Monday, August 13, 2018

Monday Miscellaneous

Today I’m re-starting something on the blog called “Monday Miscellaneous.” The basic idea is that I’ll be sharing a combination of random thoughts every Monday that probably won’t tie together in any specific way, hence the name “Monday Miscellaneous” … yes, I am just that creative. 
  • Unfortunately there hasn’t been much going on in our lives over the past few weeks.  We’ve only packed up our house in Maryland, moved to Indiana, unpacked a majority of our boxes, started a new position at Sugar Grove Church, have met so many new people that my mind is about ready to explode, and have been seeking to learn what it means to live life in Goshen once again.  Other than that, it’s been relatively boring summer. 

  • We did have some time off before I officially started at the Sugar Grove, which was such a huge blessing to our family.  We tried to make the most of it because we knew that once we landed in Indiana, the craziness would begin.  We went to Maine with the family.  It was such a relaxing and refreshing trip.  In all honesty, we were not excited about the trip because it was scheduled right in the middle of us trying to pack up our house.  We had so much to do and we didn’t think that taking a week off was going to help us get anything done.  But, in the midst of the craziness, we took a break and were able to refresh and pour into each other and it was exactly what our family needed. Here are a few pics from Maine:

  • Carol and I were also able to get way together for a weekend trip to New York City.  That was also exactly what the two of us needed at the time.  It was so nice to just be together and focus on each other for a couple of days.  Some highlights:
    • We walked a total of 60,582 steps (which is roughly 27 miles). 
    • I probably ate 60,582 calories (which is roughly 27 pounds) consisting of bagels, food trucks, and random things Carol dared me to eat off the sidewalk.  
    • I was only cursed at once by a local, so I take that as a win. 
    • We saw a couple of Broadway shows.  If you ever have a chance to see Come from Away, I highly recommend it!  The cast was amazing.  The story itself was very inspiring.  It was based on true events from 9/11.  And, it was incredibly entertaining.  I would see it again in a heartbeat.  

  • We’ve also had some really good family time lately. Here are a couple of pictures from the last few weeks … 

  • We officially landed in IN on July 22ndand were immediately greeted with overwhelming hospitality.  We arrived to a house that was fully stocked with food and toiletries.  About 20 minutes after we arrived, we had, not one … not two … not three or four … but FIVE different families show up with meals for us.  We were then invited over to someone else’s home for dinner and were treated to a wonderful meal with several other families that it was great to get to know. And, they sent us home with even more food!  My wife told me many times how nice it was for her to not have to think about making any meals for several days … especially in the middle of unpacking.

  • I recently read a book that spoke of following God’s leading. There was a short passage in the book that has been really helpful for me to remember during this time of transition: If “having peace about it” were the ultimate criterion for going through open doors, nobody in the Bible would have done anything God asked. The sequence in the Bible is usually not:
    • Calling
    • Deep feeling of peace about it 
    • Decision to obey 
    • Smooth sailing. 

 Instead, it’s usually: 
    • Calling
    • Abject terror
    • Decision to obey
    • Big problems
    • More terror
    • Second thoughts
    • Repeat several times
    • Deeper faith

The Holy Spirit is always looking to take us into a deeper trust relationship with Jesus and that is certainly happening in my life right now. With His help, I’m fighting to believe the Gospel which promises the loving embrace of a Savior at all times and in every situation.  I’m trusting the truth of Hebrews 12 which reminds me to “run with endurance the race that is set before me, looking to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of my faith.”  The prayer I have for myself and for my family right now is that we will keep our eyes on Him and begin to look more and more like Him as He continues to perfect our faith and shape us into His image.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Pivotal Moments

If my math is correct, I’ve spent 74 weeks of my life at camps, conferences, or on mission trips.  That’s roughly a year and a half of my 46 years on this earth.  I have spent countless hours raising money.  I have put in numerous hours of preparation. I have done more car washes than I can remember.  I have sold more pizzas for fundraisers than Papa Johns.  I have written letters, made phones calls, and had face-to-face conversations with people asking them to consider donating money.  I’ve ordered plane tickets, reserved buses, rented vans, gotten lost, driven to the wrong airport, left a student behind briefly, been robbed, been cursed at, been pooped on and thrown up on at the same time, and I even had a tree fall on my house during a storm while I was away on mission. Trying to live my life on mission and trying to help others live their life on mission has been a lot of work.  At times, it’s caused a lot of headaches.  

