Tag Archives: pastoral ministry

First Things First

This sermon was inspired by the following notes.

In our lives, we have many things surrounding us attempting to claim a higher position on our priority list. The hardest decisions in our lives tend to not be between good and evil, but between competing “good” things. Often we make choices and wonder if we chose the right good thing to take precedence. The difficulty for us is compounded by the messages and advertisements around us that each tout themselves as “the best thing”. We have foods that claim to be “superfoods”, insurance companies with “superhero” mascots, politicians claiming to be saviors, and all kinds of products with words designed to make us prioritize that product over everything else. In today’s scripture we see what Jesus’ coming does to our priority structures and what we have to gain from the change.

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). John 1:35-42

  • A relationship with someone who knows.
  • The responsibility to point to Jesus when we see him at work.
  • Jesus is inviting of people right where they are. He had no entrance exam for following. You start where you are.
  • When we welcome people to be in relationship right where they are with no conditions that is incredibly inviting and when that invitation is accepted Jesus begins to teach.
  • Andrew could have gone back to John, back to work, etc, but he found his brother first and told him about the Messiah. When people encounter the God who loves them Just as they are it changes priority structures. Priority one becomes sharing that love, that good news with loved ones.
  • What would have happened if Andrew had gone back to life as usual? No Peter. A different set of disciples. A different story. A story with a huge missing piece.
  • Andrew’s priorities were not to make Peter acceptable than to bring him, but to drag him exactly as he was, with all of the flaws we have come to know and love, the cowardice, the rashness, the temper, the fear, and all that sheer impulsive open mouth insert footedness that made Peter what he was, directly to Jesus to meet the Messiah.
  • Jesus didn’t give Peter the fifth degree over his theology or lifestyle, but gave him a new name and an invitation.
  • The “Bounded Set” mentality vs. the “Centered Set” mentality.

Bounded Set: Do you believe like me? Concerned with enforcing conformity to a norm. What would you say the pros are to this kind of setup? Pros: Easily defined boundary. Easy to determine who “belongs”. How about the Cons? Cons: Who controls the measuring stick? Not welcoming if not ready to 100% conform.

 

Centered Set: Where are you in relation to Jesus? Concerned with relationship building. What would you say the pros are to this kind of setup? Pros: Welcoming to all. Focused on drawing closer to Jesus. How about the Cons? Cons: Can become relativistic rather than relational. Requires more work.

 

 

[The] situation in the actual world is much more complicated than that. The world does not consist of 100% Christians and 100% non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand…. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together.    Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs, or even men and women, in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat. But when we are comparing Christians in general with non-Christians in general, we are usually not thinking about real people whom we know at all, but only about two vague ideas which we have got from novels and newspapers. If you want to compare the bad Christian and the good Atheist, you must think about two real specimens whom you have actually met. Unless we come down to brass tacks in that way, we shall only be wasting time. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001), 208-209.

  • Today we bear that same trust, to seek God’s face, live for him and reflect the light of his love around us. When this happens we see people coming to God just as they are, with all their flaws and we get to witness the transforming power of God at work in them over the years.
  • Sometimes we allow things about ourselves or others to get in the way of the light we are called to shine, and that light grows dim, we forget to put first things first because our eyes have strayed from the love of Jesus.
  • I am sure that I am not the only one here that is guilty of allowing myself to turn away from God’s light, and I invite all of you to join me in praying that we could have the obstructions and false priorities cleared that we might reflect the unconditional love of God on each person around us, welcoming them into relationship with the Messiah, Jesus. Let us pray. Our Open worship will end with the Keith Green song Oh Lord You’re Beautiful.
  • Open Worship

The Living Word

Was inspired from the following notes:

