Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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Introducing The Way of the Cross by New Harvest Worship

Album Cover

Hey friends!

For the last 2 years I’ve been working with the worship team at my local church (New Harvest Church) to not only write and arrange some songs, but also to record them to put them onto our first ever album release.

It’s been an incredible amount of work, but I’m excited to announce that we’re releasing our first album in less than 2 weeks, titled The Way of the Cross!

If you live near Salem, Oregon come join us at New Harvest Church on Sunday night September 30th, at 630pm for an album release party and worship night.

I’ll have a lot more to say about this in the future, but for now head over to this event page if you want more information about the worship night/release party.

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Fence vs. Table

Surrounding my house is a large wooden fence with gates to allow entry and exit outside of its boundary. The fence does a great job of keeping people out. The fence provides a sense of safety when my children are playing or when I am sleeping. All of my neighbors have fences too, but I’m not much a fence person.

Recently one of my neighbor’s dogs broke a section of our fence. Thankfully my neighbor fixed the problem, but not before I told him I didn’t care much whether it was fixed or not. I’m just not much of a fence person. He has pets so he needed to fix the problem so they wouldn’t escape.

We’re currently in progress on a house project inside our 1950s home that involves knocking down a wall, to open up the space between our kitchen and living room. The idea behind the project was to be able to host groups of people and having everyone connected even if they’re in two separate rooms.

With the wall gone, we had in mind getting a larger dining room table, able to seat 8-12 people at one time. Even though our home has a fence, we want our home to be defined by a table.

Both a fence and a table have obvious, distinct uses and purposes. One is about barricading, the other is about invitation. One is about protection, the other is about relationship. One keeps people out, the other brings people in.

Rose and I have always wanted to instill in our children the value of relationship as core to who we are as people. Rather than simply telling our kids “people matter” we thought making the table the focal point of our main living space would put action to that value.

At a table everyone is on level ground. At a table you face toward the middle, seeing everyone with your eyes. At a table, conversation with one another is as important as the meal being shared.

When we first moved to Salem one of my favorite coffee shops featured some tables that I absolutely loved. I told my wife, “If we ever have enough space to fit a table that big, we have to save up money to buy one.” Well, now we have the space, so we saved up the money, and a few weeks ago we purchased a new dining room table from Fahlman Furniture.

fahlman furniture walnut table

Not only do we love the table, handmade locally, with a walnut top, but we love supporting Jason and his beautiful work to everyone who comes in our home. We nicknamed our house “God’s House” through the unique set of circumstances leading to us buying it, and this table is an extension of our desire to do “God things” in our home.

It’s not hard to extrapolate some of our own family decisions up against the realities of life today. Fences are political platforms. Nationalism is on the rise worldwide. We define ourselves by what we dislike. We are quick to generalize and stigmatize. We protect ourselves from those who are different from us. That’s living with a fence mentality.

What we need is more people with table mentalities instead of fence mentalities. We need people who are willing to do the work of invitation, to give others the dignity of sharing a table and a meal. We need to look one another in the eye, as if to say, “you matter to me.”

Friends: more tables, less fences.

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Raising Kids as a Dad

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Recently a well-meaning individual in my church said to me, “I find it so amazing that you were taking care of your children yesterday and shared the sermon with us at church today. You work so hard.” This person was referencing seeing me the previous day with my kids while my wife was working. Like anyone else, I’ll take a compliment, thank you very much! But that comment lingered with me for days as I wondered why me being a dad deserved praise as some kind of exemplary act.

While the stereotypes about fathers often paint them as ignorant, absent, or downright abusive, God’s Word on the importance of the father is quite clear:

Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. Psalms 127:3-5

Children are a reward, and the man who is able to be called dad is truly blessed, says the psalmist. Yet society today refers to children as a burden and has taken away the expectation of men raising children to grant that responsibility exclusively to the mom. Or even worse, to the public school system. The role of a teacher is vital, but let’s be clear that it is not the job of a teacher to raise a child, that is for the parents.

If the expectations for fatherhood remain minimal we’ll never be able to call men up to something greater. In the process it is the future generations who suffer, as endless studies show the various negative effects absent dads have on their kids. Why not choose to expect the men around you to be active and engaged dads and then support them in that endeavor?

Being a dad is not my only role in life, though. As a pastor, I help lead a church, working on helping make disciples and bring about life transformation in the lives of congregants. I’ve often extended this calling beyond the walls of my church through various projects like writing, speaking, and podcasting.

The hardest adjustment I had after becoming a dad was balancing being a good husband, dad, and pastor. It seemed as if I was constantly failing at something to try succeeding at others.

