I want to fill you in on some things that are happening in my life and our family.

Last August, we took our family vacation after our High School Ministries Regeneration camp. Being in the Rocky Mountains in southwest Colorado was great for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was not having cell coverage or internet unless we went into town.

One day while the boys were enjoying the river behind the cabin, Kim and I had one of those life-examination conversations. I remember looking at her and saying that I’ve been feeling a strong pull on my heart to become a senior pastor sooner rather than “someday.” Kim’s response was that she had been anticipating that conversation for several years.

At that point, we decided just to pray about it and see what the Lord would do. In October I was contacted by a church to consider filling their vacant senior pastor position. After talking with them for a few weeks, it was clear that it was not the right fit for either them or me.

But this process had fanned the flame of desire in my heart to become a senior pastor.

I tell you all that to bring you up to speed on where things are now.

After much prayer, discussions with Kim, and interaction with the elders, I’ve come to the decision that it is time to venture out from Grace Community Church to serve a church in a senior pastor role. It’s important to express that this transition is not due to any discontentment or dissatisfaction with my current ministry. Several factors have led to this decision. Along with my desire to be a senior pastor, I’ve also had much input from Pastor John and our elders. I will always be thankful for how God has led me through these men. 

Over the past couple of months I have been approached by a few churches to consider being a candidate for their senior pastor position. The timing of these contacts has perfectly coincided with my desires.

Our family, along with our elders, is asking God to bring along the right church for me to serve in the very near future. We are praying and hoping to move “somewhere” by this summer.

With that in mind, can we ask you to pray with us and for us?

When I think of walking out of Grace Church for the last time as one of her pastors, I can hardly take another breath. But at the same time, when Kim and I think of taking all we’ve learned from serving here to another place, we get very excited.

This process raises a lot of questions, like where are we looking and what will the transition here look like. I have answers for some. Others I don’t know. And others are not wise to answer yet.

What I can say is that I am daily amazed by God’s grace in adopting me as His son, and in calling me to be a pastor.

Thanks for your prayers for my family and me!

Under the Cover of God’s Grace

I was up early this morning and glanced at my TweetDeck. Bob Kauflin had simply tweeted “There’s an infinite difference between me trying to cover my sin and God covering it” with a reference to Psalm32. This was sweet medicine for my soul.

Psalm 130:3-4 says, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.” When I think of how may marks the Lord could record as His omniscience observes my sin, I realize I most certainly could never stand in His presence. But the reality of forgiveness is precious.

Solomon wrote to Rehoboam, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Prov 28:13). In other words, what you cover, God will uncover; but what you uncover, God will cover. Remember the penetrating words of Moses in the book of Numbers, “…behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out” (Num 32:23).

Reaching back into Psalm 32, David acknowledged that the guilt of unconfessed sin deteriorated both body and soul. In His love, God uncovered the sin David tried to cover. But when he confessed his sin, God covered it. This all makes me want to be more deliberate, more intentional in specific confession of my sin at the throne of grace.

The only means for covering sin is by punishing it. God has not simply dismissed it or looked the other way. He accepts the death of Jesus, His Son, as the only substitution for the lethal punishment our sin deserves.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul!
 -Horatio Spafford

Thanks for the reminder Bob.

The older my sons get, the more weaknesses I see in my parenting. I can’t remember a day in the last decade I have not had to ask forgiveness from one or more of them. They are very gracious to extend forgiveness to their sin-infested Dad.

On the positive side, I’m seeing some traction and progress in our discipleship. I was meeting with a group recently who were asking me what I do with the boys in discipleship. I thought the answer to that question might provide some ideas for some to build on, so I am going to give a brief outline of some of the things we are doing. But this post is not so much a declaration as an invitation. If you have ideas and experiences in discipleship, please add them in the comments section below and we can all profit.