Today I want to talk about the word of God, the divine logos that teaches us how to live the most excellent way. There are a lot of messages about what the good life looks like, and they even refer to the Bible to back up their claims. Creflo Dollar taught that God wanted him to have a private jet and quoted chapter and verse to justify it. Televangelists taught that God wanted you rich, fat, and happy and that if you gave them your money God would bless you with money. The church in America taught that it was just fine to enslave other human beings for personal profit using passages from scripture to back up their position. We now look at those things as abhorrent, and rightly so. The misuse of scripture has definitely caused many hurts, trials, and ills in the world. I myself must say that I misused scripture to self-justify bad behavior a few times. I am pretty sure that I am not the only one in this room to have done that, and when I lose sight of the important truth in today’s scripture I will again. What I forget sometimes is that the Divine Word existed before the first human writers chiseled pictograms into rock.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. John 1:1-18

  • The Word of God is not separate from God. The Word is God himself.
  • Through the Word creation happens. The Word is the source of life.
  • The Word is light and there is no darkness to be found in it. Darkness has no chance.
  • Clearing up confusion between the messenger and the message.
  • The world’s priority structure is based on darkness, so cannot recognize the light.
  • Even God’s people did not accept the light of God.
  • Those who did come to accept him became God’s children, superseding all previous arrangements.
  • The Word became flesh. God accepted all of the limitations of humanity in order to demonstrate the truth and show the way of grace.
  • Without the Living Word we cannot rightly understand the written Word. Our interpretation must come through Jesus.
  • God’s agenda is grace and restoration, not judgment and destruction. Grace and grace – unmerited favor.
  • Law of Moses is interpreted into God’s heart for humanity in Jesus.
  • To know God we must look to Jesus. To understand the scripture we have to look at Jesus.
  • We, like John the Baptist, are called to point our lives to Jesus, and as we enter into open worship let us focus on the example our savior set for us and ask that God help each of us to seek the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the teaching that flows from Jesus, and the heart of the Father who loves us.

 

Something That Made My Week

As you who follow my blog know, the past few months have been pretty challenging on many levels, and now that things are starting to smooth out I am playing a bit of catch-up. This, of course means that I am late in posting, and this will probably continue for the next few months.

This week someone from my meeting came to me with a desire to talk and ask questions about faith. I came into this meeting with a little bit of leftover trepidation since the last few months have been a series of what felt like blows to the gut. I have been winded and now that I was breathing again I had this internal flinch ready for another blow. What happened instead was someone sharing their deep desire to connect with God and to grow deeper in their faith.

The palpable sense of relief that I felt reminded me that there are times when crisis ends. In that moment God reminded me that there are still people who listen, and that others really did see the Holy Spirit working through me. Often when I’m going through crisis I lose my ability to recognize God at work in me. By coming to me and asking for instruction this Friend was actually opening themselves up to God and ministering to me.

The takeaway here is that when we ask someone else to minister to us we are recognizing and encouraging the use of their gifting. Sometimes after a long period of needing to receive we desperately need the reminder that we have gifts of ministry to share with others as well.  For someone like me, who derives great joy from discussing and studying matters of faith with others, requests like the one I received two days ago are sources of life.

Reconciliation is Our Victory

(You will most likely want to listen to the sermon as I deviated from my manuscript in quite a few places.)

I sometimes jokingly say that the person who most needs to hear my sermons is me. As I prepared for today’s sermon I also was dealing with a colossal error in which I hurt someone. In short my mouth engaged well before my brain did and I said things that were hurtful. I was confronted with just how far I missed the mark by on that one and we could say that if I was aiming inside of the barn I still would have missed the broad side. The good news is that the person who confronted me provided an example of today’s teaching by Jesus and came to me with the help of some elders to make things right. You know what? I did completely fail on that incident, and knew that the only recourse was to confess that they were right and that I had indeed sinned through my careless words. I knew that I had to ask for forgiveness, and forgiveness was granted. This is the truest sign of Jesus at work among us, not that we don’t mess up, but that when we do we own up to the way we miss the mark, humble ourselves and ask our brother or sister to forgive us we give and receive that gift of forgiveness and display the truth of God’s reconciling power for the world to see. This is why Jesus felt it so important at the beginning of the disciples’ ministry to instruct them in the best ways to interact around conflict situations.

