pain in the offering

Last Friday morning, Tyson Lane Woody (age 2) said goodbye to this world and all of its pain and suffering, brokenness and illness. On Saturday evening, a host of worshippers said goodbye to Tyson, celebrating not only the life of one of the strongest fighters we have ever encountered, but also the God of all comfort, who gives and takes away, who carries us through dark valleys and leads us beside still waters, and by his grace, restores our souls. They don't prepare you for this stuff in college. Nothing prepares you for any of this. The funeral service of a 2-year-old cancer victim just feels out of sorts - something is not right here. And yet it was because God, by His grace and plan had ordained and allowed all the events to occur just as they had, for a purpose yet to be seen. I looked into the broken eyes of one of my closest friends - I saw the pain, I saw the hurt, I saw the mourning and grief, but behind that I saw something deeper, something truer, something at his core that spoke to me that it was indeed well with his soul. His faith in his God has not wavered. His trust in Christ has not diminished. His heart for the glory of God is anything but weakened. In fact, I would surmise that, at this moment, he is closer than ever to God, dependent upon his grace to survive day to day, looking with hopeful expectation to His return.

And there, in the midst of the grief and worship, the joy and the pain, I saw one of the most powerful things I have ever witnessed. The worship team and congregation were singing "How Great is Our God," most of them through heavy tears and with an equally heavy, but expectant heart. The entire Woody/McClure family and extended families were gathered together singing praises to God in the midst of their valley. During the middle of the song, the verse breaks into a powerful refrain: "You give and take away, you give and take away. My heart will choose to say Blessed be Your name." As we were caught up in that moment, singing to the God who gave and who had also taken, I looked down and saw Carson, Jeremy's 5-year old son, playing on the floor staring up wide-eyed as his entire family (and specifically his grandfathers and his daddy) were immersed in worshipping the God that they loved despite the pain. I wept. What an indelible image is forever ingrained in that young man's heart and mind - that in the darkest season of his young life the men and women in his family were rallied around the God of all comfort, lifting their voices as an act of sacrificial worship, even when pain was present in the offering.

I went to VA this past weekend to hold up the faithful arms of a brother in the Lord as he said goodbye to his precious son. I went with the intention to minister. I came home changed because of their testimony of faith, the sustaining grace of the Lord Jesus, and the hope we have in the Resurrection of Christ - that the grave has indeed been swallowed up in victory, and that death has lost its sting because Christ has won the victory for us. Amen.

Today I am praying for sustaining grace for one of the most amazing families I have ever been privileged to know. Please do the same.


Dorothy, Kansas, Timelessness...

Watched the Wizard of Oz with my kids the other day. Classic holiday viewing. I couldn't help but think back to watching the same movie with my mom and dad when I was a kid. Then, I thought about the fact that my mom sat with my grandmother and watched the same movie when she was young. Then, I checked the date of production and was blown away to see that the film was released in 1939. For those of you keeping track, that's 70 years ago! Before the Second World War, before the Cold War, before the Holocaust was public knowledge, before the tumultuous 60's, before the explosion of Rock and Roll, before the Cuban Missile Crisis, before so much of what has marked us. Fresh on the heels of Depression-era catastrophe this movie was released. Then I began to ponder all who had seen that movie in the theaters. Men and women who, like my grandparents, visited the local theaters in the late 30's as teenagers and enjoyed the very first color pictures in moving film. The men who sacrificed their lives on D-Day and the resulting conflicts in Europe, Asia, and Africa. I wonder how many of them had watched Dorothy's trek through Oz, nestled in next to their girlfriends in their hometown theater. And then I wondered how many more years families, like mine, would snuggle up on a couch during the holiday season in their pajamas and for, a couple of hours, be caught up in a classic story, journeying down the Yellow Brick Road with Dorothy and her rag-tag band of companions. How many more little girls will dream of going "Somewhere Over the Rainbow?"

Then my mind began to drift again - this time away from Kansas and Oz and the Emerald City; away from Dorothy and her rambling band of ineptitude to other far away places and timeless stories - tales of Creation out of nothing, of a Good garden, a beautiful Paradise, a tempting and crafty nemesis in the form of a serpent, of a Fall, a Curse, and glorious restoration. Timeless stories of another rag-tag band of inept pilgrims and strangers - men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (all of whom turned their courses and followed God), wandering through strange places, growing and developing along the way. I thought of heroes of a bygone era - men like Noah, Moses, Joshua, Caleb, women like Ruth, Naomi, Esther. I was caught up in stories of roving Apostles and missionaries, carrying the glorious gospel of Jesus to the ends of the earth, facing persecution, trial, beatings, death; these men were those whom the author of Hebrews described as men of whom the world was not worthy. How many countless thousands, millions have enjoyed these tales together, drawing encouragement and hope for their pilgrim-esque, wandering lives? How many of past eras have also enjoyed fellowship with God through His Son, having their paths lit by His word? How timeless is this faith that we are privileged to be caught up in. Truly, there is more to this family of God, than my mere "three score and ten" years allotted to me! Truly, we are part of something much larger than we can ever imagine. Truly, we are not in Kansas anymore. May we today draw encouragement and confidence from the legacies, heritage, and example of our "cloud of witnesses." May we be reminded that, although our lives feel somewhat unstable at times, we are tethered to a timeless community of faith in the Risen Son of God, to men and women who for all time have been recklessly wandering along their own "yellow brick road," as pilgrims and strangers in their worlds, and we are rooted and grounded in an Eternal God.

