Seminary update

It’s been a little over eight weeks since I started this seminary journey. We’re now in the sixth week of our first round of online courses, and I think things are going as well as can be expected. The two courses that I’m taking right now are called “Missional Church” and “Change and Transformation,” and I wanted to take a moment this morning to briefly share some of the things I’m learning along the way. Continue reading ‘Seminary update’

One week down…

Two months ago, I announced that I had been accepted into the Master’s of Divinity (M.Div) program at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. Although most of this program will be online, after much preparation, this past week, my seminary officially journey began with a trip to Marion, Indiana. Continue reading ‘One week down…’

Blessed are the peacemakers

The headlines are grim. Four police-involved shootings in less than a week. Two where police were victims, two where they may have been perpetrators. And our nation seems to be on the brink of a meltdown. What is the Church to do?

Some in the Church seem content to stoke the flames. With bold rhetoric, they endorse law enforcement officials. With fiery accusations, they denounce racism. There is certainly some truth in all of it: racism should be denounced, and peace officers should be supported. But the tone and language – the vitriolic anger – these leaders use only exacerbates the problem and deepens the polarization of our culture.

Indeed, the violence of the past week is merely a symptom of the much more fundamental problem. For 240 years, we have supposed that merely bringing people of myriad colors, languages, and creeds together on a single continent, under a singular flag, behind a single piece of paper, would somehow produce a melting pot, nevermind that this has never before in history been the case. Today, we are confronted with the fact that the melting pot of America is, and always has been, a myth.

Fortunately, this is not an unprecedented situation. In the first letter to bear his name, St. Peter addressed the Church scattered across the Roman world. From Italy to Greece, Israel, Egypt, Lybia, and even Spain, the whole spectrum of the Mediterranean world was under the Roman flag, but peace was maintained only through an overwhelming military presence. Yet, as the Church spread across the empire, each of these distinct cultures – many of which have historically been diametrically opposed to one another – was suddenly represented in the proverbial pews. In 1 Peter 2:10, the apostle announced, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

All of these diverse, disparate cultures were brought together in the Church, under God, by the mercy which is made available in Christ.

Now, to be fair, this peace in the Church was at times quite messy, but it was a foretaste of Revelation 7:9-10, where St. John witnessed “a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language… standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” singing together praise to the King. But the point is, God’s grace was able to accomplish in the Church what no geography or flag or credo ever could.

And that’s exactly my point. Our enemy seeks to kill and destroy. His very name means accuser. When we resort to leveling accusations, defaming people on any side of an issue, or (God forbid!) returning violence in kind, we are utilizing his tactics. When we are utilizing his tactics, we are advancing his cause.

We in the Church must not subscribe to the bold rhetoric and fiery accusations wielded by some, much less wield them ourselves.

Rather, we must embrace the model Jesus espoused in the Beatitudes: “The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 HCSB). But how do we do that? I want to suggest a couple of ideas.

  • Ask questions rather than make statements.
  • Choose your words carefully, avoiding inflammatory comments.
  • Be polite and respectful, even to those who disagree with you. (Hint: Don’t call them names.)
  • Don’t reciprocate when someone speaks badly or mistreats you.
  • Demonstrate that you are primarily interested in the other person’s best interests. That is, show them that you love them as Jesus does.

Some of these will not be easy, but James did tell us that “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.” A friend reminded me today that the Greek word translated “righteousness” can also be rendered “justice.” And if we want to see righteousness and/or justice, we must cultivate peace. Cultivation is synonymous with plowing or breaking up the soil so that it’s ready for planting. It is an intense, difficult process, but that should not be surprising.

St. Paul tells us that an authentic follower of Christ will have a circumcised heart. Circumcision is painful! And it must leave us tender, intensely sensitive to what’s going on around us!

Indeed, when Jesus came to the top of the hill and saw Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He lamented, “If you knew this day what would bring peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42), and He wept.

Do you know how many powerful moves of God were preceded by the men and women of God weeping? I went through the Bible and found just a few instances:

  1. Jacob and Esau wept together when they were reconciled.
  2. Joseph wept before the relationship with his brothers was restored.
  3. When the angel confronted Israel at Bokim, the people wept before they offered sacrifices to the Lord.
  4. 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.
  5. Hezekiah wept bitterly before God healed him.
  6. Ezra and the Israelites returning from exile wept before they cleansed the camp of the sin of intermarriage.
  7. 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.
  8. Jesus wept before Lazarus came out of the tomb.

