Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Cold Comfort of Atheism

As our television brought us images and news of the horrific events in Connecticut in these past few days, we have mourned and sat in shock like much of the country. My wife told me that she couldn’t believe how many times she heard Jesus’ name on the news in the days after the shooting. Normally, after tragedies or even a death is mentioned on television, people say something like, “our thoughts go out to them.” However, every moment where this phrase would have usually been inserted, a different phrase was uttered, “our thoughts and prayers go out to these families.” News anchors wore visible crosses around their necks, Roman Catholic priests, evangelical pastors and rabbis graced the various news channels giving comfort and trying to bring some sense of God’s perspective to all this. The town had prayer and memorial services that were aired on television and of course the President brought some good words a few different times regarding the tragedy and often mentioned and quoted scripture. What does this all mean? Where do we go in times of tragedy? Where do people turn? Even those who are not that religious very often seem to turn to God in hopes of comfort and peace. Many people come to faith in Christ in the midst of gut-wrenching tragedy and loss.

I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of comfort renowned and outspoken atheists like Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher were offering to people. What kind of comfort could they bring in light of their worldview? Well, I decided to check out their websites today. In the days after the tragedy, Bill Maher blogged about the Fiscal Cliff and some clip of a talk about gun control. Richard Dawkins posted stories about how the number of Christians is dwindling in England and Europe overall. Not a mention of the victims, not a mention of the tragedy, not a word of comfort to be found (by me) on their websites. I know that there are agencies and organizations of atheists that help people out in tragedies like hurricanes, tsunamis and the like. Yet, everyone in the news and in the press conferences with locals there in Connecticut mentioned that evil had visited that small town. If you are Dawkins, Maher or any of their other cohorts, you really can’t believe in evil, because you can’t really believe in an ultimate good. According to their worldview, everything is relative and at our core we are really just DNA seeking basic needs like food and the “need” to reproduce. Their worldview doesn’t seem to produce much comfort. Do they even care? Can they?

What a cold blanket this worldview offers in a time like this! To be sure, faith in Christ does not exist as some sort of cough drop for tough times. The point of the Christian’s relationship with Christ is not to merely make them feel better; instead our entire view of the world is rearranged. There is salvation and grace and love and forgiveness, but there is also a foundation. When everything else around us crumbles, we are not without hope and alone. Then again, our friends Maher and Dawkins would say that we are simply attempting to make ourselves feel better through believing in this “religion.” Someone once said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” The question of evil in the world plagues some people, but the fact is that the truth that God has given to us in the Bible explains our world. It was created perfect, sin entered, all was broken, redemption was promised, Jesus came to begin that redemption (which we prepare to celebrate at Christmas) and we wait for the day that He will return to finish His work. We currently reside in that anxious middle, knowing the work that God did in Christ before and knowing the work that He will do in Christ in the future. He will do it, because He said that He will.

To what or to whom do you turn when everything crumbles? May God do a work in the hearts of those that lost and may He bring many others to Him through this tragedy as they grieve and search for the fulfillment that they were created to receive from God through Christ.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Two Very Different Countries

We have all recovered from the long, dreadful election season. I have never considered myself to be much of a politically minded person and I probably err on the side of passivity or even apathy when it comes to the political arena. However, I will say that I was mildly caught up in this election. Why? Well, we heard it all throughout the election, the campaigning and the debates; we were seeing the potential of two very different countries in the two presidential hopefuls. In every election someone says that this is the most important election ever and it was said countless times throughout this election. It’s fascinating to me how passionate some people are about the election and the political process overall. It seems to truly be what they place most if not all of their hope in for their well-being and standard of living.

Four years ago, setting aside my political opinions, I was glad for our country that an African American was elected President. I can’t imagine what that must have felt like for those fellow African Americans who lived through the Civil Rights Movement. It must have been surreal. I have said it before, I truly hate racism and even more, I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how someone can hate someone because of their race. Maybe it’s my generation, that we are now twice removed from the pre-Civil Rights Movement generation or maybe it’s just my upbringing, but I have just never understood racism, even prior to my conversion to Christ. So I will say that the election of an African American to the office of President, I think shows real growth for our country.

