A couple of weeks ago we jumped into a study of 1 & 2 Peter as a church. I believe that the Lord has something He wants to say to us, and I hope we can do this together. Studying the scriptures individually and as a people is hugely important, and I want to urge you to take this opportunity to renew your commitment to God’s Word.
There are multiple ways we can and should engage with the scriptures. The public proclamation through teaching and preaching is huge (see 1 Timothy 4:13). This is one of the big reasons we as the br began meeting on Sundays. In spuds, we have the opportunity to have open discussions around the Bible and to share how God is speaking to us and how we are responding. This is so significant. We can also form Discipleship Groups (D-Groups), in which we read the Bible with one or two others and focus on submitting to the Word in obedience. And of course we benefit greatly from spending time on our own reading God’s Word. He can and will speak to you.
If any of this — or even all of it — seems like a drag, I understand. I’ve been there. There have been times I’ve loved listening to preaching, but hated trying to sit down with the Bible by myself. The professional teachers were able to pull so much more from this book, and my own feeble attempts seemed pathetic and dry. At other times, I’ve not wanted to listen to preaching. I honestly thought I had nothing much to gain anymore of real significance, and it simply wasn’t worth the effort. Clearly not true. I think of Peter’s words: “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have” (2 Peter 1:12). And I’ll say this — if a teacher makes you feel like you need him or her to truly understand the message of the Bible, they’re not doing their job. And if your own experience and reading of the scripture does not cause you to appreciate what you can glean from teachers who put time into studying and delivering messages, you’re also missing out.
In addition to all that, at times earlier in life I doubted if I could really trust what I have in my hand as God’s Word. Isn’t it hard to understand? Who can really know what it means? And how do I even know it’s been preserved well? What about the translation process — surely it has been strewn with errors?
I read a story about Billy Graham many years ago that has impacted me greatly. He said that there was a time when he was haunted by doubts about the truth and the accuracy of the Bible. His evangelistic ministry was just beginning to be very fruitful. Thousands were coming to hear him preach. And yet he was inwardly tormented. He had a good friend who always cast doubt on the Bible, and his arguments sometimes made sense. One day, Billy went to an isolated place to wrestle it out with God. He couldn’t take it anymore. After spending time in prayer, he came to a decision that he would believe and put his trust in the Bible from that day, and would not pursue his doubts any longer. That decision freed him from the agony of unbelief, and of course he went on to preach confidently for many decades.
I’ve made that same decision, and have also become convinced that I can understand everything that I need to. I trust the Bible. I submit to its authority. I trust that the Holy Spirit has hovered over these writings for millennia — watching over the copying and the translating. I’ve had to leave feelings or questions aside sometimes and simply make the choice. I believe that God speaks to His people through this book. He gives us the ability to understand it. In fact, most of it — including that which is most significant — is easy to understand, but very difficult to follow.
When I read ‘rid yourselves of all malice,’ (1 Peter 2:1) I know what is being demanded of me. Like I shared on Sunday, I find that there is malice in my heart towards people, and God’s Word is telling me to get rid of it. I am obligated to obey. When I read, as we will together this Sunday, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21), I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it. When I read, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9), I honestly have to think on it some more. I need to work to understand what is being said here — but by God’s grace, I can - at least in part. And then I have to struggle to believe it. We’re a chosen people? Really? Yes, we are. I’ve decided I’m going to believe this book and I am going to endeavor to obey it. It's a central priority in my life. This has made reading it myself, with a few friends, and in the bigger congregation such a different experience. God is talking! To us! What a gift!
To be honest with you, I love the Bible now. I really do. Even when I read very demanding sections, I get inspired. When I read of the Father’s love for me, I believe it — and sometimes I experience it right then. When a preacher reminds me, through the Scriptures, that I need to repent or pray or stop being jealous, I get convicted. Truly God’s Word is living and active! (Heb 4:12). Does that mean that every time I read or listen or discuss something magical happens? Heck no! I often don’t feel anything. But I have faith that something is being built up in me. And sometimes I do sense it. I know God has spoken, and I can almost feel the transformation happening. A mini spiritual growth spurt. But the point isn’t in the felt experience of the moment. The point is in the lifestyle of being molded and matured and strengthened by His Word. And we all need that — whether it’s easy, hard, exciting, fun, boring, or whatever.
