Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kory Baker Ambler

It's been quite a few days.  In spirit and in truth...I'm exhausted.

For those who don't know him, Kory Ambler passed away tragically on Christmas Eve.  You can read the obituary here.

Kory was the fiance of Jodi K. Newell, a long-time friend and a part of our North Street Community.  Kory worshiped with us several times over the last year and a half.  I got to dedicate their son, Corado (and Jodi is due with their second son, Benjamin Anthony on 1/4).  I got to know Kory over the last year and a half as I talked with he and Jodi about family, marriage, life, and God.   As you might imagine, over the last several days, I've seen numerous pictures of Kory on Facebook and at the various funeral activities.  That's my favorite picture of he and Jodi to the right.

I had the incredible honor of overseeing much of Kory's funeral services.  Even now as I type this, I am amazed at the outpouring of love and support for Kory and his family.  The visiting hours yesterday went from 3:00-8:00 ("officially"), but there was a line waiting from before 2:45 and it still wrapped well around the building when I slipped out at 8:15.

This morning, the funeral procession from the funeral home was dozens of cars long.  While Father Dan could probably give me a better estimate, I would guess that the funeral mass at Sacred Heart in Weymouth Landing saw at least 800-1000 people in attendance.  It was a somber yet beautiful gathering of worship, culminating in the sacrament of communion.  

After communion, the family had asked me to speak briefly about Kory.  In some ways, it didn't feel right, as I've only known him for one and a half years, and there were well over a thousand people there who've known him for life.  Needless to say, I was humbled.  I am thankful to the family for the opportunity.  At the same time, I appreciate the grace and hospitality extended by Father Dan Riley and staff at Sacred Heart.  They really made me feel a part of the whole funeral mass, recognizing our roles together.

Anyway, I'm posting two of the things I read for the services over the last two days here.  It's pretty much for Jodi's future reference, as I don't expect that she would have heard a word I said today.  Jodi...peace to you.

Morning Prayer:
“Lord of Life, death scares us.  We know we must die, but we have become skilled at living in a manner that ignores that stubborn fact.  After all, most of us are not really old enough yet to have to face our deaths.  Death happens to the old, not us, who are thus condemned to live as if we are perpetually young.  Yet death slinks even into our young lives.  We do not like it.  We try to hide its presence by not being present to those who are dying and avoiding those who must be present to the dying.  We therefore pray for your unfailing and sustaining presence for this family.  Give them the same love and courage that sustained them and Kory in life.  May that same courage find a home in our lives, that we may come to fear you more than our own deaths and thus be enabled to be present to one another.  In Christ, Amen.”

(Adapted from Stanley Hauerwas' Prayers Plainly Spoken)

Funeral Mass Reflections:
Before anything else, let me be as bold as to offer a line from a song by Coldplay...words, I think, that speak honestly, yet hopefully:
"Just because I'm losing...doesn't mean I'm lost."

For me to stand here and say that I know Kory under the circumstances of those in this place of worship is quite presumptuous.  The circumstances of being with all of you: his friends and all of his cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents and of course his siblings, his parents, and his beloved Jodi, there's a lot more to Kory than the year and a half or so that I've known him.  So, there are a lot of things that I don't know...about Kory, both the individual, and the greater story of his life.

Yet, in the time that I have known him, in the conversations that we did have, I came to know some things, and it's a couple of very important things about Kory that I want to reflect on just for a minute this morning.

1.  He was an example for us of graciousness, thoughtfulness, and a gentleman-ness that is so often lost in our society today.
It was soon after Kory and Jodi came back to the right coast that my wife, Meghan went to a baby shower for them.  It was really Meghan's first interactions with Kory, and her reflections on the day began with how wonderful Kory was, to his family, and to Jodi.  Whether it was visiting people in the hospital, shoveling snow for Friends of the Homeless of the South Shore, or looking out for those who are usually over-looked, Kory had a keen eye and heart to help people out.  May the rest of us live up to his example.

2.  He loved his family...
It was Sunday, November 9th, when many of us gathered for Corado's 1st birthday.  I was yet again struck with the enormity of his family.  My twin daughters and I were lost in a sea of loved ones and other children on that day.  And in my conversations with him about Jodi and Corado, his great love for them was more evident to me than anything else I will say about him.

Kory was blessed and he loved his family.  And it's obvious to me that he was loved by his family..  

3.  He loved people, and thus loved to make people happy.
Kory loved and loved to love well.  One of the times when I was over at Kory & Jodi's, they shared their dream of opening a wine and spirits shop.  He shared that his desire to make people happy drove him.  I remember sharing with them that this is what counts: the notion of the Apostle Paul's words in Galatians chapter 5: "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."   While it may not make sense to you today, I indeed believe that Kory's desire to not disappoint those he loved went with him everywhere, even to his dying day.  

"The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."

Kory indeed had faith.  In the most troubling of times that I knew Kory, we talked about God, and how God could carry them through.  And despite the tragedy of this week, I still have that faith, and I invite you to as well - have faith in a God whose love and grace is bigger than you can ever know, despite any circumstance.

Christian theologian Brian McLaren reflects on death in one of his books.  I will not forget one line from this book, and in thinking about Kory, it rings loudly today...
"We are becoming on this side of the door of death the kind of people we will be on the other side."

What kind of person do you remember Kory Baker Ambler to be?

Let me finish how I started, with words from Coldplay, again speaking of our emotions: honestly, but of the future: hopefully.  When I hear these words, I dare think of them as of our Savior, Jesus Christ:

When you try your best, but you don't succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down on your face
When you lose something you can't replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

And high up above or down below
When you're too in love to let it go
If you never try you'll never know
Just what you're worth

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

Sunday, December 21, 2008

An Advent Homily on Peace


Yet another loaded word comes to us in the Advent season.

Peace on earth.  Goodwill towards men.

People use the word to describe a variety of things, most often a void...or an absence: 
  • the absence of war
  • the absence of noise
  • the absence of activity
  • the absence of life ("rest in peace")

I think of the word when I wake up before anyone else in my household.  That's peace!

I also think of it during snowstorms like we had yesterday (and today!).  I know..."storm" and "peace" don't seem like they should go together, but I always love the snow because it does bring about a sense of peace for me.  If you just step outside during the snow, especially after at least half a foot, the snow gives our surroundings quite a different sense than normal.  A fresh blanket of snow soaks up all the noise.  It makes everything look uniform for once, rather than a big fight for attention.  What usually may look rough or jagged becomes rounded and soft.  Hard ground becomes as soft as a mattress.  

