“May I do whatever I want with your schedule?”

Last week as I was working out on an elliptical machine, I was listening to a sermon, and I believe God used something the pastor said to speak directly to me. The pastor posed a question that made me pause my mp3 player, take a break from my elliptical machine, and talk to God about some pretty deep frustrations and sins in my life.

The pastor was actually commenting on material supplementary to his main idea. He cited Luke 14:26. Now I have read this text numerous times, and have also heard it explained and applied. Jesus is urging his audience to radical discipleship or a willingness to hate family members, even their own life, for the sake of following him.

The pastor also framed a question in relationship to this text, and it is what really rattled me. He said that God may be asking us with a verse like Luke 14:26, “can I do whatever I want with your ____?” God instantly had me fill in the blank with my schedule or my ideas for my ministry. In essence, I knew God was asking me, “Chad, may I do what I want with your schedule?”

There are two reasons why I know God is after my sinful desire to control my own schedule. First, I like to think of myself as someone good at making plans and following through on them. I like actions plans, schedules, to-do lists, and ministry goals.

However, the second reason I knew God is after my schedule is that in the last few months, he has totally overtaken all my plans. Especially since January, almost every ministry goal I have before me has been cancelled, postponed, or interrupted by dozens of unexpected life events. Essentially there has been some pretty intense family sickness, unexpected adoption paperwork, other family crisis, team stuff, and hundreds of little surprises. Welcome to life overseas!

What this boils down to is that God is sovereign, and if he wants to interrupt, postpone, change, or flat out obliterate my schedule, he has the right to do so. My life is not my own. My plans are not my own. My career is not my own. They are all God’s. Unfortunately, if I didn’t love my own plans and aspirations for my missionary career so much, I probably wouldn’t be so pouty about these last few months. I have really been frustrated that I am behind on discipleship opportunities, Greek classes, the PhD, and just about every commitment I have.

I really have some work to do related to following after Jesus and “hating…my own life.” I am asking God to help me recognize that my life is not mine, and trust him with his plan.

Two other passages related to the topic have helped me. In Jeremiah 45:5 God spoke to Baruch, Jeremiah’s helper, as Jerusalem was being destroyed. God told Baruch, “Are you looking for great things for yourself? Do not look for such things. For I, the Lord, affirm that I am about to bring disaster on all humanity. But I will allow you to escape with your life wherever you go.” In this instance, it was God’s will that Baruch merely accept the disastrous situation before him, with no other promise than his own life. Why? Because it was God’s plan for that day and that time. It was, after all, all about God and God’s plan. It wasn’t about Baruch or his own aspirations.

James 4:13-14 is also helpful. Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into this or that town and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.’ You do not know about tomorrow. What is your life like? For you are a puff of smoke that appears for a short time and then vanishes.” I think part of what God is reminding me is that I am just a puff of smoke that will vanish.

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I’ve placed Luke 14:26 on my computer screen to remind me how my life is not my own.

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Neighborhood Unrest

We live in a small neighborhood that is located on the edges of Madrid. It is one of the older and poorer areas of the city, with a high population of people 65 or older. Communities like ours are experiencing a bit more unrest these days, mainly because of the rising costs of living and a broken social security system. Due in large part to the government’s mammoth political corruption, unemployment is on the rise and pensions have effectively forced millions below the poverty line. For example, 3 million people are receiving 400-600 euros a month for social security. At the same time, many of these retirees are using their embarrassing pension to support their unemployed family members. The unemployment rate has been holding strong at 20 percent for almost 7 years now.

The consequence of all of this is that many people, especially unemployed younger people, are taking their angst to the streets. Vandalism is rising. Radical leftist groups with ultra-feminist ideology are gaining more support. Just as an illustration of some of this anger, I took a picture of some fresh graffiti in our neighborhood. It appears to be from a group of ultra-feminists taking out their frustration on men in positions of power. It reads “I am not your mommy. If I was, I would have aborted you.” I think this adequately illustrates the situation.

The unrest in the Spaniard’s heart will not be resolved by political agendas or political ideologies. The only hope is Jesus. The only hope for the young ladies who vandalized this wall is the power of the Gospel and the regeneration of their sinful hearts.

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Bible School Seminar in Valencia

Every trimester our Bible school (Escuela evangélica de teología) hosts a Saturday seminar at different locations around Spain. The seminars or “encuentros presenciales” give students an opportunity to get to know one another and their professors outside of the virtual learning environment. The truth is that there is no substitute to getting to know your students face-to-face.

This last weekend I was asked to help lead a seminar in Valencia, a city on the eastern coast of the Spanish peninsula. Though it was not as well attended as we hoped, we feel like the weekend was a success. There were five current students at our location and three perspective students checking out the school. In the other two locations (Madrid and Barcelona) we had a fair turnout as well.

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Tracking Time with Toggl

One simple tool I use in order to keep myself accountable with time is called Toggl. It helps me monitor all my activities or ministries, even down to the more insignificant details. At the end of every week, month, and year, I can see where I have participated in God’s work in Spain.

I use Toggl for a variety of reasons. On one level, it is immensely helpful to see the year end reports. Basically I try and keep a balance between work in theological education, church ministry, and evangelism. Occasionally Toggl has reminded me to reign in my workaholic spirit. Any work week that exceeds 50-60 hours is simply too much for a man with three young children.

