Worth the cost

Three minutes.

That’s approximately how long it took for God to remind me of what I really needed.

Lead 11

This past weekend I got the great opportunity to be a part of LEAD 11 up at my alma mata, East Auburn Baptist Church. This conference, put on by The Gospel Alliance NE (which you need to check out if you haven’t), has been a huge blessing for me and many of my fellow ministry leaders. Beyond that, I truly believe this year’s conference has been the best yet. My heart was ministered to in great ways by Matt Chandler, Ray Ortlund, and many others that came from around New England to preach to us the need for the gospel. I had heard many, if not all of the things spoken before, but our hearts need the gospel like our lungs need air.

The messages were all filled with the words of God and were beneficial; everything that was said in the main sessions and panel discussion were rich in theological truth and meaning for the weary pastor, and Chandler had some great times of calls to repentance that were needed. Furthermore, I learned much from the breakout session on youth ministry that I attended Friday and plan to integrate much of what I heard there.

Where I got the most

Back to the three minutes. At the beginning of the Replanting Churches Breakout session with Jared Wilson, Mark Gedicks, Matt Grise, and Barry Murray (all great men of God), Jared Wilson introduced himself. A rough paraphrase of his introduction follows (you should find the audio and listen to it when it gets put up).

Jared pastors a Church in Vermont where he moved a few years ago from a mega Church in Nashville. He had attempted a church plant out of that church and describes his Church plant as a failure: that he wasn’t made to be a Church Planter, and that his ministry there wasn’t what he thought it would be. He came to Vermont and followed the same pattern he had used in his plant, because he is (by his own admission) not innovative. So he just did the same thing, and the Spirit moved. That doesn’t mean that they have everything we would imagine the ideal churches having (incredibly active missional communities/small groups, really dynamic worship services, big flare church stuff, etc). But it does  mean that they have doubled in size since God brought him there. It does mean that they have (slowly) made some changes for God’s glory. It does mean that they are still a small New England Church made mostly of older New Englanders who love Jesus and don’t always care for change.

Sound familiar?

If I had only been there for that the conference would have been worth the money and time that I spent on it. See, I think we get this vision of fairy tale churches that exist because of the innovation and greatness of their amazing pastors. Don’t lie, you know you have thought this: “If only that pastor came here, then we’d see some change! Then people would start growing towards God. Or maybe I don’t belong here; maybe I should move to… somewhere else! Obviously that’s where God is moving!” In all reality, we’re all just normal churches living lives of worship together for the King. Yes. Strive for Gospel Renewal, but let’s make Jesus our goal, not some fantasy of what we think other Churches are.

I needed this. It was a huge blessing for Jared to be honest about that and I want nothing less than for us all to remember that the Spirit is going to move where He will; we are just called to faithfulness, he is responsible for the fruit.

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Feeling Guilty for being blessed

Every statistic stands against you. By virtue of where you live, how much money you make a week and what you had for supper last night, you are going to feel guilty. Could it be that you don’t have to live off of less than $2.00 a day? Or maybe you have a car (or bike) to get to work with- which makes you among the riches people in the world. It seems as though many non-profit organizations like to capitalize on these kind of statements. Is this good motivation to live simply and have generosity towards others?

Think of the Gospel

Jesus, who became flesh for the sake of sinners, and died that we might live, displayed generosity on a massive scale. He had riches abounding but considered it all loss for our sake (Phil. 2.5-11 and many others show this truth). And because of this Gospel- the truth of Jesus living again after dying for us and purchasing our lives from the dead- we are able and willing to be generous with our lives. Paul makes this correlation in 2 Corinthians 8.8-15 emphasizing the point that we become rich through the poverty of Christ and are called to make others rich through our abundance.

How far is too far?

