Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Car trouble? Call on Jesus!

DER: Our 1997 Dodge Intrepid--a mighty fine and God-blessed piece of reliable machinery indeed--is acting up a bit. We invested about $4,000 in the car (our only car, that is) before leaving California: all new transmission, new hoses and belts, you name it. And the thing runs great. But we think we're having problems with the fuel injectors, at least at first glance.

And so I prayed last night something to the effect of: "Lord, you know we made the prayerful decision to invest literally thousands of your dollars in this car, and we continue to hope and pray you will bless it for the duration of seminary. Please help everything to work out; if we need a new car, please provide it. We don't want to use your precious resources on an unnecessary expense. If we need to get this one fixed, provide the resources to do so. If we need a car while it's getting fixed, please help us, Lord. Amen."

Now, we've never lived here before; we don't know any mechanics from Adam. So last night I emailed a professor we know and love who has been here for more than 15 years, asking for he and his wife's recommendation. Unbeknownst to me, Stacye was talking with his wife about our car trouble at precisely the same time I was emailing him! And she said to Stacye, "Oh, you can borrow our car for as long as you need it, in case you need to get yours fixed." And this morning, the professor emailed me with a very good recommendation of a nearby mechanic.

So Stacye went to their house this afternoon, got their Mazda sedan (which they use often as a "loaner" to those who need it), and we took our car to the shop.

The point is this: this couple truly is a living example of how--biblically--I believe God wants us to use and employ our material possessions. Our possessions belong to Him, God entrusts them to us, and we are merely the managers of all He has given us.

In the early Christian church, new believers in many instances sold their possessions and freely provided for each other's daily needs as they arose. Imagine if Americans consistently lived in such a way...

Imagine if we allowed Christ to infuse our hearts and minds and lives to the extent that no one in any community was "without." Imagine if each of us lived with an open hand, allowing what passes into our lives from God to pass freely through us to others. Imagine a place where God's people willingly and graciously shared "their" resources with others who needed them for a time, as this couple has done with us. Imagine the community that would be created as a result! Imagine the overflowing joy that would abound! Imagine the love that would be shared!

I believe without question this is how God wants us to live. I would encourage you to read Deuteronomy 15:7-8,10 for further insight.

We are made in God's image, and our God is a God of love, grace, and overflowing generosity. We Americans have far more money and material resources than we will ever need for ourselves. We Americans are arguably the wealthiest people on earth that have ever been or will ever be. And to be sure, the Bible tells us clearly that our material wealth is indeed a blessing from God!

But where we go wrong is that we somehow think it's all for us. Me, me, me. But that's not what Scripture tells us. The Bible says, "You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion. And through us, your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God" (2 Corinthians 9:11).

In what ways can you share what God has given you with someone who might be in need?

May God guide you and bless you richly as you consider the possibilities...

In His Love and Service,
The Rays

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hannah Prays Again

This was on Saturday, 10/20 before she ate breakfast.

Lord Jesus,
Thank You for this yummy food again.
Strawberries are sooo good
(there were no strawberries)
And ice cream
(there was no ice cream)
And chocolate and vanilla.
Thank You for me and Mommy and Daddy and Elizabeth and the cribs
(cribs? did she mean our "crib" like MTV Cribs?)
And Nana and Papa
And Noni
And Uncle and Auntie
In Jesus' name we pray,
And Mommy's thank You for...

And the field work begins!

DER: It is a blessing to officially begin as a new field worker at St. John Ellisville.

I have begun a series of in-depth visits with St. John's Director of Community Life, to learn about how they (with great effectiveness) do small groups, introductory membership classes, and new member assimilation.

I've also asked and received permission to attend some upcoming meetings of the Board of Directors, as I want to observe and learn how the staff leadership team effectively leads and partners with the board on matters of church strategy and business planning. My first board meeting observation will take place in early November.

