Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Fiery Trial - Rejoicing in Suffering



Why is it that we are surprised when the “fiery trial” comes into our lives? First Peter says we shouldn’t be; in fact, it is perfectly normal. Now, that sounds like a pretty miserable life if you ask me. Burning, painful suffering is normal!? Let’s figure this out.
First, Peter writes that the trials are “to test” us. What is God testing us for? And why does it have to hurt so much? It seems there are two sources of suffering spoken of here. One is the suffering that Christians experience when they are being mistreated because they are Christians. This includes persecution, ostracizing, insults, mocking, mistreatment, and even death – all because of our faith in Christ. Not many of us in the west have had to endure this type of suffering. Indeed it seems to be fairly limited and, when it does occur, not of the deadly sort of trouble. Yet, it does happen, and the Scriptures indicate that it will increase in the last days. So, it is helpful that Peter teaches and encourages believers to prepare them for when persecution does happen. Without these words – and others – we might not know how to respond when treated badly for our faith.
Another type of suffering is that which results when we do wrong. Peter warns that this type should never be found among believers in Christ. And, if it is, there is no reason to rejoice in it but rather to be ashamed. We have no one but ourselves to blame. However, God can and does use even this sort of suffering to grow our faith, which leads to the third, most troubling category of suffering.
God uses suffering for all sorts of reasons in the lives of His children. He is sovereign so there is no way around the reality that all suffering in the lives of Christians must first pass through His hands. God either ordains or allows suffering but always for reasons that He can justify, never capriciously. Generally it can be said that He uses all suffering for good. But what is good? Anything that fulfills His holy decrees and contributes to the accomplishment of His divine plan is good. Notice that what we may consider as a bad thing, in God’s ways of divine providence He may be using it for a greater good result.
So what is suffering designed to do in our lives? In 1 Peter there are several purposes given: to promote sanctification (4:1-12), to strengthen faith (1:6-7), to make us more like Christ (3:17-18), to prepare us for judgment (1:7), and as a prelude to exaltation (all of 1 Peter). So it is clear from Scripture that God’s insertion of suffering into our lives is all about improving and helping us. But why does His way of helping us have to be so stinking painful?
Think about it for minute. God made us. No one knows us better than He. We are sinners, redeemed yes, but sinners nonetheless. Our bodies are still fleshly and susceptible to rebellion. We still live in a fallen world, surrounded by evil and temptation. Worse, we have an enemy who wants nothing more than to destroy us or, at least, make our faith ineffective.
With all of that stacked against us, do we really think that by  just following God’s commands – using our own power – will ever make us holier, give us a rock-solid faith, turn us into copies of Jesus, give us the strength to endure anything, and get us ready to meet Him in person? Unless you have a severe case of delusions of grandeur I bet you would humbly agree that none of us can do any of this in our own power, no matter how pious we may think we are. So, we need God’s help.
To help us get to where He wants us, God knows that we must be broken of our love for self and be consumed with love for Him. As long as there is anything left in us of the flesh and the world, we will not quite be who He designed us to be. A chisel is a perfect tool to use for describing what He is doing. A sculptor uses a chisel (and a hammer) to cut away the excess marble to produce the work of art inside the rock. If the marble was alive it would say that it hurts to be turned into a thing of beauty. But the end result is a glorious thing.
Much of the reason for the painfulness of suffering is because of our own stubbornness. At its root, stubbornness is the manifestation of unbelief and pride, two attitudes totally incompatible with being Christlike. I feel like it is somewhat up to us just how much suffering we must experience before we give in and allow God to have His way. But that’s not correct. He knows us perfectly, right? So it follows that God knows just how far to take this suffering thing to produce exactly the result He wants; not too little and not too much. Sadly, it often takes far more suffering than we can actually handle. And that may be the secret: He must bring us to a place where we realize that we can no longer endure it, that we must turn it over to a loving heavenly Father who can endure for us. Never let it be said that “God won’t give us more than we can handle.” He most certainly will, and He does it quite often. Change one pronoun in that sentence and you’ve got it right: “God won’t give us more than He can handle.”
Further along in 1 Peter 4 we read of a strange behavior: rejoicing over suffering. Really, Lord? Not exactly what you might call a natural response to hardship, at least for mentally healthy human beings, is it? But Christian faith, if it is nothing else, is often counterintuitive. In God’s economy (or, His way of doing things), we rejoice and glorify Him when life is good, but also when it is falling apart around us. You see, for the Christian who has been “taken to school” by suffering, every event in life is used by God for His glory and for our growth. The anticipation and excitement of seeing what He is going to accomplish as a result of this “bad” thing causes us to rejoice. For, you see, our heart’s greatest desire should always be to see God glorified in every aspect of life – ours and life in general.
