Our Grown Man

“I have to buy a minivan!” were the first words out of my mouth, said without delight and in response to Brenda’s heart pounding news that she was going to have a baby.

You can fit three kids in all kinds of vehicles. They can ride in the back seat of a Mustang or the second row of a crew cab pickup. Both vehicles were fine choices for a cool youth pastor with flowing hair back in the day. But when you pass the three-kid-threshold and move to four or beyond, a minivan becomes the only realistic option. We’ve owned vans of a variety of makes and models for nearly 20 years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Our youngest graduated from high school last week. When God gave him to us in November, 1998, Jeffery balanced the family as boys became the bookends and girls filled in the middle. Neither Brenda nor I ever thought it would be that way.

God gave us a first born son, and with the exception of zero interest in potty training, Michael was the ideal infant and toddler. Then God gave us a daughter, and with the exception of zero interest in sitting still or refraining from climbing to the top of everything, Jennifer completed our perfect, little family. A few years later, God gave us the child I didn’t want (search past Lunchtime Musings for that transparent post) when Emily made us the Jackson 5, as our pastor’s wife liked to call us.

But Emily was to be the last. No more kids. More kids equal a minivan. I didn’t want a minivan or any more kids. Then God gave us Jeffery, and I can’t imagine life without him or the minivan.

Jeffery’s older siblings will tell you that he is the stereotypical baby of the family. From his big brother you’ll hear, “If I ever did that when I was a kid, dad would have…” and his sisters say over and again, “Mom gives you everything!” There is some truth to his siblings’ observations.

Jeffery has this tough, outer shell that matches his physical prowess. I tell people Jeffery is the buddy you call when you are moving from your apartment to your first house. He seems to have this endless surge of strength met with an equal amount of stamina. I stopped messing with him a long time ago.

Underneath that shell is the tenderness of gentle giant. When Jeffery fishes with me, he is a pure catch and release guy. None of his fish meet the filet knife. Before Lauren became his sister-in-law, she stayed with us in Jeffery’s room for a full month. Unknown to Lauren, the spider who made a daily appearance was a welcome guest in Jeffery’s room. It didn’t make for good family relationships when Jeffery discovered Lauren had prematurely ended the spider’s life.

On the court or the field, you want Jeffery on your team. He doesn’t require the glory, just get the job done. His one personal foul in football came during a critical point in a game his senior year when protecting his quarterback who had taken multiple cheap shots from a psycho in shoulder pads on the other team. If he’s your teammate or friend, he’ll stick with you. Better offers after making a commitment to you will not dissuade him. He’ll throw his lot in with you.

The last two years Jeffery has had us all to himself, and we him. The last time our little house was like this Michael wasn’t quite three-years-old and the conversations didn’t have complete sentences. I can see how the baby of the family sometimes comes to care for mom and dad.

Jeffery will leave home soon as is God’s plan for sons and daughters as they grow into maturity (Gen. 2:24). Jeffery made our family complete. We thank the Lord for what he has done in Jeffery’s life, and we look forward to what God will do in his life in the years to come.

Time to go for a ride in the Mustang.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

A College Semester in God's Classroom

Today's Lunchtime Musing comes from the keyboard of one of our college students. Most Sundays you can find Emily VerWay at a keyboard helping God's people worship. During the week, there's a good chance you'll find her with a volleyball in her hands.

My name is Emily. Last week, I finished my sophomore year of college at the University of Wisconsin-Superior where I am studying Business Management and International Business, and also pursuing a degree in music.

College is fun. On the outside it may look like one big social event with a few babysitters, aka the RA’s who remind me that “your voice carries.” However, I’ll be the first to say that college is hard. Getting an education is hard. Building relationships and friendships is hard. Figuring out how to be independent apart from mom and dad is hard. Learning how to walk by faith in a faithless world and community is hard.

This semester was definitely my most difficult one yet both academically and spiritually. There were days when the struggles seemed to just completely run me over, resulting in frustration, discouragement, and many tears.

There were many nights of crying out to God, begging Him to give me an answer for what He was doing in my life. I didn’t understand, and quite frankly, I didn’t want to wait on God’s time. I wanted answers and I wanted them now. I wrestled with God. I wanted to grow, I really did, but I didn’t want the pain of His refining hand.

Slowly and graciously God was changing me. Over time, He humbled me, and really, isn't it in our hardest moment when we are finally humbled that we often see God most clearly? Isn’t it in the moments that we are reduced to nothing that we see God is offering everything? Isn’t it when we feel completely hopeless that we finally recognize that God is our hope?

