From a Distance

Profusely, it springs forth – heat, shrapnel, violent force

Spinning fire balls, debris, penetrating its course

As clouds of smoke billow – white, soft like a pillow

Nails and bearings in flight – mighty winds send friends

Scattered, looking over carnage – a ghastly sight

Without end – collective souls gathered

 

Ash, falls like snow over the scarlet, blood stained road

All told, devastation hits too close to home

For young boys invested in ice cream cones, who love

Peace, and green scenes, and America’s pastime

But time – we cannot rewind it, any more than remind

It that all we want from it is a bit more of it

 

So spend it wisely, and not just for your own good

But as a lantern brightly shown in the nighttime wood

As heroes and cries of hope bellow, across a land

Where once vibrant cathedrals became hallow,

And lose shape – we must not stand incapacitated

When pain deflates those elated – once celebrating

 

As the morning echoes and fog clears, emotions range

From rage to anger to fear, to pure sadness

Had this been a singular moment of madness, isolated,

Changes may seem less near, less jaded, still tears

Gears of justice turning, we learn fates, calm nerves, and

Know – the reprieve, time for bereavement is short lived

My family and I have been praying and thinking about my pursuit of further education for a couple of years now.  In that process we have had the joy of being involved at Grace Church, and I have been researching cities and schools and studying theology more intently than ever to prepare ourselves for what God had for us.  

In the past three weeks I was admitted to Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston, Mass, The University of Aberdeen in Northern Scotland, and The University of Edinburgh in Central Scotland.  After considerable prayer and conversations with friends and family, my wife and I have decided to move to Edinburgh later this summer and attend the University of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is the 21st ranked university in the world, so I know that the sacrifices we must make for my education will be worth it.  As a city, Edinburgh is often ranked among the best cities in the world to live in, so I believe that my family will enjoy their time there.  It is a very large city, and known to represent the “European city” very well, but from everything we read and hear from the many people we have spoken to that have spent time there, it is clean, safe, and has a very small town, quiet feel.  There is also a very rich Christian history there, with churches that go back to the reformation, and the University itself is nearly 500 years old, still with some of its original buildings.   

For the time being, I have only been admitted to a one year MTh program.  As the program is one year, we have decided not to commit in our hearts and minds beyond that.  When I apply for my PhD programs in January in 2014 I will be applying to schools throughout the UK, as well as here in the States, primarily in Boston.

After school we are open to whatever.  We have a great ministry team/family of people that we are apart of, like the Spencers and Steve C., that are committed to doing ministry together in the future, and we are excited to see how God leads us towards long term ministry as I progress in school.  Boston is still very much a long term hope for us, but we aren’t married to any plan as I continue in school and we are excited to see where God takes us.

I want to thank my Grace family; Dan, Jay, Tony, Jim, Jason, Dave, Eric, and the other elders and leaders, who have shown me an unbelievable amount of support in this process.  It has taken much of my attention, and to some degree theirs, and they have gone above and beyond to help my family get to this place.  My wife and I are blown away by how much you have given.  To the people at Grace Tahoe – I love you.  We have a few more months together.  Leaving you guys is bitter sweet.  I also want to thank those of you who have committed to help support our family financially while we are there.  We will need every bit of it, as this will be an expensive journey.  

With that – prayer requests:  

1) I found out today that my Greek and Hebrew training will be extensive.  I need to do A LOT of refreshing in Greek in the next three months.  I need prayer for focus and clarity.   

2) My kids are excited – but this will be a big move, with a lot of change.  Please pray for our family.

3) So many of you are such good friends of ours, like family.  Some of you are family.  We are going to miss you so much.  Pray that we can maintain closeness.  We love you guys.

4) We are asking some of you to pray and consider supporting us financially while we are gone.  This may sound like a weird thing – pay to send a guy to college.  However, in the theology context I was advised by many mentors, men in the Bible College environment, that asking for support is quite normal.  A guy going to school for theology has a missionary element to it as I have the chance to get the kind of degrees few receive, and my sincere hope is to use this education for the Kingdom and Glory of Christ at every step.  If you believe you can support us, monthly or even with a one time gift, please let us know.  Every bit helps.  Like doctors, theologians come home with a lot of debt.  Unlike doctors, we rarely make enough to pay it all back quickly.  Your consideration in this is appreciated by our family.

