Why do we look up to this kind of failure?

05 Feb
February 5, 2016

behindeverymaskthereisacrosstobear

Maybe I’m too biased. I’ve seen all too close the destruction an unbalanced person in ministry can cause while being celebrated by those around them. But it pushes my buttons.

This past week I read the story of Hezekiah Smith, an 18th century Baptist “hero.” Between his work in a Baptist college, his numerous evangelistic tours and crusades, his incredible service to the Baptist church, and his pastoral giftings, he is credited with doing much to both reach the lost and expand the Baptist church, as well as make major inroads for religious liberty in America.

He would often travel for months at time, leaving his family behind to work their farm, orchard, and rental properties they owned. We don’t know much about his wife, but it would seem that she was not a fan of religion – she is described as being a “stranger” to it. He would write her letters asking if she had “yet found the comforts of true religion”.

Franklin Graham recently celebrated the legacy of Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse, two incredible organizations. Behind the scenes, though, he left a family in chaos. He spent most of his time away, and seemed to resent the handful of weeks a year he had with his wife or daughters. The emotional damage and scars he left, consistently choosing ministry over family even in times of crisis was devastating and had lasting impact.

But the church routinely celebrates these kinds of men! Their failings at home and in the care of their families are discounted because clearly, Satan attacked them harder than he would others because of their impact. These men’s failings in their families and marriages are portrayed as almost unavoidable because of their importance for God and the resulting spiritual warfare.

I think we do God a disservice if we think significant ministry accomplishments justify unbalanced lives. We ignore God’s values if we celebrate a Hezekiah Smith or Bob Pierce and instead advance the values of the world – the ends justify the means! Hezekiah’s wife resenting religion and God is a small price to pay for all the lives he reached. Pierce’s failed marriage, and destructive relationship with his children is sad but worth the children throughout the world being reached.

I’m biased. I grew up in a family where my father had decades of ministry, but in the end lost the relationships with his wife and children. I read these stories, I see the authors gloss over the failings, focus on all the good that was accomplished. It frustrates me to no end. They do it by discounting the family. They do it by ignoring the sins against these spouses and children. I don’t believe for a moment that that kind of telling honors the heart of God for ALL His children. It IS possible to do incredible things for God AND honor His sacred calling to our families. We need to as a body of believers stop celebrating unbalanced approaches to ministry.

FREE Six Year Student Ministry Curriculum

03 Feb
February 3, 2016

disciple-6-curriculum-students

This is pretty incredible to me; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has created, through their students and staff, a complete six year discipleship curriculum for middle school and high school students that they are making available completely free to churches to download! It looks like a great resource, and definitely a gift to churches! You can learn about it and download it here. Here’s their description of it:

Southwestern Seminary desires to see teenagers who, for the glory of the Father and in the power of the Spirit, spend a lifetime embracing the full supremacy of the Son, responding to His kingly reign in all of life, inviting Christ to live His life through them, and joining Him in making disciples among all peoples.

To that end the seminary has presented a gift to the churches. That gift is a comprehensive, six-year curriculum to be used with those specific teenagers who want to be disciples of Jesus. The studies are grounded in Scripture and include the content areas of:

Apologetics Core Doctrines Servant Leadership
Biblical Interpretation Ethics Spiritual Disciplines
Biblical Relationships Evangelism and Missions Worldview

Teenagers share in the leadership of the sessions. They prepare to disciple believers now and for a lifetime, nearby and to the ends of the earth.

The Disciple6 curriculum is available as free PDF downloads and free smartphone/tablet downloads. Southwestern Seminary believes every teenager and every church deserves the best discipleship resources, regardless of economic situation.

