Archive for the ‘GTS Blog’ Category

Happy New Year

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

One of the more underrated blessings that the Christmas season provides is the much needed sabbath break from the regular routine of life.

Nationally, religious people and non-religious people alike find their thoughts drifting to the events and experiences of the past year. All forms of media relish the chance to grab our attention with year-end retrospectives and ‘Top’ lists of various subjects.

While Christmas has obvious spiritual connotations, New Years does as well.  The New Year is a widely accepted time to make new commitments, resolutions, and life decisions. It’s a chance for a fresh start in many people’s minds.  It’s perfect opportunity for businesses, groups, organizations, and individuals to set goals.

It’s a perfect opportunity for Christians to not just look ahead to the next year, but to look ahead to the ultimate fulfillment we have in store for us when Christ returns.  2012 was apparently predicted by the Mayans to be the year the world would end. That has no biblical basis at all, yet it reminds us of the visions of Revelation when Christ does usher in the ‘end of the world’ by vindicating His faithful people and finishing ‘making all things new’ (Rev. 21:5).

I can make all the commitments in all the areas I need improvement in, my employer can set all the lofty goals it wants to in order to gauge success, but Christ is the only sure thing out there when it comes to looking for lasting glory, improvement, and change.  We are all yearning for Success, Growth, Peace, Restoration – and Christ will accomplish it all for us – and we are one more year closer to that Day.

The Solution for Pride

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

I played basketball in high school for a very good program, one that won more games in the 1990s than any other high school program in Indiana. On our reversible practice jerseys were the words “Respect” on one side and “Pride” on the other.

Those were themes our coaches stressed repeatedly. Have respect for  every opponent you face, but also have pride in your abilities and your team.

I don’t think there was anything necessarily wrong with those ideas. But they did open up the door to the bad kind of pride and bravado that are bad traits.

Spiritually, pride is a serious issue. Scripture speaks to its dangers time and time again, even repeating several times across several different authors that ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Our small group ‘flock’ at church last night studied this issue of pride.

One passage we looked at was one I hadn’t realized related to this topic, Psalm 119. It’s widely know for being the longest chapter in the Bible. It’s also famous for it’s descriptions of God’s Word and Law. When you study it closer, you find out it is one big Hebrew acrostic, with each stanza beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And now I realize it also offers some great insight into the problem of pride. In fact, it offers us a solution to the pride problem that all people struggle with.

It repeatedly contrasts the pride and proud people with the author who cherishes God’s Word. Vs. 21, 51, 69, 78, 85 all focus on this contrast. What that teaches me is, God’s Word  is the answer to our problem of pride. Loving God’s Word will neutralize any sinful pride in our hearts. Embracing God’s Word is the key to humility.

Sure there have been many examples of Bible-believing Christians who have created a lot of damage  in their ‘fight for Truth’. But do they truly love God’s Word or do they love their positions about or from God’s Word. Love for God’s Word creates a thirst to study in more and more. A love for the Word of God will lead us to the realization that it is complex and not always black-and-white. A love for Scripture will give us a desire to continually learn. A love for the Word of God will help us find answers and absolute truth, but it will also prevent us from thinking we have ALL the answers figured out. And a love for God’s Word will translate into living by God’s Word, as David says, “with my whole heart I keep your precepts” (119:69).

The more we love God’s Word, the more we will understand who God is. And the more we understand who God is, the more we will fall in love with Him. The more in love with God we are, the less in love with ourselves we will be and all semblances of pride will fade away from our hearts.

Stay Alert!

Friday, November 11th, 2011

The past 6 weeks have had me doing a lot of traveling to various conferences to recruit for our seminary and grad programs. That means a lot of driving all over the midwest. A lot of driving.

I can handle long trips on the road pretty well though. I enjoy getting locked in, listening to the radio or cd’s and taking in the scenery.

Earlier this week though, I had a close call. I was within 5 miles of Warsaw, driving on a country road short-cut, when I noticed on my left, a deer sprinting through a cornfield in my general direction. I kept my focus on it, observing the angle it was taking and it’s relation to my car. I didn’t need to slam on my brakes, but I had to stop semi-abruptly as it made a bee-line (deer-line?) for the opposite side of the road.

I was very thankful and said a quick prayer of gratitude to God for keeping me safe. The young buck blended in with much of the field and country-side, so I was very thankful I had spotted it in time.

I think there’s a spiritual correlation to be made from my near miss. It reminded me of 1 Peter 5, and how we are told to be alert and on-guard ‘because your enemy Satan prowls around like a roaring lion searching for someone to devour.’ Sometimes spiritually, if we are coasting, we can get blindsided by our enemy’s attacks, the world’s temptations, or the flesh sprouting up out of the blue. It is important that each and every day we focus on being alert to the battles and struggles that are out there waiting for us.  And it’s crucial that we depend on God’s Word and the Spirit if we want to emerge victorious from those conflicts.