In addition, snow storms are an automatic sabbath from God.  I love it!  The demands of life and society around us are forced to stop.  Schedules must be shifted (or eliminated!).  The busyness of the world comes to a stop.  It's a nature-given time of rest (yeah, yeah, I know, we have to shovel and all...).  While the news media and the majority of people portray it as a hindrance, I welcome the snow as a reminder that everything we think is important...can probably take a break for a bit.

Anyway, back to peace...

The word is the word of the day for us this year on this fourth Sunday of Advent.  

What does it mean when considering the incarnation, the coming of God into humanity?
What does it mean to call him the "Prince of Peace"?

In our Old Testament passage for today, King David is reflecting upon the fact that he has a resting place: his own dwelling, his own home in which to live.  This is obviously a time of peace for King David and for Israel (verse 1 says that he is "settled" and that he has been given "rest" from his enemies).  But King David wonders aloud about God: does God have a dwelling place?  He knows that his people, Israel, have carried the very presence of God with them where ever they've gone in the ark, in a tent.  But this was when Israel was a transient people, moving from place to place.  Now they have their own land.  King David and his mighty men have established a place of residence for the people.  He wonders aloud, "What about God though?  Doesn't God have to have a place of residence amongst us as well?".

The contrast between the response to this question here and the response in the coming years after King David is interesting.  God responds here in II Samuel that God has never had a "dwelling place," but that he's always been "moving."  But we know that after David, Solomon indeed tries to build a residence place for the presence of God - the Temple.  But what does God say here to King David?

Though we, as humans, have tried since the very beginning to wrap up God, put God in our pocket to be able to easily carry Him with us...God has always demonstrated that we are not capable of doing so without His own giving of Himself to us.  One of the images that we use of God is spirit.  "Spirit," amongst other things, is the image of something that can't be boxed up.  We can't take God and settle Him down into our own places.  We can only understand and know God as He is given and revealed to us.

So God continues in his response to King David's ponderings...and he says, "Did I ever really ask for that?  Did I ever really want the leaders of Israel, saying 'Why have you not built for me a house?'  I am going to establish you a house.  I took you from a pasture (from the sheep nonetheless).  I am the one who makes you who you are.  You do not make me who or where I am!  I've been with you wherever you go, not the other way around.

God is with us wherever we go.  We can't box God up.  We're too small, and God's too big.  

And again, God continues in his response.  God tells King David of a time and place when he will indeed establish David's people forever.  God calls it a time when they will be "disturbed no more," a time when evil shall no longer afflict the people, a time when people will be given "rest from all their enemies."

If we know God only by his revelation to us, his greatest revelation to us is himself, found in Christ Jesus the God-man.  And in his coming ("giving" of himself), we indeed have access to God at all times, in all places, wherever we go.  

What's beautiful about the Incarnation, the "story" of Christmas, is that in it we have "God come to earth," "God come to humanity."  He has given himself!

This is the peace of God, that He gives Himself to us.  For good.  Completely.

This is the "already-not yet" of Advent and of the Kingdom of God.  While we continue to live in a world hell-bent on war, fighting, positioning, and line-drawing, we already have the peace of God given to us in Christ.  So we have it, but we ignore it.  Though God's given us peace...we choose not-peace.

Many are clamoring for the US president-elect to have a "Secretary of Peace."   Wouldn't that be something!  Instead of just making sure we've got our checklist of "important" things taken care of, things that we focus on (i.e.: Secretary of War, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Homeland Security), we have someone who makes sure we're focused on what's good!  That indeed would be something!

If you've heard me preach much at all during Advent, you've heard me say it so many times already...but it's so notable to me that God chose to show up in humanity as a little baby.  He could have come as a fully-grown man, right?  Just dropped in from heaven as a 30-year-old man...but he didn't.  God entered the world in the form of an innocent and peaceful baby.  I think it's quite a statement: "This is my nature for you...that you would come to people not in war/fighting/aggression...but in peace."

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Sacrifice & Such

The time when the atonement felt most real and moving and incredible and sacrificial all at the same time was when I had surgery to repair a hernia two summers ago.  I'd never been more vulnerable, in the hands of others than at that moment.  When they laid me on the cold metal table, naked save a thin hospital gown, strapped me in, told me to breathe their gas, all with the knowledge that they would soon use a scalpel inches from my manhood...well...it was the closest to Good Friday that I've ever felt.  

...and yet it wasn't even close.

Further, it wasn't even close to what so many I know go through on a regular basis.  C. S. Lewis quotes Walter Hilton, in his Preface to The Problem of Pain: "I feel myself so far from true feeling of that I speak, that I can naught else but cry mercy and desire after it as I may." 

Clive Staples continues with his own words, "I have never for one moment been in a state of mind to which even the imagination of serious pain was less than intolerable.  If any man is safe from the danger of under-estimating this adversary, I am that man."

That's how I feel sometimes when I'm speaking of people taking up their cross, challenging them to identify with Christ...that if we're really going to be Christ-like, we'll follow him in the hard and not just the easy.  And speaking of easy, it's just that for me to say it.  I mean, I know it's the gospel and everything, foolishness and all, but there's always been something about "you can't take someone where you haven't been" for me.

Regardless, I know that comparing one life to the next is quite often futile.  In fact, it's because of this practice that so many can't get life straight.  If we spend life compaining about other people's grass, we'll...well...we'll spend life complaining because we'll always be able to find some that is greener.  

Satisfaction and wholeness comes in self-actualization and self-realization.  That is, for myself, I must find my role within Christ and his cruciform example with that which I have been blessed...or cursed.  And I believe that God seeks our response to be of one that says, "Here's what I can do, and thus, what I will do."  This is why Niebuhr's prayer is a good one.

Anyway, I've been thinking about these things because our three-year-old son, Brayden, is headed for surgery tomorrow.  He's having his adenoids and tonsils removed and tubes put in his ears.  We are hoping that it will improve his hearing, behavior, and sleep patterns.  When it comes down to it, the surgery is pretty normal.  I had similar procedures done when I was real young (before my memory).  Apparently it was stressful for me, but only my parents remember.  But there has been a quarter of a century of medical practice since then.  Meghan and I have all confidence in the doctor.

Nonetheless, a sharp blade will be taken to my little boy tomorrow.   I've said many times now that I've come to understand the nature of God in deeper and more intimate ways since having children.  Usually I am referring to love, grace, and forgiveness.  

But with Brayden's impending surgery, John 3:16 takes a different light.  I know, I know...I'm sick of the verse too, at least, I'm sick of the abuse it's taken (not to mention that I think John 3:17 is the message the world needs to hear...or at least the Church does).  After reading it and hearing it a million times, seeing it displayed on posters between the uprights, on bridges and subway walls, how could John 3:16 have new meaning...