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[a term of contempt] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. 25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:21-26

Jesus had just finished talking about the importance of the Torah and now begins to address specific areas of interpretation in which the scribes and Pharisees were missing the point. There is a formula here that we will see in the next few weeks of Jesus’ teaching in which he corrects a superficial interpretation of the Torah by giving an interpretation that addresses motivation as well as action. You shall not murder is one of the big 10 and saying that it leads to being judged is a serious no-brainer. When a person is murdered there are two sins that occur: the first is the idolatrous act of claiming God’s power over life and death and the second is in acting on our judgment of the value of another human to be zero or less than zero. The focus in Jesus’ time was on the action of committing murder and the punishment for the action, but Jesus took his teaching to the motivator, the underlying moral issue, that drives the action: harboring anger against another. Every one of us gets angry, it is a normal part of being human, what Jesus is talking about is not that anger which is beyond our control, but when we allow that anger to stay and to guide our thoughts, words, and actions towards another human being. The Greek word underneath what we translate as anger implies provocation and duration, that this is not a short term thing. In many places in the bible we hear about harboring anger or holding grudges and this type of anger that Jesus is addressing is the anger that leads us to pass judgment on another person’s value as a human being.

Murdering someone is the end of a mental process and Jesus is saying “Hey, let’s address the moral issue that leads to the bloodshed before we get there.” You see, if we address issues before they have had a chance to reach an internal boiling point we avoid taking our eyes off the mark that God has set for us to aim at. Jesus gives us some warning signs to pay attention to that can tell us when we are beginning to lose sight of our end goal. First is when we start making dismissive or contemptuous comments about someone. How many times have we said “Oh, that’s just them being them. Nothing to bother ourselves with.” or “They’re always that way. I stopped paying attention to them a long time ago?” Those are the beginnings of contempt and we usually go there with people who get on our nerves. The problem is that when we dismiss others we are judging their value as a human being and it is a short step to mentally saying “You know, we would be better off without them.” or “They are just a drain on everything, they are worthless.”  When I find myself heading down those well-worn mental paths I am walking a path of sin and need to repent and begin the process of reconciliation.

This is an incredibly bold statement on Jesus’ part because he is telling the disciples that God’s heart and deepest desire is for reconciliation and not punishment. This is easy for us to see when we look back and see the sacrifice Jesus made to demonstrate God’s way of redemption, but I want you to take a moment and think about just how this had to sound to the disciples at the beginning of Jesus’ teaching. Nothing is more important to God than reconciliation and that if we really pay attention to the mark the Torah aims us at we will have that same priority. Even when that person who seemingly drives us crazy by their mere existence is bringing us closer to the boiling point, God wants us to think and act in ways that lead to reconciliation rather than devaluing, dismissal, and rejection. This is so important to God that he would rather us fix the broken relationships with each other before coming to him with our gifts. “Leave your gift at the altar and deal with the broken relationship first.” The ways we think about and act towards our brothers and sisters is a crucial part of the way we are called to worship God and are a sign of the truth of God’s forgiveness offered in Jesus. Our sharing of the gospel of God’s reconciliation becomes a lot more convincing when our lives display reconciliation.

Jesus isn’t just addressing externals he is dealing with the thoughts that are in our minds, and let’s be honest here; I don’t think any of us would be very comfortable with everyone around us knowing exactly what is going through our heads at any given moment. God wants to reconcile all of creation in him and that is the condition of victory we have been given. Consider what could happen if we carried our grudges out to their retributive ends. Our prisons would be overflowing with people, making one mistake of a certain kind could get you fired, everyday conversations would consist of walking around on egg shells because we would never get around to the hard work of looking inside and asking the question: How have I hurt my brothers and sisters? Or slipping down the road of hatred because we can’t see how anyone could behave that way and have malicious or sinful intent. Internalizing and avoiding conflict and not asking ourselves the hard questions is the way of defeat! I don’t think that anyone here wants to live under the defeat that comes from focusing on judgment. We see just how devastating it is just by looking at the news headlines in our browsers and papers. Do you want to experience the victory of God in your life? Then work towards reconciliation. Become a person who catches the dark thoughts and examines them to find their source and goes to their brother or sister in love to reconcile. You will experience the truth of Jesus sacrifice when you do that, and you will make that truth known to the world through your example.

