We Are All In Ministry Now

I recently talked (ranted) a little bit while recording on my iPhone on my commute home. I didn’t expect anyone to hear it except maybe my friend Jason. The rant was all about the Table and one particular thing that I wish more people understood about what the Table does and what it means to the congregation.

Jason liked it, so the recording ended up on the Table Project’s blog. Listen to it here.

Christians: All Your Needs Are Already Satisfied

This one’s for the Christian theologians in the audience. If you’re not a Christian, I don’t at all expect you to agree with this.

Consider, agree or disagree, and enjoy either way.

  1. Everything in life that you truly need, in the deepest sense of “need”, has been and will continue to be given to you by God.
  2. If God intends for you to have something, no one can take it away from you.
  3. Therefore, anything you do not have, you do not truly need.

Desiring God Audiobook – Free!

I am still struggling to decide whether to say that this post is intended mostly for Christians.

I will say this: it is my personal opinion that the writing of John Piper may be considerably thicker than the writing to which many people are acclimated. Thicker theologically, thicker in structure, etc. Having said that, the reward of understanding this writing is easily worth the additional effort, even if you are not a “religious person.” Consider it seriously. His words have changed my life, and I want to share them with you whatever your religious background might be.

John Piper’s most widely recognized book is Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. And to the end of sharing these precious words with you, I’m happy to pass on the information that christianaudio.com is offering the unabridged audiobook of Desiring God for free for the next two weeks! Just follow that link, set up your account on the site, use the coupon code shown on that page, and you’re done without paying a cent. No tricks.

Enjoy! Let me know what you think of the book. I’m about 80 minutes in right now, and really enjoying it so far.

In God We Trust

A couple weeks ago, I told this story to a close friend of mine. I made it clear I didn’t have plans to share it publicly. He exhorted me to share it with all of you. I don’t share this in order to puff myself up or put myself on any kind of pedestal. It may do the opposite, I don’t know. I share it in the hopes that it will help or encourage somebody, even a little. Most of all, I hope it glorifies God and spreads the truth.

The two weeks following the loss of my job in mid-January 2009 were the darkest of my life. I did a fairly good job of keeping up a confident face for the world to see, but internally I was mentally and spiritually in shreds from constant worry. My thoughts were a stream of this type: What happens when the little money we have runs out? How will we feed ourselves? Will Caleb suffer due to decisions I’ve made? Will Stephanie suffer due to decisions I’ve made? What happens if we lose our house? If we sell this house now, won’t we lose money due to the state of the economy? If so, we won’t be able to afford to get another one, will we? Will I live with my parents for years to come? Shouldn’t I turn the heat down and just endure constant cold to save money? Shouldn’t we go hungry a little to save money? Is this the beginning of the end? Have I made some mistake that I’m being judged for, and there’s nothing I can do to save myself and my family now?

Everything everywhere was covered in a thick layer of doom.

I went out and purchased thermal pants (i.e. long johns). I wore them every day under my jeans. That’s the state of mind I was in. It was almost as though I was afraid I would freeze to death somehow. (In my defense, it really was extremely cold outside for those two weeks, but I agree the fear was entirely irrational.) At the time, I was desperate for anything that would reduce my worrying to any degree. If I had to find a dozen little anti-worry solutions that were highly effective when taken together, I would do that. Having interviews for new jobs helped. Talking with loved ones helped. Watching anything (especially funny stuff) that pulled my focus off our dire situation helped.

When Steph would ask me what would make me happiest, my answer was something like, “a big, fat, consistent paycheck.” Whichever job offered me the most money and seemed reasonably enjoyable, that’s the one I would take. Emotionally, that’s where my trust was. Money would make everything better. If only I had money, I would be happy and I wouldn’t have anything to worry about.

I’m writing this entry to convey one thing: those thoughts about money are horrible, devastating lies. I believed them, and I placed my trust and my security in money. Losing my job hurt me so deeply because it cut off my bi-weekly flow of security. That’s why the worry started, and that was the root of my problem.

I have a feeling I’m not the only one who has struggled with this issue. Think of it this way: pull some American money out of your pocket if you have any. Bills or coins, it doesn’t matter. You’ll notice every single piece has one phrase in common: “In God We Trust.” Why do you think, of all the places that phrase could be written, they chose to put it on money? I don’t know why they did, but I think it’s both amazingly wise, and incredibly ironic. Wise because that is the one place in which that reminder is most desperately needed, and ironic because it is true of so few people. For most, including myself at times, it is a total lie. (I honestly don’t care whether they keep the phrase written on American money or not. I care most whether or not we keep it written in our hearts.)

For me, the moment of testing came down to my job acceptance process. I had two job offers: one from a large, well-established, for-profit company, and one from a small, new, non-profit. The for-profit company was offering me more security than the non-profit, but the non-profit’s work was extremely exciting to me, I loved the people, and it seemed to be the closest to ministry I would likely get while still using my Computer Science degree every day. Something about that lit a fire in me, and I took the job with less security.

Listen, I am not saying this to toot my own horn. Please, if you’re getting stuck on that, you’re missing my point. My point is that I’m still here. I survived the decision, and God is taking care of me and my family. God is our security in a more real way than ever before. Does that mean I’ll be perfectly wonderful forever? No, especially not by American cultural standards (which, take note, are not the same thing as Christianity). What it means is that I’ll always have everything God wants me to have. When I’m in the midst of difficulty, it’s brought by God. A lack of money or health or anything is brought by God.

I think I can live with that. Worry-free.

