A day in the life

I’m waiting for a video to upload, so I thought I would take a few minutes to jot some stuff down. A couple of pastor friends have shared a meme asking people to share in gif images what they think a pastor’s week looks like. Well, I have been trained for many years of web development to disdain gifs, and I am a pastor. So I thought I would write about what a typical week in my life looks like. Continue reading ‘A day in the life’

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Here we go again

It doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true: on Friday, seminary classes resume. This fall, I am enrolled in three classes: Christian Worship, Goal Setting and Accountability, and an independent study course entitled Church Revitalization Field Study. I have not had much time to examine the syllabi for any of these classes (other than to order books), but Christian Worship is set to cover a wide array of subjects relating to our worship of God. This is not to be confused with music; although music is a substantial component of worship, it is not synonymous with it. To equate music with worship would be to equate a tire with your car. Goal Setting and Accountability is a relatively self-explanatory title, and the Church Revitalization Field Study will involve me observing a professional church consultant assessing a church and drafting a strategy for its revitalization.

Continue reading ‘Here we go again’

Semester 2 is officially official

Well, it’s official. I passed my second semester of classes at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. I was even pleased with my grades, and that was no small feat!

I finished the semester with a strong A in Self Assessment & Appraisal, and an A- in Congregational Leadership. It is tempting to be disappointed with that latter grade, but as I reflect upon the semester, and particularly the second half of it, I am reminded of how much stuff was simultaneously happening in our family and church, as well as how much work was required to achieve this grade. Simply put, it was nearly overwhelming. My wife will attest to numerous very late nights over the last few weeks of the semester.

I’ll compare passing Congregational Leadership to climbing Mt. Everest. If you can do it without oxygen, you get an A. If you need a little oxygen at the summit, you get an A-.

Well, I made it. I had to get a little oxygen along the way, but I reached the summit and made it back!

In the aftermath of the second semester, I traveled last week to Indiana for my second onsite intensive, Global Christian History. Dr. Patrick Eby made studying history interesting and even fun. Of course, Lutheran Satire helped! (Oh, Patrick!) I was pleased to take this class with one other member of my cohort, and we met some new friends along the way. In addition to studying history in general, I was in a group of three that studied the development of the Scripture across church history. I found this to be an exhilarating study, even if it did mean spending more than three hours at Starbucks rather than visiting Ivanhoe’s for ice cream!

As it stands today, I have one paper to finish for Global Christian History. After that, I officially have until August off. During this break, I will begin reading for an independent study I will be completing this fall, Church Revitalization Field Study. As part of this study, I will observe a church consultation by Rev. Paul James. I am already getting excited for this opportunity!

I have also been trying to nail down the timing of electives that I will be taking. The field study counts as one of these. I also have several others required for my specialization, and I am hoping to take Hebrew for Ministry as well.

Weeping, peacemakers, and more

The following is adapted from a devotional I delivered to the Regenerate 7 ministerial alliance June 30, 2016.

This morning, my city officially tallied its 14th homicide of 2017. In 2016, we had a couple of high profile murders – two police officers were executed in their patrol cars – but we had only 13 homicides all year. If we continue on pace, we will more than double the homicide rate from last year.

Moreover, this latest murder happened just outside an elementary school. Five hundred children were reading stories and working on math problems just feet from this crime scene.

On a personal note, it was the third homicide in the last year within a two-mile radius of our church and my home.

Certainly, we are not at the same level as Chicago, New York, or LA. In fact, for the most part, my city is a fantastic place to live. I feel safe standing in my lawn and riding in my car. Yet this latest homicide gives me pause.

Ours is a city in desperate need of peace.

To their credit, city officials, the police department, and countless others work tirelessly to realize that peace, but the fact is that much of what they do is limited to a reactionary role. That is, there is little that they can do until after something bad has already happened. They can only react to bad situations after the fact.

The Church, however, is different. We are called and empowered by the grace of God to be proactive, to not just decry violence and crime, but to actually make peace.

For so long, we in the Church have defined success in terms of buildings, bucks, and butts: the bigger and more spectacular your building, the more money is in your coffers, and the more people you have in the seats of your sanctuary, the more successful you must be. But is that what success in the Church is really supposed to mean?

This past Sunday, I preached from Acts 9:31. This one verse, I told the congregation, serves as a sort of intermission, summarizing probably ten years of Christian history between the fulfillment of the first two-thirds of the Great Commission – the Church was effectively witnessing in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria – and the start of the final phase of the mission: witnessing to the ends of the earth. In this verse, the author, Luke, observes that the Church enjoyed a time of peace and strengthening. The word translated here as “peace” is considered the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word shalowm, which means peace, tranquility, well-being, and prosperity. Summarize all of that: success.

And what did the success of the Church look like in Acts 9:31? (1) The people lived in the fear of the Lord. That is, they were committed to revering the Lord, aligning themselves with Him, and living holy lives. (2) They were encouraged by the Holy Spirit. That is, the Holy Spirit instilled them to do the right thing even when it was scary, inconvenient, unpopular, or outright costly. And (3) they grew as a direct result of these things.

What if we redefined success in the Church to mean more people living more godly lives and, conversely, fewer people living lives steeped in sin. That would mean fewer people committing crimes, addicted to drugs, living lives of violence, and more. Further, what if we redefined success in the Church to mean fewer divorces, lower poverty, and more peace in our neighborhoods?

