A Faith Waits

A Faith Waits

When I was a kid, Christmas Eve was the longest day of the year. We opened presents as a family on Christmas Eve because Christmas morning, we had church. It was our tradition to invite my grandparents out to a nice dinner, come home, and open presents. As a child, these dinners could not have lasted any longer! This was the one time a year I wasn’t very hungry and couldn’t wait for the meal to be over. We would finally finish, drive home, unload, get settled in, figure out who would distribute gifts and what order to open them. Finally, we would open presents.

Waiting is hard. It’s hard putting off to the future something you desire right now. Waiting is hard because waiting requires faith, and faith is hard.

When the angel Gabriel visited the virgin Mary, Mary exercised faith. This Mary, the most lowly of women, the most unlikeliest of candidates, God chooses to bestow the greatest honor that could ever be given to any woman who has ever lived. She would be the mother of the Son of God. And how does Mary respond? In faith.

Mary’s response Gabriel teaches us three things about faith:

  1. Faith is Real

Here’s what I mean: faith doesn’t have to pretend to be pious or to be something that it’s not. It can react honestly and ask questions without fear. 

When Gabriel appeared to Mary, his greeting confused her. “Greetings, O favored one. The Lord is with you!” You can almost imagine Mary looking around thinking, “Is he talking to me?” She was greatly troubled, and she was trying to work out what was happening in her mind, “What’s going on? I don’t understand what’s happening right now.” She even showed signs of fear. 

Mary shows us that you can have faith in God and still be surprised and confused. You don’t have to put on this pious air that you always know what is going on and are un-phased. She was confused and burdened and fearful. There is space in faith for a troubled heart, a fearful heart. 

Faith also has room for questions. The angel tells Mary the most incredible news: Mary has found favor with God, and she will have a son whose name is to be Jesus. He will be great, the Son of Most High, he will be given the throne of his father David, and he’ll reign over Jacob’s house with an everlasting kingdom. Talk about too good to be true! Overcome, she asks the question: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

Unlike Zechariah six months earlier, Mary’s question comes of out her faith, not out of doubt. She believes Gabriel, but she doesn’t understand how it is possible. No virgin has had a baby before. At least there’s precedent with Zechariah and Elizabeth. A man and a woman, even if they are old, can have a child. But Mary has no husband. How can this work?

This whole situation is outside of her experience; out of anyone’s experience really.  Zechariah asked the question, “Will you really do this, God?” Mary asked, “How will you do this?”

God can handle questions asked in faith. He even welcomes them. When little kids ask their parents a million questions, it can be really frustrating. Constant questions are hard, but they signify a relationship. A child asks because they believe in their parent’s ability to give to them things for which they ask. It’s a sign of adoration to parents. But when a child stops asking, then you need to take notice. Not asking questions shows a lack of relationship, a lack of trust in the other person. Mary asks because she has faith in her relationship with God.

Faith gives us freedom to be real and ask questions—honest questions—of God. “How can this be?” “What should I do?” “What is going on?” “Where are you?” We ask questions of God because we adore him and have a relationship with him. We stop asking questions when apathy sets in. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in faith. 

2. Faith is Submissive

After Mary asks her question in faith, Gabriel tells her how it’s all going to happen: the Holy Spirit. “The details are too lofty to understand, Mary, but the Holy Spirit will ensure it will happen. And as added assurance for you, your advanced-in-age cousin Elizabeth is going to have a son!”

And then Gabriel says something so profound, so staggering, so true, but something so hard for us to always believe: “Nothing is impossible with God.” Not even a virgin having a baby is impossible with God!

We know Mary responds with faith because she submits to God as his servant. We can’t have Mary’s submission be lost on us. This is a huge deal. Why? Because her submission to God meant opening herself up to reproach.

When Elizabeth conceived, the Lord removed her reproach. But not for Mary. Her pregnancy brought it. Imagine the whispers behind her back, “Pregnant?! And not married?! My goodness!” And who would believe Mary’s explanation: “It’s okay. The Holy Spirit came upon me. God’s Son is in my womb.” Not only is she an adulteress, but maybe she’s crazy. Mary shows us that faith submits to God even in face of reproach. In God’s eyes, she is blessed. In the world’s eyes, she has a scarlet “A”. But Mary believes God, and submits herself to him.

Mary’s son, the Son of God, also  submitted to God his Father in faith. It also brought reproach, but also so much more. He lost his life. In the garden before his arrest, he prayed a faith prayer of submission: “God, take this cup from me; not my will but yours be done.”

When we submit to God through faith in Jesus, our submissive faith lands placed on One who himself submitted in faith. Jesus submitted to death for our sins so that we could have life through him!

3. Faith Acts

Mary left with haste and went to see Elizabeth. She began to act as if what the angel saw was actually true. She went to Elizabeth to be encouraged, but also maybe out of fear of the future. She probably didn’t want to deal with all the comments and questions. Whatever the reason, she acted.

Elizabeth observed Mary’s faith. John leaped in her womb when Mary arrived, and Elizabeth blesses Mary. And then she comments on Mary’s faith: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” 

Mary acts in the present as if the future is as certain as the past.

Just look at her beautiful song, the Magnificat, the song is so similar to Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2. It reflects God’s actions. Mary praises God for what God has done. And she refers to all of God’s saving work in the past tense. Just think of it: Gabriel has just told her what God will do in the future, and she is so certain of the future that she refers to God’s saving actions in the past tense.

That’s what faith does. Even though the future is uncertain, you can live in the present as if the future is as certain as the past because your trust is in God. Remember Abraham? This was the faith he displayed: He believed in hope. 

18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone. (Romans 4:18-25 ESV)

By faith, he acted. 

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Hebrews 11:8-13 ESV)

Mary would hold her baby in her arms, see him grow up, watch him die, and witness his resurrection. Abraham didn’t get to see God’s promises fulfilled in his lifetime, but he lived them as if they were.

In faith, he lived in the present as if the future were as certain as the past.

During Advent, live in the present as if the future is as certain as the past. Wait in hope. Because Jesus came once and promised he would come again, we wait in hopeful anticipation. Jesus came once and died on the cross to save us from sin, he rose again to defeat death. And he’s coming again. It’s certain.

Live today, not clinging to non-eternal things. Christ is coming again and the former things are going to pass away. So why should we cling to things that won’t matter?

Reject the fear of missing out. Technology has created a fear of missing out on things because we see other people’s lives and feel like out lives are not as significant. But through faith in Christ, we have a future that will trump anything that has ever been posted on social media. We can be content in the present because of what the future holds.

Rest in the stillness and the silence, abandoning speed for the space of a relationship with Christ. Faith allows an opportunity to “Be still and know that he is God.” Faith provides release and relief. 