In addition--and thanks in large part to a personal relationship one of my seminary brothers has--myself and the three other first-year St. John field workers have also been blessed by the willing partnership of T.F., a local St. Louis CPA businessman who is an active member of St. John. T.F. consults with business clients on missioning, visioning, strategic planning, operations and management, and the execution of business plans. He has begun formally and freely sharing with the four of us what he charges his clients thousands of dollars to receive. It is a tremendous blessing indeed! I would offer that the information he is sharing with us is vital for effective leadership in ministry. I wish more of our brothers-in-formation could receive the tremendous insights we are gaining, too. Unfortunately, our seminary does not offer such information as part of its classroom curriculum.

Coupled with the "on the side" training we are receiving from T.F., St. John has also paid for a professional church consultant, D.H., to visit with us several times throughout this first year to help us in similar ways. D.H. is an ordained pastor with nearly 30 years of parish ministry experience, who shares with us curriculum on developing effective mission and vision statements, strategic plans, and the like. A double blessing indeed!

And last but certainly not least, today was my first official opportunity to be part of the dynamic and uplifting worship services here at St. John. My job this first time through as a new field worker was simply to shadow and closely observe the lead Pastor and a second-year seminiarian throughout the morning as they communed the congregants, read the responsive prayers and liturgy, and the proclaimed the message and the Scriptures for the day. It was a tremendous behind-the-scenes look at how St. John conducts worship with excellence. I am grateful for the opportunity and look forward to personally reading and serving in a similar way soon.

I also learned today that I will begin teaching bible studies on Sunday mornings after the New Year, beginning with a portion of the Book of Romans. Interestingly enough, the Book of Romans was also the first book of the Bible I taught on at St. John's Bakersfield, many years ago.

All told, St. John is a wonderful "learning laboratory" for an eager, inquisitive, "type-A"-prone soul like me. I have been told (and am learning from first-hand experience) that if we are proactive and assertive and take personal responsibility for requesting opportunities to learn and grow at St. John, that the church leaders will give them to us in spades.

If my first 6 weeks are any indication of my next three or four years in this place, St. John Ellisville promises to be a Heaven-sent field work opportunity! Praise the Lord!!

And as always, thank you a thousand times over for your continued love, prayers, encouragement, and personal financial support! We would not and could not be here were it not for you and God's work through you.

God's love and blessings as we serve Him together,
Don, Stacye, and the girls :-)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hannah Prays

Since Don has done the last few postings, he informed me recently that it's my turn to post :-) I definitely need to make a new slide show and post some new pictures, but it's already late and I won't get to that tonight. I did want to share a quick post about Hannah's recent prayers. She's been praying more on her own here at home, prompted partly by us but mostly by the prayers they do at school. She's obviously picking up some of what she's taught at school and gaining more confidence, as evidenced by her prayer before breakfast this morning. Here it is:

Hannah: Peat after me.
Me/Mommy: OK.
H: Lord Jesus,
M: Lord Jesus,
H: Sank You for this yummy food
M: Thank You for this yummy food (etc. etc. etc.)
H: That You've given us.
H: And our hair is soooo soft.
H: And sank You for Elizabeth and her toys
H: And she has two teeth
(Editor's note: she has four teeth.)
H: In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
H: And Mommy's thank you for....
(That last line is supposed to be "And Mommy's thankful for..." and then I fill in the blank.)

Just thought you all would get a kick out of Hannah's prayers and our soft hair. Happy praying!

Stacye, the girls, and the Greek scholar

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Grecian gratitude

DR: I am now in week 7 of 10 in Elementary Greek. I was reflecting this morning on my Grecian journey thus far...kalamata olives, togas, and all. I've come to realize and deeply appreciate the fact that God has indeed used this course to work in and through me at least three unexpected and blessed outcomes:

1) Studying Greek has taught me academic (and lifestyle) discipline.

I'm no dummy. God has enabled me to do well academically. I earned nearly a 3.9 GPA in my undergraduate coursework, earning two college degrees in 4 years Magna Cum Laude and Cum Laude, respectively. Praise God.

