Social Weekend

Whew, what a weekend!  Carolyn had Friday off, so she came to the Training Station with me so she could meet some of the kids she’s been hearing about.  It was great!  We sat with the kids during their Bible story, watched some three-year-olds learning to play Duck Duck Goose, and played with the kids outside for a little while.

Friday night we went to DeNovo’s with Daryl & Traci from SonRise.  John & Kim from the Gathering Tree were going to join us–and in fact made it as far as the restaurant with us–but they had to leave when they got a phone call saying that their oldest daughter had broken a tooth.  Poor kid.  After dinner, we went to Daryl & Traci’s house to lose a game of ’80’s Trivial Pursuit.

Saturday we borrowed Riley & Jenna, the same kids we had a couple weeks ago.  We went to a pumpkin patch in Salisbury, where the kids fed goats, went through a corn maze, and picked some pumpkins.  Then we all went to dinner at Station 7 in Pittsville.  It was quite an adventure!  It was funny spending several hours with Riley, a kindergarten student, and Carolyn, a kindergarten teacher.  They talked kindergarten most of the time.  I felt like I got a good, free kindergarten education.  By the time we were on the way to take them back home, Riley decided he wants to be a teacher, too.

Sunday evening we went to the new home of the Engles, one of the core families at CrossWay.  We ate a delicious dinner and some incredibly tasty dessert, then played ’90’s Trivial Pursuit.  The game went a little late, so by the end we were trying to help each other win!

A fun weekend, and it was great to spend time with friends!

Published in: on October 23, 2007 at 7:14 am  Comments (2)  

What’s the Deal With People?

Yesterday at CrossWay we began a three-part miniseries about people.  We looked at who human beings are, where we came from, and why we exist.

People are unique.  Unlike any other creature, God made us in His own image and put us in charge of everything else He made.  Unfortunately, we often abuse that responsibility, just as we often see people abuse power over others.

Why did God make us?  For three relationships:

First, there’s our vertical relationship–that is, our relationship with our Creator.  There’s a popular myth that God made us because He was lonely.  God has never been lonely!  Within the Holy Trinity there is perfect community, perfect fellowship.  Let’s not flatter ourselves by thinking that God has some need for company, and we’re here because we can meet a need that God has.  Instead, God has so graciously made us so that we can enjoy a friendship with Him.

Second, there’s our horizontal relationship–that is, our relationships with other people.  We were made to live in peace with each other, to love one another.  Many books have been written and sermons preached about the “one anothers” of the Bible: love one another, be at peace with one another, help one another, pray for one another, carry one another’s burdens, etc.  We were made to enjoy friendships with other people.  This is one reason why Mennonites insist on taking a nonviolent position.  Whenever we treat other people with verbal or physical violence, we violate one of the designs for which we were created–we corrupt the dignity that God gave to them and to us.

Third, and this one is often overlooked, is our circular relationship.  That’s the unique relationship with creation that God has assigned to us.  We are responsible for taking care of this planet where we live.  When we’re good to the planet, it’s good to us!  I’m afraid that future generations will suffer the most for our carelessness with this relationship.  We’ve been given a special, honored responsibility, and we’ve been failing miserably.  But there is hope!  Just as God redeems this messed up human race, He will also restore the rest of His creation.

God created us good.  And even though we’ve gone the wrong way, we can be restored to the fullness of our humanity through Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man.

