On Death and Glass

I once cleaned windows for a dead man.

I don’t think I will ever forget the moment when it happened. And it still grips me, even today…

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Several years ago, I was working for Brad’s Window Cleaning out of Rockford (best company I’ve ever worked for, so I am unashamedly promoting them!).  One day, we had a cleaning job for a cottage by a lake. Nothing unusual about this job; a quick exterior power washing and in/out window cleaning. Since I was the crew leader for window cleaning, I headed inside the house to begin my work.

I was greeted by a kind woman, probably in her late 60s, and later met her husband who was sitting in a recliner in front of their television. I don’t remember their names, but the impression of their personalities is engraved on my memory.

It was a lovely cottage. A brightly toned, open living room facing the lake to the East, with large peak windows that needed a ladder to reach. There was a set of French doors that led to a deck, so the whole room filled with natural light.

As with most homes by a lake, most of the window cleaning was done in one or two rooms that face the scenery. So, as I was expecting, I spent the vast majority of my time in that living room – moving my ladder around, handing screens, and moving furniture.

I got to know their family quite well, even though I don’t remember all the details. They had a recently married son who did business somewhere in the South. I believe they also had a daughter who was rather successful in her field. This couple were proud parents, and they expressed interest in getting to know me as I cleaned the dust off their sills.

The television was on most of the time, and the sound was a dull white noise to us. I recall it being Fox News, and the story of the hour was a natural disaster or political upheaval in a foreign country. Something like that.

The main thing I remember was that the conversation between us was cordial and inviting.  I actually missed them as I went to other parts of the house to finish my work.

The following year, I pulled up to their cottage in our work van, and felt excitement at doing this job once again (we had some customers who were… less than exciting to work for. But some customers were a blast to have!).  I was by myself this time, as it was a small enough job that didn’t justify more than one cleaner. I will never forget being invited in and walking into that living room; that sacred space.

This time, however, the recliner was empty. I asked, “Where is your husband?”

“He passed away.”

I remember just standing there, staring at the chair. I so clearly remembered our conversation a year earlier while he sat there, and I was dumbstruck that he would never be there again.

I don’t think I ever paid so much attention to detail as I spent that afternoon working quietly around her house. I even cleaned up the dead spiders and bug carcasses that fell on the ground as I cleaned the garage windows (If you’ve never had to clean a garage window, consider yourself blessed by God. They’re the worst!).

Sometimes, while I’m cleaning windows, I still remember those moments. I learned, then, that even minuscule tasks can be significant. Ever since that day, window cleaning was no longer my job. Window cleaning became my ministry.

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On Family and Church (Part 1)

The greatest thing my parents ever did for my sister and me was this: they never claimed ownership over us.

This revelation came about some years ago, when I was 21 years old. I don’t recall the context, exactly. It was either when I talked with them about feeling called to pastoral ministry, or when I shared with them that I felt I needed to go on a mission trip to Kenya. Either way, it doesn’t matter how it happened. It only matters that it happened.

It was in a moment when I had to make a serious decision, and I clearly remember the truth that was shared with me from my parents: “We raised you and Jenn knowing that you do not belong to us – you belong to God.”

Since then, I have seen pieces here and there fall into place. Parts of my life that make more sense as I look into the past through this new lens; a lens that changes the hue of my memories just enough to make things clearer. The times I was frustrated by what was going on. The times when I was confused about certain decisions, or why my parents raised my sister and me the way they did.

Now, I know that my parents are not perfect. They’ll be the first to admit it. They made poor decisions, just like anyone else does. But there remains in my life a kernel of truth that we have begun to forget in the Western church: children do not belong to the parents.

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I am not entirely sure why it is. Perhaps it’s because of our social culture. But family has become defined as the prime community – the ultimate locus of social experience and relational intimacy. We forget, however, that as believers we are called to a family that transcends biological or legal barriers. “Blood may be thicker than water, but the bond of the spirit is greater than both.” (Can’t find who said this, but it was in a book/article I read a while ago)

Why is it, then, that family time has become a rival to church time? How has it become so easy to justify neglecting corporate worship in order to spend time sharing a meal and watching a movie together?