Of course, this could come across as a guilt trip. That’s obviously not my intention. But I am writing to people who sincerely long to know God and to grow in Him and to do His will. We need the grace of God for any of that to happen — And that grace includes pursuing it in the ways He has given us. One of the most powerful gifts He has given is the Bible. The Bible is a grace for us from God. Let’s take full advantage of so wonderful an invitation!
Man, I am so grateful for this weekend and the prayer vigil. Thank you all for participating and supporting this truly special time. Seriously, I am grateful. It struck me throughout the weekend how tremendously significant and essential it is for us to take time like this and seek the Lord as a people. Jill did an amazing job in creating a space that draws the soul into prayer.
Both times when my scheduled slot in the room ended, I was disappointed and not ready to leave. This has not necessarily been my experience in prayer lately, and I am so so grateful for the beautiful and powerful grace of Jesus towards me. I will say — and I do not understand this or really know if it’s true — but it seems to me that He does tend to extend this grace for prayer in special places that are dedicated for that purpose. The very atmosphere seems to draw my heart and soul upward. Like I said, I’m not sure about all that, but I do know that my prayer times this weekend were refreshing and energizing.
I’m so grateful for the Merchant. It’s been at least a decade that I’ve been asking God for a prayer space in or near downtown for the boiler room — one that we could use for special seasons of prayer, but also for all the in-between times (yes, I realize that was before there actually was a boiler room). This weekend my mind wandered back to many times of walking around downtown, asking the Father for such a place. I also thought about the history we as the boiler room have had with prayer rooms. When we started eight years ago, we had a dedicated prayer space in the Harvest Market. Remember that?
Then we moved on, and wandered from place to place. I remember Karissa early on saying something to the effect of (sorry if I get this wrong) God is causing us to be the prayer room - a mobile prayer room. That we as a people would host His presence and foster prayer wherever we are. It seemed this was a significant lesson for us to learn, and an essential piece of who God was (and is) calling us to be. As this became a reality, we’ve created many spaces for prayer — some more temporary than others. Remember the old Ida Red in Brookside? The CORE Center? Retreat weekends at Shepherds Fold. Of course the Jesus Inn. The BC prayer room. Our homes. Wasn’t there a dance studio at some point? Last Fall Jill created a prayer shed in our back yard and we had a week of prayer there.
I’m grateful for all of those places and the things the Lord taught us, and how He used those experiences to shape us and grow us. And I am so grateful for where He has us now. Family, this feels like an answer to some deep longings I’ve been carrying in my heart for a long time. A place of prayer that is also a place of hospitality and significant Gospel ministry to the poor and the marginalized. A place of creativity and discipleship and partnership and mercy and equipping and welcome and transformation and sending. I'm so glad to be walking this out with you.
I’m incredibly grateful for the open-handed and generous way Paul and Debbie have invited us into this space to partner with them. I’m grateful for their desire to extend this invitation to others in the city, and I’m ready to do whatever the Lord requires of us to facilitate this.
I can’t end this without mentioning my gratitude for you who participated in our time of prayer together as a church family Sunday morning. The testimonies that were shared towards the end brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face. Thank you for your vulnerability and faithfulness to give praise to the Father. We heard about people set free from addictions and depression and suicidal thoughts and severe anxiety. About the lonely welcomed into family and hearts of stone turned to clay. About the homeless being given homes and wandering souls received by the Father. God has done powerful things for us. These stories were not about distant people we barely know, but it was us and those we love the most. We are a people redeemed. A people whom God has set free, and is setting free. Praise be to Jesus!
You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.”
— Psalm 63:1
I so loved how Heidi led us last Friday night in worship and prayer. Her confession of being dry and worn out, I think, resonated with many. I’ve been there so often. There are no easy “fixes” to such things. In fact, sometimes there’s nothing really to fix. God is simply working in silence, intentionally using the desert season to mold us more into His image, to mature us. This means that it is good - this loneliness, this longing, this discontent. He is wooing us to search for Him. He is strengthening our faith. Maybe that’s where you are. He’ll get you through it. Be encouraged.