I have to admit: my end-result undergraduate grades belie the fact that I wasn't very disciplined back then. (OK, I'll admit it...I wasn't disciplined at all, really). I was such a foolish and arrogant idiot. I would brag to Stacye and my friends in my undergraduate years about how I could research and write a 10-page paper literally at the last minute and get a straight A on it. My peers hated me for it. And I loved rubbing their noses in it. (Humility, as you can tell, was not a strong suit of mine back when I was in college). My M.O. in my undergraduate years was this: I would drink beer, go out with friends, play video games, sleep (often in that order), and generally procrastinate until the very last possible minute. And then I would allow my self-induced circumstances to create in me a sense of death-is-at-your-doorstep-and-you're-not-ready-for-it panic and anxiety, which would in turn focus me intensely to get my work done (because I had left myself no other choice). As much as I had allowed myself to think I was "Joe Cool," I was really "Joe Fool" for the way I was managing myself and my time.

When I got here to seminary, I truly realized that my old way of "going to college" was ridiculous. And frankly, it was only because of Greek that I began to appreciate a new way of "doing business" as it were.

You see, with Greek, we study for 5-7 hours each day, plus 2-3 hours in class every day. If you miss one day, you're dead. Sunk. Caput. Fuggeddaboudit. Seriously, it is of the utmost importance to stay on top of the language day in, day out, for every single day of the 10 weeks we are sprinting this Grecian Marathon. I had (have) no other choice than to be disciplined in my studies here, if I have any hope of honoring God with my effort and (hopefully, prayerfully) my grades.

And for God working in and through me to break old (bad) college habits, I am eternally grateful. Why? My new way of doing business has resulted in a more ordered and peaceful life, better long-term retention of the material--and yes--good grades. Praise God, I got a 96% on our Greek midterm. My wife would also say, "And thank goodness I don't have to hear you whine and complain to me about how 'I still have to write 4 more pages, and my paper is due in 2 hours.'" I love her.

2) Studying Greek keeps life in perspective.

There are worse things in life that "being forced" to take Greek. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I needed to say it.

My student colleagues and I often joke about the unparalleled academic rigors of Greek. But I do my level best not to complain about it. Yes, it's quite difficult. Yes, it's tedious. Yes, it's plain, old-fashioned academic hard work. But it's not the end of the world. And no one has died doing it (to my knowledge...yet). This too shall pass. The sun will shine tomorrow (at least that's what the weatherman says)...and if he's wrong, that means either it's really cloudy outside or Jesus is returning. Either way, it's all good. Greek isn't a nuclear war, afterall. It's just Greek.

3) Studying Greek builds character.

There are few things more rewarding in life than doing something tremendously difficult for the Lord...not giving up...and succeeding. Whether it be parenting a strong-willed child, persevering through difficult circumstances at work, beating cancer, or passing Elementary Greek with a straight-A (I pray), this is most certainly true. There is a lot to be said for not giving up. It's so easy in this music on-demand, microwave-laden, instant-messaged, immediate gratification-oriented world of ours to give up. But there is real and lasting joy in staying the course. Literally, in my case. To stick with it. To persevere. To keep on truckin'.

The Apostle Peter addresses the notion of perseverance in his letter to the heavily-persecuted early Christian church. Mind you, Peter was writing to people who lived at the time of Nero. Nero would have Christians dragged from the streets, wrapped in cloths soaked in pitch, tied to stakes, and then set on fire--alive--to "entertain" his guests.

These new Christians were suffering. Badly. Unimaginably. (And we think we have it bad not being able to say the pledge of allegiance in some public schools?)

These faithful Christians in the early church were wondering why Jesus was not returning (as quickly as they had hoped and thought He would). They were enduring incredibly difficult circumstances with no end in sight. And they had begun to lose hope. But Peter says, "Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little. To Him be the dominion forever. Amen" (1 Peter 5:10-11, CSB).

Peter says that after you have suffered--endured--persevered a little (that is, "in-comparison-to-eternity-a-little"), God will personally (personally, because He loves you) restore you, confirm you, strengthen you, and support you. The Greek word for "little" as in "little while" literally means, "puny." Itty-bitty. A "teensy period of time." You will be a heartier and more blessed soul for having endured suffering for this comparatively short while, Peter says.

