Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Continue earnestly in prayer...

That was part of the veteran missionary and Apostle Paul’s instructions to the believers in the Colossian Church in 4:2-3. His full statement was “Continue earnestly in prayer being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; 3 meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains…” The term “earnestly” could also be translated “steadfastly” or “fervently”. The idea is to engage in focused, intentional and resolute prayer. He also uses the term “vigilant” which means to be watchful in prayer – that term vigilant describes what is expected of a soldier guarding something or someone; they are to be wide-awake and on duty at their post. What was Paul asking this church to pray so intently about? He wanted them to pray to God with a thankful heart because God is the only God able to hear and answer prayer. But his specific request was for an open door for his missionary team to proclaim the word of God and preach the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul was encouraging these believers to continue to pray earnestly and vigilantly for him and those with him as they proclaimed the Gospel and the Word of God.

Having just returned from an incredible trip to Africa, I feel a bit like the Apostle Paul because it was evident to all of us on our team and our missionaries there that God’s people were earnestly and vigilantly praying for us as we went out into the bush to engage people with the word of God and the message of Christ. Being on the receiving end of these kinds of prayers over the course of this trip, I have a renewed appreciation for the importance of prayer in furthering the work of the Kingdom. It is vital for the people of God to pray for the work of God whether here at Calvary or across the ocean reaching people without access to the Gospel.

Before we left the country, we left a daily prayer list and prayer cards for our church family to have so you would know how to pray specifically for this trip. In looking at that list of items we asked you to pray about, I think nearly every one of those prayer requests was answered. There were some we may not know how they were answered until we get to Heaven, but I know many of the measurable requests we saw answered in a God sized way. We’re looking forward to sharing about our trip during the Bible Study hour at 9:45 on Sunday March 11. Everyone from grade school, youth and adult classes will meet in the Sanctuary to hear this report. (For our devoted preschool workers, our team will be happy to come speak with you if you miss the report).

I will share a quick account of how your prayers were answered specifically. The last day of going to the bush, three of us men drove an hour and a half one way across non-paved roads/desert sand to go meet a man who was at best a “folk medicine man” or at worst an outright “witchdoctor.” The drive out to this place was quite rigorous (that’s a polite way to say it felt like it beat us to death) and I started to get sick about 15 minutes from our destination since I was in the back seat. Fortunately I recovered quickly when we arrived (answer to prayer). We met the man we were looking for riding out of his village to town on his horse. If we’d have been a mere 5 minutes later, we’d have missed him and driven out there for nothing. He forgot we were coming but God orchestrated it so we’d connect with him out there in the middle of nowhere. We went to his thatched roof hut/compound and sat in the shade to tell him Bible stories. I had the story of God healing Naaman in mind to share in order to make the point that God heals in ways so He alone gets the credit. However, our host was a hyper little man and he never really sat still long enough to talk. Instead, he got word to a number of other men in the area and before long about 10 men were in front of us to listen to Bible stories. Our missionary looked at me and said “tell the parable of the sower.” So I applied my principle of being flexible and told that parable and explained it’s meaning – of course through our missionary who interpreted for me and this took quite a while. I made the point Jesus made “He who has ears to hear let him hear.” We told them we had more stories to tell if they had ears to hear and that God wants them to produce fruit for Him. It turns out one of these men was the chief who is in control of this area. Our missionary shared with us later he had met the chief once before and basically said unless we were there to put in a well for them, he didn’t want to hear anything we had to say and we wouldn’t have permission to talk to his people. This time however, the chief said he wanted to hear more and invited the missionary (and us) to come back! He thanked me repeatedly as we walked to our truck to leave!

Only God could orchestrate such a dramatic change of attitude in one key man’s heart. God orchestrated the timing of our visit and that our medicine man contact was the means to introduce us to whom we were really there to see, the chief. Coincidence? Luck? Good fortune? No way! It was because God’s people were earnestly and vigilantly praying for us – for an open door to the word and to preach Christ. So my encouragement to you is to “Continue earnestly in prayer...” We must pray earnestly for God’s work in and through each of us believers. Prayer is the weapon Satan has no ability to stop (Eph.6:18), whether we go down the street to talk to our lost neighbor, our lost co-workers, classmates, or some village chief on the other side of the globe. The prayers of the saints of God have incredible impact for God’s kingdom and in encouraging saints who are in distress. Continuing earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving, from my little corner of the world to yours…


Pastor Ralph Green
Senior Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church  

Posted via email from Pastor Ralph

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A well defined purpose...

A well defined purpose…

As I write this, I’m amazed to see the date and that it’s already February as the year is off to a fast start. Not much has changed in a couple of thousand years of serving the Lord. You see in Mark 6:30-31, the Apostles came back to Jesus after He sent them out to do ministry and they told Him all about it including what they had had been teaching. Jesus’ response to them was refreshing in that he didn’t say, “get back out there and keep at it, time is money.” Instead, Jesus said “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.” Then we’re told “For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.” I love the fact that the Son of God pulled His disciples aside from the rigors of ministry in order to rest and refocus. Ministry picked back up immediately following this time away apparently with great impact with the feeding of the 5000 and a myriad of other miracles shortly after.