Well as humans are apt to do, we usually focus on ourselves and what something means for us. But having children has made me look at things from God's point of view more often.  And actually, what happens is that God's word for me becomes more powerful.

It's Advent season, leading up to Christmas, so that means it's time for me to whine again about how so few get it...both of Advent and of Christmas...and both Christians and non-Christians.  We continue to get wrapped up in the wrapping.  Or as the latest Advent Conspiracy video puts it, we give more presents than presence.

Perhaps one of the antidotes for this is to connect the manger with the cross.  If the cross is the central image for the Church (this is such an aside, but can someone remind me why we need a flag?  I had a Roman Catholic priest in our sanctuary on Sunday night and when he asked, "What's that other flag?" [other than the US], I laughed out loud.  How could he be a Christian and not know that?!?  In the case that someone who doesn't know me very well is reading this...that question is saturated with sarcasm.)

Anyway, as I was saying, if the cross is the central image for the Church, which I believe it is, most all things should be seen with the cross in mind, or at least in the conversation.  The Christmas story is nice and all, but if we end with warm fuzzies, we've missed the story of Christ.  I think we should "give things" at Christmas time, for sure.  But the giving of Christ goes so way beyond what we give it's hardly comparable.  We love when we give all that there is.  The image of the cross is an image of complete surrender, complete dedication.  Christ left nothing on the table when he went to the cross.  So giving some change to the SA (which you should do!) or even a $20 to some other holiday charity is great, but for Americans, it doesn't speak of the depth of the Christmas story.

Anyway, I got to more rambling in this post than I meant to, but as I "hand over" my son to the whim of a surgeon tomorrow, I can't help but think of the Incarnation, and God's complete giving of his Son to the world.  Jesus could have shown up as a grown man, right?  But he didn't.  God entered the world in the form of a baby.  Crazy.

Ultimately, it doesn't compare (the incarnation and my son's surgery).  This is obvious.  God likely knew that it would lead to Jesus' death (at least, God certainly knew that he would be rejected in some fashion).  I'm fairly certain that tomorrow's surgery will turn out okay.  So they don't compare.

...but I still think about it.  And it makes me love God even more.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

From noise to silence...

From Noise...
I first read the name "Barack Obama" a few years ago.

I used to be a big fan of Alan Keyes (my how far we've come...). I thought (and still think) he's one of the greatest debators I've seen. I can now see that his arguments are bogus...but he still uses them well. And I fell for him in 1996 and then in 2000 wrote him in for president. After 2000, I kept tabs on him. In 2004, when the Republican candidate for Senate in Illinois had to withdraw from the election due to a scandal, they tabbed Alan Keyes to come in and carry the ticket.

Turns out he was running against this heathen with a weird name: Barack Obama. Immediately I formed an opinion of Barack Obama. I swallowed Keyes' words that "Jesus wouldn't vote for Barack Obama." He must be evil. But even I could admit that this dude's speech at the DNC was pretty good.

It was Sen. Obama's speech at the 2006 Call to Renewal Conference in Washington, D.C. that gave me my first real ounce of hope in politics. For the first time, I heard a politician speak frankly and honestly about the interaction of his faith in Jesus Christ and his politics, particularly concerning the poor. I so wish that followers of Christ could watch this video today without a year and a half of politicking, political ads, and FoxNews.

Later that summer, I asked my Democrat uncle and Representative to the Vermont State House and Assistant Majority Leader, Floyd Nease if he thought Sen. Obama had a chance at the presidential nomination. He said something along the lines of, "No way, he is not known well enough to get the nomination." I don't mind having something to hold over him. :-)

I was pleased when Sen. Obama announced his candidacy, even though I knew he and I differed greatly on some issues, namely abortion.

At the same time, I've been disappointed with how he's run some of his campaign:
  1. For one, he took the video of the above speech off his official website...the transcript's there, but it's not complete. You can watch the video in five parts on YouTube (here's the first part). I've not seen the speech spoken of in the media.
  2. Secondly, the way he handled his pastor and church was seemingly completely a political move and it greatly disappointed me. (Yes, I know...my disappointment with the situation is a very different disappointment than that of pretty much everyone else you hear from. I have my reasons, but that is a post for another time.)
Of course, I realize that if he had not done the above two things (particularly #2), he would not still be running for president. But that's besides the point...I would expect a follower of Christ to be a follower of Christ no matter what. (Which begins to answer another question for another post: "Can a follower of Christ truly serve as President of the United States?")

Despite these two things, Rick Warren's forum gave me back just a little bit of faith in Sen. Obama's faith. I still can't understand how people can assume so strongly that Sen. McCain carries Christian values more than Sen. Obama based on one issue (and we all know what that one issue is). The demeanor of their answers to Pastor Warren's questions that evening were so very different. It was clear to me that Sen. Obama spoke of a Christ I knew better than Sen. McCain.

For instance, note here how they both answered the question of what it means to follow Christ daily. Sen. McCain barely answered it, and certainly didn't speak of what it means from day-to-day, which is very important to me in picking the most powerful human being on the planet. Sen. Obama spoke of how his faith in Christ affects his daily decision-making.

Or, note how they answered the question of evil. While I disagree with both of them in general that the answer to the world's problems is to kill Osama bin Laden, Sen. Obama at least acknowledges that revenge is God's and not ours. McCain's answer was based on the general American feeling that we are gods and we get our own revenge, revenge, revenge. He moves in his answer from killing Osama bin Laden to the assumption that the American military is the answer to theodicy. I vehemently disagree. Talk like this is an abuse of faith in God (note 2:09 of this video...and 3:50). We must be careful of what we label "the will of God."

So, anyway, if Barack Obama wins the election and if he will be even 50% of the man I saw give that speech at Call to Renewal as president, I'll be happy. Of course, Derek Webb may be correct, and you can call me ignorant or gullible for having hope...but I'd rather live hopefully than fearfully. However, I maintain above all else that despite his own repeated words ("America is the world's last great hope"), Sen. Obama is not the hope of the world.

I also like Sen. McCain. I said before the party nominations were clear that the best case scenario for me would be an Obama-McCain race. I think Sen. McCain is very respectable (his answer to Rick Warren re: "why are you running for president"was way better than Sen. Obama's and so was his answer to the question regarding his own moral failure). I think he will truly try to serve as he knows it and that he has not lied nearly as much as most politicians in DC. And citizens of the United States can feel safe if he's elected president (if that's your priority).