At times, though, we’re dry because we’ve stopped the pursuit. In the psalm quoted above, David claims to “earnestly seek” the Lord. Listen to the intensity of his words: “thirst,” “whole being longs.” Sometimes we’re dry and worn out because we are no longer earnestly seeking. So, my exhortation and urging for you today is to shake yourself off and jump back in. You are tired, not because of too much seeking, but because you’ve allowed too many other things to become priorities in life above Him.
You can know God! He wants to be with you. He wants to speak to you and to listen to you and to be fully at the center of your life. But you gotta put in some effort, friends. Yes, it’s hard in new stages of life. Jobs, spouses, kids, responsibilities all conspire to pull you away. But He is more important! He is what you need most in every season. He is still there and still opening His arms to you. He knows your circumstances, and He still makes His invitations and His demands and expects you to respond. Because it is good for you to do so. It is right.
I want to urge you to pray as a significant priority. Make time just for you and Jesus. And I want to urge you to read His Word. Priority. Significant. All of us.
We’re having 48 hours of prayer coming up August 4-6. I highly encourage you to sign up for an hour or two or more. Seriously.
I also want to urge you to invest in your spiritual family. The boiler room is far from perfect. Oh so far. But, at least for now, God has you here. (Or if you’re reading this and He has you somewhere else, jump in there). You need us in ways you don’t realize. And we need you in ways you don’t realize.
“You don’t get it Tim, remember this: I”M TIRED!” I know. I do. Something's gotta give. Something’s gotta go. But maybe your “earnest seeking” of God isn’t that thing. And honestly, this is an intensely personal pursuit. But it’s also an intensely corporate pursuit.
I’m not wanting to put a heavy burden on you. That is not the way of Jesus. I want you to find His perfect burden, which is light and easy. His burden frees you from having to do all the stuff in order to be saved, to be forgiven, to be loved. He loves you! Now. Today. He loves you if you never pray or never Bible or never spud or whatever. It’s true. His burden also calls you to lay down your entire freakin life. Every single part of it. Every moment. Every penny. Every idea. Every. Thing. And then there it is — the freedom. The lightness. The joy.
I love you and want good things for you. I’m praying for you.
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.”
— Psalm 42:1-5
It's so hard to know where to start. The Boiler Room team returned from Uganda a few days ago -- Micah, Bob, Jill, and me. Jill's first visit to Uganda in twelve years was a special time, and we are incredibly grateful. We saw old friends, taught in pastor conferences, shared the Gospel, encouraged faithful servants of Jesus, preached in various congregations, and helped to facilitate a mission team from ORU. And we genuinely had a lot of fun as we did it.
We walked along once-familiar streets, muddied and messy in the current rainy season. Children flocked to stare, and called out "Bye Muzungu" as we ambled by. We drank endless cups of sweet, milky tea and made our way outside to relieve ourselves in the still-not-really-comfortable squatties. We ate matooke with g.nut sauce, posho, chapatis, sweet potatoes, cassava, pumpkin, chicken, beans, goat, beef, and lots of sweet pineapple and bananas. We gazed into the night sky, once again awe-truck by the uncountable starry host. We reveled in the untamed beauty of the Mountains of the Moon, and nervously closed our eyes as we bounced through them and over them and around them in our minivan crammed with missionaries and Africans. We slept under mosquito nets as the mice played with our stuff. We looked fondly at Lake Victoria, and took in the lights of Kampala from our favorite viewing spot on Namirembe Hill, in the shadow of the great cathedral. We were assaulted by all the odors and sights of outdoor markets and trudged through the overcrowded streets of Uganda's capital city. We enjoyed coffee and sweet rolls at Cafe Frikadellen in Masaka and good Indian curry at Faze 3 in Entebbe. We received the warm hospitality of Ugandan pastors and Western missionaries. We were entertained with concerts by groups of orphaned and abandoned children, and worshipped our God with many wonderful brothers and sisters.
