“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
I hope you all had a wonderful weekend filled with gratitude, family, and friends. Ours was truly special, and I am very thankful indeed. We spent five days with our family of nine, all together under one roof -- our five kids plus Christina and Nadia. As parents, there's really not much more we could have asked for. Everyone spent hours together, genuinely enjoying one another's company. Laughing. Reminiscing. Working. Serving others. Praying. Worshipping. Giving thanks. And eating. Throughout the holiday, Jill and I frequently remarked to each other how blessed we are, and how kind the Father has been to us. In addition to these special times together, we were also given the wonderful gift of including others in our family circle each day.
Thursday's Thanksgiving Family Fun Day was a beautiful success. People gathered from the boiler room and other churches, ORU, the streets, and even some from out of town. Once again, believers and unbelievers, rich and poor, homeless and suburbanites, all came together in a profound family atmosphere, immersed in the grace and the love of Jesus. We ate turkey and pies and drank plenty of coffee. We joked around, played games, had meaningful conversations, and shared what we're thankful for. It would be vain to try to give shout outs to all who deserve mention, but you know who you are. Thanks for all the hard work, the vision, the prayers, the donations, the time, etc. You all are amazing.
Yesterday was the beginning of Advent, and it was really wonderful to gather together for prayer. The theme of the week is hope, and I am praying the gift of hope for each of you this week. Hope is an essential Christian perspective, and the coming of Jesus means we are never truly without it. Remember, we will be getting together each Sunday evening throughout Advent at 6:15 pm.
As many of you are aware, Floyd McClung, who has been a significant influence in my life and in some ways in the boiler room, has been sick in the hospital in South Africa now for something like nine months. He is conscious, but cannot communicate. May days he appears to be suffering significantly. His wife, Sally, writes a brief daily update on how he is doing, helping to direct prayer for him and also chronicling her own journey of faith. As you can imagine, it's been an unimaginably difficult time for her. However, in the midst of her struggle, her writing has encouraged me many times. Today was one of those, and I'm copying her letter here....
Dear Praying Friends and Ministry Partners,
Floyd has been very upset and agitated off and on. I'm not sure why. It's hard to see him like this. He was moved to another room because of the renovations, so maybe that is unsettling him. Please continue to pray for peace and calm in his spirit.
His cough has been better the last couple days. I'm praying that is a permanent improvement.
Someone sent me the following post by Anne Graham Lotz:
"Do you sometimes cry out, as I have, "God, don't You see my tears? Don't you see my broken heart" God, never mind me, but how can You bear to see the agony of my loved one? God, I know that You care. I just don't understand why You don't intervene in this situation right now. Why don't You do something?
Then to my heart, I seem to hear His still, small voice whispering, "Anne, trust Me. I know what's best." And I'm left to wonder why I think I know better than God what's best for me or my loved one."
Her father, Billy Graham, is 98 years old and going through a "long goodbye." I assume she is referring to him.
I could so identify with her heart, her cry, her wondering. I don't understand the waiting with Floyd's situation either. Waiting is hard. I have to keep coming back to the same thing. God knows what's best.
In his book "Waiting" author Ben Patterson says there are 2 virtues required for successful waiting - humility and hope. Humility teaches us that we exist for God's sake, not for our own - but for His purposes. Hope assures us that there is something worth waiting for.
I'm praying that I'll have the humility to bow to God's purposes on this journey - and the hope to keep looking to Him for what He has planned.
"With humility comes wisdom." Proverbs 11:2
"Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life."
"But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." Romans 8:25
"Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength." Isaiah 40:31
"The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love." Psalm 147:11
When my heart hurts over Floyd's situation, over what he goes through - I have to keep focused on trusting God. I do trust Him.