So today's the big election. And tonight I'm going to be in front of the TV watching history, one way or another. And everyone's buzzing, from updates on Facebook, to the Naznet, to the polling places, to the media. I'm hoping that there's no long, drawn out declaration of a win.

I commit here and now to praying for the President of the United States tomorrow. I think that with either man, the US will be headed in a much better direction. I confess that I've not prayed for President Bush enough. I give a sub-confession that things like this and this detracted me from doing so. That's wrong. I commit to praying for the President more.

Speaking of prayer...

...to Silence
Tomorrow morning we're heading up to Waterville, VT. Not much going on up there. I'll have no internet access and weak cell phone reception. We're going up so I can spend a couple of days in silence, prayer, and planning regarding North Street and our direction in worship and scripture in the coming months and the coming Church year. I'll sit at Meghan's "Pop-Pop's" desk for most of the time. I know that he used this desk and office for scripture study and prayer quite a bit before he passed away.

(That covered bridge in the picture is a 5 minute walk from Meghan's grandparents' home.)

And then since my birthday is Saturday, we're going to spend the tail end of our trip doing our Vermont stuff: the Cider Mill, Cabot outlet, and driving on Route 100. We'll be well past peak up there (we're past peak here in Hingham), but it'll be nice to be in Vermont anyway.

Until Monday...

Friday, October 31, 2008

End of a Season

For a couple of years now, I have been a participant on Naznet.com (a site I affectionately refer to as "the Naznet"). The Naznet is a site for members and friends of the International Church of the Nazarene. I was first introduced to the site by Anita Henck, when the owner of the site, Dave McClung became president of my alma mater. That was in 2001. Ever since then, I've gone through periods of varied levels of participation. I've gone months without even checking in on posts, let alone posting myself. Then there have been times of extended interaction. For the most part, I've enjoyed interaction on the Naznet. But it's not been without frustration and controversy.

It was when I was in seminary that I saw a confederate flag bumper sticker (I forget what it said, but it was blatantly racist) while driving around Kansas City. I posted it on the Naznet and asked what people thought. I was befuddled when some simply said, "You just don't understand the culture [of the south]." My thought was, "You don't understand the nature of symbols!" I mean, just because everyone's favorite wave in Boston involves the middle finger doesn't mean I can excuse myself as "living in that culture" and go around giving the one-fingered salute to everyone I see.

Probably the most embarrassed I've ever been because of my interaction on the site was when I posted about some missionaries (good family friends) who were in trouble in a country in Africa. One of them had accidentally done something that was punishable by law. I was told by a reliable source that it was possible that the missionary could receive the death penalty in that country for what had happened. I posted about the possible consequence, which was completely untrue. I received private messages and e-mails blasting me for this for about a week. I learned the hard way to be sure of what I posted (I thought it was innocent, but understand the concern!). The missionary couple and members of their family have seemed distant since then. I regret that.

Then there was the time that it came out that President Bush could possibly address the General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene. I, like many others, thought it was a horrible idea. I posted a pretty passionate post about it. Many of them thought I was an idiot. I laugh at that time period now.

The craziest times around the Naznet are surely during presidential elections. I don't remember much about the 2004 election on the Naznet (I must not have been participating much then), but I do know that the Current Events Discussion Board was shut down for a while after that. (There are different boards for different topics: Current Events, Community Discussion, Theology, Technology, etc.).

The Naznet has grown considerably in the last two years. This is in great part thanks due to the switch from the Ceilidh software to vBulletin. It's also due to a general rise in internet communication. I believe that there are now 20 discussion boards, almost 20,000 threads, over 200,000 posts, and hundreds of members across the world.

That's one aspect that I've loved about the Naznet. I've been able to hear and learn how God's people are being moved throughout world. I've been enlightened by people from the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, and Canada, not to mention Oklahoma and Texas (often these states seem more foreign than the aforementioned countries).

In many ways, conversation on the Naznet has confirmed some of the ways that I have felt like God is speaking to me, particularly on the Theology forum. It's given me a forum on which to discuss some pretty deep things, and concepts and understandings of God and the Church that have stretched me and I believe, made me a better follower of Christ. One of the advantages of the Naznet over blogging is that we can have well-organized, timely, and searchable discussions. Blogging is rather one-sided and commenting features are often difficult to follow.

At other times on the Naznet, like some of the above instances, I've not been who I want to be. It happened again this week. Frankly, due to some other circumstances, this has been a difficult week. And then when this new thread occurred, it got the worst of me.

However...I am pretty tired of the condescension from some given in the direction of younger members. In many instances, and by only a handful of members, the voice and posts of a younger generation are dismissed on the basis of age and experience. It's very disheartening.

I think that the title of this blog gives pretty good implication that I am willing to learn. I have no fear in stating that I've got more stretching to come in my life. I've not learned it all. And sometimes I have used the Naznet as a source of information. I've posted threads asking for some input on a given subject or situation. Many times people have come through, and simply to help me. Or, I might simply give my own perspective on something (which is what everyone does!), with the thought that I'm throwing myself out there in vulnerability, expecting to hear different responses and certainly different perspectives and insight. I expect it!

But I don't expect condescension or derision. Apparently, many come to the Naznet with a feeling of already having been terminally educated (which is sad in light of my understanding of holiness - a constant growth in the grace of God). They only see their role on the Naznet as one of information provider and could hardly stoop to consider themselves an information seeker. And in the last couple of weeks:
  • I've been labelled as "in the spirit of antichrist";
  • I've been told I'm too young to understand (the actual phrase was: "I am old enough to be your grandmother Jeremy and have lived/survived a very painful history," which had little to do with what we were talking about. It was simply a dismissal of me for even talking.);
  • There was a post that said: "To the younger people, before you vote, study some history.";
  • And I could point out a number of other things that have been in a general spirit of, "You're too young [or inexperienced] to know."
I think that perhaps the greatest disappointment for me in this has been that I have a hope for the Church of the Nazarene that she might actually survive postmodernity in the United States. But if she is going to, there is going to have be a sharing of the reigns and an understanding that those affected by post-modernity cannot own anything that they cannot discuss. I am fortunate that I am on a district that is doing this.

I am done posting on the Naznet. I've done this before. In fact, I began this blog as an escape from the Naznet. If I know myself, it's likely I'd end up there again. But too many times it's affected me beyond what's good. I emphasize again that this is only a handful of experience amongst a great many. But when the few overshadow the many, I need to protect my ability to think and minister throughout the day. Which is what I'm doing. I'll likely keep tabs on the discussions, but I'm not able to post. They'll not miss me, nor do they need me. But I will miss participating with them.

