6/25/08

Meditation 1: Finding A Dwelling Place

Dear Reader:

Thank you for stopping by to read the first of what I hope will be many entries to my blog entitled, Meditations. The Bible makes clear that in order for Christians to prosper and grow spiritually, and deepen their relationship with God, it is essential that they meditate on and obey God’s Word.

In Joshua 1:8, God says to Joshua:

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

And, in Psalm 1:1-3, King David echoes this truth in song. He writes:

1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, 

and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, 

which yields its fruit in season 

and whose leaf does not wither. 

Whatever he does prospers.


My desire is to share with you thoughts and reflections--meditations--on my studies of Scripture, and on my life and walk with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I pray that these meditations will give you and me hope; that they will deepen our relationship with (and understanding of) God; and that they will inspire, encourage, challenge, and convict us to obey God’s Word, as we run the race that He has set before us.

So, let me just jump right in . . .

Recently my faith has been challenged (even shaken in some ways) by a major difficulty the church I pastor (Mount Vernon Foursquare Fellowship (“MVFF”)) is facing. We’re a young church (my wife, Kelly, and I planted MVFF a little over a year and a half ago.) We started the church in our home, but we’re now at a point where we need to find a larger space to meet. The problem is that the schools we’ve considered trying to use on Sundays won’t work well for us, none of the community centers in our area will allow us to use their available spaces on Sundays, and the commercial properties that are open for leasing are incredibly expensive (at least $6,000/month for a 3,000 sq. ft. space, and that’s not including build-out costs).

As difficult as it is for me to admit, my heart has sometimes grumbled against God, wondering if He’s brought me this far only to fail as a pastor. My reaction has been much like the Israelites’ when Pharaoh freed them from slavery, but then decided to pursue them. They all cried out to God, and complained to Moses saying, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” (Exodus 14:11). But Moses answered, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. . . . The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14).

I wish that had been my initial response to the challenge MVFF is facing right now. I wish I’d been able to simply “stand firm” in the knowledge that God will “fight for [us.]” Instead of standing firm, though, I’ve done a lot of whining, and a lot of waffling. The darkness of doubt and discouragement casts a long shadow, a shadow that we often easily allow to obscure the light of what we know to be true from God’s Word.

But God has been gracious and faithful, despite my doubt, discouragement, and grumbling. Instead of rebuking me, He has consistently reminded me of the promises in His Word, and that His hand is upon our nascent church. In the last few months, He has done things to remind me that He has not brought us to our own ‘Red Sea’ to drown; He’s brought us here to demonstrate to us His grace, love, and power by parting our ‘Red Sea, as He did for the Israelites thousands of years ago. He invites us simply to “stand firm” and “see the deliverance” He will bring us. (Exodus 14:13).

. . . Now I know that our need for a new building space is not as grave a matter as having thousands of armed and trained Egyptian soldiers barreling down on you. But it sure feels like it sometimes! . . .

Anyway, as I was saying, in the midst of all this, God has done some wonderful things to remind me that He is with us, and that He will provide for our needs. I’ll just share three of them:

First, about a month or so ago, a close friend of mine sent MVFF a very generous offering. I won’t state the amount. But suffice it to say that it was the largest single offering we’ve received from anyone thus far. And this friend has not even been to one of our church services yet! He simply gave his offering to MVFF, because he wanted to support what the Lord is doing in us and through us.

But I also believe the amount and the timing of His gift were prompted by the Holy Spirit, because we received it at a time when Kelly and I were beginning to really feel the weight of what moving into a new building would mean for our body. One of my concerns was that I did not want the bulk of the financial resources God had provided to be applied toward building costs. I wanted as much money as possible to be applied directly toward ministry. I did not want us to become a church that was so burdened by the financial demands a building can impose that it lost sight of its larger ministry mission. Of course, that is not to suggest that a building is not important for ministry purposes. My concern was simply that it is easy for a building to become an end in itself, because of its financial demands, rather than function as a means to an end.

At any rate, my friend’s offering was a wonderful reminder from the Lord that He is our provider, and that He will provide us with what we need for a building, without compromising the mission and vision He has given us as a church (which is to launch people into the areas of ministry to which God has called them--including planting other churches--and to care for the poor, the orphaned, and the captive).

Not long after MVFF received my friend’s financial gift, though, the Lord further challenged my faith--not to dishearten me, but to embolden me. . . .

A few weeks ago, my supervisor asked my wife and I if MVFF would be willing to support another church plant that is just a little younger than our own. The pastor and his wife are experienced and faithful ministers of the gospel, but are encountering the significant difficulties of church planting in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. My first thought was: “We have some money in savings, but we too are facing incredible financial challenges. A lot of that money will be spent, if or when we move into another building. Plus, we’re a young church ourselves. Would this really be a wise use of the resources God has provided us?”

