasting this week corporately as a body to say to the Lord and ourselves that we desire Him over all else and that we desire to hear from Him over ourselves.

I'd love to hear any stories of what the Lord shows you during times this week of fasting and prayer. May He richly bless you and meet with you as you seek His face. I'll be posting some observations throughout the week.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Book Review: Too Great a Temptation (4/5)

In a recent conversation with a pastor dealing with transition of leadership, I was turned on to Dr. Joel Gregory's book about his short tenure at First Baptist Church Dallas in 1991-1992. He wrote the book two years later (1994) in an attempt to clear the record about what happened during his two-year stint as the pastor. As a guy who came to faith in Christ through a Baptist church, served on staff at a Baptist church, and went to college at a Baptist University (Baylor), I have many connections to the characters that Dr. Gregory writes about in this book.

After struggling at the church and abruptly resigning, you would think Gregory's accounting would be more harsh about the church. In reality, he is very careful to still sing the praises of his predecessor, W.A. Criswell, while pointing out the two major issues that derailed his ministry at the church. I think there is much to learn in these two principles.

1) Dr. Criswell would not step down as pastor so that Dr. Gregory to take on full leadership of the historic church. Gregory's account is a good reminder that we all struggle with self-awareness, not seeing clearly what everyone else around us sees. According to Gregory's account, everyone at the church knew that Criswell needed to step down as pastor, but no one was courageous enough to say it to his face. Here's what I'm taking away - will I be able to let go of ministry that has been important to me for the sake of the church and the kingdom? OR, will I hold on to things too long in order to maintain my own importance? Who will speak clearly and truthfully into my life when my presence is hurting the ministry rather than hurting it? Self-awareness is really difficult.

2) Dr. Criswell had built the ministry of First Baptist Dallas around his wonderful speaking gift in the pulpit. So, when the time came for transition, the ministry was too directly connected to his speaking abilities. How do we as pastors make sure that the church benefits from our ministry but doesn't become dependent on it? I've always tried to make sure that other guys get time in our pulpit, but I'm still not sure how to lead the church this direction. Especially in a situation where the pastor is the founding pastor or a long-tenured pastor, the church needs to be taught that their identity is not connected to the pastor. And the pastor needs to recognize that his identity is not connected to that church family. Both challenging things to do, but very important.

Stressful Week

The last seven days have been more stressful than most, but I can dimly see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know that God leads us through challenging times in the pressure-cooker of life in order to teach us to depend on Him more fully. The jury is still out on if I'm learning that lesson along the way.

We started the week with my wife Barie getting the flu. Note the self - when mom goes down for the count, the rest of the family looks like ants when the colony has been kicked with a giant shoe. Her mom and I scrambled to keep up with everything Barie does by herself - cleaning, playing with the kids, trips to the grocery store, time at the doctor's office, etc.

On Thursday, Kamden (our middle son), came down with the flu as well. He's now running fever and struggling to fight off this tough bug. I think Kale, our third son, is dealing with it now as well. So much sickness - we hope it all goes away soon.

With all this craziness going on with sickness, I was also trying to finalize the deals on our mortgage refinance that I've been working on for a month. Some old problems with our HOA resurfaced and some final battles had to be fought. In the end, however, the refinance went through on Friday and the process is done.

Today, we spent a few hours this morning working on our taxes and finished our 2008 return. We getting a small amount back, but I like it this way. I'd rather have my money during the year than let the IRS hold it for me.

In the midst of all of that, I've been working on one of the more challenging messages in the Risk-Takers sermon series. We've challenged our congregation with taking Risk this year for God, and we've been looking at figures throughout Scripture and church-history who have taken great risk for God. This week's message is about taking the risk to break through tradition when it leads us to miss the heart of God. I'm preaching about Peter in Acts 10 - his vision from God and ministry to Cornelius.

Talking about tradition is hard, mostly because it can be both bad and good depending on how it is used. I hope and pray that God is honored with what I say tomorrow morning.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Week of Fasting and Prayer

I announced last Sunday that our elders are participating in a week of fasting and prayer the first of week of March in order to discern the will of God for our congregation moving forward. We are inviting our congregation to join us in fasting and praying from March 1st to March 7th. In the simplest sense, fasting is about giving up something of personal pleasure during the week (from eating to television to reading to sleeping) so that we have more time to spend seeking the face of God. Prayer is about what happens during those times with God.

Jesus warned us about making fasting and prayer about personal self-righteousness (in other words, thinking in our hearts or out loud, "I'm more righteous than other people because I fast and pray.") rather than about connecting honestly with God. Fasting is a great discipline to make sure that our hearts are not too connected to anything in this temporal world, but deeply connected to God.

The elders are fasting and praying during the first week of March not to move the hand of God in some way, but in order to increase our ability to hear the voice of God as He leads and guides us. In other words, we are not intending to manipulate God to do something for us, but rather intending to still our hearts so that we can listen for the directing influence of the Holy Spirit.

As many of you know, discerning and doing the will of God for our lives is not easy. Discernment is not only required in individual decisions, but also in corporate decisions. We all want to know what God wants for our personal lives and our families. But we should also want to know what God wants for our corporate family. Where is He leading our church?

We have followed the Holy Spirit in reaching out to men and women in the community with the gospel through our missional groups and our church-planting effort. We have seen God bless us as we have been focused on sharing the gospel of grace AND as we have been open-handed with our money and our lives. The question now arises, what is next?

We know that God wants us to continue to be on mission with Him and be good stewards of all He has entrusted to us. But where is He leading us in the days ahead? Let's seek the Lord's voice together in great faith that He will show us His will for our church - in the areas of church-planting, facilities, staffing, etc.

