Rocking the Boat: Random Thoughts on Faith, Church, and the Bible…

It has been months since I last blogged and since I am still near the beginning of the semester, I figured I could spare a few words here before my life becomes almost utter chaos (between my thesis research, internship, and three part-time jobs [TA, writing consultant, student life leader], I will be hard-pressed to find any free time).

It is my last year of seminary. I’ve said that several times and it still hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I guess I’m not sure it’s really supposed to until I graduate, right? It’s like in the movie Amazing Grace where William Wilberforce asks William Pitt after they’ve raced through Wilberforce’s garden, “Why is it when you stop running you always feel the splinters?” and Pitt replies, “It’s a lesson: we must keep going.” The reality of seminary ending will not likely hit until I have stopped writing the papers and reading the books.

But more on that later.

What has come to mind lately has been where I was when I started this journey. And no, it is not when I began seminary, actually. It goes much farther back than that.

When I met with my internship supervisor (Brian Doak at the Newberg campus of George Fox) right before the first Hebrew class, we talked a bit about where things had begun for me. He had asked me who my professor had been at U of O and I said it was Daniel Falk (now at Penn State). And then I told him how I even got started into Falk’s classes: by way of frustration with my Math 112 class.

Only the Lord knows how I even passed Math 111 when I failed the final (I think I received roughly a 56%), but somehow I found myself two weeks into Math 112 drawing countless circles that weren’t doodles, but instead serious attempts at calculations. Unlike any other math class that I had taken up to that point, I had even met with the professor in her office hours twice in the first week. And by the Thursday of the second week, I was ready to call it quits.

But I needed something to replace it; financial aid would not allow me to take 8 credits at the undergraduate level since “full time” was considered 12. So, at around 3 am (so technically Friday), I started browsing the course catalogues and stumbled upon the Religious Studies section. I knew at least one of my friends was in an Intro to the Bible class, so I thought I’d check it out.

It was completely full.

Yet I knew that the end of Friday was the latest anyone could drop classes and receive a 90% refund. And since I had just eaten an entire box of those Little Debbie Oatmeal Crème Pies, which are loaded with sugar, I figured I’d be up awhile. My math homework was certainly not getting done. So I sat there hitting “Refresh” for maybe ten minutes when, lo and behold, the Red Sea parted and the Intro to the Bible class had an opening!

To this day, it was the fastest I had ever signed up for any class.

Ever.

And that was when this whole journey began. I took that class, then the subsequent Jesus and the Gospels in the following fall. And during my fifth year (or as I call it, the Victory Lap year), I took two more classes from Professor Falk because why not? It was during those final classes that I realized that while my major had been English literature, my true passion was studying the Bible. And I believed that my time studying the Bible beyond the normal weekly Bible study was not done.

Why do I bring all of this up? Well, the two afternoon coffees certainly help, but mostly because within the past two days, I have been reminded twice of a church experience that is difficult to relive. Sunday night I received an email asking about this post, which is my honest thoughts about the closure of Calvary Fellowship, my home church in Eugene for 5 of the 7 years I had lived there. And just yesterday afternoon, a fellow classmate and I chatted about Calvary Chapel and why Calvary Fellowship had split off from it (he had heard about it down in California). And like any break within a church denomination, it boiled down to a difference of opinion regarding key beliefs. This time, the two key beliefs were the doctrines of pre-tribulation (rapture) and inerrancy, the latter of which was the major one that I had experienced while at Calvary Fellowship.

Without going too far into the details of what happened that led to Calvary Fellowship’s final closure (honestly, some terminology that is used around “major doctrines” like these is triggering for me), it is enough to say that Danny believed the Bible to be God’s inspired word – the divine revelation that pointed to Jesus. Furthermore, any critique of the doctrine of inerrancy that Danny had had was not for the purpose of “bringing down inerrancy,” as he once stated in a sermon (by the way, that sermon was the one and only time Danny had addressed personal attacks on him and his family that were based off of his beliefs – I mean honestly, who should have to justify why they follow Jesus to fellow Christians?). Even in the final days of the church, we had plenty of members who disagreed with him on this belief, but loved the community that we had all helped to create.

Little did I know that, when I was listening to Danny defend himself to his own church based off of countless rumors spread about him, I would have a difficult time attending any church.

