Looking back at 2013, looking ahead to 2014…

I was asked to make a sign on our sandwich board this past Saturday, and I struggled until I thought, “this is the last Saturday of 2013!” Crazy, isn’t it? This year has absolutely flown.

I was thinking about this year, this crazy, crazy year, as I was on my way to work this morning. It’s been a wild one, full of lots of challenges, lots of victories, lots of failures, lost of reasons to be down, and lots of reasons to be happy. I want to review my 2013 with you, for the sake of reflection and garnering whatever I can from it.

 

The Good

 

I graduated from college in May! It’s hard to believe, really, because in a lot of ways it feels like forever ago, and in others, it seems like yesterday. I miss school sometimes, mostly because I miss structure and having people keeping me accountable for my progress and putting in the necessary work for things I needed to do. I have fond memories of school – late nights coming from Purdy’s with an iced coffee to the computer lab on campus where I’d stay for three or four hours working on papers and other assignments. Those are the nights I’ll never forget – the nights that make me miss school. I remember meeting with my friends in study groups (because by my senior year, I’d finally developed the habit of studying for exams, and I was GOOD.) I remember graduation day, just getting there on time, realizing I was completely underdressed under my gown, but I didn’t really care.

After graduation, I took a “trip” to Indianapolis, where I spent a total of four hours (yes, I drove seven hours round trip to sit in a coffee shop and freeze my butt off at an Indianapolis Indians game which I left in the 7th inning.) But by golly, if I didn’t feel I deserved that trip!

 

Later in the summer, at the beginning of August, I went yet again to Indianapolis for a Chelsea FC match. That was one of the best times of my life, and a true vacation in the sense that I felt I could completely let my guard down, I didn’t really care how much money I spent, I relaxed and completely indulged myself in everything I did, from Mexican food and a Pirates game at a restaurant; to FIFA on the xbox the night before the game; to our time at Claddagh’s (the Chelsea bar) in which I enjoyed the noise and half-drunken supporters; to the actual game, in which I sang in full voice. I learned from that that true rest and relaxation requires complete detachment from your usual worries. And it’s possible.

 

I took a job at the beginning of September at a place called A Cup of Common Wealth, which has been a source of a ton of joy, and I’ve learned a few things in my few months, and lots of good things have happened (one of which I’ll have to revisit later, after I go through some lows. This’ll be an up-down-back-up kind of blog.) But one sticks out – we were robbed. But after the robbery, there was so much positive response. I’ve never left a shift with more money in tips than I did that day, we had hundreds of dollars in donations for the repair of the window, and we were so fell fed by so many generous people who brought us food. We were so well taken care of. That day is a bright spot in my year.

The Bad

I don’t want to end this blog on a bad note, so I’m flushing out all the bad in the middle of it. I don’t know if there’s been a year in which I have had to fight more guilt, more fear, embarrassment, shame, insecurity, and feelings of unsettledness. I was just looking through my journal from January 1, 2013 all the way to the end of the year, and I realized how many entries were about how frustrated I was, how intimidated I was by other men, how perplexed I was by situations, how poorly I’ve managed my finances, etc.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes this year, and it’s hard to tell which one has been the biggest. Not necessarily in the final outcome, just in the process of how it came about. I remember sending a frustrated message on social media in a moment of extreme weakness and frustration. That message related to work, and it was found out by my bosses. We sat down and had a talk, and we decided it was time for me to move on from that job. No hard feelings, I wasn’t fired, and I didn’t quit. They showed me so much love on my way out, continue to show me love, and I continue to support their business. But I am not proud of what I did, and it’s an example of how I let my temper get the best of me at times, acting before I think. It’s a stain on a great year.

I also remember how I broke up with a really nice girl this summer. I’d let myself get physically, emotionally, and financially exhausted with our relationship, and I never talked about it, so I took on a passive-aggressive approach in which I just tried to avoid her, not talk to her, and not tell her up front what was going on. We broke up via text message. If you’re a guy who hopes to be known as a gentleman, you know how shameful that is. I regret that. I regret not taking a more direct, honest, and open approach.

