It's been almost 2 years ago now that Tasha and I resigned from the church where I served as youth pastor in Henderson, NC, (New Sandy Creek Baptist Church) to move to Charlotte, and launch our ministry. Those 4 years at the Creek were great days for us. The people there loved us as if we had grown up there. We still consider it our home church--a place that holds a ton of memories--things that we saw God do in a group of young people that were hungry for God to move in their lives. My friend Daniel Atkins is serving there now, and the youth group has nearly doubled in size, and mostly through kids coming to Christ, getting on fire for the Lord, and dragging their lost friends there kicking and screaming.
Just before we left the Creek, the youth group presented me with a single converse tennis shoe signed by the students. (where the other one ended up? not sure) It was a gift that was much more than a necessary evil, or something the kids felt obligated to do. It was more than that. It said something about who they were as people. What they valued. Who they valued. The fact that the shoe was an emblem of their world, their identity, their social makeup, and one that somehow I had tripped and fallen into, or had simply been somehow accepted into. Like I had warped into the past and become one of them. Their equal. A fallen, yet forgiven individual in desperate need of God's grace. Needing so desperately for God to write His holy name on my depraved heart--graven on the dark walls of my heart like the ink on the red canvas of the con that I now display proudly in my home for all my guests to observe and ponder as to its origin and meaning. I sincerely doubt that such symbolism was implied in the single red converse tennis shoe given me by my friends at the Creek, yet it nevertheless contains such meaning for me. Because I could see the intention of the gift in their eyes. I was proud to be their youth pastor. And still am.
Friday, February 29, 2008
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Today is Rainy's birthday and she turned 3-years-old. Last night we went out as a family to PetSmart and got her a beta fish for her birthday--an animal that is at least somewhat doable for a traveling family with our pattern of home absenteeism. The less maintenance the better, I say. If it were up to me, he'd probably get fed once a month, but with Rainy at the controls, he's bound to get a one-item buffet everyday, multiple times a day.
One good thing is, since he's practically indistinguishable from any other beta fish, if he dies, we might be able to switch him out with a similar fish without Rainy's knowledge. That's always a plus. Of course, at this age, she's keenly aware of things going on around her, so that might not work after all. Regardless, he's Rainy's fish for now, and she named him Nemo--a name that I'm certain every 3-year-old in America who owns a fish has utilized in recent years. Though I might have chosen a more unique name (like Flipper), she loves him dearly already.
She talks to him and he/she (who can tell?) talks back. Tonight Nemo told Rainy that he loved her. In fact, Nemo loves everyone in our family. What a sweet fish we have! What a cool daughter I have!
Monday, February 25, 2008
Here's Rainy's rendition of "King on His Way." I'm not sure whether she means "My Daddy is on His Way" or "My Daddy is in my Way" or exactly what she's hinting at. Nevertheless, she's a natural with the microphone (or more accurately, flashphone). Enjoy on your Monday morning!
Sunday, February 24, 2008
I just finished Where is God? A great book by John Feinberg, professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, about how he dealt with and processed his wife's battle with Huntington's Disease. As he watched his wife deteriorate mentally and physically over many years of marriage, he finally came to a point where he put into writing some of the things he was dealing with as a follower of Christ struggling to make sense of seemingly needless pain and suffering--a question that we've all dealt, or will deal with, at some point in our lives.
One of the best takeaways from the book was John's explanation that more often than not what the sufferer needs is not a philosophical discussion about the problem of evil, but rather pastoral care. Here he used a great analogy:
Think of a little girl who goes out to play on a playground. Sometime during her play, she falls and skins her knee. She runs, screaming in pain, to her mother for comfort. Now, her mother can do any number of things. She may tell her daughter that this happened because she was running too fast and wasn't watching where she was going; she must be more careful next time. The mother might even explain (if she knew them) the laws of physics and causation that were operating to make her child's scrape just the size and shape it is. The mother might even expound for a few moments on the lessons God is trying to teach her child from this experience.
If the mother then asks her daughter if she understands, don't be surprised if the little girl responds, "Yes, Mommy, but it still hurts!" All the explanation at that moment doesn't stop her pain. The child doesn't want a discourse; she wants and needs her mother's hugs and kisses. There will be time for the discourse later; now she needs comfort.
The same is true for each of us as we struggle with the religious problem of evil. When the affliction first comes, we don't want or need a lengthy discourse to appeal to our mind, and that is so because this isn't primarily an intellectual matter. Even if you have something absolutely profound to say about the situation and you say it, don't be surprised if we are too hurt and confused to absorb it. We need someone to let us pour out our heart, not someone to give us a lecture, regardless of how brilliant and instructive it might be (p. 26).