If follows that the Christian who is learning his spiritual lessons will view every instance of suffering (or trials, troubles, temptations) as another opportunity to grow in their faith and to see God glorified. By viewing suffering in this way, our perspective changes. Sure, it may still hurt like crazy to have to experience this event but inside, our spirit has close communion with God’s Spirit and we know without doubt that He has got this and that, when it is all over, He will be more glorified and we will be holier, have a deeper faith, be more like Christ, or any number of other wonderful results.
Does this level of spiritual maturity happen overnight? No. In fact, it oftentimes takes years to get to this point. (Remember: our stubbornness, sinfulness, weakness, etc.) To get this sort of response to suffering from us, God knows that it will take repeated iterations of the lesson. Thankfully, the more we cooperate with His “training” regimen the easier it usually gets. As He proves Himself over and over again, His Spirit breaks through our veneer of self-reliance and speaks a resounding, “Let me handle this for you.” And, at some point, we respond, “Yes, Lord. You can have it. Take care of it for me.” An incredible thing happens when a believer gets to this point: the ‘bad’ thing no longer takes its toll on us as we really and truly do turn it over to our heavenly Father to deal with. You see, we all say, sometimes flippantly, “I’m trusting the Lord to handle my problem,” when in reality we are still holding on and trying to ‘fix’ it ourselves. It takes an utter demolition of our pride and rebellion to get us to this point. We can’t do that – only God can.
Perhaps my own story will illustrate. I suffered from fibromyalgia for 14 years. It was horrible. I lost count of the times that I prayed for God to kill me. But during this long, dark time He revealed some things to me. One big one was my pride. All my life had been one success after another and guess who took credit for all of it? Me. I failed miserably to thank God and recognize that He was blessing me by giving me good fortune in life. God didn’t necessarily make me sick just to teach me this lesson. But I did learn it. The disease didn’t leave me for many more years after this revelation. So, He knew there were other lessons for me to learn.
To make a long story short, God miraculously healed me of my disease on November 6, 2006, at a seminar on biblical health in Thomaston, GA. The cause of my sickness was, at its core, anger and unforgiveness. Demonic forces used that scar on my soul to make me sick, like pouring gasoline on a fire. That’s the gist of it. Racism was also a part of it. Not surprising considering some of my childhood influences. The anger, unforgiveness, and ungodly attitude to other image-bearers of God were unacceptable behaviors. And God wanted to purge those from me just as He had done with my pride.
What resulted was not only physical healing but a new spirit of love, forgiveness, patience and color blindness towards others. I learned that God is a loving Father and had a purpose all along for my suffering. See how stubborn I was; it took 14 years for me to get it. But He wasn’t done with teaching me about trust.
In more recent years I have struggled mightily with overseeing my Dad’s healthcare and finances. He now has dementia and is not always a very nice person. This situation stressed me out so badly a couple of years ago that my health began to suffer: headaches, irritability, anger, and helplessness. This went on for about a year. What made it so much worse was that Dad during this stage of his disease was so distrustful to those of us who were only trying to take care of him. This has always been a trait of his, but this time it really hurt.
So, one day, I was praying for the Lord to help me deal with my Dad. A thought suddenly entered my mind as clear as day. It was this: “Your problem with your Dad is that it upsets you that he doesn’t trust you. How do you think I feel when you don’t trust Me to handle your problems?” It wasn’t a voice per se, but I had no doubt who the source of this thought was. I broke down and fell to the floor in complete surrender and deep repentance. It took bringing me to the point of a nervous breakdown to cause me to trust God.
Since learning these lessons life itself has not become easier. But how I respond to trials and troubles has completely changed. It’s almost as if the Lord has created in me a new ability that I didn’t have before. And that’s just what it is: I have learned – through some very painful experiences – to trust Him with complete trust. You see, if I hadn’t experienced those difficult times, there is no way I would be able to ‘roll with the punches’ as I do now. And God certainly wouldn’t have called me to the pastorate.
As I prepare a sermon on suffering (from 1 Peter 4) I struggle with how to convince my flock that rejoicing in trials is even possible. Some of them hurt so badly it rips my guts out to hear their stories. Yeah, I pray for them. But what I really want for them is to learn this lesson about suffering. Yes, it hurts. But rejoice anyway because God is using this momentary affliction to create something in you, to change you, to teach you something. But whatever it is, you can rest in Him and have joy because your heavenly Father does love you with a perfect love and He wants more than anything for you to become who He intended you to be. And only He knows how to get you there. Trust Him, rejoice, be glad, surrender, submit, receive the lesson He has for you. The only way to believe anything I say here – or what Peter wrote – is to try it. It is hard, I know, to look to the heavens and praise God when your grandchild is suicidal or your son is an addict or your marriage is coming apart – or any number of things. But that is exactly what God wants you to do.