Four years have gone by and the scene is much different. The President has had time to work out his policies and who he is has been made clear to the country. In this election many conservatives, particularly Christians, vehemently opposed the President’s stand on gay marriage and other issues concerning religious freedom. It is clear that he has set a course much different than any of his predecessors. As I have read and read some more in the weeks and months leading up to the election, one gets the sense that the President has reached out to a growing segment of the population that praises the very things that others deeply despise. What I think no one can really deny is that our country is very much fragmented. There are many who desire to continue on with the President in the initiatives and causes that he has made important. There are still many who desire to undo much of what has been done and turn in the completely opposite direction.

This morning I read a bit of an interview with Brad Pitt about his thoughts on gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana. I will say that I am so glad that Brad Pitt has cleared up all the haze around these issues (no pun intended) and spoken a clear, reassuring word for our country. He said something like, “we are all about equality,” and he went on to pontificate some more. But he said something very telling regarding these two issues, "If it doesn't sit well with your religion, let your God sort it out in the end, but that's us. We're equal." Well, thanks Brad! I feel better now. But seriously, herein lies the issue. Brad, like so many other people in our country and in all of existence, is ticked off about his religious upbringing and is therefore jaded and what many would call dechurched. He lashes out against those who seek to live according to their relationship with God because he feels that God is unfair or whatever.

The fact is the culture wars are not working and really have not worked. Brad and many others are all proof of that. The business that began 30 or so years ago with the religious right and the moral majority and everything else just is not doing what it was intended to do. Many of my generation just do not respond well to the militant assault on what evangelicals consider to be the decay of culture. Now, that does not mean that the decay is not there, it just means that as the church we may not be fighting the right battle. I have a friend that is more than double my age and he laments the direction of the country and says that he doesn't know what has happened to his country. From the perspective of the Christian, what is more important? Is the state of the country in which we live more important or the state of the people in that country more important? The battle for the souls of the people in our country will not be won in the White House, on Capitol Hill or in any nook or cranny of the political process. That battle has been won in the work that Jesus Christ did on the Cross. Though the battle still rages, we know how it will end. If you had a chat with a long-term missionary in some African country for example, while they may be concerned about the state of the country in which they live so that justice is upheld for its people, they would probably be more concerned about the state of the church there. Maybe it’s time that the church focuses on being the church here at home. Maybe it’s time we get to work at the fundamentals of our faith like the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. That doesn't mean we just throw our hands in the air when it comes to our country or politics, but rather that we recognize and remember what we are to do as the Church. There will always be different directions that our country could go, but one direction that regardless of our country of residence in which we should all be heading.

I had the opportunity to preach on 2 Corinthians 5 this past Sunday and the Apostle Paul is pretty clear about what is important to us as Christians:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Paul explains, the message to us is clear and that is that we have a very important message to share, a message that speaks life and light into dead and dark places and people. Church, let’s get busy at being the church. Whatever may come our way in whatever land we are living in, let us be the Church! Let us join God in the work that He is already up to and trust Him. In verse 18, Paul makes it clear that this is not all on our shoulders, “All this is from God…” He has done the work, is doing and will continue to do it, we must simply be obedient.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What a daughter can teach you about manhood

“We’re pregnant!” It took quite a while for that to really sink in. I don’t think that either my wife or I really grasped the gravity of that statement until the day came for us to head off to the hospital to meet our daughter. I was one of those kids that looked forward to getting married one day and having kids of my own. It seemed like we blinked and it was here. There I was, standing by my wife’s side while she did the hardest thing that her body was created to do and the time had come. I told several people that I have never prayed for anything more consistently than I did for that day. Months, weeks and days had gone by that I had asked God to give us a healthy pregnancy, keep Anna safe and keep Nora safe. He did. There was nothing that I could do to make sure that happened. What a strange feeling! It does something to you when you are truly helpless and devoid of the strength, ability or power to make something happen. Those kinds of moments create dependence; dependence on someone that does have the strength, ability and power to make that happen. Of course that’s not to say that God exists to grant my requests; that would be a Nick-centered universe of which I would not want to be a part. But He was faithful, He was gracious and He displayed His infinite goodness and grace that day.

