Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Get With the Program!

God to Jailer:  "Get with the program ... my program!"

In October 2008, for one of my very first blog posts, I provided a framework for thinking about where God is leading your ministry.  The big idea behind "Here I Am, Lord ... Now What?" is that God gives us clues about how He wants us to approach ministry within the circumstances He arranges for us:
... God provides us with gifts and talents with which to meet the needs and opportunities He’s placed before us. He makes resources available to us but also places constraints on our service to guide us to where and how He wants us to minister. Think of it like this:

Paying attention to where the circles intersect helps us understand how He is arranging the terms of our service. 
God arranged a gentle reminder for me about this concept over the last month here in the combat zone.  It went something like this:
Week 1:  Jailer arrives in Afghanistan, attends chapel on Sunday, introduces himself to the chaplain, and expresses interest in ministry opportunities.  Jailer floats a couple of ideas that have worked well in the past.  The chaplain effectively pats Jailer on the head and says "isn't that nice".  Outlook:  discouraged.
Week 2:  Jailer attends a different chapel service.  Chaplain Ted asks Jailer to teach his Wednesday Bible study.  This appears to fall near the middle of Jailer's framework (above):  God has matched the gift with the need and the resources.  Outlook:  full speed ahead.
Week 3:  Bible study #1.  Jailer begins teaching RC Sproul's "Dust to Glory" series.  3 people attend:  Steve, John and Jailer.  Wonderful study/discussion about God's work in creation.  Outlook:  optimistic.
Week 4:  Bible study #2.  5 people attend:  Steve, Randy, Kyle, Chaplain Ted & Jailer.  Chaplain Ted has to leave after 10 minutes.  John doesn't return.  Randy appears to have found us by mistake.  We discuss the Fall of Man.  Only Steve appears fully willing & able to come next week.  Outlook:  uncertain.
Week 5:  Bible study #3.  Steve and Jailer appear to have been abandoned, but then God brings 4 unexpected guests:  Rod, Will, Tim and Ramon.  They are Security Forces troops who are usually out on patrol during Wednesday Bible study.  We share a terrific study on the faith of Abraham and the eternal perspective.  Steve and I agree to move future Bible studies to Tuesdays so that they can keep coming.  Outlook:  encouraged!
Week 6:  Bible study #4 (yesterday).  God assembles 10 as our 4 Security Forces troops bring 4 friends.  Superb discussion of Joseph and God's Sovereign purpose through trials.  Outlook:  amazed.
It's important to know that I planned approximately none of this.  My job was to come praying and expecting to serve; to be aware of the gifts and talents God gave me; and to be ready to walk through the doors God opened.

In short, my job was (and is) to get with God's program!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chuck Colson: A Redeemed "Hatchet Man" Enters into his Rest

I was too young to be much impacted by the “Nixon’s hatchet man” version of Charles Colson. By the time I was paying attention, that man had been indicted and sent to prison for obstruction of justice, and had since emerged from the experience as a believer in Jesus who had already written three books.

It was the first of these books, Born Again, which grabbed the attention of a teenager in Santa Cruz, California, who was just coming to grips with his new faith in Christ. Colson’s memoir may have been a decade old by the time I was paying attention, but for me it not only provided a guide toward understanding the redemptive awakening that was going on inside me, but also helped me to form a more solid intellectual and philosophical underpinning for this belief.

Colson’s conversion was treated with skepticism and even ridicule by many during the mid-70s, much as the Apostle Paul’s was in the early church. Frankly, it all seemed just too sudden and convenient, and many suspected Colson of attempting to manipulate public opinion to help save his sorry hindquarters from the wrath of the post-Watergate reckoning that was unfolding. But, to quote the venerable historian Mr. Wikipedia, “Colson's mid-life conversion to Christianity sparked a radical life change that lasted the remainder of his life.” In other words, Charles Wendell Colson was acting like a radical new Christian because he was a radical new Christian.

Christianity Today summed up Colson’s life and legacy thusly:
Before his conversion to Christianity, Colson was described as an aggressive political mastermind who drank heavily, chain smoked, and smeared opponents. He served as special counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973 before he was indicted on Watergate-related charges, which led to a 7-month prison term. After his conversion experience, he published Born Again, helping popularize the term many evangelicals use to self-identify. 
Colson’s public commitment to his faith drew initial skepticism from those who wondered whether he was attempting to profit from a conversion narrative. Criticism faded over time with his 30-plus years of commitment to prison ministry. 
“The most important takeaway is that he was a specimen of God’s amazing grace, one of the most remarkable in modern times,” said Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. “Over time, he proved to the whole world that this is the real thing.” 
Perhaps an even more appropriate benediction was provided by Tom Gilson at The Gospel Coalition:
Chuck Colson himself never lost sight of the fact that he was a convicted felon. He also never lost sight of God's gracious forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
I will let others speak of his extensive works with Prison Fellowship, which he founded, as well as his countless other ministry activities.  For me personally, Mr. Colson will always be the author of an amazing memoir that made a profound impact in my early Christian walk, the title of which I was later to "borrow" for my most important series of posts on this blog. Of course, since he borrowed it from Jesus Christ, I don’t think Chuck would mind. (The “Jailer” moniker is just a coincidence I’m happy to share with a good and faithful servant.)

Well done, Chuck Colson, well done ... and thank you!  Your Life Sentence has only just begun!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Deployed for Easter (Again)

Today is the third Easter since 2004 on which I've been deployed.  I should probably be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, but mostly I've been thinking about my beloved wife and children.  It really doesn't get easier.


I will say this ... there is probably no country on earth that needs to know the true meaning of Resurrection Sunday like Afghanistan.  Talk about a place that needs to know the hope and joy and peace of a Risen Savior.