Sunday September 30, 2012 will mark five years of ministry in Oakwood. It has been five long, rewarding and trying years. If you asked me would I do it again, I would immediately shout, “Yes!” And that is taking into consideration all of the moments of great blessings and moments when I felt as if, “What am I doing?” What began as a journey with a family of five and become more than I could have ever imagined.
This road has taken me in the direction of learning what faithfulness and longsuffering truly mean. I don’t use those words lightly because those are words that are tried by the fires of experience and embedded into my heart like the tattoos on my flesh. I have embraced that faithfulness requires God to break me of dependence on my self-reliant spirit. I have embraced that longsuffering, the ability to hold on, has revealed that God will indeed appear to accomplish great things for the sake of his name.
Faithfulness and longsuffering are two things that I hope you would consider as you start on your God ordained journey or the journey that he currently has you on. Let me tell you. Your first steps will be full of excitement. You will be zealous to change the world. You will be overjoyed by the blessings of all types of resources. You will have that extra energy in your step as you see things that have been clear in your mind become tangible and concrete before everyone.
In five years, God has blessed me to see Oakwood blessed with two churches being planted, two facilities, a playground, a strong staff, encouraging board members and community members increasing their involvement. I have been blessed to see young individuals become husbands and wives; mothers and fathers. I have had the privilege of seeing young men become men, seizing their moments to learn and grow in the Gospel. This underground movement of God in this community, in our city continues to amaze me. He amazes me because he takes very little and does huge things. For all that he does, I am thankful.
But to arrive at those places, it will require you and those around you to be stripped of some things. Like I mentioned earlier, I have had to be stripped of some things to arrive at this place in leading a ministry. God put me on my back through means of poor health and in my bed; I realized I had to give some things away. My name has been maligned as a “cult leader.” How I lead my home has been challenged, my integrity questioned and my motives questioned. I have been disappointed by the hollow words of some local churches and the “fair weather” passions of individuals. I have had to apologize for my arrogance at times and seek forgiveness when I have aggressively gone too far to see things accomplished.
In all of these instances God has used to bear faithfulness and longsuffering in my life. Just when I thought leading Soldiers in combat would be the most trying of times; I have found the sharpening work of God’s Spirit the most challenging and rewarding. I wouldn’t have concern for your soul if I didn’t tell you the very thing God has called you to accomplish will not come without difficulty. It has to come because it will be the hard moments you discover your utter impotence and the omnipotence of God. The man that I was five years ago would not have been able to lead the ministry I have today. The man that I am today is not able to lead the ministry five years from now. God in his power shapes you to become exactly what he wants in order to accomplish specifically what he has ordained.
My encouragement to all that read this post is that you remain faithful to the very thing God has called you to do. Look at the blessings and difficulties as stepping stones on the road of God’s kingdom. Look forward to the pruning by the Master Gardner who will bear more fruits of faithfulness and longsuffering in your life. Travel on that road with the assurance that Christ is leading you to his desired end and that end is far greater than what you imagined when you took that first step.
I am not a patient person. By design, God has chosen to make me more aware of his presence when I am impatient. In my mind, I see things from 30,000 feet. I enjoy the forest and sweeping mountains of what God has laid on my heart. I know because of God’s past faithfulness, what has been laid on my heart will come to fruition. The problem is that I usually want the forest to spring up; now!
The discomfort in waiting though has been a very, very good thing in my life. What do I mean? Discomfort makes you ‘painfully” aware that there is something just not right in life. You have to take a pause, do an assessment and then figure out what is the best course of action to address the discomfort. Leaders need to know and embrace the discomfort that comes in their sphere of influence.
The discomfort cannot be confused with the actual problem. The goal is to address what is causing the discomfort. The discomfort is a signal, a warning sign, a “Hey you!” So discomfort is good for a leader of people because you will need to take a pause, execute an assessment of yourself or those around you. It reminds you that the most valuable resource that you have been given to steward is your own life and the lives of others.
The discomfort that occurs in leadership extends to what we desire to accomplish as well. Let’s be real. God lays visions and dreams on the hearts of his people and I believe this is for the purpose of extending his kingdom. Look around the world. Look at all the various expressions of church life, books and ministries. Are all of them solid? No. We are still men and women clothed in flesh yet even in our weaknesses, God is assured to get glory in our accomplishments.
The journeys to those accomplishments though are full of discomforting experiences. We will see our plans challenged, frustrated and even stalled. Doubt will surely erupt in the mind of the leader who believes so earnestly that what they have set out to do is just as important as the air they breathe. We echo the words of that man who said to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
This has been the great tension in my own life. Each day I see more clearly this road I am on. I open up my toolbox of skills and get to work. Then the tension comes, the discomfort arise when those one or two things obscure the beautiful picture that God has placed on my heart. Simultaneously I am eager and restless. Believing and doubting.
Can I get an “Amen?”