I am not saying this will be easy, but Jesus makes an important point that we must keep in mind. Do we really want to drag each other before God with our full feelings and motivations exposed before him and the one who accuses? Do we really want to see someone destroyed? Or do we want to see relationships restored and made whole? Do we want to see that person who is acting in hurtful ways brought into a transforming relationship with God? Because when we come to God demanding justice he gives it to us in full, not just the other guy, but us as well. Jesus does give us a more excellent way: as we get dragged towards a place of judgment we can pause and take on the humility that comes from taking responsibility for the ways we contribute to the situation and seek to invest in restoring the relationship. In the world we live in victory comes from beating our opponents and dividing the world into the categories of winner and loser. In God’s eyes victory comes from reconciliation.

As we prepare for open worship take five minutes to allow your thoughts to wind down and seek the Holy Spirit’s leading in ways you can work towards reconciliation. Maybe there is someone who you find yourself beginning to dismiss or devalue. Maybe there is a conflict that has been brewing for a while. Maybe there is someone you know deep down that you are harboring anger towards. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you towards the steps you can make to bring reconciliation. It can be a scary thing to face into conflict and work towards reconciliation, but you are not alone. God is with you and we have elders who can help pray with you and go with you to begin the reconciliation process. Let us who so desperately need God’s reconciliation come together in His presence to seek his victory.

Friendly Persuasion

(Click here to listen.)

As we look over this week’s and the next few weeks’ texts, I want us to keep in mind that Peter is writing to some people that are experiencing some very scary things. Fear was the main tool that the Roman Empire used to keep its subject peoples in line, and they were brutally effective at instilling fear in conquered territories. Fear was a part of daily life in the Roman Empire, and fear is still used by entities in our time to control others for power and profit. The sad thing is that fear mongering is effective. We see people from all walks of life driven by fear of others who are different from them, or who live by different principles, or who they think might want what they have. This fear creeps its way into my life, and I am sure yours as well, until suddenly God opens my eyes to the fact that I have been operating from fear. When I began the recording process for Friends ministers there was a fear that I hadn’t recognized until someone said that they thought I should go to seminary before I was recorded. I kind of lashed out a bit because I was afraid of those snobby educated types. I was afraid that my lack of education would make me look foolish and that I would be looked down on. These were fears based on the experience of watching others with access to education look down on the folks from my neighborhood. These fears of our neighbors are used to manipulate us and to generate conflict that draws our attention away from what is important. It almost drew me away from God’s call on my life to be a pastor. Into our fearful society Peter’s words speak with surprising relevance:

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[or what they fear]; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 2:13-17 NIV)

Peter starts out with what might first be considered a rhetorical question, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” Well, the Wednesday night bible study came up with a fairly depressing list of all sorts of people that could fit into that category. Needless to say what all of the categories had in common was that there are some people who stand to gain in one way or another from others who are not eager to do what is good. Kathy pointed out last week that some of those who benefit from our accepting a broken role in our families will lash out at us when we reject a bad relationship and enforce boundaries that are healthy and good. Peter doesn’t gloss over the brokenness of the world or of the various institutional and personal relationships we have to navigate.  I would say that every culture, nation or relationship has some form of brokenness built into it, so when we go about our daily lives maybe we can keep our eyes open for the opportunities to repair things. The good work of repairing what is broken exposes us to the jagged edges of raw emotion and occasionally we will get hurt by those edges, occasionally we will suffer for our repair efforts. Peter reminds us to not let our fear of pain, rejection, and loss stop us from doing the good work we have been given. The work of healing broken relationships is worth a little pain and suffering, isn’t it? Especially when we get the blessing of seeing a broken relationship with God healed.