I distinctly remember that for most of my life my parents were exceptionally busy people. But, the one thing that could be counted on is that every week, usually at least twice a week, we would gather together and worship. We would pray, sing praise, and listen to the Word together. We would participate in ground-breaking ceremonies, witness dedications and baptisms, and celebrate in ours and other’s achievements together. We would dream, mourn, laugh, and cry together.

Church was not a mere weekly activity for us. It was a central bonding agent of our lives. It prompted discussions during our car rides. It caused us frustrations and joys. It merged us with other families and developed life-long friendships with people who are more than friends to us. And the stories… so many stories! The stories of our local church became the stories of our family. Even today when we come together we talk about church – it is the one thing to which we can all relate.

It breaks my heart to see what is happening to so many churches today. It also infuriates me. When the local church is no longer a place where the family can spend time together, we have a problem. When the local church is not viewed as that place and time where a family can join with one another in worship, we need to seriously think about what it going on. And when churches distance themselves from being the prime community into which we are called, we have lost a central aspect of our ecclesiology and have forgotten a large part of who we are as Christians.

Let us not fool ourselves, here. When families need to become absent during worship in order to spend time together, we have established the family as an idol. We tell ourselves that our biological family is more important, and so it should not surprise us when our children grow up to be apathetic towards church because we have trained them to see it as an auxiliary part of their lives. The family, then, becomes a church unto itself, with its own modes of worship, sacraments (football games, movie watching, weekly meal sharing), saints (distant relatives, grandparents), and gods (Detroit Tigers, MSU, USA). These things, in and of themselves, are not bad. But when they usurp the primacy of gathered worship of a greater community to our Lord, we throw ourselves into a subtle yet powerful confusion.

A part of this, no doubt, is due to the fact that in many churches the family simply cannot be together. Silo ministry models, where people of different ages are segregated from one another, perpetuates a culture that teaches that church is not a place for families. It is a place for family members, but not a place where families can share memories, celebrate, or worship together. And so, families are justified in their absence from church in order to spend time apart. A justification that is, itself, built on a sandy foundation.

We ought to be ashamed when families must choose between “family time” and church. We belong, ultimately, to God. And yet we are creating and perpetuating a culture that says we ultimate belong to ourselves. Is this not a tragedy? Has church simply become a purveyor of spiritual and religious goods and services; a consumable item families indulge in when convenient? Or something to partake of when, in their ‘good judgment,’ they feel it is necessary to purchase through an investment of time and non-participatory attendance? As easy to attend or abstain from as going shopping at the local mall or eating out? – Just another cog in the machine for us, no more or less significant than everything else we participate in.

My parents have been asked by co-workers and friends over the years an interesting question that comes in many forms: “What did you do to have your children turn out the way they did?”

The answer is simple: my parent’s children didn’t belong to them. They belonged to God.

Church is not a family tradition for us. It is who we are. It is greater than our family. My sister and I did not grow up being taught to serve the family. We grew up being taught to serve Christ and his Kingdom. A major facet in that was our consistent involvement in the life of our local church through all seasons of life.

 

 

On Disconnect and Player 1

I was working on a long blog post, but my thoughts got all jumbled and I had to start over. This happens from time to time.

Anyways, I had an interesting interaction earlier this week between a couple students and myself after one of my Formation groups got out. After group was dismissed, two of my students came up to me and we talked for a good hour or so. We talked about some interesting stuff; the practice of prophecy in the Old Testament, the nature of God throughout the Bible, different genres of music, and one thing that really caught me off-guard. One of my students is an avid Zelda fan! I was pretty psyched to share my favorite childhood experience with a like-minded individual. It was a unique experience that made my week. It also led to a conversation with a good friend of mine this morning.

We were having our weekly breakfast time, and the topic of expectations came up. To be honest, I am not sure what exactly we were saying, but the conversation got to the point where I expressed my frustration with how I am viewed when I bring up my affinity for gaming. It has seemed, throughout my life, that when I bring up my hobby of gaming that I am viewed as immature, or at least childish in some way. It’s as if gaming is something you eventually grow out of. I believed this idea for a long time. Before I came to Olivet I sold all of my gaming devices and games except my Gameboy and N64 (you can’t toss the classics), because I believed that I was not a grown-up and would develop a more sophisticated hobby. What I have found, however, is that I had to eventually come to a defining decision, and it happened last year: I admitted that I am a gamer.