Monday, March 13, 2017




GOSPEL MINISTRY IN MAINE

I know there are some folks who want to be kept up-to-date on what is happening here in Eastport, Maine. Specifically, how Karen and I are doing and how the Cornerstone Church (CC) is getting along. This post will try to explain our approach to ministry here and how the Lord is blessing and will bless as we submit to His sovereign will.
Cornerstone Church was founded in 1802 by two men who had been saved as a direct result of the Second Great Awakening. Formerly known as the Calvinistic Baptist Association, later as Washington Street Baptist Church, it is now called Cornerstone Church of Eastport. The former pastor, Lee Cross, a dear friend of mine, led the church to drop the word ‘Baptist’ from the public church name and from the sign out front. Long before I ever suspected that I might lead this church, he and I had discussions about the divisive perception that exists in Christianity because of our denominational labels. The intent was to erase any barriers that might keep a person from coming to hear the gospel.
The important thing to remember is that we are still a Baptist church and proud to be one. Our theology has not changed: Christ is still our central focus and the Bible is still our one and only source for all matters pertaining to faith and doctrine.
This began a discussion in the church about how to get more people to attend, primarily lost people. What would we have to do to make coming to church an appealing thing for people who are totally secularized? This term describes people who have lived their entire lives without any exposure to things of faith: never attended church, own no Bible, and matters of faith and God never even enter into their thought processes. This seems to describe a very large proportion of the local population. How in the world did this happen in a region where Christianity first came to America!?
Anyway, without getting unnecessarily wordy, this precious congregation almost unanimously began to see the need for change, not in belief but in practice. Pastor Lee led the charge and did a great job. Unfortunately, last Spring the enemy launched his attacks. Satan will leave a church alone if it isn’t a threat to him. Well, it is likely that the renewed focus on evangelism begun by Lee riled up the enemy and he threw his evil imps at Cornerstone. The result was a drastic reduction in attendance and finances. It isn’t important what sparked this downturn; what is important is that Cornerstone was nearly brought to its knees. It had less than half its regular attendance, $4.32 in the bank, and a look of hopelessness on many faces.
Fortunately, a core of believers stood firm and refused to give in to the enemy’s plans. It was during this period that Pastor Lee decided it was time to retire. He and Lana went to California for the birth of their first grandchild. Lee will long be remembered by CC as a faithful man of God, who diligently preached the Word and intensely loved his flock. May God richly bless him and Lana as He leads them into their next field of ministry.
Karen and I were here in Eastport last summer, as has been our practice for several years. Most of you know that Karen has Multiple Sclerosis. The Georgia summers are brutal for her so we started to come north to escape that miserable weather. Naturally we wanted a church home while here, so CC became our part-time church family.
We knew the folks at CC pretty well by this time and they knew that I had been to seminary and was a pastor in Georgia. The deacons asked me to fill in as pastor until they could find a replacement for Lee. Of course, I agreed to do it. After all, I was pretty much spending my days as a lazy bum, sitting on the deck with a book and enjoying the view of the Passamaquoddy Bay and the delightfully mild Summer weather. It was refreshing to have something constructive to do.
It’s interesting how the Lord works, isn’t it? I have now been pastoring CC for two months. Hindsight can be a wonderful thing, especially when you see how God’s divine providence has been at work for your entire life. Just to know that He used a bad thing, Karen’s MS, as a springboard into a situation that glorifies Him in a great way. We, especially this Southern boy, would never have come to Maine to live, without God’s effectual calling. Sure, Karen still has MS but she feels so much better so much more of the time because of the climate. And I am serving God in the way that He has intended since before time. I have found incredible peace and an abiding joy in finally doing what He meant for me all along. I mean, all those years in seminary and all the mind-numbing work that went along with it, was done without me even knowing the reasons for it. I only knew that it was God’s will for my life to go and learn His ways. Now I know what He had planned. Praise Him for His all-knowing, all-wise nature!
Back to the story:  Within a couple of weeks after agreeing to fill in as pastor, the deacons approached me to ask that I consider becoming their full-time, permanent pastor. To say that I was stunned is an understatement; that I was humbled beyond belief best describes my immediate reaction. After much praying and consultation with Karen, I agreed, pending a vote by the membership. So, I continued to preach, all total for about 10 weeks. We didn’t make my decision known for a while, but it became evident that God was surely calling me here. As time passed, this was confirmed as our relationships with the people of CC deepened into what I can only describe as Holy Spirit inspired. Little did I know that God was shaping a pastor’s heart within me, a trait I never saw in myself. In fact, it was an attribute I didn’t particularly desire after seeing how busy and demanding a pastor’s life can be. I even told Pastor Brian Jones of our former church that you couldn’t pay me enough money to be a pastor. Actually, when I surrendered to ministry a few years ago, my prayer ignorantly surrendered to whatever calling God had for me but “please don’t call me to be a pastor.” Really. I prayed that. Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.