  • I take each of the boys out for breakfast before school once a week. This is as simple as a muffin at Starbucks or an earlier morning at IHOP. I’m going through different things with each of them. They are in very different places in spiritual understanding because of their ages. We have read books together, gone over chapters of the Bible that address what they are working through in life, and sometimes we just talk about sports, hunting, or play hangman (that was this morning with my 5th grader). I try to end with a verse I’ve isolated for them that we simply read and pray through.
  • We try to talk about the biblical instruction they are receiving at church. Driving home from church on Sundays includes a debriefing of what they learned in their youth ministry groups and the regular service sermon. The same happens on Wednesday and after their discipleship meetings with leaders. Kim and I try to create and follow as many rabbit trails as we can to see what is at the end of their thinking.
  • Dinner times are great because they are magnetized to the table by their appetites. It’s fun to throw out a topic and see what they think. I’m not so interested in using this time for instruction as I am to simply see what and how they think.
  • Then there is “Monday Man School.” On Monday nights we try to get together to talk through issues of masculinity. This can include things like how to tie a tie (or better tie one), how to iron a shirt, how to skin and cook a rabbit, how to treat a lady (this an ongoing lesson), what to do when you get embarrassed in front of others, how to admit your wrong and why that’s important, how to match clothes, how to shave (better), and sometimes we just watch a football or basketball game together. Kim is a part sometimes, but this also gives her an escape from her world of boys for a night if she wants to go out for coffee with a friend, or get some alone time.
  • An important footnote is that there are always interruptions and exceptions to these activities. We rarely have a perfect week where everything happens, but we’re trying to make those the exceptions rather than the norm.

Then there are always the informal discussions that come up when you have kids. You can never let the antenna down and look for opportunities to speak into their worldview to encourage or correct it.

So what are you doing to disciple your kids? Or, what have you experienced in your discipleship relationships that has borne fruit? I hope this thread can help us all, whether or not we are parents.

Book Update

Thank you to those who have been praying for the book I’m writing, Uneclipsing the Son. I have been deeply encouraged by those of you who keep asking me how it is coming.

Here is where we are…

I have been working with Brian Thomasson on the chapters. We currently have six of eleven chapters in pretty good shape. I was told early on to “trust your editor.” This has proven very good counsel. Brian is not only a good editor, his walk with Christ leaks into every sentence. I am blessed to work with him.

It looks like the book will be out in late May, just in time for the Resolved Conference. Going through this material is refreshing my love for Jesus. It’s not my own words, but the Scriptures that are working like a magnet between my soul and the Savior.

Thank you for those of you who have asked about the project. Please pray for me when you think about it.

A Sweet Second Chance

Another flight, but this one became a classroom for my heart.

I had just walked away from the check-in kiosk when I heard, “Hey Rick!”

I turned to see a couple who own a small business here in Los Angeles. I have been in their store many times and struck up a friendship with them that has moved a step beyond acquaintance.

“Where are you headed?” I asked.

“To Minneapolis to see the doctors at the Mayo Clinic,” the husband answered.

That was when I noticed their daughter in a wheel chair. They explained that there has been a problem that has disabled her from walking. Apparently, her condition is related to a virus, but her doctors have not come up with a diagnosis and sent her on this medical trip for further examination.

I smiled and told them I was glad to see them and went on through security. As I was putting my belongings onto the x-ray belt, a sick feeling ripped through my midsection. I realized that I had just missed an unmistakable opportunity to minister to these friends. By this time there was no easy way to get back through the security line. I was left with an embarrassment and shame that I had not represented Jesus well nor extended His grace in any way.

I went to check the monitor to confirm my gate and there it was- their Minneapolis flight. Their flight was actually leaving from the gate adjacent to mine. And the flight was scheduled for the same time as mine. I prayed for a second chance to see my friends.

Sure enough, about fifteen minutes later I saw them wheeling their daughter toward their gate. I met them as they came into the seating area and asked them more about the daughter’s condition. Then I asked them if it would be ok if I prayed for them. The Mom said yes and we prayed right there in the Delta seating area.

My friends are not church-goers and have never expressed any faith in Christ to me. But they instinctively grabbed and held my hand as I prayed for their daughter. It was a sweet moment.

The point of relaying the encounter is not to highlight my praying for them. It is to shine a spotlight on God’s kind providence. He put our flights on the same day. He located our gates next to each other. He synchronized our flight times. He gave them receptive hearts to receive prayer. He answered my prayer to see them again. He gave me a second chance to do what was right.

After praying I told them I would follow up with them in a few weeks to check on their daughter. I also asked them if I could take them to lunch sometime soon. They said yes. All this points to God’s kind providence. My friends now have an appointment to hear the gospel. And I have more reasons to be amazed by His grace.