Throughout this past semester, God has brought to my attention promise after promise about Himself and what He is actively doing for me, His child. I have to be honest, many of them have been "simple" truths like the fact that God is good (Ps. 119:68), sovereign (Jeremiah 29:11), or the truth that I need not fear with Him (Isaiah 41:10). I grew up learning those truths and know them back and forth, but God really challenged my heart with "do you actually believe those things about Me?" Turns out I didn't.

I didn't see how God's hand could possibly be "working all this together for good" (Romans 8:28). I didn’t see how the many promises in the Psalms of God’s blessings on the righteous could be true because in my mind, I certainly wasn’t on the receiving end of the blessings.

How thankful I am that God is so patient with my unbelieving and wandering heart. He took promise after promise from His word and lovingly handed it to me. He was patient when I questioned how it could be true. He listened and cared as I poured my heart out to Him (Psalm 62:8). He taught my heart that His promises are faithful and true. Why? Because He is faithful and true.

The promises of God stand true only because of the One who is on the other side of them. God could not promise to give me only good things if He was not good. God could not promise always to love me if He was not loving in the first place. But He is each of those, and more abundantly than I could ever understand.

So the really cool things about God's promises? They will not fail me. Why? Because God will not fail me. In fact, "not ONE WORD has failed of all His good promise" to me (1 Kings 8:56). God has always been faithful to me, and I know He will be again.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

On This Date 30 Years Ago

May 16, 1987, when enough hairspray held the feathery locks against even gale force winds, I walked across the stage at Bob Jones University to receive my bachelor's degree. That was thirty years ago! I thank the Lord for those years - the lessons learned, the opportunities afforded, the relationships made, and the growth experienced.

Room, board, and tuition in the fall of 1983 was around $4,500 for the year, a huge amount of money for my family to consider but nowhere near the equivalent costs today. $4,500 in 1983 had the same buying power as $11,132 in 2017. Like most colleges and universities, the cost to attend in 2017 has far outpaced inflation.

Ironically, I remember my first year more than any of the rest. I've forgotten the names of roommates from some years but remember well Stacey Mauk and James Morris. Stacey was another freshman from Nebraska. James Morris was a fellow Chicago guy. These two impacted me far more than I knew at the time. As the only boy in a family of just two kids, I'd had my own bedroom most of my life. This was going to be an adjustment.

For a Christian high school, my graduating class of 26 and high school enrollment of nearly 140 was large compared to other Christian schools. Of course the number paled in comparison to public schools in the Chicago area. You can imagine my culture shock when my parents dropped me off on a campus of more than 5000 students. This too was going to be an adjustment.

It's funny to me that the classes I recall most are those from my freshman year. My first day of History of Civilization I sat in a lecture hall with 400 other students and listened as Dr. Edward Panosian told me of empires and civilizations that shaped the world. Dr. Panosian was a living icon, and History of Civilization immediately informed me of the reality of college classes. Never did I work so hard to get a D, the grade for my first test. Freshman speech and freshman English brought me new friends and a love for words spoken and written. When I sat in Principles of Christian Growth, the freshman Bible class taught by Dr. Mark Minnick theological mentor to me and to many others, it was like I was hearing the Bible for the first time. He taught me Bible truths I follow every day.

From singing in an opera to preaching on a street corner to paying my own bills to living in a dormitory with a couple hundred other guys to talking to my family once-a-week, God used those early months of adulting to stretch and shape me.

I continue to believe in the value of higher level Christian education. The impact isn’t measured merely in the value of the degree but in the shaping of worldview, in the challenge of the college chapel, and in the formation of Christian character.

The Lord was good to provide quality institutions to the church in the past decades, and the Lord is good to provide them for our students and families in the present. Our prayers go with these schools that God would keep them viable and Christian.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Let Me Count the Ways

Like most days I woke this morning thinking about our church, the dozens of families and believing women and men who call First Calvary Baptist Church home. But instead of thinking about the next event on the calendar or a ministry that requires attention, my mind turned to some qualities I love about our church. Here are a few.

I Love Our Generational Church Family.

We shake and hold arthritic hands of those who’ve loved and labored for our Lord for many years and show no signs of stopping anytime soon. These older women and men model for the rest of us what it looks like to be faithful to our Lord and to his church for a very long time. They’ve lived through joy and disappointment, feast and famine. While we only have a few of these seasoned saints with us, their stories of God’s faithfulness instill in us anticipation of God’s constancy in the present.

Following Sunday worship there’s no better place to be than the hallway outside the nurseries. Laughter, hugs, voices soft and loud fill the space as moms and dads gather their little ones to make the trip home. With five more babies on the way and with the hope of more on the horizon, our church receives the blessing of the next generation of Christians.