Indeed, in Matt 5:9, as Jesus introduced his Sermon on the Mount and the very crux of all His teachings to His disciples, our Lord pronounced, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Google defines “peacemaker” as “a person who brings about peace.” The Bible makes quite clear that peace is to be the centerpiece of the gospel message and the Christian life. In Luke 10, for example, Jesus dispatched the 72 with instructions to extend peace to everyone they met. Paul bid the Romans in Romans 12:18, as far as it depends on you, to live at peace with everyone. And James pronounced that the peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Indeed, we are called – commanded, really, to create peace in this world, but how shall we accomplish this overwhelming task? Notice what Jesus does not say:

  • Blessed are the news reporters and gossips, the ones who sit around all day every day talking or “praying” about the bad stuff that’s happened.
  • Blessed are the bystanders who stand by and merely watch as bad things go on.
  • Blessed are the superpowers. Back in the days of the Cold War, when the world had two superpowers, some of us here today will recall the arms race which maintained “peace” by ensuring that, if war ever broke out, everyone would die. We should not engage in an arms race to beat the forces of evil in this world at their own game.
  • Blessed are the superheroes who rush in to save everyone. If you’re there and can help, then by all means, do so. But never forget that this world already has a Savior, and His name is Jesus.

How, then, do we make peace in our city? 6 years ago, after a period of heavy rain in June 2010, the Lake Delhi dam on the Maquoketa River in eastern Iowa failed. My parents live in Monticello, a small community just downstream of Delhi, and when word of the dam’s imminent failure reached the community, everyone who was able came to fill sandbags to hopefully save the town. Hundreds of people worked for days to protect key facilities and such, and even then, when the dam burst, the floods all but destroyed 50 homes, 20 businesses, and numerous other structures. The city’s sewage treatment plant was also flooded, leaving residents of Monticello without sewer services for some time afterward. Subsequent investigation revealed that shortcuts taken during the construction of the dam and in repairs and reinforcements made since had all contributed to the failure. Millions of dollars in damages downstream could have been averted if only a few thousand dollars had been spent upstream.

The answer to the question of how we make peace in our city is that we in the Church must look and work upstream. What would happen if we in the Church offered conflict resolution services and helped neighbors and families mediate and reconcile tension before they erupted into all-out conflict, did things to encourage community pride and cohesion, and proactively addressed issues which are directly related to violence and crime? Indeed, what if, more than emergency financial assistance, we offered job training and job fairs? If a lack of education is a problem, why do we not offer tutoring, college extension courses, etc.? How would our community change if we offered counseling for struggling families and support for broken ones?

To be certain, this list is far from exhaustive, and some churches are already doing these things. There is, however, much more to be done. So much, in fact, that it often seems overwhelming to those who are doing the work. Where do we begin?

Luke 19:41 is a good place. There, as Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem just a week before He would go to the cross, He lamented, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.”

And he wept over the city.

Do we realize how many movements of God began with someone weeping?

  • Jacob and Esau wept together when they were reconciled
  • Joseph wept before the relationship with his brothers was restored
  • When the angel confronted Israel at Bokim, the people wept before they offered sacrifices to the Lord.
  • When the messengers from Jabesh Gilead reached Gibeah with news that the city had been besieged and was on the brink of destruction, the people wept before the Spirit of God came powerfully on Saul.
  • Hezekiah wept bitterly before God healed him
  • Ezra and the Israelites returning from exile wept before they cleansed the camp of the sin of intermarriage.
  • When Nehemiah heard of the plight of Jerusalem, he wept before God moved the heart of the king and enabled him to rebuild the walls in an astonishing 52 days.
  • Jesus wept, and Lazarus came back to life.

Why were so many movements of God preceded by someone weeping? Because weeping only happens when we have taken ownership of the problem and it means something to us.

Our city doesn’t know what will bring it peace, but we do. His name is Jesus. But He won’t move in power in Des Moines until we – His people, His body – have taken ownership of the problem and been wrecked by it to the point of weeping.

When was the last time you wept for your city?

Matthew 10:11-15: Faithfulness vs. Fruitfulness

When I was an undergrad, our college had a vision to build a shining new facility to house the school’s chapel and fine arts programs. It would be state-of-the-art from the ground up, the crowning jewel on an already beautiful campus. By the time I arrived at school, this vision was already approaching fruition. Within a couple of months, the capital campaign had concluded, and that spring, ground was broken. By the middle of my junior year, the new facility was open, and it was spectacular! In the months that followed, though, it quickly became apparent that something was wrong. After the tremendous victory of the new building, it seemed as though the entire school had reached a destination, and now everyone was just standing around asking, “Now what?” We had reached the end of the vision, and it quickly became clear that no one knew where to go or what to do next. We were wandering in the woods. Continue reading ‘Matthew 10:11-15: Faithfulness vs. Fruitfulness’

Genesis 48: He crossed his hands!

Over the last couple of months, I have been working slowly through the book of Genesis in my personal devotions. As I go, I am recording some thoughts about the passages I read in a couple of note-taking Bibles. My wife and I will give these Bibles to our kids on their respective sixteenth birthdays. Because this is supposed to be a labor of love for them, specifically, I realized I needed to keep some of the insights between me and them. I have not, therefore, been sharing every insight on my blog. Today, however, I came across a significant thought in Genesis 48 that I thought was too important not to share. Continue reading ‘Genesis 48: He crossed his hands!’

March 2017 Seminary Update, Supplemental

One of the things that Wesley Seminary offers is the opportunity for people with undergraduate degrees in ministry and such to apply for “Advanced Standing” in various classes. This allows a student to receive seminary credit for specific subjects in which they have already attained at least 6 undergraduate credits with sufficient grades. Continue reading ‘March 2017 Seminary Update, Supplemental’