Live in the present as if the future is as certain as the past, that Jesus’ return to make all things new is just as certain as his birth, death, and resurrection.

On the Sacred, the Secular, and Brushing Your Teeth

On the Sacred, the Secular, and Brushing Your Teeth

“It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular; it is why he does it. The motive is everything.” (Tozer, Pursuit of God, 110)

What is a more significant act of worship: brushing your teeth or celebrating Communion? I think we’d all agree that Communion would outrank teeth-brushing on a scale of significance. We have no trouble labeling the act of communion as sacred, but brushing one’s teeth doesn’t often land in that category. I’ve heard of few parents would ask their children at bedtime: “Didst thou perform the sacred act of brushing thy teeth?”

As silly as it sounds, brushing your teeth—when done with proper motives of the heart—is a holy act. The Bible tells us that”whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV)

Elevating the brushing of your teeth and other mundane activities in no way minimizes the sacred acts of Communion or Baptism or the preaching of the Word or prayer. All it does is to bring all of life into the sphere of the sacred, demolishing the barrier between sacred and secular.

Why do we live our lives divided? Why do I sit before the Lord in Bible reading in prayer, and then shut my Bible and focus my mind n the day at hand, not realizing that the transition I’m making in my mind and heart should not be happening? Life doesn’t involve transitions between holy acts and common acts when your heart is tuned to the Lord. 

We held an “A Praying Life” conference this past weekend. More than learning what to pray, we learned how to pray. To pray rightly, you must understand the gospel rightly. When you firmly believe in Jesus and come to fully experience God as your Father, you will rejoice in the reality that you are His child. And you can pray to God as a child would approach their earthly father: honestly, persistently, without pretense, boldly. You are His child and He loves you.

Your status as God’s child doesn’t end when you say, “Amen.” You are God’s child when reading the Bible, praying, while at church, celebrating Communion, brushing your teeth, watching college football, sitting at your desk at work, teaching your children, stuck in traffic. All of life is holy because of your identity as God’s child. 

This coincides with the great theological truth reclaimed during the Reformation: the priesthood of all believers. If all of life is holy based on the motives of our hearts and our status as children of God, then we are “all a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5, ESV) All work is sacred, not just pastors and missionaries. In “The Pursuit of God,”  A.W. Tozer says, “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular; it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For such a man, living itself will be sacramental and the whole world a sanctuary.  His entire life will be a priestly ministration.” (Tozer, Pursuit of God, 110)

As Christians, the world in which we live is our sanctuary. Our lives are an offering of worship to God (see Romans 12:1-2). Everything we do can be a holy act. “So whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17 ESV)

So live your life. Brush your teeth. Watch college football. Do you corporate job. Teach your kids. Go to school. Do it all as a child of God. Do it as a holy priest before the Lord. Do it all to the glory of God, giving thanks to Him.

On the Simple Life

On the Simple Life

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
— Colossians 3:2 ESV

I drive north on 31 towards Heritage Middle School every Sunday morning. Sitting at the light where I turn left to get to the school, I see a large, square building rising from the hill just ahead. It’s tall. You can’t miss it.

When construction started, I wondered what would be built on that property. It seemed like a great space to build something beautiful. It's the first thing you see coming into Spring Hill and the last thing you see when you leave.

So what is it? A self-storage facility.

Self-storage facilities must be lucrative. We don’t have enough room in our 3,000 square foot houses and garages, so we need extra space to store all our stuff. We are willing to pay thousands of dollars a year simply to store all the things that won’t fit in our houses.

Do we own too much stuff?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe the general consensus would be yes. But it's not the stuff that is causing me increasing concern. I’m becoming more concerned with what our stuff is doing to us. Is it harming us in ways that we don’t quickly realize?

Just do a quick search on the internet about the benefits of owning less. (Here is a simple list of 25 benefits of owning less.) There are so many fringe benefits to simplifying our lives, but the what is the benefit to our soul? It has been said that the more things that we own, the more that things own us. Even though I like my things, I don’t want to be owned by them. I want my heart to be owned by Christ. Do our possession hinder us from having a relationship with our Savior? It doesn’t hurt to ask the question.

I believe that our possessions have the opportunity to distract us. The more things that we have, the more that we have to keep up with, the more we have to clean, the more we have to maintain and fix. If we are spending all our time fixing and maintaining and cleaning, that is time we could spend other places. We could spend time on things of eternal significance rather than on things that will perish, spoil and fade. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2 ESV)

I don’t believe that I suffer from attention deficit disorder, but I can say that I am easily distracted by things. This is one of the reasons that I have resorted back to pen and paper for a lot of note taking, particularly when I am working on my sermon. The sea of things around me disctracts me. All the things that I can do or the places that I can go on the computer distract me. So I keep it simple. I take notes on a legal pad and then I scan it into my computer when the sermon is complete. Less clutter. Less distraction. I’m trying.

If we can remove the clutter from our lives, it follows that we can remove the clutter from our hearts as well. Ephesians 2:22 says “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Do we have room in our hearts and lives for the Spirit, or are we crowding him out with too much stuff? These are good questions for us to consider.

Pain and Suffering

Pain and Suffering

So while Christianity never claims to be able to offer a full explanation of all God’s reasons behind every instance of evil and suffering – it does have a final answer to it.
— Timothy Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

As I meet and talk with people, it is rare to find someone who isn’t in—or just come out of—a season of pain and suffering. I had a conversation just recently with the most precious of saints who has more joy in the Lord than I have ever seen. Even in her joy, she tears up when she talks of her husband who died four short years ago.

As pastor, one of the privileges I have is to walk with others through the pain and suffering in their lives. They may not sound like a privilege, but I can assure you, it is. To weep with those who weep is as much of a privilege as to rejoice with those who rejoice.

As I’ve walked this path with others, the question of “why?” inevitably arises. In those moments, I frequently feel a degree of angst because an answer to that question rarely presents itself. Why is this happening? I don’t know? Why me? I don’t know. I desire to give an explanation rather than admitting my ignorance when it comes to the will of God.

As I’m reading through Keller’s book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, I came to a passage that struck me in a way that not many words do. “So while Christianity never claims to be able to offer a full explanation of all God’s reasons behind every instance of evil and suffering – it does have a final answer to it.  The answer will be given at the end of history and all who hear it and see its fulfillment will find it completely satisfying, infinitely sufficient.”

In the search for an explanation of the pain and suffering we experience, I am not convinced that any explanation that we might receive would ever be completely satisfying. If I somehow knew that my pain and suffering was the direct result of thousands of people coming to faith in Jesus, I would find satisfaction in that, but not complete satisfaction. I know my heart. I would be grateful for such a result, but my heart would still ask the question “Why did it have to be me? Couldn’t you have done it in some other way?”