On Prayer in School

01 Feb
February 1, 2016

prayer-in-schools

As part of my Baptist history class, we were asked to participate in an online discussion board. I tend to lean towards the idea that the church today has it easy, what we think of as suffering is nothing like what persecuted churches go through around the world, and as a result, in many ways have grown too comfortable. Others of my classmates took a different stance, suggesting the American church is heavily persecuted, with some pointing to prayer in school being removed as the opening salvo. This was my response:


The only place where you [my classmate] and I really diverged from each other was in response to the last question and the continuing legacy of the church today. I think in America what we label suffering discounts the actual suffering of Christians elsewhere in the world. We risk being mocked or skipped for promotions in the workplace, a minor inconvenience in comparison to our brothers and sisters in the Lord who are being tortured and beheaded. I think part of our challenge is that our natural inclination is to want things to work best for our set of beliefs. The church in America is upset that prayer is no longer in schools – but I have a hard time wanting public schools to reinstate it. I don’t want non-believers leading my children in prayer time.

I love that students do have the freedom to bring Bibles, to pray privately or with their friends, and to even use school facilities for their Bible study groups. All of this is without state control or managing, and equal access is given to all faiths – which our Baptist forefathers fought for. If the state actually did coordinate prayer in schools, as it once did, then by virtue of our nation and not favoring one belief over another, we would have to expect the state to mandate other faiths as well; Islam, Judaism, Native American faiths, Buddhism, etc. Even further, if the government did rule on facilitating prayer in schools (because prayer is currently allowed, it is just not led by the school), what type of Christian prayer is the correct one? We tend to assume our way is the way everyone would gravitate towards, but what if it wasn’t? What if it was Catholic prayers? What if it was prayers from a denomination we don’t agree with?

I was horrified to read about Baptist parents in America in the 18th century being fined for “parental cruelty” because they would not baptize their infants, instead believing in believer’s baptism. The laws were “Christian,” but they were based on a denomination that Baptists did not agree with, and so Christians were punished for not being the right kind of Christians. Ultimately, the real need is for the church to reignite it’s evangelistic fervor that the Baptists were so well known for in the 18th century. If we reach our nation for God, whether or not the government leads prayer in schools, our schools will be full of praying students because their hearts have been changed – not because the government forced them to pray.

 

18th Century Baptists

30 Jan
January 30, 2016

baptist history

I’m currently taking a class on Baptist history, which is turning out to be more fascinating than I anticipated. The following is a discussion board post I wrote this past week summarizing the Baptist experience in America during the 18th century when the denomination both exploded in size, as well as faced severe persecution. I was stunned at this piece of our nation’s history, so I thought I would pass it on.


It is shocking to me to read the degree of persecution that Christians faced here after fleeing European persecution. It is a sad piece of our history and a revealing aspect of man’s sinful nature that the response of the settlers who fled England as dissenters after years of being persecuted established their faith as the official church and began persecuting those who disagreed with them.1 While the middle colonies were relatively free compared to the north and the south, the Congregationalists in the North and the Anglicans in the South. Baptists were viewed as a threat to established religious orders, a threat that became more serious as they saw rapid growth and demonstrated a passion for evangelism in the 18th century. As a result, other religious leaders stretched the law, or ignored it entirely, to make life as difficult as possible, hoping to intimidate people into not becoming Baptists. Methods of persecution included having property confiscated, fines and taxes, being imprisoned for being Baptist, accused of “parental cruelty” and fined for not baptizing their children, public harassment, whippings, beaten by mobs, exiled, bodily mutilation, and even being stoned.2 Overall, it was a horrific piece to American and Christian history.

With that being said, Baptists made great inroads in both establishing and defending religious freedom, and defining the separation of church and state. Part of that was due to the focus of their motivation; McBeth put it this way, “Some wanted freedom in order to escape religious influence over the government … this position has been called freedom from religion. Others, like the Baptists, sought the same freedom, but for different reasons. They wanted freedom for religion, freedom to worship, preach, and practice according to their own convictions.”3 Through constant pushing, using legal means, political pressure, standing up to the wrongs – even if the wrongs would have been in their favor (for example, giving preference to Baptists), leaders were able to push back and gain religious freedom for all and end “official” religions in America.