When I travel, I can often get so set on cruise control, I realize I’m not always aware of my surroundings. It’s important to avoid that on the road, and even more important to avoid relaxing too much spiritually. Instead, we must stay alert and aware of the real spiritual war that is waging.

The Power of Stories

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

The story of David committing adultery with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder and cover up is a well-known Old Testament story, as is the following account of Nathan confronting David about his sin (2 Sam. 11-12). I was reading through those passages in my devotions and I was reminded of a recent presentation I heard on it as it related to preaching.

The speaker highlighted how Nathan used his fictitious story and personal imagery to strike right at the heart of David’s sin. He didn’t recount the dry facts of the case or even cite the Mosaic Laws David broke. He told a story to get David emotionally involved and then shatter his self-righteousness with one cruel punchline –  ”You are the man!”

Illustrations and stories are invaluable keys to helping our messages impact our audience.

But on a deeper level, I am reminded of how my own heart works. If I have a calloused heart, it’s not enough to recognize something is wrong, because brokenness is emotional as well as intellectual. Conviction and repentance starts with a breaking of the pride and selfishness that has taken root in my heart. And stories help take the abstract concept or rule that I probably have already ‘memorized’ in my head,  and they compel me to apply it by engaging my emotions.

Stories are powerful and need to be an intregal part of our ministries and our personal spiritual walks.

God vs. gods

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Last weekend, there was an intense thunderstorm that swept across the northern part of Indiana. My wife and I were at a wedding most of the afternoon, but drove home through the tail end of it.

It was pretty crazy to see the flashes of ligtning light up the night sky. They were graphic reminders of God’s power and His wonderful creation.

The whole incident was also a reminder to me of how many other people in many other places at many other times have attributed similar events to many other false gods. In fact, most other cultures throughout history would attribute such a display to one god, then attribute the rain or floods to another, and also attribute the safe journey that I made/they would make to another god/gods.

I am so thankful that I know the truth, that there is one true God in charge of it all. He’s the mighty Creator of heaven and earth and He’s also the gracious Redeemer and Protector of His children. We have a great God:

“Now this I know: The Lord gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Ps. 20:6-7)

Privileges

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

This time of the year is always crazy busy but crazy fun for me. I’m working with students who are putting the final touches on their applications and committing to come to school here. This year is the first where I am working with counseling students and GOAL students in addition to new seminary students.

A lot of my job is  non-glorious, follow-the-prescribed-order-of-contacts that’s time-tested to work to get students here. But this week always reminds me how God is the one doing the work to get students here.  He’s done some cool things in their lives to lead them to this point and I have the privilege to assist in their journey.

For me at this time of year, there is certainly plenty of stress and it’s crucial I keep track of all the random loose ends that are out there. But it’s plenty rewarding no matter the busy-ness.

American Greed

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

One of my favorite all-time songs is packed with beautifully deep lyrics that are convicting and haunting when honestly considered.

The stuff of Earth competes
For the allegiance
I owe only to the giver
Of all good things
- Rich Mullins,
‘If I Stand’

The stuff of earth…I was picking out my attire for today last night, going through my closet of pants and shirts of various colors and designs. I thought about how many of the shirts I rarely wear and I thought about how much stuff I own. It goes way beyond clothes of course. But my closet is a perfect example of this. I was in the Philippines earlier this summer where some of the people couldn’t even dream of owning a closet full of clothes. They are incredibly thankful when we hand out meals that were given to us that may not be ‘safe’ for us to eat.

I derive so much silly pleasure from video games, cable tv, air conditioning, and ipods. It is usually a slow process to turn over our allegiences to the stuff of earth. Almost imperceptable, the eyes of our hearts focus on gifts rather than the giver.  We are too easily satisfied with the temporary that we ignore the eternal.

While it is usually a slow process we slide into as we embrace the stuff of earth, it usually takes a drastic amputation to break the spell of materialism. The Spirit must act as our alarm clock and startle us out of our slumber. Hopefully our Beats headphones haven’t made us deaf to His call.

Main Attraction

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Last month I spent about 10 days in the Philippines on a missions trip. I brought 9 guys from the high school basketball team that I coach along with 2 dads. We played 17 games in 8 days and worked with a local ministry and local pastors to share the gospel and make contacts for the pastors and their churches.