This section of the letter is about witness, and Peter’s instruction is even more relevant to us than those to whom he wrote. Christianity has a bit of a PR problem. There are people who claim to follow Jesus as their Lord that picket funerals and attack people who are hurting rather than extending healing hands. There are people who claim the name of Jesus that do not act lovingly at all times, and to my great sadness I have to admit to being one of them. God has chosen to reveal himself through broken people like me who still have large imperfections and flaws that in their clumsy attempts to bring healing instead cause harm. When I was in my discernment process for coming here and was feeling unsure about the call, one of the elders of my church asked me what I was afraid of. I thought about it for a minute and said that I was afraid that my mouth would move ahead of my brain and I would hurt someone and not realize it until it was too late. My elder looked over at me with a chuckle and said “Don’t worry about that Gil. I guarantee you that it will happen, the only question you need to keep asking yourself is will you keep yourself ready to do what you must to make things right.” Following Jesus and revering him as Lord means paying attention to the fact that some of the brokenness I have to work on is in me, that some of the broken relationships I am called to repair were broken by me.

This is what I think Peter is referring to when he speaks about being prepared to give an answer to the hope we have with gentleness and respect: we must acknowledge our brokenness in order for others to ask us why on earth we would have any hope, and we must be sympathetic to the brokenness in others, not passing judgment, but carrying the fragile light of hope into someone’s personal darkness. We as the church and me personally have gotten this dead wrong all too often, and I can only speak to my own condition here, but I mostly get it wrong when I allow fear to set my agenda. It is a natural thing for us to be afraid of what is different from us. We have had thousands of years to set up mental structures that tell us who to be near and who to avoid, and the people who are most like us fall into the category of people to be around. Unfortunately for this tribal imperative Jesus teaches that the people who God loves tends to not fit into those neat categories. Keeping a clear conscience in God’s sight then leads us to look beyond the surface impressions and false identities and see the beloved child of God in each face we encounter no matter how unlike us that face appears to be. Jesus taught about this in a parable:

25Just then a scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures tried to trap Jesus.

Scholar: Teacher, what must I do to experience the eternal life?

Jesus (answering with a question)26What is written in the Hebrew Scriptures? How do you interpret their answer to your question?

Scholar: 27You shall love—“love the Eternal One your God with everything you have: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind”* —and “love your neighbor as yourself.”*

Jesus: 28Perfect. Your answer is correct. Follow these commands and you will live. 29The scholar was frustrated by this response because he was hoping to make himself appear smarter than Jesus.

Scholar: Ah, but who is my neighbor?

Jesus: 30This fellow was traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho when some robbers mugged him. They took his clothes, beat him to a pulp, and left him naked and bleeding and in critical condition. 31By chance, a priest was going down that same road, and when he saw the wounded man, he crossed over to the other side and passed by. 32Then a Levite who was on his way to assist in the temple also came and saw the victim lying there, and he too kept his distance. 33Then a despised Samaritan journeyed by. When he saw the fellow, he felt compassion for him. 34The Samaritan went over to him, stopped the bleeding, applied some first aid, and put the poor fellow on his donkey. He brought the man to an inn and cared for him through the night. 35The next day, the Samaritan took out some money—two days’ wages* to be exact—and paid the innkeeper, saying, “Please take care of this fellow, and if this isn’t enough, I’ll repay you next time I pass through.” 36Which of these three proved himself a neighbor to the man who had been mugged by the robbers?

Scholar: 37The one who showed mercy to him.

Jesus: Well then, go and behave like that Samaritan. (Luke 11:25-37 The Voice)

The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable proved himself to be a friend to the victim of the robbers, and Jesus tells this scholar, a Jew raised to despise the Samaritans as half-breeds who taught all kinds of wrong things about God, to emulate the Samaritan in this story. If we would persuade the world around us of the truth of the hope we bear, we also must behave like the Samaritan. The Samaritan didn’t check to see what faith the wounded man was, what class, race or anything else. The Samaritan simply saw someone who was wounded and dying.