Shaine Claiborne, a founding partner of The Simple Way is known for living in poverty for the sake of others. Whatever we feel about his ministry (and I haven’t always been as fond as I could be), we cannot deny that he is doing great things for others in the name of Christ. The Simple way gives everything away and serves the needy. Sounds great, right? But is there a time and place where we don’t need to give things away? Can we be generous and frugal at the same time? Wouldn’t wisdom tell us that?

Poverty and Prosperity Theology… is there a middle ground?

This is a great video that aired about a year ago. Listen in at about 8:45 for the relevant portion:

Maybe we don’t have to pursue suffering or riches; maybe we can be content where we are and serve in the way that God wishes us to serve. Maybe we can agree with Paul when he says in Philippians 4.11-13:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

To become holier

Yesterday marked six months since this:

Six months and counting

I have been incredibly blessed by God to have Emmalie as my bride. The grace that she has shown me has been a great showing of God’s loving kindness for us. We are in no way perfect people, but God has used her in my life and me in hers for His glory. Praise be to our God for that! I have also learned some things over these past few months.

The chief thing I have realized increasingly is that which should be remembered daily: I am more of a sinner than I would ever dare to admit, and God is more gracious and holy than I could ever imagine. When you intentionally devote yourself to a sinner just like you, you figure out how great of a sinner you really are. I have found out that my words decisions affect more than just me. I have discovered my selfishness. Yes, God is using my marriage with Emmalie to make me holy first, happiness was and is always secondary to our growth in holiness together. I pray we never forget that.

To my beautiful bride, Emmalie, I love you and am excited to spend the rest of God’s appointed time with you- as long as we both shall live- learning how to be redeemed sinners together.

Discouragement

Life is often times discouraging. People let you down, leave the Church, forsake the faith, and overall, are just as sinful as you. I know people who have been so discouraged and distressed about their church that they have left the ministry over it. In light of this, I’m reminded of what a great friend and mentor of mine once said:

We must always keep the rewards and blessings of our ministry and calling before us to prevent our hearts from being discouraged- Matt Wallace

Cloud of witnesses

We must first remember that there is a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Hebrews 11 and 12 speak of those who came before us who had faith that God was working. These were servants who were persecuted, slaughtered, misled, betrayed, led through the wilderness, and dejected, but still had faith that God would deliver them. And he did, not because they were strong, but because he is faithful.

For the hope set before him

The greatest hope that we have is that of Christ. We can look at God who became man and remember that he is worthy of all our praise because for the hope set before him, he endured the greatest shame and discouragement at the cross. No one else has been through that on our behalf and he wants us to remember his suffering in that.

What is the greatest reward? Jesus. What is the greatest blessing? Being used by him. We long to be used by him for his glory, and though it doesn’t always seem that way, Jesus is using our ministries in some way. Pray that the Spirit will reveal to your heart the encouragement you need.

On this note, I have stumbled across this song by Laura Story. The powerful truth behind it is that God is showing his great mercy and blessings even when we think he’s letting us down. Listen, and worship our savior:

Life is changing

As Tim alluded to the other day, things are changing for me. Big time.

You know that I’m engaged to Emmalie Fellows, the beautiful woman I have been dating since October 25 of last year. But what you may not know is that we are actually getting married on January 1, 2011– 20 days from now. In the midst of all the wedding planning, there are other things going on.

Work

Emmalie and I will be continuing our education at New England Bible College and working at the same time. We have an apartment lined up near the school, and I’ll be moving in next week. Also, God was gracious in giving me my current job at Home Depot and I’ll be able to easily transfer to the one in South Portland. Then, there’s my other job.

Good bye, Atmosphere

As we’ll be moving, going to school, and working down in South Portland, the time has come for me to bid my adieu to the ministry (and the people) I have grown to love. I have been with Atmosphere ever since we started in 2006. During this time I have worked with the worship bands, led some small groups, and been involved on the Adult Leadership Team. I have also been the star of some sweet videos like this one and its bloopers.

But God is working all things together for Emmalie and I. After we got engaged, I was offered the position of Youth Director at First Baptist Church of South Portland. We are currently meeting, praying, and planning with the other leaders there and will begin shortly after the first of the year. We are excited to see what happens in South Portland and are actively praying for the ministry down there.