Hanin' with Navi

It’s true, I love to game! I love talking about game theory (philosophical messages of games, timelines, characterizations, themes, etc.), playing all kinds of games (FPS, RTS, Tabletop, card games, MMO, RPG, and recently I have gotten into MOBA’s), and interacting with other gamers. What I have found, once I owned up to the fact that I am a gamer for life, is that the gaming community is very disrespected by people who are outside of it. For instance, the Olivet newspaper came out with an article that talked about how there is a League of Legends team forming at Olivet and will attempt to compete with other teams in the area. When I mentioned this to my professor, he laughed at the notion that gaming could be a sport (because people who form these teams compete in E-sports tournaments). I looked at him and in all seriousness started talking about how difficult these types of games are; they require strong teamwork, quick reflexes, incredible strategizing, impeccable micromanaging and macromanaging skills, and a lot of dedication. Whenever I bring up stories about my gaming escapades, like how I started pwning the Hearthstone ladder with my constructed Druid and Paladin decks, or played some old school Pharaoh, I am usually met with sideways glances, smiles that say, “you’re kind of pathetic,” or an outright laugh. At best, gaming is seen as an inefficient use of time by most non-gamers.

What many people fail to realize is that the gaming community is an extremely close-knit group, and it is largely non-Christian. Not only is it non-Christian, but it is violently so. Go onto any gaming forum and mention anything about God, the Church, Jesus, the Bible and you will be met with an incredibly aggressive response. In internet terms, such conversations end up being “flame wars;” massive arguments that burn everyone who comes in contact with it. But, contrary to popular belief, gamers are very social… with each other. If you become a part of a gaming community, then you basically become a part of a tribe. It has its own language, social expectations, allies and enemies, and belief system (this is hard to explain if you don’t game). I know this because I grew up in it. Ever since I was a kid I have been connected with this community. It’s because of these reasons that I mentioned to my breakfast buddy that I cannot give up gaming.

I feel called to this largely unchurched community. Does this mean that I will become an internet pastor? No, it just means that my ties to gaming won’t end just because I take on a church. I grew up in this community, I know what these people are like, and I know how they think. How could I reject such a community of people who, in many cases, are socially exclusive to their gaming brothers and sisters? If people can develop sports programs in churches to reach people, then why not gaming teams? Why not start a Pathfinder society in our church, or an ESO guild, or a Final Fantasy Fan club? Granted, not many people in the churches I go to even know what an RTS is. I bring this up because I really want to do this in my church. I want to have my church serve as a place where like-minded people can gather and enjoy something together that we all love. Of all the places to gather, should the church not be the best place? What an incredible opportunity for relationship building and evangelism – you are a gamer, and that is okay. Honestly, most of the classmates I met during my time at ITT-Tech would never step foot in a church or listen to anyone who mentioned “God.” But you bring up the topic of gaming and suddenly they’re hooked in the conversation.

I think we need to stop making gaming out to be a waste of time and something that the church has no place participating in. Gaming is a hobby, like anything else. It’s an incredibly social activity. Plus, it’s freaking fun! I don’t know how many other gamers have wrestled with this idea that they are somehow less of an adult for gaming, or less of a Christian for doing so, but I would imagine that it is a good number. I do know that this is something that took me until I was 25 to accept.

To my fellow Zelda-loving student and all my closet-gamer Christians out there: enjoying video games doesn’t require being sent back to Kokiri Forest, so take the Master Sword out of the pedestal and game on!

On Humanity and Resurrection (Part 2)

A few months ago I had a conversation with someone very close to me.  We were sitting on a couch together and began talking about what life will be like after we die.  Since we both experienced losing someone close to us, it seemed an appropriate conversation to have at the time.  Through the conversation, however, I was intrigued to hear how the person I was conversing with thought of what life will be like.

I don’t remember exactly what was said, but I do remember some key points in our conversation.  The main ideas my partner had about the afterlife were as follows (If this person is reading this, please forgive me if I am remembering them wrong): We will not recognize people, and we will have no memories of our life on this earth.  A third idea that others tend to add on to this list is that we will not have a physical existence; we will exist solely in spirit.

jesusresurrection_2When I preach, I often say a simple phrase at one point in my sermon when I am expounding on a Scriptural idea.  The phrase is this: “If we take this seriously, then what does that mean for us?”  In this instance, I want to use it in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ:  “If we take the resurrection of Jesus Christ seriously, then what does that mean for us in terms of life after death?”  This is a critically important part of theology, not only because it talks about Jesus, but because Jesus was fully man and so what he experienced shows us what we as humans will experience.  If Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t show us what our future existence will be, then his resurrection really doesn’t mean anything.