A year after we had said goodbye to Danny, who moved back down to California to take up a job that would provide for his family, I started gathering with other former members of Calvary Fellowship. I think it was only because of their presence that I was even able to sit comfortably in a church (without feeling like I didn’t belong). I haven’t been able to do so since.

In my one normal class, which is all about hermeneutics (“the art of interpretation”), we’re reading this book by Michal J. Gorman who describes the interpretation process as a spiral – we begin in one spot, circle by critique and deconstruction, and ascend upwards as we construct a new way of understanding the Biblical text. As I read those words I pictured a spiral staircase that essentially gets designed as it is being built (something akin to the staircases at Hogwarts). But I didn’t that it was an apt description of how it feels to strive toward a better understanding of the text as you both deconstruct and reconstruct along the way.

As I found out with Calvary Fellowship, deconstructing to reconstruct can feel like chaos. In fact, it can feel like a shipwreck – like a church closing its doors because a pastor dared to challenge a dominant view of the Bible, but do so in a way that was conducive to a healthy faith and spirituality. Interpreting the Bible often feels like sailing on a boat; sometimes it will be smooth and easy, but others it will be terrifyingly rough and it will feel like the boat is about to capsize.

This imagery of a ship at sea is deliberate: almost two years prior to Calvary’s closure I had written a post about why I had chosen to stay with Calvary Fellowship; because my little individualistic faith had become grafted in with the other members. Or as I had put it then, my little rowboat and been broken apart and pieced back together with the much larger ship of Calvary. So when Calvary was no longer a church, I had to reinterpret what my faith even looked like, let alone where I saw myself in the church.

Where my seminary comes into play is how it has provided a place where I can ask questions and not be afraid of not finding an answer. I can mull over things without feeling the pressure to produce a nicely-packaged response (but of course, there is always the pressure one feels right before a paper is due, but that’s a little different). The interpretive methodologies that I have learned thus far have helped redeem a text so wrapped up in religiosity (a word I often heard at Calvary; not even sure if it’s a real word). I feel more comfortable in exploring a text, especially after having learned its original languages.

As you might guess, I’m pretty excited about this hermeneutics class – not only because I might learn some new methodologies for interpretation, but also because it continues the journey that I began in a night of frustration with a college math class my freshman year. Learning more about the Biblical text is all that I really wanted to do in the first place. But now I can do so without feeling inadequate simply because I have a different method of approach or don’t have the “right” method (which is all that inerrancy really is: a method).

Because it’s okay to rock the boat.

Faith, then, seems to be a byproduct of how well we trust God when we don’t feel like we can trust anything else, like the Bible or the church. God is above and beyond all of that. In fact, no amount of prepositions accurately depicts where, when, how, or why God even is (I know, such an English major thing to say, right? Ugh.). God just is. And sometimes when we come to the Bible, that’s all we have to go on.

And that’s okay.

God bless.

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“Biblioblogging” through Seminary…

Something interesting happened on Thursday night during my Old Testament 1 class. We had just finished our last ten minute break (it’s a three hour class) and were each given a copy of a blog post.

Yup.

A blog post.

In a graduate-level seminary class.

Who wrote the post?

Peter Enns.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become a big fan of Enns’ work. Whether or not one agrees with him, he at least has the courage to be honest in his posts. But more than that, he’s engaging. He’s a biblical scholar who teaches at Eastern University in Pennsylvania and yet he regularly writes blog posts that, more often than not, relate his academic work and studies with his faith in Jesus.

We discussed what Dr. Enns wrote in his post, which can be found here, and toward the end of the discussion, my professor mentioned how there ought to be more professors (and by extension pastors and seminarians) blogging. Of course this is no problem for me; I love to blog. But what it does mean is that the purpose of this blog may shift slightly.

A scholar like Dr. Enns writing blogs might not seem ridiculous, but, for those of you still in college, how many of your professors blog? How many people do you know blog? Chances are, not a whole lot of people.

Of course, blogs vary in style and content. There are fashion blogs, food blogs, Star Trek blogs, and especially sports blogs. This small space on the Internet acts as our place of intellectual refuge where we can share our thoughts and opinions without ever interacting with anyone who might think or feel differently. One blog written by a prominent pastor here in the Northwest has all comments closed. No questions. No discussions. Peter Enns, however, not only has the comment section open; he replies to a lot of them.