I don’t believe that any explanation that we would receive would truly satisfy us. We may not like the explanation that we receive because even the best explanation doesn’t provide what the gospel does: hope.

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
— Romans 5:3-5 ESV

Knowing that God has provided a final answer to our pain and suffering—to all pain and suffering—is the one thing that actually fills my heart with hope.

Jesus endured pain and suffering on the cross so that he would put an end to pain and suffering for all of eternity. We endure pain and suffering knowing that it has a limited shelf life, and then it will be no more. As in a difficult workout or an agonizing meeting or a sermon that is dragging on just a little too long, knowing that the end is coming creates the ability to persevere through the pain and suffering we endure.

I’m walking through a degree pain and suffering now, as most people are to greater and lesser extents. Living in a fallen and broken world means living with the reality of pain and suffering. As we walk this path, may we persevere with hope, knowing we may not receive completely satisfying explanations to our circumstance, but we have already received a final answer:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
— Revelation 21:3–5 ESV

Prayer and Helplessness

Prayer and Helplessness

Prayer and helplessness are inseparable.
— Ole Hallesby, Prayer

I received a gracious gift from my wife this week: a mini-sabatical of two and a half days by myself. As I write, I have been by myself for almost two full days now. I am recharging my batteries and spending time in study, writing, and prayer. With five children at home—one of them a newborn—this is truly a sacrificial gift. Thank you so much, sweetheart!

Because I struggle with prayer, I try to read on prayer so I can be encouraged to develop my prayer life with God. I wrote previously on Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Life. Now, I am reading through “Prayer” by Ole Hallesby. It has been like water for my dry and weary soul.

He defines prayer as opening up your heart to Jesus, a simple definition of a word whose description is often elusive. For us to open up our hearts to Jesus, God often uses our helplessness to do so. Prayers out of helplessness are the prayers God loves.

Prayer and helplessness are inseparable. Only those who are helpless can truly pray. Listen, my friend! Your helplessness is your best prayer. It calls from your heart to the heart of God with greater effect than all your uttered pleas. He hears it from the very moment that you are seized with helplessness, and He becomes comes actively engaged at once in hearing and answering the prayer of your helplessness.
— Ole Hallesby. Prayer: Expanded Edition (Kindle Locations 111-114). Kindle Edition. 

God often has to correct my thinking that my maturity in Christ comes with more personal strength. In my process of maturity in Christ, I frequently imagine that growing in Christ (Ephesians 4) involves needing Him less. I desire a self-sufficiency because I am becoming sanctified. What I am finding—especially in the process of church planting, marriage, and raising five children—is that I am becoming more and more helpless. At least, my helplessness is being exposed more often.

I find myself being stretched in ways that I’ve never been stretched before. I am facing challenges that I’ve never had to face with in the past. I am dealing with questions to which I’ve never had to come up with the answers previously.

During my time away, I am learning that my helpless drives me to prayer. It doesn’t happen perfectly, and it doesn’t happen every time. Unfortunately, my helplessness drives me to despair and reacting like a child more than it should. But God allows us to stay in a state of helplessness because it is a good place to be. Strength and self-sufficiency drive me away from God. Helplessness draws me to Him. Because I know what I am capable of on my own, I will take nearness to God.

The Launch

The Launch

It is hard to imagine, but we have two weeks of worship services under our belts. We are getting ready for our third this weekend. We have spent so much time and effort and prayer and planning to launch Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, that it is almost surreal to think that it is actually off the ground. God has done amazing things, not just over the last year and a half, but from before the foundation of the world.

Click here to see all the pictures that were taken of our Launch Service.

Sunday, January 21, 2018 began with a group of people and a trailer rolling up to Heritage Middle School. Tables from the cafeteria were put up and moved to the back of the room. The trailer was unloaded, container by container, chair by chair. With many hands, it made for light work. You could sense the joy and excitement in everyone’s hearts.

John Shand fearlessly led our unloading and set up process. He was joined by his faithful wife, Jennifer and their children. The Dolan family and the Heiny’s also arrived early so that they could assist. The set up came together quickly and flawlesly.

To make the day special, Lee Porter, our Worship Director, asked a few friends of the church to play instruments for us during our worship. Missy Tillman beautifully arranged flowers for the front of our worship space, and her husband Jason assisted her with several wreaths. Members of our Provisional Session (Paul Joiner from Zion PCA, Tony Giles from Cornerstone PCA and Brandon Goodin from Parish PCA) graced us with their presence and helped serve Communion. Mike Pollard assisted me in leading our liturgy.

We didn’t want to run out of seating, but we did not know how many people would come. We prayed that God would bring people in, so we were prepared for 200. God brought us 125. Many people were new and visiting for the first time. Others were old friends coming to show their support. Whether new friends or old friends, we all celebrated the start of something new and exciting at Spring Hill Presbyterian Church.

Talking to my church planting coach later in the week, he revealed that it was obvious that I was “caught up in the moment” when the service began. As one who is easily overcome with emotion, I felt the Spirit simply welling up inside of me and it was hard to maintain composure. It was all so exciting! It was so exciting, in fact, that I forgot to introduce myself! It is funny looking back on it now.

We began the service with a brief welcome and a “thank you” to all those who have offered their prayers and support to make the launch of this church possible. We have three amazing “mother churches” in Cornerstone, Parish, and Zion. The love, support, and encouragement that we have received is truly incredible.

With the pleasantries and housekeeping items out of the way, we joined our hearts and voices together to worship our great and glorious God. As we walked through the precious liturgy, my heart was full. I didn’t feel like I was focusing on the logistics and the details of our worship. Instead, I felt myself focusing my attention on the object of our worship: God himself. What a gift that is.

When I stood up to read our passage out of Ephesians 1:1-14 and preach, I was once again struck by the gravity of the moment. This was going to be the first sermon ever preached at Spring Hill Presbyterian Church. What would be said on such a momentous occasion? As I was preparing over the last several months, I remember thinking about that first sermon. What should I say? What should I highlight? What passage should I preach from? I never felt a peace about preaching a special Launch  Service sermon. Instead, I felt God laying on my heart that I should preach a sermon that set the tone for our preaching at Spring HIll Pres. If our preaching is going to be expository, then simply begin with the first sermon of the book you will be preaching through. And that is what we did.

As I admitted at the beginning of the sermon, I was approaching this message from a heart filled with fear and pride. In my pride, I desired for this to be the best sermon that anyone in attendance had ever heard. I desired for people to be so impressed with my preaching ability that they would want to join this church. But I also admitted that I feared the opposite would happen. I feared that people would hear my preaching and decide that they could never come to a church with such poor preaching. Thankfully, God is sovereign and works in, through, and inspire of my preaching ability!

