I am thoroughly irritated by reading the endless, self-righteous rantings of Elihu in the book of Job. But this verse stuck out as I was reading right before diving into this review. Here I would like to "consider the wondrous works of God" in my own life over the past year.
The year began with a challenge from our pastor: commit to 40 days of fasting and prayer. He laid out several different fasting options but all of them had the same principle effect of allowing us to focus more diligently on the Lord and to seek His face and His favor. For myself I knew a few things: my diet was out of control and I was getting bigger, I was spending too much time watching TV and that my body never responds well to simply 'not eating'. I also knew that I didn't want to bite off something this difficult without having an anchor in the Lord. In other words, it wasn't good enough to do just because 'pastor says so'. Things were going to get hard and I didn't want to end up projecting my frustrations and anger at him. So I got with the Lord and he gave me this verse:
"Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance." Ezra 8:21
In the spirit of this verse, my wife and I set off on a three-fold fast for the purpose of seeking a right way from the Lord:
- An entertainment fast: no TV, movies or video games.
- Re-inducing a low carb diet: following the Atkins diet strictly
- A full fast for a weekend
Honestly, it was hardest giving up TV and video games. For me anyways! I was habitually hooked to these things and now I had more time to read and commit to industrious works. The low carb diet we had done before and was no big deal to me. It is rough, I usually have a debilitating headache for the first two or three days. The full fast almost killed me. By Sunday morning, I started getting dizzy, light-headed, my vision would intermittently dim (aka 'tunnel vision') and the weirdest thing of all... I was having muscle spasms in my neck and shoulders that felt like mild electric shocks. I ended that fast as soon as I could lay my hands on some food!
What we got out of this was control and discipline. We learned to use time for all types of reading which in turn leant itself to us changing curriculums for homeschool. We were in better shape for the spring when we returned to our exercise. But most miraculously, forty new people were added to our congregation. What a coincidence!
Glorifying God at work
This year at work presented me with the single biggest professional challenge I've ever had. The goal was to develop and implement an automated system for facilitating the managment and post installation activities of deploying over 160,000 Automated Meter Reading (AMR) devices. Knowing this was a potential 'feather in the cap' for my career, I was determined to glorify the Lord. My vision was that things would go swimmingly and at the end I would have some big occasion to pronounce my thankfulness to the Lord for Him making everything easy. What actually happened was that everything went to hell, quickly. From the beginning, things did not go well with our project manager. He never gave us any functional requirements, we had to strong-arm him into it and required signatures from him. He in turn required we also sign off on all documents. Our development time line was supposed to be three months and was cut down to six weeks. Our vendor supplied us reams of bad data as they struggled through their own problems. The devil himself inhabited my production server and it took two weeks and several tickets with MicroSoft to resolve the problems. Everyone was stressed and every relationship strained. I began very seriously to doubt if God was ever glorified in such a mess and was constantly questioning my own actions and attitudes.
But some things did go well. The Lord provided me a general plan in short order. He showed me how to leverage our existing work managment and billing systems, He allowed me to exploit the latest technologies to provide near real-time data transfer, how to build reusable components that will greatly hasten completion of this years development of a mobile solution. He gave me grace and wisdom to actually do the development in one week (a very long week) so that we still had five weeks left for testing. He showed me that our IT group is a really strong team as others were able to contribute to key efforts in support of this. In the end, we do have a stable and streamline system that is finally working as designed. The feather is ruffled and dirty, but still there. To God be the glory!
During this time, the Lord opened several doors to share Christ with a friend at work. He was clearly under conviction and began attending KCBT. I'm not sure where he's at right now- it can be difficult communicating ideas at times. But at least I saw God working in his life and He has propped that door open till this day. I am still praying for this friend's salvation.
The Lord opened other doors with coworkers as well. I work in the midst of a hard people so any door opening is a miracle. My constant (although not always diligent) prayer is that Christ would us me to share the gospel at work. He did that this year, in big but unexpected ways. He also showed me the importance of maintaining Biblical fellowship with the few coworkers who are saved, even if we find ourselves at odds regarding work issues. It was a hard year but a growing year so that makes it a success.
Our Community Team was hopping along this year, right through 2 Corinthians. But we took a break in mid-summer and I was pressing the Lord for our next study. No answer. People began to ask me more often 'What are we doing next?' I would tell them honestly, I don't know, I haven't heard from the Lord yet. I perceived some frustration from several people at this, but that was the answer. What else could I say?! We set the date for the first meeting of our next cycle and still... no answer! Finally, through what the Lord was showing me in His Word and in the lives of many people, it finally clicked one morning during the sermon. We need to look at relationships! I have never been a part of a topical SOT style study before so that would be a new challenge. The Lord was faithful to show me all the topics we needed to hit and at least one key passage for each.