Published in: on October 22, 2007 at 7:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Anabaptist Mission & Peace – Day 2

The second day of my class last weekend, “Anabaptist Mission and Peace,” is harder to write about. (Of course, it probably would have been easier if I’d done it several days ago!) We got a little deeper into theology, and without writing at length to build that theological framework, a lot of my notes wouldn’t make sense because they’d be without context. But I’ll share some of the highlights. The following are quotes from our teacher, David Shenk:

  • “Be people of the Word, folks. Be people of the Word.”
  • “The work of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness to the Truth…. The Holy Spirit’s ministry is always centered in Jesus.”
  • “Within God there is loving fellowship, but He doesn’t just keep this loving fellowship to Himself–He pursues us.”
  • “Begin your days being filled with the Holy Spirit.”
  • “Let’s embrace all that the cross is, in all its marvelous dimensions.”
  • “We will never fully fathom the depths of what the cross is all about–it’s truly astounding…. No philosophies or religious categories can contain it.”
  • “Let God bust open your categories. That’s the Gospel. That’s the cross.”
  • The Gospel message–that we are sinners who are forgiven because Jesus died for our sins–is “a lesson that we never graduate from.”
  • “The most important business in history is proclaiming the Gospel around the world.”
  • This might be more of a paraphrase than a quote–I didn’t catch it all word for word, but it’s something like this: “The power center of the universe is the crucified God. The cross turns the whole universe upside down.”
  • “Why are Mennonites so afraid of grace?”
  • “Ethics without grace is a dry orange.”
  • Another paraphrase: “Ethics isn’t the all-in-all. At the end of the day, I’m a sinner saved by grace…. We need to keep grace and ethics together.”

Interesting fact: There are more Anabaptists in Africa than any other continent on the planet. Of the 1.4 million Anabaptists in the world, half a million are in Africa.

Another interesting fact: Felix Manz, one of the first Anabaptist leaders and martyrs, held his Bible studies at the same spot in Zurich where Karl Marx would later hold his communist meetings.

Lloyd Hoover was one of our guest speakers. After his session I had the opportunity to talk with him about reconciliation efforts in Munster. Lloyd once shared communion in the hall where the “King David” guy in the Munster Rebellion had his throne.  Very, very interesting fellow. Notes from his presentation:

  • “Reconciliation” is one word that describes how God is moving in the world.
  • Reconciliation is deepening intimacy between each other and God.
  • Reconciliation catches how God is bringing His body together and healing relationships.
  • “Unforgiveness is a seedbed for strongholds.” It opens the door for the enemy to interfere and wield authority in the affairs of the church.
  • Walk in forgiveness!
  • Forgiveness is the way of Christ, so it must be our way too.
  • Christ is the only valid reason in this world for forgiveness, so He is the only hope for the division and hostility in the world.
  • If we deal with our past, we are prepared to move forward redemptively into our future.

Notes from guest speaker Keith Weaver:

  • “Peace and missions are inseparable.”
  • Reconciliation is God’s agenda.
  • The cross is what crumbles walls of division.
  • To respond to the Gospel is to take the message of reconciliation throughout the world.
  • “I’m not sure that we haven’t bought into the American Dream and lost sight of the values of the Kingdom.”

Here are some notes from our last speaker, John something:

  • “Whenever the Gospel is attached to violence, it will never live up to our expectations.”
  • “Violence never delivers what it promises.”

One final comment from David Shenk to wrap up the weekend: “Pray and cultivate the soil, and the harvest will come in  God’s time and in God’s way.”

I’m looking forward to our next two-day session!  It will include a field trip to Philadelphia and some time with Ron Sider.

Who’s the Winner Now, Kid?

Whenever I’m outside with the Training Station kids and the bell rings for the class to line up to go inside, there is inevitably a straggler or two.  This problem is always easily remedied by calling the kid’s name and saying, “I’ll race you–I think I can win!”  I take off running toward the line, and the kid’s pride always causes him (or often her) to take off in hot pursuit.  These kids are fast–they win every time.   Once they get there, they stand there proudly in line with a big grin on their face as they rub it in: “I beat you!  I beat you!”

Yesterday one of the three-year-olds wasn’t paying attention when it was time to line up, so I resorted to the old foolproof racing trick.  We raced to the line, he won, and he stood there proudly enjoying his victory.

But then the realization dawned upon him that he was standing there in line to go inside, which is exactly what he had been trying to avoid.  His face suddenly turned into a scowl as he glared at me and said, “Hey… you tricked me!”