As we began our journey through the book of Ephesians, God informed us that he had “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” This means that we have a forgiven past, a grace-filled present, and a guaranteed future. We no longer live in the guilt and shame of our past. Our present is defined by a new legal status (holy and blameless before God) and a new relationship with God (his adopted sons). Our future is held secure for us, sealed by the promise of the Holy Spirit. All of this is ours because of what God has done for us in Christ. I pray that our church would always be defined by our belief in the gospel, what God has done for us in Christ.

After the preaching of the Word, we gathered around the Table to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together, an act we will engage in weekly. My provisional session joined me in serving the elements, and we were blessed by the visible reminder that Jesus’ body was broken and his blood was shed for the forgiveness or our sins.

After a joyous time of celebration, our service came to an end. We enjoyed cookies in the back of our worship space as we talked with our old friends and got to know our new ones. In a spirit of unity, we all chipped in, picking up chairs, breaking down sound equipment, folding up tables, and tearing down our nursery. We loaded it all in the trailer, ready to pull it all out and do it again the next week (and the next and the next and the next…).

Following the service, the Launch Team joined together for a celebratory meal at Acapulco’s Mexican Restaurant. I thanked this special group of people for all their hard work and their willingness to be used by God to accomplish this goal. I then ceremoniously relieved them of their duties as a Launch Team. Spring Hill Presbyterian Church is now officially off the ground, thanks be to God!

Click here to see all the pictures that were taken of our Launch Service.

Christmas Reflections

Christmas Reflections

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.
— Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

These words of Isaiah 9 have never had such intimate and personal meaning to me as it has this year. There is something about having a child right before Christ—and a son in particular—that makes them have that much more gravity to them. Just 5 days ago, our 5th child was born. Isaac Jeffrey. He is incredible. He makes me laugh. He’s a phenomenal gift from God.

Holding my son in one arm and a candle in the other during the Christmas Eve service that we attended was an experience that I will not soon forget. You can talk all you want about the Word become flesh and Jesus becoming a child, but when you hold a 4-day old baby in your arms while contemplating the birth of the Messiah, it just takes on such a deeper meaning. I actually had the thought: “Jesus became like this.” So tiny. So fragile. So vulnerable. That is truly love: willing to become weak, fragile, and vulnerable, solely for the benefit of another. Thank you Jesus. Love certainly came down at Christmas.

And Isaac’s actual brith—which was an incredible experience—has caused me to pause and wonder at all of it. After witnessing my wife going through the process of labor, I realize that I am in awe of her. She was simply incredible throughout the whole process. But I saw what she went through. I witnessed what she felt. I beheld the results of the curse of sin (“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” Genesis 3:16 ESV). 

This was how Jesus entered the world, through the pain of child-bearing. He came to life through the curse to kill the curse. He entered through the pain so he could drive the all the pain away. I guess all of this is to say that there is something God is showing me the gospel in new and brighter colors this Advent and Christmas, and he’s using this tiny, fragile, vulnerable little baby to do it .

Community that People Can Hear

Community that People Can Hear

Unless people see in our churches not only the preaching of the truth but the practice of the truth…in our communities, then let me say it clearly:
They will not listen, and they should not listen.
— Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, pg. 52.

The new year will launch Spring HIll Presbyterian Church into a new phase of her young existence. Beginning on January 21, 2018, we will meet for weekly worship on Sunday mornings at Heritage Middle School starting at 9:30 am. As always, nursery will be provided for children ages newborn through 3 years old.

When I think about this future transition in the life of our church, I can’t help but reflect on the past. Graciously, God blessed this past year in the life of our small but growing church. We began last January to meet on a weekly basis on Sunday nights at Spring HIll Academy Preschool. Intending to deepen our love for God and one another, we studied the book of Mark and sought to develop deep and vulnerable relationships with each other. Over the course of time, we came to understand the gospel and each on a deeper level which enabled us to speak the gospel into each other’s lives. Bittersweetly, the time at the preschool has now come to an end.

As we look ahead, I can’t help but wonder about the development of our community at Spring Hill Presbyterian Church. Currently, I’m reading a book penned by Francis Schaeffer called The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century. He wrote this prophetic book in the early 1970s. Based on what he was witnessing in the thought of individuals—mainly the rise of relativism and the decline of truth—he boldly and accurately anticipated much of what we have seen in the church in the twenty-first century. Without a bolding proclamation the truth—not just in word, but also in deed—Schaeffer believed that the church would crumble into utter irrelevance.

In order to remain relevant, Schaeffer makes a strong case for the church being a community. As individuals, God saves us. He forgives our sins individually. He pardons our personal sins through the death of Jesus on the cross. But Christianity is not individualistic. It is a community of believers. In theological terms, when we are justified by God (legally pardoned of our sins) we are also adopted into his family. We are called into a relationship with a personal God who is there (to quote the title of another one of Schaeffer’s books). When we are called into that relationship with God, we are also called into relationship with others.

The church is a community unlike any other. It’s not a social gathering or an activist club. It’s not a community that gathers because of shared interests or hobbies. This community exists because its individuals have been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. They exist to glorify God and to draw other people into this community through making disciples. This community exists because of the gospel. Through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ, people who were strangers to each other are now brothers and sisters in Christ.

This community also exists to proclaim the gospel. By the way that people in this community interact with one another, they display the lovingkindness of God. The members of this all share in an incredible gospel transformation which has taken place in each of their lives. But what if other people could not tell? What if this community didn’t appear to be transformed? What if the individuals didn’t act any differently? Schaeffer saw this happening and anticipated more of it. Here is what he says:

Unless people see in our churches not only the preaching of the truth but the practice of the truth, the practice of love and the practices of beauty; unless they see that the thing that humanists rightly want cannot achieve on a humanist base—human communication and human relationship—is able to be practiced in our communities, then let me say it clearly: They will not listen, and they should not listen.
— Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, pg. 52

My prayer is that Spring Hill Presbyterian Church will continue to grow into a community to which people can’t help but listen. The New Testament is filled with “one another” commands which call people to “love one another,” (John 13:34) “bear one another’s burdens,” (Galatians 6:2) “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,” (Ephesians 4:32). If we launch a church on January 21, 2018 that doesn’t practice the truth in our community, then we will launch a church to which people will not listen and should not listen. But if we launch a church in which the gospel is lived out vulnerably and truthfully, people can not help but hear and see the good news of Jesus Christ. I pray that Spring HIll Presbyterian Church is this type of community.

