Joy in Serving Jesus

JOY IN SERVING JESUS:

I desperately long for my children to see, experience, and know that there is great joy in serving the Lord Jesus Christ. Over the course of the past few days our family has had the privilege of taking part in Freedom Baptist Church‘s Missions Conference. During this conference our children have seen a pastor and a church overflowing with the joy of serving their Savior. Pastor Barry Secrest has a love for the Lord and people that is infectious. I am not sure I have ever witnessed someone with such an overflowing,  outward expression of love toward people. Our entire family has been blessed.

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Last night, Pastor Barry gave each of the kids a gift bag the church had prepared for them. The kids got up in front of the church and Pastor Barry enjoyed showing the them (along with the congregation) all of the cool stuff they got.

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I love Lydia’s face in this photo. They have had such a fun time this week.img_0833

Thank you Pastor Barry and Freedom Baptist Church for showing our family that there truly is joy in serving Jesus!img_0819

Housing Update

HOUSING UPDATE:

IMG_0605Learning to “go with the flow” and joyfully accept the Lord’s leading is something I am getting better at… slowly. Living in this period of transition, our family is learning to be flexible, and adapt to the various circumstances we find ourselves in. We are rejoicing in God’s leading, even if it is different from what we had planned at the start. It is one thing to say God knows what is best, and it is another thing to truly mean that from the heart—particularly when the things God does look different from our master plan.

With regard to our home, we have been earnestly praying over the past couple months that the Lord would allow it to sell. Almost two weeks ago, we believed the Lord had answered that prayer when we accepted a very good offer. As with the sale of any home, there are many issues that can arise during the due diligence period (and beyond) that can derail the sale, but we knew the Lord was in control and would certainly lead in the process. Unfortunately by the end of last week, we learned that the buyers were going to walk away from the contract due to concerns they had with our septic system. The system, though older, has always functioned perfectly for our family of 6, but the buyers (who were a young couple), were concerned enough with the prospect of having to replace it that they withdrew the contract.

Of course, this was not part of our plan. But, as I said at the start, I am learning to “go with the flow” and joyfully accept God’s will. So, when we learned that the buyers would walk, I decided to list our home on Craigslist as a rental. Within an hour of listing the home we received two calls from people who wanted to see it. Over the next two days we received more calls inquiring about the property. A very sweet couple (with twin 8-year old girls) came and looked at the house on Monday night, and within two hours we had an application, and this morning we have a signed lease. We are very thankful for God’s leading!

Although our initial plan was to sell the home, God apparently had a different one. Selling the home, certainly, would have yielded the immediate benefit of an infusion of cash, however, the long-term benefits will certainly outweigh the short-term ones. First off, we will receive a substantial amount every month above our mortgage, and insurances. Unlike our other properties (we still own two other rental properties in Elkton, Maryland), there will be a positive cash flow from this home from day one. Second, we will not have to figure out where to store some of our belongings. In our lease we have reserved ¼ of our shed (this amounts to about 200+ sq. ft.) for storage. Third, we get to establish a relationship with a very nice family. They were even asking for recommendations of churches in the area (since they knew I pastored here for some time). I enjoy getting to know (and ministering to) the tenants in our rental properties. It is an added blessing.

In all, we are thankful that the Lord has clearly led our family. Our tenants will be moving in on November 15. We will be away until October 25 (at a Missions Conference in Baltimore this week and then on Saturday flying out to Colorado for 10 days). So, when we return it will be a whirlwind of packing, selling some furniture and belongings, and getting ready to move.

Thank you for your continued prayers and encouragement during this season of our lives. The Lord is good, and the path He leads us on is full of grace and peace.

A Theology of Blessing and Suffering

American Christianity has a skewed view of blessing, which leads to errant views regarding struggle and suffering. “Blessing” in the American context is living a healthy, trouble-free life in a large home, with expensive cars, and plenty of money in the bank account.

Yet when you study “blessing” in its biblical context these comforts are noticeably absent. Instead, what you find is that the state of “blessedness” stems from an individual’s relationship with God. Then as that relationship is cultivated, we experience the blessing of God’s presence in our lives. Let’s take a moment to consider the biblical theology of true blessing, beginning in Romans 4:

Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin (Rom. 4:7-8).