All that from a pretty farm girl, and her little dog, too.


This past week, among other things, I had the privilege of sharing with Union College's Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship a brief message on the meaning of Christmas. After the carols had been sung, the food devoured, and the white elephant gifts exchanged and stolen (I got a great gift for my kids - Moon Sand - stole it from Paul. Tough luck, dude - my kids love it!), we got to spend some time connecting with the students, some of whom follow Christ, some who do not. What a blessing. Here's what I encountered:

Ian - I spent about 45 minutes discussing the problem of evil, the existence of Original Sin, the apparent difficulties with understanding the Old Testament and New Testament "miracles," and the perceived conflict between the Sovereignty of God (specifically his ability/inability to intervene in my life) and my exercise of the divinely-given Free Will. What a conversation! These students are incredibly bright, have amazing abilities in logic and reason, and are desperately searching for what is true and real. I felt like I was in over my head at times, but had a great time - my head hurt by the end, I'm not going to lie. I had the great honor of pointing Ian to the Scriptures, explaining that some of his issues and "problems" were not nearly that significant as the Scriptures had directly answered them in plain language (for example, he was struggling with the parting of the Red Sea and how God would break his own laws of nature, "bending the rules," to accomplish that. He was surprised to see that God, according to HIs word, used a "strong east wind" to part the waters - nothing outside the realm of natural forces).

I was on my way out the door when I was drawn into another conversation with a young man who claims to be a functioning atheist yet is willing and open to searching for "god" through different faith systems. We had a great dialogue about the definition and nature of God. His hangup is that God seems too human. I was privileged to drive him to the Scriptures and counter that maybe God isn't made in our image, but we in His (this is, after all, the explanation the Bible gives us). This man believes that religion (specifically Christianity) is driven by the natural fears of men - fears of death, fears of a useless and meaningless life, fears of being alone. Christianity is, in his perception, a way to cope with the harsh realities of life. He believes that my God is a crutch, a figment of Western imagination, to allow us to deal with things that we are too scared to embrace. I spoke with him for almost another 45 minutes and was able to say some very pointed and difficult things in a respectful and non-combative setting. Praying for a great breakthrough in his life and in his heart.

But here's what really struck me - the questions that people are asking are changing. The barriers to the gospel are in some ways different, but in many ways still the same - hearts are hardened, minds are futile, understanding is darkened. The only hope for these people was the only hope for me - the glorious gospel of Jesus. Pray for my friend Jibu as he ministers to these wonderful college students and pray for God to open eyes and illuminate the scriptures that some might come to faith.


spirit and flesh; power and attraction

I had the great privilege of attending a pastors' conference in Troy, NY last Monday. The Acts 29 event was hosted by Terra Nova Church in downtown Troy and was just a joy to attend. The Acts 29 network focuses on church planting and so most of the men attending were new church planters, seasoned church planters, or aspiring church planters. However, it was a great feast for my soul personally. Among all the great things that were proclaimed and sung and discussed, there was one particularly profound statement that struck me above all else.

One of the pastors, JR Vassar, from Apostles Church in NYC, encouraged us to not "settle for the manifestations of the works of the flesh, but instead to pursue and expect the manifestations of the Spirit." Read that again and make sure you do it slowly this time. That was timely advice. There is a tendency in American Christianity (brought on by our specialized culture and our incessant need to hyper-analyze something to death) to reduce church growth and development to a series of nuts and bolts, systems, and curricula. If pastor "a" would simply insert cog "3" into system "x" and if the planets align at just the right spot, then your church will triple its size in a matter of 7 minutes without any conflict. If you want your church to "grow," then send us $19.95 for an instructional DVD to solve your ministry issues. If you act now, you can even get a tremendous discount on a jumbo coffee grinder/brewing system guaranteed to give your Sunday School ministry the needed spark. The reality is quite simple - church growth isn't rocket science, if you define that by gathering a crowd of people. People tend to be "attractional," they'll go places to see things. But growing the church of Jesus is something so different than attractions.