Those moments of dependence on something outside of ourselves, namely God, helps us to realize how much we don’t have everything all together. We trick ourselves into the illusion of safety, security, health, wealth and peace wrought by our own hands, when we have little to no control over any of those things. All of that can fade in an instant. Pacing the floor outside a delivery room while your wife gets an epidural is maddening. The only prayer you can really get out is, “God, please…” You don’t even really know how to sum up all the stuff that should come after that please, but you trust that He knows. You transition from the adrenaline-fueled few days at the hospital to the completely new experiences at home with a newborn and you have not left that state of dependence. You still know that you desperately need God to be with you, near you, next to you, and ministering to you in ways that are indescribable. This is how God works and when His work in us can be most fruitful. I felt my spirit literally being stretched and shaped in those few weeks and still do. It’s called discipleship and God is working it out through a little baby. Sound familiar?

My daughter is only a few days from being one month old and already I am thinking about the day I will walk her down the aisle (although I really would like to perform her wedding, but we can talk about that). I’m 28 years old and I feel like this little peanut of ours has brought about this overwhelming sense of maturity and responsibility in me. Now I’m not saying that a man has to get married and have a kid to truly be a man, but I am saying that, that is how God works things out in some of us. Men of my generation like to live out their manliness through video games that put them in the place of a hero, while they are equipped with their Mountain Dew, Doritos and Under Armour sweatpants. They live it out through their music that talks about hoes and all kinds of other stuff that I won’t even mention. They live it out through their revolving selection of dysfunctional, over-sexualized relationships. Now, video games are not inherently evil and are not all bad, but they can be destructive. Music is not inherently bad, but it can be destructive. Sex is not inherently evil, but engaged in outside of marriage and it is destructive relationally. Meanwhile, I feel like my daughter stares me in the face and calls me to be a man, have some responsibility, love her Mother and display for her what a man, particularly a man of God, should be.

What a responsibility! It’s terrifying in some ways, because you don’t want to mess her up. You don’t want her sitting down with her husband one day talking about all the ways her Father messed up her life and let her down. Although I will let her down, I won’t be perfect, but I pray by God’s grace I can point her to Jesus. I pray that she may never know a day that she didn’t know the love of Christ in her life. I pray that she will serve God well and be an amazing woman for Christ in whatever vocation He places her. I pray for my grandchildren and their children. I told my wife the other night that we are given this great opportunity to build into the kingdom of God with this addition to our family. The implications are staggering!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Wrestling with my calling

It's become a routine, check some local Christian colleges, Christian schools and churches to see if anyone is hiring for a position that would be perfect for me. Then, go to my few choice seminaries to dream about moving there and doing my Ph.D, then think about church planting. I've just given you a little glimpse inside my head and what has been swirling around in it for the last few months. I have only been finished with seminary now for a little over three months and I am still cranking along at my in-school pace mentally. For the last 23 years I have been starting back to school this past week. This is the first time that I have not done that and it is weird to say the least.

Now to be fair, I have a job and have had this particular job for nearly four years. It is not related to my seminary degree, but often I understand why God has me there. I have these moments of perspective in which I remember, "oh yeah, this is why I am here, this is what you are doing with, in and through me, let's do this." However, it doesn't take long for me to cycle back through thinking about the future and wondering if there isn't something I am supposed to be doing NOW. I look around and it seems like so many of my other brothers in ministry went to their respective school and popped out on the other side with a job in ministry. While this is not necessarily the case, it is the reality that I often believe. Then of course there is all this talk now about student loans (don't get me started) and how this generation is screwed when it comes to jobs. Has that bled into the ministry realm as well? Have too many young men gotten excited about serving God and not heeded the advice of Spurgeon, like if there is anything else you can do, go do that?