So, what did Jesus show us about life after death in his resurrection?  Well, for starters, he recognized people.  When Jesus rose from the dead, he went to meet with the disciples and had conversation with them.  He knew their names, and they knew his. They recognized who Jesus was.  In fact, Jesus referenced previous conversations with the disciples as we see in Luke 24 (verse 44 specifically).  He knew who people were, and death did not sever his relationship with them.

Also, Jesus did not have his memory wiped upon his death.  He could clearly recollect people, conversations, and memories.  At one point, while he was talking along the road to Emmaus, he went through the entire Old Testament to show the people he was walking with that this man who died was the Messiah.  What he referenced from the Old Testament was what he learned as a Jewish student while he was growing up.  I find it difficult to say much more because John 20 and Luke 24 so clearly portray Jesus as not only recognizing people but he was also able to clearly remember things from his life before death.

Lastly, Jesus had a physical existence.  It’s not as if Jesus resurrected in a spiritual ethereal form.  he even directly says to his disciples, “Look at my hands and my feet.  It is I myself!  Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (Luke 24:39)  He was able to eat, walk on solid ground, and be touched by others (John 20:27).  God himself took on a physical, material existence even after he had died, although for whatever reason we tend to demonize the material world as insignificant compared to the spiritual world.  Jesus shows that both are significant.

So, let me ask again, “If we take the resurrection of Jesus seriously, then what does this mean for us?”  For one, it means that when we die we will not have our memories erased.  We will be able to recognize people and share memories with others.  Second, it means that we can look forward to a material existence.  We will have physical bodies, and our life will be just as real as it is now.  God himself created the material and the physical and saw that it was “good,” so why would he abandon it and have us live in purely spiritual forms?  (By the way, this notion that a solely spiritual existence after death is what we can expect is not a Scriptural idea. It stems from Plato’s teachings, not Jesus)

I will admit, it is difficult for us to contemplate having memory after we die.  How can we really enjoy the presence of God if our memories consist of sin, brokenness, pain, loss, and imperfection?  I contend that it is in light of our imperfection that we can better see who God is.  If we have no memory after we die and join the community of Faith that has gone before us, then God means nothing to us.  Why would we need to worship God?  What would make God worthy of our praise if we knew absolutely nothing of our sin and need for grace?  Why would we need a savior, and what makes Jesus so significant?

in truth, if we have no memory after we die then God is a cruel being.  People would exist in Hell with no idea of why they are suffering eternally, except to know that God sentenced them there.  Likewise, people would exist in Heaven without knowing what brought them there in the first place.  Also, it nullifies the Judgment.  How can someone who has their memory erased care about having their deeds read back to them during the Final Judgment, as if they can associate themselves with their earthly actions?  This brings me to my next point.

If we have no memory when we die, then our existence on this earth does not mean anything.  We would merely be pawns of God, doing things that carry eternal significance without even remembering the joys of participating with God in redeeming the world.

I want to be careful here, because I know that many people hold these ideas very dearly, and the person I had a conversation with is someone I deeply love and respect.  I am, however, concerned with our general lack of appreciation in what the resurrection of Jesus means.  Our future life is something to anticipate and be excited about, not just because we will be in perfect relationship with God (although that is certainly a major part of it), but because we will be reunited with our loved ones and we will be able to talk with one another just as we have here in this life.  In truth, we give death far too much power if we think that it can separate us from one another indefinitely.  When we carry the belief that “when someone dies that is the end of our relationship with them”, we are neglecting the unifying power of God and the incredible unity of the community of believers.  God created the Church to be a family of believers that not even Hell can prevail against.  Death cannot sever our relationships with loved ones, because the bond of the Spirit is greater, and Christ showed us that in his resurrection.

One final thought here.  I anticipate that some will be tempted to say, “well, it’s all well and good to say those things about the resurrection, but Jesus was God.”  True, but Jesus was also fully man.  As I said in my previous post, either we accept that everything Jesus did expressed both the fulness of his divinity and the fullness of his humanity, or we need to throw the crucifixion and resurrection out the window because they won’t mean anything otherwise.