McBeth asks the question at the end of the eighth chapter as to whether or not Baptists who live in comfort can preserve the religious liberty achieved by their predecessors.4 I’m not sure a church in comfort can have correct perspective on religious liberty. One of my great frustrations over the last decade as a Baptist pastor is how quick Christians in general have voiced outrage and claimed religious persecution or other types of horrible mistreatment over even the most minor of offenses. There is a difference between having the freedom to worship and expecting the world around to not only tolerate it, but embrace it. The Baptist movement several hundred years ago would not have spent time demanding the world around them say “merry Christmas” instead of “happy holidays,” or other things like that – the threat of very real physical, financial, or legal danger gives a focus and a perspective on what matters and what is worth fighting for. Our primary calling is to reach the world for Christ, not reshape it in our defined ideals. A world won for Christ will become a Christ honoring world by virtue of changed hearts, not mandated obedience. My concern is that in our lack of focus, our over reliance on emotional responses to perceived insults or threats has created an environment where Christians over react to too many issues and are not taken seriously when actual religious liberty is at stake. In our comfort, we lose sight of what actually counts. It is too easy to become complacent, and to feel like we have lived out our calling to reach the world by posting an angry Facebook rant about the latest headline.

1. H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1987), 255.

2. Ibid, 252, 268, 270, 272.

3. Ibid, 253.

4. Ibid, 284.

Introducing Brandywine Students

29 Jan
January 29, 2016

Brandywine Students

Summit Student Ministry is NOW Brandywine Students! Yes, we are changing the name and logo, and with Pastor Nate’s current sermon series, it seemed like the perfect time to go live with it all! So, why the change? The short answer is, we want to send the message loud and clear that students are not the future of the church – they are part of the church NOW. Here’s how we live that out:

  • KNOW: We want young people to have a lifelong commitment to God. This happens by knowing God, and being a part of the church body as a whole. Towards that end, one of the best things we think that can happen for a young person is to regularly be in the church worship service, listening to the sermon and worshiping with the whole church.
  • GROW: There are age specific opportunities for young people to grow in the knowledge of God and faith in Him; our Sunday morning student hour and our Wednesday night small groups are a critical part in our church living this out with adolescents. This also includes our retreats and special events
  • GO: We are all called to serve and share our faith! Our student mission trips are the most well known way that we pursue this at BVBC. We also do this through service projects and outreach events.

I’m excited about this change. I love the logo; Nick Taylor, one of our former students designed it – the symbolism behind the compass ties to Know/Grow/Go, it’s a compass for the spiritual discipleship path we have at our church. I like that our language aligns with the rest of the church. I love that the name is intuitive for visitors; they will know what it is without needing it explained. I love that with student ministry called Brandywine Students, and children’s ministry called Brandywine Kids, it paints a picture of ministry alignment and a unified church. I am excited for the ways we are brainstorming and looking to integrate students into the rest of the church body more and more – the more they’re plugged in and feel ownership, the more likely they will be to stay plugged in after they graduate!

Hebrew Word Study: Completion

22 Jan
January 22, 2016

This is a paper I wrote last October for a Hebrew studies class. Essentially, I selected a word in an Old Testament passage, found the original Hebrew for it, researched its appearances throughout scripture and built a case for what its full definition would be.


Identifying the Word

The word chosen for this word study, from the passage in Genesis 22:1-19, is found in verse 12. It is the Hebrew word יָרֵא, or yare’. One of its possible, and more common, translations is “fear.” While it appears only once in this particular passage, it is a defining moment in the story, explaining why the Lord instructs Abraham to not sacrifice his son.

“He said, ‘Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear [emphasis added] God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’” Genesis 22:12 (NASB)

This word appears in its Hebrew root form 402 times in the NASB Old Testament, and is translated in a variety of ways. It is a challenge to fully understand, and as a result is often highlighted in different versions of the Bible with alternate potential translations, or wordings. It’s Strong’s number H3372.

Some of the various ways that יָרֵא, or yare’, is translated in Genesis 22:12 include:

  • Literal:
    • NASB, “fear”
    • ESV, “fear”
  • Dynamic Equivalent:
    • NIV, “fear”
    • NET, “fear”
  • Free:
    • NLT, “fear”
    • NCV, “trust”
    • TEV, “honor and obey”
  • Paraphrase:
    • MSG, “fearlessly you fear”

The Free and Paraphrase translations begin to frame the question; what does “fear” in this passage truly mean? While the literal translation of the Hebrew word may be “fear,” as demonstrated in the Literal and Dynamic Equivalent translations cited, even they translate it in other ways elsewhere in scripture. The Free and Paraphrase versions begin to hint at a deeper understanding of this word, seeming to indicate a greater depth of meaning that would contributes deeply to the understanding of this passage as a whole.