Maybe it’s because I’m getting a little older. Maybe it’s because our recent move has made me a bit nostalgic.  Or, maybe it’s because there is a powerful youth conference going on this week called Momentum that I was very involved with as a youth pastor. Whatever the reason, the reality of having spent nearly a year and a half of my life at a camp, conference, or mission trip has recently been on my mind.  And, as I reflect back, I find myself asking the question “Was it worth it?” For me, the answer has come back as a resounding “yes!” Let me explain why.

It all started in 1985. I was in 8thgrade. In the midst of my voice changing, my hormones raging, and my face breaking out, I qualified to be on a national Bible quiz team.  Because I qualified, I was chosen to represent our “district” of churches at a national Bible quiz competition.  As part of the national quiz team, I was asked to be a counselor at a camp for elementary aged kids.  I was nearly as immature as the kids that were at the camp, but I could answer questions from the Gospel of John.  For some reason, the leaders of the camp thought that qualified me to be a counselor. So, I spent my first week at a Christian camp called Camp Albryoca.  God used that week to begin to shape my life. I was a way from home.  I was totally disconnected from all that was “normal” for me.  I was placed in an environment that stretched me and gave me opportunities to do things I normally wouldn’t do. It was at this camp that I first began to understand the importance of investing in the next generation.  For the very first time, I sang songs around a campfire and I began to understand the power of music as a way to worship God.  I was challenged incredibly and remember coming back on a spiritual “high” that I had never experienced.  Something had happened in my life.

A week later my friend Ron and I got on a plane and flew to Colorado to participate in the national Bible quiz competition at a youth conference called Brethren National Youth Conference (now Momentum).  I think I answered one question the entire competition. I didn’t remember many answers, but what I specifically remember is encountering God again in a way that I had never encountered Him in my “normal” environments.   I experienced authentic worship. I experienced dynamic sessions with speakers who spoke in a way I had never heard.  I experienced hands on ministry.  While in Colorado we went door-to-door doing evangelistic “surveys” and trying to start spiritual conversations with people.  We were also placed in small groups with others from the conference and, in those groups; there was heart felt sharing and openness.  And, since we were in Colorado, I was able to see the Rocky Mountains, hike in them, and experience God's creation first hand.  I even had my heart-broken when I saw the girl I had a crush on holding hands with someone she had met at the conference.  How could she be so cruel!  

Returning home from that conference, I started to do things that I never would have considered doing if I hadn’t gone.  My friend Ron and I came back from BNYC with a greater heart to reach people for Jesus and the two of us would go out every Tuesday night walking door to door, asking people in our community if we could pray for them and talking to them about Jesus.  We were two teenagers just naive enough to believe God could use us.  

In 1985, a pivotal moment happened in my life.  The word pivotal means something of crucial importance in relation to the development or success of something else. I can look back on it all now and see how God used that year to shape me and begin a work in me that He continues to this day …and I couldn’t be more thankful.  

Being a Christ-follower is not about staying on my own plan, building my own little kingdom, and then some day when I’m old and gray and washed up, I get to die and go to heaven. The time I have on earth right now, as a follower of Jesus, is a God-designed era in my life where I am to get on His plan and discover my role in advancing the gospel in the lives of my family, as well as people in the church, in the community, and in the world. 

Questions to consider:

If you’re a parent, what are some pivotal moments you could plan for your kids?

If you’re a pastor, how can you intentionally plan pivotal moments in your ministry?

