Sunday, July 29, 2007

The One Thing

Back in February, Donna and I went on a retreat with the Pastor's Retreat Network. Each day we enjoyed a lunch time conversation with eight pastors from all over the country about life and love and ministry. Betty, the retreat leader, always left us with a probing question to ask of God for the next twenty-four hours. We dwelled on this one question in prayer.

On Tuesday Betty's question for us came from the story of Jesus and a blind man. Jesus asks the man, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10). While the answer seems obvious (. . . um to see again . . .), it is stunning that Jesus asks what we want him to do for us. The retreat participants were to tell Jesus what we wanted him do for us. Now that is a thought provoking question. I immediately knew that I wanted to know “the one thing” that God wanted us to be doing. Did God want us to find another church to serve or stay for 20 more years at Singing Oaks? Did God want us to sell everything and begin a new ministry to the poor in
Denton or did God want us to sell everything and go plant a church somewhere. I spent the day praying and asking God what was “the one thing” he wanted us to do.

The "one thing” appears rarely in scripture. There is really only one time that it appears with a clear purpose. However, there are some great ones. In Mark 10:21 (Luke 18:32), Jesus has a conversation with a man who wants eternal life. They talk about following the law and the man has been doing this his entire life. Jesus looks at him and scripture says, “He loved him.” He loves this man who wants to do one more thing. He already follows God, but he wants to live with God forever. So to this man whom Jesus loves he says, “One thing you lack. Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor.” The man went away sad because he had many possessions. Not only did he posses a thorough knowledge of the law and great righteousness, but he also possessed the things that sometimes tend to come to those who live right – stuff.

There is another “one thing” story. This time Jesus is at the home of Martha. Martha scurries about making the house and the meal special and perfect. Mary her sister sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to him. Martha busily prepares a perfect occasion. Mary contentedly enters the perfect occasion. Martha gets frustrated at her sisters laziness and unwillingness to help. Jesus points out Martha’s own worry and distraction by many things. Jesus says there is need to do only one thing. He commends Mary for choosing the one thing (Luke 10:42).

I wanted God to tell me the one thing. I did not remember these stories about “the one thing.” Instead, I prayed and read all that afternoon. This retreat was all about hanging out with God. Late that afternoon, I was using a prayer book for my prayer time. It led me to Psalm 27 . So, as I read and prayed this Psalm there were things about the Lord being my light and my salvation and my stronghold. Then, I got to verse four “one thing I asked of the Lord.” I stopped, shocked that God was speaking to me through scripture. This is what I had been praying and meditating on all day long. Now, here it was written thousands and thousands of years earlier. I read on. “One thing I asked of the Lord that I will seek after: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” I fell flat on my face and began to cry, to weep in the presence of God.

You see in my heart, I wondered what God wanted to use me for. I had worked the better part of a decade trying to help a church grow and grow closer to its Creator. I wanted to be the greatest preacher ever in churches of Christ. I considered planting a church and help people on the outside of Christianity get inside in their relationship with God. I had all of these aspirations and wondered if I was best using my gifts and talents.

Last year I had asked Donna if this was the way we wanted to use the most productive years of our life. Did I want to continue running a church office? Did I want to go to elders meetings? Did I want to continue give ideas and plans that were shot down?

I fell on my face in prayer because I realized that my question was really about me. I wanted to know what God wanted ME to do. What I really meant is what "big important thing" did God want me to do. Here in this ancient prayer, the one thing was to seek God. Period. Seeking the face of God is the one thing this psalmist begins to pursue with his whole heart.

I spent a long time praying and crying as this new room of meaning opened to me. Over the four weeks of our Sabbatical in a combination of personal and family retreats, I realized that what God wanted more than anything else from me – was me. God wanted me to seek him all the days of my life. My plans, my dreams, my ambitions to preach, plant, start, serve, achieve just did not matter. Donna received this very same message. Through her prayer and reading and study she also realized that God wanted us to seek him whole heartedly. The music we heard in church and the books we read all pointed us to this. Remember the song, “purer in heart oh God help me to be, that I may do thy will.” Remember the new song “Give us clean hands, give us a pure heart.” Suddenly everything was about seeking God. I remembered the words from the Sermon on the Mount, which I memorized and recited as a sermon last spring. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” The promise Jesus offered to people who give God their hearts is the ability to see God. What more could we want than God. What else mattered? Donna and I returned to Singing Oaks with renewed focus and energy and most of all trust in God.