Charles Wesley wrote the beloved Christmas carol Hark the Herald Angels Sing in 1739. I think he would be quite surprised to know how much airtime it has gotten in our generation.

I love this carol. The tune brings back childhood memories of the wonder of the Christmas season. But the words remind me of theology class in seminary.

The second verse, in my humble opinion, contains some of the most important theology of any hymn in our hymnals. Here is the verse:

Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Did you get all that? Consider the identifying features of Jesus in this verse…

  • Jesus is worshipped by angels (Heb 1:6)
  • Jesus is eternal (Is 9:6)
  • Jesus came at the perfect, God-ordained time (Rom 5:6)
  • Jesus was born of a virgin and His Father was God (Matt 1:18-25)
  • Jesus was/is God Almighty (Matt 17:1-8)
  • Jesus was fully human (1 Tim 2:5)
  • Jesus was the Savior, “God with us”—Emmanuel (Matt 1:23)
  • Jesus’ identity was attested by angels (Luke 2:1-15)
  • Jesus is the King of Kings (Rev 19:16)

So when we sing the carol, What Child is This?, let’s let Mr. Wesley provide an answer!

Dangerous Ministry?

I love missions. And I really love our church’s missionaries.

One of my favorite parts of our ministry is when we get to interview missionaries on Sunday mornings. A few weeks ago I interviewed Rosie Martinez. She works with inner city girls who are orphans, drug addicts, and prostitutes in Mexico City. She is a fireball for Jesus. You should watch the video of her testimony on the Grace Community Church website to recalibrate your gospel priorities.

Among the many encouraging and challenging things she shared with Crossroads on that Sunday, there was something unexpected. Unexpected, scary, and refreshing.

One of the questions I asked her was if there were any opportunities for us to come to Mexico City for a short-term ministry trip.

“Yes!” she gleamed.

“But I cannot ensure the safety of anyone who comes.”

The room got very still. She went on to tell us that the drug cartels did not want her invading their territories and stealing their prostitutes, even if it was Jesus who was doing the stealing. Being beaten, shot, and even killed is a real threat to her and those who minister with her every day.

I haven’t stopped thinking about what she said to us. “I cannot ensure your safety if you come to minister with me.” I wonder how many parents would be willing to send their high school or college students to spend a week with her. I wonder what I would say if one of my sons wanted to go.

The verse that has been echoing in my mind since that day is Acts 20:24. Paul was saying a final goodbye to the Ephesians elders who had traveled to Miletus to see him. During that tearful interchange he made this profound statement:

“But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”

To put it in Rosie’s terms, his safety was not ensured and he was content with that because of the inestimable value of participating in gospel ministry.

All this makes me ask myself some hard questions:

  1. Is my life too “dear” to myself?
  2. Am I willing to do ministry where and when my safety is not ensured?
  3. Will I let my sons risk their lives for Jesus if they are inclined?
  4. Am I passionate about “finishing my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus”?
  5. Am I too comfortable in my ministry?

I hope you will ask similar questions today…

Cultural Engagement by Being Cool

I just read Phil Johnson’s post on Pyromanics about “cultural engagement” and it got me thinking. I agree in total with what Phil has written and want to take the argument a step farther (you should read his post before continuing).

First, there is no such thing as culture in a monolithic sense. Every culture—now and throughout history—is made up of a countless number of subcultures. Just talk to any student in high school. There are cultural norms for athletes, thespians, brainiacs, druggies, gamers, even Trekkies (yes, Star Trek is still alive and well). But the most sweeping categories are simply the cool and the not-so-cool. 

It seems to me that those who are loudest about engaging the culture for the advancement of the gospel are selective about which part of the culture they are trying to engage. If you interpret what they are saying by what they are doing, these hip pastors and their cool churches are targeting cool people who wear cool cloths and have cool haircuts and speak cool language while worshipping to cool music. When have you ever heard a church who is trying to reach the not-so-cool culture? I’m afraid that the proponents of cultural engagement try to reach the segment of the culture with which they most want to personally identify.

Yes, there are some exemplary ministries reaching the not-so-cool culture. I have been deeply impacted by those who minister to the impoverished, those who make great sacrifices to go overseas in missions, even those who minister to our children in Sunday School. But you rarely hear them telling everyone to join them in “cultural engagement.”

