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Faith Seeking Understanding…

One thing I never seemed to learn in college, was how much I loved learning.

The hidden nerd within me fell asleep around 5th grade, rolled over restlessly with classic literature around late high school, and remained largely dormant until around 2004.  Full time ministry and life had created a need to grow academically, spiritually, Biblically, and theologically in new ways.  I found mentors who helped me discover books that would stretch me – both by affirming what I believed, and by challenging it.   I took a few classes through the Free Methodist Church, and surprised myself with high grades, before being ordained in 2009.  I considered “continuing education”, but with the beginnings of parenthood, I decided to wait.  I wanted things to “calm down a bit” before I jumped into a Masters program.  (This is where all parents everywhere laugh a bit at my naivete.)

Finally, in January of 2015 I began my MDiv through Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan Seminary.  We had 3 growing children at home, and a 4th daughter trapped in the DR Congo since late 2012, that we weren’t sure when/how we’d bring home.  I’d waited long enough, and life didn’t show any signs of “settling down”.  My senior pastor at the time encouraged me to check it out, and it seemed like here was a program that not only “allowed” you to be in ministry while learning, but actually embraced your place of service as a primary lens through which your learning would be taking place.

I was really glad I waited until life was “calm” before continuing my education. In June 38848820_10155885768936747_2625269017031475200_n2015 during an on-site intensive in Marion, IN we received word that our daughter’s health was failing in the DR Congo.  That launched a trip to Kinshasa to care for her needs, and over the next half a year worked out a move into foster care to make sure she’d survive until we could bring her home.  We were finally given permission to bring her home in early 2016.  We purchased one-way tickets in the middle of the semester and found ourselves trapped without any idea when we would be allowed to leave Africa ourselves.

After a few weeks, we finally made it home on March 31st and I dropped any summer classes in order to soak in these first moments together as a family.  This pushed graduation back, but was well worth the change, and Wesley Seminary professors and advisors encouraged these moments.

I picked classwork back up that fall, just as the new school-year was beginning. (Remember – I’m also a full-time youth pastor here!)  Things started to find a routine, and our youngest daughter was learning both English AND what it meant to live in a family context.  Then 2017 arrived.  Our lead pastor announced he was leaving, and I found my own position precariously perched on the edge of the unknown.  I accepted a slight pay-cut, and increased ministry oversight in order to stay and even fill-in through that summer many ways until a new lead pastor arrived that fall.  We survived all of this because of our amazing church, volunteers, and the Holy Spirit for sure.  Life was busy, to put it mildly.  Through it all, classes continued.  Graduation was coming in late 2018!

In November of 2017, God decided to pull another trick that apparently He’d been working on years before.  He slowly (very slowly!) made it obvious that we were being called to full-time missions work in Hungary!!  It was a difficult but exciting thing to announce, and we’ve been slowly starting to work out the details. (We’d love to come share at your church/group!)

All of that to say – life didn’t slow down.  If anything, it was as if life said “Oh yeah? Gonna start a degree?  Take this!” and began ninja-kicking things.  Still, the crew at Wesley Seminary, our amazing church friends/family, and the Love of God have helped us navigate these days.  As I finished my final “Capstone” class in Marion, IN last week – I’d urge anyone considering taking a step like this – pray, and step forward.  If you’re in ministry already, don’t wait for “things to calm down”.  It has been a great blessing – personally, professionally, and spiritually.


Zion & Babylon

(By Josh Garrels) Listen now?

Oh great mammon of form and function

Careless consumerist consumption

Dangerous dysfunction

Described as expensive taste

I’m a people disgraced

By what I claim I need

And what I want to waste

I take no account for nothing

If it’s not mine

It’s a misappropriation of funds

Protect my ninety percent with my guns

Whose side am I on?

Well who’s winning?