I hope to blog more often, as I have been a bit lately. (I'm still working on my Top 25 Musical Compositions of All-Time.) I'm also well into a clergy discussion group on Fridays here in Hingham, a group for which I am very thankful. I'm about to begin a study of Greek with the staff of South Shore Baptist (imagine that!). I'm not a big Piper fan, but I'm looking forward to this opportunity with some good guys, people with whom I've got way more important things in common that overshadow Wesleyan-Arminianism and Calvinism. And lastly, I'm about to begin a book study with two other elders in the CotN, both of whom together have somewhere around 60 years of service in the CotN (I hope they let me talk!). Just kidding, I know that they will. So I have other avenues of stretching and discussion. I'll maximize them in place of the Naznet.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Prayers for Election Day

Those who know me well know that Stanley Hauerwas has been pretty influential on my thinking. Here's a prayer of his from Prayers Plainly Spoken called "A Prayer on Election Day":

Sovereign Lord, foolish we are, believing that we can rule ourselves by selecting this or that person to rule over us. We are at it again. Help us not to think it more significant than it is, but also give us and those we elect enough wisdom to acknowledge our follies. Help us laugh at ourselves, for without humor our politics cannot be humane. We desire to dominate and thus are dominated. Free us, dear Lord, for otherwise we perish. Amen.

And then my own prayer in these days (largely taken from scripture):

God in Christ, lead us by your Spirit: We, like sheep, have gone astray. We've sold out our devotion to you and your Son, the God-man, for the eloquent words and safe promises of men. Thank you for the sacrifice that's already taken care of our iniquity. Yet...help our love to flourish more and more now, as we seek to make discernment. As we cast a vote for the future of an earthly nation, remind us foremost of the coming of your Kingdom in and through us, your subjects, the citizens of the eternal nation. Even as I enter the days ahead, be them down one path or another, help us, your people, to love and submit to one another and Christ. Amen.

(I have another one for the day after the election. If I don't post it, somebody remind me.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Do you believe that God loves you?

My friend Brad Grinnen posted this video on Facebook. It's tough stuff.

Do you truly believe that God loves you?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

And the world goes on

When we moved back from Kansas City to the Boston area, we promised ourselves that we would regularly visit large bodies of water.  In KC, sometimes I'd get excited at the sight of a big puddle.  It was just the closest thing we could get...

So we've taken the kids a number of times to Nantasket Beach (usually in the late afternoon or evening).  And I'll often eat my lunch at Wollaston Beach, or just stop to watch the waves sometimes.  It's a pathetic beach compared to some, but not compared to the puddles of the Midwest.  And Meghan enjoys taking her "alone times" at the Hingham Bathing Beach.

I stopped the other day to stand for a bit at Wollaston Beach.  The wind was decently strong, creating waves loud enough to drown out the cars and busyness behind me on Quincy Shore Drive.  I appreciate these times because they are a fresh reminder to me that life goes on.  No matter where I am, how busy I think things are, or how much I'm "missing out on," the waves continue to roll over and over and over.  And they always have.  

There's something comforting - something that I need to remember often - about the knowledge that God has always been moving, and God is moving now, and God will move in the future.  While I may often feel like I'm missing out on things, being in the season of life that I am in, I'm not necessarily missing out on God.  And what matters more?

I am of use for Kingdom of God.  I may not be as I envisioned it two or four years ago.  But I am of use for God's Kingdom.

Some of us studied Genesis 20 a few nights ago.  It's a rather disturbing, seemingly hole-filled narrative of Abraham and Abimelech.  The wrongs of the story are 100% Abraham's fault, yet Abimelech receives the calamity of God, and to be restored, Abraham prays for Abimelech.  It's very backwards.

We've been asking what the story of God is throughout our Genesis studies, remembering that what we have is the collection of narratives passed over generations to the people of Israel (and giving due respect and understanding to culture, etc.).  So then we ask ourselves, what does this say for our story today?

...this one was tougher.  Some pointed out that it just seems as though Abraham continues to mistrust and do wrong, bringing bad times and events to those who come in contact with him.  Yet God carries him through nonetheless.  

In one sense, we can see the grace of God in the story.  Despite Abraham's major short-comings, God was going to use him nonetheless.  I guess that gives me comfort...

More recently, we looked at the next chapter (Genesis 21).  Abimelech comes back into the story and this time he outright says it: "Wow, Abraham...God is in everything you do," which I read to say, "Nothing goes wrong for you.  You've got it all good.  Your touch is Midas'."  

This resonates with me.  While it might seem good from another's perspective, it's a difficult place to be in and to maintain a healthy understanding of God's work in one's life.

I guess the grace of God works in different situations.  Usually we think of God's grace as that which makes up for lacking, and that's true.  But God's work in our lives may take other forms as well, just carrying us along despite a lack of major difficulty, transition, or tragedy.

I've begun Brian McLaren's new book, Finding Our Way Again.  I'm hoping that I actually hear this one well.  It's a much different book than McLaren's norm, as it's the kick-off book of a series of books on seeking God's face through ancient spiritual practices (fixed-hour prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, etc.), rather than a practical theology or "everything must change now!" book.  It's got a much slower pace.  I'm looking forward to it and have enjoyed journaling the first couple of chapters so far.  I'm taking this one slowly.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Does Charity = Love?

Does "giving to charity" result in love? Is it transformative? For the giver? For the receiver?

There's the old saying, "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime." I wonder of the extent of that statement.

Someone else recently got me thinking about this (I don't remember if it was Claiborne or who, sorry). And then I've had a couple of discussions with others about short term missions lately. In seminary, I went through a phase where I thought short term mission trips were ridiculous. The money exerted seemed a waste and that if we'd just give that money raised to the people we set out to help, we'd help them more than by spending it all on our own transportation. But short term mission trips are hardly about those with or to whom we minister. The transformation inevitably takes place in those of us who go. It's somewhat like pilgrimage.

Anyway, I've often wished that I had millions of dollars with which I could do great things. Who, at some point in their life, hasn't? But as I've thought about it lately, I'm not sure how much long-term good I could truly do with it. True transformation, both for myself and for my neighbor, has hardly anything to do with money. Yes, money is the currency of human power, and power is very important, but when it comes down to it, transformation through experience and relationship is what I'm really seeking and is what the world really needs.

I don't know...I just don't envision Jesus sitting around handing out money.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Jesus for President

I finally finished Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne & Chris Haw.  