I definitely recommend Where is God? for anyone struggling to understand where God is in the midst of pain. John has great insight from years of processing what God was doing in his wife's situation. Check it out.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Usually when people find out that I am the oldest of five kids and that we were pastor’s kids and pastor’s kids are indisputably and historically the worst kinds of kids to roam the planet, yet now all five of us are, in some form or fashion, involved in a Christian vocation or ministry, they ask this question, “What did your parents do right?” It never fails. Every time. People want to know the secret. People want to know what magic formula my parents used or what they laced in our Cheerios as kids to ensure that we would turn out the way they hoped and prayed for.
It’s a question that never gets any easier to answer, because I can never pinpoint just one thing. Because that’s always it, isn’t it? Human nature. We want to know the one thing—the one secret. But it’s like asking the captain of a Norwegian ocean liner the one thing he did right to guide his vessel through the icy waters of the Antarctic and Atlantic oceans in order to dock safely into New York Harbor. He would probably stare at you blankly (besides the fact that he doesn’t speak English). Because it’s not just one thing. It’s a combination of one things! Little things that add up throughout the voyage. And little things that add up throughout the 18 years of living under the same roof.
And more often than not, the subject always goes to sex. And the question becomes, “How did you and your siblings have such pure dating relationships?” And it’s then that I want to put the breaks on the whole conversation and ask, “Whoa, … were you there? Could you see what was going on behind the scenes?” No. My brothers and I were far from perfect. We never claimed to be. But I can say proudly, and with great humility, that each of us entered into our marriage as virgins (We have one sister, Joy, the youngest of 5—a precious jewel made by God, the master gemologist. She is a sophomore at Columbia International University and she’s never going to marry as long as I can help it! Sorry, Joy! I do love you!). It was a gift that we swore we would never give up, except to our wives on our wedding night—a promise that we all kept by the grace of God, and continue to keep by the grace of God.
Thanks to my pastor and his recent blog post/contest (check it out here), I’ve been challenged to think through, yet again, what my parents did right in helping to prepare my siblings and I for a lifelong marital commitment. I couldn’t begin to fully explain everything they did right, but there are a few things that do stick out in my mind that I think helped mold my thinking in this critical area. I will say from the get go that most of these things relate more to my dad than my mom, because he took the initiative (as all dads should), he wore the pants, and he willingly took on the biblical role of the head of the family (Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1 to name a few), though it certainly cannot be understated the value and the role that my mother played during this critical formulation of discovering who I was and who I was becoming.
1. Open Communication – I remember particularly during my teenage years, when I observed many of friends’ dads tuning out to the needs of their kids, becoming distant and removed for reasons unknown to me, my dad seized the opportunity to become even more open, more in tune, more sensitive, more involved in our lives than ever before. Dad had an annoying way of getting to the heart of what was going on inside of me. If I was riding beside him in the passenger seat of the car and there was obviously something going on inside of me due to the tension-filled silence that could be cut with a knife, he would gently and repeatedly pat me on the leg and say, “So, Josh … what’s going on?” In a way that only he could, and only I could be annoyed at, he found a way every time to break through the wall that I tried so hard to erect, yet failed miserably to finish. He annoyingly, yet all-too wisely broke through to my hard teenage heart with every pat of the leg and initiation of words. I’m not a dad of a teenager yet, but I think I know this much that I can offer a word of advice. Remember Dad’s: With teenagers, you often have to be the one to initiate conversation and do so to no end. It might annoy them (and perhaps you too), but they’ll love you for it later.
2. The Perils of Porn – Before I ever remember being the least bit interested in the opposite sex, Dad began to talk with me about the destructive nature of porn. I remember thinking how gross it was that Dad was talking to me about this. I remember feeling super-uncomfortable and totally ready to get back to fort-making and shooting G.I. Joes with my Red Ryder pump-action b.b. gun. But Dad knew that a time would come when I would be presented with this garbage in one form or fashion, whether through a friend, or an innocent perusal of the magazine rack at the convenient store. Dad knew it would happen. And he wanted to get to me first before it did. We often watched Sunday afternoon football together as a family, and inevitably the skimpily-clad women of the beer commercials made their way into our living room. In one effortless motion, Dad pointed and clicked. Zap. The girls were gone. Thirty seconds later, we were watching the game again. My brothers and I thought nothing of this. It was normal. As we visited the homes of our friends, we often wondered why this practice was not observed by our friends’ dads. It was one simple little action that spoke volumes.