One of the primary purposes of this trip was to investigate the possibility of deeper involvement in the equipping of leaders for God's work in this nation and beyond. We prayed into this and had some meaningful conversations with pastors and leaders of church networks. If nothing else, the great need in this area was certainly confirmed. It would also appear that an open door is there for us. The questions now revolve around discerning God's particular guidance for us, and in considering the hows and the whens and the with whoms and the cost and the feasibility. We'd so appreciate it if you would enter into prayer with us regarding this.
The first week we were in Uganda, we were hosted by our friend Pastor Robert. Robert oversees a network of 130 churches, spread throughout the Rwenzori Mountains in western Uganda. A number of the pastors in this movement were at the conference where Micah, Bob and I taught for three days. The second week we conducted similar teachings in Masaka, working with around 35 pastors plus other ministers and church members in the Mt of the Lord network of churches, lead by our friend Pastor Kintu. This network includes many churches primarily in central and western Uganda, but also with a few in Tanzania and Rwanda. We spent time talking with a couple of other church network leaders as well, each of whom confirmed the need for training and invited us to continue working together. All our teaching was simple but well received. The core message of the Gospel, particularly as presented in the book of Galatians, was our focus.
In between pastor conferences, Jill and I visited several homes for formerly abandoned or orphaned children, including one that is operated by our friends Fatuma and Darren. Fatuma is a dear friend who became part of our extended family when we lived in Masaka, and it is such a thrill to see her now so fully engaged in Jesus' work of caring for the vulnerable. She has been reaching out to Masaka's street kids for years, and has now been able to gather a number of them to live with her and her family in a big home. The kids experience the love and acceptance of Jesus, and many have testimonies of radically transformed lives. Such a beautiful work!
I've really missed all of you, and am so happy to be home. Thank you for sending us to Uganda, and for covering us in prayer. The Father answered prayer so clearly, and my heart is filled with gratitude -- both because of receiving the answers themselves and because of the tender love the Father demonstrated to us in answering them. When He so clearly shows Himself to be involved in our lives in caring and gracious ways it's like nothing else. It causes my heart to soar, knowing that He sees me and provides for me and loves me.
I know that we don't always live in those triumphant moments, and I stand with those of you who are not experiencing that right now. Yet I hope my testimony will encourage you to hold onto hope, and to truly believe and trust in His love for you, too.
A few weeks ago, I asked for prayer because I was tired, and was feeling apprehensive as I considered the month ahead. To be honest, I was in some ways dreading the whole ordeal. For months I had been getting plenty of sleep, and was not really overly taxed, and yet I seemed to always feel fatigued. For the past three weeks, the tables have turned wonderfully. I have not gotten nearly as much sleep, nor as good. I've stayed up late and risen early, often with several wakings during the night. And yet I have had all the energy and vitality that each day required. Through a grueling week of missions prep with ORU and our time in Uganda, this has remained steady. The last couple of days in Uganda I finally began to feel worn down, but by then the primary ministry was over, and we were enjoying a more relaxed time of visiting friends and being refreshed. I am convinced this is God's gracious gift, and I am so so thankful. Thank you for praying for us!
In addition to that, the Lord provided all the funds we needed for this trip, including money for our kids to live on while we were gone. Bob, as many of you know, was in a rough place physically as well. Though the trip was difficult for him in that regard, and he did experience pain throughout, he was stronger and had more endurance than I've seen in him for some time. Even after re-injuring his knee at the very beginning of our travels, he managed to do all that was asked of him for the entire two weeks. Again, the grace of Jesus.