Still having a rental home with all our possessions back in Georgia, we had to return there to deal with all of that. So, we left Maine for about seven weeks and spent Christmas there. It was a very strenuous time, packing and cleaning and all the stuff that goes along with moving. Saying goodbye to friends and family was especially difficult. The Pointe Church, where we had served for over ten years, was hard to leave. We have some very special friends in that church.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the move was leaving my parents behind. Dad has dementia pretty badly but his wonderful wife is taking good care of him. But Mom would be all alone with me in Maine and my brother in Arizona. I prayed hard about this and we decided to build a small cottage for Mom on our Maine property. To have her here with us would not only benefit her but would put my mind at ease about her care and comfort. The problem was that Mom had been adamantly opposed to ever leaving Georgia when I had approached her about the idea once before. This time, by God’s grace, she agreed. God is indeed faithful because my prayers had been for Him to change Mom’s mind about this. And He did, may He receive all the glory and praise. Our builder will start her house as soon as the ground thaws and Mom should be here by late Summer this year. It will be a big change for her, especially during the Winter, so please pray for a smooth transition.
Karen and I returned to Maine on December 30th and I preached my first sermon as the formal pastor on New Year’s Day, 2017. (CC had voted me in during December.) I had come down with the flu so that was a hard message to get through but, by God’s grace, I did. There was no way that I was going to not preach my first sermon on our first Sunday back with CC. And it was the first day of the year!
The ensuing two months have been amazing. God’s hand has been powerfully at work, thankfully. One thing about being a pastor I have had to internalize is that I cannot do what only God can do. I am the foot soldier. He is the general. My job is to be faithful in what I am called to do: rightly preach the whole counsel of the Word of God, wisely lead the flock He has given to me, and prepare them for the mission of the church. Even though my skill set includes healthy portions of leadership experience, years as a trainer, lots of business management exposure, and two masters degrees in theology, I have found that without the leadership of the Holy Spirit it is all worthless. You simply cannot lead a divinely instituted organization without following the leadership of the one who created it.
This has been especially valuable for me in my own personal faith journey. I have learned as never before how important it is to be utterly surrendered to the lordship of Christ and unreservedly submitted to His will. And I have found that is a good place to be. Learning to trust the Lord as I lead, teach, preach, counsel, make decisions, and otherwise ‘do ministry’ has been fundamental to whatever successes we have had. I’ve often said that I love it when the Lord calls me to do something that I don’t know how to do. That means He is the one who must do it. In the wise words of my dear friend Carnell Thomas, “Russ, just let the Lord use you.” Good advice indeed.
I have to admit that it has been an adjustment to transition out of retirement and into a ‘job.’ But I have no complaints at all. I love what I am doing and sometimes can’t believe that I’m being paid to read and study the Word of God and to then tell others about it. What a privilege! Of course, there are many mundane tasks involved in pastoring such as administrative and logistical things. But, thankfully, I have the best two assistants a pastor could ever hope for, Brenda Buehner and Elaine Apt. Without them in the office I would be a basket case. And many others are crucial to CC and its success. My two deacons, Bill Buehner and Dave Morang, are wonderful and godly men. A pastor could not ask for better deacons and CC is very blessed to have them. Everyone else at CC has been incredibly loving and helpful to me and Karen, especially during the recent passing of Karen’s Mom. What a wonderful group of folks God has called me to pastor!
So, as of right now, the church’s financial situation is secure, attendance has doubled from what it was last summer, and there are almost a dozen people who have stepped forward to become members. If all of them follow through, that will increase membership by 40%. Praise God!
We are planning a big Easter weekend and Vacation Bible School in June. Some folks from our former church in Georgia are coming up to assist us with VBS. Our home Connection Groups will resume after Easter. Adult Sunday School is packed like sardines in a can. We are moving forward diligently to reestablish our children’s Sunday School and our prayer is for a part-time youth minister. Reaching the young people in the area is a priority.
One issue that has come to my attention is food security. This is a poor region and there are folks in CC who just don’t have enough food to make it through the month. Social security, food stamps, and the food pantry often don’t provide enough. So, we have been providing gift cards to the local grocery store to some in our congregation who need it. I am getting involved in the town of Eastport’s efforts to address this matter on a larger scale.
I just could not sleep at night knowing that anyone in my flock is going to bed hungry. Please pray for this need and, if the Lord leads, contribute to our project to feed the hungry at CC. The church and individuals within it have been donating cards but there is still an ongoing problem. Long range, I want to use some of our 15 acres to grow vegetables for our folks.
I praise God that CC folks are hungry for the Word of God. It is my firm conviction that the faithful preaching of the Word is the heart of worship, love, and service. God’s Word is powerful and can soften the hardest heart, prod the hearts of the saints, and heal all of culture’s woes. My driving goal is to learn more about the Word and how to effectively proclaim its glorious message. There are several books on preaching stacked beside my reading chair and I am slowly working my way through them.
I close with a request for your prayers, both for Cornerstone, Eastport and surrounding communities, and for God to be glorified in all we do. Also, please pray for me and Karen. Thank you very much for your prayers. Another update coming soon.