3. Purity Rings – One of the most practical things I can remember as a teenager that helped to shape my thinking toward sex and the importance of waiting until marriage, was a simple little ceremony that we held within our church youth group. After going through a sermon series on sexual purity, we capped off the series by inviting the parents to come and be involved in a purity ring ceremony. Prior to the event, my parents purchased 14-karat gold rings, identical to wedding rings, and presented them to me and my younger brother, Smooth, during the ceremony. They prayed with us as we signed pledges that we would save ourselves sexually for our spouse the night of our wedding (NO, this was nothing weird or cultish, and it was definitely not something our parents forced us to do. We did it on our own--our own initiative--our own desire). The ring became a daily reminder of the pledge and commitment that I had made before God, my parents and my future spouse to save myself sexually for my spouse. Little did I know, 400 miles away, in Charleston, SC, Tasha’s parents were presenting her with a similar ring with the same meaning. These rings that were worn by Tasha and me all the way through high school and college were then used in our wedding ceremony on March 23, 2002 as we presented them to each other as a testimony to the world and a reminder to each other that we belonged to God and each other.
4. Consistency– Consistency is the last factor I’ll mention. Growing up, it’s funny the things that you interpret as normal—the things that are so engraved in who you are and the environment you grow up in that you don’t even think to ask whether these things are normal or not. As I look back now on the things that were a normal part of our home and environment, I realize the amazing consistency that was true of my dad, both in and out of the pulpit. There was no disconnect from what my dad preached in the pulpit to what he lived out in the home. When people ask me what it is that attracted me to Christianity rather than repelling me from Christianity, that’s my response. Consistency. Not perfection. Not unrealistic idealism. Not a quest to raise faultless children. Not ridiculous expectations. No. Just consistency. Constancy. A steadiness and reliability from words to actions. Actions to words. Back and forth. I observed my parents loving each other and loving Jesus. And without realizing it, I knew that’s what I wanted. That was normal. That was how God designed it to work. That was what I wanted to bring into my marriage. And that is what I pray my children will observe in Tasha and me.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
One semester while I was in college, I did a volunteer internship at a local hospital as a chaplain. Every Sunday afternoon, I would stroll the fourth floor with my guitar and Bible singing and sharing Scripture and encouragement with folks who needed to smile. The fourth floor was reserved for senior citizens, so as a 20-year-old college junior, I felt right at home. That was sarcastic. The emanating smells were beautiful and fragrant like lilies in the spring. No. The sights were glorious and majestic like the pristine waters of the Caribbean Sea. Not quite. Some days it was really hard to drive out there and do my thing. Some of the folks were bitter and hard. Life had dealt them a bad hand and they wanted me to know all about it. They wanted me to taste a small dose of the bitter cup that they drank from each and everyday. But others were different.
There were some folks on the fourth floor who had tasted of that same bitter cup of life and yet had a different perspective. They frequently recollected to me many of the wonderful memories they had with their families – about children and grandchildren and great-grand children born into the world who were making something of their lives. Many would sit there with tubes running from every limb in their body and boxes and machines blinking and beeping without end declaring the goodness and faithfulness of God. They looked tired. They looked worn out. Life had taken its toll on them. But they had maintained confidence in their God even until the very end.
In Psalm 71, we find David at the end of his life. No doubt he was tired. He was worn out. He was bruised and battered from living the life of a warrior-king. He was tired from endless pursuits from enemies. He was sick of seeing his children suffer some of the cruelest forms of death and torture because of unwise choices they had made. He was just tired. From the perspective of some, David had every right to curse God. He had every right to blame God for the death of his children and the rape of his daughter. He had tasted a bitter cup. But he had also tasted a glorious cup – the cup of forgiveness from a forgiving and loving God – a God of second chances. David had brought a lot of his pain on himself, and he knew it. But when he came to the end of his life, David was able to declare these words, “For You are my hope, Lord God, my confidence from my youth. I have leaned on You from birth; You took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is always about You” (Psalm 71:5-6).
Wow! Here’s a man who, from the world’s perspective, had every right to be confident in his own abilities as a king – to be confident in his own successes. Or, on the other hand, he had every right to be bitter toward God for his heartaches. But David came to the end of his life and said that his confidence was, and always had been in Jehovah God.
The word confidence here is often used throughout the Psalms to contrast the validity of trust in God as opposed to the folly of confidence in any other thing, especially pagan deities. In the pagan religions, they always made sure they had some kind of good luck charm on them at all times so they would feel that they had some element of control over their deities. David knew this and so he declared that the totality of his confidence was in the one true God. He had surrendered everything to the Lord.
I love how David ends verse six, “My praise is always about You.” That should be the attitude of our hearts, no matter the situation we find ourselves in – no matter the hand that we’ve been dealt. God must always be the confidence from our youth. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re young. Or young-at-heart. You’ve got a lot of years left ahead of you. Make a fresh declaration to God today that He will always be your confidence and your praise will always be about Him.