Our culture is mired in a culture war that is creating scores of wounded and dying and I wonder if God may not be calling us to lay down any arms and jagged edges that we may be carrying and minister to the wounded rather than fight. As a pastor I have felt pressured to take sides in the culture wars and I will say this: my job is to minister to the wounded not to create more wounds. I will fail at this, but by the grace and mercy of God I will try my hardest to bind up every wound that God brings before me no matter what. It cannot matter to me whether someone agrees or disagrees with what I believe the only thing that can matter is that there is a beloved child of God in front of me that has been wounded and may be in danger of dying. That must be my top priority, not making sure everyone is saying the right words or doing the right things, but that the sick, wounded and dying are being healed, that by my friendship, compassion, and care I might witness to the hope that comes from knowing Jesus as my king. If we are to imitate Jesus we must remember that it was by his wounds that we could be healed and be ready to stand in the gap for others so they might be healed. There will be a price for being conscientious objectors in the culture wars but if we truly befriend the wounded and become as a body a “hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints” the good of planting those seeds of God’s kingdom is, and will be, worth the cost. As we enter into open worship let us listen for the direction of the Holy Spirit, giving him the space to speak to each of our souls. Let us ask that God open our eyes to how we can be Jesus’ hands and feet, binding up the wounds of the fallen and persuading people by our friendship that they not only have a good friend in us, but the best possible friend in Jesus.

The Much Abridged Faith Journey of Gil George

I decided to share the text of my testimony as well as the video. I place my story in your hands:

It has been a great privilege to sit with some of you and hear the stories about how God is at work in your lives. I believe it is a deep privilege to be given a window into other people’s lives with an eye towards the workings of God. I am so thankful to God for the privilege of sharing the joy that comes from following Jesus and experiencing his presence, grace, and mercy. The importance and power of our testimonies is taught in the book of Revelations 12:10-11

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.

 

My family came to Christ when I was 4 years old, from that point on I was raised as a follower of Christ. At this point in my life I just knew that Jesus loved me. One of the first hymns I learned expresses this simple faith of my childhood.

Jesus loves me this I know For the Bible tells me so

Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong

Yes Jesus loves me, Yes Jesus loves me

Yes Jesus loves me, The Bible tells me so

Jesus loves me he who died Heaven’s gate to open wide

He will wash away my sin Let His little child come in[i]

 

The church that we were part of was a Congregationalist church on the border of Queens and Long Island in a town called Inwood. Our church had a ministry resettling refugees, and many families took people directly into their homes. My family bought a 15 room house in Far Rockaway, and formed a Christian community dedicated to taking in the wanderer. We had people from 21 different countries live with us during the 6 years of ministry, and often I would find myself going from one culture to another as I changed rooms. This time significantly shaped my outlook on culture, and on the importance of listening for other cultures’ viewpoints.

We are one in the Spirit; We are one in the Lord

We are one in the Spirit; We are one in the Lord

And we pray that all unity, May one day be restored

 

And they’ll know we are Christians By our love by our love

Yes they’ll know we are Christians By our love

 

We will walk with each other we will walk hand in hand

We will walk with each other we will walk hand in hand

And together we’ll spread the news That God is in our land

 

We will work with each other we will work side by side

We will work with each other we will work side by side

And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and crucify our pride

 

All praise to the Father from whom all things come

And all praise to Christ Jesus His only Son

And all praise to The Spirit who makes us one[ii]

When we moved to Philly in 1988, I was deeply angry at God (who was given as the “reason” we moved). My parents enrolled me in a private school that I eventually got kicked out of, ostensibly for financial reasons, but mainly because I wasn’t afraid to disagree with the bible teacher on interpretation. Meanwhile we had been attending a Church of God in Christ church in the primarily African-American neighborhood we lived in. My father became the second white elder ordained in the denomination, and I was part of the youth choir. After being kicked out of the private school in October of my senior year, I attended my neighborhood school where I was again in the minority. I was the only white student in the school, and I loved it. I experienced renewal through participating in the drama program at school and in the all-encompassing worship of the African-American church we were attending. At this time in my life I began to own my relationship with God as something apart from my parents’ relationship with God.

