Two days ago I logged into my email account to find good news. I was awarded a scholarship by Southern Seminary that covers over half of my tuition for the first year of school. Year one will now be debt free! The award was given out based on academic considerations and ministry experience. As I wrote this essay to apply for the scholarship, I was reminded again and again of how gracious the Lord has been to give me the opportunity to grow as His servant throughout all of these experiences. Many of you have been partners with me in it all, and I thank you for that.
The most life-changing conversation I’ve ever had about ministry happened while I was sitting on top of a washing machine. I was your typical insecure freshman, just a handful of weeks into my four years at The Master’s College. Somewhere in between deciding whether this was a standard “medium” load or was large enough to qualify as “full,” up walked —– —–. In my book, —– —– was the quintessential cool senior: Biblical Exposition major, student leader of the Chapel Media department. I don’t think —– had any laundry to do that day; he just wanted to find out how this particular freshman was adjusting to life at college. And the answer was not very well.
When —— first walked up, I expected the usual quick and casual conversation. Forty-five minutes later I had experienced for the first time how ministry isn’t a just a program, but rather ministry is the gospel applied to every situation in life. —– refused to be content with my superficial answers. And then he didn’t run away when when sinful patterns of thought were discovered in my heart.
I take the time to share that story because what I learned that day while sitting on the washing machine, participating in a conversation where someone wanted to get to know me not for what they could get out of me but rather what they could pour into me redefined for me what ministry is. It isn’t glamorous; it’s servanthood. It isn’t showy; it’s dying to self.
My Dad was the pastor of a small, rural Washington church, so opportunities were plenteous growing up. I helped cleaned the church, washed the communion cups on Sundays, ran the overhead projector during worship, gained over 1000 hours of community service helping build houses for predominately low-income minority families. But starting freshman year of college, ministry became more than just doing things. Ministry became living and speaking out the gospel in such a way that people were pointed to Christ Jesus as Someone to be made much of.
My first taste of this kind of ministry was in the residence halls at The Master’s College. As an Assistant Resident Assistant, my job was people. Get to know people. Encourage them in the Lord. Point them to Christ as all-sufficient in every need, every care, every problem. This meant some late nights, staying up so I could get to know my night-owl roommates. It also meant developing an interest in things that I ordinarily wouldn’t have given a second thought about–vegetarian cooking, rugby, philosophical indie films. But gospel ministry means seeking to minister to a person. And gospel ministry demands taking a genuine interest in that person, for Christ took a genuine interest in me.
In successive years I had the opportunity to serve as a Resident Assistant and Head Resident Assistant. Being an RA at Masters’ is a unique experience. The student life department pours itself into making the RAs men and women who are leaders amongst their peers. RA training is an intensive year-long process focusing on biblical counseling and peer-to-peer leadership.
Few things in life have been as difficult as ministry to my wing that first year of being an RA. Two of my guys confided in me that they seriously struggled with depression and had recently given serious thought to killing themselves. Another was discovered to have left a trail of deceit across his schoolwork and personal life. One of my roommates was addicted to World of Warcraft; another wouldn’t speak. Ministering the gospel to people who have inoculated themselves against it by strong professions and weak living is a disheartening thing.
But there were moments of grace. —– ——– discovered his passion for teaching biology and using it as a tool in evangelism. —- ——— finally understood how the grace of God was a liberating thing, and not an oppressive master. I know these are just names to you. To me, they are my brothers with whom I was
The following year (my senior year), I was given a wing and a staff almost double the size of the previous year. It was another year full of But this time, the men the Lord placed around me were eager students of His Word. They wanted to grow. They wanted to serve. Whereas small group bible study was the most dreaded part of the week during my junior year, this year it was energizing. Every Thursday night we’d get together and dig into our theme, Gospel Risk. I watched as the Spirit used my teaching from the Word to transform them into men who understood that promises of a deeper relationship with Christ and eternal reward far outweighed comfort; and that this motivates us to live lives that do not make sense apart from the hope of the resurrection from the dead.
Partway through the year, one of our deans approached me and asked if I would be interested in preaching at a local drug rehabilitation ministry. I knew I was in for a different experience than I was used to when, on the first night, one of the residents stood up and shouted in as deep an African-American accent you can get, “Here’s another youn’ brotha’ in the Lord come to preach us da Word tonight!”