Power in Weakness

Power in Weakness

I’ve been reading through 2 Corinthians over the last couple of days, and God brought me to chapters 11 and 12 this morning. Paul recounts in chapter 11 all the suffering he has endured as an apostle. It is quite a list. At the very end, he tacks on this little verse: “and, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” Yes! I resonate with that completely. Although Paul’s anxiety daily pressure and anxiety was for many churches, I feel that daily pressure and anxiety over just this one church.
I don’t know if there has been a time in my life when I have felt more weak. The process of church planting tends to bring you to the end of yourself. Logistics and administration abound in this process, and these are not my strong suit. People, meetings, budgets, discipleship, decisions, teaching, preaching, phone call, letters, and so much more all add up. These take me to the end of myself and reveal my weaknesses.
By the way, did I mention that my beautiful bride is pregnant and due in just a couple of short weeks? Talk about God bringing us to the end of our selves in our family. Life is about to change dramatically with a baby in the house. We haven’t had a baby in over 4 years and almost forget what it is like to have a little one. I am grateful for older siblings who will play with the baby and change his diapers, taking some of the load of mommy and daddy.
On top of daily pressure of my anxiety for the church, there is the daily pressure of my anxiety for my family as well. I feel that church planting comes with a heightened sense of spiritual attacks, particularly on a church planter’s family. A very subtle way this rears its head is through stress and pressure. The baby’s coming is just part of it. Each of our children is unique and requires special attention to teach them and disciple them. Stephanie and I constantly wonder whether we are doing the right things for our children. The attacks threaten our marriage as well. Please pray for Stephanie and me, that we would be aware of Satan’s schemes. Pray that our marriage would be grounded in grace and the truth of the gospel.
Through it all, Paul’s words from God in 2 Corinthians 12:9 are such a huge comfort: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And I pray that Paul’s response would be my response: ”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” I feel the weakness that Paul describes here, and I pray that God’s power is displayed through it and he plants his church here in Spring Hill.

The First Step of Love

The First Step of Love

The vision of our church states that we exist to “love God, love each other, love our community and our world with the gospel of Jesus Christ for the glory of God.” Why is our vision filled with the word “love?” It appears four times in our statement. The short answer is this: because God has poured out his love on us through Christ, we are called to respond in love.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism helps us to understand how and why love is the duty that God calls us to. Indulge me for a moment as we take a brief journey though the Catechism:

Q1. What is the chief end of man?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.
Q2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A: The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.
Q3. What do the scriptures principally teach?
A: The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.
Q39: What is the duty which God requireth of man?
A: The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will.a
Q40: What did God at first reveal to man for the rule of his obedience?
A: The rule which God at first revealed to man for his obedience, was the moral law.
Q 41: Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?
A: The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments.
Q42: What is the sum of the ten commandments?
A: The sum of the ten commandments is, To love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.

In summary, the catechism teaches us that we were made to glorify God and enjoy him. The Bible teaches us how to do that, and the summary of the Bible's teaching is for us to love God and to love our neighbors. As we prepare for the launch of our church in the near future, we are spending some time understanding what it means to love. So how do we do that?

We love because he loved us first.

Our love for God and for our neighbor is a response to the love that we have been shown. Typically, I get caught into believing that God loves me more when I am loving him and loving my neighbor. I believe that my righteousness is based on my ability to love. But this is not true! My ability to love is based on the love that God has shown to me in the gospel. We love because he first loved us.

The Greatest Commandment

Before Jesus was crucified, the teachers of the law tried to trap him with a question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus’ response? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:26-40) Jesus was asked, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) and responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. In essence, Jesus’ response was that all people are to be considered your neighbor.

I completely agree with Jesus, but—and I hope this doesn’t come across in the wrong way—but I really struggle with what he says here. When all people are “my neighbor,” the task to love all people completely overwhelms me. With such a tall task, I feel like it can’t possibly be done and therefore I don’t do it. I need focus, and smaller bits to chew on.
As we move forward in our church plant, loving our neighbor will look like this: loving our actual neighbors. What would it look like if we believed that God had placed us in our houses for a sovereign purpose: to love the people who live around us? I believe that God chose the place where we live and he orchestrated who lives around us, and he calls us to love them.


My wife and I just moved into our neighborhood. We bought our house back in December and have spent the last 8 months renovating our house. We can’t tell you how good it is to finally be living in our home. Despite the condition of the house when we first saw it, we were convinced that this was the place that God had providentially provided for our family.

Right now, we are strangers to the people who live on our street. They have watched the progress of our home renovation, but they haven’t been able to get to know us yet. We are looking forward to getting to know our neighbors. We are looking forward to knowing them and being known by them. But that isn’t all. We desire something much greater for our neighbors and neighborhood.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if every one of our neighbors were brothers and sisters in Christ who lived out the gospel as fellow missionaries in our community? That is something that I would love to see. People going from unknown strangers to fellow missionaries doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process that involves movement. I would love to see the strangers on my street become neighbors, neighbors become friends, friends become family, and family become missionaries (thank you, Tim Brister, for this paradigm).

What would it look like to truly love my neighbors? To truly love them, I would want nothing less than for them to know Jesus as their Savior and live their lives for God’s glory.

To love is to know.

The first step in this process—the first step in loving our neighbors—is such a simple one. To love, you have to know. You can’t love people in relationship unless you know them.
How many of us today live near people that we don’t even know their names. We wave at them as we pull out of the garage, but we don’t know anything about their lives. The challenge that my family has before us right now is this: are we willing to order our lives so that knowing the people who live around us is a priority?. Life can get so full and so busy that we spend so much time doing things and going places, but we don’t know people.

As we prepare to launch Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, we desire to prioritize knowing others so that we can fulfill our vision to love. Without knowing, you can’t love. And when life gets too crowded and distracted, you can’t know. Beginning with few programs or ministries, we will focus on knowing and being known by others so that we can love God, each other, our community, and our world with the gospel of Jesus Christ for the glory of God.

Fall Transitions

Fall Transitions

I wore my vest for the first time today. I love my vests. Throughout the Fall, you will rarely see me without a vest. In my world, Fall equals vests. I'm excited, but my wife may not share the same sentiments. What can I say? She married a creature of habit.

Wearing vests isn't the only thing I am excited about this Fall. We are entering into a transitional time with our church plant. Faithfully, we've met on Sunday nights at Spring Hill Academy Preschool to study God's Word and to grow in relationship with one another. God has blessed that time together. The goal was to understand the gospel on a deeper level through studying the gospel according to Mark. We have used that to lay a foundation to understand who Jesus is.

Beginning on September 17, we decided to make a change to our meetings. We will still be meeting every Sunday night at the Spring Hill Academy Preschool in Spring Hill. That will not change. However, we will alternate between two activities: one week we will meet for worship and communion and the next week we will meet for training and prayer as we gear up to launch this church.

As we prepare for launch, we are laying the groundwork for the culture of our church. The Holy Spirit has called us to make disciples of all nations as we are witness of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8). Every other week, we will be discussing how making disciples and being witnesses plays itself out in the rhythms of our lives. We will also be spending time in prayer for our church, our people, and our community.

