The Seven Mile Road Pastoral Staff team and I spent 3 days in Portsmouth, NH in word, prayer and intense conversation over the future of the church. Here is a recap of our time there courtesy of our lead pastor, Matthew Kruse.
Can you believe that we are quickly coming upon 1 full year as XPA? It has gone by so fast. I’ve learned so much. I’m grateful for what I do. I’m thankful for generous hearts. I love my church. All of it is so crazy and I am blessed to be a part of Seven Mile Road as we try to advance the mission, love our neighbors, and preach and obey the gospel. I’m excited to continue in this work as God molds my heart, sharpens me and prepares me for pastoral ministry.
To that end, I am getting back on that fundraising horse and am going to be on another wild adventure as I trust God to provide for my every need.
You can read my support letter here.
I ask you to prayerfully consider partnering with me on this journey.
Time to get at it!
This past weekend, Justin and I went to the Arkansas/Rutgers football game. Justin is a huge Arkansas fan and I naturally as a Rutgers alumnus am a huge Rutgers fan. It was a great time of watching football, eating unhealthy but delicious food, and good times with a quality brother. I’m thankful to God for this friendship. Here are some pictures from the trip.
Edison Diner: I spent hours with my roommates here talking about life, philosophy, girls, faith… okay.. jus girls.
Good Eats #1: Noodle Gourmet
Good Eats #2: Rutgers Grease Trucks (Fat Sandwiches) – This particular sandwich had cheesesteak, Chicken fingers, Mozz sticks, Fries, Lettuce, Tomato, White Sauce, Ketchup.
High Point Solutions Stadium
Student Section: It was a “Blackout” game.
Last but not least, here is a short video of the game from my perspective.
Apple released the iPhone 5s today. You may be taking painstaking strides right now as you read this to order your new iPhone 5s. Apple.com will run slowly due to the high traffic, people will have lined up at obscene hours with a portable chair, dunkin donuts coffee in hand, and have spent the night(s) on a cold floor to pick up this new gadget today. Apple fans not only purchase the phone, they also purchase accessories to protect their new treasured possession. They’ll buy cases and screen films and whatever else to prevent possible damage and scratches on the phone.
All analogies are imperfect but this iPhone phenomenon helps us understand God’s relationship towards us. Ps 19:7-8 says,
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (emphasis added).
Yup, you read that right. The law revives, it brings wisdom, the heart rejoices, and eyes are opened. When we think of “law” we don’t think of these positive effects of the law. We think it’s oppressive, it’s a burden, it opposes God’s grace. This negative view of the law is a distorted one. The law is not and never could be a means of salvation like the Pharisees thought it was. If it was, then the law indeed is oppressive, burdensome, and completely nullifies God’s grace. The Law is actually a means of grace. Remember Mark 2:27, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
In the Old Testament, God gives the law to his people through Moses. The law is given to God’s people after they’ve been freed from the oppression of slavery under Egyptian rule. It is after the exodus that the law is given. The fact that Israel receives the law is pure grace. It was what distinguished them as God’s people. In fact, before the law is given, God says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…” Now that God has freed them, he gives his people the law to help them wield this newfound freedom well, to thrive, to have joy, and to be protected. That’s why the psalmist in the passage above can speak of the law the way he does.
Now think of the the Apple fanatics and their new gizmos. It would be absurd if the Apple fan said, “I’m going to restrict my phone by putting all of these accessories on it.” We all know the intention of the iPhone owner and the purposes of the accessories. It’s to protect, care for and preserve the phone – to keep it functionally optimal and aesthetically pristine.
I was an iPhone fan for 3 years before I actually purchased one. How absurd would it be if I bought a phone case, film screen, chargers, and other accessories for a phone that I did not yet own? The phone accessories only make sense if I possess the phone for which these accessories were intended.
We are, God’s iPhone, so to speak. We are his treasured possession. In order to care for us he gives us his law. His law, like the phone accessories serve to protect, care and preserve. It helps us operate in full joy and keeps us from danger. His law is a means of grace to us, letting us know that we are his treasured possession. The law is for our good and for God’s glory.
Christian, you are God’s. You are his treasured possession. Because of his love for you he gives you guidance through the law to help you thrive. It will revive your soul, it will give you wisdom, it will bring rejoicing, and it will enlighten your eyes. Be encouraged to follow him and joyfully obey on this iPhone 5s release day and everyday.
I ask this question to myself in frustration many, many times. And when I’m in my right mind, I tell myself that I’m only 31 and that I have YEARS ahead (God willing) for faithful, fruitful, Christ exalting pastoral ministry. There is much God needs to do in my heart, tons God needs to refine in my character, sinful habits he needs to break in my life. I often believe that my timing is better than God’s.
This blog post was a helpful reminder of that reality. Read: Man Finally Finds Calling At Age 80.
Why don’t I pray? The answer is simple. I don’t think I need God. I think that everything I’ve been given and blessed with in my life until now has been the fruit of my labor, the reward for my efforts, the strength of my will. Why would I pray, why would I ask God for anything, why would I show any sign of a need if it was all my own doing?
Even though I think I can attain anything by my own will, the reality is that I’m a wretched sinner riddled with pride that takes credit for everything and suppresses the reality that everything good has been graciously given to me by a good, compassionate and loving God.