As you can tell from my beginning rant, there are several different directions that I feel pulled towards for my future in ministry. All of you seminarians and ministry folks will rightly diagnose me as someone without a clear call. I will tell you straight up that I struggle with decisions. I tell this story a lot, but it literally took me about six months to pick out shoe laces for my Pumas after the laces broke. (Puma doesn't sell shoe laces! What a crock!) So when it came to wrestling with my call to seminary, my wife and I talked and prayed through it for nearly a year. I sought some other godly counsel and finally felt settled. I am absolutely confident that God called me to seminary and I am absolutely confident that God called me to ministry. I am just not sure what that looks like yet and therein lies my frustration.

Meanwhile, my wife and I are about to have our first child in October and student loans will be coming due in November. When you factor these things into the whole debate, the waters get a bit more muddy. Whatever is next for me in ministry will involve a change for my wife and for our little one and I have to keep that in mind. So am I doomed as a part of this generation that is screwed when it comes to jobs? Am I just obscenely impatient and this is just how this all goes? It's a faith issue isn't it? What I am asking is will God come through? Or will He call me to something and leave. Me hanging? Sounds pretty stupid when you type it out I must say. He has not failed me yet and He has a pretty good track record of oh, I don't know, eternity past that He has always kept His word. I think He has it under control. Lord help my unbelief.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Back here in the Boring and Ordinary

It is summer and that means…yes, it’s really hot, but also that it is a common time for short-term mission trips. Right out of the gate, let me put my cards on the table…I have never been on a short-term mission trip. However, our church, Stanwood Community Church embarked on a few trips this year. God showed up in a big way by providing for all that was needed for these trips and He brought a ton of kids to be involved. My friend, the youth pastor (who is supposed to be a guest author on this blog by the way…yes, I just officially called him out…), anyways, he did an awesome job coordinating all these trips.

I have classically struggled with short-term mission trips. I have seen again and again the benefit that these trips have on those that take part in them, yet I still wrestle in my spirit with them. I am far from having the “correct” position on what missions should be, but God has done a tremendous work in my life in regards to local mission. When I was still a very young Christian another friend regularly challenged me to get involved in some type of service locally. The “me” of that time thought that there was entirely too much emphasis placed on service and not enough on proper teaching of scripture. (Like I said, I don’t and obviously haven’t always had all this figured out) Nevertheless, I decided to take him up on his offer one week and come down to hang out at the Refuge of Hope. I was in love. It clicked for me and I felt home. I made some good friends there and experienced some real Christian community. That experience has lit a fire in me to look locally when it comes to mission. While my life has been quite full between full-time work, working on seminary full-time up until graduation this past May and oh yeah trying to be a good husband, I have not been able to be involved in much locally. I have had to learn to balance and to prioritize and I’m still learning. Nevertheless, I am still very good at deciding for others that they need to be serving where they are, locally that is.

Last week I listened to my two very close friends, the pastors of our church, tell of their experiences and convictions after their trip to Ecuador with some of our young adults. Here’s my confession, as I sat there listening I began to experience an overwhelming, unsettled feeling. I left without much to say on the ride home and it wasn’t until we got home and were preparing lunch that I could start to make sense of what I was feeling. With the help of my wife, we drug the rain cloud out of my spirit. I just heard my friends speak of these amazing, God experiences they had and all I could think about was the busy, stressful week I had at work. I felt like, “well that’s great, but back here in the boring and ordinary I’ve been working and trying to grind it out.” It was entirely selfish and entirely unnecessary. I also found myself wishing I was there with them. I wanted those experiences. And I missed those experiences at Refuge. If only I could experience that here back in “regular life.”