5) Pray for Grace Church.  We are in the process of hiring my replacement.  I love this church, and want the right guy.  Pray for wisdom.

Thanks everyone.  Love you guys.  

I have had a struggle over the past few months that I believe many of you may relate to.  I’ve decided that this particular struggle is best brought into the open, worn on the sleeve rather than hidden behind the heart.

I struggle with my worthiness.  

Let me be clear, I do not struggle with my worthiness as a child of God.  I know very well that I am NOT worthy, but I am comfortable with that.  I have been found inadequate to be God’s child in and of myself, but God has saved my soul, and made me a citizen of his mighty Kingdom, drawing me into relationship with him through Jesus as my King and savior and mediator.  I have been justified by grace, through faith, and am now completely accepted by God due to being clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.  

I don’t struggle with these truths, with faith or fear or guilt in this regard.  I never feel unworthy to be God’s child insofar as I trust that Jesus has made me worthy by his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  I never feel the need to earn God’s approval, I never feel unloved by him, I never feel that I have to justify myself in a salvific or relational sense.  I am at peace with God, I approach his throne with confidence as my King and never feel the need to justify my place as his child and citizen of his kingdom.  For some reason, understanding grace has always come a bit easy to me (which doesn’t mean I always extend it well).

However, this changes when it comes to ministry.  I don’t get to be a pastor simply because I want to.  I don’t get to justify pursuing pastoral ministry simply because I have been justified as a child of God.  When it comes to being a pastor, pursuing degrees in theology, counseling people, preaching the Word, I better be called, qualified, and effective.  I better be worthy.

Lately I have been finding myself taking all that I have done in ministry, pooling it all into the palm of my hand, and holding up to heaven.  I cry “Here it is God.  It’s all I have, it’s all I’ve done, and I know its weight.  Its weight is light.  I have been found wanting.  I have been inadequate, ineffective, what I have here in my hand isn’t good enough to justify this path.  The life I’ve led, the things I’ve done, have I been more stubborn than called?  Have I been more zealous than effective?”

To continue to pay the cost, to ask what I must of my family, I must be sure that I can justify it all.  

Maybe I should go and become a struggling writer, or a marine biologist, or a high school history teacher.

Each time I hold what I’ve done up to the heavens, I get the same reply:

“You are not the judge of success.  Those around you who have doubted you and tried to discourage you and tear you down are not the judges of success.  Success is mine.  Stay the course.  Do as I say.”    

Thursday, the day before Jesus went to the cross, he celebrated the Passover with his disciples.  At this meal (Luke 22:7-23) Jesus instituted what has come to be known as “The Lord’s Supper”, or “Communion”.  At this event he showed how the Passover ultimately pointed to him.  A sacrifice would be made which would bring salvation to the people of God.  

Jesus also demonstrated his servant-hood by washing the feet of his disciples (John 13:1-20).  Here he was, the King of the universe, the day before his death, washing the feet of his own followers.  His death was enough to show his love, but he went beyond what was enough and showed his love and servant’s heart at many times.  Jesus not only demonstrated service in this moment, but he commanded it as well saying “…you also should do just as I have done to you” (verse 15).  

Today, perform a random act of kindness.  Go through a drive through and buy the order of the person behind you.  Find someone in need and meet it.  Drop by a friend’s office and bring them a cup of premium coffee.  Wash someone’s feet.  Live today in light of the servant-hood of Jesus, remembering that even as he was demonstrating how his death was for our freedom, he was serving and providing an example of his love that we should follow.

On the Wednesday before the death of Jesus, Judas betrayed him.  This day is often referred to as “Spy Wednesday”.  Matthew 26:14-16 relays what happened,

“The one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’  And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.  And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.”  

That’s roughly the equivalent of $7500 today.  

Kaiser Soze once said that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.  I would add to that the trick of bringing many people into fellowship with the church who are not truly in Christ, but everyone, including the person, believes they are.  Many people talk the Christian talk, but do not know Jesus, and Judas is the prime example of this.  He betrayed Jesus for money.  The overall testimony of Judas in Scripture seems to paint a clear picture that he never had true faith.  

I you’re a believer you might think, “I would never betray Christ!”  That’s probably true.  But I believe that Judas found it justifiable to betray Jesus because he was not as committed to or fascinated by Jesus as Jesus deserved.  I think we are all guilty of that.