Do we really take the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus seriously?

On Revelation and Assimilation

I remember the first interaction I had with my ex-fiance.  We didn’t really know each other personally, but we would engage in conversation and do some activities together. A few months and several interactions later, we began to date one another.  Still more months and interactions later we got engaged.

Woman Receiving Engagement RingThis is a fairly typical story.  Two people meet, get to know each other, and then after a time they continue making deeper and deeper levels of commitment to one another.  Engagement, as well as marriage, are two moments which solidify a certain depth of commitment between two people.   It is odd for us to think that two people would meet for the first time, chat for a few minutes, and then immediately commit the rest of their lives to one another.  Even in arranged marriages there are people who  understand the individuals well enough to know if that kind of relationship will work, and there is still a ‘leading up-to’ time where the two people are at least aware of what is going on.

Why is it, then, that we tend to see evangelism as a ‘blind marriage’ occasion?  We think it’s crazy for two people to get married if they have only know each other for a few hours (or even days), and yet we impose that kind of perspective on our un-saved neighbors.  I would like to propose that we rethink our understanding of evangelism.

To be perfectly honest, I never felt comfortable inviting my friends to church with me.  While I was in youth group, we would be asked several times to bring our friends to church for special occasions or for Wednesday night Bible study or whatever.  I would always feel awkward about this.  It’s not because I didn’t think God was important or that salvation didn’t matter, but it’s because whenever I did invite my friends I would hear the messages they were hearing and it would unsettle me.

“You’re an outsider.”
“You don’t know what’s going on here.”
“You don’t know who God is.”
“You need to dedicate your life to Jesus tonight!”

My friends were seen as outsiders, as strangers, and in order to feel truly welcomed they needed to get with the program and convert.  Then, and only then, could they be a part of the community.

Now, I know that this was not the intended message of the youth leaders or laypeople.  However, these were the messages that were communicated through what was said, how people acted, and what people said about our friends when they weren’t there.  And I am as guilty as everyone else for sending these messages.

Now I have another story to tell:

when I was about five, I remember coming home from church and climbing into the top of my bunk-bed and asking Jesus into my heart.  This is my conversion story, and it is entirely made up.

The truth is, I don’t know when I was saved.  I can’t point to a calendar and say, “here, on this day, I became a born again believer!”  I do know that at some point I did, but I don’t remember how.  I remember something about a Sunday school teacher talking with me about it, so maybe it happened then?  I don’t know.  I do know that I invented a story because people kept asking me about my conversion experience and when I came into a relationship with the Lord, so that’s where the bunk-bed conversion story came into play.

Honestly, I don’t know when Christ became my savior because I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Jesus was.  I grew up hearing about him all the time.  I would pray to him before meals with my family, and I would hear about him at church.  I never had an opportunity as an infant to not know who he was.  And this is why I believe there is a big weakness in how we do evangelism.

One of the biggest assumptions we seem to build off of when talking about evangelism is that people who are not Christian do not have a relationship with Jesus.  I think this is one of the most harmful and, frankly, ignorant assumptions we have.  There is rarely anyone in the United States who does not know who Jesus is.  You can ask anyone, “Who is Jesus?” and I believe most people will give you an answer.  Everyone knows who Jesus is.  Everyone has feelings about who Jesus is.  Everyone has some sort of a relationship with Jesus, even if that relationship is simply an acquaintance.

So why do we approach evangelism as if they don’t?  Why do we talk to non-believers as if Jesus is some total stranger to them?  Why do we treat them as if they couldn’t tell the difference between Jesus and George Bush?  And why do we assume that he is not already working in their lives?

The problem with not recognizing a relationship that is already there is that we then set up all kinds of persuasive arguments aimed at getting people to like Jesus. We talk about his character, what he did, what he does, and what he is doing as if Jesus were on a blind date with this person.

But what if evangelism became more declarative than persuasive?  More acknowledging that coercing?  More about revealing a God who is already there than introducing a completely foreign concept?

If we are to take this perspective seriously, then evangelism isn’t about trying to get someone to marry a complete stranger they just met.  Instead, it is about helping someone develop a relationship that is already there.  I didn’t get engaged the first moment I met my ex-fiance’.  That didn’t happen until months into our relationship.  Similarly, expecting someone to surrender their entire lives to a being whom they hardly know is expecting too much (and I would contend is ultimately damaging in the long run).