It was a little over a year and a half ago when he wrote a particular blog that spoke to me in a way that I needed. I was still in the middle of dealing with Calvary’s closure and Enns’ post, of which I forget the title, went a long way to help. I remember commenting on it, thanking him for writing it, and then asking him which seminary in the Northwest he would recommend for further studies. Not only did he reply within the hour, but he recommended George Fox (where I’m currently studying).

What does all of this mean for my blog? It isn’t a fashion, food, Star Trek, or sports blog, although I do occasionally write something on each (maybe not fashion; my sense of fashion sort of speaks for itself). For the most part, it’s a blog where I share about my faith. But what it’ll have to become, at least for this seminary season (but hopefully beyond), is what’s called a “biblioblog.”

A biblioblog is a fun word to say. It’s also a blog wherein biblical studies (and anything related) are discussed. What I’ve admired the most about Peter Enns’ blog is that he doesn’t try to separate his faith from his academic work. In fact, much of his faith comes from his academic studies – not that he never goes to church and only resides in his office, but that it is thought-driven. As he dives deeper into his study of the Scriptures, he draws closer to God.

My walk with God operates in a very similar fashion. If the doctrine of inerrancy hadn’t caused such a stir for Calvary Fellowship several years ago, then I don’t imagine my faith in God would have delved very deeply. In fact, I don’t know if I’d still be much of a believer. I’m sure I’d still be attending church and listening to sermons and Christian songs. But there wouldn’t be much beyond that. My “faith” would become like the seed that fell on rocky ground; it grew up quickly, but withered away when trouble came (Matt. 13:20-22).

In essence, I hope to share my thoughts and feelings as I draw closer to God by way of study. So as I work through my classes (“Indigenous Spirituality,” “Knowing Self, Knowing God,” “Introduction to Biblical Hebrew,” and “Old Testament 1”) I hope to share how God’s working through it all. What I really hope for, though, is to a create an online space of discussion where questions are asked and faith is shared.

I may not post as often as I would like  or really with any consistency (school and work come first). And I may write something you disagree with. But that’s a major part of this blog: To discuss faith in Jesus.

As the Road to Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-27) shows us, faith in God is every bit of an intellectual journey as it is a physical, emotional, and spiritual one. The tough part is to keep walking.

God bless.

Home on the Road…

About two years ago, a church I was a part of closed the doors and moved on to other things. Well, actually, we sold the building to another church and several members still attend, but for the most part, what we had with Calvary Fellowship is over. At the time that everything came to a close, I was somewhat numb to it all; I didn’t really feel the pain of the loss until some months later. It wasn’t until this past week, the beginning of my seminary career with George Fox, that I was able to figure out why.

At Calvary, I had a strong family of believers. They cared about what I was doing, where I was going, and, most importantly, how I was doing. It was a place where I felt more than known; I felt loved. In the months leading up to the closure, I knew that I would still be in communication with many of the members, so the family aspect wouldn’t really leave. What I didn’t know, though, was how much I’d miss the intellectual environment that Calvary also was.

Not everyone who went their was interested in theology. In fact, most people cared more about football than theology, which was totally fine. I love football. But what I loved about the atmosphere is that even if they didn’t give theology much thought, they wouldn’t think less of you if you happened to believe in something they didn’t. More often than not, they really wanted to hear what you had to say not because they were going to argue with you, but because they were interested in how you processed your thoughts. They were interested in how you interacted with Jesus with your mind.

Calvary Fellowship was a place where I felt safe to think in ways I hadn’t thought before. I doubt very much that I was thinking in ways that had never been thought before, but I knew I hadn’t done the intellectual exercises. When Calvary closed, I think I lost that safe place.

Sure, I was still meeting up once every other week with one of Calvary’s former pastors, but because both our schedules grew busier and busier, neither of us were able to spend as much time as we used to in studying Scripture the way we did at Calvary. We couldn’t have the classes that Danny taught, which beckoned us to see Scripture – and thereby see Jesus – through a different lens. We didn’t have the sermons that promoted communal involvement above communal self-righteousness. And we simply didn’t have as much fervor as we used to.

In the year between Calvary and Emmaus, I struggled to remain engaged with God on an intellectual level. Some might see this as a good thing because intellectualism is a bad thing anyway. But Jesus was clear; we’re to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And Jesus was very deliberate with His words.