Friday, February 3, 2017

What a month it has been!



Karen and I have been here in Maine now for just over a month. We have our Maine driver’s licenses, Maine tags for the truck, and we even registered to vote. I guess we are ‘Mainahs’ now. And it feels really good to be situated exactly where the Lord wants us.
Our drive up right after Christmas wasn’t bad at all; we followed that big nor’easter all the way. We had perfect weather and the traffic wasn’t even very bad. However, when we pulled into our driveway December 30th, there was a 2” thick sheet of ice in front of the garage doors. The U-Haul van would never maneuver on that. So, we went to work unloading my pick-up truck and focused on getting settled in for the night.
The next morning I knew something had to be done to get that big honkin’ truck unloaded; otherwise the late fees would add up. And I already had three people coming over to help unload. So, I went on Facebook and asked if anyone knew where I could get some bags of rock salt quickly. At least the salt would start to melt that ice and we could bust it up with picks and shovels. No more than two minutes after my posting the phone rang. A couple from church offered to get some salt, bring it over, and help spread it. They did and even returned to help unload the truck. We ended up with six people working (including me) and got it done in about three hours. Of course, then, we were left with a garage and basement stacked full with boxes.
This illustrates perfectly the heart of people both in the church and generally in this part of the country. A couple of our helpers were not from the church, just friends we have made along the way. None wanted to be paid; their response: “this is how we are up here – we help each other.” What a blessing, and what a difference from the big city.
I must have really overworked myself the previous seven weeks preparing to move because the very next day I was hit with the flu, or something like it. But I had to preach! My first Sunday as the new pastor, and January 1st on top of that! Suffice to say, I did preach, by the grace of God, and then went home and crashed for a week.
This month has been amazing in so many ways. Our first winter here has been relatively mild, but still, for a Georgia boy, at times quite cold. We’ve had temps a couple of times in single digits with minus wind chill. Snow hasn’t been in significant quantity but, when we’ve had it, quite pretty. God has answered my prayer, so far, that our first Maine winter would be mild. But it is far from over, being early February. The secret to cold weather: layer, layer, layer. Dress right and even 10 degrees isn’t so bad.
We have experienced five or six summers in Maine and have come to appreciate the wild beauty of this place. But winter takes on its own version of beauty up here. In Georgia, winter was just gray and brown, chilly and cloudy. It’s like that here sometimes but the powerful display of the storms, combined with our view of the Passamaquoddy Bay, give winter a constantly changing impact, at one time calm and quiet, another fierce and unsettling. Fortunately, our house is nice and tight, well insulated and strongly built.
More amazing is how God has orchestrated my role as pastor to the flock at Cornerstone. I won’t go into great detail now; that will be covered in a future blog. But, clearly, He has meant for us to be here all along. I know that God, since before time, has known us and elected us and determined His plans for us and has fashioned us for a particular purpose. While I have been relatively happy all my life in whichever career I had at the time, this is the first time I can honestly and joyfully say that I finally know that this is – and has been – the purpose of my life from even before I was born. It is difficult to put into words, but being the pastor of Cornerstone Church has inspired a level of joy never before experienced, a certainty in knowing that this is the role that God Almighty has always intended for me. There is an incredible peace that comes with this knowledge. Not only that, but the knowledge that you are exactly where the Lord wants you and doing exactly what He has called you to do is incredibly liberating. It is known only to God why it took 59 years for me to get here. But we know that His timing is always perfect.