Published in: on October 18, 2007 at 2:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Discovery By Doing

A couple days ago Mark Batterson, pastor at National Community Church, wrote a post on his blog about a church’s core values. He shares the core values of his church and writes about “discovery by doing.”

This idea of “discovery by doing” is so often overlooked in the world of church leadership. People in so many places are writing books, developing seminars, and speaking at conferences and sharing some great ideas; the problem is that so many of these writers, speakers, and preachers give the impression that their models and methodologies arrived straight from heaven pre-packaged.

It seems to happen like this: A guy plants a church. He wrestles with structure, organization, core values, strategy, vision, etc. He comes up with a lot of plans and tries them out. When one doesn’t work, he scraps it and tries another. When that one misses the mark, he dumps it and tries yet another one. Eventually something works and takes him to the next level, so he begins the process all over again in an effort to go to an even higher level.

After years of trial and error, the church planter is the pastor of a large and thriving church that has caught the attention of other churches around the country. So he writes a book and starts doing conferences. But what he presents is a model or strategy that appears all planned out from the beginning, and works much like following the instructions to assemble some bookshelves. Follow one step after another, and in the end you have the cookie-cutter, assembly-line final product.

Two problems:

One, there is NO man-made model or strategy that works in every church in every location at every time. There is simply no such thing.

Second, it does a disservice to readers and listeners to conceal the long, hard process that produced the final result. It gives the impression that everything should fall into place and work smoothly. From what I’ve read in the Bible and seen in the experience of others and myself, ministry is a journey where we need to constantly look to God and make frequent adjustments as we strive to follow His plan.

It’s like going through a maze. There are lots of dead ends, and we have to keep backtracking and trying other routes. Looking back from the end, we could map out the step-by-step process to arrive at the final destination. But it’s not until we get there and have the perspective of hindsight that we can even see all the pieces fit together.

Let’s be humble and genuine enough to let people see our failures. Let’s be transparent enough to share our stupid ideas that crashed and burned. Let’s realize that our goal is to learn from one another and grow together, not to come out with the latest and greatest new product to sell to the masses.

In other words, let’s discover by doing!

Published in: on October 18, 2007 at 7:28 am  Leave a Comment  

Another Anniversary

Today also marks another special anniversary in my journey with Jesus.

In spring of 1999, I knew without a doubt that God was calling me into pastoral ministry.  I was terrified.  A couple preaching opportunities came my way, but I wiggled out of both of them.

Late one night in late August or early September, I was working on something in the church office, when I was once again overwhelmed by a powerful feeling that God wanted me to preach.  So I told Him: Fine–I’m going to look up at the calendar hanging on the wall, and if October 17th (my one-year anniversary of being freed) is on a Sunday, and if Pastor McCready will let me preach that day, then I’ll do it.

So I looked up at the calendar and my heart sank when I saw that October 17th was in fact a Sunday.

Dang.

I contacted Pastor McCready the next day, and he was happy to schedule me to preach that day.

Double dang.

So I did it.  It was the most frightening experience I’ve ever had.  Two weeks before that Sunday, I could no longer sleep.  My stomach was all torn up.  My hands and forehead were in a constant cold sweat.  I wrote the sermon well in advance and rehearsed it over and over and over and over.  In fact, I knew it so well that Pastor McCready told me later on, “You know, I think you preached the same sermon word for word in both services!”  (We had two services, and I preached from a skeletal outline.)

The night before the BIG DAY I didn’t sleep a wink.  It was miserable.  I had a bad cold.  I got up early, ironed my clothes, and drove toward the church.  I counted the money in my wallet and wondered how far away I could drive.  I considered using my cold as an excuse to opt out.  I was actually still considering this when my dad called me on the church phone.  He was a huge encouragement.  I couldn’t believe he’d actually thought to call me that morning at the church!  He told me that having a cold would gain me sympathy from the congregation, which could lesson the terror of the experience.  His comments and his encouragement sealed the deal–there was no way I could turn back now.  If I did, I knew I’d probably be running for the rest of my life.