Jill's return to Uganda was perhaps the most special part of the whole thing for me. Throughout the trip I would look over and see her smiling face next to me, and could hardly believe this was finally happening. There have been times over the past dozen years we thought she would never go to Africa again, and so again this trip was a great gift. She was reunited with a number of very special people to her, and she brought joy and encouragement wherever she went. The Lord also used her to bring much needed mother-nurturing to the ORU team, and we were so thankful for her calming and gracious presence on more than one occasion. The last time I was in Uganda, it was heavy on my heart that Jill needed to come with me next time. When I mentioned that to a couple of friends there, they wholeheartedly agreed. Over the nearly three years since then, I've wavered in that conviction a number of times, but again the Father proved Himself greater than my doubts. I can't say thank you enough to all of you for helping to get her on this trip. We are so so grateful. You all are amazing.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” -- 1 Peter 2:9-10
You and I are God's special possession! He has chosen us and made us holy. He has made us holy! And He has done this so that we may declare his praises. He has brought us out of darkness. He has made us -- who were nobodies -- to be the very people of God. So let us declare His praises! Let our lives declare His praises through love and purity and mercy. Let our voices declare His praises through adoration and worship and prayer and proclamation. He is so worth it! Jesus must be praised by us! This is more central to who we are than anything else. We are chosen and made holy and shown mercy for this very reason. That Jesus may be glorified through us.
And I want to add that He is being glorified through us. As we love one another, as we remind each other of the Good News, as we pray and worship and celebrate the Lord's Supper together. Jesus is being glorified. As we gather together, not for our own benefit, but for His and His people's. As we sacrifice something to serve another. As we forgive and overlook offense. As we make choices that honor Him. As we repent when we've gone the wrong way. As we battle temptation.
I am so grateful for you, and how I see Jesus being praised through the life we share. Thank you. Please, keep it up. If you're discouraged, know that you are part of something bigger -- the very praises of God. If you're happy -- know that it is only Jesus. If you're confused or struggling or confident or overwhelmed or doubting or full of faith or just pushing through, Jesus is being praised. So let's persevere in this. Let's keep going. Together.
A week or so ago when we gathered, Janae shared about her heart for praying for our kids. I was specifically touched by her sharing about the need to overcome fear in our parenting (and how prayer is the key to that). From my observation, I think she put her finger on one the most significant strategies of the enemy against our families in this generation. Fear. Anxiety. It can be strangling and overpowering.
I distinctly remember a moment from around twenty-two years ago. Jill and I were back in Uganda, after having welcomed our first child into the world. Rebekah was 2 months old, and we were staying in the home of Ugandan friends while we searched for a place to live. Life was full of upheaval and change and the unknown. I remember Jill looking at me, while holding our baby daughter in her arms, and asking, "What have we done?"
Indeed. What had we done? We had lived a year in Uganda ourselves... but to bring our newborn here, to a place still so foreign, and so far from family. It was easy to feel that danger lurked in every corner, and that our most loved and prized treasure would suffer on account of this life we chose to live. What about medical care? Wouldn't she be more susceptible to disease? We had unpredictable schedules, often had people in our home, and traveled a lot -- by bus and bike and car (with no car seats or even seat belts!) and lots of walking. What about armed thieves and crazy people and the swarms of well-meaning folk who loved to pass her around? Were we irresponsible? Thankfully, God's peace won the day for us, and as we talked, we remembered what we had done. We had obeyed God to the very best of our ability, and were even now attempting to do that day-by-day. We remembered that God is a Father, and is utterly trustworthy. Of course, there were times when fear attempted to rear its ugly head and hold us back, but God's grace was abundantly available.
In addition to ongoing prayer, one of the things that helped us time and again was the example and availability of other families who lived such beautiful lives with their children. Even now, when Jill and I think about the Dangers, the Kiyimbas, the Slaters, and others, our hearts are filled with gratitude and inspiration. We were able to experience families who were relaxed and confident, filled with fun as well as discipline, and powerfully reflective of the love and nurturing nature of our Father in heaven. They willingly made sacrifices for the sake of the gospel, but we saw that, in the long run, their children gained rather than lost. Such is consistently the way of Jesus. Over the years, that has been our experience as well. I tell you all this because the Father is forming you into just such dads and moms -- ones who powerfully and patiently live out Kingdom family in a way that instructs, inspires, and comforts others. This is a high and noble calling!