Flash forward to a week ago, I was attending my first seminary class. And as I listened to my classmates’ questions and heard little tidbits about their experiences in communities where asking questions is almost shameful, I knew that I picked the right school. I knew that commuting for the first two days of class was worth it. And I know, full well, that I have found a home in seminary.

During each of my three classes yesterday, the professors took a moment to remind the class what George Fox is really all about: formation. One professor said that we could memorize all the answers, get nothing but perfect grades on the tests, but if we don’t emerge from this program formed more like Christ, then we didn’t achieve what George Fox’s primary goal is. The only time I’ve heard a similar message was when I was sitting in the pews at Calvary, listening to Danny share a story about Jesus.

Learning about God has less to do with answers and more to do with questions. When we’re given an answer, we don’t seek anymore. We don’t explore. We don’t put ourselves in a vulnerable position to trust God. We become one of the eleven disciples who stayed on the boat when Peter stepped off. But if we’re given questions, if our curiosity is piqued in some significant way, then we seek. We step out of our comfort zone of “knowing” and walk on the water toward Jesus.

Jesus said that if we seek, we will find. But He never said that how long it’d be before we found that which we sought. In our generation of instant downloads and live-streaming, we’ve grown to expect things immediately. So when we ask God a question, we expect an immediate answer. But God doesn’t work like Google; He doesn’t give us links to instant downloads of love, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control. Instead, He gives us a map of a journey we’re supposed to take in order to develop all those things.

George Fox Seminary is my map because it is a place where I am free to explore, free to step off the boat and walk toward Jesus.

What’s your map?

God bless.

A Lesson in Loyalty…

Two years ago today, Calvary Fellowship was my church home. We had grown smaller than previous years, but closer as well. Thinking back to the years when we had two services every Sunday and then something going on Wednesday nights, having a smaller body was actually a benefit. Maybe I’m different, but I feel as though I grew more as a person in the last two years of Calvary than I ever would have if the larger numbers were still present.

What has really changed for me, though, is my involvement with my church community apart from Sundays. Back then, I felt as though I had to defend why I continued to go to Calvary or even listened to Danny O’Neil’s preaching. My faith didn’t revolve around self-defense, but it was a large part to how I communicated my thoughts and feelings about Danny and Calvary. It’s different now because I don’t have the same pressures I had back then.

I don’t have friends asking me why I still go there or pastors telling me that if it were them, they would have left. In a way, I don’t have the same distractions I had back then; I’m able to soak in the church experience for all that it is, all that it should be, and leave behind the religious garbage. Not to say that that is how I think of Calvary nowadays, but to say it was a unique challenge that the people of Calvary Fellowship had to work with. Emmaus Life doesn’t have that element. We’ve got all new people and all new challenges.

What sparked this whole reflection of what life was like two years ago was – surprise, surprise – an episode of The West Wing. Near the middle of season three, Leo McGarry (President Bartlet’s Chief of Staff) was subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee as to whether or not the President deceived the nation by not disclosing his disease, multiple sclerosis. After the first part of McGarry’s testimony (it was two parts due to a pause issued by the director the committee), he was offered a deal; his testimony along with the testimonies of every Bartlet staff member would be forgotten in exchange for a censure (official public reprimand) of President Bartlet.

All of this is to set the stage before what Leo did. He said no. He said that he takes bullets for the President; not the other way around.

What I saw and felt in that moment was a sense of loyalty, a sense of relentless commitment, to a leader. It was the same feeling I had whenever someone talked about Danny’s beliefs or how Calvary Fellowship was a misguided church or whatever other rumor was floating around. In those days, not even a full two years ago, my loyalty was put to the test. It was a large element in my church experience. Not having my loyalty to friends and family tested is kind of refreshing.

Bear in mind that, back then, I did not see it as my loyalty being tested; but rather a friend – and by extension my entire church family – being maligned. Rumors, gossip, slander all destroy a church body and I didn’t want that to happen to Calvary. The church closed, sure, but it wasn’t because we were divided. In fact, in those last years and months, I think we were more united than ever before.

And I think it was because, as McGarry saw President Bartlet, Danny and his family were (and still are – I’m just describing how we saw them back then) worth taking a bullet for. Heck, they’re worth dying for. Why is that? Because, if you actually got to know them (and you still can), they’re a Godly family.

