Friday, April 4, 2014

Twenty Years.

20 years ago today I was driving home after a service at Cedar Heights Baptist Church (North Little Rock, Arkansas, U.S.A.). Pastor David Guzman (Iglesia Bautista Bethania, Monterrey, Mexico) preached that night. As I was on the overpass over I-40, God downloaded a new (to me) “software update.” That’s the only way I know how to describe it. One moment I had a life-plan set out as a bassoon player/teacher. The next moment I knew I was supposed to preach the Word. I didn’t know how this would happen and wasn’t necessarily thrilled with the prospect (I was, and am, a very shy introvert). But I knew this was what I was supposed to do, and by the grace of God there were no instincts of rebellion against this call. As I’ve looked back this week, I am exceedingly thankful for the opportunities my pastor and home church gave me, for those who poured encouragement and advice into my life, seminary education, the written wisdom of those who came before me, my bride and family, and the churches in which I now much blessing and grace and mercy! All praise be to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

“The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit for the office of bishop or elder in a church, is that he is to be chosen by the common consent and vote of the church itself. Such a person should be solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with the laying on of hands of the eldership of the church (if there be any previously appoint elder or elders)” (1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 26.9).

A few reflections...

We don’t do this by ourselves. Paul didn’t (Acts 13:1-4; 14:26-28; 15:4,12; 21:9).

We don’t do this by our own will and authority, but by the Spirit-guided blessing of the leaders of the local congregations of which we are covenant members (1 Timothy 4:14; 5:22).

We don’t do this before men alone, but speak, preach, teach, counsel, give witness, read, and pray in the sight of the God Who has commissioned us through His Church (2 Corinthians 4:2; 5:11).

I have grown and changed in my views on many things over the decades – eschatology, ecclesiology, worship, Catholic mysticism, the sacraments, confessions, etc. I have no problem admitting that I have developed and morphed on these and other topics. One of the Sunday School teachers in one of the churches in which I now serve pointed out that my attitude toward confessions has changed in the last seven years. He said he’d be worried about me if I didn’t grow like everyone else. One thing hasn’t changed: I’m still an idealist and have a visceral reaction to the words “practical” and “pragmatic.” And I get downright angry at false teachers.

I have fought battles with depression all of my life, but am always happy to tell others who are on a similar path that the darkness fades the older I get. I see the truth and promises of the Word become larger and larger every year I gaze at them, and the light is much brighter now in my weak eyes than it was in previous times.

I am humbled by the daily realization that I don’t know enough about holiness, prayer, or wisdom. Some days I feel I know nothing on these topics. I’m light-years from where I used to be as far as my shyness, but I know I still have a long way to go. I move like a glacier in a lot of areas of my life, including social development. I meet with some guys at a coffeeshop every Thursday morning – it took me three weeks to ask the barista his name. I still have a long way to go. Yesterday he saw me come in and said, “it’s Thursday already?! Time flies!” Yes. It does.

I am thankful every hour for the Gospel, for I need it every hour. We never, never, never outgrow the Gospel.

I have been utterly heartbroken by death and division.

I have rejoiced in seeing souls kindled into flame by truth and seeing a row of little ones looking curiously into the baptistry.

I have weekly been reminded of my love for the Church looking out at them over the Lord’s Supper table. I have been healed of hurts dealt me in the Church by spending time with the Church itself (as opposed to those who run because there are sinners like themselves in the congregation). The Lord has used the little border Church where I spend my afternoons to pour such healing grace into my life – the story is impossible to tell because of its world-less depth.

I couldn’t do this without my bride – I can trust her wisdom and her heart and her respect for the pastoral office and her grace in listening to me ramble through confusion. I couldn’t do it without her.

It’s been an amazing 20 years. None of us know how many seconds or decades are ahead, but that’s not up to us. The worldview through which we walk in these moments makes all the difference. I always tell people that we spend so much time trying to analyze the “signs of the times” in our obsession with the “end-times” that we ignore the fact that the Bible’s words are overwhelmingly concerned with teaching us how to live as God’s covenant people on a day-to-day basis in this world. At the same time, we have not spent time on the topic of dying well; this subject consumed a lot of the teaching of our forefathers. We somehow manage to ignore living well and dying well at the same time! I do my best to engage both through the eyes of Paul: “...Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:20-25).

At the same time, I’m going to enjoy the good gifts He has given for this day, even if they may all be taken tomorrow. His world is beautiful and amazing. I purpose to never ignore the wonder of the mountains on my drive into town and back home every day. I will enjoy good food, and my bride. “Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10).

Whatever I am, it is because of the eternal purpose of the Father, the saving work of the Son, and the application of that purpose and work to my life by the Holy Spirit. The infinitely glorious grace of the Triune God in my life is greater than anything this world has to offer, and it is the foundation and goal of all I am and do.

To God alone be the glory forever and ever and ever.

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