What does this say about that moment of ‘conversion,’ then?  Maybe when someone becomes a born-again believer it is not a moment when they first enter into a relationship with Christ.  Instead, it is simply the moment when Christ went from being ‘some guy I know’ to ‘Lord’ and ‘Savior.’  I am not trying to say that the salvation experience is not important, but we ought to consider the implications of suggesting that Christ is completely unknown to people who aren’t saved.

I sense that our views of others, and creation as a whole, could benefit greatly is we seriously begin to open our eyes to the work that God is already doing in our world and in the lives of those around us.   Maybe we would begin shedding ourselves of an ‘us/them’ mentality and simply see ourselves as being on a different stage in this journey. No one is a stranger to God, and who are we to take people on blind dates with a ring in our pocket?

On Facebook and Obama

About a year ago I was approached by a middle-aged woman after one of my sermons.  A very unexpected conversation took place:

Woman: “So, did I hear you right in your sermon when you said you were gay?”

Me: [confused look on my face] “Uhh.. I don’t believe I said that, ma’am.”

Woman: “You mentioned in your sermon that you live with your boyfriend.”

Me: “Oh!  No, I was referencing a paper one of my students had written.”

Woman: “I see.  Are you married, then?”

Me: “No ma’am, I’m single.”

Woman: “Okay.  I looked over during the service and saw that a nicely-dressed young man was visiting and I thought, ‘well, he’s either married or he’s gay.”

Me: “Well, I can honestly say that I’m not gay even though I’m not married.”

I’ve found a profound truth through my time at Olivet:  problems don’t occur because of what you say; problems occur because of what people hear.  In this instance, even though I was trying to be clear in my message, the woman heard something completely different than what I was saying.

During the last few weeks I’ve begun to pay more attention to what we, as Christians, say, and I’ve noticed that there is often a large gap between what we are saying and what others are actually hearing.  In our attempts to promote Christian ideas, including the Gospel, we inadvertently push people away and draw lines in the sand.  Where social media like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Youtube could serve as effective vessels to communicate God’s love to others, we have used them as battle trenches from which to launch our missiles toward our opponents – as if doing so will force them to surrender, and walk – defeated and humiliated – to our side.

It should not take long to notice what I am talking about.  Posts about popular topics such as Duck Dynasty, Obama’s policies, same-sex marriage, and gun laws are rarely inviting.  Typically, you can fill in the blanks with such posts:  “____ is/are being fools!  Why are they doing _____?  _____ is going to ruin our country! We need to stop _____ because _____  is going directly against scripture!”  While some of these statements may be true in some cases, I can’t help but think of what people are hearing when they read such posts:  “They think I’m being a fool?  They don’t know why I support ___?  They think I’m going to ruin the country?  They want to stop people like me, and say I am going directly against scripture?”  – We should not be surprised when people stop attending our churches when they hear such messages.

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I understand that the reason we tend to be so strong and direct in our words is because of our passion.  I do get that.  But we gather on Sundays to talk about how much God loves people. and yet we regularly go out of our way to find creative ways of telling people how much we despise them.  We try to beat down others for thinking differently than we do as we drag them kicking and screaming to the altar, hoping to secure yet another prisoner for Christ.  At least, I’m assuming that’s what our purpose is by treating others the way we do; it’s either some perverted form of evangelism or we’re trying to hold people underwater as we drown them in Hell, instead of extending a loving hand.

I am perplexed by all this, to say the least.  Do we really think we have it all together, that we are so pure, that we can claim to have the power to not just judge others, but to abuse them for not being on the same side of some arbitrary man-made line in the sand as we are?  Or maybe we like to stick to our version of the Great Commission: “Go, and make disciples of all nations… bashing their heads in with traditional American values instead of scriptural truths, and show them how wrong they are so that they feel that I don’t like them.  After all, I only died for the good Christian republican/democrat people.  I didn’t die for all humanity.”  –  That’s what Jesus was getting at, right?

Not only am I perplexed, but I am disappointed.  It makes me feel disappointed to see Christians I once looked up to lobbing grenades at ‘those liberals,’ ‘those homosexuals,’ ‘those God-haters,’ ‘those religious fanatics,’ ‘those baby-killers,’ ‘those bigots,’ ‘those sexists.’ Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe that we should engage in conversations about current topics.  But, can we not approach such topics with even a little grace?  Does not the world already draw enough lines as it is – why should we be trying to draw even more?  Do we even listen to those who disagree with us, or do we stay barricaded within our trenches looking at the opposition through rifle scopes and satellites?