Attractions are prevalent, but what we have to offer people isn't. The work of the Holy Spirit of God, moving through His inspired Word, opening the eyes of people's hearts, convicting them of sin and rebellion, leading them to Christ for forgiveness and restoration - that isn't offered anywhere but the church. And those things - those works of the Spirit - are things that natural abilities and skills and slick programs simply can't produce. I was convicted that too often pastors (and let's be honest here - I'm talking about me) put an over-emphasis on the works of the flesh and forget that the real power in the church of Jesus is not her marketing or fund-raising or programs or teams of greeters driving golf carts through the parking lots. The power in the church of Jesus is the Holy Spirit of God working through His people to bless the community of faith and to invite those outside to come in. For that, there is no substitute.

Much more was said that day and all of it was helpful, but nothing stood out to me more than that great piece of counsel. I'm praying that God would pour out His spirit on this place and allow us to see and experience His power to change lives, to build up His body, to grow His church.


come quickly

Talked with a young father a couple of days ago who is wrestling with one of the most difficult situations imaginable. His young son has been valiantly battling cancer for a long time and my friend just sounded weary. Weary of the pain and suffering his precious son was enduring, weary of the emotional turmoil on him and his beautiful family, weary of the constant barrage of medicines and consultations, ...just weary. And as we were talking about life and ministry and our pursuit of Christ, he said something so profound: "I've never longed so much for the return of Jesus." After our conversation and for the past couple of days, I've not been able to shake his statement, mulling it over in my heart time and again.

There is something so sweetly comforting about the promise of the Scriptures that Christ, the Conquering King, will return for the Church to establish His new kingdom and fully and finally put an end to the Curse and its effects. Something in the hearts of humanity screams that the world as we know it is simply "broken." And that something deep in the hearts of Christ's followers begs Him to fix it. I was confronted with 2 very profound thoughts when praying for my friend and pondering his statement.

First, suffering and illness and disease are results of the Fall of Adam and Eve in the garden and the effects of sin entering into God's created order. As such, they remind us of the "temporary" format of this world, that the "way" things work here will one day be overrun by the glory of Christ and finally be "put to right" as NT Wright likes to say. Suffering and pain and illnesses force us to look to God and dream about what will be in that new world and long for its establishment.

Second, and more impacting for me today, is that those who have felt closely the disastrous and ravaging effects of sin long for Christ's coming more deeply. Those who have felt the sting of suffering and sickness and the destructive force of evil in this world are also those who desire most the coming of a new world.

So, what would God say to this young man, whose young son is hurting? He would say that He too, longs for the day when all is made right and all who are His will be able to be with Him unhindered by the Fall and its lingering. And He would tell my friend that He, too, knows what it feels like to see His beloved son ravaged and depleted by the effects of sin, tasting that sting and feeling that pain firsthand. And he would tell my friend the sufferings endured here on earth are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.

And what do I say in a moment like that? Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus....Amen.


Deadlines and Angst

When I have a deadline for a project it creates in me a heightened sense of anxiety. The days are thick with unmet goals. The burden is heavy. Frustration arrives all too often and with increasing ease. And the project's completion weighs on me steadily, driving me to push all the harder to meet my goals, to accomplish what I've set out to do, and to see the progress.

Deadlines affect other areas of my life and ministry as well. They affect my perspective. Here's what I mean. When you're young (early - mid 20's) and you arrive at a ministry with the intention of giving a certain amount of time you have just created a deadline for yourself. No matter what occurs over the course of that time, the end date is still in your mind. The effects are significant. There are goals that you've set, plans you want to see to fruition, things you dream about accomplishing there. In effect, you begin to gauge success at that "stop" in ministry by how well you've done with your plans in that allotted time. As the "deadline" stays at the forefront of your mind, you are constantly evaluating progress against the deadline. The result is sometimes a mess for said random young minister (no one in particular here or anything). He places too much personal emphasis on his plan, often times fails to allow his teammates the time to adopt his plans and ideas, tends to get frustrated easily, and experiences a great deal of tension and angst. But, when the deadline is removed from the equation, joy follows right behind. The burden isn't as great. There's finally time. Time to enjoy the process. Time to wait for your teammates to adopt the vision. Time to develop deep relationships. Time to dream together about all that God wants to do. Time. The end is no longer looming. The deadline is no longer on the radar. And the angst is no longer as pressing.

Early this week I spent a large chunk of my day with our Executive Pastor, Scott, drawing up organizational charts for our ministry. Yes, I know that many of you are jealous of that stimulating meeting. When stepping back and taking a look at all that a church does - the services, the staffing, the conferences, the missionaries, the children's programs, etc. it can be a bit daunting. Even overwhelming at times. The plate is full. Seeing where we are and dreaming about where we feel God is leading us creates that same sense of angst. However, I was reminded today that I surrendered the "deadline." We have time. No need to rush. Leading well is more important than doing this quickly. It is a freeing thing to ponder a lifetime in ministry without the looming departure. It allows me to have patience. I am excited about what God wants to do in our ministry. But I am more excited about investing my life in a community of believers and pursuing God together. That, to me, is more pressing than any goal that we've set.