My gut instinct was to recoil from creating any additional financial obligations for our church. I also remembered, however, that MVFF also has a vision for church multiplication, and for helping other church plants. So, I gave my supervisor a nice, diplomatic answer that is almost always a safe response in Christian circles: I said, “We’ll pray about it!”

Later, my wife and I discussed the matter. I suggested we consider giving the pastor between $1,000 and $2,000, spread out over five or six months. I thought that might be an amount our church could reasonably afford. Still, I felt I needed to pray about it more, because all of our financial resources are the Lord’s. And I certainly did not want to make an off-the-cuff executive decision, without first seeking God’s guidance.

So, about a week and a half later, I spent some time in prayer about what to give this pastor in need (if anything). I basically said, “Lord, all that we have is Yours. I don’t want to be careless with it. So, please tell me what we should give, if anything.” I had barely finished the prayer when I felt a strong sense that MVFF was not supposed to send this pastor $1,000 or $2,000, but $5,000. That was a sizable chunk of our church savings, and seemed to me (from a human standpoint) to be a rather reckless amount to give! But I believed the Lord had spoken to me. Just to be sure, though, I asked that God confirm with Kelly what I believed He had told me. So, when Kelly got home that day, I asked her to pray about what we should give the pastor in need, and to let me know if the Lord laid anything on her heart (I did not tell her what I believed the Lord had called us to give). After that, I did not raise the matter with her again.

Several days later, though, I received an e-mail from Kelly about the issue. This is what she wrote: “The number that sticks in my head - for no logical reason or anything else - is $5000.”

This was another wonderful reminder to me that God is very aware of our church’s financial situation and needs, and that He has not forgotten us! He has not turned His face away from us! Despite our small size, He already is fulfilling the vision He has given us for church multiplication.

God’s clear direction in this situation was an encouragement for me to “stand firm,” knowing that He would bless our offering to this other pastor, and would continue to provide for MVFF:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” (Luke 6:38).

The third, and final, story I’ll share is something that happened about a week or so ago. I was invited to share my testimony with a small group of people at a local restaurant. As I thought about what to share, and about how the Lord has continued to show me His faithfulness and love despite my doubt and grumbling, the passage Jeremiah 29:11 came to mind:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

That is such an amazing promise! As I meditated on it, and thought about how faithful and merciful God has been, my spirit was strengthened. I felt a deeper appreciation for that promise, and I clung to it! When I later shared my testimony with that small group, I made sure to repeat that promise several times during my talk. I wanted it to take seed in the hearts of those who were gathered, just as it had taken seed in my own.

At the end of my talk, a lady approached me and asked if my wife and I would be willing to be guests on a web-based show she produces and anchors. She said she has an audience of about one million listeners. I, of course, was honored by the invitation, and told her I would get back to her.

After praying about it, I began doing some research on her show. As I read a brief summary of the show, one statement in particular seemed to leap from the page: “[God] has a plan for each and every person’s life…. and that plan is good!”

Wow! The show’s stated purpose was to remind people of God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11, the very same passage on which I had based my testimony the night I had shared it with that woman and her colleagues.

This was yet another encouraging reminder that God’s hand continues to guide and direct me and MVFF.

Over the last few days, I have continued to struggle with some doubt and discouragement. But not nearly as much as before! The more I meditate on Jeremiah 29:11, and the more I reflect on these recent examples of God’s faithfulness, the more at peace and faith-filled I become. As I cling to the truth that God’s plan is to “prosper” me and MVFF, and to give us “hope and a future,” the darkness continues to recede. And I look forward to watching God part our Red Sea!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow Niki! Your first blog entry is awesome. I do hope you and Kelly prayerfully consider web-based ministry as part of your church curriculum. I think it would be great if you could minister to souls worldwide - yes, even in Alaska, Africa and other places that may not even begin and end in A!
~MAH

Kelly said...

I really appreciate how candid you are. It's refreshing to see people be real about their challenges and how God is working in their life. Keep it up -- the more you share stories of what God's doing in your life, the more people's faith will grow.

Anonymous said...

Great message! Thanks for the encouragement. God is indeed faithful!

Debbie said...

Niki,

I'm so glad you started a blog! Mind if I add you to my blog roll? I just wanted to drop you a note of encouragement and let you know that many people even outside your regular circumference are praying for you and your ministry.

I can sense your frustration with having new space and understand it. But remember (and I'm sure I'm talking to the choir here) that the church is the people. We are the temples now... God doesn't love buildings. He loves us. I saw the greatest marquee outside a church the other day. It read "meets here" and that was it. The name of the church was above the marquee but I thought it was so refreshing. Obviously people knew the building was the church but they wanted people to know that the church was the people not the building. Anyway, I look forward to many more posts from you!

Todd Millikan said...

Niki-
Thanks so much for including me (and the rest of us readers) in your journey. Your humility, courage, and faith are inspiring to me. I am looking forward to the years of friendship and ministry partnership that are ahead of us.