Preach the Word I did; it was a tremendous opportunity to grow in my ability to effectively communicate God’s Word. After a couple of times the men began to recognize me. One of them walked up one night and said, “We always love it when you come because we can tell that you really care about what you’re teachin’. You really believe it and that makes you easy to listen to.” For a young preacher, that was quite the encouraging affirmation to know that others were being blessed through my ministry.
Upon graduating I was asked to serve as an intern at Cornerstone Community Church in Atascadero, CA for a year. I had grown up in this church (after my Dad resigned from his church in Washington over doctrinal matters), and I was thrilled to work with people I knew and respected. I can’t even begin to say how much this year has impacted my understanding of the ministry. Like most college graduates, my idealism about life had spilled over into unadulterated romanticism. Working in a church changed that!
My days at Cornerstone have been filled with directing the youth ministry, biblical counseling, discipleship, oversight of the audio/visual ministry, writing theological articles for the bulletin, organizing conferences, designing fliers and handouts, leading small groups, one-on-one time with the senior pastor, preaching in his absence, fixing computers and copiers, and all the thousand other little things that need to happen for a church to effectively minister.
Through it all, I’ve learned yet again what —— ——– first taught me while sitting on that washing machine. Ministry isn’t glamourous; it’s servanthood. It isn’t showy; it’s dying to self. Ministering to make much of Jesus Christ is hard. Sin is real and sinners will hurt you. But of far greater gravity is the grace and glory of God. Because of that, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Two weeks ago I went up to Atascadero and attended a memorial service. “Memorial service” could be better described as “party.” Believers can celebrate death like no one else, for we know our eternal destiny. This man’s last words were “I love you” to his wife, and he died immediately after reading his Bible for the day. Though death was sudden, he was ready. Two days before he died, he called me out of the blue and asked me to lunch. He was famous for driving cross-country to visit people he knew and cared about. Biblical community and encouragement was what he lived for, and his last action toward me was reaching out to encourage a college student far from home.
Tonight several of us from Oak Manor scrimmaged the Santa Clarita Special Olympics floor hockey team. Floor hockey is played on a basketball court, with normal hockey goals. A felt buck approximately 6 inches wide with a three inch hole in the middle is used, and the sticks are like broom handles. You move the puck by setting the stick in the hole and dragging the puck around at high rates of speed. We played the AAA and AA teams (the highest level) back-to-back. All of our hands and shins are pretty beat up. Competition seems fundamental to human beings, and even those handicapped play to win!
Here are some thoughts I’ve gleaned and meditated upon from conversations, books, and chapels during the last two weeks.
(1) God sometimes leads His people through the hardest circumstances imaginable simply because they are His people. If Job was not righteous, he would not have suffered as he did, for Satan would not have targeted him. The faithful will suffer because Satan hates them and God loves them enough to let them suffer for His glory.
(2) Most authentic Christians will unhesitatingly die for Christ. Most authentic Christians (myself included) won’t often make the small sacrifice of the esteem of others and charge a hill with nobody behind them. Why is it easy to die for Christ, but hard to live for Him?
(3) Reading the Bible is not done for self-improvement. Application is important, but it is not the motivation for spending time in the Word of God. Knowing God provides the motivation, and application comes from understanding His perfection and my sin more. Reading the Bible doesn’t jump-start the Holy Spirit to increase my sanctification.
(4) Knowing godly people can be dangerous to spiritual contentment. It is very easy to read the biography of Jim Eliot, have a great conversation with a discipler, or see a man’s undying faithfulness to the Lord and then covet their spiritual gifts and wisdom. This is something I constantly wrestle with, especially lately. I want to have the impact of a Jim Eliot, the ability to preach like a John Piper, and the faithfulness of Pastor Steve at Placerita.
It is easy to get discouraged by thinking “Jim Eliot wrote (x) at age 21. I’m 21 and not writing anything so profound. I must be behind him spiritually. How do I catch up?” Spiritual life is not a competition. Passionate pursuit of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is both what God desires and what God will bless. This is the frustrating balance between waiting upon the Lord and being zealous toward spiritual growth. There should always be a godly pressure toward growth in life, but there also should be a restful contentment and pleasure in the work the Lord has already accomplished.