Here is my encouragement for all of you that lead in a local church, a school, small business or any other vocation. The discomfort you experience today as a leader is meant to lead you to a greater appreciation of the rest that will come when the goal is accomplished.
In the midst of the discomfort and trouble which arise from lives or frustrated processes, God is there to lead you to rest. When you arrive at that goal, when the mission is accomplished, you will have a greater appreciation for the goal. You will look back at all the discomforting events and see that God was always there. Bonhoeffer wrote, “It is so peculiar...we so often encounter God’s footprints in the world together with the footprints of human suffering, of the cross on Golgotha.”
Maybe you will rejoice in tears, maybe in a shout or maybe in utter silence. However you choose to express that appreciation, express it with gladness. And I can tell you from experience, that I am thankful for the impatience because when that specific discomfort rises; God is there and will be there when the forest and mountains are seen in real time.
The church must advocate for the poor in the public square by equipping men and women to lovingly communicate the Gospel to elected officials regarding specific grievances of the poor, who neither possess the ability or courage to address such grievances. If the church will not produce such children, she will be perceived as irrelevant or disengaged-communicating to her community that neighborly love is not a priority.
The Gospel has multiple facets. Like a diamond held up to the light, the observer with a naked eye can enjoy the many facets, colors and clarity of such a wonderful jewel. The Gospel or God’s good news of incarnation, substitution and justification through Jesus Christ, is news that can be studied, meditated, and spoken of without an observer ever tiring of its many facets.
The Gospel though accomplishes two critical things. First, the good news is the proclamation that brings sinful individuals into the kingdom of God. The substitutionary and atoning work of God through Christ, effectually secures individual men and women, resurrects them to life in the presence of God and brings these individual men and women into not only a fellowship with the Triune God but in fellowship with others. Individual men and women hear the call of God from his house as they walk the streets of despair and by the sweet draw of the Spirit, enter the house of God where there is a joyous gathering of other men and women around a table of brotherhood.
This leads to the second critical accomplishment of the Gospel. The good news not only brings life to individuals but empowers this household of living people to engage the creation of God, being participants in the renewal of creation.
This is not anything new.
When God formed mankind, he directed his image bearers not only to be fruitful, but also to have “dominion” over the creation (Gen 1:27). This is not dominion in the sense of force or domination but stewards over what a good God has declared “very good.” Jesus repeats this command, as he commissions his disciples to wait for the Spirit of God so that they would be able to make disciples and be witnesses throughout the whole earth (Mt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Finally, Paul alludes to the fact the creation is groaning and waiting for the revelation of the children of God (Rom 8).
In God’s creation the public square exists. In organized communities, there is a place in which leaders gather to discuss compromise and make decisions that affect the whole of their communities. In our American context, we have city council, state legislatures and the United States Congress. Americans, under the protections of the Constitution have the freedom to address their grievances and seek change.
God ordains leaders.
Leaders gather in the public square.
The public square is part of creation.
God made creation.
The church, made up of redeemed people, exists in God’s creation to bring about renewal and this renewal extends into the public square. The church participates not only in the renewal of individual souls to be reconciled to God, but she participates in creation to steward and apply the wondrous gifts of God that is within her throughout that creation. Therefore, she is mandated to equip her children in order that the body would be mature (Eph 4). And if maturity involves speaking the truth in love to those in the body (v.15), it also includes speaking the truth with ones neighbor (v.25).
Elected officials and the other decisions makers who gather in the public square to discuss and make decisions about the larger city, must hear the voice of men and women who observe the sufferings of the weak and poor of the city. In the public square, the people of God have prime opportunity to make known the riches of God’s grace, exhorting leaders to love equally the strong and weak, the rich and poor, the healthy and lame.
These are truths that can and must be communicated by the people of God because in their communication, the public square has the opportunity to observe what love for ones neighbor truly entails. The public square observes a diverse group of men and women, united by the grace of God, speaking with love towards the rulers of a city because of their love for the silent suffers of the city.
These silent suffers have grievances.
Their feet are worn by the creation of grass sidewalks, when affluent areas have concrete paths.
Their bodies are tried by the heat of summer, the shower of water and the numbing cold when transportation is non-existent.
They are consumed with completing “just one day,” not focused on chamber and city council meetings.
The silent suffers have grievances and they can be made known by the people of God who have embraced love and are willing to communicate truth in love.
My hope for the church is that she would be the singular prophetic voice in America that would exhort the public square to be there for others. Not the church that has cast off the beautiful truths of the incarnate and risen Christ who is God-making herself irrelevant with no distinction from human centered organizations. And not the church that has cast off Christian loves for the city where she has been called-becoming a disengaged and self-righteous older brother. My hope for the church is that she would take her rightful place in the public square and magnify the light that is within her. Shining the Gospel which is eternally relevant in our finite time and beaming the rays of true Christian love which will illuminate acts of advocacy for those who have voice and reveal to the public square the glory of God that rests in the people of God.