With all the hubbub of the holidays and the start of the new year, the earliest time our pastoral staff could pull aside for a planning and visioning retreat was at the end of January. For two days we pulled out of the office and set aside a time to worship together, pray together and work on refining our purpose as a church and our leadership roles. In my “State of the Church” address on January 8th, I stated that we need to analyze what it is that we do and simplify a number of things that hinder the work of the ministry. We seem to have much that keeps us very busy but we need to ask what impact does this busy schedule and myriad of processes actually have? 

I’m thrilled to tell you that our time spent together was a blessing and encouragement to each of us. I believe we came out of this planning retreat recharged, refocused and excited about our future together. We talked much about the need for a well defined purpose for all of our ministries and activities we engage in at Calvary. Most of the time the first instinct is to talk about what we should do and while that is important, what we do should flow out of our purpose. Purpose helps answer the question “Why are we here?” Purpose is not a goal to shoot for; it is our reason for being. Purpose provides direction, boundaries and motivation; a well defined purpose will move you forward to make a great impact. Plans, goals and activities should all flow out of the purpose. Purpose also helps you identify things you will not do.

On the flip side, lack of purpose leads to a meager impact at best. A lack of purpose shifts the focus from ministering to people to a maintenance mode of maintaining programs or massaging personalities. We asked some tough questions related to what drives our church. Is it tradition – doing what we’ve always done? Is it personality – doing what he or she wants done? Is it finances – doing only what we can afford to do? Maybe programs drive the church – doing what everybody else is doing (or because the publishing arm of our denomination is pushing it). Maybe facilities drive the church – doing only what our space allows. Events can drive the church – doing what everyone expects. Some churches have allowed un-churched people to drive what they do so they do everything they can to make church not seem like church – (that sounds silly and it is silly!) Sometimes a “maintenance mode” drives the church – doing just what is needed to achieve last year’s results. These are tough questions to be sure and it’s okay to be honest that some of these components have driven us and currently drive us as a whole or specific ministries. We can’t improve what we’ve not willing to identify as a problem. We also need to understand that sometimes maintenance mode is a necessity because we lack appropriate leadership but it shouldn’t remain that way. These ways of thinking and “leading” don’t leave room to dream of what God might want to do in and through the ministry. Healthy churches are driven by purpose and I know all of us as a staff desire for us to be a healthy church that is flourishing for our Lord Jesus Christ and for His honor and glory.

This idea of a well defined purpose is not new and many of you have probably read this stuff before in Dr. Rick Warren’s books “The Purpose Driven Life” or “The Purpose Driven Church.” Since I don’t want to be guilty of plagiarism, much of these ideas come out of those works. I believe Dr. Warren actually got his ideas from Jesus because everything the Lord did flowed out of His purpose to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). The principles shared in those resources are very helpful and practical for both churches and individuals to identify their purpose. Now don’t worry, we as a staff have no intention of trying to turn Calvary into a Saddleback Church clone. Many church leaders have made the mistake of trying to take what works in a Southern California context and make those strategies and goals their own. In the process, they ignore their own ministry context and wonder why it doesn’t work. They simply didn’t take time to identify their own purpose, they just adopted Saddleback plans.

The great thing about a well defined purpose is that it forges your own unique identity and shows us we can minister appropriately according to our unique context here in Harford County. One of the things we want to do this year as a staff is to lead us to help define our purposes. We got the ball rolling a few years ago when we identified our purpose as “Encountering God, Experiencing Life Change.” That’s our DNA, our purpose in a simple concise statement – We want to be encountering God as we “do life together.” We affirm that authentic God encounters always result in lives being changed.

This year we’re going to be encouraging us to think in terms of purpose across the board in our ministries. Our ministries must flow out of our overall purpose of encountering God, experiencing life change in the cyclical process of making disciples. We’re going to have a great time working through this together among our ministry team leaders (our committees). As you see some changes being made, it’s because we are identifying a well defined purpose for ministry so we can introduce more people to the Lord Jesus Christ and make Christ followers out of them.  From an eternal perspective, that is the best purpose any individual or church family can have! It will be challenging, it will cause us to think, evaluate and examine if we’re actually carrying out our purpose. But I am convicted to the depth of my soul we must engage in this healthy dialogue of defining our purpose or we’ll be no further down the road of making disciples 10 years from now than the hamster that runs the little treadmill all day long. The poor critter is wiped out from lots of activity and spent energy but never got anywhere!

So let us begin this journey together of a well defined purpose, from my little corner of the world to yours…
Ralph Green
Senior Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church 
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