He also put it on my heart that we needed to get the kids involved with the same concepts of personal Bible study and accountability. That was another struggle. There was seemingly no material that addressed this the way we felt it needed to be addressed and I didn't see myself as being equipped to develop that. Especially not in such short order! But again, after prayer and patience, the Lord provided us with a great little book called How To Study Your Bible for Kids by Kay Arthur. I was already familiar with her book for adults- which does a fantastic job- so I was really excited to see her kid's book. My wife and I rework the format each week and update it to the best Bible version available in English, so there is still a fair amount of work. But it is no more work than drawing water from the well. Thank the Lord we didn't have to dig the well!
The Lord also moved some old friends out into a new area. We still feel their loss but I am happy that they were moved to something specific and that it is clear they are where Christ wants them and they are being used. The Lord was faithful to replenish us with several new friends as well, and I can see that relationships are forming and strengthening several people. There is a lot of growth happening!
The single biggest spiritual event in our lives this year was when our nine year old son and eight year old daughter accepted Christ. Daniel had been praying since he was six that God would call him. He struggled through several times of disappointment, as he saw other children come to Christ. With each of our kids, we assure them, Biblically, that they are 'safe' until Christ calls them and they need to bide their time preparing their hearts to that end. Praise God, this seemed to help to give him patience! His disappointment was really rooted in pride and a feeling that he was better than so-and-so... It was the hard road, but I am glad the Lord dealt with his pride along the way. That will pay off huge dividends in the course of his life!
Our daughter, on the other hand, was not so prideful but very... energetic. Strong willed seems like a white wash. Tasmanian she-devil is much closer to how it was. The maniac of South Kansas City. There was more than one occasion I would get a midday phone call from the wife in tears or would come home to find her a furious and exhausted wreck. But she has her sweet side, too. In one day, this little firebrand could manifest the destructive energy of a nuclear meltdown and then the pure and soft love of a perfect little girl. She clearly had a need for Christ but wasn't really getting it yet.
On a Sunday in September, one of the kids workers was talking with Elisa and it opened up into a deeper conversation. Clearly God was at work. At home that afternoon she opened up to us and our son got involved in the talk. This continued again that evening during our family Bible story. They were asking us if they could get saved and this time, it seemed as if they 'got it'. We put them off until the morning to see if they would hold on to this desire, to prove the work of God. In the morning, they continued, asking questions and acting pressed. We put them off one more day, until the next morning, as one final test. But when a child is ready to be born, you can't stop it. It was time for our daughter to be born again and nothing would stand in the way. My wife and I talked with her and prayed with her while she sobbed on the bed. She prayed a simple but beautiful prayer of salvation "Jesus... I want you to live in my heart and clean all the yucky stuff out of my heart.". What a glorious morning!
As we came out to the family room to explain this to the other kids, our son interuppted us to tell us that he had accepted Christ. Now this was a shock. We thought he was close but didn't suspect that while we were praying with our daughter, the Holy Spirit was birthing our son in a different room! At first I was a little suspect of this, but over the next few days the Lord proved it out in him. One of the first things he said was that his heart was sad but was now filled with joy! I still remember my little girl clinging too me and, with a new light in her eyes, saying "Daddy, I feel like a whole new person!". That is just amazing to hear from children.
Two months later, they both followed the Lord in baptism and, coincidentally, got to be the first two people to be baptized directly into our new church :D
New Church Plant
This year our home church ("the motherchurch") commissioned us to become our own autonomous work. From the beginning, our goal was to start a satellite service in order to make disciples in midtown. The goal was NOT to start a new church. But God blessed us so much and so apparently, that the staff at the motherchurch felt they were actually 'holding us back'. Graciously, they offered to let us go. Now this experiment had turned into a full fledged work and we were commissioned and official in November.
More recently our pastor has been laying out an exciting vision for the future. We will be returning to our roots, those roots from which many of us have sprang forth since the early 90's. We will be focusing on teaching good Bible doctrine to everyone, developing leaders and establishing a mode of accountability for all. The long term vision is to become a launching pad for other new works, to be used by God to establish his Word and his people through our city and even throughout the world. This is truly an exciting time and has been an exciting year. After the rollercoaster this year has been, I dare not try to predict what the hand of the Lord will accomplish through us in 2008 but trust that He will be glorified!