Thinking back on it now, we were kind of spoiled at Calvary. We had a team of pastors who were above reproach – not caught up in some secret, sinful lifestyle – and they were all following Danny’s lead. I mean, how many pastors resign because of an addiction they’ve been keeping secret? How many pastors take the Gospel and make it about success, possessions, and material blessing? How many pastors take their platform and make it about themselves, their books, and their whole agendas? God blessed us with the O’Neils at Calvary. And if I had to do it all over again, I would do it in a heartbeat.

Adjusting, though, is still difficult. Those of you who know me personally know that I tend to be an argumentative person – even though I’m wrong quite a few times (maybe most…) – so not having someone to defend, someone to argue in favor of, takes a little getting-used to. But I have been blessed immensely again with Emmaus Life and the Lambs.

Once again I have a pastor who’s above reproach; probably makes mistakes here and there (I say “probably” because I lack evidence), but there’s no secret sin. There’s no agenda he’s trying to promote; no book of his that he’s trying to sell. None of that garbage. He’s simply a guy following God.

And yet, I have to attribute my appreciation for Emmaus Life to my lesson in loyalty at Calvary. Another way of putting is to say that I would not cling so quickly to what we have with Emmaus Life if it had not been for what I went through with Calvary. I wouldn’t have learned that to be loyal to someone or a group of people isn’t defined by what that person or group is against, but rather what they’re for. And what Calvary was for and Emmaus Life is for is real, genuine life. Such a thing can only come when all pretentions and facades are cast aside.

My encouragement is this: Be loyal.

Be loyal to your spouse, family, pastor, church, and even your coworkers. Practice loyalty because in our day, it’s so easy to jump ship. It’s so easy to have a “new favorite.” It’s so easy to have a new pastor, church, job, etc., instead of sticking with somebody for the long-haul.

Life with Jesus is an endurance race. Staying the course oftentimes means running with the same group of people for a while – even a long while.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” – John 15:13

May we all experience such a depth of loyalty.

God bless.

P.S. Leaving a church does not necessarily make you disloyal; many who left Calvary left for the right reasons (weren’t being fed, felt called to a different city or church, etc.). I don’t wish to throw anyone under any bus; I wish only to say that loyalty is worth it.

Brewing My Own Theology…

An information packet from Western Seminary came in the mail yesterday. Yes, that same seminary I said I was going to apply to almost two years ago is again heavily on my mind. Only this time I’m simply going for it. Like several of my friends have advised, if I were to wait any longer, I’d most likely wind up never going at all. So I find it most reasonable to go when it is fresh on my mind and heart.

Something stirred in me, though, when I read through the brochures in the info packet. On one of them, there’s a line that reads, “Create your own doctrinal statement, instead of using ours.” Normally, my instinct is to cringe at the word “doctrine.” Ever since Calvary Fellowship went through at least two church splits, “doctrine” left a really bad taste in my mouth. But this time, something sort of clicked.

A few weeks ago I sat down with Scott Lamb (pastor of Emmaus Life) to talk about various things – football, politics, my chances of winning the U.S. Open next year, etc. One of the things that came up, though, was the importance of having your own theological system. Ah, “system,” another word that sends uncomfortable tingles up my spine. Some of its synonyms include “conformity,” “fixed order,” “rule,” and “routine” – all words that sound confining (and boring) more than they do liberating. And this is America; we’re all about liberation. We can’t have confining things.

But not to have a theological system would be contradictory. It’d be saying “I choose not to have a systematic theology,” which is actually laying a foundation for a theological system. And yet this is where I feel I’m being challenged; to develop my own set of beliefs, my own system.

I’ve written several mission statements throughout the last few years, but never really anything regarding my beliefs. A big reason for this is because, in several areas, I’m still figuring out what I believe. I think all of us are, to some extent anyway. No, I don’t mean we’re all questioning the existence of God or the resurrection of Jesus (though some of us may be), but to say that we’re figuring out how to put our beliefs into our own words, rather than regurgitate something we were once told (like the Western Seminary brochure said).

“But what about sticking to ‘sound doctrine’?” you might ask. And it’s a good question. In theory, if we’re all off developing our own theological systems, then shouldn’t we all come up with something different? And if that were true, wouldn’t we be straying from ‘sound doctrine’? I don’t think so. I think that if we’re honest with ourselves, diligent in our studies, and forever seeking to be like Jesus – always returning to the cross – then we’d wind up looking very much alike.