I finally remember a time that a friend and I were on two completely different pages about our friendship, and I dumped on her a load of reasons why I felt uncomfortable with things the way they were. I think I caught her off guard, I probably pissed her off, and I think she thinks/thought I don’t like her anymore. I’m still navigating that, to be entirely honest, because I took a step and made a choice that I thought would be for the best, and I feel better about our friendship in some ways and worse in others.

Relational issues aside, I looked at my most recent pay stub and realized that the money I’d made in tips disappeared in the two week window between paychecks. I’d made something like $500 and had no idea where a penny of that had gone. How else am I to respond other than to be frustrated with myself? It’s a sign of immaturity and irresponsibility.

The Redemptive

I remember little things. I remember many afternoons spent at Lake Reba, where there is a variety of different sized soccer fields and goals. I go out there regularly with my cleats and my soccer ball, music, podcasts, and spend 30 minutes to an hour just running, shooting, dribbling, listening, breathing, living. It’s my favorite. It’s really a sacred thing for me, to be honest. Sure, it sounds silly, but it gives me a chance to get my mind clear.

I remember boggle night. For a while this fall (and it’ll continue I’m sure,) I go to my spiritual father’s house to play boggle and eat food. It’s fun. It’s competitive, but a blast. We encourage each other, pick on each other, draw poop on each other’s scoresheet. I can breathe when I’m there.

I remember morning commutes. I know I’m weird for this, but I LOVE leaving my house at 5:00 AM to go to work, especially since I get to drive all the way to Lexington. It affords me time to drink a cup of coffee and listen to music, or pray, or think. Then some nights, I get to do the same thing going home. The streets of Lexington are a little less busy after dark, and the eminence of home allows me to relax and think.

And I remember a girl – the most beautiful, sweet, encouraging girl I’ve ever known. I remember how she, maybe on a whim, asked if I wanted company when I went to see Catching Fire to kill time between work and a work meeting while I was in Lexington. I remember being unable to swallow the lump in my throat as we stood outside after the movie and I thought, “I should ask her to dinner.” We parted ways, but I ended up asking her out. Somehow, she agreed to it, and we spent three hours eating and talking at a restaurant before leaving when it closed only to sit in the car for another three hours just talking by the light of the moon. I remember my hesitation to go forward with a relationship, because just a month earlier, I’d almost sworn off dating forever. It was too exhausting, too demanding. But she makes me want to be with her, because she’s so sweet, so encouraging, challenging, inspiring, and get this – she actually likes me! She loves Jesus a lot more than she likes me, and that’s my favorite thing about her. Her company is even better than my beloved solitude.

But here’s how I want to end this:

Facebook has this neat feature in which it’ll let you look back on your year and some of the biggest moments. Fortunately, it has that for your friends, too. I looked back and saw some of the things I’d overlooked this year – many of my friends had kids (some of them for the first time,) others ran marathons, others got married, many celebrated anniversaries. Some of my friends graduated from college with me, some of them went on missions trips, some of them got great new jobs. Not all of it was good either – some people had loved ones pass away, including my own family (my grandmother passed away,) some people had to move away, etc.

All of these stories served to remind me of something:

I’m not the biggest player in my own story.

I’ve heard that before – really clearly from God, actually, but it’s easy to forget. It’s easy to forget because I am the most noticeable person to myself. That is, I live with myself, I hear my own voice, I see my own face, body, etc. I make all kinds of decisions that affect myself, often times more closely or directly than anyone else. I know [almost] everything that’s going on with me, but not necessarily with everyone else.

This reminder serves less as a reprimand and more as an invitation. I have a love/hate relationship with myself – I really love myself, and I hate myself for that. And I hate myself, and hate myself for that! Often times I find myself forgetting about other people because I’m so caught up in my business. But the invitation is this: I can take the same interest in others that I take in myself. That is, I can make a deliberate choice to invest in other people and take interest in what’s going on with them. I’m not much of one for resolutions, so I’m not going to necessarily make one, but I’d sure prefer to care about someone else more than me.

Church Planter: the Man, the Message, the Mission. Chapter 4 – A Dependent Man.