Somewhere in between the extremes remains the rest of us – middle age couples, teenage girls and guys, college students, single women and men who want to become like Jesus and share his love with our cities in the shadows of St. Paul / Minneapolis and around the world.

Generational Christianity is a beautiful sight to behold week after week.

I Love Preaching to Our Church.

By and large, our church makes preaching the word of God as easy as possible for the one in the pulpit, and since that’s usually me, I really love preaching to our church. Our church is eager to learn God’s Word, gives no indication they’ve grown weary of my preaching, is willing to ponder challenging applications, and still offers polite comments when I whiff on a particular Sunday.

I Love Singing with Our Church.

We don’t have the musicians to provide solo vocalists or a four-part church choir, but let us cut loose on Come, Thou Fount of Every BlessingO Church, Arise, or almost anything else, and we can make a pretty good “joyful noise to the Lord.” We like to sing, and I love it!

I Love How Our Church Prays.

Last month we gathered for a Spring Prayer Refresher, an emphasis on prayer in the calendar spot normally reserved for a week of evangelistic meetings or a Bible conference. Listening to the church confess to God, express dependence on God, commit to loyalty to God, and make requests of God was a beautiful corporate reality of what happens individually.

I Love Our Children's Ministries and Youth Staff.

Each of our staff members who serves newborns to seniors in high school is a volunteer. In a word, they are awesome! Week after week they prepare Bible lessons and think of creative ways to teach our children how to know, trust, love, and serve our Lord. Most of them feel inadequate for the task, but they don’t allow feelings of insecurity to stop them from the mission – Show Them, Jesus.

For these reasons and more I love our church and am privileged to serve as her pastor. What would you add to the list?

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Over Time The Pastor Isn't Enough

We didn’t need Gallup to tell us this; we’ve know this for a while. You’ve heard of Gallup. They are the company that conducts all kinds of opinion surveys. From politics to popsicles, if you want to know what America thinks, Gallup has been the standard for a long time. Recently, Gallup surveyed church-going Americans about why they attend the church they attend. Their conclusion – Three in four worshippers say sermons a major factor in why they go. Apparently, what’s important is the content of the sermon, and sermon content cannot be separated from the person delivering the content.

I’ve not surveyed church going Americans, but I do have an opinion. While a church’s pulpit may be the initial draw for believers and seekers looking for a church, the pulpit alone won’t keep people at the church. Keeping them at the church will require connection beyond the pulpit to the whole of the church family.

Here in the Twin Cities, and I suspect in many more places, good preaching is available in a wide array of local churches. By good preaching, I mean preaching that is faithful to the text, delivered passionately and clearly, and calls the listener to respond. Conservatively, you can find that kind of preaching in dozens of pulpits around our cities. No doubt, geography and church size might play a factor in choosing a church, and other matters will contribute too, but the pulpit and the personality in the pulpit regularly are the clincher. While the pulpit and the personality in it may draw you to a church, the pulpit is not likely to keep you connected to that church over the long haul. Long term connection to a local church requires deep relationships within the whole church family not merely the pulpit.

Think about it: the pastor is not the church. He’s one part of the church. He’s one member of the whole body. Paul teaches us a church consists of many members, all of whom are critical to the life of the body. Connection to the church should be broader than one person or one ministry. If the connection is narrow, what happens if that connection goes away? What if your one connection becomes a foreign missionary or a church planter? What if your one connection is to your favorite children’s ministry whose shelf life has come to an end? What if your one connection is to a family who relocates to another state because of a career move?

Often when church members become unsettled in their church it is not because the content in the pulpit has changed, often the discontent is because of a lack of connectedness to the broader church body. Simply, there are no meaningful Christian relationships keeping people closely connected to their church. They are not discipling a younger Christian nor are they receiving mentorship from a more mature Christian. They experience few moments of shared prayer with others in the church. They do not engage with others in the mission of the church. They cannot point to anyone in the church as someone they’ve pursued with the gospel with whom they now worship and serve our Lord. A growing sense of emptiness takes over their minds leaving them wondering, “What’s here for me?”

Well known pastor and author David Jeremiah gets it right when he says, “Every believer is commanded to be plugged in to a local church.” Being “plugged in” means being connected to the people of the church and having the people of the church connected to you. When this is a reality for you, I think you’ll find much deeper satisfaction with your church, and I think you’ll find improving health in your church.

While I will always elevate the pulpit ministry of a church as key in the overall health of a church, I will also elevate the necessity of relationships in the church as key to the overall health of a church. Grown over time, these relationships will foster Christian maturity in all parties, can promote the fulfillment of the Great Commission, bring great joy to the whole church, and please our Lord as we pursue our love for each other.

1 Thessalonians 3:12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.