It is common knowledge that I wasn’t called to ministry until the age of 49. I entered the Air Force at 18 and served 16 years. Afterwards I worked in the family business with my Dad and brother, managing it to a respectable level of success, so much so that I was able to retire at 49 years old. Expecting to spend my days fishing and traveling, never having to work again if I was smart, little did I know He had other plans. Within six months of retirement I was enrolled in seminary. It took six years of not always full-time studies but I finally graduated with the M.Div. degree. During that entire span of time I had no idea why I was enduring those grueling studies. Yes, I knew that God wanted me for something and I did, after much soul searching and prayer, surrender to the ministry in whatever form or fashion He dictated. I honestly, though, had the gumption to plead that He not ever call me to the pastorate. There’s a lesson in that; I’ll let the reader chuckle and figure it out for himself.
I’ll leave it for a future blog to explain how Maine entered into the picture. There is much more to the story and an incredible display of God’s sovereignty and His ability to turn suffering into something that brings Him glory.
So far, at Cornerstone, things are really looking up. Attendance is up and finances are improved. Both those metrics were at an abysmal level last summer. More importantly, with the leadership of the Holy Spirit and the faithful exposition of God’s Word, people’s spirits have been immensely lifted. There is a spirit of unity and family that, I am told, hasn’t been present for quite some time. Many have stepped up to assist in the ministry who hadn’t been doing so before. Some who had wandered have returned. Several new faces have become regulars. Biblical knowledge is increasing and worship has been kick-started. The idea of becoming a missional church, one that deliberately goes out to the lost and brings Jesus with them, is taking hold. Our new vision/mission statement is, To know Christ, and to make Him known, through worship, love, and service. Everything we do or say from here on out will be aimed at that purpose. While that may require jettisoning some ‘sacred cows,’ I have made it clear that just because Cornerstone has always done something, or done something a certain way, that does not necessarily mean it should continue. Everything will be shaped by the gospel and centered on Jesus Christ. Everything.
More, later.
February 3, 2017

Friday, December 23, 2016

Off We Go to the Great White North

December 23, 2016

 Well, I thought it might be a good idea to resurrect this long neglected blog experiment. Doing this wasn't just an exercise in writing. Some very big changes have occurred in my and Karen's life and, in the interest of glorifying God, keeping friends and family informed about our new ministry calling will testify to His goodness.

Cornerstone Church in Eastport, Maine has called me - and God has confirmed this call - to be their new pastor. Karen and I are leaving Georgia in 5 days to assume this position. Yeah, I know, driving for 3 days to New England in the Winter sounds crazy. But God has called and we are answering, regardless of the season. We trust He will smooth the way for us for a safe trip.

This post is short but I will, when time permits, write soon about how this incredible event was brought to pass. It is a story which clearly displays God's power and grace.

For those who already have our cell phone numbers, they will remain the same in Maine. If you want our address, send me a message. 