The Long View

My journey into the minds and hearts of these regional pastors who have wasted themselves for the Gospel's impact in the Capital District led me to Hoosick Valley Community Church last Thursday and to lunch with Clyde McCaskill, who pastors there. Clyde has been pastoring here in the region for 24 years and has followed the Apostle Paul's words in I Thessalonians 2:8 where he said that he did not share the gospel only, but his life as well. I was struck by Pastor Clyde's heart for his community. He is the "pastor" in his town - to his flock but also to his community. He advised me to do the same. To give and sow and to patiently wait for fruit. This is not an overnight thing, but a long process of health and maturity. Clyde has indeed taken the "longview" in ministry and cautioned me to do the same. Change, he said, is difficult to lead in ministries. In fact, his greatest struggles have come on the heels of change. His remedy? Simply trust God - for it is His church, not ours. Well spoken. The highlights of his ministry these last 24 years are relationships he has forged over time and is enjoying today. However, had he not persevered and endured, he would not be enjoying those beautiful relationships in this season. A gentle reminder to me that this takes time - so slow down a bit and enjoy it.

In addition to my pastoral visits, my studies in Ephesians have been a blessing this past week as I have been wrestling with Paul's words in verses 1-14 of chapter 1. What is it that we have been given in Christ? To what end did God lavish his grace upon us in Christ? And why us? Praying for guidance as I begin the series this Sunday at 10am @ Temple. Those who are able, please join us.

Our missions conference has been quite a blessing. Spending time with Jay Jackson, the Moore's, Perry Hooge, and the Brooks' has been a joy, to say the least. More about that later in the week.

thank you for following our leadership transitions here at Temple. God has promised to walk with us through this season the same way he accompanied us through the past ones as well. Settling into new roles and responsibilities has been a challenge, but an enjoyable one at that. Continue to pray for our church, her influence here in the Capital District and globally, and for the men who have been tasked by God to lead Temple. Thank you for your loving support. May God bless with fruitful ministry and kingdom impact.


Sacred Days

I am always amazed how ordinary days and ordinary places are "magically" transformed by the presence of God and become those "sacred" spaces in our lives. In real-time, you can sense that something significant is happening, that you are caught up in something bigger than you, that you are really just along for the ride, but I think that in the moment we seldom grasp the magnitude of what is happening. This journey we're on requires our attention, our energies, our resources. If you're like me, you think there's simply no time to stop. We've got things to do, places to go, people to see. However, every now and then God gives you a break at one of those scenic overlooks. Only then, when looking back on the road you've been walking can you see the significant course corrections and hard turns that were those "sacred days." Those were the ordinary, everyday, run-of-the-mill days that God visited and graced with His intervening presence; where you adjusted the course, changed trajectory, and followed down a dimly lit path because it was where God was leading. These sacred days are not the "whole" of our journey, but instead provide the road traveled with the bends and turns that get us to where we are today. Most of our days are ordinary days. The sacred days give our lives their "shape." For in those moments of decision, of crisis, of confusion, we are reminded of God's guidance, his leadership, and we are re-aligned with His plans for our lives.

October 4 was the 11-year anniversary of the "sacred day" when I bowed my knee to Jesus and followed him into ministry. In "real-time" not much was changing. A day or two later the decision didn't even seem all that significant. However, as I followed down this "new" road, I was able to rest and look back and see just how much God used that day to shape and form the rest of my life. I have been gifted with a few of those days over my life - the day I was saved, the day I was called to ministry, the day I realized that I had met the amazing woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, the day I sensed God calling me to a new state and a new ministry, and the day I sensed God calling me and my family to dig deep in upstate NY and lead Temple into its next ministry season. All of them, sacred days. All of them, foundational. All of them, anything but ordinary. Today, I was able to connect with some local pastors and hear their thoughts on ministry and our transition here at Temple. I am still trying to process all that the Spirit spoke through these godly men. I am fairly certain that, looking back in a few years, today will be one of those "sacred days," providing my ministry and life the shape that is so needed. Thankful today for sacred days. Praying that you each receive one soon too.


the latest

What a week it was. You know, as I sit down to write this blog/update and try to narrow down the events of a full week into a few paragraphs, I'm a bit overwhelmed by all that's happened in the past 7 days. It was indeed a chaotic, packed week and I wonder how I'll get it all in here, but I'll make an attempt at it. So here goes:

1. Monday I got to have lunch with Pastor Bob Hart, from Sonrise Bible Church in Rotterdam. Here's some of the thoughts that stood out from my time with Pastor Hart. First, was his rock-solid sense of his calling; that God has uniquely called him to this place for such a time as this and, until God releases him from that calling, he is not going anywhere.