Alright friends, I highly advise making it a habit to blog through the books you read. It’s far too easy to just let some of the things you read – even those things you underline and highlight at the time – to slip through the cracks of your memory and never move into a place of application. So blog, journal, whatever – just make it a habit to do some application with the good things you read.

I say that because chapter 4 of this book is all about dependency upon God for our ministry. The message is fairly short and sweet (but with some perhaps bitter notes:) the more dependent you are on God, the more successful your ministry will be. But this isn’t some cute little formal mantra. It’s really an incisive statement because it cuts to the heart of how we spend our time with God: do we spend our time praying for things to be accomplished (not necessarily a bad thing) at the expense of praying that we would know and understand God more?

The reality is [and as has been written in blogs preceding this] that a pastor’s church will ultimately inherit his spiritual condition. If he is undisciplined in prayer, bible study, evangelism, etc. then he cannot expect to have a church that is. If he is diligent in these things, he can expect to see that fruit begin to stem in his church.

This chapter seems to ultimately be about discipline and begs a few questions for application:

1. Am I practicing a mindset of dependence? That is, do I view daily prayer, bible reading, etc – practices that draw my mind and my spirit closer to God – as necessities or as surplus? Can I get by without them? If my answer to that last question is “yes, I can get by without them,” then I need to check my heart.

2. What am I praying for? Neither you nor I can understand God apart from His help. Perhaps one of the most helpful things we can pray is that God would help us know Him more, and help us love Him the way He loves Himself. We were made to know Him, to behold Him, and in doing so, worship Him.

3. How do I view spiritual warfare? I’m of the mind that when I’m in a position in which I’m settled in my dependency upon God, then spiritual warfare isn’t as scary as it sounds. But believe me, if you’re trying to fight all of your own battles, you will lose every single one in the spiritual realm. Spiritual warfare is inevitable as a church planter, and it is better to engage in it from a position of sonship and knowing that God will ultimately have the victory than it is to engage it from a position that assumes I must fight it alone.

 

A good, short chapter that is surprisingly packed and difficult to condense.  

Church Planter: the Man, the Message, the Mission. Chapter 3 – A Qualified Man.

The idea of qualification for the pastorship is interesting. I’ve been told multiple things relating to it in struggling with my own insufficiencies as a leader. I’ve been reminded that I’m “qualified by the call,” not by my skills. I’ve been told “God does not call the equipped, he equips the called.” But this is less about equipment as it is about character. Patrick compares an unqualified pastor to an unqualified surgeon or pilot. Their jobs relate directly to the safety of the person they’re operating on or the passengers of the plane they’re flying (respectively.) When you take stock and think about the fact that a pastor is responsible for the spiritual health of his congregation, it becomes clear how important it is to have certain characteristics and qualifications.

Patrick lays out this chapter with 1 Timothy 3:1-7, which lays out the qualifications Paul wrote out for anyone who wants to be an elder (overseer, one who looks after spiritual health, aka a pastor.) Since this is taken directly from the Bible, there’s not a ton for me to discuss, so I’m choosing to use this chapter as an evaluative tool to look at what I think I could improve upon in terms of qualification for being a pastor, a leader of people.

1.       Above Reproach. Admittedly, I’m not sure of my reputation among all people. But since, as William Mounce wrote, being above reproach is the foundation for everything else, I can find the answer to this one in everything else.

2.       The Husband of One Wife. A “one-woman man.” Well, I’m not married. But I’m seeing a girl and for the first time, I’m not in any interested in anyone else, and I don’t feel trapped by the idea that I can only be with her, so I’d say that’s going relatively well.

3.       Sober-Minded. This is referring to not being overly rash in decision making, being able to control desires and emotions by submission to the Holy Spirit. I see progress in this, and I’m slowly but surely learning to make decisions and do what’s necessary in spite of my emotions and what I “feel like” doing. I do have a tendency to get really nervous when things don’t go as I’d planned, and I can see that I need to submit my plans to the Holy Spirit so that when they go awry, I can get His help.