My kingdom’s built with the blood of slaves

Orphans, widows, and homeless graves

I sold their souls just to build my private mansion

Some people say that my time is coming

Kingdom come is the justice running

Down, down, down on me

I’m a poor child, I’m a lost son

I refuse to give my love to anyone

Fight for the truth

Or help the weaker ones

Because I love my Babylon

I am a slave, I was never free

I betrayed you for blood money

Oh I bought the world, all is vanity

Oh my Lord I’m your enemy

Come to me, and find your life

Children sing, Zion’s in sight

I said don’t trade your name for a serial number

Priceless lives were born from under graves

Where I found you

Say, my name ain’t yours and yours is not mine

Mine is the Lord, and yours is my child

That’s how it’s always been

Time to make a change

Leave your home

Give to the poor all that you own

Lose your life, so that you could find it

First will be last when the true world comes

Livin’ like a humble fool to overcome

The upside-down wisdom

Of a dying world

Zion’s not built with hands

And in this place God will dwell with man

Sick be healed and cripples stand

Sing Allelu

My kingdom’s built with the blood of my son

Selfless sacrifice for everyone

Faith, hope, love, and harmony

I said let this world know me by your love

By your love

Oh my child, daughters, ​and sons

I made you in love to overcome

Free as a bird, my flowers in the sun

On your way to Mount Zion

All you slaves, be set free

Come on out child and come on home to me

We will dance, we will rejoice

If you can hear me then follow my voice

After the Applause…

The recent speech by Chris Pratt at the MTV Movie & TV Awards has been a big hit.  There’s a reason – it’s great content spoken publicly by a man who seems to have been transformed by Jesus.  It no doubt has, and will continue to, encourage people even as it makes them laugh.  It will challenge some, though it may be that those willing to listen are those who are already making an effort to live a life shaped in the pattern of “good” he offers.

I definitely don’t want to come across as a “hater”.  I think Chris Pratt seems like a great guy, and I’ve definitely laughed at his incredible talent as he’s carried more than one movie on his shoulders alone.  But I do want to push pause for a moment – as the “likes” and “shares” are gathering, to help us recognize what is happening.  On a popular culture stage, Pratt shares what seems to many to be a Christian message to millions.  He does so boldly, and is applauded for his words.  In a world filled with so much evil, hate, and brokenness, where many Christians feel like “outsiders”, it seems here is a champion we can get behind and support.

Unfortunately – his message here is not specifically Christian.  Anymore than America is Christian.  Anymore than Grandma Martha (not mine specifically, but in the general sense) who goes to church every Christmas and Easter is Christian.cp.award

In fact, his message is so close to sounding Christian – just like America & Grandma Martha – it may be incredibly dangerous in its’ ability to make everyone feel like they’re doing alright.  Let’s set aside his words about pooping in public for a moment (great hilarious advice), and examine the words that touch on our topic:

  • “Breathe. If you don’t, you’ll suffocate.” – Wise words here, that can be interpreted in many ways.  The patterns of Sabbath offered in scripture remind us of our need to unplug from performance-based living.  Likewise, life cannot be all about “me”.  My life must also flow outward toward serving & loving others.  There’s a huge movement these days toward “Mindfulness”, and “Meditation”.  As followers of Jesus have allowed the goals/pace/practices of the world to become our own, we’ve lost our unique sense of being “Sabbath-shaped”, and pointing to a Jesus who has set us free from such things as our source of peace (Matthew 11:28).  This has left the world to discover new – but often empty, wells of self-awareness and self-derived peace.
  • “You have a soul. Be careful with it.”  This is great advice, but stops short of answering “How?”  Psalm 23:3 reminds us, “He (the Lord) refreshes my soul/life.”  Scripture also warns us that being really clingy & controlling with our soul/life – may be against what Jesus wants.  Matthew 16:25 “For whoever wants to save their (soul/life) will lose it, but whoever loses their (soul/life) for me will find it.”  Instead, Matthew 22:37 urges us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, our (soul/life), and our  mind.
  • “Reach out to someone in pain.  Be of service, it feels good and it’s good for your soul.”  It’s true – neuroscientists have proven that acts of serving others increases levels of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine.  As for our “soul”?  Again – yes, it’s all over scripture that we should serve others.  But this is not given as a prescription for the health of our soul, which kinda makes it a self-centered activity.  It’s given as an illustration of what Love looks like.  The purpose is always to join the already-active Love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, that the world might become more aware of His Love (Ephesians 5:2).
  • “God is real. God loves you. God wants the best for you. Believe that.”  This one sounds so specific, and yet leaves God unnamed and vaguely wanting the “best” for each of us individually.  Who is this God that is real?  What does such love desire/accomplish?  What happens when such a God “wants the best” for every athlete competing for a prize…or “wants the best” for every undocumented immigrant and President Trump simultaneously?  So what does the God of Abraham and Isaac as revealed in Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit actually “want” for each of us?  Read his prayer for us in John 17.
  • “Learn to pray. It’s easy and so good for your soul.”  Again an appeal to do something because “it’s good for your soul”.  What is prayer?  Is it the same as mindfulness and meditation?  We know prayer doesn’t have to be on our knees bedside, or in a hidden room – although these are both great traditional experiences.  Scripture says “Pray Continually”, which seems to infer prayer can be something that weaves into every moment of our lives.  Foundational to the word “prayer” in the New Testament, would be communicating our desires/will in God’s presence.  When Jesus taught his disciples “how to pray” (Matthew 6), he closed with “your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”  In this prayer & life of Jesus, we’re reminded that to pray is not because it’s “good for our soul” in a generic way, but specifically because it shapes us by the Loving will of God for purposes much larger than human desires/will would ever be aware of.