I asked about his family - how did he find balance between pastoring his wife and kids and pastoring the church? He cautioned me against taking "work" home, but he did advise me to involve my family in my ministry, so that they could see the benefit and blessing of serving God. Powerful for me, because, to be honest, I don't want my kids to reject the church because it stole their daddy. And I left more committed than ever to choosing my family first. I am convinced that, in so doing, I would model for our men in our congregation their first priorities at home above their careers. To learn some more about Pastor Bob Hart and the ministry of Sonrise Bible Church, visit their website here.

2. Grace Road - I got a call from Kevin Maloney, the founding and Lead Pastor of Grace Road Church, a young and growing church located in the South Wedge of Rochester, NY. Temple has supported his church plant in a significant way because we believe that God is using this young man in the heart of his city. So encouraging to be a part of a great church that has a heart to plant churches. To see what is happening at Grace Road Church, or listen to a sermon from Kevin, visit their website here. The Maloney's will be with us at Temple on November 1 for a Lord's Supper service. Don't miss that one.

3. Elder Team - Thursday morning we spent nearly 2 hours discussing what the Bible says about "elders," of all things. We had done a study on Israel's OT elders and their victories and failures and were struck by Israel's leaders' failure to do the right thing in the face of opposition, their abdication of their shepherding role, and their tendency to embrace something other than the Name of the Lord as their hope. May God help these men that I serve with avoid those pitfalls. Please continue to pray for us.

4. Ephesians - I preached Sunday here at Temple on Ephesians 1:15-23, as a model for my heart in ministry here for the next season. Click here to listen to it. I'm just thrilled for the opportunity to teach through the book of Ephesians starting October 18 during the Sunday School hour in the main sanctuary at Temple. We will be recording and posting those messages online for those who are unable to attend or who are currently serving in our ministry. Please consider joining us for this study as we allow the Spirit to reveal to us the "mystery of the gospel."

This week promises to be yet another whirlwind. I've got an appointment with some local pastors from Grace Fellowship, Faith Baptist, Terra Nova, Loudonville Community Church, among others. I am humbled to think that I will be able to sit with these men and hear their counsel regarding ministry in this region. Blessed beyond belief to be part of the gospel's advance here in the Capital District. I'll be meeting with some other pastors as well later in the week, studying for my Ephesians class, and working with our team of Elders here at Temple to provide oversight to our ministry. Thank you for staying closely connected to what is happening here. Please continue to do so as we work through this season of mentorship.

Please check back often and continue to pray


First week

Well, the first week of the next 30 years of my life is now in the books. For those of you in a bubble, our elders at Temple made some significant announcements last Sunday regarding our team of pastors. For a recap, read my "lost" post from last week or click here to see our website announcement.

As we noted last week in our services, the new role that I was given was to be focused on training and preparation for this next season in ministry. So this past week, I began to settle into a new role. As promised I want to give you (whoever you are - my Temple family, random visitors, old friends, etc.) the opportunity to see and hear the things that I am learning during this season of my ministry, so here goes:

First, I had a great lunch on Tuesday with one of our elders. He has 57 years experience in ministry, has been a great father and grandfather, a godly pastor, and has won the respect of our congregation. I sat down with Claude and, among other things, asked him for some advice. However, more than his responses (which were all challenging), I was struck with the notion of how privileged we are at Temple to have someone like Claude, with nearly 6 decades of ministry experience contributing to our elder team. He has been to me and our other staff pastors a constant source of encouragement and support. I found myself praying that God would allow me to see 6 decades of ministry and allow me to emulate Claude's commitment to extending a hand to the generation (or 4) behind him. What a great time that was.

Second, after teaching the OTC at Temple on Wednesday night, Thursday morning I rode to Davis College near Binghamton, NY to attend a Leadership Forum, a conference for pastors all over NY. The camaraderie shared among ministers of the gospel is special. Dr. Pedrone spoke on Ezekiel 22:30 and compared that to the needed spiritual leaders in our local churches, challenging us to scour our own congregations to find the men to disciple and mentor to stand in the gap. It was a confirming day for our team as we have talked at length about developing the potential leaders in our own congregation and have even begun that process as Scott, our Executive Pastor, has been working with a group of men who have expressed a desire for ministry. It is our conviction that the church is responsible for recognizing the Spirit's anointing on future leaders and for training, equipping, and empowering new leaders as the Lord directs.

Dr. Pedrone spoke about the "call" of the preacher and I was taken back to Oct, 1998 when, as a 20-year-old, I was confronted with God's desires for my life. While his "call" was different than my desires, I chose the reckless road and followed him. The minister's "call" is something that looks different for each person, but is equally foundational to all who experience it. I am thankful for the "calling" that God has placed on my life and look forward to following Him as He unfolds the full plan.

