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...