- What things have happened in your life that you have made you bitter? Has a boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse cheated on you? Has a really close friend stabbed you in the back?
- What steps can you take to forgive those people who have hurt you?
- How will you move forward by making God your confidence and the object of your praise?
Monday, February 18, 2008
Rainy is learning the art of story-telling - an art that I haven't quite learned, but she is teaching me. She's got it down.
Rule #1 - Be excited about your subject material.
Rule #2 - Be able to relate the material to your audience.
Rule #3 - Hold the book so that others can see it.
Rule #4 - Must be able to make animal sounds.
Rule #5 - Be as darn cute as humanly possible!
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Today we finished up our stint at SouthPointe Fellowship in Pageland, SC this morning. Rev Kev preached from Gen. 4 about the sin of pride - a great challenge.
We finished out the day at Ridge Church tonight. Great video message by Louie Giglio on the Indescribable nature of God.
1. Happy Day (Tim Hughes)
2. Our Love is Loud (Crowder)
3. Indescribable (Tomlin)
4. Mighty to Save (Hillsong)
With no lead guitarist at Ridge tonight, I was a little skeptical, but Tasha came through in a huge way. She learned all of the lead guitar parts on violin and it sounded SWEEEET! We've got to be paving new ground in the music arena with that! Well, at least slightly untrodden.
Friday, February 15, 2008
I remember as PK's (pastor's kids) growing up, my younger brother, Smooth, and I had a contest going each and every Sunday. Too old for children's church, we'd be forced to sit through "big church" and pay attention. Being as we were too old for children's church and therefore too old for coloring books in the service, and though filling in the hoops of letters found in the bulletin (such as "O" and "P" and "Q") was fun for awhile, we were left wondering what heavenly distraction we could concoct to occupy our time and simultaneously not bring too much of mom's attention to ourselves. We found the perfect thing.
We decided that we would listen to Dad's sermon!
Actually, no, that's only half-true.
We decided to listen with the intention of keeping a running tally of particular words that Dad used throughout the sermon, such as God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Hell, Heaven, monster trucks, Thundercats, Go-Bots and things like that. Then, at the end we'd tally our score and see who heard the most. Then later, we'd give Dad the score, because we were sure that he was just dying to know how many times he said, Umm. Soon, we were well on our way to being the most perfect, attentive little PK's you ever laid eyes on. We could almost hear the thoughts of those around us,
"Look at those sweet little boys. Who would have thought, 9-year-old pastor's kids being attentive and obedient in church and even ... TAKING NOTES!!"
When I turned on my computer a few minutes ago after just arriving at home from a full day of ministry and fun (not that the two are in contradistinction and not that ministry is not fun - on the contrary, ministry is always fun, well, most always fun, except when you have to have a "conversation" with the parent of a youth who was caught in the graveyard of the church having his kind of "fun," but that's another story, and thankfully a scenario I don't have to deal with anymore being as I'm not currently a youth pastor - back to the original thought, though, in this case I was only referring to even more fun that was had after a day of ministry ... oh, never mind) I found one of the most encouraging e-mails in my inbox that I've had in a long time. It came from one of my dear friends from the church I grew up in and now a key supporter of our ministry. He wrote in regards to our day of ministry today at Gaston Christian School in Belmont, NC, an awesome school that has become a huge partner in ministry and a wonderful place to return to and lead in worship.
My friend wrote this,
"Hope everything went well at the school today. Just wanted you to know we fasted and prayed for your ministry today. May God richly bless you and your family. In Christ."
The first thing I did was to turn to Tasha and say, "Unbelievable! Who does this kind of thing anymore?! (in a good way) How blessed are we!!?"
I immediately wrote him back and told him the great news that his prayers had certainly reached heaven because we had an incredible day at GCS, and certainly not because of us, but simply because God chose to show up and make His presence known in that place this morning. With voices raised, hands held high, and hearts engaged with God, these 200 students worshiped God like no other group of students that I've ever seen and like no other high school event that I've ever been a part of. It was incredible. Thanks, buddy, for praying and fasting! Now, that's the kind of people I'm glad we have on our team!
And thanks to my buddies, Nate and Brandon, (and of course, Tasha, though she is much more than a buddy, though there's certainly nothing wrong with being a buddy, no offense Nate and Brandon) for carving out time in their day to back me up on their respective instruments. I love you guys.