Sometimes the greatest method of evangelism is offering our ears.  It’s a dangerous thing to get out of the trenches to walk to the other side and get to know ‘those people.’  Once you enter that ‘no man’s land’ you’re likely to get shot by your own side, if not the ‘opposition’.  But how else are we going to know what our listeners hear?

We ought to take seriously the words we say, and the impact they have on others, because what we are trying to say may not be what they are hearing.

On Memories and Hope

About five and a half years ago I was sitting in Dr. Allen’s office talking about how I felt called to ministry and how I would like to go out and preach at churches while I attended Olivet Nazarene University.

A few months later I’m sitting in Ludwig with Mr. Tony Fightmaster – the head of Church Relations at Olivet, along with a fellow freshman Jake Goodspeed and some other person who I only saw that one time.  We talked about the possibility of going out to preach that following weekend up in Wisconsin and Jake and I jumped at the chance.  Tony seemed excited, and he handed us some information while walking us through what the weekend might look like.

Days rolled by and on a chilly Saturday morning Jake and I load our stuff into Tony’s car and start driving.  We stopped at a Culver’s and had some light conversations as we got to know each other a little better and asked each other what we were expecting for that weekend and what we were preaching on.

Flash forward a few more months and Tony calls me again to see if I’m available for a second trip in the Spring semester.  Naturally, I volunteered.  This time, along with Jake and I, Jake Gregory (who would be my future roommate) and Jameson Forshee all jump into ‘Big Brown’ and head off to Michigan for the second preaching trip of the year.

Flash forward to now, and we have a 35+ member Preaching Ambassador program fully funded by at least 4 main donors and about 20 other private donors.  Before the 2013-2014 school year is over, we will have been to over 200 churches in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana.  We have a strong support group among the Olivet faculty, and a Student Leadership team that is both passionate and wise (collectively).  We’ve branched out beyond pulpit preaching and now send out Music Ambassadors and well as Youth Ambassadors.  It’s truly an incredible time for the PA’s.

However, after 39 trips in the program, I am waving my goodbyes in a few months.  It’s a sobering reality to face.  I poured five years of my life into this amazing program.  I spent so many hours talking with other students and faculty members expressing ideas, talking through challenges, and sharing my passion and vision for this program.  And now I am about to leave.

Although it is sad to think that I will be walking out of my last PA meeting after a short while, I am so hopeful for the future.  We have a strong leadership team, a great group of PA’s, and a solid vision that will carry the PA’s as far as God will take them.  And all of that was due to everyone else.

It’s true that this program is the brain child of myself and Jake Goodspeed (even though we always give each other credit for it and try to take none of it ourselves), but if it were not for God’s calling on my fellow ministers we would never be where we are today.  The long trips, the great conversations, the many awkward moments, the laughs, the tears, and the angelic look on people’s faces after they preach for the first time and share what an incredible experience it was are all things I will treasure forever.  All of those are due to those around me.  I am merely a blessed recipient of the amazing work God has done through all these years.

I also learned an incredible life lesson throughout all of this: Invest in others.  It may be a fact that we can accomplish great things by ourselves, but sharing ourselves and our experiences with others leaves a mark on the world that no individual achievement could ever mimic.  I can confidently walk away from this program with my head held high because I know it is in good hands.  And I know it is in good hands because I gave everything I could to it.  Granted, I made plenty of mistakes, but by investing in the next generation of preachers I can rest easy in the knowledge that God has taken my feeble offering of service and used it for his purpose.

I love the Ambassadors.  I love the people I’ve met through the program.  I love the experiences I’ve had (both good and bad).  But God is calling me on to something new, and the future of that program is now in his hands.  I’m nearing the completion of my part of this story, and my ministry has been deeply enriched through the PA’s.

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Take-Away:  Discipleship isn’t done just in a classroom.  it’s done in the car rides, the talks over Culver’s Butter Burgers, and in the church foyers.  We disciple where we are, to whom we are around.  The question is: are we being intentional about it? Or are we letting these opportunities slip us by as we focus more on what everyone can do for us?