I’m not sure if this is very clear, but I need more time to wrestle through the paradox of spiritual contentment and spiritual hunger. God’s grace is truly spectacular that I, a sinner, could even write this post, and yet I want to be less of a sinner and more of a saint. This isn’t a nice, tidy end for a blog post, but I don’t think this is a nice, tidy issue.
Today marks the start of Outreach Week at TMC. This evening, I’ve been asked to preach for a church high school youth group. This is my first full-length sermon, so pray for me! I’ll be preaching out of Numbers 23:19-24. Here’s the conclusion of the sermon. It will be a little choppy, because you don’t have the context of the first twenty-five minutes of sermon.
Having grown up in the church, I am really concerned that kids think about their faith. They don’t realize that God has no grandchildren. I can easily fill up both hands with friends who have walked away from the church and the gospel after graduating high school. I know how easy it is to become a parrot, who speaks what he hears and never believes what he says. The Lord looks at the heart, not the words. And this means all my goods words avail me nothing if my heart does not love the Lord. I praise God that my parents instilled into me from an early age that Jesus doesn’t love me just because He loves them. The point of my sermon can be summed up as this: Are you a parrot? Or are you a child of God?
ARE YOU A PARROT?
C. It’s Matter of Life and Death
It is absolutely critical to realize something: Balaam was not a believer. I cannot stress this enough. Look at what Balaam said about God. And then understand that he was not a believer.
Balaam heard the words of God. He spoke the words of God. He evangelized for God. And Balaam is in hell.
He is proof that it is entirely possible to agree with the words of God—what we would call the Bible—and never actually believe it.
I grew up in church. I’ve attended Sunday morning services, Sunday evening services, Wednesday prayer services, AWANA, youth group. And you know what; none of it justifies me before the Lord. Attending church does not mean believing Jesus.
Let me ask you a question: Have you come to the place where you realized that you can’t save yourself? Have you said, “Jesus, I am a sinner, please come and be Lord of my life”? Have you surrendered your life to Christ fully?
Balaam was unwilling to surrender his life to Christ. Remember what Peter said in 2 Peter 2: 15? Balaam “loved the wages of unrighteousness.” Balaam was unwilling to humble himself before the Lord and admit he needed to obey God.
Jesus warned us against following the foolishness of Balaam. In Matthew 6:20 He says But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Another famous verse, I know. But remember—God does not lie. Balaam refused to submit himself to the very words he was speaking. He didn’t believe the words. He didn’t trust the words. In the end, Balaam understood the words he spoke. Remember how we said God was on the warpath and He would win? Balaam joined the losing side, and now is suffering for that decision. Balaam stored up for himself treasures on this earth, and they availed him nothing.
Unlike Balaam, we are still alive today. We still have the opportunity to trust Jesus. Guys, if you haven’t trusted the Lord, you need to. Learn from a man who didn’t. Balaam wishes right now he had truly listened to what he was saying. If you don’t know Jesus Christ personally; if you haven’t admitted your need for Him; if you don’t have a desire to obey Him and His Word—please, learn from the foolishness of Balaam.
Success is not:
Having a very good wing event
Dying a martyr’s death for the sake of Christ in a brutal way in an unreached place
Having daily devotions
Praying for an hour a day
Writing books which impact thousands or millions for the cause of Christ
Pastoring a church where the attendance is six times larger than the town you grew up in
Ministering in a place where you will be forgotten
Leading the most dynamic small group in Oak Manor
Being liked or perceived as a nice guy by the people I see frequently
Being known by people at The Master’s College
Being an RA
Getting three hours of sleep because I was at the emergency room with someone all night
Reading a book on humility
Writing a book on humility
Being hated by the world because I’m obnoxious for the gospel
Enforcing the dress code
Being percieved as an “up and comer”
Going to every chapel and taking good notes
Embarking on a great humanitarian crusade
Having a worn-out, heavily-underlined Bible
All of the above can be evidences of a successful life. However, in and of themselves, they are not successful. The Lord looks at and cares about the heart. Many of these will and must spring out of a heart which passionately beats to know the Lord more deeply. However, there is only one true measure of success as God defines it.