During the lunch hour I connected with an old friend of Temple, one of our first church-planting pastors, Larry DiNovo, who was gracious enough to give me some time to talk with him about ministry. Two things really stood out with him. #1, he cautioned me to invest considerable effort and time into ministering to and pastoring my wife as my first priority. If I fail to lead my family then I am disqualified from leading in God's family. #2, he encouraged me to forego violating the "law of process" when leading change. The leader is supposed to be out in front, but a good leader will work with his people to lead them through change, while giving them the time needed to observe the facts and ponder the options with him. I am appalled to think of the times in ministry that I have violated that rule. Good lesson to learn.

It was truly a wonderful first week. This week will be another round of intense study (Psalms, I'm writing a month-long series on Ephesians, Preaching on Sunday, 10/4, and our Elder team is reading a great book on the role of the Biblical Elder) and some meetings and phone interviews with pastors who have had long-term ministries. Please pray for me that God would teach me through these men who have given their lives in their churches. Pray for discernment as I study that I would sense the words that God would have his people to hear. And pray for the personal ministry of our Temple family - that God would use them to minister to their friends and families. Thanks. Check back often. God bless. Read up on Ephesians 1: 15-23 to be prepared for the message on Sunday.



I have been enamored with parables lately. Those of you from Temple know that they have been the impetus for and topic of my sermons of late. I have been so intrigued and captured by what Christ taught us about his kingdom (not just the "afterlife" but the present kingdom that we are ushered into when He saves us by His grace). Jesus' parables on the kingdom offer us real-life insight into what our lives with Christ in this new kingdom are supposed to look like, while also affording us a glimpse into why certain things in this kingdom operate the way they do. For more info/teaching on "the kingdom" and "parables" check out my sermons from 6/28 (The Laborers in the Vineyard), 8/23 (the Unforgiving Servant) and 9/6 (Parable of the Sower). You can find them here.

The parable of the Weeds is of significant interest to me lately.

A funny thing happened the other day. My family and I were out for a walk, enjoying the fleeting days of summer sun, and as we were walking Avery, my five-year-old daughter, was distracted. The distraction isn't new or alarming (she is my kid, afterall), it was the object of her distraction that caught me. She was walking on the edge of the paved bike trail and came across a group of weeds. She had a confused look on her face and then, enlightenment and joy. "Daddy, look!" she screamed. "A Carrot!" And she reached down, grabbed hold of the stalk with confidence and an assertive glare, pulled hard, and ....up came nothing but a weed. You should have seen the look on her face. Like she was robbed, like someone had lied to her, like something had just stolen her moment. "Where's the carrot?" she asked.

You see, we have entered the world of backyard gardening this year and, among other things that we planted in our first garden, we planted carrots. Avery had helped sow the seeds and cover them with 1/4" of soil. She had helped pull weeds around the carrots, had watered, and helped me thin out the rows to allow for growth, and all the while she had been watching the plant. She knew what a carrot looks like, at least on this side of the soil. She is brilliant, after all. But this day, all she could muster up was confusion. The confusion was caused because what she saw "below the surface" was not what was promised "above."

And then the words of the parable of the weeds (Mt. 13:24-30; 36-43) began to stir in my heart. God, the sower, plants seed and his enemy sneaks in during the night and plants weeds. The weeds grow up alongside the other plants, and they look the same "above the ground." The Master, who sacrificially purchased and sowed the seed, waited until harvest time to pluck out the weeds in order not to disturb the good seed and the plants that he had intentionally placed there. Instead he allowed the weeds to grow up and develop. Until the end...

You see in the end (at the close of the season) the reapers come to gather the harvest - to pluck from the fields what is healthy and useful and mature and to use that for the blessing and benefit of the Master. They will store some for food, sell some to recoup their expenses, and enjoy the sustenance of their fields. But, at that day, make no mistake, they are not keeping the weeds. They sort them and burn them, because they are useless. For all the foliage and promising leaves above the ground, there was simply no substance, no harvest, no fruit.

This is how the Kingdom of God is - there are those whose hearts have been made alive by Christ, whose lives have been ransomed by Christ, who have had their eyes opened and have been born again. They are the good seed. And then, in the dark of night (stealthily, unseen, subversively) the Enemy comes and sows his own seed among the field. These "weeds" are not the good seed; they are not the sons of the kingdom, but at first glance, can you really tell? I'd guess that you can't.

They look the same. They're found in the same place. They're growing close to all the good seed. So what is the substantive difference? The lack of real fruit, the source of their growth (the Enemy), and their failure to deliver on their appearance. Essentially, there's nothing "below the surface." These people, much like Avery's "carrot/weed" appear to be something that they're not. They look the same as the sons of the kingdom, they're growing up right alongside them, they even show the promise of a fruitful harvest. But, deep below the surface, there's nothing there. Harsh words from Jesus about those who would claim to be His. Today, I'm asking God to make me fruitful (and you too for that matter). I'm also pondering how to handle these words of Jesus. What does that mean for me as a Pastor leading a congregation? How can I serve my flock in such a way as to encourage growth of the good seed, hinder the growth of weeds, and help us all distinguish the difference? I believe that, maybe, there's really no way to eliminate that.