My friends, it is time that we in the Church begin cultivating peace. It’s time that we allow our hearts to be circumcised (rather than our tongues to wag). It’s time we weep because our nation doesn’t know what will bring it peace.

It’s time that we tell them with our words – and show them with our lives – that Jesus is the only One who can bring peace.

Back to School

Wesley SeminaryEver since I embraced God’s call to enter into the ministry, I have wanted to attend seminary (i.e., graduate school for pastors). When I went off to Bible college, my intent was to finish college and proceed straight through seminary before entering the ministry, but the simple fact of the matter is that college is expensive! So rather than going deeper into debt, we moved to Des Moines, and the dream of seminary was filed for a later date.

Well, this is that later date. Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University offers a fantastic Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program which is almost entirely online and custom tailored for people already working in a church. Add to that some incredible discounts for Wesleyan pastors, and it is an opportunity too good to pass.

So what does this mean for our church? Well, let’s shoot the elephant right away: I will still be the pastor. Nicole and I have no plans of leaving DHWC now or when this program is complete. As I said, the program in which I am enrolled is primarily online. Therefore, the bulk of my studies will be done from Des Moines, with only one or two weeks per year when I will travel to Marion, Indiana, for on-site work. The first of these trips will be during the first week of August, when I officially begin my studies. I will spend two more weeks in Indiana in June 2017, and another two in July-August 2018. And I will finish the program with a final week in Indiana during June 2019.

Our church and I will gain access to a vast treasure trove of additional knowledge and resources. If I have learned anything in fourteen years of ministry, it’s that there is a great deal that I don’t know. The core courses that I will be taking will dramatically increase my knowledge of everything from church history to Scripture to preaching and more. The practical emphasis of Wesley Seminary’s program will mean that much of this stuff is readily applicable in our context. And one of the most compelling things about this program is that it offers specializations or packages of elective courses specifically tailored to meet needs in the church. One of these specializations is church revitalization. Undoubtedly, this will be useful for our congregation!

I am excited about these opportunities, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it will take us three years to get there. And during this time, there will likely be times when schooling makes me unavailable. For instance, as I mentioned above, there will be about two weeks per year that I will be out of town for classes. Additionally, I will need time during the rest of the year to study. This will necessitate a few changes in the way that I and our congregation have done things.

The most notable change will have to be delegation. I will need to lean much more on our board and other leaders to get things done. The reality is that our church is active on a lot of fronts, and I carry a significant portion of the burden. We will need others to pick up the mantle of ministry. So let me start with this invitation: if you see something that needs to be done, ask me if you can help in that area! And if I ask you to do something, please say yes!

A friend gave me some interesting perspective the other day. He said that I am not going to seminary alone: our entire congregation is headed to seminary. Our entire church will reap the benefits of me attending seminary, but the flip side of that is that we must work together – and be patient together – during the planting and cultivating season so that there are benefits to reap.

 

Tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips are said to mean affection and caring.

Years before my wife and I moved to Des Moines to pastor our church, someone planted tulips around the windows on the south side of the building. Of course, anyone who knows much about tulips will know that that they have a tendency to multiply until there are too many of them for a given area. Eventually, they crowd each other out until they’re unable to bloom. Well, this is exactly what had happened long before we moved in. Continue reading ‘Tulips’

Finished (Good Friday 2015)

Note: Today, for the first time since we started holding the service nearly 10 years ago, I had to cancel the Good Friday service at our church. Even so, I wanted to share an abbreviated version of the message I had prepared for the service. So here goes… Continue reading ‘Finished (Good Friday 2015)’

Oholiab who?

It’s been several weeks since I started my study of Oholiab, and I’m a bit frustrated. I knew going into this that Oholiab was obscure, and I realized that there isn’t a whole lot in the Bible about the guy. But I’ve been surprised by just how difficult it is to answer even the most basic questions about this guy. For instance, the first question that I really wanted to answer was simply this: how did Moses and company recognize that God had indeed chosen Oholiab? I mean, I grasp that God pointed him out by name in the opening verses of Exodus 31, but what was it that convinced Moses that this wasn’t a fluke, a figment of his own imagination, wishful thinking, or a plain old mistake? And perhaps more importantly, what is it that can help me confirm who it is that God is calling to lead today? Continue reading ‘Oholiab who?’