Accepting the systems and statements of famous pastors (or infamous ones) can be good. A lot of the time, the famous theologians and pastors are really smart people. But not always. They’re still as human as we are and prone to similar mistakes. Thus, even if only on a surface level, God wants each of us to pursue Him with our minds so that we can fend off belief statements and theological systems that lead us away from Him.

So where to begin? Answering that question is rather simple: God. Our faith, our belief in God, His Son Jesus, His Spirit do not exist only within our minds. We did not come to believe in God through abstract ideas and concepts; we came to believe in Him when He revealed Himself to us. To further understand how He works, we must continue to seek Him.

“It is the glory of God to conceal things,
but the glory of kings is to search things out.”
Proverbs 25:2

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

God bless.

A Road to God Knows Where…

Two weeks in with a brand new church and I already love every minute of it. Yesterday was something different for me – I think it was something different for everyone. Instead of showing up to church, putting a smile on for the greeting team (although, it’s hard not to put on a smile for Emmaus Life’s greeting team: Two little Lamb kids dancing and yelling, “More people! More people!” every time a car pulls up), and finding my usual seat in the pews, I got to share my story. It was really uncomfortable. But it was every bit of what I needed.

Everyone shared their story yesterday. After starting off with a couple worship songs, Scott talked about where he got the name for Emmaus Life. Throughout the last week, apparently, people were at a bit of a loss with the word “Emmaus.” And if I wasn’t such an avid reader of Near Emmaus – a blog devoted to the theological side of our journey with God – I probably wouldn’t have known about Emmaus, either.

It comes from Luke 24:13-32:

“That very day two of them (the disciples) were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

And he said to them, ‘What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?’ And they stood still, looking sad.

Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’

And he said to them, ‘What things?’

And they said to him, ‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.’

And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.

They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’”

Scott then let us get some food and find a table. Once we were all seated, he asked us to share our “road to Emmaus” moment; the moment where we clearly felt the Lord’s presence on our hearts to stir us into a pursuit of Him. And so, person by person, we each shared our story with everyone at our tables.

It had been quite a while since I last talked about how I came to truly following God, so I imagine I was bouncing around quite a bit in the timeline of things. Even so, I shared about my upbringing – being removed from my mother’s custody, having my grandparents “adopt” me and my older brother (technically they became our permanent legal guardians, which I guess is different than adoption), and then getting baptized in the 8th grade. Right when I got to the part where things changed – that winter break of freshman year of college – I could feel the emotions begin to swell.

Talking about that moment when God truly caught my heart brought up the very same emotions I felt that night almost six years ago. I felt the pain of not having someone to call “dad,” I felt the shame for all the grudges I had held, and I felt the same overwhelming joy of knowing that God has been with me every single step of the way.

Ever since Calvary dissolved, I’ve been in a sort of spiritual desert. At times I could see where I was going, but not very clearly. After a while of walking around in the desert, you begin to believe you aren’t ever really getting out. What yesterday morning did for me, though, was remind me of God’s ever-constant presence. Sometimes when you don’t know where you’re going, you just need to remember why you started going there.

My “road to Emmaus” moment six years ago told me that God is my Father. It told me that every bit of purpose or meaning I have ever felt within myself in my entire life comes from Him and that in order to see it all fulfilled, I must follow His Son named Jesus. It’s a process. It’s a journey. It’s a road to God knows where. And that’s just it: God knows. That’s all the hope we need.

God bless.

Being Ministry Minded…

When my grandpa called tonight to catch up on how my life has been going, I didn’t really have much to say. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to tell him anything; it was because I didn’t really have anything to say. I’ve gone to work, hung out with friends from time to time, and then gone to bed. Given my day-to-day routine, my life really is boring.

And yet, after hanging up, I realized there are a couple things going on in my life. For one, I’m finally doing the necessary stuff to land a professional-type job (and striking out miserably). For another, I’ve once again felt the tug toward pastoral ministry. In case you’re wondering, pastoral ministry is a profession of sorts, but it doesn’t pay very well… if at all.