So I preached.  And I paced.  I probably walked five miles that morning in the first service alone.  A good friend of mine, George Van Hove, said that I did a good job and then jokingly moaned as he rubbed his neck.  Someone else told me that watching me was like watching a tennis match.

In the second service, I stood perfectly still.  Later someone commented that it looked like my shoes were nailed to the floor.

But I survived.  I had fully expected to die of a heart attack, or at least have a nervous breakdown.  I really did.  I honestly never expected to make it through the sermon.  But I had told God that I was going to be faithful to Him, even if it killed me.  I told Him that if He wanted this thing to actually work, He was going to have to do it.

He did it.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt as close to God as I did that morning.  Imagine if your legs were broken and you had someone carry you along.  You would be able to physically feel them carrying you in a way that you were unable to carry yourself.  That’s how strong the sensation was that morning of God carrying me along through the worship services.

And you know what?  That feeling has never gone away when I preach.  I’m still anxious every time I preach, and every time, I tell God that I want to be faithful to Him, but that this whole deal will fail miserably unless He makes it happen.

So far, He’s got a perfect record.   And it’s now eight years and counting.

Published in: on October 17, 2007 at 1:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Side Note

That last pizza delivery that I wrote about in my last post was delivered to a friend of mine that worked with me.  We used to hang out and drink after work.  After that night nine years ago, I used to talk with him about Christ.  He was very resistant.  He would talk with me about it, but only so he could argue.  At one point he even told me that he didn’t need my “nickel and dime salvation.”

Somehow, we ended up working together at two other places over the next couple years.  We’d still talk about Jesus, but it always seemed to go the same way.  There was a glint of hope right before I moved to Tennessee, when he told me that he and his girlfriend had started reading Genesis together.

After I moved to Tennessee, I used to pray for this guy all the time.  When we moved to Maryland in 2004, I tried to look him up in the phone book but couldn’t find him, so I figured he’d moved or something.

On Good Friday in 2005, there was a community church event.  I ran into Rick there.  He was with his wife and newborn baby.  Turns out that he became a follower of Christ and has been plugged in to one of the local churches around here.

Is that cool or what?

Published in: on October 17, 2007 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  

The God of October 17, 1998

Today is a very special day for me.  It was exactly nine years ago today that God got a hold of me.

Until that time I had a bad drinking problem, was severely depressed, had no hope, and everything was falling apart.  It was pretty miserable!  I was living in Berlin (Maryland–not Germany), and delivering pizza for a grimy local dive.

Exactly nine years ago tonight, I was driving back from my last delivery and suddenly felt God’s presence in a powerful way.  It was so overwhelming that I had to pull off on the side of the road at the South Ocean Pines entrance.  Two tangible sensations were overpowering me: On the one hand, I was painfully aware of my own sinfulness.  It hit me how displeasing my lifestyle was to God, and I knew how desperate I was.  At the same time, my whole being was flooded with His grace.  I knew He offered to forgive me and make me a completely new person in Jesus Christ.

I was in a daze as I drove back to the restaurant and helped close it down for the night.  When I got back home, I got all the alcohol I had there, which was a fifth of scotch.  I stepped out in the backyard under a clear, starry night.  After taking the cap off, I held the bottle out and turned it upside down until every last drop had fallen on the ground.

No sooner was the bottle completely empty than I was completely filled.  My greatest, most present reality at that moment became Ephesians 5:18 (which I didn’t even know at the time): “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

Since that time I’ve not touched a drop of alcohol.  The next day I went and sat in a bar just to make sure this thing was real.  (I wouldn’t recommend that–I just didn’t know any better.)  I ordered nachos and a big, tall, cold glass… of Dr. Pepper.