4.       Self-controlled. Same idea here – the ability to focus by the power of the Holy Spirit on what needs to be done, using good judgment and having common sense. I think I have room to improve on this, particularly financially and with my diet (so not necessarily relating to pastorship, but still important.)

5.       Respectable. This is referring to having a life that is well in order, financially, temporally (how your time is managed,) etc. a messy house is a bad sign. An unkept lawn is a bad sign. Messy room. Even aesthetics are important here – chaos should not characterize your life, Patrick writes. I concur with that, and I think that my life isn’t dominated by chaos, though I have space to present more order in it.

6.       Hospitable. Loves strangers, doesn’t resign to cliques. This passage stood out to me because God’s been tugging at me about this for a long time now. I’m very comfortable with the people I’m comfortable with, and I’m not skilled in developing new friendships and asking direct questions to get to know people. I’m also shy in my approach to people outside the church, but the anecdote he shares in this is a perfect way to illustrate what can happen when we stop worrying that unbelievers have some sort of contagion and we have to keep away from that. On the contrary, it seems like faith is what’s contagious! A guy got a job at a gay-friendly bar (I don’t think it says a “gay bar” necessarily) and in being willing to commune with unbelievers and/or people who didn’t share his political affiliation, sexuality, or worldview, was able to go through doors to talk about Jesus and invite people to church. Lives were changed because of his intangible hospitality and obedience to share about Jesus. In Foursquare’s competency assessment, sharing faith is on the list. I’ve been poor in that arena (I’ve never led anyone to Jesus) but I’m starting to see more and more that it’s about obedience, not thinking I’m the most important person in my life and being willing to take a risk to get to know someone.

7.       Able to teach. Getting better at that the more that God disciplines me in reading and studying the Word, as well as having opportunities to teach small groups. Improving.

8.       Not a drunkard. In other words, “doesn’t have an unhealthy release valve.” How do you blow off steam? How do I blow off steam? Do I resort to alcohol to solve my problems? For me, the answer is no. I’ve cultivated the habits of taking a walk or a run, praying in my car, or journaling to deal with the stresses of life. A beer is nice on a relaxing night, but it’s not the source of my relaxation. Check.

9.       Not violent. Do you solve your problems through violence or abuse of power? No. I think I’m okay there…

10.   Gentle. Doesn’t have to have his own way all the time. I’m not stubborn (not always anyway.) I think that I have areas in which I can become more gentle, but also areas in which I can stop being as passive as I currently am.

11.   Not quarrelsome. Are you argumentative? Not really. I don’t like creating conflict for conflict’s sake.

12.   Not a lover of money. What’s money? I don’t have any of that.

13.   Managing his own household well. I don’t have a family, so I can’t really say on this one.

14.   Not a recent convert. Been saved since 2005.

15.   Well thought of by outsiders. Again, I’m genuinely curious about this one in terms of how people see me. But I’m also baffled sometimes by the concept – see, we live in a day and age in which some topics garner us disrespect. I’m mostly thinking of the issue of gay marriage. The conservative Christian stance on it is that it’s sinful, and it seems as though the constant rebuttal is that that’s shallow, bigoted, and judgmental. The response to a worldview comes back on the character of the person who holds that view. And there are people who take it to ridiculous lengths, when perhaps all we need to do is stand by what the Bible says about it. All that is to say that it seems like some people, by taking stances on things, will be hated and disrespected. And Jesus said that would happen. AND Jesus Himself was hated! But Jesus was hated by the people whose pride and religion He came against. Maybe that’s what I’m to be hated for? It’s hard for me to recognize the times it’s good to be hated and the times it’s good to be respected. Perhaps respect is something to be had in spite of a worldview, or relating to how you hold that worldview. If my worldview makes me hateful toward someone, then I’m not acting respectable. But if my worldview causes me to lovingly disagree, then maybe I am afforded room to be respected. [this whole section was a mere hashing out of my thoughts, apologizes to the reader.]

This was a good chapter, and serves for all readers as a good tool by which you can measure where you are as a pastor, whether already over a church or on your way to plant or assume one.

Church Planter: the Man, the Mesage, the Mission. Chapter 2: A Called Man.