Range of Meaning

According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, there are 402 occurrences of the word in 373 verses, spread out over the Old Testament.

Distribution of occurrences by number of verses:

  • OT Law: 84 verses
  • OT History: 103 verses
  • OT Poetry: 101 verses
  • OT Prophets: 85 verses

As translated in the KJV:

  • Fear (188 times)
  • Afraid (78 times)
  • Terrible (23 times)
  • Terrible thing (6 times)
  • Dreadful (5 times)
  • Reverence (3 times)
  • Fearful (2 times)
  • Terrible acts (1 time)
  • (8 times)

Definitions[1]:

  • To fear, revere, be afraid.
    • (Qal)
      • To fear, be afraid
      • To stand in awe of, be awed
      • To fear, reverence, honor, respect
    • (Niphal)
      • To be fearful, be dreadful, be feared
      • To cause astonishment and awe, be held in awe
      • To inspire reverence or godly fear or awe
    • (Piel) to make afraid, terrify
  • (TWOT) To shoot, pour.

The following are some examples of the use of יָרֵא in scripture. Because of the sheer volume of occurrences of the word, the following are some selected examples to represent the whole. Because of its common usage, for the purposes of this paper examples of its usage will be selected from the works of Moses. As the author of Genesis, looking at his treatment of the word 84 times throughout the books of the law will give a clearer understanding of his intended definition of the word. Verses are from the NASB translation, with translations of יָרֵא in bold and italicized:

  • Genesis 3:10; He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”
  • Genesis20:8; So Abimelech arose early in the morning and called all his servants and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were greatly frightened.
  • Genesis 31:31; Then Jacob replied to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force.
  • Genesis 42:18; Now Joseph said to them on the third day, “Do this and live, for I fear
  • Genesis 42:35; Now it came about as they were emptying their sacks, that behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were dismayed.
  • Exodus 14:31; When Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses.
  • Exodus 15:11; “Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?
  • Exodus 34:10; Then God said, “Behold, I am going to make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform miracles which have not been produced in all the earth nor among any of the nations; and all the people among whom you live will see the working of the LORD, for it is a fearful thing that I am going to perform with you.
  • Leviticus 19:3; ‘Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.
  • Leviticus 19:30; ‘You shall keep My sabbaths and revere My sanctuary; I am the LORD.
  • Numbers 14:9; “Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear
  • Deuteronomy 1:19; “Then we set out from Horeb, and went through all that great and terrible wilderness which you saw on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, just as the LORD our God had commanded us; and we came to Kadesh-barnea.
  • Deuteronomy 6:13; “You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.
  • Deuteronomy 7:21; “You shall not dread them, for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome

It is fascinating to note the range in meanings that are implied throughout just Moses’ use of the word. In total, he uses the word 84 times between his five books; the above passages are representative of his usage of it. He frequently uses it to describe fear of outside forces or enemies. In those passages, it is consistently translated “fear,” “afraid,” and along those lines. It seems to be a very traditional understanding of the word fear and how modern English speaking societies would understand it.

Where the use of the word gets fascinating is in connection to God and/or the divine. At times it is still translated “fear,” “afraid” and variations of those words, but it is also translated as “awesome,” “reverence,” and “revere.” There does not seem to be anything to indicate that the reader should understand these types of words associated with reverence to be understood when used to describe earthly forces of evil and sources of fear, and yet it consistently appears as an interpretation when used in reference to God and His Kingdom. It is as though the word has the same usage as today with regards to earthly sources of fear, but expands to include something more, something beyond being simply afraid when associated with the divine.