On September 11, we will have our first Sunday morning gathering, to continue each week thereafter. I'm aware that this could have the potential to foundationally change who we are. I don't want that to happen, and I don't believe it is inevitable. We still hold to the values of 'simple church.' We desire each person to be fully activated participants in the work of God that is the Boiler Room. We want family to be the basic structure and ethos of our church. We value the continued practice of radical hospitality, and would love to grow in that even more. We are opposed to a performance-driven event that puts a few people on a pedestal and the rest in the stands. I do not intend to pour overmuch of my time and energy into making Sunday a good experience for everyone. It's not about the experience. It's about the family coming together around the Person of Jesus, being equipped to do the work He has prepared for us to do, and celebrating His goodness to each of us. Spuds are still our central expression of church, and our most essential gathering.
So, Sundays for me are about equipping and about sharing vision and about family and about celebration and about growing in Jesus. I'm excited to get to see many of you on a more regular basis. I'm excited to worship with you more frequently, and to look to God's Word together.
Sundays are also about mission. I really long for us to use this as a means for reaching the lost and inviting them into the Father's family. I'm totally geeked about the idea of homeless friends joining us, and about them experiencing something of God's love through us. Some will already be full-on followers of Jesus, and others will be still seeking. I'm expectant that some of these will respond to this love and truly enter the family. I look forward to us choosing to make personal sacrifices in order to support individuals who are taking steps towards major life transformation. I'm excited about the opportunity to share the gospel with hungry hearts who may not have yet stepped into faith -- be they poor or rich, old or young. This will not only happen through the 'official' preaching of the Word, but just as profoundly through each of us as we welcome and engage with guests who come. (So, by the way, let's please make an intentional and concerted effort to welcome and engage all guests who come). Sundays are another opportunity to invite and to welcome and to accept and to share the love and the truth of Jesus.
The elders and teaching team have been working to plan out what Sundays looks like. If you have thoughts about this, please feel free to contact one of us. In general, we intend to worship together and have a time of biblical teaching. We want to also include words of encouragement and stories, praying for one another, and built-in time for fellowship. From time to time we may have smaller group discussions and prayer, creative expressions of worship, liturgy, etc. We are looking forward to growing in how we provide for our kids during these times as well. We value whole-family participation, and will always welcome, and look for creative ways to accommodate, your kids in our gatherings. We also would like to provide an option of loving child care, recognizing that we as parents sometimes need help. We fully intend to stumble forward, probably making lots of mistakes, but always seeking to improve and grow together by the grace of Jesus.
I hope to see you September 11.
"Children are a gift from the LORD!" (Psalm 127:3). This is so much more than a quaint saying. It is a truth and a mindset that our culture can rob from us if we aren't careful. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts about what it means to dedicate our babies.
First, it means that we, as parents and as a church family, are offering, or consecrating, our children to God. This is a holy and significant thing. We are following in the footsteps of Hannah, who offered her son Samuel to the Lord (1 Samuel 1). We are telling the Father that our children are His, not ours. It is He who holds their future. It is He who directs their path. It is He who is ultimately responsible for them, and who will watch over them. This is an act of surrender and of faith.
Secondly, we are making commitments to the Lord. These also are holy and significant. Although our children are His, He has given them to us for a season. We are committing to raise them in godliness. Like the ancient Israelites, we accept the responsibility to teach our offspring the ways of God, and to guide them to know Him (Deuteronomy 6). As parents, we publicly affirm that this is our intent, and we commit to ordering our lives around the godly upbringing of our children. As a community, we equally commit to come around our families, to support them in this endeavor, and to aid them in leading their children in the ways of Jesus.
Finally, this event is a celebration. We have received these priceless and wonderful gifts from the Lord, and it is right for us to celebrate His goodness. Yes, these gifts require something great of us. We must sacrifice and work and lay down our desires and ambitions. They push us to our limits and beyond, and they demand of us more than we think we can give. And this too is right, and all part of the Father's good plan. We receive the struggle along with the beauty and the joy. We must not, even for a moment, allow ourselves to see these little ones as anything other than God's blessings for us. This is a cause for great rejoicing, and we honor the Lord by celebrating well.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.