A called man. What is that, anyway? What’s it mean to be “called?” What does calling look like? Darrin brings up the example of Jeremiah.  Jeremiah was a prophet, called to give the word of God to people. A lot of times, this made him hated, and Jeremiah lamented that fact, but also knew that he couldn’t hold in what God told him to say. It was like a “fire shut up in his bones.” Jeremiah couldn’t give up the call of God on his life despite all of the heartache it caused him.

This illustration resonated with me, because as of yet, it causes me less heartache and more insecurity. Despite the fact that I don’t necessarily know what I’m doing (and more on that later, and I see the Lord dealing with this in me, so by the time I’m done with the book, you’ll likely not see me saying that as much) I can’t get rid of the call of God on my life, and I still so desire to do what He’s called me to do.

Darrin outlines the opinions of different theologians over the years who have defined the call of God, which includes things such as eloquence, teaching capabilities, ability to make a living, good memory, a desire to take the office (presumably of pastorship) unselfishly and out of reverence and understanding that God has offered it, it’s not to be taken by application, external affirmation, sufficiency in gifts and skills, and the providence of God making the time, place, and the means to make that calling realized. But my favorite advice in reference to the calling of God was from George Whitfield, who encouraged people who thought they were called to ask themselves:

Would [I] preach for Christ if [I] were sure to lay down [my] life for so doing? If you fear the displeasure of a man for doing your duty now, assure yourselves you are not yet thus minded.

I’m getting ahead of myself a little, but it’s almost impossible not to – the question here is this: is the calling of God on my life final? Is it everything to me? Can I see myself living an ordinary life, or is that just not good enough? Would I die before I stopped going down the path God’s called me to? If giving my life for the service of God and His people is more important than being normal, being safe, or being liked, then I would venture to say that the call is genuine. (and, in reference to chapter one, that desire to give my life must be out of love for God and the gospel, not out of a desire to save myself or to do great things so that God will love me.)

The different elements of a calling are broken down in more detail, starting with heart confirmation of God’s call. This confirmation of ministry has the most to do with what was previously mentioned: would I give my life for it? Is it the most important thing? It’s an emotional process that takes place in the heart. Patrick uses 1 Timothy 3:1 as a springboard for this part of confirmation. It says, “If anyone desired the office of elder…” which implies that desire may be the first step toward calling! But again, not a superficial desire, but a genuine desire out of love for the Lord, accompanied by joy to do His work. There is caution to be taken because of the nature of the office, he writes, but it is ultimately a pastor’s joy to lay his life down for ministry.  

I was really encouraged by a particular block of text, when Darrin writes this:

This strong desire in the heart can sometimes result in anxiety and apprehension. Questions are forced to the surface, like “can I really do this? Can God really use me? What if I fail?” Nothing provokes insecurity like signing up to follow God’s call and do God’s work. …ultimately he will not be able to walk away from it.

This is the heart of the matter [no pun intended] of heart confirmation: there is nothing else for me. I have to do this or my life won’t be good enough. And as someone who has discerned this call, I can only imagine what it’s like for someone who hasn’t heard or felt the call of God for ministry on their life. But it’s not for everyone, and God doesn’t call everyone to vocational ministry. Thank God for that! We need people being Jesus in factories, fast food restaurants, coffee shops, office buildings, sports teams, schools, etc. the Great Commission is still for everyone, not just full-time pastors. Don’t let the fact that you don’t feel called make you feel disqualified or like you’re anything less than a loved and favor son/daughter of God.

As easy as it is to get caught up with the emotional aspect of calling, Darrin writes that we should not forget the head confirmation of calling. Namely, this is the aspect that deals with how I can specifically serve my church and my community. He writes:

The man who is experiencing head confirmation is thoughtful about his own philosophy of ministry, his own ministry style, his own theological beliefs, his own unique gifts, abilities and desires. In short, there is uniqueness to the way he wants to do ministry.