Anyone and everyone is invited to both the worship / communion service and the training / prayer time. The training and prayer isn't limited to a select group of people. We would love you to join us. If you live in Spring Hill or its surrounding, I invite you to spend time with us on a Sunday night. Soon, we will have a calendar on our site and you can check to see what we are doing on a particular week.

I am looking forward to this Fall and this transition for our church plant, even more excited than I am about wearing my vests.

The Hardest Place to Learn to Pray

The Hardest Place to Learn to Pray

American culture is probably the hardest place in the world to learn to pray.
— Paul Miller, "A Praying Life"

I’m meeting with a group of men on a Tuesday morning in an intense, year-long discipleship relationship. When I presented to them an option for the next topic for our study, they all chose prayer. To help us with our study, I chose Paul Miller’s book, “A Praying Life”.

Early in chapter one, Miller states “American culture is probably the hardest place in the world to learn to pray” (pg. 3). Whether or not miller overstates this claim, I agree that our culture makes it difficult to pray. I began to create a list of attributes of our culture, and these are some words that I believe describe the context in which we live: busy, self-sufficient, noisy, affluent, efficiency, instant gratification, focused on achievement, and constant entertainment. 

Other descriptions of our culture exist, but if these describe the context we live in – even in the least bit – learning to pray is difficult. No wonder a group of Christian men desire to study prayer. 

Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to find ways to combat some of these descriptions of our current culture. Believe it or not, I’m actually writing this blog post in my notebook, with an actual pen. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to type it out? Of course! But typing on a computer is too fast and efficient. I have less time to think and contemplate. I could post more blogs if I typed them out. Then I could get many other things done on my to-do list. 

How does this relate to prayer? Prayer isn’t efficient. It doesn’t provide instant gratification. It is best done in quiet, not in noise. Busy schedules, constant entertainment and affluency drive us away from prayer, not to it. 

Prayer is our engagement with our Father on the level of a relationship. It is one way that we get to know who God is. As we engage God in prayer, it slows us to the point of patience, a characteristic often lacking in our culture. (Who doesn’t get annoyed when our Amazon Prime box doesn’t come in two days?) 

Prayer is an invitation by God for us to engage in relationship with him. Relationships take time, require intimacy, and often have times of trial and struggle. This is prayer. The reason I struggle with prayer is that I fill up my time with business or entertainment. Either I want to appear like I am achieving (so I get busy) or I want to be distracted from the responsibilities of life (so I seek entertainment). Prayer invites us to be neither busy nor entertained, but to simply be present with God our father. Prayer doesn’t provide for us any medals or awards. It’s not efficient, doesn’t provide instant gratification. But we do receive something greater, something counter-cultural. We receive God.

Shedding Light on Shame

Shedding Light on Shame

“Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2 ESV

Guilt and shame—both awful things—are often lumped together. Although they feed off of each other, they are very different. Guilt convicts me by drawing attention to my actions: “I have done bad things.” Like a punch below the belt, Shame hits deeper, attacking our identity. Shame convinces me that “I am bad.” In my guilt, at least I can separate who I am from what I have done. In shame, that is not possible.

This past week, I read a chapter on faith in Tozer’s book “The Pursuit of God.” Defining faith from a purely practical perspective, he writes that faith is the “gaze of the soul upon a saving God.” Faith and shame both involve looking. Shame looks at one’s self whereas faith looks into the face of a saving God.

Robert Murray McCheyne, a Scottish pastor who died at the young age of 30, left us with this encouragement: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” Would that be my story! My shame is so strong that it feels like second nature. The messages I believe are so engrained that I feel as if they are a part of me. My shame tells me “You’re not worth it.” “You’re not enough.”

Shame is self-directed, centered on me. Faith is the gaze upward. Faith turns shame messages into questions directed at God: “Am I worth it? Am I enough? Am I love for who I am?” God answers these questions in a profoundly personal way through the gospel. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1 ESV). When I read these passage, I hear God saying: “I sent Jesus while you were still a sinner to prove to you that when you are at your worst, I still love you. You are my child, I love you.”

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV) Crucified individuals were not only “guilty” (they had done bad things) but they were looked upon with shame (they were bad people). Deuteronomy 21:22–23 and Galatians 3:10–14 state:“Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”

When Jesus endured the shame of the cross, he shined the bright light of his love through the gospel into the darkest recesses of our lives where shame not only lives, but thrives. Shame can’t survive in the light. It needs the darkness. I have this intense fear that cause me to hide in shame from God. This is the first thing that Adam and Eve did in the Garden as well. Ashamed, I hide from God, hoping he won’t see me for who I really am. I listen to the voice that says “God doesn’t love you because you are not enough.” But God, through Christ, exposes this lie with the light of the gospel. The true message we actually hear from God is “we are more wicked than we ever dared believe but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope” (Keller, Galatians for You, 10). Is it a wonder why this is called “good news?”

Recently, God has allowed me opportunities to share my shame with other men. Briefly for a time in Georgia, for two years in Sherwood, AR, and now with a group of men in Spring Hill, TN, God has surrounded me with a “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). When my faith is weak and my gaze upon a saving God drops to a gaze upon myself, I have a group of men who walk alongside of me, reminding me of the truth of the gospel. They reflect the light of Christ into my life, and I am so grateful for them. God speaks to us through His Word, but he often reminds us of his Word through other people.

Sharing our shame with God and others brings light to the darkness. Shedding light on our shame provides opportunity to live in the freedom of Christ rather than the bondage of our the lies that are whispered deep in our souls.

Jesus, I Come

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night,
Jesus, I come; Jesus I come.
Into Thy freedom, gladness and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of my sickness into Thy health, 
Out of my wanting and into Thy wealth, 
Out of my sin and into Thyself, 
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of my shameful failure and loss, 
Jesus, I come; Jesus, I come. 
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross, 
Jesus, I come to Thee. 
Out of earths sorrows into Thy balm, 
Out of lifes storms and into Thy calm, 
Out of distress into jubilant psalm, 
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of unrest and arrogant pride, 
Jesus, I come; Jesus, I come. 
Into Thy blessed will to abide, 
Jesus, I come to Thee. 
Out of myself to dwell in Thy love, 
Out of despair into raptures above, 
Upward forever on wings like a dove, 
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of the fear and dread of the tomb, 
Jesus, I come; Jesus, I come. 
Into the joy and light of Thy home, 
Jesus, I come to Thee. 
Out of the depths of ruin untold, 
Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold, 
Ever Thy glorious face to behold, 
Jesus, I come to Thee.

© 2000 Greg Thompson Music.