The main reason I use toggl is for maximizing stewardship of time and money. God has taught us that our time is not our own, and he also has taught us that our resources are not our own. All our time, and all our money, is God’s. And as stewards, God asks us to use both of these resources wisely. For example, Ephesians 5:16 encourages us to make the most of opportunities because the “days are evil,” and Luke 12:33-34 teaches us to store up our treasures in heaven through giving our money away to the poor.

In some ways, I think that it is easier for us to remember that we are stewards because of our work. As missionaries, we receive our salary from churches and individuales that sacrificially give to God, for God’s work in Spain. Often we feel more deeply the weightiness of how we use our time and our money because of the sacrificial giving of others. After all, it is only through these gifts that we are on the front lines in Spain.  Toggl has become a practical way for me to have peace in my heart as I work towards healthy stewardship.

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Let’s Not Grow Weary

Julie and I have been singing a song to one another these days. It’s a children’s tune from Steve Green in his Bible verse series, and we’ve enjoyed as much, if not more, than our boys. It is Steve Green singing in an upbeat style a quotation from Galatians 6:9: “Let us not grow weary in doing good, in due season you shall reap.” I suppose you could say that the song matches the concept, with its cheery melody. But more importantly, the message is clear; no matter what, keep on doing what God has called you to.

Right now, Julie and I need this verse. Even though we’ve recently been encouraged by open doors, there are always opportunities to be weary, to coast, or to despair. Always! I honestly think that at any given moment in our seven years in Spain this little line could have functioned as something of a “go to verse.” In each of the various seasons, with their unique challenges, Galatians 6:9 has been God’s exhortation to us. Whether it has been support raising, infertility and loss, language training, culture shock, abuses, rejection, secularism, more culture shock, or more rejection, God breaks in to speak to our hearts and says, “Do not grow weary! Keep doing what is right!”

 

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Slow Down You Move to Fast

In 1966 Simon and Garfunkel released a song called “The 59th Bridge Song.” It also had the alternate title of “Feeling Groovy.” I remember the lyrics of the song because I listened to it on the radio when I was kid. The song fits with the Spanish culture, especially their approach to leisure. If I’m not careful, sometimes when I go to my Spanish friends’ more relaxed events on the weekends or holidays, I can really overwhelm them with my American intentionality and drivenness in conversation. We Americans can be so pointed or specific in how we approach our time with friends, it can really overwhelm the Spanish people.

One thing that’s helped me not rock the boat too much is to hum to myself a few of the lines of this song. When I am acting too American in Spain, I try to remember verses like these:

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy

I got no deeds to do
No promises to keep
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you
All is groovy

It’s not that this is my new philosophy on life, or that I’ll ever really stop being American, but in order to connect with the Spanish way, I need to remind myself to “slow down,” because by nature, I move way “too fast.”

I’ll give one recent example of how I messed up and wasn’t feeling the Spanish “grooviness.” At the end of June, our church had a all-day gathering at a mountain river for a baptism. After baptisms like these, we spend most of the day together with a picnic and a lot lounging around. Sometimes, after the service, people don’t even talk to each other. We all just eat, sit, smile at each other…la la la…feeling groovy. It feels so different for us, but in a really fascinating way, Spaniards truly feel a connection with each other by just being together.

Well this year, just before the baptism, I came from a conference in Britain on the New Testament. I had spent every waking minute of the previous three days interacting with my peers on the New Testament. Conversation was intense, driven, and fast-paced. Without even noticing it, one day later, when I went to the church’s picnic, I came with the same kind of intentionality to talk with my church friends. I went around to people asking them about their summers, pressing in and asking particularly pointed questions about anything and everything. I can’t believe I didn’t realize what I was doing, but one thing I did notice is that everyone started to avoid me, setting up their picnic blanket, far, far, away from the Reesers. By the time we were in the car riding home, Julie and I had to remind ourselves yet AGAIN that we need to slow down, because sometimes we just move too fast.

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Much More than a Preaching Conference

This last weekend I (Chad) travelled to a camp/retreat center with an elder from our church named Kike. We arrived and greeted some 60 other pastors and elders, and we learned that everyone was really excited for the opportunity to learn more about expository preaching.

The conference did not disappoint, as many of the workshops really strengthened our resolve to preach in faithfulness to God’s Word. However, it ended up being much more than a preaching conference for us. Though Kike and I went with the expectation to learn about exegetical outlines and crossing cultural horizons, we found that the weekend turned into a weekend of refreshment and encouragement.

For Kike,  it was an opportunity to hear from other pastors in his situation. Many others are just like him. They have been handed the preaching responsibility in the church as the older generation of pastors moves on into retirement. However, the younger leaders they leave behind wrestle with their qualifications, whether to give up their day jobs, how much to commit, etc. In this sense the conference was vital for Kike; it showed him he is not alone. He also learned about some great tools and resources for his own theological training and development.

This was way more than a conference for me because it encouraged me to the impact a missionary can have, if he/she perseveres. Everything takes longer in Spain, but I was pleasantly surprised at the powerful impact that many missionaries had in their organization and implementation of this conference. They not only offered vital resources for this next generation of teachers and preachers, they also offered a setting for people to network and encourage one another. I pray that I can eventually have this kind of impact.

On the left–a plenary session / on the right–Kike and I

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