The book was annoying at first.  Chris and Shane give criticism of the evangelical church...something I'm used to and have often done myself, and a necessary task if we're going to seek after the Kingdom of God.  However, the manner in which they offer these criticisms was frustrating because it was cynical and often mocking.  My hope was to use this book as a resource within my own community.  Some within my community may read those criticisms, get mad at them, and miss the message (a message with which I wholeheartedly agree).

Over time, however, my appreciation for the book grew more and more.  I wasn't a big fan of Claiborne's first book (The Irresistible Revolution).  I didn't even get into it.  But I greatly appreciate J4P.  It was challenging, confirming, and refreshing.  I may still offer it to my community for thought.  

I've come to see the manner of the book as more prophetic than mocking.  Jesus and John the Baptist both gave criticisms that were cynical and even mocking as well.

There are a number of quotes worth sharing, but the one that has haunted me the most was this: "Idolatry is what we would sacrifice our children for."  This was specifically written in a section about political freedom, war, and pacificism.  Yoder and Hauerwas began my trip towards pacificism.  Claiborne and Haw are fueling it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

God Is In It For Us

Year A, Proper 12, 2008-07-27
Romans 8:26-39

(please read the text above before the sermon below...)

"If God is for us, who can be against us?"

What a phrase! It's been used again and again over the course of the history of Christianity. It's a wonderful reminder to us that since we have chosen to follow God, to be on "his team," so to speak, we have already chosen the victorious team.

The story goes that Abraham Lincoln was asked by a Union supporter if he thought that God was on their side during the Civil War. It's said that Lincoln turned to the man, looked at him and said, "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side."

And Paul says here that if God is for us, no one can be against us.

But this isn't really a war-rallying cry. Though it's been used that way since the time of Constantine, this was hardly Paul's intent. He did not mean that because we've chosen to follow God, that we can romp around and conquer everyone and everything because God is "on our side". In fact, Paul said that followers of Christ are more than conquerors.

This is like when you were younger and your mother or your father or a teacher noticed you doing something wrong and they would say something like, "Come on...you're better than that." You're above that...you should know better...you're better than that.

And this is what Paul is saying: We're better than conquerors. We're more than conquerors. This is the way of Christ, it's what he demonstrated to us. He could have grabbed Pilate by the hands, tied him up in a pretzel, and shot lazer beams out of his eyes, with Pilate whining like a puppy, and his solders running from the sight. But he didn't. Jesus shows us in his actions that the image of God is better than fighting and force and threats and conquering heroes. He showed us a better way.

And that's what Paul is saying here. We don't resort to using death threats. And we don't succumb to them either. We don't fall into and fear death and persecution and mockery and the like. This is how God works - amongst the evil ways of the world, but not like the evil ways of the world.

And if God is always working for good even amongst evil, then his people will too. If the Kingdom of God is a body that works for good no matter the circumstances, the citizens of the people of God will always be seeking ways by which to usher in goodness even amongst badness.

Some of you knew my grandfather Nease. He died two years ago. I miss him.

I believe I've perhaps shared with you before about his family family. My grandparents had four children. My mother is the oldest, then there were three boys: Floyd, Steve, & David. David was the youngest, and he was beloved by everyone. He was somewhat of a typical youngest child - seemed to get a little more time and attention from his parents and could get away with a bit more than the older siblings could. But even so, his siblings loved him. My middle name is given to me in his honor.

When my grandfather was asked to begin a new college of higher education for the Church of the Nazarene, the family moved from Quincy to Mount Vernon, Ohio, to begin Mount Vernon Nazarene College, now University. They lived right on the new campus, which was really an old estate farm. On the land was a pond. The family also had a beloved dog. And one day during the winter, the dog fell through the ice on the pond. My twelve year old uncle David rushed to save the dog, but ended up himself drowning, dead at the age of twelve.

It was obviously a major tragedy for the family. Here, they were sure that God had led them to the boonies of Ohio to begin a new Christian school. And in the course of time, their youngest son was seemingly taken for them. The question, "Why?" was surely on their minds. It was a difficult time for the family. David's death actually continued on with them for quite a while. Those close to him say that it was with my grandfather until the day he died.

Tough things affect us. As long as we're living amongst this fallen world...they will continue. And to say that we can just forget them is ignorant of our place in the world as human beings. However, when tough times occur, what marks the follower of Christ is how he or she responds.

The days of the early Church, the first followers of Jesus Christ, were not easy. We know that they were subject to persecution, ridicule, and even death. We can certainly imagine that for the followers of Christ in the great city of Rome, to whom this letter was written, things were no easier. Rome, being the central metropolis for the whole Roman Empire, had no better taste for Christians than did any other region. Things were not easy. The world was tough on them. They experienced tough times. And it's in this context that Paul writes to them these words (and now I'm paraphrasing from the NIV and the Message):

"So, what do you think? What should be our response in light of this life, as followers of Christ in this world? Well...If God is for us, who can be against us? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us? Who will be able to bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Who or what will be able to do that? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced, and I believe that you can be convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, nothing living or dead, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us.

This is how we respond to the troubles of the world. Paul doesn't say that there won't be trouble. Jesus warns of it. So it's not that for followers of Christ nothing bad will happen. But it is that when something bad does happen, our response can be better than the response of the world, because all the while, we know that God is in it for us, working alongside us, to achieve that which is good for us and for the world.

This is how my grandparents ended up choosing to respond to their son David's death. Sure, his death continued to affect them. It was saddening to them. But they continued on. In fact, it wasn't very long at all after David's death that my grandparents decided to adopt two children. They took two kids and welcomed them into their home. They believed that they still had a lot of love to give. So they adopted a different boy with the name David and his twin sister, Melissa. And these two now got to grow up in a wonderful, loving home environment. And now they serve God and humanity, though in very different ways. My aunt Melissa (actually after graduating from Hingham High School) went on to Eastern Nazarene College, got a degree in education, and then a Masters degree in education, and today she serves a strong and growing church in Harrisburg, PA as the Children's Pastor. My new uncle David has spent his adult life in law enforcement, first as a State Trooper in Vermont, then an under-cover trooper fighting drug trafficking, then training police officers in Iraq, and most recently, as a detective with the Winooski, Vermont police force. I'm proud of my aunt Melissa and my uncle David. They are good people and good parents.

And it all began with my grandparents' choice not to dwell on their child's death too much, but to choose to re-direct the love God had given them to two other children in need.

This is what God and his followers do:

* amongst the bad, push for good;
* in spite of difficult times, make way for love and compassion;
* rather than fall into evil, working through evil for good.