 It was important that I read this, because I’m prone to just take the ideas and models of others, while God has been telling me for years to think for myself and really dream and envision what a church under my care would look like. I’ll never forget when I was at a church planter’s conference a few years ago and they had us write down the demographics that we thought we’d serve, with our own unique mission, etc. This was one of the most freeing activities I’ve engaged in, and I’ve since not repeated it as I should. It’s important not to simply model oneself and one’s church after his own experiences. Take note of things that seemed to work, but also realize that in a different city and different culture (and with yourself as a different leader,) adaptability is key. Head confirmation also involves asking myself if I’m doing ministry because it’s just there, or because it seems like the next logical step, or if I know how to use my specific gifts and callings to serve. It puts things into a more pragmatic perspective, reconciling emotional and logical elements of calling.

While the internal aspects of the call are important, Darrin finally writes that there is external confirmation to be had. Basically, the church is to evaluate the man who wants to be in ministry to affirm his character (which will be more thoroughly covered in the next chapter) and to detect his gifts and skills to see how he can use them. It’s the head confirmation aspect of calling, but with a collective element. It’s remarkably easy to want to be in ministry when you don’t detect your own flaws. Patrick also writes that some churches are too lenient in their approach to letting people into ministry and will put people in leadership who have serious character flaws or aren’t gifted for something (ie preaching) or too harsh and require rigorous qualification processes, such as being an abnormally talented speaker, attending seminary, etc.

This made me think of my church, which has been so good about being balanced between the two. We are all for letting people serve, but also try to match character and competency with where we put someone. For example, if someone is notably reckless with their money, we won’t nominate them for the church council, which makes financial decisions for the church. If someone wants to preach, we’ve had preaching groups that meet for the sole purpose of hearing each other and critiquing each other and learning how to be a better preacher. This was the first avenue in which I preached, and I learned a lot from it about the mechanics of speaking as well as the elements of sermon construction (though admittedly I still have plenty to learn!) Foursquare will also assess your skills and give you ways to improve them, such as preaching ability, ability to raise money, teach, sharing your faith, etc. They won’t send out someone who isn’t competent in all of those things, not because they require too much, but because they want you to be able to have a healthy church that sustains itself.

Much more than the first chapter, this one challenged me to think. I wasn’t expecting such an introspective response from this, but it’s a good thing, and I’m glad this book is making me evaluate myself. It’s the call of God that makes me feel like I can’t live a normal life. I’ve tried to pursue other career paths, and they come to nothing simply because there’s no inspiration behind them. I’m not called to be a journalist, I’m not called to work for ESPN, I’m not called to be a psychologist (which is a pain to explain when people ask me what I studied in college.) But that call is a joy, and that call is exciting, just as Patrick wrote about. I want so badly to realize the potential that God wants to unleash in the church. Though I run incessantly, I can’t run forever, and I want to see God move, save lives, redeem people, and bring them into His kingdom. That’s what I have to do with my life. Everything required to do that I trust God with, and I’ll embrace the process of learning what I have to learn and doing what I have to do.

Church Planter: the Man, the Message, the Mission. Chapter 1: A Rescued Man

This is my first attempt in years at recording what I’m learning and what I think about a book, so forgive me, dear reader, for being a bit rusty. My goal for this particular book is to not only write what I’ve learned from it but also my reasoning behind reading the book, which I’d like to start with.

Until recently, I’ve not really known what God called me to. He called me at the young age of 16 to a life of ministry, but until now, I didn’t know if that was worship ministry, youth ministry, senior pastor – and then, assuming a church or planting it – men’s ministry, small group ministry, children’s ministry, some of it, all of it, etc. And to this point, I’ve done some of each of these, but hadn’t sensed a confirmation from God that one or the other was the “right one.” But earlier this year, I got a job working in Lexington, KY, in an incredible coffee house that fosters such a unique community and is very much in touch with the pulse of the city. A love for Lexington has been birthed in me, and, when combined with the dream my pastor/spiritual father had years ago of Foursquare churches being planted up and down I-75, has started to illuminate a path of church planting.

My biggest struggle (as I will undoubtedly discuss further as we get further into the book) with church planting is that I don’t know much of anything about it. So when I tell people I want to plant a church, I hope I don’t get questions about what that’ll look like, or timelines or anything, because all I can say is “I don’t know.”