Finally, his #9 rule.  There is so much here, and I’ve already written a bunch.  But seriously, all of that was icing on the cake.  Here is the central issue that is worth a pause for clarity.  I’ve got to post the entire thing:

“And finally, number nine: Nobody is perfect. People are going to tell you you’re perfect just the way you are—you’re not! You are imperfect. You always will be. But, there is a powerful force that designed you that way. And if you’re willing to accept that, you will have grace. And grace is a gift. And like the freedom we enjoy in this country that grace was paid for with someone else’s blood. Do not forget it. Do not take it for granted.”

So much of this goes against the message of Jesus, even though I don’t think that was the intention.  Let’s take it slowly:

  • “Nobody is perfect…you’re not! You are imperfect. You always will be.”  There’s truth in here, but it’s lacking the Truth (capital “T” for Jesus)  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus invited his hearers “Be perfect, therefore, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)  The good news of the gospel isn’t our imperfection, but the fact that Jesus invites us to be perfect.  This doesn’t mean perfect in performance, or that we’ll never make mistakes.  Perfect in Matthew 5:8 involves the “telos” or end/goal/completion.  We are able to be “perfected” as we find ourselves being made complete in the love of Jesus described by the entire message of Matthew 5.
  • “There is a powerful force that designed you that way.”  Again, truth without Truth.  There is a God, revealed in Jesus, that designed us (Psalm 139:13-18).  But we were not designed to be imperfect.  As mentioned previously, we are invited by Jesus into a new identity (2 Corinthians 5:17) that offers healing from the condition caused by being born into a world broken by self-centered sin (Romans 3:23, 5:19).
  • “Grace is a gift.  And like the freedom we enjoy in this country that grace was paid for with someone else’s blood.”  This is the closest Pratt gets to actually proclaiming Jesus.  Unfortunately, the culmination of his message that weaves in American patriotism, potentially turns Jesus into a hero on the battlefield that would offer a pattern for unhealthy war-themed hero worship.   There was no cosmic war for independence as a Kingdom of Jesus, and the “freedom we enjoy in this country” (and worship at times) is rubbish compared to the Freedom offered in God’s Love which is revealed in the crucified Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.  To learn more about that freedom, that love, and that grace – grab a Bible and head to a church nearby where people are figuring out what it means on a daily basis.

This is only beginning what should be much longer conversations and prayers on each of these areas.  As I’ve said earlier, Chris seems a great guy who loves Jesus.  But when millions of MTV viewers applaud his words, we should ask ourselves – are these words that actually contain Jesus – who was despised & rejected?  Or are they applauding the words, because such words inadvertently lower the bar to reveal a false God created in our own image who is okay with everything the way it is – and just wants us to be nicer & accept his acceptance?

I know God can use the speech, and has.  Just like he uses the messed up words I offer and live…thankfully.  But I was reminded recently that a living theology is “faith seeking understanding”.  Also that God’s “theology” (“theo” meaning God, and “logos” meaning word) was literally – JESUS.  So for our faith to seek understanding, means examining any theological statement (especially those applauded) in the Truth of Jesus Christ…in whose name we pray.

Also…I realize others heard exactly the opposite of me.  So….sorry?


The Baker of an Ordinary Cake (a parable)

There once was an amazing baker, who had one of the most incredible minds and tongues for creating something not only visually spectacular, but that also wowed the senses all at once upon eating. She could create cakes that looked like they’d been brought straight out of a magazine. Professional masterpieces, where layer after layer after layer was simply a blank canvas upon which she would unleash her creative energies. People came from all over not only to see her cakes, but to pay great amounts of money in order to experience just a bite themselves.

There’s a story that one time she created a cake in the shape of a sleeping alligator that was so lifelike, animal control was called. She let the story unfold, gaining media attention and growing in tension until finally, she snuck through the boundaries of onlookers, and sliced a piece of chocolate filled strawberry cake from the midsection of the alligator. As the people around gasped, they laughed and applauded as cake was served to everyone who had gathered.