The thing about any type of mission is that it is never about the person serving. Yet we have a great temptation to make it about ourselves. We find things that make us feel good so we can “serve God”. We tweet about causes that are important so we feel like we did something. We grumble about “those people” that don’t get it and are doing it all wrong. We look at others that have felt a call to do something for God and say that it isn’t genuine because it is not what we would do, since we obviously have it figured out right? We get in a rut of endless experiences, whether it is trips or connectivity to some legitimate need to create a nice, boxed-in, Disneyland Christian experience. We try to carry it over into our “regular lives” but soon realize that, that is very difficult. We don’t get that same fire experience sitting at our desk day after day. We don’t feel like we are serving God by doing something so mundane. We run towards safety. We avoid risk. We play by the rules. We say God, faith, church or spirituality instead of Jesus.

The truth is, is that the “boring and the ordinary” is where we have the greatest potential of impact. What lame opponents we make for the enemy of God when all he has to do is get us to believe the lie that we are plopped in a job, in a community, in a family or in a circle of friends that is not important enough for the Gospel. We believe this lie and feel that unless we are out on the fringes with the rest of the people that are really making a difference for Christ then we aren’t doing anything worth noting. We are truly on the front lines in many ways in the boring and ordinary, because it is where people are and it is the world in which they live. It is also that world into which Jesus entered and therefore the world into which we enter as His disciples.

If a mission trip lights you up for Christ, understand that the fire comes from obeying God’s call to you to serve Him. That can happen at home too! If God sends you on a trip to figure that out, than be quiet and listen up. Or if God calls you to be a full-time missionary or to start an orphanage (one girl said she felt that God confirmed that for her), then do it! As Christians we are missionaries wherever God has placed us. You live in the county, the town, the house that you live in for a specific purpose and that purpose is God’s purpose for you. You work where you work for a reason. You go to school where you do for a reason. Your family and friends are yours and in your life for a reason. God is a master project manager. Every single one of our lives has been masterfully engineered by Him for a particular purpose and He wastes nothing.

So here I sit in the “boring and ordinary” feeling convicted over my unsettled spirit a week ago. How easy it is to feel like I need to have a chat with God and help Him understand that I appreciate His efforts, but He should probably let me plan out the next few months. Why is that? Well if you are anything like me, we slip into discontentment, always wanting to do more for God. In fact, what we may need to do is be obedient right where we are at. Be a good employee, a good student, a good grandson, a good neighbor and the other things you may be and do those things with a heart desiring to serve Jesus Christ. Oh yeah and speak up for Christ when He prompts you to, do not be afraid!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Help and Why I Hate Racism

Last night, Anna and I watched The Help. First, I will say that I was really impressed with the movie. I have not read the book, but have heard enough hype about the book and movie that I was interested to see it. I was worried that it would be a lame, mildly entertaining, cute movie. I was pleasantly surprised. However, much of the story was disgusting to watch; it was disgusting in that it is truly horrendous to watch racism in action. Now I know that it is a movie, but there is a truly ferocious anger that rises up in me when I see racism. I hate racism with every bit of hatred that the Lord Almighty will allow me to put forth. It is even more despicable to think that the events portrayed in this movie and plenty of other things like it and worse actually happened in this country just a generation or so ago. My parents would have been a few years old at the time that this movie took place; therefore the adults in the movie would be of my grandparents’ generation. There are many that continue to think in these ways so it seems, but society does not allow them to fully express their hatred and racist feelings as many once were able.

The theme of racism seems to be sticking out to me lately. I have been reading Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper and I watched the discussion between Piper and Tim Keller, which was facilitated by Dr. Anthony Bradley. I found Bradley’s speech to be quite intriguing in that presentation and I am looking forward to reading his book, Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America and his other works. Also, when Anna and I attended the Theology conference at Wheaton College called Bonhoeffer, Christ and Culture, we had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Reggie Williams from Baylor University. His speech on Bonhoeffer in the Harlem Renaissance was fantastic and really looked at how the church has had an impact on the state of race and racial issues, in a negative way. There is no need for me to attempt to add anything new to the discussion that these men and many other men and women have not already brought to the discussion of racism. Yet, with all these things floating around in my head, it has become personal as I did a project for my last seminary class on my community, specifically the Fairless Local School district in Ohio. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, about 2.4% of the population of the entire community are non-white residents and only a portion of that percentage are black residents. I do not have specific research to know the reasoning behind the small percentage of black residents in the community, but I can speculate. People will not live where they do not feel welcome.