The Bible says that to whom much is given, much is required. Father, speak to us - we are listening.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Innovative Companies

Fast Company magazine announced their picks for the world's 50 most innovative companies in 2008. Their selections and descriptions of these top-50 companies were insightful and challenging. What companies do you think were on the top of their lists? Here's their top four:

#1: Team Obama. Fast Company noted that Obama's online organization team mobilized people (both to volunteer their time and give their money) in a way never thought possible before this election cycle. I guess this disproves the notion that online connections are not real connections.

#2: Google. With a simple idea like "organize the world's information and make it available to all," this "search" company is taking the world by storm. For those of us who live on the web, it is hard to imagine the world without google. And Fast Company highlights their innovative efforts that will change our lives in the years to come.

#3: Hulu. Hulu is a start-up effort that combines TV shows from Fox, NBC, and other networks in an online venue. In other words, it allows you to watch TV on the internet. While others groups are working on this, Hulu has been the most innovative and successful at putting lots of content online and making it enjoyable to watch.

#4: Apple. Even, with Steve Job out on medical leave, Apple is proving itself a powerhouse with regards to innovation. Who isn't impressed with the iPhone, the new Mac computers, and the ease of iTunes. Apple has innovated itself from obsolescence a few years ago to being the envy of the computer world.

Agree or disagree with Fast Company's top four choices?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dr. Harold Hoehner

I was really saddened to hear this morning that Dr. Harold Hoehner, long-time professor of New Testament at Dallas Seminary, died yesterday at the age of 74. One of the greatest joys I had while studying at DTS was taking NT105 with Dr. Hoehner. This was my fifth semester of Greek, and it was basically studying through the book of Romans in the original language while sitting at the feet of a world-class scholar. This is the kind of stuff you can't get anywhere else than at a great seminary like DTS. Looking back over all the courses I took at seminary and all the money I paid to get my masters, I would have paid twice what they asked just to get the opportunity to sit at Dr. Hoehner's feet.

I not only appreciated his brilliant mind, but his tender heart. I took NT105 with about 15 others students, and Dr. Hoehner was so gracious to all of us. He was patient when we were slow to understand, prayerful when students shared their struggles, and helpful in equipping us to really learn and teach God's Word effectively. After I took Dr. Hoehner's class on Romans, I soon began teaching a men's Bible study group on Friday mornings. Can you guess what I taught? You got it - verse by verse through the book of Romans. Thank you, Dr. Hoehner, for the investment you made in knowing God's Word and the investment you made in me.

To read more about Dr. Hoehner's life, check out DTS' tribute to him on their website. Also, take a second to look at his exegetical commentary on Ephesians, the best work on Ephesians in print.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Clear CT Scan

I went in today for a CT Scan at Scott & White Hospital (where I stayed last fall for a week). I had a follow-up appointment with my ENT doctor to look back over the scan results and talk about the future. He showed me the scans from October when my right sinus cavities were completely impacted, and then he showed me the scans from this morning. They looked completely clear. He was excited to tell me that he thought I wouldn't need another surgery in the near-future and wouldn't have to come back to see him unless I started feeling bad again. I'm thankful to God for the good report.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Book Review: Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret (5/5)

We're teaching a series right now at church called Risk-Takers (since our goal is on taking risk for God this year) where we are looking at biblical characters and historical characters who have taken risks to serve and follow God. This last Sunday, Josh Cagle (our church-planter), preached on the risk that the nation of Israel had to take communally to trust God during the Passover event. You can see the messages in this series on our website.

Since I didn't preaching Sunday, I had extra time last week for study and research for some of the messages coming up later this Spring. One of the historical characters I'm going to preach on in March is Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. In preparation to share his story of risk, I read the biography of Taylor's life (written by his son). Needless to say, I was extremely challenged by his great faith in God in the pioneering work of reaching China with the gospel. The mission he founded continues the pioneering work of taking the gospel to the least-reached places around the world. You can read more about their current work on the OMF website.

I would recommend this book to anyone - highly readable with many excerpts from Taylor's own letters. May God give us the courage and faith that Hudson Taylor had in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

3 Books Reviewed: Launch, Fusion, Activate

Nelson Searcy, the lead pastor of The Journey Church in New York City, has been generating resources for pastors to use since he was the small-groups director for Purpose-Driven Communities. Recently, he and his team have been prolific in producing resources that are both practical and insightful into the starting and operation of healthy churches. His ministry for pastors (church leader insights) has been producing seminars and collective learning environments for years, but only in the last two years has all of his ideas and lessons been put into print. This is a win for churches around America, not only because the ideas are tested and good, but because the books are affordable. If I have anything against Searcy's offerings for pastors, it is only that they are too expensive. Even his "Super-Bowl Special," that he was offering last Sunday, packaged all his material together and sold it for 50% off the regular price. You ready for the discounted price? $1000.

All that being said simply to make the point - pay $30 for the 3 books and read them together with other pastors and church leaders. Searcy has done pastors a great service in thinking through so many questions that we all are asking. I appreciated how each book is written in such a way to challenge the misconceptions that are out there in so many churches. I admit that several of my assumptions and convictions about ministry were upended by these three little books.

Each book is immensely readable, with lots of stories and examples. Even better than that, Searcy's team has made many of the tools he mentions in the book available on their website for free, making the price of the books even more reasonable. We are working to implement some of Searcy's suggestions in assimilation (Fusion) and small groups (Activate) at our church - I'm excited to see what God will do through our adjustments. The book on church-planting is somewhat unique to Searcy's location in NYC and to the network of relationships he brought to the process, but even here, his insights are invaluable. I am tremendously thankful to have found these works.