Because when we fall into evil, do "bad things," we've ceased to remember that God is in it for us. Yes, we're weak. But we're in it with God. Look at the first part of the passage again:

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought ("we may not know what to do"), but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."

So in these times, which are difficult for many, we can know that God is in it for us.

"Oh, but the gas prices..."
Gas prices!??! Are you serious? Yes, they're difficult, and we need to make some major life shifts and decisions, but we're talking about gas prices!

"Oh, but the recession..."
I know...it's difficult. I'm sure you heard about the woman this week who took her own life but an hour and a half before her home was to be auctioned off. A home. I know it's important, but it's wood, and boards, and tile, and drywall, and a few thousand nails and screws. It's not worth giving up on life.

"Oh, but I'm so sick of my job!"
What's that? You get to have a job? In the United States? With a minimum wage of $6.55? You're doing better than the majority of the world.

"Oh, but this isn't working out for me" or "That isn't working out for me."
I know, times can be tough sometimes. And they are going to be tough sometimes. That I guarantee you.

So the question becomes, "What are we going to do about it? What are we going to do about these things? What then are we to say about these things?"

Well...If God is for us, who is against us? God gave up everything for us. The living God, the creator of the world, is in it for you and for me and for us. What can bring that down? Gas prices? A recession? The wrong guy for president? The "right" guy for president? ;-) A bad law? A bad job?

No, in all these things we are more than that...we are above responding to tough times with tough whines. How? ...through him who loved us.

For I am convinced (with Paul) that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Stewardship, Trees, & SUVs

I'm 27 years old. I can barely remember not recycling. When my family moved to Windham, NH in 1990, the town already had mandatory recycling. So it wasn't until I went to college (in Quincy, MA) that I didn't throw every can, bottle, and piece of paper in a different bin. And I was even more conflicted when we lived in Kansas City, KS for two and a half years, an area where I only found one person who recycled, and he just considered it "a hobby." Recycling was for those liberal tree-huggers.

Speaking of trees, we just spent a week in northern Vermont on our annual trip to the family camp on Lake Champlain, just north of St. Alban's Bay. I attribute much of my love for creation to spending summers growing up on the edge of the Lake, watching the sunset, catching various small creatures of the wild, and driving the backroads of the Green Mountain state, full of incredible views of trees and mountains. (Here are a few pictures of our family vacations this summer, including some decent sunset pics.)

So I was brought up - both in the home and in school - to be concerned for God's creation through care for the environment. Throwing a Diet Coke can or a newspaper into the trash gives me about the same feeling that throwing a dime or a quarter into the trash might. It just doesn't feel right and feels like a waste. For similar reasons, I turn out lights whenever I can (a never-ending job with little ones whose greatest feeling of power and self-ability is to flip those little light switches and watch the grand change it makes).

In college, when I started driving a 1993 Volvo 850 that came with the gadget built in that tells you your average gas mileage and your current gas usage, I began being more concerned with how much gas I used. It was as much a hobby and a money-saver as it was a world-saving activity, but ever since then, it's been a concern.

The fact that we are in the market for a new (used) car coupled with the transportation needs of a family of five means that we have to buy another big vehicle. If I could, I would get a Geo Metro or Toyota Prius. But we can't. It's not practical right now. We made the decision a while ago to be a one vehicle family for the foreseeable future. We challenged ourselves on the American assumption that every family needs two vehicles. We're going along just fine with but one.

I guess I'm settling on the thought that being a good steward - both of finances and of God's creation - goes beyond the first look. Though we're likely to purchase an SUV or minivan (we've somewhat settled on the Honda Pilot) - a vehicle that drinks rather than sips gasoline - there are other factors at hand. Sure...we could also buy a small car for trips to the grocery store and for my daily travels across the South Shore, but in addition to the purchase of the car, that would mean more insurance, more registration fees, and more repair costs. This would further hinder us financially, and limit our ability to contribute to the compassionate needs and ministries that we care about, which for us is also part of being good stewards.

(On a side note, we finally got our economic stimulus check, part of which we've been planning for Kiva loans. We lent for three more last night and will do at least one more. Kiva is great - check it out. I'm not sure this is what Mr. Bush and the Congress meant by "economic stimulus," but it works for me.)

Anyway, I guess this post is a release for me. In a time when everyone is down-sizing vehicles and doing their best to help curb dependency on oil, it seems at first glance for me that we're going the other direction.

There are other things that we can do and are doing to alleviate our usage of depleting natural resources. We compost. We recycle everything that we can. I've just purchased one of these. And I've even *gasp* gone through a day here and there lately without showering...I know: "How gross!"...but it's really not. Daily showering is another American assumption that is in the vast minority of the norm throughout history and even the modern world. We've done really well this summer and the past few to minimalize the use of our window ACs.

As much as it's stretched our budget a bit, I think these oil problems are a good thing in the long run. We Americans have long overrun our allotment of the resources of the world. We need to change our ways. If you want to be challenged on these things, read McLaren's latest book, Everything Must Change.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Ordination Recap and Some Thanks

So I was indeed ordained an elder in the Church of the Nazarene last week (click here if you care about pictures). Some have asked me “how I feel.” Well, honestly, I’m thankful. Another asked me if my sermon was better the day after. I don’t know, although, I did feel a bit more confident…? Another asked what ordination meant to me. Well, here’s what the Church of the Nazarene says (in part):

401.6. Theology of Ordination. While affirming the scriptural tenet of the universal priesthood and ministry of all believers, ordination reflects the biblical belief that God calls out and gifts certain men and women for ministerial leadership in His Church. Ordination is the authenticating, authorizing act of the Church, which recognizes and confirms God’s call to ministerial leadership as stewards and proclaimers of both the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ. Consequently, ordination bears witness to the Church universal and the world at large that this candidate evidences an exemplary life of holiness, possesses gifts and graces for public ministry, and has a thirst for knowledge, especially for the Word of God, and has the capacity to clearly communicate sound doctrine.

I actually appreciate that. I think it’s a worthy statement.

More personally, I saw the day as a statement of faith in me by the church community. I was not ordained by Paul Cunningham. He was the presiding General Superintendent over the New England District Church of the Nazarene, who chose to ordain me. And it is indeed quite a statement of faith, one that I must and will remember.

So in one sense, it was an end.

But in a much greater sense, it was a beginning. I am stating here publicly that I commit to continue seeking the face of God. This means that I acknowledge I have more to learn and will until the final consummation (I think the title of this blog is testimony to that). I give anyone and everyone permission to call me out on the day I stop learning. I think one of the greatest weaknesses that has put the CotN and evangelicalism in danger of not having a voice in the world is the lack of desire to continue being formed and shaped as the culture around us changes. The thought that we have ministers serving on the foundation of an M.Div. of several decades in age and a few CEUs here and there should give us no wonder that we aren’t connecting with today’s generations. Jesus Christ may be the same yesterday, today, and forever…but the culture he loves is not.