And please know these aren't just a bunch of biblical platitudes I'm casually spewing at you because I think they sound nice. I share them with you in love, because they're true. I know. And you may, from your own personal experiences, too.

So whether your suffering is Elementary Greek, or a job loss, or financial difficulties, or marital strife, or illness, or a move, or parenting woes, or things at work not going your way, or __________________________, God is with you.

And Jesus loves you. He is seeing you through to The End. Which, for those of us who know Christ as our Lord and Savior, is really just a incomparably wonderful Beginning. As Martin Luther said, let us live for today and That Day.

And as the writer of the Hebrews reminds us, "Since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God's throne. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won't grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:1-3, CSB).

I'm off to study Greek. For a little while.

Running--and prayerfully enduring--the race with you,

Monday, October 8, 2007

A season of becoming...

DER: I don't like waiting. Sometimes I just plain hate it. I don't like waiting in line, waiting on hold, waiting for results, and--admittedly--waiting on God. I've never liked waiting. Perhaps that's why God provides me with such ample opportunity to do so, because He loves me and knows what's best for me.

Knowing that I was (still am) not the world's most patient soul ("and the award for the world's greatest understatement of the year goes to..."), and knowing that patience is a valuable fruit of the Spirit, I prayed for patience some years ago, against the sober advice of several Christians I know.

And the result?

God makes me wait. A lot. And God can wait a really long time.

Another way He's grown my patience is by allowing situations which try my patience to enter my life. I used to joke when our eldest daughter was younger, "I prayed for patience, and God blessed me with a two year old!"

In regards to waiting, the Bible says in Psalm 90:4 that a thousand years in God's sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. I've decided that's really not fair, because time is forever to Him, but my alarm clock still goes off every morning. We joke about the 7:1 dog years ratio: 1 year for us is the equivalent of 7 for a dog, in terms of their physical degeneration. How about 1,000 to 1? God can indeed wait a really long time.

Another significant way that God will give me patience is to show me "the finish line" or give me an in-depth glimpse of where He's taking me, but then not allow me to get there...just yet. It's like someone letting you peek at the end of a really great novel--for just a moment, for just long enough to get the big picture and maybe know how it's all going to end--but then they quickly close the book and force you to read the whole story...word by word...thought by by by day...until one day, it arrives. In God's time.

We can't make the sun rise or set any faster than it already does, I told my wife recently. This is most certainly true.

In his book, Embracing Soul Care, author Stephen W. Smith wisely notes:

"We don't like waiting. The microwave doesn't work fast enough; the internet connection is too slow. But something transformational happens when a person learns to wait. The caterpillar spinning its cocoon is not preparing a place of escape but a place to wait for transformation, a sanctuary for change.

The time of waiting is actually a season of becoming.

Transformation doesn't come if we move too quickly. We need to make space for God. When we wait and are still, He comes near. The place of waiting can provide asylum, not to hide but to hear God."

Smith continues with a phrase I just love, "Waiting sets aside the unimportant and allows the one waiting to be seized by the eternally significant." Read that again. And again. And let God's peace, truth, and light soak into your soul.

And lastly he says, "Through waiting, we find that our wings are more than wings of butterflies. We are taught to soar on wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31)."


I'm waiting. For the Lord. On the Lord. With the Lord. By way of the Lord.

Maybe you're waiting, too.

Maybe you're waiting for test results. Or a baby. Or for healing. An answer to prayer. A building to be built. A friend or family member to come to Christ. A loved one to return home. Or go Home. Or for your retirement. Your debts to be paid off. For graduation day. For your spouse to quit drinking. Or for the day you will meet Jesus face to face and (for those of us who know Jesus) be reunited with our loved ones once and for all--forever.

May God bless you...indeed strengthen you...yes, comfort you...yea, encourage you...and most certainly love you in your season of waiting.