As any of the above men state in their books and presentations, we have to do something, not just talk about it. We can’t just find out information, study communities and read books. We have to act. However, I suspect that there is something beyond simple human machinations that will change this in my community, the country and the world. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has power to make ALL things new. Salvation is an amazing thing, but the Gospel or more specifically, God through His Gospel goes farther. What could a community with the Gospel being spread by God’s people look like in relation to diversity? What could an entire country of communities like this do to our nation? To our world? I would love to see more diversity in my community and in the churches therein. But hearts have to change, sin has to be clearly called out and killed. Racism is sin. In our individual lives as Christians we are to consistently repent and kill sin. It works the same way with a community. People and entire communities need to repent and the sin of racism needs to be dragged out into the light and killed again and again.

There is a scene towards the end of The Help where Minnie, a black maid, is treated to a dinner cooked for her by her employer. The dinner scene reminded me of another table that will be spread at some point in the future, where those from every tongue, every tribe, every nation and every color will sit down and feast together with God Almighty. Until then, we need to sit down at table with our brothers and sisters, black and white, underneath the name of Jesus Christ. Yes we have a black president, so Tupac would be happy, but there is more to do and strides made in politics do not change everything. Politics and the laws that it attempts to create are not the savior. Jesus Christ is the Savior and His people, namely the church, is where the change needs to continue to happen. We need to be out front. The world may not be free of racism this side of Glory, just as it will not be completely free of every other sin, but that does not mean that we give up. Many have gone before us and we would be remiss to not continue where they left off. The best part is, God will be glorified as the sin of racism is stared down and killed by the power of the Holy Spirit in and among God’s people.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Out of the Wilderness

About a year ago I blogged about having a break for the summer from seminary and I probably made some statements about being a more disciplined person, getting into scripture more and so on. Not sure how much of that happened… One thing I have learned after these past 4 years of seminary is that sanctification is truly a process. I had thoughts about what I would be like when I finished. I thought I would have it all together. I also thought I was fairly learned at the outset of seminary, I quickly discovered that I was not. The big idea is that it is hard to see growth as it is happening. Throughout all the struggles, frustrations, and life that has taken place over the last 4 years, I have frequently felt that maybe I wasn’t growing at all. Maybe I was just surviving, just getting by, just coping with the crazy workload of full-time employment, full-time seminary, an interim pastorate, being a husband, and other commitments. Now as I look back, there has been growth from that first day of classes. I have learned a great deal in my classes and have had my appetite stirred to continue in learning. Yet, what I have really learned is that sanctification takes time, the Holy Spirit works slowly or perhaps more appropriately, I learn/change/grow slowly. I do think that God works slowly, especially in relation to the pace of our society and the expectations that we have in relation to growth, change and results. Hopefully after these 4 years, I am a little better disciple of Jesus, a little better husband and a little better prepared to serve in ministry. A gentleman from church told me yesterday that since school is over, now my real education begins.

I do truly feel that I have stumbled out of the wilderness. It’s funny to hear from some parts of my extended family that they had no idea what I had been doing in school, let alone even knowing that I was in school. In some ways, it represents the cave that I have lived in these last 4 years. I have been grateful for the support that I have received first from my incredible wife; God has used her to truly be an encouragement and a blessing throughout school. I am also grateful for the support that good friends have showed me through this time as well. However, it is difficult to not receive support from others or even to receive some criticism, “Men cannot provide for their families as a minister,” “What do you want to do something like that for?” “That’s nice, but what are you going to really do?” Sometimes, just a general lack of concern or support is disheartening as well. Then again, I didn’t answer a call from God to seminary and to ministry in order to receive blessing and support from every person I have ever met. Yet, it still hurts to not feel supported at times. But God sustains us and urges us on.