We don't always get to choose our circumstances, and sometimes the ones we face are scary and intimidating. We don't have guarantees about how our kids will turn out, or whether or not their lives will be peaceful or traumatic. But God is a faithful and good Father. We can trust our kids to him and relax a little. They'll get sick, and they'll get better. They'll injure themselves, and their bodies will heal. They'll disobey and protest and scream and embarrass. And they'll cuddle and smile and laugh and dance and reach their little arms out to us and capture our hearts again and again. We'll mess up more than we like to admit. We'll scold when we should comfort, yell when we should be calm, give in when we should stand firm, ignore when we should engage, pamper when we should discipline, be annoyed when we should be fascinated, speak when we should shut up, and remain silent when we should speak. And on and on and on.
But God is a good Father still, and He loves you and your children still, and He holds you and them still.
My kids are alive in spite of my carelessness, bright in spite of my laziness, and lovers of Jesus in spite of my many failures. They are better than my parenting would seem likely to produce.
So, like Janae said, let's pray faithfully and in faith for our children. This is our weapon against the fear that would paralyze. And let's enjoy them and spoil them and discipline them and train them and care for them and comfort them and play with them and provide for them and protect them and love them to the best of our ability -- while never trusting in the best of our ability, and never fearing the worst of our weakness. Because God is a good Father.
I was reading Ephesians recently, and was struck by two amazing things. First -- I know it's basic; I know... but you probably need to hear it today -- Jesus loves you. In fact, he loves you so much that you can't even get it without a revelation from the Spirit of God. If the thought of His love for you -- right now, in this moment -- is humdrum or old news or not captivating, I promise you need the very revelation Paul prayed for the Ephesians. I'm praying it for you.
Father, I pray for my friends in the boiler room, "that they, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge -- that they may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (See Ephesians 2:17-19). I believe in His ability to answer this prayer. Please take a moment and pray it over yourself, and open your heart to this revelation.
The second thing that struck me is that the church is a big deal.
"God's purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places" (Eph 3:10).
In the Message version, chapter one concludes like this:
"At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence."
This may be a funny way of wording those last verses in some ways, but I think it hits on a very biblical and significant challenge nonetheless. What is peripheral in our lives? And what is central? In the life we are called to lead, I am convinced by the scriptures that the mission of Jesus is meant to be more central than the personal concerns of my life -- my food and shelter and my plans and ambitions and my leisure and comfort. What I want to become or how I want to live or even planning for the security of my elder years. And, central to Jesus' mission for us, is the church. It is through the church that Jesus fills the earth with his presence. It is through the church that Jesus declares to the world who he is. It is through the church that the world sees his wisdom.
That's impressive and lofty stuff -- but it gets really odd when we begin to realize that it is lived out in local and concrete ways. It's not just a vague and abstract concept. He's... he's talking about the boiler room.(!) The grand and cosmic vision of the church is nothing if not lived out in families and fellowships banding together across the globe.
Man, I know life is busy and crazy, and the pressures are intense. I know that people weigh us down with their expectations, that emotions immobilize us, that the to do list is relentless. But still, I need the church, and so do you. But still, the church needs my engagement, and it needs yours. Don't believe the lie that you are not essential!
"From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Eph 4:16.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” -- Matthew 13:45-46 NIV
It's a gray day as I sit at Fair Fellow, watching the passers-by outside hustling through the mist. And here I am, contemplating a pearl of matchless value, the merchant who sold all to possess it, and you. And me. Do I get it? Do you get it? This Jesus-life, this Kingdom, this family of the Spirit -- it's worth so much more than anything else. My dreams, in comparison, are pasty and weak. My greatest ambitions are blah. But this. This! Following Jesus is worth a whole lot more than I've put into it so far. Which is fine, because His grace welcomes me and receives me and makes me worthy. But He is worth even more! So. Much. More.