Ministering worthy of the glory of God wherever He has placed you with whatever responsibilities He has given you out of a desire to glorify Him and love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL,
AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.
We come now to the end of my time in Salt Lake City. Hopefully reading my journals has been an encouragement, an exhortation, or an insight into evangelism. I am thankful for everyone who supported me financially and prayerfully so I was able to be a part of this trip. SLC did not serve to radically alter my thinking; it did not set my life on a new course. But it did teach me to be gracious in my presentation of the Gospel. It taught me more of how to serve. It taught me to be thankful for my own salvation.
Today was hard. I think I’ve started every journal entry with that comment. But I’m beginning to realize that ministry isn’t easy. It is inconvenient. It constantly confronts me about my own imperfections and sinful attitudes. But I wouldn’t trade this week for anything. I requested to go back to Temple Square as opposed to a presentation on LDS ceremonies. Its not that the presentation wouldn’t be profitable, I haven’t even talked to an LDS for three days. That bathroom took forever to fix. The Lord is teaching me what true service is—doing what He wants me to do as opposed to what I want to do for Him. It was a struggle, as I definitely had the attitude of “I drove over seven hundred miles to do this?” No. I drove 700+ miles to serve the Lord. Because I worked 17 hours on the bathroom, others were able to witness to the LDS. I need to learn to joyfully serve regardless of the activity. Thank you Lord for the opportunity to grow.
Rod, Leslie, and I were the only ones who decided to go to Temple Square as opposed to the presentation. We got there, ate lunch, then split up as opposed to working in a threesome. I see why missionaries typically work in pairs. Flying solo is no easy task. I started out by taking another tour of the convention center. I wanted to talk with a tour guide for a long time, and had a good conversation on the tour earlier in the week. I intentionally didn’t go in at the same time as a group of people, so as to not get attached to a large tour. It didn’t matter. I got attached to a tour of six other people and didn’t have a chance to talk to anyone for an hour. Frustrating. Afterward, I talked with the tour guide for a couple of minutes. He just told me to go over to the visitor’s center if I had questions.
I was kind frustrated about the lack of opportunity and tired of approaching people, so I went to the Visitor’s Center. I asked for a copy of their articles of faith, and sat on a couch comparing the articles and the Bible. I knew somebody would approach me, as that is why the volunteers are there. Little did I know what was coming. An elder came up and asked if I had any questions. I said yes, and asked about the ordinance of baptism and the thief on the cross. I like starting out with that because it is easy to question and provides a natural segue into the grace of God. The elder said paradise in that verse is not heaven, but rather Spirit Prison. I commented that it would be funny to call prison a paradise! I asked about works and the free gift grace of God. He answered, and I asked another question. And that is when he went off. Everything was said with a smile, but he was deadly serious,
This is the problem with you people. You come to our property and our temple with closed minds, seeking only to argue and not understand the truth. You are no different than the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who saw the Messiah with their own eyes yet rejected Him. You care nothing for the truth, but only for your own arguments and agenda. You carry your Bibles around and do not seek to know. I hate you all being here. You need to get out of our temple, our square, and our property. And everyone else you’re with. You all need to stop coming back here. We know who you are, who you’re with, and you are not welcome. You’re a bunch of Pharisees and arguers who see the real Jesus and care nothing for Him.
I wasn’t escorted out, but rather left on my own free will. I walked down the street into the building next door, and started again. It is difficult. I have no intention of seeming argumentative. But how do I confront people with the Gospel persistently? Getting told to leave doesn’t weaken my resolve to preach the gospel. It was intimidating to talk to him. He was three times my age, and an upstanding member of the church. But I have the truth and he does not. I think I’m beginning to understand what Paul meant when he said we preach an offensive message. The Gospel is good news, but good news which people really don’t want to hear.
Later in the day, I got into a conversation with two foreign sisters in a subfloor of the very same building. We talked for forty-five minutes, and they agreed with almost everything I said. The language barrier of English compounded with the spiritual language barrier and proved almost impossible to overcome. I didn’t know any other way other than to say, “The Bible says you are following a false Messiah, and are going to hell.” It killed me to say that. But I had to. Father forbid me from antagonism, but I must say the truth. If the only way to get the truth across is to come down hard, I’ll do it out of love. It is hard to present the gospel in a loving manner when the very message of the gospel offends every human sensitivity. But I’ve got to try.