Please pray for the ministry in Downeast Maine. There are many challenges and it won't be easy. But God is good and certainly more powerful than any enemy we may encounter. Thank you.

Russ

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Salt and Light in Downeast Maine



July 10, 2014
Now that we’ve been here at our Perry, Maine house for six weeks it is time for me to start blogging again. Not that I am subject to any narcissistic delusions that masses of humanity eagerly await my pontifications – I do, however, wish to keep a record of these beginning days of our ministry in Downeast Maine. A history of any work of God is important but, considering the faultiness of most memories (especially mine), it is perhaps prudent to keep this record. The goal, of course, is that all we do will glorify God, not attract attention to us.
Karen and I arrived in Perry on May 30, 2014 after driving from Georgia for two and a half days. The past three summers traveling to Maine have been easier treks than this one. I was driving the F-150 towing a car trailer with a used Subaru strapped to it. The cargo area of the truck and the interior of the Subie were packed to the gills with ‘stuff’ we would need for the house. It was slow going. But, thank God, we made it here that Saturday with no problems on the journey. Oh, we also had our two dogs in the back seat area, Lil Bit the Malt-Zhu puppy and Anakin (Ani) the elderly Golden Chow.
For those of you who aren’t aware of why we are in Maine I’ll bring you up to date. In 2011 we began coming to Maine for the summer to get Karen away from the heat and humidity of Georgia. Her MS reacts badly to those conditions and we found, by the grace of God, that the climate in Maine is ideal for her health. It didn’t take long for us to fall in love with Maine, its people, the scenery, and, of course, lobsters. We spent parts of three summers in Eastport, a small, quintessential New England working fishing village.
Last summer (2013), God placed upon our hearts a calling to found a Christian school in the Eastport area. I’ll say more about the need for this later. He also directed us to this house, which had been on the market for about a year. (If I can figure out how to imbed photos in this document, you’ll see why we love our place so much.) It sits on about six and a half acres on a cliff overlooking the Passamaquoddy Bay, which opens up to the Bay of Fundy. The border with Canada is a few hundred yards in front of us in the middle of the channel leading into the St. Croix River. We can see St. Andrews and Deer Island, New Brunswick, probably no more than two or three miles across the water. The vista we enjoy is simply breathtaking.
The house is not old as far as houses go up here. It was built in the late ‘60’s and its d├ęcor had not been altered since. While the exterior looked okay, we hired a contractor and had the interior gutted. Karen designed everything (with a little input from me) and the final product is quite nice. We are very pleased with the work our contractors did; in fact, it is appropriate that I give them their due here. The general contractor was Michael Cushing, plumbing and heating was done by Eric Hoche, and the electrical work by Forrest Beale. The level of craftsmanship and attention to detail are astounding. We will be very comfortable here and, even better, this will eventually be a perfect base for our ministry.
When we arrived the remodel was 99% complete, with only the kitchen countertops/backsplashes and the bathroom backsplashes to be installed. The punch list was inconsequential, reflecting the high quality of work done by Mike, Eric, and Forrest. As it turned out, it would be three weeks before the countertop company finally finished their work and got our kitchen up and operating. We got really tired of microwave meals. After two weeks my grill was delivered by Sears and we could do some grilling. Now, the kitchen has been complete for about three weeks and it sure is nice.
Rather than boring my readers with more about the house and the few problems that had to be worked out, let it be said that the finished product is fantastic. The task of setting up housekeeping from scratch, though, has been challenging. My “Internet queen,” Karen, has been awesome about ordering all the little (and big) things needed to turn a building into a home; we are on first-name bases with our UPS and Fed-Ex delivery men.
Now that the inside of the house is pretty much ready, it is time to get the exterior cleaned up. The house had been unoccupied for about two and a half years and, before that, the previous elderly resident had been an invalid. The landscaping has been seriously neglected and is far more work than I can handle. A landscaping company begins this job in a couple of weeks.
Enough about the house, except to say that God has been exceptionally magnanimous in blessing us with such a wonderful place to live and do ministry. We give Him all the credit and glory for it.
