We found out yesterday via ultrasound that Maggie and Calvin are having a little sister in October. Of course we’re excited about having another girl in the house, though I can’t claim to share Mo’s enthusiasm regarding its effect on cloth diaper coloring.
One Wednesday afternoon in the spring of 2000 I arrived at my basement office in the student ministries department at Grace Community Church. I had recently taken the reigns as the Junior High Pastor and one of the students, desiring to encourage me, gifted me with a chilled Mocha Frappuccino bottle from Starbucks. I talked a lot about Starbucks in those days, especially my affection for venti caramel macchiatos. A friend of mine, Doug Main, the previous Junior High Pastor, discipled me in the ways and I followed the calorie laden path.
I assume that “Starbucks” is all that this well-intending Junior High guy heard me say, so anything with a Starbucks sticker on it applied. His gift was as thoughtful as it was inattentive.
Not one to let good deeds go unrewarded, I paraded my gift and the giver in front of all the students and staff at the beginning of that night’s meeting. I think I said something such as, “Look how much this guy loves me!” I expressed my public gratitude and we moved on.
I had never consumed a bottled frappuccino before. I had no idea if it was tasty. I simply appreciated the present. Later that night when I drank it down, I decided that it was good but not so good that I needed to purchase more for myself. As it turns out I didn’t have to.
Over the next year and a half, for holidays and birthdays and miscellaneous occasions of “thanks,” bottles of frappuccinos were bestowed to me. Whether by single bottle or by four pack or by twelve pack, the gracious people brought me more mocha.
I don’t remember why. I don’t recall having a plan. Yet for some reason I kept that first empty bottle, rinsed it, and displayed it prominently on the top of my wall-filling bookshelf. Then my collection grew week by week.
The row became quite a discussion starter for visitors to my office (including preparation concerns for possible Southern California earthquakes). It also became a palpable way for others to gift me and almost became a competition among the students to get the line to the other wall. Once in a while a student brought me an already empty bottle but mostly they let me drink them before going on the shelf.
My mother-in-law wrapped every last bottle in its own packing paper when I moved to Washington State in the summer of 2001. I hadn’t decided whether I would display them in my new office at Grace Bible Church or not. After a few days, Mo felt like unboxing the bottles would make the north feel more like home, so I did.
The collection grew slowly over the next few years. On a few occasions the Women’s Ministry borrowed fifty or so for use as centerpiece vases at different events or retreats. Those bottles were never cleaner.
When I left the second Grace I packed the bottles again and brought them home. Not only was there no compelling reason to display them, there also was no space to do so. I figured that eventually I would take a picture of them before sending them off to the happy recycling place in the sky.
Those precious bottles were in a box in our garage for the last sixteen months until Monday. The sun was shining and I thought the time seemed right to finally finish the to-do.
It was going to be a glorious picture.
The base row had 35 bottles. I was almost finished with the fifth row on the pyramid when the wind knocked over a good many layers. The glass was no match for our driveway. Undaunted I began to build again, emptying the boxes and snatching unbroken bottles from the pile. I’m not sure how far I got in the second stacking but the wind got the better of us.
It was disappointing. And funny. I was going to recycle them after the glory picture anyway and instead recycled them after the guts picture. My best count among the shards was 251 (though I do have record of 271 in March of 2009). They’re gone now but the story lives on.
When I began pursuing a call to gospel ministry, and even as I started studying gospel theology and pastoral responsibility, I did not realize how much more was required than faithful proclamation of the gospel message on Sundays and at funerals. There are a thousand and one ways to get exegesis and theology wrong. The temptations for a preacher to compromise or remain silent are legion. But proclaiming the gospel with accuracy, boldness, and constancy is not as difficult as also ministering the gospel through dying, forgiving, and hoping.
Around and since my ordination, I’ve developed a few convictions about personal pastoral practice. A call to gospel ministry requires (at least) sacrificial service and suffering, reconciling and peace-making travail, and consuming, happy confidence in God’s promises.
A preacher’s work extends beyond the sacred desk (the pulpit) and beyond his study desk (in private). A preacher works with people, not merely at people or for people, and they often cause him pain. The preacher is called to model the gospel in a life of death.