Mounce highlights the contrasts in the word’s usage in his expository dictionary, writing that it “denotes both a sense of terror and a sense of awe and worship.”[2] He goes on to make the case that how it is understood, whether as a sense of terror, or as a sense of awe and worship, is based on the context of the verse and the use of the word. It is a strange split in meanings for one word that can be confusing to the English speaker, but was most likely easily understood by Hebrew speakers.

Bruce Waltke explains Moses’ use of יָרֵא in Genesis 22:12 specifically as referring to an “obedience to God’s revelation of His moral will, whether through conscience or Scripture, out of recognition that He holds in His hands life for the obedient and death for the disobedient.”[3] There is a reverence implied, such that Abraham’s reverent fear of God allowed him to obey and trust in God’s provision in spite of dread for sacrificing his son.

John Walton provides some additional cultural context to the passage, pointing out that in the secular cultures of the day the idea of child sacrifice was a common one, and a practice performed by many.[4] Often times it was connected to pagan gods of fertility as a way to guarantee continued fertility. It is an interesting additional context, making God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son a culturally relevant practice – and yet, over the course of the story God twists the ending to change expectations and demonstrate yet again that He is not like the false gods created by men. Abraham’s reverent fear than reflects an obedience and a commitment to God in spite of seemingly overwhelming circumstances and demands. And yet, there is an aspect to Abraham’s faith that reflects a different expectation than then his secular counterparts; he trusted God’s plan to continue his family through his son Isaac, not yet-unborn heirs. He had faith to obey with the reverent trust that God would provide a way.

Another commentator notes that Abraham’s fear in this passage is “obedience which does not hold back even what is most precious, when God demands it, and commits to God even that future which he himself has promised.”[5] He also points out that the use of יָרֵא in verse 8 of the same chapter refers to God’s provision, while verse 12 points to Abraham’s fear, providing a subtle play in words. The emphasis, again, however is Abraham’s obedience, his reverent fear of God.

Ross gives the most direct explanation of the use of יָרֵא in verse 12, noting that it was both a positive statement and a revelation of Abraham’s commitment. He goes on to say “the expositor must explain the concept of the fear of God, for it is at the heart of this test, and it is a predominant theme in the biblical narratives about worship and service. The true worshiper fears the Lord, that is, the true worshiper draws near the Lord in love and adoration and reverence but shrinks back in fear of such an awesome deity.”[6]

Conclusion

What does יָרֵא, or “fear,” truly mean in this passage? Ultimately, it seems to be a combination of reverence and fear, a healthy and appropriate respect for the power and authority of God, and Abraham’s place in reflection of that. It does not carry the negative connotations of fear that typically come to mind; a terror of something evil or unknown in a negative way. Instead, there is a love and awesomeness to God that triggers an overwhelming sense of reverence, perhaps which triggers some of the same bodily reactions or feelings of negative fear yet with a positive prompt.

Bibliography

Brown, Francis, D.D., D.Litt. The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979.

Fields, Lee M. Hebrew for the Rest of Us: Using Hebrew Tools Without Mastering Biblical Hebrew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.

Goodrick, Edward W., and John R. Kohlenberger III. The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.

Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995.

Mounce, William D., and general editor. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.

Ross, Allen P. Creation and Blessing: a Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1997.

Waltke, Bruce K. with Cathi J. Fredricks. Genesis: a Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

Walton, John. Genesis: The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

Footnotes

[1] Francis, D.D., D.Litt. Brown, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), 431.

[2] William D. Mounce and general editor, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 1.

[3] Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: a Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 308.

[4] John Walton, Genesis: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 509.

[5] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), Kindle location 2538.

[6] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: a Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1997), 1.

Changing Perspectives on Youth Ministry and Parenting

20 Jan
January 20, 2016

calvin hobbes

I will have been in full time youth ministry for fifteen years this coming April. It’s gone by fast. When I arrived at my first church, Heather and I had just married half a year before and were a few months into her pregnancy with our first son. I was young, inexperienced, and in some ways over confident. Fifteen years later, I have two of my own children in the student ministry I lead. My perspective in many areas of ministry has grown and changed over the years.