This is a big year for my wife and I. From school being out to expecting our first little one in October, there are going to be big changes for us as a family. I don’t think that I have blogged about baby yet; my wife has done a good job of covering that :). Nevertheless, I am so very excited to be a Dad! It’s an awesome, humbling and exciting responsibility! Everyone asked me yesterday what I was going to do next now that I graduated. I confess I did tell a few people that I was going to Disney World…but I’m not really going, which is rather disappointing. Mostly what I told everyone is that I am planning to pray; to pray for direction, for opportunities, for open doors and for God’s blessing. There are things stirring in my spirit about what I think I may see for the future, but I need to discern if these things are from God.

Until next time…

Monday, April 16, 2012


So I have not been doing too incredibly well at being a stellar blogger. But, hey what can I say; a guy can’t be good at everything!

Anna and I just returned from a Theology Conference at Wheaton College, entitled Bonhoeffer, Christ and Culture http://bit.ly/o7XDhW. I am still processing it all, however, I am planning to decompress and spew it all out here on this blog.

At one point this weekend, I said to my friend, pastor and mentor, Dale Boston that a part of me felt at home there on that campus. It wasn’t so much the campus as much as why we were there. I have enjoyed and benefited from my time with Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary working on my M.Div., however I did it online. Having done it online, I missed out on the community aspect of the spiritual formation that comes from seminary. And as a great lead-in, I am greatly encouraged, challenged and inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writing and life. So this conference and experience for me was really great.

As I said, I will be working out my thoughts in the coming days and weeks. There is so much going on this year for Anna and I that my head is swirling with all that is stirring in my spirit. I graduate in May and as I look back on the gauntlet that seminary has been, it is only by God’s grace that I have made it out in one piece with my sanity mostly intact. Working full-time, going to school full-time, tossing in a few ministries that included an interim pastorate and meanwhile trying to be a good husband has made up what I can say has been the hardest time of my life. I am not complaining, because I think that God shapes and molds us in times like these. But, like Jacob, I feel like I am limping away from my time with God through this.

Reflecting on Bonhoeffer’s life, you can see how God prepared him for things that he would experience later in life, for example how his time at Finkenwalde prepared him for his prison time. It makes me wonder what God has in store for me in regards to what these last four years have been like. God is good, He is faithful and as Bonhoeffer would say, He is FOR us!

…more to come, until then…#mindblown

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thoughts on Eternity – My friend Margie

I had the privilege of serving as an interim pastor of a small congregation in Waynesburg, Ohio. That time ended in November 2011. It was my first pastorate, which I thought would never come. I learned a lot about myself and about the Church through that process. I am still processing and probably will be processing those experiences for quite some time. During that time I got to know these people pretty well and came to dearly love them. They are good people and they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. One particular woman from the group stuck out to me, Margie. She was an active member of our congregation and served the Lord well in our group. Margie was a widow and had lost her husband not long before I came to know her. In March 2011, I received the news that she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Soon after that, my wife and I began to visit Margie most weeks after church. Through these visits we got to know some of her family. She always had a bright smile, she was always playing hostess despite her limitations and she gave the best hugs! Best of all, she loved Jesus Christ and held strongly to her faith in Him through her experiences with cancer.

I had the amazing honor of taking part in her funeral along with her brother, a retired pastor. I can’t describe fully the impact of that day. My time with the church had ended, but I began to see that Margie was one of the lasting things from my experience there. I had the privilege of walking with Margie through her last days and experiencing death from a pastoral perspective. I admit I was scared. Could I offer her what she needed to hear? Could I be what she needed as a pastor during that time? I wasn’t what she needed; she needed Jesus and needed to know that He was with her every step of the way. Margie was my friend; she was not just another person, not just some ministry experience. I will miss her tremendously.

My friend, mentor and pastor told me a few days before the funeral that Margie had taken her first breath of eternal air, just after taking her last breath here. Naturally, I stole that and used it at her funeral, not because it was a good little saying, but because it was true. When Margie’s eyes closed here to all the trouble and pain that her cancer had brought her, she opened her eyes to the smiling face and outstretched hand of our Lord and Savior. She breathed her first breath, her eyes opened and she was home.