As you look back on your life, what pivotal moments has God used to reveal His love to you and encourage you to share His love with others?

How can the pivotal moments of your life be used to help you share the love of Jesus in the every day moments of your life?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

How to Be a Good Neighbor

As my wife and I prepare to leave Maryland and head to Indiana, one of the harder things to leave behind will be our neighborhood.  We’ve lived on East Stayman Drive in Ellicott City for the past three years and, in all honesty, it’s the type of neighborhood we’ve always dreamt of living in.  We discovered this on our very first day in the neighborhood.  As we were moving everything into the house, a pretty serious snowstorm hit and covered the area with approximately four inches of snow in just a few hours.  After the snow subsided and as I was moving things around in our home, I looked out our window and noticed two of our neighbors shoveling our driveway and cleaning off our cars.  Since that first day, we’ve experienced kindness after kindness … meals brought to our home, gifts brought to our kids, tools loaned out (even if I didn’t know how to use them), walks together, games together, meals together, and lots of conversation.  Our kids are always running around at our neighbors’ homes or the neighbor kids are always running around our home.  We’ve passed out lots of snacks and drinks and Band-Aids.  I will miss our neighborhood deeply.

One thing I’ve learned, though, is that if we want that kind of neighborhood we have to be that kind of neighbor.  Regardless of where my family lands, we always have the opportunity to create what we want to experience.  We can be the type of neighbor we want to have.  If we desire to live in a neighborhood where neighbors help each other, we need to be the first to help.  If we desire to live in a neighborhood where neighbors move toward each other, we need to move toward our neighbors first.  If we desire to live in a neighborhood where neighbors make time to connect and are vulnerable with each other and take steps toward a deeper relationship, we need to be willing to do that first because it then gives others the permission to do the same.  If we want that kind of neighborhood, we have to be willing to be that kind of neighbor.

My wife and I certainly aren’t “perfect” neighbors, but we do have a perfect Savior who moved toward us first and was willing to serve us first and who offered grace to us first and who sacrificed for us first and who humbled Himself toward us first. Because of that, we are now able to love our neighbors in the same way, and when we do, we’re demonstrating that we have encountered a God of love.  We’re offering to those around us what we ourselves have received from God. 

As you move toward the rest of your week, allow me to encourage you to reflect on how Jesus has moved toward you and then demonstrate that by moving toward your neighbors in similar ways.  If Jesus has served you, how can you serve others?  If Jesus has shown hospitality toward you, how can you do the same for others?  If Jesus has been patient with you, how can you be patient with others?The list can go on and one and the more we remember all we have received from God, the more willing we become to offer what we have received to others.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Moving Forward

Nearly four years ago, my family and I moved from Indiana to Maryland and began serving at Grace Community in Fulton.  During that time, God has done a grace-filled work in both my wife and I. As is often the case, that work has not always been easy.  Sometimes the chisel God uses to shape us into the image of Jesus is used delicately and other times it carries a little more force behind it.  But, that chisel is always in the hands of a loving Father who uses it with grace and in love and always for our good.

While there has been much that God, in His grace, has stripped from me and added to me over these four years, one thing He has not done is taken from me a desire to be in the Midwest.  Toward the end of 2017, I spent a significant amount of time praying about these feelings.  I didn’t know what else to do, so I just confessed them to God … openly and honestly and trusted that He would hear me and meet me exactly where I was.  This is the Gospel.  Jesus meets us where we are.  Jesus moves toward us.  He doesn’t wait for us to get it all together.  He doesn’t wait for us to become a better version of ourselves.  He doesn’t wait for us to figure it all out.  He moves toward us in the midst of our frustrations, confusion, and even in the midst of our sin.  If He would give His life for me even when I’m a sinner (Romans 5:8), I trusted that He would surely move toward me when I have feelings I didn’t really understand or even want after four years!

