Almost everything that I write about has come from the life I have lived as a priest of the church, by the gracious gift of God. Much of it the hard won truth learned from mistakes and my own sins. If my words sometimes seem to cut to the heart, it is because those same words have cut mine. I have learned, actually am still learning, the truth of the Letter to the Hebrews. God disciplines those he loves. If he has called you to his service, he will discipline you for effectiveness and productivity in the kingdom.
In 1988, as rector of a sizable parish, I experienced that discipline, and it has made a lasting memory. In that year I believe the Lord Jesus conveyed to my very core that the mission of his church was written for us in Matthew 28:19. That was phase one.
Sometime later that same year I experienced a personal interrogatory from God, or so I believe. In a series of questions put to me in prayer, I was brought to recognize the pitiful outcome of one years ministry in the parish. Near the end of the series I was made to see that barely a dozen new confirmed members had been added, after all the time, energy, volunteers, staff, and financial resources.. Then this question was put to me: “Would any of them die for me?” The question was followed by a statement. “I called you to make disciples, and you are making Episcopalians.” I was a broken man. That was phase two.
My ministry since that day has been shadowed by the certainty that I will be held accountable for my obedience to that call. For years before that day I was actively, and quite contentedly, busy in the normal life of a priest in the Anglican Family. But from that day I experienced my life as one under discipline. The discipline of one who is loved, but nevertheless disciplined.
Ten years later I had another painful moment. I was serving as a missionary in South East Asia, and the Lord was granting a harvest of souls. I was doing nothing different, but people were coming to faith. I dared, foolishly, to complain to God. Why had he not brought me to this field when I was a younger man? Immediately I was struck in my heart by the voice of God, who made it very clear to me who was in charge of every detail of my life. I had no grounds to complain. None.
Then again, ten years later I was serving as an Interim in Florida. The parish was in very real distress, after the loss of a beloved senior minister. I arrived thinking I knew what was necessary for them to be well. The Lord showed me I did not. He made it abundantly clear to me that thirty years later, I was still not understanding how to make a disciple of Jesus.
Painful memories, but grace filled, from 1988, 1998, and 2008.
Next Week: “Who Will Follow If….”