Spend some time today meditating on the wonderful savior.  Read a story or two about him in the Gospel accounts in the New Testament.  Think about his character, and his work, and his worth, and pray.  Thank him for being a God and savior worthy of our admiration, worship, and fascination.  

Thank him for being a king that, rather than oppressing his people, died to save his people from the oppression of sin.  

The Tuesday before Jesus died, he was challenged.  The religious leaders of his day challenged his authority to say and do the things he was saying and doing, and they tried various methods to discredit him.  When these methods did not work, they only moved these religious leaders that much closer to wanting to see Jesus dead.  They challenged him by trying to entangle him in views that would be unpopular with the people who had rallied around him, such as asking him about marriage in the life to come, paying taxes to Caesar, and trying to get him to make unsubstantiated claims about himself.  

Jesus asks the Pharisees who the Christ is.  ”Whose son is he?”, asks Jesus.  The Pharisees respond that the Christ is the son of David, reiterating that they were simply waiting for a civil, human king.  Jesus responds by quoting Psalm 110:1, written by that same David.  In this Psalm, David refers to the Christ as “my Lord”.  Jesus points out that the Christ must be more than simply a human in the line of David if David calls him “Lord”.  The people, it says, dared not ask him another question.

Today, spend some of your day thinking about this all important question – Who do you say he is?  Answering the question of who Jesus is will be the most important question any person ever asks themselves.  The answer effects every answer you ever give to any other question – questions such as “How do I live?” or “How should I view this ethical question or that moral concern?” or even questions like “How should I approach my daily work or interactions with my family?”

If you’re already a believer, you’re not exempt from this question.  Even followers of Jesus misunderstand the nature of Jesus in certain ways that effects their response to him.  If you choose not to serve in the local church, or give financially, or attend regularly for the sake of advancing the Kingdom and worshiping in community, if you pursue your interests more than you pursue God, if a biblical worldview does not dominate the way you see things, than you probably misunderstand Jesus, and need to spend more time with him in prayer and the study of the Scriptures.

On this day Jesus laments over the city (Matthew 23:37-39).  He mourns the stubbornness and disobedience of the people – a people who thought they were close to God but misunderstood him completely.  Is God rejoicing over you, or lamenting that you have not pursued him and are fooled into thinking you are right with a God you do not know?

Who do you say he is?

On the Sunday before he was to be killed Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem being hailed as a king.  He wasn’t the king they were expecting, which is why many of those same people wanted him dead less than a week later, but he was the king they needed.  He is the king we all need.  He is the king protector, and provider of salvation.  

The next day, Monday, there are two major events that occurred that I want to reflect on.

1) Jesus cleanses the temple – There were vendors and money changers using the temple for financial gain.  Jesus overturned the tables where these “robbers” (as Jesus called them) were set up.  The people were so committed to their own kingdoms rather than the Kingdom of God that they were using a place of prayer and worship of the God of the universe for the feeding of their greed.  (see Matthew 21:12-17)

2) Jesus curses the fig tree – Jesus approaches a fig tree to eat, but the tree is full of nothing but leaves.  Jesus curses the tree for its lack of fruitfulness.  The disciples marvel as the cursed tree withers at once, and ask Jesus how it was done.  He says such things are possible through faith.

The point for today – Let us spend Holy Monday on three things:

1) Scripture says that we as individuals and collectively as a church are the temple of God (I Cor. 3, 1 Pet 2).  Are we using that temple to build our own kingdoms, or to advance the Kingdom of the Christ that died as our king to protect us from the penalty of sin?  Search your heart today in a time of serious prayer.  How are you using your time, resources, etc. for the sake of the gospel, and what things are you giving yourself to that are getting in the way of that?

2) Walk in faith.  After cursing the fig tree Jesus said “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” This doesn’t mean that God is your genie who is waiting to give you all of your idols as you ask in faith, it means that we must proceed in faith, on behalf of the God of our faith, and if we do so God is faithful to us and will be with us.  We can do great things for the gospel if we proceed in faith.

3) As the tree without fruit was cursed, so is the man or woman who claims faith without desire to follow God and bear fruit for the Kingdom.  Spend time in prayer today truly pursuing him, asking him to use you in a powerful way and to bear fruit on behalf of your King for his glory alone.