So life is changing, but I am thankful that God remains the same. He is constant and his plan will be great in our lives. To my friends at Atmosphere and East Auburn, I’ll miss seeing you all and I’ll try to stay in touch. God bless!

The true and better… Santa?

“He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice…”

You could probably finish the song, except this time, we’re talking about god. Not God as the Bible teaches though, this god is the one who acts very much like our favorite fat man dressed in red.

Religion, again

Maybe it’s because I have heard “Santa Claus is Coming to town” a lot lately, maybe I’m just becoming increasingly aware of my sin and Christ’s grace. Probably a mixture of both. But at any rate, we need to see the religion of man-kind in general and the true One who gives gifts to men. We all think we deserve good things for good deeds, and everyone who wrongs us deserves death and humiliation, or at least a time out. Right? Few could claim this isn’t how they were raised. If you are good, you get good things, if you are bad, you are punished– being good gets you toys, being bad gets you coal. I’m not knocking parenting here, I’m just trying to show us where we get our view of Jesus from. We think we are acceptable to God because we have always obeyed our parents, but that is far from true.

The Real Jesus?

We first need to not look at Jesus as though he is a skinny Santa. In other words, if you want to really connect with Jesus in  your prayers to him, stop giving him a list like a kid a Christmas time. Prayer is first about God and getting to know his will, and second about you. And even when it’s about you, the focus should be on repentance and a desire to follow him in everything. The real Jesus is kind and merciful- he forgives the repentant despite what he has done. Jesus is also just- he disciplines his people and corrects those he loves.

This is the real Jesus (not the image, rather, the description above). Given the choice between the two, who do you go for? Do you complain to God claiming that you deserve better than what he has given? Or are you content with what he has done in your life (namely, salvation through Christ). He won’t change the way he feels about his children based off of their works, so why would we live as though he does?

I’m Engaged!

I’m sure most of the eight people who read this blog know this, but it is true: last Thursday (9.2.10) I asked my girlfriend Emmalie Fellows to marry me and she said yes! So I figured I would use this post to tell a bit about us.

We met just over a year ago at our school when she began taking classes there. After many conversations and long chats over facebook, we eventually ended up with each other’s phone numbers and moved on from there. On October 25, 2009, I told her I had feelings for her and she agreed to date me- which is interesting because that same night I told her that I was dating with the intention of marrying my next girlfriend (i.e. her). This didn’t scare her off and we proceeded to spend more time with each other and grow into love.

Moving on

Before the end of 2009, we began to talk about marriage more seriously. I knew that I wished to marry her and she was pretty sure about me. As a side note, shortly after Tim Sewall heard about our accident, he said that we were going to get married (she must love me if she let me drive her car home after flipping it!). Over the course of these nine months, we have been praying and seeking God’s guidance in our lives. It has been a long process making sure that this is what God would have for us. But it turned out to be fruitful, as we have decided to share love for each other for the rest of our lives.

Prayer

We could really use prayer. Seriously. As we are planning this wedding, we are still both attending NEBC, which means that there will be more stressful moments to come this semester (and it only just began). We need patience with those we’ll be working with in this process. We need strength to remain focused on Christ and not one another. This is something that is very foreign to many people: I don’t want Emmalie to be the center of my universe and she doesn’t want me as hers. Christ is greater, he is to be praised and held worthy to direct my life and right now, he is directing us together that we might serve him better. We also do not want to be apart another summer (she was the head cook at Camp Berea this past summer and I was working to get a new job which meant I was broke). Needless to say, it was difficult for us to remain focused on Christ while we were missing time spent together. This also slipped into our visiting times where we weren’t able to concentrate on growing towards Christ together because we were “too busy” working to catch up after the week(s) apart.

Thank you for your prayers! We are looking at a June wedding and are counting the days as they pass.