Maybe some day I’ll write out posts for a few messages I taught from 2 Corinthians 4, but in summary, the privilege of gospel ministry includes slaving for others. Service is gospel work. Jesus didn’t come to be served but to serve. Those who would lead like Jesus must be servants. So Paul said, “what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
The privilege of gospel ministry also involves suffering. That, too, is gospel work. Jesus gave His life for us. Those who would lead like Jesus must also die. Paul said not only that he was brought to the breaking point over and over, but also that death was at work in him (which means that ministry is a dying life). He wrote:
[we are] always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
In Colossians 1:24 he wrote that “in [his] flesh” he was “filling up what [was] lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” Like Paul, a pastor’s death isn’t redemptive, but it is illustrative of Christ and the gospel. We proclaim a message of death and resurrection from a platform of dying.
A preacher doing the work of an evangelist preaches forgiveness. First and foremost he implores men, “be reconciled to God.” The gospel, Jesus’ substitutionary punishment taking, enables God to be righteous and forgive our unrighteousness. Vertical forgiveness restores relationship between God and repentant rebels. That is the powerful work of the gospel.
Horizontal forgiveness is secondary but it is not less relevant. In fact, because restored relationships between men and other men are only possible due to Christ’s work on the cross, we devalue the gospel to the degree that we don’t insist and work for sinners to be reconciled to each other. Pastors are called to preach, counsel, and mediate reconciliation. They must also model forgiveness.
We prove nothing about the value or power of the gospel if we only love those who follow our lead, who compliment our sermons, and who rewrite their mental theology as soon as we speak. We’re not in the wrong place if there are others who hurt us. We’re in a better place to show how fantastic forgiveness looks.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, all Christians are called to put on tender hearts like Christ, forgiving each other as Christ forgave us. Those called to gospel ministry work to equip others to practice forgiveness for the sake of Body unity. Practicing personal forgiveness builds the platform for preaching. Shepherds should be out on the Forgiveness Front as examples to the flock.
Preachers preach the “best” good news; none have a more hopeful message than those in the gospel ministry. And yet, it’s a short downhill slide into discouragement and pessimism. We see dead men everywhere. Many of the spiritually living men we’re around struggle with doubt and disobedience. We counsel broken people in broken relationships. We work against the flow in a fallen world and our efforts often appear futile. Plus, last week’s offering was low, again.
Thing is, the gospel doesn’t require good circumstances for its effect. In fact, the gospel presupposes problems, problems that are above every preacher’s pay grade. It is good news precisely because things are bad. The gospel makes alive! The gospel grows! The gospel sanctifies! The gospel heals! Because of the gospel promises, no ministry death is wasted. Fruit will be yielded in due season and our resurrection cannot be concealed. We can serve, suffer, die, and forgive with indulgence.
Yes, we’ll be burdened when we see sin in ourselves and in our flocks. Suffering is called suffering for a reason. But we have been born again to a living hope! Of all the things people observe of gospel ministers, humble and explosive hope should be obvious. It’s an area in which I’m working to make progress.
Throwing around the word “gospel” is ironically faddish. It has emerged as a cover for all kinds of “evangelical” activity. But we shouldn’t let those who don’t appreciate the call define the call. I’ll admit that my understanding was not then what it is now. The call to gospel ministry is much bigger and more comprehensive and costly and applicable than I realized. I anticipate it only intensifies from here, and I’m looking forward to it.
I grew up wanting to be a professional baseball player. I dreamed of standing on a well-manicured, thick, dark green grass infield, singing the National Anthem, and waiting for the umpire to yell, “Play ball!” Playing ball was virtually the only occupational desire I had, at least until the summer before my senior year of high school.
My summers were filled with baseball. The summer before my junior year I joined a traveling team and missed eight weeks in a row of Sunday services. Even in my state of spiritual immaturity I knew that if my soul was going to survive, I would have to do something I had never done before: read my Bible on my own. And I did. It wasn’t deep study. I used the Campus Journal booklet, a “student” (read: “dumbed down”) version of Our Daily Bread. But reading a verse, or part of a verse, and a couple paragraphs of thoughts, heated my cup of zeal hotter than ever. Sadly, when school started I lapsed back into spiritual slackerness.