I gripped the railing on the 3rd floor landing of the nearly 100-year-old stairwell and was convinced that I was about to toss my Frosted Flakes clear down to the basement. It felt like my heart was going to pound right out of my chest, like the whole building was spinning, like I was never going to be able to live this one down. I was paralyzed in a state of panic. What to do? Where do I go? I don't even know where the heck I am! Why don't they have better signs in this place? Someone familiar? Anyone at all? I was just lost. That's it. And I hadn't felt that isolated, that helpless, and otherwise useless since my very first middle school dance. I just knew that they could all see it in my eyes - they could tell that I really didn't have a clue, that I probably didn't even belong here, and I began to think that they might be right. Maybe I should go? Maybe I could leave? Maybe I'd just walk out and never deal with that feeling again? Maybe, just maybe there was some way out of this. Heart racing, palms sweating, stomach writhing, questions swirling inside my mind,...then a moment of clarity. My eyes refocused on the floor (some 3 stories below me) and I took a deep breath and reminded myself that there really was no turning back. This is what I had come to do. This is where I was supposed to be. This is what my life consists of now. There is no turning back. Lost or not, I was there to stay. This, in the words of George McFly, was my "density."

In retrospect, it really wasn't that significant of an event, but getting completely and utterly lost on the first day of high school can be quite a traumatic experience for your average, lanky, insecure teenage boy. And lost I was. I was just trying to find English. My schedule told me it was on the 3rd floor of the "old building." (Note: the old building was appropriately named. It just so happened that my grandparents had gone to school in the same archaic structure - true story-mostly). So, like any good teenage boy, I jumped in the line of wanderers and walked up the stairs to the top and was shocked to find that my classroom wasn't there. The fear and anxiety was thick and heavy. I thought that I might be in the wrong building. I would never have enough time to walk to any of the other buildings and slip into class unnoticed. No, they would all know. They would all remind me for the rest of my high school career. In a few minutes, however, I did find my class, settled in just fine, wasn't ridiculed for the rest of high school (well, at least not for that, anyway), and I lived to fight another day. It always works that way doesn't it?

Some things just never change...

Yesterday, a few days more than 16 years later, our team of elders announced to our congregation that I was being mentored and developed and shepherded to assume the position as the senior leader of our church; that I was going to be the successor to our founding Pastor and faithful leader for 31 years. And as I sat there on the stage I couldn't help but sense that same feeling again. It's amusing to me, and a bit disheartening actually, that I still feel like the lost freshman on the first day of school; like a sheepish, awkward teenage boy trying to find a seat in a crowded lunch room; like the kid who maybe just doesn't "belong" here. When I think about all that is before me - the calling, the burden, the surrender, the commitment, I begin to feel the anxiety and the pressure and my heart pounds and by stomach turns, but then, like my moment on the stairwell 16 years ago, I sense the clarity that is so needed.

This is what I have been called to do. And faithful is he who called. This task before me is what God has prepared for me, and gifted and equipped me for. And it would be sin and rebellion to walk away from this. This is what the men who are responsible for leading me are telling me. I am going to listen to them as they lead me and trust that God is speaking through the elders of his church as the Scriptures lead us to believe. This is what my life will now be. This is "where" my life will now be. Me and my family (all of us) are in it for the haul. This is my cross to bear, and my blessing to experience. I may be young, may feel a little overwhelmed, I may feel at times like I'll never measure up, and I may unfortunately still feel like the lost kid on the 3rd floor landing just trying to find my stupid English class, but this is my "density." And as long as I am pursuing that calling with everything that I am, in the strength and power of Him who called me, then I guess I'm never really lost, now am I?

As this season progresses, I would invite you to join with me: praying for me and our elders, praying for our church, for a great harvest in the Capital Region of NY and around the world, praying that God would make the next season of our ministry more fruitful, more dynamic, more life-giving than the previous one. Come with me on this journey. Don't just observe what is happening here. Roll up your sleeves, dig in, and be our partners in the gospel. Join me here on this blog to learn with me as I prepare, to grow with me in my understanding and knowledge of God, His Son Jesus, and His beautiful Bride, the Church. And as this next season approaches for all of us, let us rest in the plan of a loving God who has prepared beforehand good works for us to do. And, by all means, let us remember that we are anything but lost.



"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV).

So apparently Pete Seeger committed a minor act of plagiarism. Solomon (or at least he's the historically accepted author) shared his thoughts as an aged man many years ago on the seasons of life. After years of observation, this is his conclusion - that life is made up of seasons and for everything that we encounter and all that we are caught up in doing, there is a time for it all. No need to excessively worry, the new season will come. No need to indulge too deeply in regret, this season will pass and lead headlong into what's next. It really is a beautiful thing that our Creator set in motion for us. There is just a natural ebb and flow to our lives and the influence of and definition by seasons cannot be overstated.