While I was not looking to step away from Grace Community Church, it was only a few short weeks after I began to pray specifically about what I was feeling that God presented my family and I with a door to possibly return to Goshen.  I don't know what I was expecting from my prayers, but this is not what I was expecting.  But, I knew this was not a coincidence.  

So, Carol and I began to pray and simply decided to take steps in the direction of the door and trusted that things would become clearer to us as we did.  We had many people praying for us also. Carol and I had countless conversations and, if I’m honest, the past few months have been good for our marriage and also hard on our marriage.  But, even though we may not understand it all right now, we both feel that God has been clear to us and is asking us to now step through the door He has opened. What that means is at the end of July our family will be at Sugar Grove Church in Goshen, IN, and I will begin serving there as the Pastor of Discipleship. 

While this is a move “back” to Indiana, I prefer to look at it as one that will move us forward toward God’s plan for His Church and us. I trust that this door was thoughtfully, purposefully, and deliberately opened for us by a God of open doors and new opportunities.  And, while I do not know for sure what lies on the other side of this door, I do know the One who walks through it with us.  That may not give me all the clarity I desire right now, but it does give my family and I the hope we desperately need. 

I have had the privilege of serving at two wonderful churches and they were both named Grace Community.  Some of the best memories I have are from my time at Grace Community in Goshen. I truly learned so much from Pastor Jim and the other pastors and staff.  Much of what I learned and experienced at Grace Community in Goshen will remain with me the rest of my life and will serve me well as I continue on in ministry. 

I have also learned so much while at Grace Community in Fulton.  Pastor Mark and then Pastor Mitchel and all the other pastors and staff have blessed my family and I in countless ways.  I have said it often over the past two months, but I am so grateful for how God has used us while in Maryland.  And, although I know there are things God has chosen to do through us, we feel as if we have received far more than we have given.  It really is a testament to God’s kindness and the way He chooses to work.  We are all needy and needed.  And, God chooses to work in us even as He chooses to work through us.  

Psalm 116:7 reads, “Return to your rest, my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.” This is what I believe God did in my heart while in Maryland.  My heart needed to learn to rest … not in my accomplishments or efforts … but rather in what God has accomplished through Jesus on the cross.  I have seen and experienced the Gospel first-hand over the past four years.  Jesus has moved toward me in countless ways, on countless occasions, and often when I wasn’t even moving toward Him.  He has been so good and so kind and so loving toward me and it has been His kindness again and again that has led me to repentance time and time again. 

I now look forward to serving at a third wonderful church … Sugar Grove.  I do not know what God has in store next … and thankfully God doesn’t reveal all of our future.  He seems to give us just enough light to take the next step and it’s in those steps that we discover that His faithfulness and love are enough.  I never imagined that we would end up in Goshen, Indiana after seminary, yet that’s where God chose to settle us.  I never imagined we would leave Goshen to go to Maryland … yet that is where God chose to move us and show us even more of His goodness. And, I never imagined that we’d leave Maryland and go back to Goshen!  Yet, Lord willing, we’ll be there in a few short weeks and we are trusting that this is what God has for us, even if we do not understand it all right now. 

While at Sugar Grove, I look forward to serving with Pastor Tony and the other pastors and staff.  I'm hoping God will choose to use me to help others learn what it means to trust and follow Jesus.  I look forward to continuing to love my wife and kids in the town where our family was forged.  I look forward to building new relationships and continuing old ones.  I'm excited to serve the people of Sugar Grove and the community of Goshen.  I look forward to continuing to learn what it means to rest in Jesus alone.  

If you think of it, my family and I would appreciate your prayers.  Moving is difficult.  It’s tough to say good-byes.  It’s hard to begin to put roots down and then uproot again.  It’s tiring to pack everything up and try to care for the kids in the midst of it all.  It will also be tiring to unpack everything and try to care for the kids in the midst of that as well.  We’re entering a new culture with new faces and will try to build new relationships. That takes time and it can be hard. But, we are learning to trust God through it all and remembering to return to our rest for the Lord has been good to us.

