My Saturday Nights…

The quietest part of my week is Saturday night. I spend most of it alone in a large empty sanctuary. I talk to myself… doing final edits and revisions to tomorrow’s sermon, thinking through announcements, prayer request and technological hurtles. I’ll give it all a final run-through.

I talk to God – praying that He blesses the people that will sit in each pew in the morning. That He’d nudge folks who are indecisive about attending. – Praying for people who have so many needs – spoken and obvious, unspoken – and hidden. People who need the Lord to bless them in some way. People whose lives need to be changed by the hope and love that God offers.

And I’m really convinced that it matters – that a morning as standard and regular as a Sunday spent in worship can make a difference in the lives of people – whatever they’re going through, in a way where people are more grateful for Christ and more loving to their neighbors. And each Saturday night, I ask God in faith that He make the next morning a powerful one. (And He often does just that and more)

On This Season (new elders/deacons)

I measure church seasons by terms of office. We’re led by elders and deacons who serve for three years at a time before taking a two year break. Right now we’re saying “thank you” and “rest up” to leaders who have finished a three-year term. Jim, Mart, Mike, Tim, & Josh. And it’s been a memorable 3 years.

They started in July of 2019 – and I remember thanking them for their willingness to serve. The previous three years (2016-2019) had been really challenging. We had prayed, planned, fundraised, and finally built a new addition (lobby, bathrooms, cafe, kids space etc). It was a wonderful project, but a TON of work – and a massive strain on our leaders. I remember telling them that by Fall of 2019, after spending over a year worshiping in the gym, we’d finally get back to the normalcy of our main building and some stability and… I mean, “2020+ was going to be boring and unchallenging in comparison to the previous three years…” I said and God laughed.

Because the church leaders going on break now led us faithfully in a not-boring, very challenging season of disruption. We got back in the building and expected normal right before COVID hit and we had to together navigate all the stress of a state of emergency all while each of us had extra stress at work and at home. Leaders had to make a lot of decisions quickly. We had to deal with people under our care who were going through some of their worse moments. We started programs that helped and energized old ones (Health Clinic, Food Pantry, Benevolence). We walked with people who were in crisis, and came along people who needed support.

I’m out of the prediction business, but always working at being grateful – in this case to a team of leaders who rose to difficult occasions.

On Fatherhood.

A late post on Father’s Day.

Every pastor has prejudices. When you work with people long enough, you look for clues that save you time in measuring people before you do deep dives into their opinions. And being a pastor is tricky because everyone has opinions on your job.

Here’s what gets my attention if they have kids: (and… since it’s a known prejudice, I then have to talk myself out of being judgey.) – How did someone do as a parent? Did they use their time with young kids well? – How are their children doing as human beings, or as Christians? Were they more concerned about self-promotion or raising their kids? What sorts of Fathers or Mothers are/were they? (Is what I awkwardly ask when evaluating someone’s advice on what a church should be like.)

And again, it’s a prejudice – kids are kids – people make mistakes – if we got a do over who among us would do everything the same? And frankly, I don’t always live up to my own standards.

But I find myself with the most respect, and listen the most to women and men who have led their homes well (1 Timothy 3:4) – and I want to be the sort of leader who gets to the end and has kids who I can be proud of. And I’m most thankful on days like Fathers day that I’m surrounded by a community that works really hard at raising good kids, who have learned a lot from good parents.

“When a father is present, emotionally healthy, and involved in his child’s life, the child has a tremendous advantage in the world to navigate its complexities and challenges with joy and confidence… What else can you hope other than that your [child] understands, deep in his heart, that you love him? That you’re pouring into him because of how much you care about him and the life he is going to lead?” – Jon Tyson, The Intentional Father

Off Council of Delegates (COD)

One of the least controversial decisions the CRCNA Synod 2022 did was to approve my replacement for the national board (Council of Delegates) :-).

I accepted the nomination 5 years ago in part because I really cared about local CRCNA churches in North America, in part because I had some complaints, and in part because.. well I was very new to the CRCNA and wanted to learn about what I had just joined.

It was in some ways wonderful – I appreciated the time I was able to spend with other leaders – the CRCNA is doing some amazing, under-celebrated things in North America and globally (google “World Renew” or “CRCNA Chaplaincy” or “Reframe” or “Resonate Global Mission”). I appreciated learning and getting stretched working through complex systems and issues as a growing leader (working through a nearly $40m budget).

I’m really proud of what we were able to accomplish. – I was elected as chair of Congregational Services and I loved working with Colin Watson – his passion for local churches and his work of aligning systems to serve them was contagious. We were able to revise the EPMC process, and work through the transition to a different fundraising model that elevated the power of local churches and we worked at protecting the most vulnerable. I then served as secretary for US Corporation and got to see and learn a lot. I’m convinced there are some really good things in our future as we serve Christ together.