But while that’s a struggle, I also choose to view it as a strength. One of the things I’ve discovered is that everyone thinks they have church planting figured out – they think they know exactly how to raise funds; when to go public with services; how to preach (!); who’s who in the core team; where and when to meet, etc. Everyone seems to have a different formula, but it almost seems like everyone’s formula, though different, is the only formula that works. Which, logically speaking, is impossible. So I consider it a blessing that I’m a clean slate, because I have this understanding that there’s no one way to do it, so it gives me room and space to figure out what’ll work when I plant a church. Does that make any kind of sense?

Anyway, this seemed like a very basic book on church planting that dealt less with the methodology and more with the core issues about what a church planter should be like (man,) what he’s there for (mission,) and what he preaches (message.) Hence, I chose this book.

 

Chapter 1 deals with the need of a church planting man to be a rescued man. At first, admittedly, I thought this was an odd thing to deal with, because I couldn’t see how anyone who wasn’t saved (rescued) wanting to plant a church. But Darrin puts out well how this interesting dynamic is created. First, it’s possible for a man to have charisma and not a calling (makes sense that I didn’t pick up on this since the opposite is true for me!) Men can be gifted speakers and even decently gifted leaders, but when they themselves are not saved, it becomes disastrous. The spiritual condition of a pastor will ultimately be passed down onto his congregation. At the core of that issue is that a man will try to manufacture a calling or disregard the lack of a calling because he is trying to save himself. That is, some men become convinced that they must do great things for God in order to be accepted and favored by God, and think that pastoring a church is the ultimate service they can do for God, so regardless of a calling, they will seek to do so.

The heart of this chapter is summed up in this quote:

                Though God sometimes mercifully uses preachers with false motives (self-salvation,) the church under such a pastor generally suffers spiritually, communally, and missionally, and it eventually withers and dies.

It’s important that a church is pastored by a man who God has rescued and who has been reborn. A man secure in his salvation will lead a church of people who become secure in their salvation. Leadership is predictive of a church’s health, and salvation, while seemingly fundamental, is incredibly important. Chapter 2 discusses calling.

reflecting on the wrath.

I’m working (at a snail’s pace) on a life group curriculum, and this week’s portion had me reading the story of Jonah, comparing it to the story of Jesus. I’ll spare you all my previous thoughts, but I was caught up on this one passage. At the end of chapter 3, it says that after the Ninevites heard Jonah’s message, they repented, called a city-wide fast, and God saw it and decided to relent His wrath that day. Now, I’m not going to answer the question of “what did God do with His wrath in the mean time” (because when you break it down, you can’t exactly say that He just forgave, because if that was possible, couldn’t He forgive mankind once and for all without the cross and without sacrifice? That’s a can of worms and a path that I’m going down individually, but that’s not my purpose in writing this blog.)

 

Instead, I got to thinking about God’s great wrath. I thought about Jesus and how He was the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2.) See,  it doesn’t ever seem like God is thrilled to pour out His wrath. He’s a just God, yes – but that doesn’t mean that He delights in the process of unleashing wrath. That said, one of the endless miraculous traits of the cross is that Jesus – because He was fully God, flawless, sinless, perfect – was able to take all of mankind’s sin upon Himself. If He weren’t God, then first of all, He couldn’t flawlessly uphold the law, and second, His choice to take the sin of man upon Himself would be obsolete, because that wouldn’t be His choice to make. But because He was fully God – infinitely greater than man – and fully man – tempted in every way – and sinless, He was uniquely qualified to be the Savior of the world.

 

And on the cross, Jesus took on every single bit of God’s wrath. Selfishly, it’s incredible to think about what that means just for me. The punishment for every sin I’ve committed – every lie, every bit of lust, every fit of unresolved anger, every time I shy away and disobey God – and continue to commit was poured on Jesus. I don’t know if I would be able to bear the weight of my own sin, let alone all of mankind! But that’s the incredible thing about the cross – God’s unspeakable wrath was sated through Jesus. One of the issues people have with the Old Testament is that they can’t reconcile a God of wrath and anger with the God who is ostensibly merciful, kind, and loving in the New Testament. But that didn’t change – the object of wrath did. Jesus took on all the wrath of God – once and for all – so that our relationship with the Father who created us, loves us, and desires to walk with us can be restored. Incredible.