Friday, June 8, 2018

A Simple Tribute for a Simple Man

My brother Dale died Saturday morning, June 3rd.  He was 10 years older than I am.  When I was younger, I remember him seeming larger than life.  He was a great athlete.  His skills on the Coolspring Softball field behind the Old Roberts Tavern are legendary. Back in the 80’s, he had this long hair and it would just flow out of his ball hat and dance in the wind as he ran the bases or caught a fly ball.  Picture the Saturday Night Fever John Travolta in camo and a ball hat.  That was my brother Dale. In my young eyes, he just looked cool and that look worked for him so much that he decided to keep it even when it went out of style 30 years ago.  But, it was him.  The long hair kind of became a trademark. The bandana around his head, or "do-rag" as they're called in Uniontown … a trademark.  The camo, the boots ... a trademark.  It's just was who he was.

Dale was a very simple guy.  There are some lyrics in the Leonard Skynard song Simple Man that say “Take your time, son.  Don’t live too fast.”  That was Dale.  He was a simple guy.  He loved Kim, his wife of 32 years.  He loved his kids.  He loved his grandson and nephews and nieces.  He was a proud American and about as red, white, and blue as they come. But, even though he was red, white, and blue he bled black and gold. He was passionate about the Steelers, the Penguins, and the Pirates and could talk or complain about Pittsburgh sports as long as you’d let him.  And, for the record, he is probably still ticked that the Pirates traded Andrew McCutchen.  

He found pleasure in the simplest of things.  He loved to be outdoors.  He loved to collect things.  He loved to hunt and was a great shot.  He also loved to take care of animals.  It would not be uncommon to go to his house and see turkeys, chickens, and cats following him around the yard.  He was the "animal whisperer" or as someone else described him:  the "critter caller."  My brother had a real rough exterior, but on the inside he was as soft and tender as they come.  

When I was younger, Dale was very much larger than life, but that was because of what he could do physically.  For the past few years, though, he had been suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis and that caused him to deal with severe chronic pain.  But, it was then that he truly became larger than life because I began to see his character as a man shine.  Even with the pain, he still worked hard.  He was just a hard-working, blue-collar type of guy who did what he needed to do to get the job done.  

He was a painter, and a darn good one.  Give me the same brush and paint as my brother and put us side by side on a wall and his side would always look better ... always.  He was just good at what he did.  I'd love to know how many square feet of Uniontown, PA, he painted ... homes, businesses, parks ... nothing was safe from his brush.  His handiwork is all over our hometown.

That would be a good way to live life, as well ... to touch the lives of people in such a way that the marks of your life are left all over the place ... to live in such a way that no one would be safe from your kindness. 

Dale was a good man.  He was rough on the outside, but very tender on the inside and I'm glad he was my brother.  He will be missed.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

He Changed His Behavior

In Psalm 56, David talks about an experience that he had with fear.  He writes “O God, have mercy on me, for people are hounding me.  My foes attack me all day long.  I am constantly hounded by those who slander me, and many are boldly attacking me.” (Psalm 56:1 – 2 NLT)  Now, when David talks about enemies hounding him and attacking him … this wasn’t hypothetical.  Throughout his life he had literal enemies seeking to kill him.  

The history of this Psalm is based upon the story of when David was seized by the Philistines in Gath.  This story is found in 1 Samuel 21.  David is on the run. King Saul had been trying to kill him for some time. And, as David is running from Saul, he does something unexpected.  He runs away from one enemy and in to the hands of another.  1 Samuel 21:10 – 11 reads, “So David escaped from Saul and went to King Achish of Gath.  But the officers of Achish were unhappy about his being there. ‘Isn’t this David, the king of the land?’ they asked.  ‘Isn’t he the one the people honor with dances, singing, ‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands?’” 