Green Grass and a Clear Driveway

Last night I had a dream. In my dream, when I woke up the next morning, it was as though May had come in the middle of January. The snow had all melted overnight, the grass was green and growing, birds were singing, the sun was shining. I remember noticing my driveway in particular–there was not a scrap of ice or snow on it. It was perfectly clear and drivable. I knew I wouldn’t have to gun it while backing out of the garage anymore just to be sure I’d make it through the thick patch of snow and ice that had been there the day before.

And yet, there we all were on January 17th, only a few days after the coldest day in five years. The green grass was somehow wrong. It shouldn’t have been like that. It was supposed to be cold. People started worrying, saying, “It got 50 degrees warmer in one day. What if it happens again tomorrow, and the day after that?” and, “See? I told you global warming was going to kill us all!”

But I just enjoyed the weather. I wished everyone else would calm down and accept the blessing of not having to deal with the literally-deadly wind and cold we had endured only days earlier.

I’m pretty sure the dream has something to do with the mental state I’ve been in lately. My brain is crafting some pretty clever metaphors on its off time. Last Wednesday, on the 14th, I was laid off from Enclarity. My position was eliminated. The Vice President of my division called me into his office and told me that they were scaling back significantly in their web-related efforts, and that I and many others were being let go that day. I don’t want to risk revealing anything I shouldn’t about Enclarity, so that’s all the detail I’ll give about what happened, but I’m very happy that I left on good terms, and they made it quite clear they’d take me back if they could.

In the 24 hours after I was let go, Minnesota experienced the coldest weather it has seen in five years, Stephanie’s car got stuck in a ditch, Caleb got sick and vomited seven times from 1am to 4:30am while Steph and I tried groggily to nurse him back to health and back to sleep, and I struggled (and twice failed) to move all my personal data off the MacBook Pro I had used while at Enclarity and into a smaller hard drive in an older, non-portable Mac mini.

It seemed everything I touched was covered in thick ice and snow, making each decision riskier and more likely to fail, making simple tasks more difficult, sucking the joy and heat from life. But then, the dream. It reminded me of this passage from Zechariah 13:7-9:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
against the man who stands next to me,”
declares the Lord of hosts.

“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
I will turn my hand against the little ones.
In the whole land, declares the Lord,
two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
and one third shall be left alive.
And I will put this third into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.'”

Refining Fire, You are welcome here. Come, test, consume and purify.

The Hope That We Confess

I’m not a very political person. I lean Republican, but not always very strongly. I tend to be apolitical. If you’ve been reading this blog or known me for very long, you’ll know that’s true.  I mention these things to back up the fact that I’ve never been too bothered by anything Obama has said in the sense that I understand what he’s thinking and why he thinks that, even though I don’t usually agree with it. But tonight I heard something that made me nearly fall out of my chair, or shout, or I don’t know what.

This commercial was released by the Obama campaign recently in which they lift some audio from the end of Obama’s recent speech at the DNC. In case you don’t have time to watch the ad, this is the end of the section of the speech they use in the ad, and to which I’d like to draw your attention (emphasis mine):

At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future.  Let us keep that promise – that American promise – and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

When I heard it, I had to stop and rewind. Here, Obama is quoting Hebrews 10:23. You might like to take a look at the surrounding passage or the whole chapter to get a little context. It’s worth it, go ahead and read. If you’re not really into reading the Bible, try this version.

With that verse in its proper context, the hope is the promise of God to save us from our sin through the sacrifice Jesus made. The hope we have is based on God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises.

I know Obama is a Christian and not a Muslim. But a person who takes his faith and his scripture seriously, no matter what religion he is and what his holy book is, would never leave the ambiguity that Obama did when lifting that reference to Jesus, the single most important character in the Bible, and his God as a Christian, out of scripture and putting it into his speech. Why? Because in the context of his speech, our hope becomes something else altogether. Hmm… what could that hope be in, I wonder?

I suppose we’ll just have to fill in the blanks ourselves.

I would sooner die than distort scripture like this. Dude is not a Muslim. He’s not a Christian either. He’s an opportunist.

A Blessing for Caleb

Last Friday Caleb turned one year old. I am so proud of my boy. I love watching him grow, I love getting to know him, I love seeing his personality develop and start to show, and I even love all the difficult lessons fatherhood is teaching me right now. Well, I usually love those. Especially when I finally get the lesson through my thick skull.

One of the pastors at our church, Pastor David Michael, adapted a collection of bible passages into blessings that he would recite to his children before they went to sleep. When he showed these blessings to other parents, they loved them, so he published a few dozen of them in a little booklet. I chose the blessing based on Psalm 112 to give to Caleb, and although I can’t quite get through the whole thing reading it out loud, I wanted to share it here with all of you because it means a lot to me. This is what I want for Caleb. I want this for him more than I want anything else in life for myself.

May you be a man who fears the Lord;
May you find great delight in the Lord’s commands.
May your children be mighty in the land. Even to the next generation, may you and your children be blessed.
May you find your wealth and your riches in God.
May you endure in righteousness forever.
Even in the darkness may the light dawn for you.
May you be a gracious, compassionate and righteous man.
May you never be shaken. And may your name be remembered by the Lord forevermore.

I know for certain because of the DNA I’ve given him and the world he lives in that Caleb will find himself in deep darkness at some point his life, either caused by himself, or by circumstances beyond his control. Knowing that God’s light would dawn in the midst of that is the greatest thing I could ever ask for him. Pain is guaranteed, but rescue isn’t.

Caleb, if you fear the Lord, you don’t need to fear that darkness; the light will dawn for you.