Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Children of Grace

One of my greatest joys as a pastor is the privilege of being with children. I love kids of all ages and I love to watch them mature. Some of my fondest pastoral memories involve children, like the time that 3 pre-elementary-aged girls stopped me in the hallway to let me know that they knew that it was my birthday. I squatted down to their eye level to engage them further and receive their Happy Birthday wishes. When I asked them if they would be willing to sing Happy Birthday to their pastor, they immediately agreed, smartly lined up side by side, looked at each other, then looked at me and began perfectly on cue a beautiful rendition of "Holy, Holy, Holy!" Not quite what I expected but better than any "Happy Birthday to You" that I've ever heard!

Or the time that two young sisters greeted me after a worship service. When I admired the pink crocs on their feet they beamed with delight. Getting beyond myself a little, I explained that though I had some crocs, mine were only black. "I sure wish I had some pink ones, like yours." My next birthday I received a beautifully packaged bundle of pink crocs from those sisters.

We have seen the Lord do some amazing things with little ones in Grace Baptist Church over the years. Two sisters once listened intently as a missionary described unreached people in the mountains of South Africa who had no blankets for the upcoming cold winter. He said in passing that one of the plans the missionaries had was to purchase blankets to minister to those people. The girls had just been visited by their grandparents who had given them money for a special trip to TCBY (The Country's Best Yogurt), their favorite place for sweet treats. The night after they heard the missionary, they came from their room to talk to their parents, holding their TCBY money. They asked if mom and dad could get it to the missionary for blankets for the needy people in Africa. That simple act was communicated to other churches and resulted in the development of a children's giving ministry that has now funded missionary projects around the world over the last twenty years.

Currently, we have a 12 year old cryptozoologist in our church. If you are like I was a few months ago and don't know what one of those is, here's a link. He became interested in the subject when one of our teenage boys introduced him to it earlier this year. He has started a blog, interviewed others in the field, and even had some of his work published.

Another preteen brother and sister recently set up a Bibles for Haiti Orphans project after hearing a report of a vision trip to Haiti from two of our men. Their initial goal of collecting enough money to get Bibles to 130 orphans was met the first week. Now they are shooting higher, knowing that there are between 1500-2000 orphans that our church is ministering to in that needy country.

These are just a few of the examples of God's grace manifested in the lives of the children of Grace. I could spend a lot of time telling of other examples. As I said, getting to be with children is one of the greatest joys of my pastoral ministry.

We don't have a lot of bells and whistles in our children's ministry. We love children and try to train and equip parents to disciple the children God has given them. We believe the gospel is for children as well as adults and so we constantly try to encourage children to understand and believe it.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Minister's Burden

John Newton understood very well the inner life of a pastor. His gifts of creativity and eloquence combine to express his insights well in the following poem.

To serve as a shepherd to the flock of God is a high and holy calling. It is an amazing privilege and a testimony to the grace of God and to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ who said, "I will build My church." Surely He calls them men He does and places them as He wills in order to demonstrate the reality of that promise.

I have returned to this poem countless times over the last 30 years to be reminded that the inner contradictions that at times war in my soul are common to the work of pastoral ministry. They are inevitable and they provide deeper encouragement to resort back to the only source of real help that exists. The stewardship is ours but the work belongs to One who died and has been resurrected from the dead. He will make sure that His church is finished and that His people make it safely home.
A Minister's Burden

What contradictions meet
In ministers' employ!
It is a bitter sweet,
A sorrow full of joy:
No other post affords a place
For equal honor or disgrace.

Who can describe the pain
Which faithful preachers feel,
Constrained to speak in vain,
To hearts as hard as steel?
Or who can tell the pleasures felt,
When stubborn hearts begin to melt?

The Savior's dying love,
The soul's amazing worth,
Their utmost efforts move,
And draw their bowels forth;
They pray and strive, the rest departs,
Till Christ be formed in sinners' hearts.

If some small hope appears,
They still are not content,
But with a jealous fear,
They watch for the event:
Too oft they find their hopes deceived.
Then how their inmost souls are grieved!

But when their pains succeed,
And from the tender blade
The ripening ears proceed,
Their toils are overpaid:
No harvest-joy can equal theirs,
To find the fruit of all their cares.

On what has now been sown,
Thy blessing, Lord, bestow;
The power is Thine alone,
To make it spring and grow:
Do Thou the gracious harvest raise,
And Thou alone shalt have the praise.