Then we come to verse 12.  This verse is interesting to me.  Here we have David … and if you know a little bit about him, you know that he’s quite the warrior.  He was brave enough to kill a bear … bold enough to kill a lion … courageous enough to face and kill Goliath.  David has killed his “ten thousands.” He seemingly wasn’t afraid of anything. But, in 1 Samuel 21:12 we read this:  “David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him.”  There was obviously something about Achish or the situation that David was in that made him very afraid.  

In my own experience with fear, I often find that facing the unknown is what often produces the most fear in my life.  An “unknown” is always followed by a “what if.”  What if this happens and my life ends up in shambles?  What if I do this and I fail? What if I’m left all alone?  What if I let someone down?  What if others think poorly of me?  What if my family suffers? What if I can’t do it? What if?  What if?  What if?

For David, I believe the fear was, “What if I’ve made a mistake in coming to this guy for safety?  Could this be the mistake that ends my life?” So, what did David do?  1 Samuel 21:13 tells us:  “So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard.” (ESV)

That doesn’t sound very brave, does it?  That doesn’t sound like a man who people sing songs about. It does sound like a man who is afraid and it causes me to ask one simple question: How do I change my behavior when I’m afraid?  

It’s really easy to trust God when things are going well and when life is stable.  But, when the storms come and the foundation begins to shake, I can easily find myself living differently.  Fear has a way of shaping what I believe, which will in turn begin to shape the way I live. When that happens, I notice that I often stop living in faith and I start living in fear.  What does that look like?

Faith trusts. Fear panics.  
Faith stands. Fear retreats.  
Faith endures. Fear rejects.  
Faith believes. Fear deceives.  
Faith liberates. Fear enslaves.  
Faith anticipates. Fear worries.  
Faith moves mountains. Fear sees mountains.  
Faith says, “Why not me?” Fear says, “Not me.”  
Faith believes God’s word. Fear believes my own eyes and ears.  

In this story, David’s fear began to shape his behavior … and if it can happen to David, it can happen to any of us.  But fear, like any emotion, can actually be something God uses.  When our fears are surrendered to Him, we discover that God begins to shape us even more than our fear.  

David wrote Psalm 56 as he reflected back on this entire situation.  I can’t say this for sure, but I wonder if, as David was looking back on it all, if he thought to himself:  “What was I thinking?  Why did I change my behavior?  Why did I live in fear and not in faith?”  As he is writing out his thoughts to God, he begins to remind himself of a few things. In Psalm 56:3 – 4 David writes: “But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?  What can mere mortals do to me?”

It’s almost as if he is saying, “If I’m put in the same situation again, I will respond differently.  When I was afraid, I made a foolish decision and ran to the Philistines. Next time, I will put my trust in God. When I was afraid, I made a fool of myself in front of the Philistines.  Next time, I will put my trust in God.” He surrendered his fear to God. This led to him being shaped by his God more than his fear.

In Psalm 56, David reminds himself that he has a lot of enemies … and those enemies are after him.  Most of us do not have actual enemies seeking to kill us, but life does throw a whole lot our way.  None of us are promised tomorrow.  None of us have complete control over any situation.  We’re all only a tragedy away from life being completely turned upside down.  In life, something will happen that causes us to be afraid. So, the question isn’t, “Will I be afraid?”  The question is, “What will I do when I am?”  

In verse Psalm 56:10 – 11, David once again says, “I praise God for what he has promised; yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised.  I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?  What can mere mortals do to me?”

Just because we may not see God working doesn’t mean He’s not working.  What this means is that we can be afraid and yet still step toward things with a confident hope.  We know that we do not place our feet anywhere that God has not already been … and we can trust that He is for us.

Are you afraid today?   Is that fear causing you to “change your behavior?”  Is it shaping the way you live? It can happen to the best of us.  If it’s happening to you right now, take some time to pray through Psalm 56 and surrender your fear to Him.  Ask God to remind you of who He is and to shape you through this surrendered fear. What you choose to believe and who you decide to trust will make all the difference in the world.

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