One area that has always struck me is how my perspective on parents of adolescents has dramatically changed over the years. As a new youth pastor, I was often times frustrated by them. In many ways, I avoided having too much connection with them, and often times found myself questioning or wondering at their decisions regarding the youth ministry, reactions to my leadership, or how they responded to their children.

Then I had my own.

Fifteen years ago I had no idea how unnerving, confusing, overwhelming it is to parent teenagers. I am considered a professional youth worker. In youth ministry circles, I’m a veteran. I have read more books on adolescence than most people, I’ve gone to school for it, I’ve attended conferences, gotten further training, had countless hours of experience, walked with students and their families through just about every adolescent scenario you can imagine, I’ve written articles, spoken at training events, the list goes on. And apparently almost none of that translates to parenting my own teenagers!

Talking to countless teenagers about sex does not make it one bit easier to view my own children as sexual beings and have those conversations with them. Coaching parents on dealing with hormonal children and all of the associated mood swings does not somehow magically translate to me always being understanding with the adolescents I live with.

Last year, I actually punished one of my sons by not allowing them to go to a youth group fun event (that I was leading!). After more than a decade of being frustrated with parents for using youth group as a consequence, I did it.

Last week I had one of those moments where one of my children clearly thought I was clueless. That somehow in their handful of years of experience they had more knowledge and wisdom to bear on the topic than I could possibly have. And it hit me … perhaps the biggest reason I had a bad perception of parents fifteen years ago was that I was more friend to the students in my ministry than I was pastor. Yes, I discipled teens. I taught the scriptures. I led small groups, challenged them to go deeper, and saw tremendous fruit. But in many ways I tried to be cool, to build friendships, to identify with them. When I was a teen I thought my parents were idiots, completely clueless. It was not until my early twenties that I really started to change that opinion! My primary source of information about parents was from teenagers! Of course my opinion began to mirror theirs.

I am the parent I was so irritated with fifteen years ago. I will complain if someone springs an event on me with little notice, just as I used to do to parents. I am the youth pastor and I don’t treat youth group as the most important thing for my kids. Yes, they are involved – and love it – but it is one small piece in a much bigger picture that is their life. I don’t bother keeping up on current trends anymore; it’s too much work, and I’m never going to be ‘cool.’ I’m a forty year old man with kids. Cool went out the window a long time ago. Turns out teens aren’t as impressed with adults who know the latest bands, movies, and books as I thought they were fifteen years ago – but they are desperate for caring adults who will love them and see their potential. And as much as it may bother them in the moment, it is quietly reassuring to young people when the adults in their lives communicate with, and support, their parents. It brings stability. I think recognizing that paves the way to transition from being a friend to a pastor.

Time of Reflection

18 Jan
January 18, 2016

abstract tree

The more I think about it, the more I realize that 2015 was a year of reflecting and calming for me. Which is weird to say. The last several years have seen a lot of transition and challenges, both difficult and rewarding. My church spent the last few years transitioning from a senior pastor who first started there in 1975, I have been a full time student pursuing a Masters of Divinity, my own children have become adolescents – forever changing my perspectives on student ministry, I became an adult child of divorce after my parents separated, as well as other heartbreaks throughout the extended family. For the first time in years we have begun to feel like our son’s battle with localized scleroderma has become manageable. Heather and I celebrated our fifteenth anniversary. I turned 40.

I’m still recovering from that last one.

In some ways it has been a wild few years. It’s not so much that the last year has seen those things lessening; there is still a lot of transition surrounding me. But my focus has settled and broadened, if that makes sense. There is a different level of peacefulness throughout, which is probably weird to say considering my house is full of LOUD boys. It has been amazing to see God working through the circumstances. My sons continue to grow into young men that I am proud of. Heather and I still are building and collecting memories – fifteen years already?!?

Even the transitions in church have given new perspectives; during the six months between senior pastors, I was pulled away from the student ministry a lot. Thankfully, our church has an amazing team of youth staff and volunteers that really stepped up to enable me to be able to help in other areas of the church. The biggest unexpected fruit for me, however, was that in being pulled back a bit for a season meant that I gained some different perspectives on our student ministry as a whole – I’m excited about some of the behind the scenes conversations I’ve been having with our new senior pastor and youth ministry staff about how we can really take our program to another level, both in developing disciples and seeing the students integrated even more so in our church as a whole.