It's not easy. Jesus knows. He loves you and He knows how you feel. And it's good to know that the One we know knows.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Prayers for Bo's family and community

As you may know, Don's mom lives in Tennessee, and two of his brothers were once both stationed at the Army's formidable Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Bo Ward (pictured below), a well-loved and well-respected businessman in the Clarksville, Tennessee community surrounding Fort Campbell, tragically took his own life in rather shocking fashion on Thursday night; you may have read or heard of the story, as it made national news for the better part of a day late last week. Click here if you wish to read the account as reported by the local Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle.

Don's brothers knew Bo well, and Don had the opportunity to visit and meet with Bo several years ago at his home in Clarksville. Bo was an outgoing and engaging man who loved the soldiers and their families deeply, and supported them in any way that he could.

Click here to read a Leaf-Chronicle article about Bo's support of the soldiers and the Clarksville community.

We would ask that you just take a moment to include in your prayers Bo's widow, Faye, and their family; the Clarksville City Council and community; all those who witnessed the incident; and the employees and soldiers Bo left behind.

May God have mercy on his soul, and may we each find comfort not in the things of this world, but in and through the Risen Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for us all. Let us hold fast to that hope--the hope of Jesus--now and forever. Amen.

May God hear our prayers as we serve Him together,
The Rays

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Greek marathon continues (along with other exciting spiritual adventures)

DR: Praise God! After many prayers from many souls and many hours of intensive studying, I am pleased to give a praise report that I got a 96% on my Greek midterm today! Praise the Lord!

I've been studying 55-60 hours each week for the last 5 weeks, and it is paying off. There have been many days over these last few weeks where my non-detailed oriented brain has bumped heads (to say the least) with the very detailed creature that Greek most definitely is, but God has miraculously knitted together connections in this head of mine to help me "get it" nonetheless.

Now I pray I continue to study effectively at the same pace I've been studying, and pass the final (known as "The Qualifier") in early November with the same gusto God gave me today. I also pray He helps me retain the knowledge He's given me beyond our Greek class, so that Greek remains a tool I can use and employ throughout my life and forthcoming career.

On another note, God seems to be working through me and a fourth-year seminarian brother of mine, MW, in a special way. MW and I serve together on the Student Assocation (student government) here at the sem. He heads up the Spiritual Life Committee, of which I am a newly-minted member, and I serve also as one of two first-year married student representatives (as I shared on a recent post).

MW and I are quietly (at least around here) and prayerfully exploring the possibility of starting up some type of intentional small group and prayer effort for our campus. It may even take the form of actually working with our administration to get every guy (and gal) on this campus into a small group, for prayer, accountability, and fellowship. Presently (suprisingly?), nothing like it exists at our seminary. We are in the early infant stages of exploring and fact-gathering, but I wanted to share it with you so that you can be in prayer about the effort with us and for us.

The devil most certainly would not want something like this to succeed, and I'm sure he'll throw every trick from his pathetic and hell-bound book at it to try and stop it from happening. Please pray for a hedge of protection around MW and I and our families, and around all others who may become involved. Please also pray that God will open doors and hearts to be receptive to the concept, and that He would work through us and this effort for His glory and for the edification and strengthening of His servants, our families, and our community.

One early and encouraging blessing along these lines is that MW and I have secured the assistance and partnership of the Community Life Leader, GH, at my field work church, St. John in Ellisville, MO. GH is a wonderful soul who leads and directs the highly effective small group and assimilation efforts at St. John; indeed, no small feat for a thriving church with over 2,200 regular attenders. GH has freely and graciously agreed to provide us with insight on how to effectively "do" small groups from an administrative and leadership standpoint; most definitely helpful information for us and our future churches we will one day pastor, and also for MW and I as we explore possibilities for our seminary community as well. Please also keep GH and St. John in your prayers, and I will be sure to keep you posted on our progress.

Thank you again for your continued love and support--we would not and could be here were it not for your prayers, financial support, and continued encouragement. God is working through you in amazing ways. Please let us know how we can be praying for you as well. You can click the email link in the upper right hand corner of our homepage, and we will be sure to include your specific request in our family's daily prayers.

Love and blessings to you and yours,
Don and the girls