The summer before my senior year brought more baseball, more missing church, and more personal Bible reading. I loved it. I don’t remember anything I actually learned, but I do remember craving the Word.
The season ended and I attended our high school church camp. I actually paid attention during the sessions though I was easily satisfied with (what I now know was rather) milky truth. I delighted to talk about the Bible in our cabin, with fellow students and with staff leaders, as well as with my youth pastor. I wanted to serve and I volunteered at almost every opportunity.
A week later I went to our church’s junior high camp as a counselor. Again, I loved every part. I had no idea what major changes (in me) God was working.
One of the messages that week, the only one I remember, was about how to know the will of God. I had been taught that the perfect will of God was a line of successive dots and that each dot represented a choice. Our responsibility was to identify the next dot on God’s “perfect” path for us. Of course, if a person failed to connect the dots of God’s will then they would fall away from the line and urgently needed to swing back to be in His perfect will again.
This preacher had a brand new (to me) paradigm. He explained that God’s will, as clearly revealed in Scripture, is that one be saved, being Spirit-filled, making progress in sanctification, and submitting to authorities. If those things are in order, then God’s will for us may be whatever we desire most.
Psalm 37:4 provides the governing principle. If we delight ourselves in the LORD, then He will give us the desires of our hearts. That sort of freedom sounds scandalous to some. But the idea is that if He is our greatest want, then He is working in us accompanying wants that accord with Him.
I was obeying God with a clear conscience (while I acknowledge now that a better informed conscience would have challenged me regarding my church absenteeism). The possibility that God’s will was what I most wanted floored me but also filled me with fear, especially because my increasing and consuming desire was to serve Him in full-time ministry. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than feeding on the Bible, telling others about Christ, and serving His Body.
I didn’t tell anyone about my thinking for over a month. I had seen too many disavowed “camp decisions.” I was not the son of a pastor, nor was I aware of any vocational ministry types in our extended family. I finally communicated with my youth pastor who could hardly have been more excited. Soon after I told my parents and, though my dad was thoroughly against it for some time, the desire in my heart grew stronger.
Everything changed that August in 1991, though not overnight. I pursued baseball through my sophomore year of college and now I look at the fancy grass from the bleachers. Back then I had no idea how much I didn’t know about the call to gospel ministry. I never would have guessed the road would lead to where I am today. Almost nothing I expected has happened, and almost everything that has happened has been better than I could have imagined.
 I do not recommended this approach to determining God’s call, that is, neglecting the assembling for few months. Like I said, I had a lot to learn.
 I don’t remember the preacher’s name. I also don’t know if he plagiarized John MacArthur’s book, Found: God’s Will_, first published in 1973. Either way, I’m thankful for both of them.
I Don’t Do Découpage
It’s been more than three months since my last post. Fantastic. The long absence moved one friend to ask via email if I had abandoned the Void. I did go on a Google Reader fast from May 13 to June 26. Little did I know that break from blog reading also would include a break from blog writing. I have done a few things since April 1st.
Much of my time in April and May was spent preparing for June, because in June I spoke 25 times in 21 days starting June 5th with the Grace Academy high school graduation. The next morning I flew to Fresno to meet up with my friend Greg Perkins, youth pastor at Grace Community Church in Madera. We headed to Silver Spur Camp and Retreat Center in Tuolumne for his junior high and high school summer camp titled, Branded: What it means to live like Christ. The following Thursday I flew from Fresno to Columbus for our seemingly annual summer trip to Ohio (see my posts from 2006, 2007, and 2008). Mo and the kids flew from Seattle on Friday to meet me. The next speaking go-round was for the Reformation Conference at Faith Bible Church. Last year they asked me to preach on the five points of Calvinism. This year they asked for follow up messages. I titled the series: We Are Not Our Own: The Implications of Calvinism, driven by this quote from Calvin in his Institutes:
We are God’s: let us therefore live for Him and die for Him. We are God’s: let His wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward Him as our only lawful goal. (3.7.1)
The audio for each session is available if you’re interested.