So…I hope to continue learning, to continue being shaped and formed, to continue being moved by a Spirit that is always in constant motion (it’s no wonder that the images for the Spirit are fire & wind, no?).

So while ordination was a time to look to the past and remember all we’ve come through to get where we are, it’s also a challenge to be alive in the future.

By the way, I confessed to someone recently that I have been on the BU School of Theology website quite a bit recently…but due to reasons of finance and family, another degree is not likely any time soon.

There are times in life when you just feel like you need to thank somebody. The event of ordination made me think of all the people who have shaped and formed my life to this end (beginning). I want to take some time to thank some people who have led me thus far in ministry in the Kingdom.

Of course, the danger in doing this is forgetting someone. I’m going to go ahead and risk the danger, with apologies to those I may remember later. I want those I have remembered to know that I am thankful for what they’ve done in my life as I have headed into ministry in the Kingdom of God.

Kenny Stanford – For picking a non-athletic clumsy toe-headed seventh grader to the FOL volleyball team. I had no reason to be on that team, but you have no idea what it meant to the confidence of a shy, young boy. And then you just kind of adopted me into ministry. And now, for your friendship, advice, and sounding board ears.

Jeff Lane – For being a model to a young teen and now, for your friendship. It’s nice to know that you’re “out there” too (in more ways than one).

Don & Lori Jeffrey – For driving me to countless youth events and being “youth pastors” where there were none. For opening your home to me.

David Landry – For giving tough advice and challenge to a young teen. Your example spoke to me.

Gerry & Sharon Deroschers – For your advice and challenge to serve Christ amongst my peers.

Dave Brown – For demonstrating to a young teen what it means to love and have passion about something.

Dan Eddings – For your demonstration of leadership.

Bev Keuther – For your encouragement to a young teen to keep on in serving the Lord.

John White – For leading a church community that always encouraged the development of young people: for giving us a chance to minister and lead. And for letting me be a part of a youth group when I had none.

David Bickom – For spending so much time with a young guy and giving me a sense of humor.

Mark Metcalfe – For encouraging a young musician.

Ed Frost – For your friendship. I’ve always felt like I am your equal.

Nick Mucci, Jarrod Spalding, Jamie Wilson – For your friendship in college and since. It’s so great to know that I’m not alone in what I’m doing.

Ryan Scott – For your quiet friendship, countless conversations over IM. I am challenged by you, and all for the better.

Mike Schutz – For challenging me to think and ask tough questions of God and humanity.

Fred Fullerton – For your mentorship in some tough times in college, for your friendship now as a peer.

John M. Nielson – For encouraging Meghan and I as we sought the will of God. And for your example in family and ministry.

Tom Oord – For helping me understand that it’s okay to challenge my own thinking, to doubt, and for showing me my own foundation for believing in God by your own testimony.

LeRoy Hammerstrom & Ken Constantine – For passing me! But even more so, for encouraging a young college student to follow the voice of God, despite the confusing road I was on.

Anita Henck - For your encouragement in confusing times.

Bill Clay – For challenging me to be sanctified daily. Starting now.

Hans Deventer (and others on Naznet) – For giving me a place to present ideas, challenging me to be able to know what I’m talking about and allowing me to grow in grace and knowledge, all the while in love.

Clark Armstrong – For giving me a chance, for your encouragement, your loan forgiveness, your willingness to share the helm, your release, your passion, your quickness to demonstrate emotion, and your example of “plodding along.”

Golda Masters – For demonstrating to me a “fight to the end” attitude. For your love and “gramma-like” care to a poor young couple and their son. For your comradeship.

Tim Pusey – For always seeking out a lowly seminary student in a Kansas City crowd of bigwigs.

Brian Postlewait – For your constant challenge to think about what it means to be a part of the Kingdom.

NTS Profs – I could list each one of you individually and say how you impacted me. Thanks for leading me in ministry for the Kingdom.

Ron Benefiel - Though you don't even know it, for showing me that I can stay...and how.

Russ Metcalfe – For your example to the next generation, and your continued willingness to seek the face of God despite “time served.” And for daily prayer.

Jossie Owens – For not throwing away a letter and giving a chance to a young and crazy guy.

Larry Ogden – For demonstrating to me that generations other than my own can think too. And your grace.

Geoff DeFranca – For being a bigwig that’s not afraid to challenge the ways of our small corner of the Kingdom of God.

Scott Newell – Your sense of humor is a reminder to me to “chill out.” Thanks for praying with me every week. And thanks for starting a church community in Hingham.

Larry & Martha Wilson – For being a counselor who took interest in a young guy in his cabin. And for continuing the work in Hingham.

Mike Matthews – For your open and welcoming arms to me and my family when you probably had good human reason not to. And for continuing the work in Hingham.

Ron & Patty Parker – For your example and quiet advice. (Oh yeah, and for your daughter, my partner in ministry).

Floyd Nease - Though it may surprise many (and perhaps none more than yourself) to find your name on this list, conversations we've had have shaped my understanding of God, one way or the other. And thanks for being a sounding board each week, as in my head, I've often deleted portions of a sermon after thinking, "Uncle Floyd would think that's ridiculous." Quite often, you've been right.

Jeff – For talking theology. I look forward to more of it.

Mike Lyle – There are several on this list to whom I could give a lifetime of thanks (both in breadth and because they deserve it). You’re one of them, and I hope I can do it. Thanks for your honesty and transparency.

Grandma & Grandpa Scott - For your demonstration of what it means to be dedicated to service in the Church.

Grandpa Nease – I don’t even know where to begin. I guess if I were to pick one thing in relationship to service in the Kingdom of God, thanks for your example of humility and grace. That’s what I hear about the most as I talk to people who knew you well.

Mom – I continue to be pleasantly surprised sometimes, as I think about theology, to remember back to some conversations we had when I was growing up.

Dad – Good grief, where would I start? I guess it all started with DNA, but thanks most of all for your example of humility, grace, and plodding along despite a lack of acknowledgement. I imagine I’ll be needing that too.

Meghan - Thanks for not giving up on me, especially when we've talked late into the night about some whacko theological thing or another. I love how we've grown together.

(I really didn't mean for this to sound like I won the Oscars or something...it's just that there have been times when people have thanked me for something I've not even remembered doing, and it was an encouragement. I guess I want to do the same.)