Tonight was fun. Stayed up until 3. We’re leaving at 6:30 tomorrow morning, so probably not the best decision, but hey–live a little. I’m going to miss The Commons, the team, and Utah itself. This time will never be repeated. Great new friends made, great opportunities to witness, great time in the snow. But it will never quite be the same. But this is life, enjoy the present, for the you can’t go back in time. God, bless the conversations we have had over the last week. Don’t let the LDS rest until they repent and turn to you. I firmly believe you can accomplish anything.
Rod, Leslie, and I in front of the Temple.
Temple Square Proper
There are 14,000 seats behind these!
Me, Ellen, Molly, Rod, Eric Rebecca
Now, just for fun…
Clowning around with the Cal Baptist guys.
Eric showing off his purse-wearing capabilities.
Rod, as he might have been.
Heather chowing down.
Thanks again for reading. I plan to resume “normal” blogging now that I’m finished with my recollections of Utah.
Only two more days of Utah left! It has been a blessing to reflect once again upon the mercies of the Lord specifically expressed through my time in Salt Lake City/Ogden. His mercies truly are new every morning. Every day is a fresh expression of His grace, and in Utah we were specifically dedicating every day to share the gospel of Christ with those who do not know Him. There was one simple chorus which seemed to be the prayer of our team. I heard it independently sung by at least three of us on multiple occasions. It is nothing extravagant, nothing glamorous. Just the prayers of fifteen college students realizing their own inadequacies
Spirit of the Living God, Fall afresh on me
Spirit of the Living God, Fall afresh on me
Melt me, mould me, fill me, use me
Spirit of the Living God, Fall afresh on me.
This morning started early. We shoved off from The Blue House at 6:15 am in order to lead chapel at Intermountain Christian School. Brought back old memories from my high school days at North County Christian. Only today, I was the one preaching. It was my first time preaching ever…which is ironic given how I feel the Lord moving me to be a pastor. I sat down last night and began to write a sermon out of 1 John 5:20. About 3/4 of the way through, I realized that I wanted to speak on an entirely different subject. Cameron advised me to tear up the old sermon and speak on what I felt I ought to preach on. I was up until 2am writing it, but I’m glad I heeded his advice.
I modified my blog post “The Gravity of the Gospel” and added to it. We don’t seem to talk about the character of Jesus Christ and the incredible love He has for us. I never heard a sermon on that topic in high school chapel, but it is quite foundational to my personal walk with the Lord. I hope the Spirit used my words to be a blessing to someone in the chapel. It was only a 20 minute sermon, but I really enjoyed it. Which is a good thing considering my planned future.
We had originally thought Jr. and Sr. High each had their own chapel services, so Cameron was going to preach to the Jr. High, and me to the Sr. High. Turns out they were combined, and Cameron quickly volunteered me to preach instead of him. What a sacrifice on his part. He was up until 2am writing his sermon as well, but never once complained about not being able to preach. Jennifer and Heather led singing, Cameron and Jennifer shared testimonies, Keenan and Leslie passed out Jesus Christ:Joseph Smith DVDs to the kids. It was truly a group effort.
During the last song, Russ leaned over and whispered intensely, “Nate. Are you wearing bowling shoes?” “No.” “Nate. Give me your shoe.” Russ took my shoe up on stage, and said it was a bowling shoe, then passed it around the room to determine if it was or not. The whole time I was preaching (from my socks) I watched my shoe travel around the room from person to person. Good ole’ Russ. After chapel, we all answered questions about college asked by a senior Bible class. They all should come to Masters.
I came back to the Blue House to finish up the bathroom with Cameron. The toilet is leaking again. Putting this bathroom back together is proving to be a greater difficulty than it ought to be. We have an expert coming in, so hopefully he will be able to undue the damage we have done. As I type this, Rod is attempting to psychoanalyze all of us in The Commons. He’s…not doing so well. But, boredom will never reign supreme on our team!