Today is a gray day, and all the people passing by are wrapped up in sundry issues of life -- some momentous, others minuscule. Watching the scene from where I sit, it's hard to believe that I am celebrating an event of great significance and wonder. It's a bit surreal. Twenty-four hours ago, Paul and Debbie signed a contract to lease the Merchant Building on 605 S Peoria. They will take possession of it on February 1. Thirteen days. What an answer to prayer! As I walked across downtown yesterday, I thought about the countless prayers I've uttered over the years, for just such a thing as this. An accessible prayer room in the heart of the city. A place of hospitality for the poor and the homeless. A place to invite others into. A place of worship and healing and friendship and safety and prayer and discipleship and unity. The Father is faithful. Some of you have been praying for this too -- and more. Paul and Debbie have been praying for years as well. And here it is. My heart is overflowing with gratitude. What a good Father!
And what an opportunity! The Father is inviting us -- calling us, maybe even pleading with us -- to step ever deeper into His work of bringing restoration and healing and salvation and compassion to our city. I know we can't do much. We're few. Our resources are limited. We're weak and we're busy and we're stretched and we have families and jobs and kids and RESPONSIBILITIES. For crying out loud.
I imagine the Father taking stock of all the above, along with the challenges that lie ahead for each of us of which only He is currently aware, and then He simply smiles, assures us that He's considered it all, and continues to wait for our response.
The truth is, in the big picture of things, He doesn't need a whole lot. A dash of willingness will be enough to start. He'll take it from there. A mustard seed's worth of faith. Showing up on a Sunday and having a conversation with a stranger. Remembering to pray for her during the week. Maybe after a few conversations, and a few more prayers, sending a text. Maybe offering a ride somewhere after worship. Maybe eventually... Well, who knows where the Lord will take us if we're willing?
There's some work to be done on the building, but it should be ready and open soon. I'll keep you posted. One of the things we want to do before long is gather to pray over the space. And, of course, we should be meeting there on Sundays in the near future as well.
“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” -- (1 Thessalonians 5:18). As we reflect back on 2016, let's remember the oft-repeated biblical injunction to give thanks. For many of you, I know 2016 was rough. To be honest, it was a sweet year for my family and me. But however things went down, we need to be grateful. God blessed you in profound ways over the past twelve months. Not only did He keep you alive, hold onto you as a beloved son or daughter, and forgive every offense, He also provided good things for your enjoyment and comfort. You reveled in the taste of good food. There are people who care about you. You laughed. You were safe. You experienced warmth and friendship and love. He is a good Father, and He cares for you. On the other hand, if 2016 was great, remember to thank Him. All the blessings that made it so are gifts to you from Him. Receive them as such. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17).
If giving thanks is an essential discipline for us, another habit we surely most cultivate is trusting prayer. A new year is upon us. 2017 will have its share of challenges and blessings, and our Father wants us to meet each with faith and hope. We can trust Him. I am challenged to pray bold prayers for the coming season. To "expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God," as William Carey admonished almost three centuries ago. I am praying big prayers over the Merchant, and for Micah & Sarah and Paul & Debbie as they lead us forward in our ministry to the margins. I'm praying significant fruit to come out of our trip to Uganda. I'm praying for Reynosa. I'm asking the Father for each of us to be closer to Jesus and more courageous and true witnesses for Him. I'm praying for our marriages and our parenting and our friendships and our work. For those who are struggling, I am praying for a lift -- and I believe He will provide it. I'm asking Him to help us as a church family to continue to love one another well and to be really good at inviting and welcoming others -- especially those in need, those who are alone, those who are "without hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12). I'm praying for our city, that the Holy Spirit would draw many into the Father's family, and that His Kingdom would come.
Can I challenge you with something? Can you take a few moments and ask the Lord to put a big prayer in your heart as we begin 2017? What comes to your mind when you consider that? I want to ask you to make that your prayer. If it seems impossible, that's ok. If you find it really hard to believe such a prayer is even worth uttering, all the better. If it feels foolish, you may be on the right track. Ask the Father, and believe. Believe His goodness and His power. Trust in His deep and affectionate love for you, and believe that He delights to give you the desires of your heart. One prayer. One audacious request. One Jesus-glorifying, Kingdom-manifesting, life-giving petition. Don't give up on it. Be patiently persistent in your asking.
“May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” -- Psalm 20:4
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” -- Matthew 7:11
“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” -- Matthew 21:22
“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” -- John 14:14
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” -- John 15:16
“Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” -- John 16:23-24