At the same time it was exhausting. Navigating the sudden resignations of executives, working through justice appeals from local situations, trying to understand all of the conflicts between Canadian and the US – then adding a pandemic navigated by diverse churches in different parts of North America, and add to that some contentious issues from study committees. All while trying to explain to church leaders in our own classis what was going on, and then asking hard questions of staff and directors… – I’m sure I’ll post again about the CRCNA, but I’m ready for a bit of a break. – Have fun Anthony.

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What strangles faith?

Jesus tells this horrifying story about seeds of Christian faith that get choked by thorns (Matthew 13:8). For a long time I interpreted these thorns to be (I hate to admit this) like the thorns in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty – giant, unescapable, fire-breathing dragon included. I really thought that the things that might strangle faith were big threats of the day – Communism, Racism, Sexual Predators, Big Government persecution, Scandal – I mean, whatever Christian were worried about in that moment. – I really thought that’s what choked faith.

So Jesus’s own interpretation hit me hard when I read it… Jesus says.

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Matthew 13:22 (NIV)

According to Jesus, the real threat – the thing that can “choke the word” – is… just worrying about life too much, just getting distracted by too many good things. That your life of faith can get smothered by stress, anxiety, or activity and overscheduling.

I wonder how much that is happening right now in our over-scheduled, over-stressed world. – We need to talk about how to get our lives back from the strangleholds of worry and consumerism.

Last Sunday’s Sermon at www.Goshen.Church

not giving up…

Right after Sharon Vogel celebrated her last child’s graduation, she started college herself. Before her 50th birthday she had earned her degree and started teaching parttime in a local Christian School… which closed sadly and unexpectedly right after her first year teaching preschool.

11 years ago… without students, without a school, without a building, she started a preschool with a few kids in the church basement because she really felt that the kids needed a loving education in a Christian environment.

This is a picture of the 10th graduation of Goshen Christian Preschool. It’s been 10 graduating classes, a faithful board, church communities, teachers, assistants, administrative staff, and hundreds of kids and families made better because she didn’t let little setbacks (like an entire school closing) stop her from what she felt God called her to do. Our community would be better off if more people would do the same.

(this is not an advertisement for Goshen Christian Preschool... I think the waiting list is deep into the double digits for the Fall.)

 fortifies us for any difficulty 

Nothing better than being in the thick of wedding season with her as my date.

(the Tim Keller quote I read when officiating)

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. 
To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. 
But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. 
It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.

Tim Keller – The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

(Photo by Colette)

Impress them on your children

I spent a wonderful decade in Youth Ministry. (Pictured are students from my last year as youth pastor before becoming a senior pastor).

Back then we had a lot of fun along with talking about faith, community and service. But now, some of my proudest moments are seeing what they’ve become – watching them get stretched by serving others, seeing how they’ve learned to be honest with others and themselves. This weekend I’ll be joining some of them to celebrate the marriage of two of the students Ashley and I were especially close to. I’m really proud of so many of them for who they’re becoming.

Right now I’m leading my own youth group of 4. (It’s true, I practiced on other people’s kids first) But I’m also watching www.Goshen.Church Youth Group starting to grow and form, and I’m maybe more thankful for youth leaders, mentors, coaches and parents now than ever before.

(and if you’re in the picture… thanks Jennie for putting this book together, know that I prayed for you by name before posting – I’d love to catch up sometime)

“Being Reformed”

A lot of my evangelical friends assume that “being reformed” is mostly sitting around talking about how God determines coin flips – or something in that theological vein.

But, the fact is that “being reformed” means being a part of church accountability. (covenant networks across states and countries). “Being Reformed” means that celebrity pastors don’t call the shots, that local churches are somehow accountable to other local churches, that groups of churches make decisions together. And it’s a lot of work and it’s a hassle. And it can sometimes hold back a lot of the entrepreneurial energy and creativity that has propelled the evangelical machine.

But accountability is also healthier in the long-run. That less flashy leaders have to work within systems and be transparent, and work at distributing power in ways that avoid abuse and protect those who whisper. (This week I’ve been “being reformed” a lot… and it’s painful and time-consuming to help other pastors and churches work though decisions – but I’m convinced that it ultimately builds a stronger kingdom of Jesus.)

(pictured is the 1,300+ page agenda for our bi-national assembly called “synod”. taking place this week.)

Small Consistent Investments Add Up…

Tonight we’re missing CADETS and GEMS due to summer break. It ended without fanfare, but I’m so thankful for these programs that reach around 40 boys and girls and their families. I think a lot about the several kids who don’t have dads or moms investing in them and am soooo thankful for godly leaders who serve and lead unselfishly and sacrificially in helping keep the sorts of vows good churches make at baptisms – for the church community to help raise kids together. I’m convinced moments like these are under-celebrated but will change the world for the better.