The Heart of Calvinism – How to Live Like a Whole-Hearted Calvinist
God May Perhaps Grant Repentance – How to Correct Opponents Like a Calvinist
For the Sake of the Faith of God’s Elect – How to Tell THE Story Like a Calvinist
Created to Walk in Good Works – How to Obey Like a Calvinist
Born Again to a Living Hope – How to Suffer Like a Calvinist
After the church conference I traveled with the youth from Faith Bible to Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Ripley, West Virginia, home of the best Gino’s pizza parlor. This year was the tenth time I’ve spoken at their camp and I covered The Myth of Adolescence. We flew back to Washington a week ago tonight, but returning home has been little rest. One of the things requiring much work is the serious remodel at our house. I took the following video on my (new 3GS, yeah, that’s right) iPhone to provide a small glimpse into our new, but hopefully only temporary, look.
That’s it for now. It was something, and that’s the deal I made with myself earlier today. If you’re reading this in Google Reader or the like and are thinking about clicking through to leave a comment about how glad you are to see a post from me or share some other encouraging word, don’t bother. Comments are now closed indefinitely. Maybe I’ll have more to say about that decision later, maybe not. For that matter, the old Void posts are absent, though they will eventually reappear from the www abyss. Feel free to email me if you have questions or concerns or well-wishes, or send me a Facebook message, though you should probably keep in mind that I don’t do Facebook any more than I do découpage or herbal tea.
Pink Ox 2.0
In March of 2005 Jesse Martin made me a logo for Pink Ox. I’ve used it as my Gravatar here at the Void, for my Twitter picture, and to identify my online persona at various other internet sites.
But Jesse worked his Adobe Suite brilliance again this week, and I’m thinking the new insignia may start propagating across the web in the next few days. You may now enjoy the Pink Ox 2.0.
The elders of Grace Bible Church ordained me Sunday, January 18. I am grateful to all those who worked so hard to make the entire evening special, and humbled by the many testimonies of affirmation. I’m posting the slideshow, as well as the audio of the service, for those (like my mom, and some who were not able to attend) that may be interested.
The audio starts with a message about ordination by John Zimmer from 1 Timothy 5:22, followed by my brief testimony of salvation and call to ministry [starting at 15:51].
Next were numerous, gracious testimonies from friends, past and present ministry partners, and family [with the start time for each person in the brackets]:
- [28:01] Chuck Weinberg
- [30:25] Marty Yorio
- [32:56] Jonathan Sarr
- [39:50] David Light
- [44:14] Darien Bowers
- [49:29] Andy Bowers
- [53:15] Ron Regas
- [57:47] Curtis Wentling
- [1:03:46] Doug Main
- [1:06:37] Jesse Martin
- [1:08:44] Teresa Weinberg
- [1:11:34] Justin Culbertson
- [1:15:07] Gale Light
- [1:16:16] Micah Lugg
- [1:21:13] Tim Lugg
- [1:23:13] Mo
- [1:26:14] Misty Hehe
- [1:28:10] Barbara Higgins
- [1:31:20] Phil Johnson
And then the elders’ prayers followed: [1:32:48] John Williams, [1:33:25] Jim Martin, [1:34:01] Ward Brien, and [1:35:26] John Zimmer.
I am excited to announce that I completed a major project last week and picked up copies of the finished product on Friday. (You read that right: I picked up the copies from FedEx; they were not delivered by FedEx. The package tracking information read “delay beyond our control,” meaning, there was snow and ice on the roads. It wasn’t all bad; I learned at least one thing, and most importantly, I got to enjoy the process.)
A Bit of Context
During the final week of May, I adapted 14 sermons from my Ecclesiastes series into a book for the graduating seniors in our ministry. They endured 61 messages over the course of three years, and I figured this was the least I could give them. So I holed up in my home study for 16 or so hours a day for three days in order to rework and format the material. I self-published through Lulu (now owned by Amazon), and for what it’s worth, I could not recommend their product more highly.
The first order of books arrived in time for graduation and I presented a copy to each graduate. But the closer I examined the book, the more I regrettably realized how much it looked like something put together in three days.
I needed help. So I asked Patti Frisk, our school’s secondary English teacher, along with my mom, also a high school English teacher, to edit the book. Each one graciously agreed and went to work with red pens in hand. They returned improved manuscripts to me before June ended, and the ball was back in my court. Thank you, ladies.