And the more fun that was had afterwards to which I earlier referred was a rousing afternoon with our good friends the McMurray's, some of the coolest people in the world. Later our good friends the Bradley's decided to show up for dinner. These guys go back to seminary days. We picked up right where we left off, though now with four ankle-biters between the six of us running around and reeking havoc on their suburban Gastonia neighborhood. Great times were had by all.
Oh, and Zeke fell and busted his top lip again. No broken teeth though, thankfully. I can see that this is becoming a routine event. His top lip looks very similar to a small prune or large raisin in contrast to his lower lip which, proportionately is the size of several small peas lined up in a row, thus forming a normal size 18-month-old child's lip. Due to the massivity of the top lip, swallowing is hard for little Zeke right now. He's drooling alot. But he's on the mend. Nothing slows him down. Not even a big lip that is now a tripping hazard in itself!
Thursday, February 14, 2008
We had another amazing night at CharlotteONE on Tuesday night. The band knocked it out of the park. I'm so blessed to work with such talented individuals (even though they're all single and young and constantly ragging on me for being an old married man. But I can take it. They're just jealous that I married such a hottie for a wife. And on that point I must concur!).
Dave Edwards from Oklahoma City came and brought the Word to us. He preached on knowing and living out the will of God from 1 Corinthians 16:1-8. - a powerful message that was right on target for the C1 crowd.
Our set included:
1. Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee (Charlie Hall arrangement)
2. How Awesome is the Lord Most High (Chris Tomlin)
3. All Because of Jesus (Steve Fee)
4. You Never Let Go (Matt Redman)
5. Center (Redman, Hall)
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
As is true for anyone in ministry, Sundays are crazy for us. After a great day back at SouthPointe Fellowship in the morning, it was nice to have a Sunday evening at home.
This is Zeke just prior to naptime on Sunday. His toddler perspiration combined with his socks reacted like water and Quickcrete! There was a permanent hardening effect going on that even Dad had a hard time breaking loose.
Sunday was a great day. Our set included:
1. Marvelous Light (Charlie Hall)
2. Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee (From Passion Hymns)
3. How Great is Our God (Chris Tomlin)
4. Lord, You Are/What a Priceless Gift! (Traditional praise song w/ addit. chorus added by me)
Saturday, February 09, 2008
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Thursday, February 07, 2008
What if every success in your life couldn't be pinpointed to anything you had done? What if every one of your accomplishments were not yours to take credit for? What if the plan that you thought you designed and then put into action wasn't your doing at all? Perhaps it was God, instead. His favor. His design. His power. His right hand. His mighty arm. The light of His countenance.
3 For they did not take the land by their sword— their arm did not bring them victory— but by Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your face, for You were pleased with them.
Psalms 44:3 (HCSB)
Monday, February 04, 2008
Sunday, February 03, 2008
Today, Tasha and I had the privilege to be back at Southbrook Church (it's been since Christmas Eve, I think). And it was awesome. Pastor Rob Singleton began a new series called Friends with Benefits. It was good stuff. Tough subject material dealing with relationships. Much needed for all of us. And he handled it well.
The band rocked. Andy Cherry, Nate Bryan, and Brandon Hiller - these guys keep me on my toes. I feel so privileged to play with this caliber of talent.
We opened up with:
1. All Because of Jesus - a great tune off the newest Steve Fee album. Deals with the truth that Jesus is the only reason we live and move and have our being. The naysayers of modern worship need to read the lyrics to the chorus of this song, "It's all because of Jesus I'm alive, it's all because the blood of Jesus Christ covers me and raised this dead man's life ..." That's great truth right there. (Key of C) From there we went right into ...
2. Sanctify - off the Return Worship CD - a collaboration of myself, Andy Cherry and Dan Rutty. Comes right out of John 17 where Jesus prays that the body of Christ would be unified together so that the world might see us and be drawn to Jesus Christ through our witness. (Also key of C)
3. Fire Fall Down - from Hillsong United a couple records ago. Still a solid tune. Verse 1 says, "You bought my life with the blood that you shed on the cross, when You died for the sins of man and You let out a cry, crucified now alive in me." The blood seemed to be a minor theme woven throughout the set. (Key of F#)
4. Pour - also off the Return CD by Dan Rutty. I've been waiting to do this one for awhile. Really enjoyed it. Dan writes such solid stuff, both musically and lyrically. Gets an A+ for singability and learnability. Fit well with the set and the song before, coming out of the bridge singing "fire fall down" and going into the chorus of "Pour" singing "shine, won't you shine, let Your fire fall on this heart of mine . . ." That's what the Church in America needs - a pouring out of God's Spirit - a refreshing wave of revival - another spiritual renewal and awakening. Maybe it will start in Charlotte. God only knows. (Also F#)