I often feel the temptation to ignore my calling as a father to put all my eggs into my career basket. After all, that’s what pays the bills and that’s the message I receive from the world around me.

I’ve often told my wife that some of the parenting instincts come more naturally for her, and that I have to try a little harder to do the things that seem to just flow for her. Even if this is partially true, it does not exempt me from my God-given responsibility. I’m still responsible for raising my children, even if it feels like I’m less equipped to deal with some of the daily tasks of raising kids.

The past few weeks have been stretching for my family, as we’ve had to hospitalize both my children at separate times for a bad case of the stomach flu. In both cases I was in the middle of a workday and dropped everything to be present for them. I’m grateful to have a job that is often flexible enough for me to get away when needed, but I was reminded again of the tension of trying to be a faithful and present father while also maintaining aspirations within my vocation.

I’m not sure I’ll ever hit the target where I lead my church well, love my wife well, and care for my children well. But I do know it’s such a privilege to wake up each day, and with God’s help, try my best to do all 3.

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I’ve Missed You!

A few weeks ago a couple came to my church who I hadn’t seen in a few months. Normally I would just say “hi, great to see you!” but lately I’ve been going at these conversations differently. I said, “I haven’t seen you in a few months and have really missed you being here. It’s great to see you.” Instead of just walking by, they stopped to catch me up on their lives. Though I said nearly the same thing as what I’ve typically done, confronting the idea of them being gone opened the door to something beyond the usual greeting.

As a pastor, I’m often intimidated to talk to people about their church attendance. Part of it is a self-conscious worry that they’ll think I selfishly care more about church attendance than them as people, but another part is a worry that they’ll take it as me condemning them for their lack of church attendance. Of course, neither of those are true (at least you would hope not), but that’s why I avoid the conversation.

According to Barna research, one of the reasons people stop going to church is because they lack community within the congregation. Often this shows up when someone doesn’t come for a few weeks and no one says anything. If no one noticed for a few weeks, new habits can be established, and by the time someone actually reaches out they’ve already started to move on. Within the church, no one should have to show up to be noticed.

Normally when I tell them I’ve missed them at church this is immediately followed with the reasons why they’ve been gone. Vacation. Sickness. Work. I have no reason not to believe their reasons. But I like to remind people after they give their reasons that I wasn’t giving them a guilt trip by telling them they were missed, I just wanted them to know I care and that our church is better when they’re around.

Identity Issues

In this, I have identity issues that must be worked through, or I’ll navigate the conversation from a place of deficiency, ultimately becoming a manipulator. Because much of my ministry and leadership is done in public in front of others it’s quite easy to believe that people not showing up or lacking enthusiasm is a knock against my abilities. I can quickly move from success to failure on any given Sunday in my own mind. These identity issues come to bear in how I navigate conversations with those who seem to be distancing from the church.

If I find my value in how many people come to my church and appreciate my pastoral leadership when I tell people I miss them then I’m only trying to boost my own confidence. If I feel rejected when people don’t show up and respond by telling them I miss them I’m merely a sleazy recruiter hoping my statement will bring them back.

The situation is easy to manipulate, instead of actually caring.

No Perfect Path

I’ve learned there’s no easy way to go about telling a person you care that they were gone. Some will feel judged and condemned. Others will greatly appreciate it.

What must be decided is whether you’re more comfortable leaving things unsaid or choosing to state the obvious. Leaving things unsaid provides opportunity for the same pattern to continue with little acknowledge. Stating the obvious may not change the outcome, but it will provide clarity in the present.

As it relates to church there seems to be little to lose when saying “I’ve missed you” to someone who hasn’t been around much. As long as you can make the statement without judgment or manipulation, letting someone know they were missed assures them that people care and that they have value.

Whether you’re a leader at a church or not, we should all strive to notice when people aren’t around and let them know the church is better when they’re around.

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Transformed Through Practice

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25, emphasis mine).

man overlook b and wIn recent years I’ve been increasingly concerned that most churches are doing very little to help provide a Christ-centered foundation for the lives of their people. I grew up in a large, growth-oriented church, and I knew a lot about the importance of faith being relevant to society, but I’ve seen in the last decade that relevance rarely leads to transformation.

In fact, when relevance for Christian ministry becomes a primary goal I think we’re prone toward disillusionment because it’s impossible to ever be relevant enough. Relevance doesn’t provide the foundation for becoming Christ-like, and in fact, often impedes such a goal.

What we need in order to become more like Jesus is to embrace being in apprenticeship to him, seeking to follow him, allowing more of Him to come through in our lives. This starts with a movement of faith where we step out in belief in Jesus, but it is also a daily, moment by moment action and decision to follow him.