The news of her talent and abilities spread far and wide. One day she saw a challenge before her. Her cakes were all incredibly beautiful, and captivating to the eye. When people took a bite of one of her cakes, it was only after they’d seen the beauty of the full cake, or heard long stories and explanations of her cake-making abilities. But what did people really think of her cake recipes? She might not ever find out, because so much emphasis was always given to helping people understand and notice the beauty and talent inherent to everything she ever baked.

She decided to try an experiment. She made a cake that looked exactly like – an ordinary cakecake. Nothing incredibly fancy. Nothing that screamed “WOW”. Nothing that forced everyone around it to notice. Just, ordinary. Next, she snuck her cake right into the middle of a busy restaurant where food was being served left and right. An ordinary cake showing up in the middle of a buffet table was no big deal. She watched, and waited, as the first slice was taken by a small boy. She’d used the finest ingredients, and put a great deal of care and inspiration into her recipe. But on the surface, and looking at his plate – the boy saw a piece of ordinary cake just like any other. He hurried back to his table and sat down.

She knew others were beginning to take slices as well, but this boy captured her attention. She wanted to see what his response would be, and waited quietly, patiently, pretending not to notice from a table at the side of the room. As she sat, sipping her coffee, the boy took his first bite. She noticed his face brighten. The combination of perfectly crafted icing, and moist delicate cake was like a bomb of deliciousness on his tongue, and he couldn’t keep himself from beaming as he devoured the rest of the piece from his plate.

She smiled, satisfied and excited at his response. She began to look around to see how others who had taken a slice might be responding. Person after person, she noticed the expressions of delight and reverie as some devoured just as the boy had – while others set their forks down after every morsel, chewing slowly and closing their eyes as the flavors settled over their tongues. She heard someone ask for the manager, so they could contact the chef. Apparently, someone wanted to have this exact cake made for their wedding. The baker continued to watch from the side, as the chef proudly emerged from the kitchen, only to look with disappointment at the few pieces leftover from the cake.

He confessed – this was not his cake, and he had no idea where it had come from.
Finally the baker stepped forward, and confessed – she had made this ordinary-looking cake. Everyone was so excited to meet her, as soon as they realized here was this incredibly famous and gifted person, right in the midst of their simple ordinary restaurant! No WONDER this cake tasted so amazing, and compelled people to respond!

Hands were shaken, pictures were taken, and the story spread like wildfire. Everyone heard the story of this incredibly simple, ordinary cake from the outside, that held an incredible amount of talent, love for baking, and flavor inside. In fact, it became so popular – people began requesting the same exact cake at their local bakeries. It was such an easy cake mold to use, and such an unassuming design, it was very easy for other cake shops to replicate it. They even improved on it modestly. Images were shared all over Pinterest, and all the other social medias. The hashtag “#OrdinaryCake” was trending for months as the world caught “cake fever”.

The problem was, with everyone focusing on what the cake looked like, hardly anyone was coming to her to make the cake anymore. She had kitchen cupboards FILLED with ingredients, and only once in a while did anyone call and ask her to make one of her cakes. The world was busy sharing images, celebrating moments, and eating ordinary cake, filled with ordinary ingredients, and ordinary inspiration…

May we examine our cakes, to see what all the excitement is about…and may we call the baker today.

(Inspired in part by 2 Corinthians 4)

A year-ish from now…:)

Hello friends and family!

We are excited to finally be able to announce what God is doing through our family! We have accepted a call into the mission field in Győr, Hungary! We will continue full time here in Decatur over the next year as we raise funds and prayer support for the initial 2-year commitment…and Decatur, Illinois will be our “home base” even as we are sent out.

We have so many thoughts and emotions, and will definitely share those as the journey moves forward. We are working on a new family blog/site, but for now you can learn more and join our support team in prayer OR giving by checking out our Free Methodist Missions page:

Photo Feb 22, 8 42 54 AMPhoto Feb 28, 10 32 26 AM

A Million Dreams…(no spoilers)

As we continue in celebrating the Easter season – it’s great for us to be on the look-out for echoes of New Creation, creativity, and resurrection life.  Recently I found God winking at us through the soundtrack of “The Greatest Showman”, and it made me smile big enough I wanted to share it.