First off, blessing in a person’s life is tied directly into experiencing God’s forgiveness. I have often said that if the only thing God ever gave me was salvation (the forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life), then I would have more than enough reason to praise Him for all eternity. So, from a biblical standpoint, if you are a child of God—one whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered—then you are supremely blessed.

Yet, for those who know Christ as Savior, we recognize that God’s blessing does not end the moment we place our trust in Him. In fact, we could say that salvation is just the starting point of a “blessing explosion” in our lives. Blessing is poured out upon us because we are tied into the “Blessed One.”

Interestingly, the term “blessed” is applied to God Himself. Take note of some of the verses which express this reality:

“According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust” (1 Tim 1:11)

“…until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen” (1 Tim 6:14b-16)

God is supremely “blessed” because He exists in a state of complete joy and rest. (Just as a note, this study focuses upon the Greek word “makarios” which denotes the concept of a blessed “happiness” or “contentment.” There is another Greek word [“eulogetos”] that is often translated “blessed” that communicates the idea of “praise” [as seen in Eph 1:3; 2 Cor 1:3 etc.]).

The question we now need to wrestle with is: “What does God’s blessing look like in my life?” Let me prepare you ahead of time—the answer will contradict much of contemporary preaching on “blessing.” In fact, a predominant theme is actually suffering and persecution. Of course, a great place to begin our inquiry is in the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:3-5).

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt 5:10-12).

James, who relies heavily upon Jesus’ teachings, offers a similar evaluation:

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12).

Another emphasis of “blessing” is placed upon those who hear God’s Word and keep it:

“And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it (Luke 11:27-28).

“But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:25).

Blessing is reserved for those who express faith in Jesus Christ and gain entrance into God’s kingdom:

“Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed(John 20:29).

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Rev 22:14).

Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God (Luke 14:15).

Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (Rev 20:6).

And finally, in contrast to much of the preaching in modern-day America, blessing comes when we give rather than when we take:

 “I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive(Acts 20:35).

I hope this “theology” of blessing will open your eyes to what is of genuine spiritual value. To know Christ is to know the fullness of God’s blessing. In Part Two of this article I will make specific applications of this truth to our lives. Our focus will be how to understand God’s blessings in light of the suffering we face. But, let me say, if you have never come to faith in Christ, you cannot possibly know God’s blessing. Even if you have health, and experience material prosperity, you hold nothing of lasting value. True blessing comes when we acknowledge our Creator-God as our Savior and experience His forgiveness. Turn to Christ and experience eternal rest, happiness and blessing.

Sister Churches

Yesterday we had the privilege of preaching and presenting our ministry in a dear sister church in our area, Calvary Baptist Church.

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We have been so thankful for the bond with Calvary over the past seven years. Calvary’s school (Bloomsburg Christian School) is where our children attended the past number of years, and we are grateful for the impact the faculty and staff has had upon our family. In addition, I am glad to call Calvary’s pastors (Pastor Smith and Pastor Stauffer) good friends and fellow workers in God’s vineyard. Over the years our churches have enjoyed many combined Good Friday Services. I have also loved the opportunities to preach in the Christian School Chapels, at a Graduation, and a couple of 3-on-3 Outreach Basketball Tournaments.

We had a wonderful day with the church family. Our ministry was so well received and the fellowship was a rich blessing. We are very grateful for this wonderful ministry in Bloomsburg!

Gospel Partnership

Missionaries are often known for their independent spirits. Of course this independence is indispensable as they raise support, live in a foreign culture, and attempt to establish churches. Yet in spite of this natural “independence,” missionaries may be the most dependent people on the planet.

First, they rely upon the support of churches to provide for their families and ministries. Once they reach the field they must rely upon others to teach them a new language and explain that culture’s unique customs. But most of all, missionaries are ultimately dependent upon the Lord to direct their steps, open doors for ministry, and produce fruit that will remain.