I am excited to see her again in eternity. Eternity; that is quite a concept! It’s a lot longer than the work day that I have had today, that feels like forever. It is a lot longer than my 27 years here on this planet that feels like quite a long time. It is a lot longer than I can even grasp. The same friend, mentor and pastor had told me before as well that he believes in Christianity because it’s true. It is the truth. Truth is something that is scarce to many these days. It is something that many try to find and that many pretend to not care about. The truth is, we all have a forever and sorry Rob Bell, but we have two options of where we go, Heaven or Hell. It is a startling reality, especially when someone is close to death, when you are close to death. I felt close to death, not for myself, but to the reality of death as I sat next to Margie about a week before she passed. I asked her if she had any doubts about her faith. She was having trouble concentrating and she was not really looking at me, but when I asked her that question, she paused, turned her head towards me and looked almost right through me down to my soul and said, “No, I believe He will do what He said, because He said it.” Then she smiled and went back to staring off. This life isn’t forever, we are all dying and it’s not because of hydrogenated oil or high fructose corn syrup, but because these bodies are frail and not eternal. My friend Margie knew something as she approached her last day, something that sustained her until she opened her eyes to see the fulfillment of her faith. I pray you know what and who my friend knew and now knows face-to-face.

“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” Jude 24-25

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Dead Men Don't Sing

We are back at our home church, Stanwood Community Church. It has been good to be home and enjoy the fellowship of these great people. Something struck me this morning while we were singing. My wife and I have talked about this over the last few weeks. I have noticed it and think that it is pretty  incredible. A couple weeks ago I asked my wife on the way home if she noticed anything when we were singing. She said, "It was pretty great, is that what you mean?" I agreed, but told her what I was referring to was that what I could hear the most as we sung was...men, men actually singing. Not just singing songs because that's what we do at that part of the church service, but men singing from their hearts to their heavenly Father. It's beautiful! It's so encouraging!

We live in a time when men are far from the pew on Sunday morning and even if they are there in the pews, they aren't singing. I am reminded of something that Alistair Begg said a few years back in a talk he gave for a pastor's conference. He said, "Dead men don't sing." He was talking about spiritually dead men. Listen to them and you will find that they don't sing. They don't sing because they, at that point in their lives, have not been made alive by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But this morning and the last few weeks that I have been paying attention, I haven't heard that silence from men as we worship. Normally, you just hear the ladies rocking out the melody, but I am blessed to be with men at this church who love Jesus Christ and are glad to be able to sing to Him.

How about you men? Did you sing this morning to your Savior? Do you know Him? Did you have a reason to sing? Or was whatever you were doing this morning more important? Remember, dead men don't sing.

Monday, January 30, 2012

5 Year Reading and Memorization Plan

Books to read over the next 5 years – I will tell you that I have already read outside of this list, but these are books that, God willing, I will read within the next 5 years.

Institutes of the Christian Religion
by John Calvin

The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

The Cross of Christ by John R.W. Scott

The Mortification of Sin (A Puritan’s Guide) by John Owen

The City of God by Augustine of Hippo

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Preaching and Preachers by Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones

Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster

Lectures to my Students by Charles H. Spurgeon

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas

Scripture verses to memorize.

Matthew 28:16-20; Matthew 22:37-40; Isaiah 62:6-7; Colossians 3:1-4; Colossians 3:15-17

Romans 5:1-5; Romans 8:1-5; John 3:16-21; Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 12:1-4

1 John 1:5-10; Philippians 3:7-11; Hebrew 13:20-21; 1 Peter 1:3-9

Proverbs 18:10; Psalm 1:1-6; Revelation 21:1-5

1 Corinthians 6:12-17; 1 Timothy 6:6-10; Titus 1:6-9

Isaiah 9:2-7; Jeremiah 31:31-35; John 1:1-5; John 1:14