Filipino’s are crazy about basketball. I grew up in Indiana and played high school and college ball here and Indiana certainly has a great passion for the game. But Filipino’s take it to a whole different level. In a lot of ways, it is a religion. We played in neighborhoods made up of run-down houses and shanty’s, but they still had a paved basketball court and organized basketball leagues.

There was some pre-event promotion done so that people knew were were coming, but it was fascinating how so many people would show up to watch us play. We were Americans who came to play their local teams and they were genuinely excited and curious to watch. At halftime of every game, we would take the mike and introduce ourselves and have an individual share their testimony. The local pastor would then share the gospel in their native tongue. We’d then pass out gospel tracts to the crowds and thank them for coming as the second half started.

This was my second trip to the Philippines with Buhay Sports and my former college teammate Daniel Bucher. And the major lesson I’m left with after this visit is how the crowds eagerly show up and listen to us share the Gospel, just because of who we are.

We were a basketball team from America, our record last year didn’t matter, our family background didn’t matter, our future basketball prospects didn’t matter, over 3,500 people showed up to watch us play basketball and heard the good news of Jesus Christ all because we were basketball players from America. The real lesson I’m challenged with is, are people I come into contact with in my normal routine attracted to the gospel of Jesus Christ because of who I am? Or put another way, will the unsaved be willing to listen to the Gospel because of who I am?

There are two sides to this coin. First, I need to be sharing the Gospel, missions trips present opportunities that are often more conducive to this than everyday life but that does not preclude being intentional about the conversations and relationships I have. On the flip side though, my character needs to attract people to Christ. Who I am should ‘earn the right to be heard’.

And that’s the truth I was reminded of half-way across the world. My life needs to attract people so I can point them to the Main Attraction, Jesus Christ.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RZgQgTraxI&feature=related[/youtube]

Benefits of Being a Pastor

Monday, June 6th, 2011

I’ve been significantly involved in ministry at my local church since 2002. I’ve been ordained since 2007. Easily the best thing about being a pastor is getting to study and teach the Word of God. It’s an incredible blessing.

There are three other benefits that I’ve specifically been able to experience over the past month or so, even though presently I’m only a volunteer staff member at my local church.

1) I got to baptize my sister Andrea about a month ago during our morning worship service. Now our church allows non-pastoral family members to baptize though some churches only leave that to the pastor. But it was still about the coolest privilege I’ve had in a while just because of what the Lord has done in my sister’s life and the testimony she shared in front of everyone.

2) Last night, our church had a BBQ Pig Roast carry-in. Carry-ins and potlucks are awesome. Sometimes they tempt me to be gluttonous, but the fellowship is always fun and the food is always delicious.

3) I really enjoy weddings and premarital counseling. On Saturday, I officiated the wedding of two people from our College & 20 Somethings group. They both are super-cool people and it was a lot of fun preparing for the big day. I enjoy the counseling part too, where I get the chance to get to know the couple in-depth. Maybe it is because I’ve yet to encounter the problems that often come up, but very few things match the joy of a marriage celebration.

These benefits aren’t only available to ordained pastors, except for the weddings.  But they are blessings that come your way more often when you have prepared for ministry in seminary, gone through the ordination process, and given your life to Christian ministry. It doesn’t get better than this.

Saying Goodbye

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

My niece is almost 2 and it is a lot of fun to babysit her for short periods of time. She’s at the precious stage where she’s learning more and more words and able to communicate better each time I see her. She’s precious and cute and well-behaved for the most part.

Like many infants before her, one of her first words was ‘Bye’. And every time she leaves with her mother, she’s sure to wave and say ‘bye’ at least 3 or 4 times.

I found myself in a very similar situation the past couple weeks. Two people who significantly influenced me were retiring and moving away. One was Dr. Ken Bickel here at GTS and the other was my former senior pastor, Dr. Ralph Porter. There were a couple of situations with each of them where I thought I was saying goodbye more or less permanently.

Yet, as God had it, it turned out I was going to have additional chances to say goodbye to both of them. I even got to help Pastor Ralph move last Saturday after I thought I’d be out of town originally.

I found myself unsure and a little uncomfortable during those additional ‘goodbyes’ because I had already expressed to them my appreciation for their investment in me and their service to Christ. Thankfully they are both alive and well and I can directly tell them how much their ministries meant to me. It seems to me that when we say goodbye, whether temporarily or until eternity, we should cherish the good times and the good experiences and the overall ‘good’ nature of the relationship, however brief or long.

My wife and I said ‘goodbye’ to a couple who have been friends of ours for a while. the husband was one of my roommates and we were both in each other’s weddings. They are moving to Chicago and Monday night we dropped by and had ice cream while we reminisced about the past and talked about the future. In a world with crime, injustice, pain, and suffering, I am blessed to have some things that are so good to say bye to.