I know it was the blood I know it was the blood

I know it was the blood for me

 

Chorus

One day when I was lost He died upon the cross

And I know it was the blood for me

 

They pierced Him in his side they pierced Him in his side

They pierced Him in his side for me

 

He hung his Head and died He hung his Head and died

He hung his Head and died  for me

 

They laid him in the tomb they laid him in the tomb

They laid him in the tomb for me

 

He rose up from the dead He rose up from the dead

He rose up from the dead  for me[iii]

I moved to New York, found out that you can’t really go back home and learned forgiveness in a new way. Denny was a knee capper for a prominent crime family who had been injured on a job, and was found wandering the streets. He ended up in our ministry home somehow, and when his mind returned, he left, but would come back and visit us. On one of these visits he bragged about an arms deal his buddies had going on. My father invited the police, and his associates put a contract out on us. Our house was set on fire at 11:30PM one night, but there was only cosmetic damage. We hid in a safe house and the contract was lifted a week or so later. When I moved back to NYC from Philly I was attending the church I had grown up in. Denny was attending the church. I didn’t believe he was saved and I was still scared of Denny. Denny wasn’t stupid, and invited me to go to a diner with him. We had a long talk, and I ended up forgiving Denny and asking Denny and God to forgive me for my merciless behavior. There is truly no person who is irredeemable.

After one year I returned to Philly where my father was called to assist in a church plant a couple of neighborhoods away that was a joint venture between the Mennonites and the Church of God in Christ and that is where God introduced me to Anabaptists. The Anabaptist theology made a lot of sense to me, and after being part of that church for some time, I began attending a Brethren church plant called Circle of Hope in the downtown area that was mainly attracting a younger crowd, and through its ministry learned to take the church less seriously (in a good way). It didn’t look, feel, or sound like anything I had previously encountered, and that opened my eyes to the realization that the form of worship means nothing and the act of worship means everything. Our 7PM service had a slightly different style of music.

As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after Thee

You alone are my heart’s desire And I long to worship Thee

 

You alone are my strength my shield to you alone may my spirit yield

You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship Thee

 

You’re my friend and you are my brother even though you are a King

I love you more than any other so much more than anything

 

I want you more than gold or silver only you can satisfy

You alone are the real joy giver and the apple of my eye[iv]

Then my girlfriend of 1 month left for a 1 year mission trip. A few months later my father was diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis was 6 months to one year and he didn’t have insurance. While my girlfriend was on her mission, her father was also diagnosed with cancer. I broke down, left my job and eventually moved back home to help out. My father was my mentor, and losing him to a long drawn out time of suffering taught me how to bear my anger to God. I found that I could take the darkest rage to God and let God have it. I screamed, yelled, swore, and called God just about every name I could think of. God just withstood it and left peace in the wake of my rages. I am still a bit angry at God that my daughters don’t have a grandpa, but God is a big God and can take my frustrations. The real lesson for me in this was finding that God really wanted me to bring the ugly, hard, nasty bits of myself to the table as well as the parts that I felt were acceptable. My father died in March of 2000, we moved to Albuquerque in early August my fiancée’s father died in late August and we were married in December. Heck of a year! My wife and I are very well matched; we complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we both have strong communication skills. I have grown much in my relationship with God through this relationship, as I see how much grace I need on a daily basis. Because of the situations we faced the year before we were married, we have a deep understanding of the necessity of grace in our relationship with each other. We have put that understanding to use now that we are parents of two young daughters, and therefore in the sleep deprivation stage of parenting. We already know how to give extra grace, so that has been less an adjustment. The period of time at the beginning of our life together was insane. We were completely drained emotionally, but were able to continue with God walking beside us.