Consider Luke 18.
“10 Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’13 The tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
The pharisee knows the whole Mosaic law. He has followed it to the T. As far as he’s concerned, his effort, his meticulous keeping of the law has given him his position and status. He has earned the respect that others have for him. We might look at him and think him a fool but this is exactly what our sinful hearts are prone to do. Most of us Bostonians have come here for school because we’ve worked at our studies, earned scholarships, earned our degrees and our jobs. We’ve climbed our way up the ladder by our own strength and we now deserve our pay. Why would we need to pray anything more than these self-glorifying, vain, empty prayers? This is why I don’t pray – because I’m just like this pharisee.
The tax collector by all worldly accounts is self-sustaining. He to has financial security. He has his tax collector friends (who Jesus is so willing to eat with btw), drinks and eats to his fill. What need does he have? What can’t he buy? Who does he need to depend on but anyone but himself? Yet he comes before God, on his knees, saying “have mercy on me, a sinner.” His disposition is one of need and dependence.
Christ then says that the kingdom of God is for those that are like children and that they should not be bothered from coming to him. Those who are child-like receive the Kingdom of God like children receive their parents. They need their parents and don’t need to think about it. They just know that they are in need. Have you ever held a crying child? They don’t want you, candy, food, money or anything else. They want mommy and/or daddy. NOTHING else stop them from crying. This is the spiritual reality that the tax collector lives in.
This is the reality we all live in. We are all children dependent on our father for everything. EVERYTHING. Whether we know it or not, it’s the truth.
I need God… so I pray.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with a good friend that I had not seen in a long time. During that conversation, she shared with me about a struggle she had about whether or not she should pursue a romantic relationship with a non-Christian. I have had some time to reflect on that conversation and during this time, God has revealed a tendency I have in counseling and advising people.
When counseling someone, it is important to both love the person you’re counseling and to guard the truth as found in scripture, to speak truth in a loving manner. You really can’t be faithful in your counsel if you don’t hold tightly to both truth and love (another post for another day). I can say with a clear conscience that everything I said to her was in love for her and in fear of God and His perfect Word. In a lot more elaborate and elongated fashion, I simply said, that in scripture, God clearly calls believers to marry believers (Mal 2:10; 2 Cor. 2:14).
The issue was not what I said to her but how I said it.
In the Bible, God makes covenant with Israel in the Old Testament. These covenants had a particular structure. Within that structure, there is a portion known as the sanctions. This portion of the covenant is where the blessings and curses are laid out. It outlines the good things that come with obedience and the bad things that come with disobedience (Deuteronomy 28 is a perfect example of the sanction portion of a covenant).
My friend has one of two choices. Obey God and enjoy the blessings of being in a lifelong committed relationship with a fellow believer or disobey God and deal with the curses and consequences of being unequally yoked.
I too have one of two choices.
The first is that I can encourage her to obey God because she is a daughter to a good, loving, perfect, caring God who wants her life to be happy and holy in Him. I can tell her that she can be beautifully led by a God fearing man, who will love her as Christ loves the Church, who will joyfully and willingly give up his pleasures to see his bride happy and holy, to lovingly lead, discipline, instruct, and encourage their children, to live generously and open-handedly with their resources, and to be single-minded in sharpening each other and loving their children and to beautifully display the glories of Christ through their marriage. There is so much good that God wants for his children and God calls us to obedience because it is the most joyful, life-giving, content, and happy place to be! I can encourage her with all the blessings that come with obedience.
The other is to talk about all the tough times ahead if she decides to pursue a relationship with a non-believer. I can tell her that her husband although able to lead in many ways will not be able to lead her in her most crucial place of need – her spiritual health, that she is uniting with a man who has no understanding of true sacrifice because he has not tasted nor experienced the true and real sacrifice of Christ, that this man will lead their children with the virtues of this world which are selfish and sinful, which have no anchor in scripture, that her children will be confused as to why daddy doesn’t pray with them during the meal or never joins them for family worship, that giving generously to the work of the local church will be handcuffed because he doesn’t want to give his hard earned money to something he doesn’t believe in. In short, I can scare her into obedience.
As I reflected upon this conversation, I realized that I usually counsel by way of the second route. Instead of encouraging one to joyful obedience, I scare people into curse avoidance. Sometimes the second approach is necessary. God puts them clearly in His covenant with Israel. Often times, firm and harsh words are necessary. However, there is the reality that our good God has good intentions for his people but my tendency is not to remind people of that reality. Barnabas is referred in Acts 4 as “the son of encouragement.” If I were in the bible, I’d be “the troll of fear tactics” (actually, it would probably be much worse).
As I’ve prayed through this, I’ve asked God to reveal to me the beauty of His love, His perfect character, His affirmation of His children, His good intent for them, His ear to ear smile that He shines down on His saints and that I’d remind people that this is the kind of God we serve and it is a joy to obey him.
During my time as XPA, I’ve been affirmed that I have a particular relational gift. I hope to steward this gift well. I’m thankful that the Holy Spirit reveals to me ways in which I can better use the gifts that God has given me.
If you are one of those who counsel those around you, I’d encourage you to think about your approach when you counsel someone.