The apostle Paul understood how dependent he was upon local churches, and how valuable their partnership was. In his letter to the Philippian church, he expresses gratitude for a local congregation that cares deeply for him, and longs to minister to his needs. He writes:

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now (Philippians 1:3-5)

I can echo Paul’s thankfulness to Lighthouse Baptist Church (our sending church).

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We had a wonderful privilege to worship together with them this past Sunday, and report back on our recent trip to the Philippines. We are so thankful for their partnership with us in the Gospel. Their love and care toward our family is humbling and overwhelming.

We had a full weekend which started out with our whole family joining the canvassing team where we invited families out to church.

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Later that day, our children got to enjoy a hayride with the Kids 4 Truth group.

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On Sunday, we were so thankful to worship with our LBC family. It is always a blessing to hear the choir and passionate preaching from the Word of God.

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I am very thankful for Pastor Tobe Witmer. He has been a source of encouragement and support throughout this journey, and we are so glad to be under his ministry once again.

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Before leaving, the ladies gave us a huge box filled with lovingly hand-made gifts. The thoughtfulness of each gift was very touching. Each of the children got a gift that suited them perfectly: a horse for Kiersten, a piggy for Lydi, and a monkey for Jonas. They have been paying attention to what animal is our kids’ favorites.IMG_0684

I am coming to realize that this “partnership in the gospel” goes far deeper than simply offering financial support. Every missionary has emotional, relational, and spiritual needs, in addition to the financial. We are grateful for a home church that is doing everything they can to meet all of our needs.

A Grave and Glorious Burden

I concluded fourteen years of pastoral ministry on July 30. Over the course of the seven weeks since, I have preached every Sunday in six different churches. Anytime I have the privilege to open God’s Word, there is a mixture of emotions that range from fearful wonder to exuberant joy. Preparing to preach, I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility in handling the Scriptures, knowing that I am not merely handling the words of men, but the very words of God. Every preacher—no matter who he is or where he proclaims it—remains under the same solemn charge to faithfully interpret and present God’s truth.

Yet in spite of the fact that I have preached every Sunday since leaving the pastorate, I have noticed something very strange over the course of these past weeks. The weight I feel waking up on a Sunday morning is completely different. Honestly, I am having a difficult time pinpointing the exact reasons for the change, but fundamentally I believe it comes down to the difference between being a preacher and being a pastor.

Pastoral ministry is a grave and glorious burden that is extremely difficult to describe to those who have never experienced it, yet very familiar to those who have. The sense of this weight has crushed many, while it has driven others to their knees in humble dependence upon the gracious Lord who counted them faithful by placing them in the middle of it (1 Timothy 1:12).

Pastors bear the grave and glorious burden to not only proclaim God’s Word, but to shepherd the hearts of those receiving it week in and week out. A pastor looks out upon a congregation that he has prayed for, wept over, celebrated and mourned with. He sees defects all round him, whether it is in his own glaring faults, in the church leadership, attenders, or just in the church building and property. He wonders if his ministry has been effective, is effective, or will be effective. He rejoices in lives that are transformed by the power of the Gospel, while mourning over those who turn aside from Christ.

Considering this grave and glorious burden, there are two passages I would like to bring to your attention. The first passage comes from Revelation 2. We commonly refer to the larger section of Revelation 2-3 as the letters to the seven churches. I am not out to change our designation of this passage, but something I would simply point out is that each of these letters are actually addressed to the “angel” or “messenger” of these churches rather than to the individual churches themselves. Certainly the “letters” were to be read within the churches, but the addressee is the messenger of the church. Beginning in Revelation 2:1 we read, “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write…”

From my study of this text, I believe the “angels” of these churches to be the “pastors” of these seven local congregations in Asia Minor. For pastors, this single—often overlooked—fact alone offers an impacting challenge to recognize the responsibility they have in leading the congregations God entrusts to their care. Within the letters to each church, Jesus will either commend or condemn them (and for most of the churches there will be a combination of the two). But what I take away from what Jesus has to say (since these commendations and condemnations are addressed to the pastor) is that it is a pastor’s responsibility—his grave and glorious burden—to labor within His congregation until Christ is formed in them (Galatians 4:17).