Knowing God Through Stillness

Knowing God Through Stillness

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 ESV

When I read the chapter, “The Speaking Voice,” in A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God, a particular passage hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks:

“Religion has accepted the monstrous heresy that noise, size, activity and bluster make a man dear to God. But we may take heart. To a people caught in the tempest of the last great conflict God says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ and still he says it as if He means to tell us that our strength and safety lie not in noise but in silence.” (39)

Although Tozer wrote nearly 70 years ago, he saw what I see today in my own life and in the life of the church. I desire to draw near to God, but my tactics for doing so are misguided. I want to hear the voice of God, but the decisions that I make reveal that I want other things more.

When God desired to speak to the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-13, he spoke to him in the sound of a whisper:

“And God said, ‘Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”

If God’s voice is often a soft whisper or a still small voice, can we hear him if our life is full of distraction and noise?

About a year ago, I began buying large, hardcover notebooks. I take one everywhere I go. I write everything down in them: lists of things to do, journal entries, prayer requests, notes, everything. Seeing myself depending on technology, I began buying these notebooks which were intended to keep me focused. As great as technology is, I try to use it as little as possible. Others may have a better grasp on it, but I find that technology uses me rather than the other way around. Sadly, my personality tends towards becoming engrossed in trivial matters. I can pay attention. All too often, the unimportant or insignificant  draws my attention. Hence the notebook.

The notebook provides an imperfect system, but it helps. It helps me feel present. I slow down. I ponder. I even daydream. When I write, my thoughts don’t flow as quickly as when I type, but I enjoy the process more when I put the pen to paper. I also use a fountain pen. Mysteriously, there something in the way a fountain pen writes that makes the process so much more enjoyable.

Silence rarely invades my life. Although my four children are often a culprit, they are not always the reason. Truthfully, I don’t have enough silence because I don’t desire it. I want a relationship with God and I long to hear his voice, but I am not eager to be still before him. Psalm 46 reveals that being still is linked to knowing that God is God. How? Being still heightens our senses. We see more. We hear more. We taste and touch more. We feel more. We notice that God is present, and we experience him. Knowing that he is God takes observation which takes concentrated time. With no time to be still, we miss God. We become ignorant of him rather than knowing him.

Recently, a friend observed how a bowl of cereal showed him the power and goodness of God. As he was eating, he considered everything which went into that bowl of cereal sitting before him: a farmer growing grain, harvesting the grain, getting the grain to a manufacturer, making the cereal, sending it to the store, him buying it from the store. The same things had to happen with the milk. By using a bowl of cereal, God showed him how  he worked all of these things together produce a simple bowl of cereal. Being still—even with a bowl of cereal—leads us to know that he is God.

Silence can be frightening. Thinking of being still before God creates a picture in my head of two people sitting in a coffee shop, looking at each other across their lattes, but not saying anything. When someone looks at me makes like that, it makes me incredibly self-conscious. Things that I don’t often consider come bubbling to the surface. This is a feeling I avoid, not one I seek out.

When I am still, my mind quickly jumps to consider myself more, and I critique who I am. Stillness affords me time to think. Naturally, I consider my faults and shortcomings. To put it bluntly, being still leads me to ponder my sin. But this also leads me to know that God is God. One of my favorite verses is Romans 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV) In my self-conscious state, God tells me that he knows me. He is more aware of all my faults and shortcomings than I am. My ugliness doesn’t cause him to push me away. Drawing me close, he embraces me as a daddy hugs his child.

When the God calls us to “be still and know,” I perceive  he is calling us to slow down and be present with him. Fully engaging with God and being fully present with him is a glorious gift. I feel fully alive when I am fully present and engaged with him. I am more apt to hear his voice. Satan loves to divert my attention with noise and activity.

Being still and knowing that he is God takes effort. It requires practice. It requires making tough decisions and sacrifice. But hearing the voice of God as he speaks, hearing his voice in the sound of a low whisper, or being fully engaged and present with him makes it absolutely worth it.

What CrossFit Taught Me About Sanctification

What CrossFit Taught Me About Sanctification

I am the youngest of four siblings. As a youngest child, I have a confession: I typically try to get away with doing the least amount of work as possible. This has worked for me throughout my entire life, even in school where I was able to achieve pretty high marks. Even though I don’t like to expend a whole lot of effort, things have always tended to work out for me.

Subconsciously, I am coming to understand that I have a faulty view of sanctification. I struggle with most things that appear to be works-oriented at this point in my life. In my younger days, I tried certain tactics to conquer sin in my life, but they never seemed to work. Growing older has caused me to become more cynical. Diligently buckling down, reading my bible more, praying more, getting up earlier, whatever tactic du jour never really seemed to work in becoming more like Christ or having a deeper relationship with the Lord. I’ve tried them all, resulting the the same failures in sin, the same lackluster relationship with my Father in heaven.

I don’t believe I will ever have a perfect relationship with God or conquer sin in my lifetime, but how about a small victory here and there? Cant’ I get an advancement on the battlefield every once in a while? Why am I stuck in the same trenches, engage in the same firefight that I found myself in 15, 20, or even 25 years ago?

I took up CrossFit about a year and a half ago, a little while before my family moved from Arkansas to Tennessee. Prior to CrossFit, I engaged in a fairly regular workout routine at a local gym. I wasn’t seeing much results, if any. I didn’t feel or look like I was consistently working out. Costing me only $10 a month, I didn’tworry much about it. In reality, I was getting what I was paying for: $10 worth of results.

Then I joined CrossFit. Everything immediately changed. (This is not and advertisement for CrossFIt. I’m not one of “those” people. Just bear with me for a moment.)

At this point in my mid-to-late-thirties, I haven’t felt this good since high school. In fact, I’m weigh the same now as I did in high school. Joining CrossFit, I transitioned from working out alone to working out in community. Instead of always doing what I—in my limited knowledge—thought was best, I began performing prescribed workouts by trained and certified experts. I began working muscle groups I normally never touched with a 10 foot pole. I gained knowledge of movements as my coaches showed me proper techniques. Throughout this journey, I see people ahead of me on the path and I am challenged by them. I see others who have started behind me, and I am encouraged by the progress that I have made. I perform movements now that I could not do before. I’m surprised by how far I have come.

Here is the point: one of the most significant things that CrossFit has done for my fitness has been to open me up to other people. My fellow athletes see my strengths and weaknesses. They encourage, challenge, and critique me. I’m told to keep my back straight, to lock out my elbows, to keep my weight in my heels. As I do these things, I find progress. On the road to progress, people see my terrible and awkward form. They see the embarrassing amount of weight that I can (or can not) lift. They see me performing each work out, not at the prescribed weight for men, but most often at the prescribed weight for women. And I am ok with that.