I cry out for your hand of mercy to heal me I am weak

I need your love to free me Oh Lord my rock my strength in weakness

Come rescue me oh Lord

You are my hope your promise never fails me

And my desire is to follow You forever

For you are good for you are good for you are good to me

For you are good for you are good for you are good to me[v]

After 8 months in the Southwest, we decided to retreat, and I took a job at a Mennonite retreat center in the Poconos. I was the kitchen manager for the kids’ camp, and my wife was the Director’s Assistant. We stayed on for two summers, and felt that the retreat time was over and it was time to return to reality when we were going in to New York and Philly to recharge. We moved to Tacoma in the fall of 2002 and became part of the L’Arche community. In that community I learned that while the core members may have had physical, mental or emotional disabilities, I had spiritual disabilities that they didn’t have. It was during this time that I came under the mentorship of a Friends’ pastor, and I felt again the call to pastoral ministry. The call to ministry had always been active in my life, but for the first time I felt ready to pursue it. Finding people whose theology and practice matches what you have come to in your relationship with God feels like coming home and I found my spiritual home in the Northwest Yearly Meeting.

I began the recording process at Olympic View Friends Church in 2004, and began preaching at McKinley Hill Friends Church in 2006. I learned a huge amount in those places, but mostly I learned that I didn’t have the tools to effectively live into my call. With the help of the Friends Center scholarship I went to seminary in my final surrender to the call God has on me. I have known about the call to ministry for a good portion of my life. I ran from it, but always kept finding myself in spiritual fatherhood wherever I went; it was just a style of relationship that happened. I went through Seminary to get the tools and preparation I need to effectively pastor God’s people who I love so much. Right before seminary my daughter Amy was born, and I began to get a vague perspective on the fatherhood of God. I am awestruck by the degree of patience we are shown. I had no idea of the depth of love I was capable of for my daughters, and to consider that God’s love for us exponentially exceeds that of ours for our children boggles my mind.  Cleta Crisman served me well as a guide through the remainder of my recording and my first years of parenthood, helping me process what I was learning in school, teaching me to be a better communicator, and helping me juggle the responsibilities of being a Daddy and schoolwork.

During my seminary years I attended the RiversWay community and learned what it meant to be part of a ministry team, providing mutual support, accountability and learning to lean on other’s gifts.

Now that I am the Pastor at Clackamas Park Friends Church I am finding such joy in God’s work in the church. To see the hand of the Holy Spirit—and name that in people’s lives—is an awesome gift that I am humbled to receive. In my eventful life I have learned what the most important thing is.

All I once held dear built my life upon all this world reveres and wars to own

All I once thought gain I have counted loss Spent and worthless now compared to this

 

Knowing You Jesus knowing You There is no greater thing

You’re my all you’re the best you’re my joy my righteousness

And I love You Lord

 

Now my heart’s desire is to know you more to be found by you and known as yours

To possess by faith what I could not earn all surpassing gift of righteousness

 

Oh to know the pow’r of your risen life and to know you in your sufferings

To become like you in your death my Lord so with you to live and never die[vi]

 

Audiography
 


[i] CCLI Song # 1187 Yes, Jesus Loves Me

Anna Bartlett Warner | William Batchelder Bradbury

Public Domain

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

 

CCLI License # 378755

[ii] CCLI Song # 26997 We are One in the Spirit

Peter Scholtes

© 1966 F.E.L. Publications. Assigned 1991 Lorenz Publishing Company (Admin. by Lorenz Corporation)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 378755

 

[iii] CCLI Song # 28823 I Know it was the Blood

Marvin V. Frey

© 1977 Marvin V. Frey (Admin. by Helen M. Frey)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 378755

 

[iv] CCLI Song # 1431 As The Deer

Martin Nystrom

© 1984 Maranatha Praise, Inc. (Admin. by Maranatha! Music)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 378755

 

[v] CCLI Song # 313480 Good To Me

Craig Musseau

© 1990 Vineyard Songs Canada (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 378755

 

[vi] CCLI Song # 1045238 Knowing You

Graham Kendrick

© 1993 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 378755

Video

My Testimony

This video is the testimony I gave on the floor of the Yearly Meeting. It was at this meeting the I was approved to be Recorded as Ordained by the Holy Spirit to be a Minister of the Gospel.