Ah, Lord God.

“Ah, Lord God!”

I try not to read the Bible thinking that every single word is written directly to me (because, after all, the Bible was written over a span of years by various authors, and it is mere pride to believe it is written to me. It’s relevant to me, and the Bible is for me, but was not written to me) but I couldn’t help but hear these words as a conversation between myself and God, not just Jeremiah and God.

In Jeremiah chapter 1, God calls Jeremiah into his appointment as a prophet, and Jeremiah’s response is:

“Ah, Lord God!” Jeremiah goes on to say how young he is and how he’s unable to speak. In other words, he says, “Ah God, I’m insufficient. I can’t do it. I’m not well-spoken.”

Jeremiah isn’t the only one in the Bible to tout his own insufficiencies to God – Moses did it too. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”* and again, “But God, I’m not eloquent.”** and God’s answer in all three cases is this: “you’re still going.” But His response to Moses’ ineloquence is my favorite: “Who made your mouth? Wasn’t it me?”

 

See, I’ve spent weeks upon weeks lamenting my own insufficiencies, especially as I think about the prospect of planting a church. I keep telling God how inexperienced I am in creating a community of people, in taking leadership, in how poor I am at anticipating how people will respond to things, and how lazy I am in my own thinking. I lament it, I’m embarrassed by it, I’m ashamed of it. But I don’t think my own argument of “God, I’m insufficient” holds any weight to Him.

When I esteem my own lack of capability above the equipping grace of God, I idolize it. And I dwell on it, and worst of all, I stand still because of it. But God says this to Biblical heroes, and indeed to me, and to you, friend – Who made you, anyway? Isn’t it I, the Lord, the Almighty God? You’re capable because I say you are, not because you have some inherent quality.

 

After all, God “chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

(1 Corinthians 1:27-31)

 

*Exodus 3:11

**Exodus 4:10

catharsis.

I broke down tonight.

It was one of those cries that you’ve felt coming for a really long time, and you so greatly anticipate it – you can’t wait until the tear ducts finally decide to release everything you know they’ve pent up for so long.

I cried about a girl.

Well, so I thought.

I began writing in my journal about how it didn’t make sense how I’ve had feelings towards this girl for so long now, and I just can’t come to terms with dating anyone besides her, but simultaneously knowing that it would, could, and should never happen. Why did everything keep coming around back to her?

I wrote about how it didn’t make sense that I think she’s so beautiful, and I enjoy her company so much, and I’ve had this insatiable desire for so long to do nothing other than to make her happy. I wrote about my worries that I could never possibly love someone the way I love her in those terms.

But as I was writing, I was hit with this question:

Is it really about this girl?

Now, I’m afraid I’m not making sense, so I’ll try to bring this full-circle.

I think that my feelings of attachment and confusion were a lot less about this girl and much more about my attachment to my life the way it is now. I realized as I was writing how horrified I am of change. It’s always baffled me how some people can move place to place, live in one place one day and move the next with little remorse about it, and while that may be detachment on their part, I think it says something about my own severe attachment to places.

If you know me, you know I’m a homebody.

They say home is where the heart is, and my heart is with a lot of the people I know. Less than a specific location, I think that I get attached to circumstances: living rent-free with my brother, being in a great church, working in a great coffee shop where the pay is small but the fun is big and it doesn’t (usually) follow me home, at least not in a bad way.

I think I’m scared of change more than anything: scared that my brother will move and I’ll have to get my own place. Scared that when the call of God on my life starts coming to fruition, it’ll mean leaving a ton of people that I love dearly and am comfortable with; and scared that I’ll get a job I despise.

I’m scared of making ripples in the water.

But this life is but a vapor, and bringing the Kingdom of God to earth is a mission that far supercedes my own needs and comforts.