Running around with some elementary school kids at ICS
The Cal Baptist team arrived today. This is “Johnny Mac.”
More Cal Baptist friends!
Rebecca packing Joseph Smith:Jesus Christ DVDs. We packed over 3,000 all total.
We went to an elementary school to lead chapel today. It was refreshing to be able to clown around and have nobody care. Doing it today makes me so thankful for my job teaching elementary football. I always learn from little kids. They perhaps are the clearest representation of the human heart. Little kids talk and laugh and run around, and they really don’t know how to cover up their faults. It seems that 50 percent of their sentences revolve around ‘I…’ But then again, isn’t that how I think? I just don’t show it off as much. “We” is a much nobler pronoun.
We acted out the Fiery Furnace story, and I played the pre-incarnate Christ. Blond hair, blue eyes. Yep, the similarities are striking. Cameron absolutely brought the house down as narrator. We wrote the skit out the night before, and I don’t think we’ll be nominated for any Academy Awards. But, the kids didn’t care. Rod and Brian spoke on trusting God through all kinds of circumstances. They both did a great job. I get to preach tomorrow in a high school chapel. I should probably stop writing this and start working on my sermon. I have no idea what to preach about.
After chapel I was sent off to the sixth grade to tutor math. Four girls were struggling with Least Common Multiple and Greatest Common Factor. I haven’t thought about these things in almost ten years! Calculus seems like nothing after LCM and GCF. I messed up royally and taught it to them backwards at first. Oh well, they seemed to recover nicely. At the end of the lesson, they really understood the concepts. But they did a lot of practice problems to get there. All they needed was for someone to sit down and make them do problem after problem–even when they wanted to quit. Learning comes by adversity. It was fun to be able to help out.
After consuming some really good Mexican food, Keenan, Heather, and Jennifer and I went on up to the snow. Everybody else elected to take nap. We passed the right exit twice, and then found out the place we were supposed to go wasn’t open. The guy at the ticket window’s first words to us were “Your dressed wrong! You should all be out enjoying the snow.” He shattered what little hope we had in not looking like a bunch of tourists. But Southern California students don’t give up on snow that easily. The podunk town of Huntsville saw our determination, and we supported their economy by purchasing 4 hard plastic sleds.
We pulled off the road and found a little hill to cruise down. We met 4 Hispanic guys who really didn’t speak much English. After a few trial runs, we all formed a train of 7 people and rode down the ¼ mile hill and off a jump before screeching to a halt in front of a large metal beam. (Which supported a NO TUBING sign. We weren’t tubing. We were sledding.)
We wrecked, we laughed, and we tried really hard not to need an ambulance. Jennifer tried her best to betray that dream. She got turned around on the hill, hit the jump and slid backwards. She didn’t bail out, and hit the beam with her back doing about 20 mph. Thankfully, nothing more than a pretty good bruise resulted. God protects us even in our complete stupidity.
The Subway restaurant in Huntsville was calling our names after over two hours of sledding and a long snowball fight. I lost my keys during that fight, but we thankfully found them buried after a brief search. Over dinner, we listened to Keenan tell us about his good old days at Pensacola Christian College. TMC’s page-long rulebook doesn’t seem so bad… What a day. I’ll be up late tonight writing a sermon, but it is so worth it. I really miss the snow found in Washington State. Mom, Dad, wherever home base winds up being–I want snow.
It is tempting to think of working with Christian Schools here as a waste of time when there are LDS who need the gospel everywhere. But it is what we have been called and asked to do. And so we will encourage those who we can and strengthen them so they who have long-standing relationships with LDS may better witness to them.
Here’s a bunch of photos from our snow trip. I know its quite a few, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut any of them out.
There’s nothing like a big tall mountain to make you feel insignificant.
We were crushed by the harsh words concerning our lack of snow clothes
I’m sure we provided the Huntsville Chevron clerk with a story to tell over dinner…
We didn’t start out that way!
Our Mexican friends made up the first half of the train.
Heather’s hair is absolutely amazing.
Keenan barely avoided catastrophe.
Jennifer didn’t. We held a funeral on the spot.
We were excited just to see SNOW!
Meeker knows where it’s at.
Quite chivalrous, if I do say so myself.