The point of discipleship is to become like your rabbi, Jesus. What we should be longing for is a transformation, a continual movement toward becoming more like our rabbi, our teacher, our example, our Savior, Jesus. Dallas Willard describes this transformation as spiritual formation, the overtaking of a human life by Jesus, saying:

“Spiritual formation in the Christian tradition is a process of increasingly being possessed and permeated by the character traits of Jesus as we walk in the easy yoke of discipleship with Jesus our teacher.”

The reality is we are all being transformed all the time. Who you are in 5 years will be significantly different from who you are today. The question is not whether you are being transformed but who or what you are being transformed into. Is it Jesus?

Pew Research recently released a religious study saying 70.6% of people in America claim they are Christians, but if American society does not look more like Christ, it’s clear we have a problem. Too many Christians are not intentionally putting ourselves in position to be transformed by Jesus.

We have bought into the idea of believing in Jesus but not really following him.

What we really believe about Jesus shines through by how we respond to his extravagant grace. Are you willing to give up your life for it?

We cannot live the Kingdom of God and leave our way of life untouched.

We must be willing to shift our daily habits to create space for Jesus to shape us into him through the ups and downs of life.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that it is those who put into practice his teaching that are wise. With this in mind, there’s one question to ask:

How have you put your faith into practice?

If you’re near Salem, Oregon, come join me at New Harvest Church for our summer series titled Practices For the Way. 

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The Goal of a Wedding

wedding

I officiated over a small, private wedding ceremony recently, and will be attending several other wedding ceremonies in the coming months. While weddings are a significant spiritual event, fewer weddings are taking place inside a church sanctuary. Certainly, God’s presence can unite two to become one in any place, but I often worry that making weddings more about the spectacle causes us to miss what the goal of a wedding is.

With wedding season ramping up, I’ve had some time to reflect on what the goal of a wedding is, or at least in my estimation, should be. I share this with other pastors as a word of advice. I share this with engaged couples as a source of recommendation when deciding on what matters most in their wedding ceremony. I share this with family and friends attending weddings to highlight things that might be easily overlooked in the formality of such a wonderful event.

A Reflection of the Couple

Many ceremonies are similar in that there are several sections, such as the statement of intent, the marriage vows, and the exchange of rings, which have a familiar wording and flow to them. However, from small things such as the choosing of a venue or the invitation list, to bigger things, such as the wording of the marriage vows or whether to do a symbolic activity representing two becoming one, each of these give the couple a chance to show who they are.

As a pastor this means encouraging each couple to consider what Scripture passages hold significance to the couple, it also means getting to know the couple so the words you have to share with them are specifically for them. For couples getting married, make sure you choose a wedding that fits you, not the expectations others have.

A Focus on God’s Word

A good wedding ceremony includes a variety of Scripture, not just a token Scripture thrown in by the pastor. I often encourage couples to have a family member read a Scripture passage of significance to them, and I try to include one or two separate passages in my homily to the couple.

This focus on God’s Word goes beyond the importance of Scripture to the elevation of Christ as a person of significance in the coming together of husband and wife. Several years ago following a wedding ceremony I officiated over, I had a family member of the bride and groom say to me, “I’ve never heard the name Jesus said so many times at a wedding.” I’m not sure if he was frustrated or joyous, but I took it as a compliment. If a marriage is to succeed it will be to the credit of Christ at work.

A Reminder of What Marriage Actually Is

I know this might be a shock to some but the goal of a wedding ceremony is not exclusively surrounding the bride and groom. Though they are the main characters in the story being told at the ceremony, the announcement of their marriage points to an even greater reality of Christ longing to be one with His bride, the church. Paul speaks to this in Ephesians 5, when after describing the role of a husband and a wife he says, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32).

All that talk about husband and wife and marriage? Paul says it was really highlighting Christ and the church. A good wedding ceremony does this as well, pointing the bride and groom, and their family and friends, to recognize they have an example and foundation for how to love each other (as Christ loved the church) in marriage.

Weddings should be about more than centerpieces, gowns, and seating arrangements because they speak to the divine love God has for us all.

While all wedding ceremonies are different, the best wedding ceremonies present the personality of the couple, focus on God’s Word, and provide a reminder of what marriage actually is. These should be the goals of each bride and groom when discussing their wedding ceremony, and they should be the goals those surrounding the couple encourage them to pursue.

Whether you are officiating, getting married, or just attending the wedding of a dear friend, look out for the ways a wedding highlights these goals.

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