All that to say, this post is a couple weeks overdue, but I’m excited about 2016. I’m excited to see how things continue to grow in develop personally, in my family, and in the ministry.

 

Thoughts on God’s Protection

29 Dec
December 29, 2015

protection

So often it seems our understanding and God’s understanding are far removed from each other. The Christmas season highlights that thought in so many ways; no one would never have expected the promised messiah to come in the form of a humble, completely dependent baby to two poor teenagers, in such a way that would have people still mocking Christ about the timing of His birth and His parents wedding decades later.

If there is one thing that is consistent with the characters throughout scripture it’s that their expectations, interpretations and opinions on God and scripture always resulted in them being surprised at how and when He actually moved. It was never how they thought it would be. Hopefully, we can have the humility to recognize that things have probably not changed much – that’s God wisdom and approach is still far removed from our wisdom and approach.

I can’t stop thinking about that in light of God’s protection and a shocking portion of the Christmas narrative. In Matthew 2:13-23 we read a horrific tale. Herod, feeling his position threatened by the prophesies of a new King sends his soldiers to kill all the males under two years old in the region in which Jesus was born. Mary and Joseph were given a warning by God to flee to Egypt for their safety, where they stayed until after Herod’s death. Some look at this passage and see God’s protection in that warning.

But then, if it’s just a warning about a physical threat of death, then it wasn’t much protection since the rest of the community saw their sons brutally murdered with no protection granted to them. For me, it feels like hearing the survivor’s of a tragedy marveling at how God delivered them … while grieving friends and family stand to the side wondering why their loved one was not delivered. My family was thrilled to see my father-in-law survive a severe bout with cancer; but I find myself choosing my words about it carefully when so many others prayed the same prayers we prayed for their loved ones and saw a different result.

If we reduce protection to simply avoiding pain, death, financial tragedy, or whatever the case may be, I think we trivialize what God intends in His protection and hurt the many around us who by default of that kind of definition, were not protected by God. In reality, our present suffering does not seem as though it is actually high on the protection priority list – in James 4:14 our lives are called a ‘vapor,’ something that comes and goes quickly. Throughout the scriptures devoted followers of God see incredible suffering. Even the chosen nation, the Israelites, saw long periods of time where they were enslaved, conquered, and God was silent – I doubt they felt much protection during those centuries.

But when God refers to our lives as a vapor, He is not describing them as meaningless. Far from it; instead He is pointing out that in the light of eternity, this time we spend on earth in physical form is just a fraction of the far greater whole we will experience. In the light of that, being protected from suffering here is a meaningless exercise – our only real focus is to be worshiping God and reaching the world for Him.

I don’t think God was protecting Jesus, Mary and Joseph from death by Herod’s soldiers. If that’s all it was, then the others who were not warned were wronged by Him. Joseph is no longer a hero saving his wife and son – he is the monster who knew his community was in danger and did nothing for anyone but his own immediate family. God was protecting His plan for saving people from spiritual death. In that perspective, in the moment God did in fact protect everyone, but not in the way that we normally think of protection.

I am not trivializing suffering. I actually think we do that when we loudly celebrate those who avoid physical suffering as being protected by God because the message we send to others is that they are not. And the scriptures are full of God’s heart for those who do suffer during this ‘vapor’ of a life. He wants us to experience comfort, support, love, grace. His heart breaks when our hearts break. But when it comes to the idea of protection, perhaps His focus is on eternity, not the immediate.

I’m honestly not sure if I’m articulating my thoughts the way I want to. I’ve been wrestling with this passage and the idea of protection for the last couple weeks. I don’t think I’ll even begin to fully understand how or why God works and how we best communicate it until I am with Him in eternity.

A Treelot Christmas

28 Dec
December 28, 2015

Caleb, Noah and Zachary were all in this year’s children’s Christmas choir and the performance of “A Treelot Christmas” at our church on Christmas Eve!