Somehow, other projects kept creeping onto my calendar. Since I was eager to clean this meaty task off my plate, I spent the month of November and the early days of December making revisions, adding a chapter, and polishing the layout. I delivered the first copies of the second edition Friday night to the youth staff at our Christmas party.
As the table of contents below reveals, roughly one paragraph in each chapter of Ecclesiastes turned into one chapter in my book. The chapters represent what I believe to be the high points of Solomon’s reminders in Ecclesiastes. They were chosen not only to expose the vanity of life, but also to turn the reader to God for true joy under the sun.
- Vain Repetition (1:1-11)
- Looking for Life Under the Sun (Pt 1) (2:1-8)
- Looking for Life Under the Sun (Pt 2) (2:1-8)
- Enjoying the Process (2:24-26)
- Everything is Beautiful in Its Time (3:9-15)
- 15 Minutes of Fame (4:13-16)
- You Can’t Take It with You (5:13-17)
- Loathing the Process (6:1-6)
- Get Over Yourself (7:15-22)
- Following and Influencing the Man (8:1-9)
- Act Now Before It’s too Late! (9:7-10)
- Out of the Mouth of Fools (10:12-15)
- Basking in the Sun (11:7-10)
- The End of the Matter (12:13-14)
- Why Ecclesiastes Needs the Cross (1 Corinthians 15)
Get a Copy
I’m glad this part of the process is done. I’d gladly massage each chapter more, but that may be the perpetual tweaker in me, so this will have to do for now. Order a copy.
State of the Void
Today is the first snow day of the school year. Since I’m not teaching at a school anymore, a snow day isn’t the novelty it used to be. But the church office is a virtual ghost town when the Academy is closed, and it’s always fun to stay home anyway. In a while, the kids and I will bundle up, throw snow at each other, build a snowman or two, shovel off the driveway, and spend a couple hours looking forward to hot chocolate.
Because the day’s schedule is different than usual, I committed to myself that I would write something for the Void. I miss it. Though I have been working on various other projects–one of which I’ll be free to publicize here in a couple days–I like writing and posting more than pithy quotes from dead theologians and amusing anecdotes from home.
So what’s the problem? Where are the gold bars of new posts? It appears sitting my rear in the chair and turning away from distractions are still the most difficult parts. I am fearful of becoming another armchair pundit who acts like he knows everything about everything, but the primary blame falls on my mental laziness.
There are reasons for me to write.
First, I am a pastor, and this blog is one platform for fulfilling the teaching part of my responsibility. Having a blog doesn’t mean I’m the best teacher or only teacher. But for my sheep, this site ought to be a resource connected to our larger ministry context.
Second, being a shepherd is a personal thing. This site ought to be a place for the sheep who normally don’t get to hang out with me to get to know me a bit better. The blog format also preserves my holdout from Facebook for at least a while longer, and hopefully provides more substance than updating my status or notifying followers when I’ve been tagged in a photo.
Third, the blog helps me stay connected with far away friends and family. Undoubtedly some of my posts are tangential to their lives and interests, but they can read if they want.
Fourth, it lets me practice writing. Most writers I’ve read have written that if a person wants to become a better writer, they should write more. Fancy that.
Fifth, composing a post often helps me think through a given issue more clearly.
Sixth, the blog provides a place to communicate things that didn’t fit the flow of a sermon or that I ran out of time to say.
Seventh, the blog is a better platform for sharing things I think are silly rather than turning my preaching into a comedy bit.
Eighth, I just like it.
As I look to the end of this year and a review of my 2008 resolutions, and as I consider opportunities for spiritual progress in the new year, I’m ready to include more writing and posting to the Void in the process. So there it is; I finally wrote something. For me, that’s better than nothing.
How Do You Respond
One week ago I was minding my own business, working on something in my office when I received a text message on my iPhone. I suspected it was a one28 staff person letting me know they were unable to make it to our meeting later that evening, but when I looked at the snippet I didn’t recognize the number. I was even more surprised upon opening the entire message, and though they said they didn’t want a response, I sent one anyway. The following image is a screen capture of the original (in grey) and my response (in green). The only photo edit was to mask the final four digits of the phone number.