I would like to say something about the unique peacefulness of our home. For those living in or near a major metropolitan area the quiet up here is actually a bit eerie at first. This region is very sparsely populated and near no major transportation routes or big cities; thus the lack of noise, pollution, crowds, traffic, congestion, crime, and distractions. Sitting here looking out on the Bay, breathing the fresh, slightly briny ocean air, and only hearing the sounds of birds and breezes wafting through the trees is rejuvenating. The natural beauty is difficult to describe. The gently tossing water in the Bay reflects the usually perfect blue sky. The Canadian isles dot the scene and the occasional lobster boats checking their traps provide periodic reminders that there are people about. Trilling birds and raucous sea gulls are a symphony of God’s creation. Bald eagles soar back and forth regularly, usually chased by crows protecting their nests. Dolphins and seals emerge from the water below our cliff. When the wind picks up a bit the splashing of the waves against the bluff is a subtle melody that blends beautifully with the other natural sounds. To sit and ponder God’s mighty works with all of this filling your senses is a spiritual feast, especially while reading through the Psalms.
With all the work dealing with the house there has been little opportunity for actual ministry. However, Karen and I are strategically working on building relationships with the people we have encountered. Mainers are leery of people from away (PFA’s) who come up here and try to tell the locals how things should be done. Pushiness, rude behavior, and impatience will get you a negative reputation real quick. Everyone we’ve met has been extremely friendly and, by God’s grace, we pray that we have been viewed the same. Eventually we will try to draw some of these folks into a home group fellowship and begin the process of spreading the gospel. Please pray that God would lead the way in this effort.
Cornerstone Baptist Church and Pastor Lee Cross are doing well. This is our church home while in Maine and Lee is our pastor. The body of Christ at Cornerstone is wonderful and welcoming. We love them very much and the feeling seems to be mutual. The church here has some very unique challenges and we can only pray that God will empower them – and us – to spread the love of Jesus in an area that is woefully lacking very much “salt and light.” Please keep all of this in prayer. Satan has established himself firmly in this region and we are under no illusions that spiritual warfare will be a constant, trying presence. But, He is greater than anything the enemy can muster and, through Christ, evil will be confronted and defeated by the good news and His power.
Cornerstone’s annual revival begins this Sunday, lasting through Friday. A guest evangelist and various musicians are scheduled. Many of us will be conducting daily door-to-door visits in the area inviting people to come and sharing the gospel as the opportunity arises. Please pray for this revival, for our protection, and that God would be glorified no matter how the situation develops.
This past weekend Hurricane Arthur paid an unheard-of visit to Downeast Maine and the Canadian Maritime Provinces. Making landfall in Nova Scotia (which is not far from here) Arthur pounded us pretty hard all day Saturday. Electrical service was lost for three days, along with our water supply (which is from a well with an electric pump.) Fortunately, we have a spring or Artesian well about fifty feet from the back door so were able to get water to flush toilets and wash dishes. I even took a quick, very cold, bath in that spring after three days with no shower: invigorating to say the least. The locals tell me that hurricanes never come up here and that the electricity is never interrupted in the summertime. So, this was a rare event for Maine indeed. My neighbor blames me for bringing it with us. By God’s grace, though, we have heard of no one who lost their life in the storm and very few homes were damaged. They build houses well up here to endure the winter.
We have had a house guest this week – our very first in the new home. Linda Maphet, a friend of Karen’s from Georgia, came for a visit and it has been a real pleasure to have her here. She and Karen are on an overnight trip to Nova Scotia right now, returning tonight. Linda was a real trooper during the storm and the power outage, describing it all as an adventure which God had orchestrated. That’s how we should look at the bumps life (?) throws into our paths. We really have enjoyed having her and especially playing Scrabble together by candlelight.
Most of you know that our son, Taylor, has been in Kenya for the past year on a missionary apprenticeship through World Harvest (now Serge). He is finished with the mission and is heading home. As I write this he is in the Nairobi airport awaiting his flight to Qatar, then to Philadelphia. He’ll spend a day there and then come up to Maine to spend ten days with us. We are looking forward to seeing him again and spending some time reconnecting. That we are proud of him is the understatement of the year.
Taylor will begin graduate studies at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, in mid-August. After completing his MA in Theological Studies he will likely return to the mission field, perhaps in Europe. Please keep him in your prayers.
I have spent far too much time this morning typing and need to get to my chores. When you live in the country those never end. There is still some storm clean-up to attend to.
Our heartfelt thanks to all who have been praying for us as we seek to be obedient to the Lord’s call. It is humbling indeed to face such daunting challenges, but the good news is that we do not face them alone. I will write again soon. Love to you all.