From that point on our immediate future was no less clear, but our long time future was assured. We were to seek God in the present moment. Psalm 27 became a vital part of my daily prayer life and it became a wellspring for my relationship with God.

As I began praying this Psalm daily, I realized things about it. The psalmist actually gets a three for one. It is the old genie in the bottle trick that I have always wanted to try when I find my magic lamp. You get three wishes and so you use the last wish to wish for three more wishes. He gets three things out of his “one thing.”

Dwell in the house of the Lord, see the beauty of the Lord, and inquire of the Lord in his temple. The one thing is to dwell in the house of the Lord. The other two things are results of dwelling with God. I read this as that God had plans for me to stay preaching and residing inside the church to serve.

To dwell in the house of the Lord does not mean to stay inside of a church building. This is not a command to become a temple servant or to become the building and grounds person who lives in constant prayer. It easily could mean those things but it does not have to mean a new job inside the church. To dwell in the house of the Lord is to begin to see your body as a temple of God. Your heart is the new residence of the Holy Spirit of God. The presence of Jesus as God’s son in the world and the residence of his Spirit in the hearts and lives of believers is God’s permanent dwelling. The promise of God dwelling with his people is realized when we welcome God into our life.

If you and I are to dwell in God’s house all our lives there are two results. These are the results of hanging out always in the presence of God. First, we will see the beauty of the Lord God. I have read this phrase in about every version of the bible there is. Some render it enjoy the presence of God, taste the sweetness of God, and they are all phrases that make me think about a very good marriage, where you just love being in the presence of the one you love. You love just dwelling there and being there. The second result of dwelling with God is the ability to inquire of the Lord God in his temple. Again imagine the temple of your body as a place where you might constantly be in conversation and questions and dialogue with God. It is beyond amazing that the creator of the world has invited you into this kind of relationship with him. A relationship where his presence is always with you. This relationship is one where you need only to make yourself available to him.

Yesterday we were in Abilene for the Summer workshops. We stopped again by Jacob's Dream. As we walked back to the Bible Building, Donna noticed that "one thing" was carved into the stone. The phrase "One Thing" was written exactly where I had placed the camera to take our family picture. From the perspective of the "one thing" one can see the cross and the verse where the blind man says he does not know who Jesus is but "one thing I do know, I was blind and now I see."

May your one thing always be God.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Letter

[This is my resignation letter read today to the congregation of people I dearly love. I will tell more of the story behind this decision in a later post.]

July 17, 2007

Dear Singing Oaks –

Eight years ago this month, Donna and I moved to Singing Oaks to partner in ministry with you in Denton, Texas. We had fallen in love with the people of this church. Still today we enjoy every moment with you. In 1999, we came with no children to a town of 75,000, joining two other ministers and 330 people in worship on Sundays. Needless to say a lot has changed. All of it has been wonderful.

We have been offered an opportunity to work for Abilene Christian University as Director of Ministry Events and Adjunct Professor of Bible in Abilene, Texas. This position oversees the annual Lectureship program as well as other annual ministry events for churches and church leaders. Additionally, it would involve teaching Bible and Ministry courses to undergraduate and graduate students. Obviously this is a great honor and a rare opportunity for service in the Kingdom of God. After hours and hours and days and days of prayer, fasting, crying and reflection we accepted this position and will release our ministry here as Preaching Minister. We will be leaving rather quickly on August 21st in order to begin school this Fall.

Without the support and experience and training we have received here this opportunity would probably not be available to us. We believe that you share in the honor given us by this role of ministry to the fellowship of Churches of Christ and teaching young people in the university setting for ministry. In so many ways, you participated in our development in and for ministry. We are forever grateful and will continue to share this partnership with you.

This decision was not easy. We so dearly love the people we serve, the ministers we work with, and the elders we serve beside. Few come anywhere close to you. It is so difficult to leave such an outstanding church with great potential. However, we leave you with God and trust that God will continue to nurture a spirit of unconditional love, unity, and desire to follow him at all cost. Our future together is bright as we seek God in all things.

Always yours,

Brady and Donna Bryce
Nathan and Lizzie