Here in upstate NY we are blessed with incredibly distinct seasons. Our winters are cold and harsh, Spring seems to take a little too long to arrive and always seems to be less than promised (I had an English teacher in Middle School that would say it's "a day late and a dollar short" - thanks Mr. McCabe). Summer is simply amazing - rarely too hot, not too humid, and just gorgeous. And then there's fall - crisp nights, apple-picking, harvest festivals, and the colors. Now before we go any farther here it is imperative to understand that I could seriously live my entire life in summer or at least that's what I think in March when I still have 3 feet of snow in my yard. I love sunshine and warmth, love to be outside from 6 am all the way through 9 pm, love camping in the Adirondacks, hiking, swimming, early morning runs, all of it. But, even with all of my affinity to the summertime, there's something within in me that just gets to the point of readiness as the summer hits its close. The air is a bit crisper in the morning, the garden has yielded just about all it is going to, the sun is setting sooner, and the heat of the summer is behind us. There is no way to pinpoint when exactly it happens, but somewhere along the line in late August, my heart begins to grow weary of the current season and long for a new one.

It is funny how that works, isn't it? Just a few months prior, my longing heart would have given anything to experience just one day of sunshine and warmth, just one hint of the smell of fresh-cut grass, just one evening barbeque with good friends. But, alas, that season passed too, didn't it? It yielded to the onslaught of summer and with it came all the blessings (and curses) of this season. And now, this season is nearing its close as well. And my heart is ready. I am excited. I have great expectations for this next season. I can almost taste the fresh baked apple pies, the cider doughnuts, the pumpkin lattes, etc. I want to pick apples with my kids, take them to a high school football game, don sweatshirts and play football and soccer in the yard, take them into the mountains to see the foliage. I am ready. An interesting thing will happen though. Around mid-November, I'll be ready for Winter, excited about sledding and snowmen, and the Christmas season, and I'll forget how much fun I was having in fall. And I've seen this pattern play out again and again in my own life for 30 years now...Hopeful excitement leads to euphoric enjoyment leads to restless monotony leads to weariness leads to hopeful excitement....

The seasons are like that. They afford us the opportunity to enjoy the place we find ourselves, and still feel the tension of what is not yet. They breed hope and expectation. They all bring their own flavor and own specifics.

Today I am praising God for granting us life seasons; for allowing the opportunity to enjoy our current state, yet experience the hopeful tension of what is yet to be. And for me, personally, I am weary of the current situation (like the feeling you get during the late-March blizzard in NY), and am re-invigorated with hopeful expectation of this wildly appealing season that God is preparing for us. My restless heart has been divinely readied and I pray that yours will be as well...



Did you ever go to the optometrist?  Of course you did.  Those of you who have been blessed enough to need corrective lenses in order drive, or read, or put your pants on correctly, know the drill.  Someone who is NOT a doctor stands with you in a dark room while your face is pressed against "the iron mask" and you begin the "number 1/number 2" test.  You stare through the lenses and all you see is a fuzzy, jumbled mess.  And the non-doctor assistant says "is it better with number 1 or number 2?  One?  Or Two?"  You pick the clear one, only to find another "1 or 2" exchange.  As the slightly clearer fuzzy mess comes into view, you oblige and pick the one that looks clearer.  If you've been graced with this experience, then you know you're in for a fairly long game of "one or two" and probably a headache too.  With each new lens that clicks down from the iron mask, the letters in front of you slowly come into view.  Until finally, after a lengthy series of one's and two's, and a few "go back, I can't decides" you arrive at your prescription - your clarity - your lenses.

I have been a Christian for a while and lately, my attempts at discerning God's plan and desires for my life and ministry have seemed to be a lot like my time in the optometrist's chair.  At first all I see is a fuzzy, jumbled, incoherent mess.  I can't quite make out any of the letters; can't quite see where it is I'm supposed to go; can't clearly see what I'm supposed to do exactly.  But then, at the appropriate time, the lenses begin to "click" into place.  The mess becomes clearer.  Still not discernible, but clearer.  And I wait for the next one.  Sometimes it comes quickly, other times it seems to take forever.  But all the while, the jumbled mess before me gets clearer and clearer.  All of a sudden certain options are eliminated - it looks better with option #2.  My passions and desires are refined - not changed entirely, but like my gaze at the wall chart, simply focused in.  I have experienced the "clicks" in rapid succession lately.  It is wonderful, terrifying, and gives me a bit of a headache.  I can see with relative clarity what it is the Lord has called me to do.  I am beginning to be able to read the words on the wall.  And just like the optometrist's office, I begin to see the world a little different, I'm able to catch details I used to miss, and I can see how it all fits together.  And so, it is with great excitement and joy, and a healthy measure of terror that I embrace and enter into the work that God has called me to....