As Phil points out, all ministries engage the culture at some level. But engaging the culture is very different than imitating it.

The church of the 19th century wanted to engage the academic culture. Evolutionary propaganda was poking its finger into the chest of Bible believers who had the audacity to believe the supernatural events of Scripture, especially of the Creation account.  So the church tried to become intellectually credible (e.g., theistic evolution). I think the truth is that many simply wanted to avoid the tag that Christians were not intellectual. The end result was a fast slide toward liberalism through accommodation. Today we see something very similar. Whereas the church of the mid-1800s did all it could to avoid being labeled un-intellectual, the church today seems to be doing all it can to avoid being labeled un-cool. That generation wanted intellectually credibility, ours is after the credibility of coolness. I suspect that the undertow toward liberalism is not far behind.

I’m looking for the day when one of these hip churches plants a church that targets the nerd culture with a nerdy pastor who wears nerdy clothes with nerdy music. Until then, I remain suspicious.

I’m Writing a Book

WARNING: Shameless Self-Promotion Alert!!!

FYI, I’m writing a book.

I’ve thought about writing a book for a long time. There are several files in my desk with book ideas, even chapter outlines. But none of them ended up being my first (Wow, that is a word of faith!) solo project.

The book is coming out of a series I have been preaching over the past few months. It has been one of the most personally impacting things I have ever taught through. I’m usually a through-the-verse-next-verse guy. But this series was more of a topical/theological study.

The subject is simple. The title serves as a metaphor and explanation of the concept. Drum roll… It is called Uneclipsing the Son. The thesis is that the glory of Jesus and our experience of the abundant life He offers can be easily eclipsed by sin and idolatry.

I’ve heard it said that there are no such things as good writers, only good editors. This is certainly proving true with this project. I am unspeakably thankful for Brian Thomasson who has the painful task of serving as my editor. I am getting chapters back from him and finding myself saying: “Yeah, that’s what I meant to say.” I’m learning the value of collaborative effort in written communication. It is amazing (embarrassing?) how wrong you can be about your own clarity. It kind of makes me wish I had an editor for all my communications who could interrupt me and say, “You know, there is a better way to say what you’re trying to say.” (I’m sure Kim and my boys would value from such.)

The book should be finished in a few weeks and out by March. Rick Kress is kindly taking a chance on me by publishing it. I will be providing updates in the coming weeks on the book and humbly ask for your prayers as I finish it. Unfortunately, nothing stops to provide extra time for writing (Oh, for a sabbatical!).

Why the shameless-self-promoting-blog-post-about-my-book? To ask you to pray for me. I’m not a good writer. I have a great editor, but I want to have the blessing of God on this project. Also, I don’t want to neglect my family as deadlines stalk me.

Thanks for considering this addition to your prayer list…

Flying

I am constantly humbled by the ministries I get to visit and with whom I can participate. Because of these privileges, flying has become a regular part of my life and ministry.

Air travel has changed a lot in the last decade. The tragedies of “9/11” made flying a different experience. I have fond memories of the old days when Kim and the boys would park in the lot and accompany me all the way to the gate. I still remember the affections as we waved goodbye until the last second of walking into the jet way. Now it’s a quick parting as they drop me off at the curb while the airport police try to shuffle them out of the unloading zone.

Then there are the lines. We should all be thankful for security, but somebody is going to make a lot of money if they figure out how to expedite this process.

Flying is increasingly becoming sterile, impersonal, and routine. All to say, a growing disdain for air travel has been festering in my cabinet of dissatisfaction. That is until recently.

A new love (ok, maybe that is too strong a word) for flying has visited my heart of late. I admit it—I kind of like it these days. No phone calls, WiFi on most flights, and most of all, nowhere to go but your seat—all this has actually made flying one of the most productive times I can find.

Then add the responses you get from what your reading, especially the Bible. The person in the seat next to you is a seat-belted captive for gospel conversations.

I often think of what my grandfather might think of life today. The commonplaceness of flying would certainly be a surprise to him. But so would the fact that it takes getting to 30,000 feet to get things done.

Oh yeah, I’m writing this on a flight…