A final text that has been a challenge to me, as well as a source of encouragement, over the course of my pastoral ministry comes from 1 Peter 5:

“1 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” (1 Pet. 5:1-4 KJV)

Peter begins by finding common ground with the pastors that are a part of his audience. To those pastors he is basically saying, “We are in the same boat. I—as a pastor—am exhorting each of the pastors who reads this.” Thankfully this inspired exhortation has been preserved to challenge and encourage pastors down through the ages to this very day. We can directly apply what Peter had to say to the pastors within the first century church to pastors in the twenty-first century church.

Within the middle of Peter’s charge, he reminds pastors that the burden of leading God’s flock is not to be borne by constraint (by force), but willingly (voluntarily) with a ready mind (eagerness). You may ask, “Who in their right mind would take upon themselves this enormous burden?” First of all, the answer is men like Peter who have witnessed (and have been transformed by) the sufferings of Christ. Certainly we did not witness Jesus’ sufferings with our physical eyes, but those who come to faith in Christ witness His sufferings with greater force than anything that can be seen with corporal eyes.

But Peter does not solely focus on suffering. In fact, when Peter ends out his charge to pastors, suffering is but a distant memory. His focus permanently shifts to glory. I love how glory serves as bookends to this passage. In verse one, even though we are witnesses of the sufferings of Christ, we are also partakers of the glory that shall be revealed. And finally, we are given a promise that every faithful pastor should cling to: When the chief Shepherd shall appear, you will receive a crown of glory that will never fade.

For this reason, I call the work of shepherding God’s flock a “grave and glorious burden.” Sometimes the weight of this calling seems to be more than a man can bear. Yet if that man casts himself in humble dependence upon God’s grace and keeps an eye on the glory that is to be revealed, and the crown that awaits him, he will find strength for his labors and joy to eagerly shepherd the flock.

As I have expressed before, one of our highest goals in this period of raising support is to encourage pastors, their wives and their families. I pray that God will encourage every pastor that reads this post. Our faithfulness to the Lord truly matters. The example we leave with our children will have an eternal impact. May God grant grace so that we will finish the course he has laid before us with joy to testify of our Savior.

 

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On Display

A missionary’s “display” is an important component of their presentation. Our display is no different. We have a table-top banner showing who we are, the field we are going to, and the place we will serve. It also includes information about the church we are sent out from (Lighthouse Baptist Church, Newark, DE), and the missions agency we serve under (Pacific Rim Missions International).

On our display you will find our prayer cards, the Philippine flag, Filipino Pesos (their currency), and a couple of Gospel pamphlets in Illongo (their dialect). We also have a couple of items we were able to pick up during our trip to the Philippines this past month. These include a couple of mats, as well as a miniature tricycle and Jeepney.

Each of these items opens up the door to numerous conversations about the Philippines, which gives us the opportunity to share our excitement about God’s call upon our lives. We hope you will be able to stop by our display at one of the churches we will be visiting over the coming months!IMG_0557

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Impacting Devotional Thought from Sarah

This is an impacting devotional thought Sarah wrote:

If God can do the impossible, why is it that sometimes it seems that He doesn't?

Mark 9:14-29 tells of a man whose son was demon-possessed and often thrown into the fire or water by the demon within. This father had asked the disciples to help, but they could not. Jesus came and asked if the father believed He could heal his son. The father admitted that yes, he believed, but confessed that he needed Jesus to help with his unbelief. Jesus then heals the boy and the disciples later ask why they could not do this miracle. Jesus explains that this kind can not be healed except by prayer and fasting.

I am rebuked by my own struggle to make things happen while not relying fully on God. He calls for selflessness and dependence upon Him. Often I just want God to make it easy and change my circumstances, but instead He calls me to give up my own ambitions or way of doing things for simple obedience to Him. Then He calls me to seek His face all the more, asking for His will to be done, not my own. When I am yielded I see amazing things happen because I am seeking His help and His will, but when I am self-consumed, nothing goes the way I plan.

"Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!"