No spoilers here, but there’s a song called “A Million Dreams” that begins with a young BT Barnum, and transitions into him as a man.  He’s singing about his dreams, specifically to a girl who makes his heart race.  As the words began to come, I immediately thought of a young Jesus who had dreams for what Love, forgiveness, and mercy could do to transform our world, as he studied the Torah.  The song takes on even more depth and beauty as the transition happens into him as an adult, and especially as the woman joins in.  Here we have a beautiful metaphor in song – Christ singing invitationally to His bride (the church), and she asking to be a part of what He’s launching into….

This points us with goosebumps toward a New Creation that will blow us away….and we get to join in those dreams becoming flesh today…as we choose to turn away from the systems, powers, & self-centeredness of our world….as individuals, as families, as communities….for the Loving ways of New Creation… (Revelation 21:5….”Look!! I’m making all things NEW!”)   It may cost us everything, but we may gain even more…

He “lives”?

“..songs affect what we think because of repetition – singing the same songs over a period of years embeds the message; and when music is added to the text, an emotional element is introduced that causes greater attachment to the message of the song.” (Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect, 2010)helives

The above statement carries all sorts of implications for the music we listen to, the music we encourage our kids to listen to, etc.  But here we are asking about the words that shape our theology and faith over time.  Modern songs get a pretty hefty (and often deserved) criticism at times for their vague or shallow theology.  But there are plenty of songs (I’m looking at you, “I’ll Fly Away”) that we love to sing, that we should also be careful to examine/balance with Biblical teaching/awareness.

Today I’m asking us to re-examine the words of a song most of us probably sang over the weekend.  “He Lives” (#220 if you’d rather not use the screen), is a classic hymn with some great reminders in it.  “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today.”  What a hope-filled offer for us to live toward!  But on further review of the entire song, there’s something significant missing from it: a resurrected Jesus.

Let’s pretend you don’t have it memorized for a moment, and examine the chorus:

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today,
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

Yes! Amen.  I love it.  I sing it loudly, and I even hold out the final “LIIIIIIIIVES” until the lack of breath begins to turn my lungs inside out.  Yet the Jesus in this song is not the physically resurrected Jesus we celebrate visiting His disciples and revealing His scars.  I’m not saying Jesus couldn’t visit us physically, either recognizably or hiding his identity (both are seen in post-resurrection accounts).  But I’m saying when most of us sing this chorus (and the rest of the song), we’re probably actually referring to the SPIRIT of Jesus at best…and the idea of Jesus at worst.

Yes, I believe the “presence” of Jesus we have been given through the Holy Spirit, and a God who is omnipresent/immanuel is “God With Us”.   That means so much of the song still rings true.  But if we lift this song up as our primary “Easter Song”, we can miss something vital to our faith:

We believe Jesus was physically resurrected ahead of all things.  That all humanity who have died or will die, continue to wait for a full and coming revealing of God’s fullness at which point we will all share in the same physical and bodily resurrection.

He does not “walk with me and talk with me” the same way He walked and talked with the disciples who saw him after the resurrection. Why? Because he has physically gone to be with the Father, to a location many simply refer to as “Paradise” (using Luke 23:43).  A place where it seems both non-resurrected beings (like the thief), and resurrected beings (only Jesus, for now) can be together in God’s presence as we await the final return of Jesus.

The promise and hope of the resurrection isn’t that Jesus has returned spiritually to “be in our hearts”, and help us not feel lonely along the paths we walk.  That’s one of the blessings of the encourager He has given us (Holy Spirit).  But the promise and hope we receive as we celebrate the resurrected Jesus are found in 1 Corinthians 15 (take a moment to read it!).  In Jesus we see the “first fruits” of all New Creation, and an example of what God has in store for all of us – our loved ones, and creation itself!

This is a foundational truth, and one of the greatest things we can clarify to a world that assumes we all think Jesus is a spiritual being hiding in our hearts that helps us to be “good behaving people”.  The Holy Spirit can help transform our hearts and minds, and the grace of God is actively moving to heal/restore the image of our Loving God He intended in creation.   But we believe there is much more to celebrate in Jesus, and much more hope for the embodied lives we live today.  These physical bodies (and this physical world) are tied deeply to the New Creation we believe will exist fully someday.  So caring for others, for creation, and for ourselves happens in fully embodied ways.  There are so many things still to say here, but plenty have already said them.  I just wanted to throw out a quick reminder.

For more on this, check out: Surprised by Hope by NT Wright, Salvation Means Creation Healed by Howard Snyder, and Earthen Vessels Matthew Anderson

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