As you read through Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Paul calls his mentee to do his best to present himself to God as one approved (2 Timothy 2:15). Later in the letter, Paul exhorts him to “flee youthful passions” (2 Timothy 2:22). Customarily, I would read these words and perform spiritual workouts like my previous days in the gym. I would attempt to do my best for God all by myself. I would keep doing the same things in my Christian life, expecting to get great results over sin and deepen my relationship with the Lord. Rarely, if ever, would this actually happen.

When I began to open myself up to Christian community, things began to slowly change. I can try to flee youthful passions on my own. However, I can easily avoid fleeing these passions if I am the only one who knows about them. I can secretly live with the “appearance of godliness” while being consumed with the list of sins and vices that Paul lists in 2 Timothy 3:2-5: “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” But this is not God’s desire for me. I can fool most people with appearances, but God can't be deceived.

When my life on earth is don, i desire to write a verse similar to Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” I won’t fight, I won’t race, I won’t flee passions if I go it alone.

So I have some men in my life who know me well. They don’t know me perfectly because I still find it hard to be completely vulnerable. I write this post partly out of therapy. I want to live more open with others because I truly do desire to flee my youthful passions. I desire to desire the Lord, but I need help on the path. Many may have more self-control. They may be able to walk the way of sanctification more in their own strength. I can’t. I’m too weak. I need other who will encourage me, challenge me, critique me and support me.

Men Who Know and Are Known

Men Who Know and Are Known

We are starting a men’s discipleship group this coming week. Eleven men have pledged to come together weekly at an insanely early hour for the next year. We will study God’s word together, read some really good books, and share our lives with one another. To say that I am excited would be an understatement.

When we moved here almost a year ago, I started seeing something that I noticed just about everywhere that I have lived. Men know each other, but they don’t really know each other. We talk to one another about sports and the weather and work, but beyond that, we rarely dig down deep into each others lives.

Fear is a significant factor driving the shallow relationships that men often engage in with one another. I openly admit that I fear men knowing me—the real me. I love to project “Pastor Mike,” the clean-cut, All-American guy who loves Jesus and is a great husband and a loving father. It is scary for me to share the me who struggles with a tremendous inferiority complex. It frightens me to think that someone might know my personal struggles with sin (which I don’t feel the need to mention here on the internet).

So why would I and other men pledge to join together to know and be known by one another? I can only speak from personal experience here. When I am growing in my faith, it is often with a group of men by my side, never in isolation. (Shout out to my brothers in Arkansas. You know who you are.) God never intended for us to take the Christian journey alone. First, he promised that he would always be with us (see Psalm 23). He also provided fellow travelers, brothers and sisters in Christ. As much as I love my sisters in Christ, there are some things that men need to talk to other men about in ways that they can be honest and vulnerable (and I’m not just talking about more than just pornography).

So here we go. Will you pray for this group of 11 men, myself included? The temptations will be to share just enough of our lives together where the surface is scratched, but we don’t have to get too uncomfortable with one another. Pray that we can dig to the depths of our lives with one another and find freedom in knowing that Christ has paid for all of our sins with his precious blood and freedom in knowing that there are other brothers who are struggling right along side of us in this journey called faith.

It is happening

It is happening

A few weeks back, we formed a Launch Team. Fully committed to the church plant, these seven families are all-in. Living in and near Spring Hill, they have taken ownership of the vision of our church.  On Sunday nights, these families faithfully attend our Bible Study. As they live life during the week, they build relationships with the people God places in their path, whether it is their neighbors, co-workers, or parents on their child’s sports team.

I’m so grateful for these families. Planting a church can be lonely work. Stephanie and I have often asked each other this question: “How are we supposed to grow this church?” We are fully convinced that God builds his church, but we wonder how he will use just us. When we consider our Launch Team, we are greatly encouraged. We are not alone! What a relief! Incredibly gifted people are using their God-given talents for the advancement of his Kingdom. How beautiful it is.

Last week, a family invited us over for dinner at their house. When we arrived, I heard the noises of a backyard barbecue, but there were no cars in the driveway. We walked around to the back of the house where we were greeted by the smell of the grill and a slip and slide in the grass. Adults and children littered the backyard. We were introduced and settled into a fun evening of hanging out and building relationships. The night wore on, the younger kids went to bed, the women talked, and the men played cards. Everyone went home with a deeper understanding of their neighbors.

This is what we desire Spring Hill Presbyterian Church to be about: loving God, one another, our community, and our world with the gospel of Jesus Christ for the glory of God. This family desired to love their community with the gospel by loving their neighbors well. How can you love your neighbors unless you know them? And what better way to know your neighbors than by inviting them into your home and breaking bread (or a hamburger) together?

As we move forward as a church, we desire to see more moments like this. We desire to see relationships developing between believers and non-believers where love is clearly displayed. That night was a sacred moment that I pray is constantly repeated.

A Note From Mike

A Note From Mike

A passage that I read frequently to our fellowship is Ephesians 4:11-16. In these verses, Paul gives us a great picture of the church as the body of Christ working together so that everyone grows in maturity into Christ. Whenever I read this passage, I am reminded of my role as a church planter and pastor: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” (Ephesians 4:11 ESV).

During the last month, we formed a Launch Team. As the name implies, this Launch Team will work diligently to get our church ready for launching Sunday worship services. Prayerfully considering the commitment, these families have jumped in with both feet. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am to be working alongside of these men and women. 

Although I am excited bout our Launch Team, it also brings sadness to a piece of my heart. And here is my moment of confession. I know that God is calling me to “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” but there is a part of me—and I don’t want to admit how big it is—that wants to do all the ministry myself. When I do it all myself, people think I am impressive. People give me praise. My ego skyrockets. With every person that I give an opportunity to do the “work of ministry,” I am called to humbly surrender.

God is teaching me the importance of equipping others because others have gifts that I do not have. This hurts to realize. Deep down, I secretly do wish that I could do all things perfectly and that I wouldn’t need help. Wouldn’t that be amazing? The reality is that I do have a particular set of gifts, but I am lacking in other gifts. That is humbling. I am being forced to admit that I need other people.

We talked about faith this past week in our Bible Study though the book of Mark. Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith requires surrender. You must let go. I must surrender my ego. I must surrender my desire to show to others that I can do this all on my own. I must surrender so that others can use their gifts for the glory of God and the building of his church.

I am fully convinced that God is the one who builds his church. I never want to plant a church that revolves around Mike Fennema. (Who would even want to go to that church?) However, being willing to surrender to God in faith still isn’t easy.

God is teaching me to engage of small acts of surrender every day as this church is being planted. I’m learning to give away small amounts of control, of influence, of desires, of activity. I’m learning to trust more in the Lord, to see the gifts that he has given to others. This is how the body of Christ is built. This is how the body is equipped and how we mature. This is how the outside world will see the love of Christ displayed, as the body “builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:16 ESV)