Not only did God free me that day from a bunch of stuff–drinking, cigars, cussing, to name just a few–but He also filled me with His joy, with His purpose, with His life.  He filled me with newness.  So I learned early on that following Jesus Christ doesn’t simply mean avoiding bad stuff; it means enjoying all the good stuff–enjoying God’s best that He so freely gives us.

Several days later I made a friend, Josh, in a Christian chat room.  Turned out he also lived in Berlin.  He invited me to his small group Bible study, hosted and led by his brother Daryl.  Daryl would eventually become the best man at my wedding.  We were called into pastoral ministry together.  We preached our first sermons at the same church, which was pastored by his dad.  And a few short years later, he would invite me to come on board as an associate pastor at the new church he had planted, SonRise Church.

It was through Josh that I also met this girl named Carolyn.  She now has my last name, and I pastor the church where she went at the time.

God is amazing, huh?  And every October 17th, I marvel in awe of this amazing God.

Published in: on October 17, 2007 at 7:02 am  Comments (6)  

New Sign Update

Hey, I don’t think I posted the latest on our pursuit of a new church sign:

On Saturday, someone connected with CrossWay emailed me and said they were contributing $1,000 toward the new sign. That puts us over the amount we need for a deposit!

So now we can place the order and the sign will arrive in about 6 weeks. Then we can pay it off interest-free over the next 10 months.

Woo hoo! Answered prayer!

Published in: on October 16, 2007 at 4:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

God’s Revelation: Creation

One of the great things about little kids is that they have an amazing sense of wonder about the world around them.  When the children at our preschool are playing outside, one of them will see a cricket and shout: “Cricket!  I found a cricket!”  All the kids will come running excitedly to the scene of the cricket find.  This happens about 10 times every day.

Last week I was outside on the playground and heard a little voice yell: “Leaves!”  I turned around to see a two-year-old standing there with a big grin, holding in his hands a small pile of… you guessed it… leaves.  He was so excited to have some leaves.

As we get older, we tend to lose our enthusiasm and wonder about God’s creation.  Yet a renewed sense of wonder about God’s creation can lead to a new sense of wonder about God the Creator.

A few things we can learn about who God is, just by observing His creation around us:

(1) All of creation has God as its source.  (See Genesis 1:1; John 1:3.)  This means that He is the center of the universe.  We have a tendency to create our own center for the little imaginary universe that we’ve created for ourselves to live in.  But in objective reality, the Creator God is the center.

(2) God preserves and renews what has been made.  (See Matthew 6:25-33.)  This shows us that He cares–He loves us!  With every breath and every beat of your heart, God is preserving and renewing your life.  We are free to focus on the things of God, because He’s promised to take care of all the other little stuff.

(3) The world has been created good because God is good.  (See Genesis 1:31; 1 Timothy 4:4.)  God made everything good; we are the ones who messed it up.  Just as our sin has tainted the image of God in which we were made, it has also tarnished the rest of creation.  Sin’s repercussions are much more destructive than we often realize.  But just as God restores us in Jesus Christ, He will also restore His creation.  The Bible says that once this process is complete, the world will be such a beautiful and peaceful place that animals won’t even eat each other anymore!

(4) The world provides all that is needed for life.  (For instance, see Psalm 104:1-33.)  God is the Life Giver.  He is gracious.  Our planet has such delicate systems that have to work in balance in order for life to continue.  This is true on a bigger scale, too: our universe has to be positioned just right for us to live.  For example, the next planet between us and the sun, Venus, is way too hot for us to live there.  On the other hand, the next one out, Mars, is way too cold.  And this truth also applies on a smaller scale: our human bodies are comprised of systems that have to work in harmony in order for us to be healthy or even to live.  If something goes just a little bit wrong with our heart, or lungs, or brain, etc.–we’re dunfer.

In all these ways and many, many others, God shows us in His creation what a loving, powerful, and good God He is.

The podcast of this message will be available soon.  You can access it through the CrossWay Church website.

Published in: on October 16, 2007 at 9:58 am  Leave a Comment