Thinking back to what I was doing at Calvary, I actually do miss the Sunday mornings in kid’s ministry – either with the 3rd graders who have a ton of energy or the high school kids who couldn’t stay awake. I loved cracking open my Bible every week and preparing some sort of lesson or message – even if it wasn’t very well put together. It forced me to be more intentional in my every day life. And heck, it was a far better alternative to working 50-hour weeks… Oh wait, I did that, too 😦

A question that is wrapped up with the spiritual tug toward ministry, though, is where do I start? Right now I don’t have a church home – haven’t even been to church in over a month. And even if I had found a new church to plug into, who’s to say they’d need someone to step into a leadership role? And given my views on Scripture, who’s to say they’d want me to lead a ministry even if they needed someone?

Two years ago on Cross Training’s summer retreat, Darrin Ratcliff shared a message out of Luke 9:10-17; an account of when Jesus fed five thousand men. It was a busy day of Him preaching to a ton of people and probably posing for a few pictures and giving a few autographs – you know the usual antiquity stuff. But then His disciples started getting hungry so they asked Jesus to send everyone on lunch so they could eat. Jesus’ words to them, I think, are His words to us all: “You give them something to eat.”

Darrin’s whole message was wrapped around this one verse solely to say that Jesus gives us the power to do great things like feeding thousands of people if we only do two things: Believe and act. Feeding the crowds and even themselves didn’t need to be delegated to another ministry within the church; they were more than capable of doing it themselves. I think it’s the same for ministry.

Actually, I think it’s the same for any particular profession or career or dream or whatever it is you feel your heart tugging you towards. God wants us to know that if He wills it and we believe and then act upon it, then great things are going to happen. Ministry – not just for me, but for everyone serving the Lord – begins with us. It goes with us as we head off to work or school. It’s right there with us when we’re tired and don’t want to do anything. It’s staring at us as we complain about whatever, saying, “Really?” Ministry isn’t just some profession that those Bible-thumpers do to keep themselves occupied; it’s an essential part to the individual’s Christian identity.

Essentially, in my case, the kind of man I wish to preach to others is the kind of man I need to be – that is, the Christ-like man. If I’m going to talk about the poison of lust or coveting or greed or arrogance or anything else that hinders a walk with Christ, I had better be backing it up with a corresponding lifestyle. I can’t be caught up in watching porn when I’m lonely, stealing money from the tithe box because I think I’ve earned it, or thinking myself a better man than most because of a pastoral platform. Ministry, as I see it, is proactively living the repentant lifestyle on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute basis. No exceptions.

What this does not mean is that as Christians we’re supposed to be perfect in every way, wherever, whenever. We might frequently try to live such a life, but the truth of Christianity is really stating the obvious: Man is flawed. What Jesus promises, though, is something that is rarely found anywhere else: Grace.

Sure, your boss may forgive you for a few small mistakes here and there, but there’s always a limit to that kind of grace. And society may forgive the married celebrity or the married athlete for the occasional drunken night, but when you have a sex scandal involving many women over a long period of time society does not let you go – no matter how hard you work to redeem your reputation. And yet Jesus’ outstretched arms remain… no matter how many times you mess up.

“If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinkin’,” – John Mark McMillan, “How He Loves”

If grace is an ocean, as the song says, then we really are sinking. We’re not treading water at the surface trying to go it alone, be independent, and prove that we don’t need God. We’re sinking. We’re drowning. Spiritually speaking, we’re dying to ourselves – the selves that feed off of lust, pride, greed, or any sin you might think of. It involves humility, allowing ourselves to be corrected, and enduring – no matter how many things trip us up.

No, I’m not suggesting we take a plunge into the ocean, a river, or even our bathtubs and drown ourselves. I’m saying that in order to enact the Christian life and thereby bring into being God’s kingdom “as it is in heaven,” then we must start with ourselves. We must call ourselves out before anyone else does – regardless of whether or not we’re pastors or congregants. We must be well practiced with admitting our own faults and failures – not with the tone of guilt and shame, but with sincere honesty. And every time we make these admissions of ourselves, we must immediately allow Him – God, Hope Eternal – to speak into our own hearts and revive our souls.

I’ve said all of this to simply say that while I am again feeling the tug toward pastoral ministry, I can start living out that lifestyle right now. I can start training myself spiritually as an athlete training for a race. I can start disciplining myself to remain humble and self-controlled, lest whatever I might preach or write become void (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

As I said earlier, this is not limited to pastoral ministry. Whatever you’ve felt within your heart that you’re called to do, whatever your tug may be, that will be your ministry. And as Jesus implies to us in Luke 9, He’s given us all that we need to do great things: Himself.

God bless.