Throwback Thursday: Are You a Functional Existentialist?

On April 27, 2007, when I was 16 years old, I wrote the following in a blog post:

Are you content with just existing, being comfortable and not willing to change when it is necessary to lead a productive spiritual life? Are you content with letting countless opportunities pass you by? Are you content with watching from the bench while everyone else is out playing the game? Are you content with being indifferent about anything and everything, because you don’t want to have a connection to anyone or anything that would make you do more than you want to do, which is simply to exist?

I still ask myself these questions regularly, though probably not as frequently as I ought.

At the end of my freshman year of college I made a decision to switch my major to Biblical Literature because I finally had the God-given guts to acknowledge the call God has so clearly put on my heart to pursue a life of full time ministry. Previously, my primary end was comfort with a secondary objective of spiritual competency, you know, just enough to keep me out of Hell. In his immanent grace he snatched me out of the trap of trivial comforts and showed me a better way, characterized by a humble dependence on him.

Recently I have had the privilege of corresponding with a friend over email and walking through some of his questions in Romans—it must be noted that I find it no coincidence that I have been studying Romans since the beginning of June.

A book on existentialism, and one of my favorite books ever.
A book on existentialism, and one of my favorite books ever.

In our ongoing discussion of Romans, we happened upon Romans 8, and my friend did not send an email ladened with the usual doctrinal or theological questions he usually posed. No, not for this chapter.

We simply corresponded about the beauty of Romans 8 and how it shows the glory of God. Verses 18-30 in particular always manage to speak profoundly to me:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons,the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (ESV)

Reflecting briefly on this section of Romans 8 with my friend, I wrote:

The eternal perspective that this section, and this whole chapter, provides is invaluable to the Christian. You never realize how little our “big” problems are until you see life with an eternal perspective, and I think this chapter (and section in particular) convey our eternity so clearly. All of the big decisions in life (what college to go to, what major to choose, what girl to marry) all seem so small on the backdrop of eternity. 
 
Our big problems aren’t small by any means, however against the backdrop of eternity, they are no more than potholes on the path to glory.
I am never one to minimize the legitimate problems and decisions we face as ambassadors of the Kingdom in this world, but I cannot help but be filled with peace when I realize how little my money troubles or future career goals mean in the view of eternity.
Commit to pray regularly for God to put the weight of eternity on your heart so that you might see the world in a way to keeps everything in right perspective.
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Old Sheep and Young Shepherds

I always feel so silly writing blogs about churches, church leadership, and the pastorate, because while I have been in church for a while, I have never been a pastor. I can imagine that if I were a pastor, I wouldn’t care very much about what some sort of punk kid like me who has never been a pastor has to say about such matters, and unfortunately, a lot of people may feel that way. But every time I am tempted to think along these same lines, and every time I think I may not have anything to offer to the church or the pastorate, I think of what Paul wrote to Timothy:

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12 ESV)

The same Spirit that lived in Timothy lives in me, and I, therefore, shrug off this idea that I have nothing to offer because I’m a puny 23 year old kid.

shepherd-sheep-12-1

So, let’s get on with it then.

Today over lunch I was listening to Mark Driscoll interview Matt Chandler from last week’s Resurgence 2013 Conference in Seattle, Washington. I have always really loved Matt Chandler’s style of preaching and have really learned a lot from him listening to his podcasts over the years. The interview consisted of a number of topics, but the one that was most moving to me was when Driscoll asked Chandler a particular question about when he was a young pastor at Highland Village First Baptist Church. This church, which Chandler started pastoring when he was about 28 years old, is a typical “First Baptist Church” sort of church that is often set in its ways and, stereotypically, filled with a majority of old people. Driscoll asked Chandler this, “Were there some good, godly people who were older…who could support you?”

Chandler went on to tell the story of a man by the name of Dell Steele, an older man who was the chairman of the elder board when Chandler arrived at the church as their new senior pastor, likely half the age of most of the men. As you can imagine, especially if you have heard Matt Chandler teach at all, he was a pretty fiery 28 year old. But despite his belligerence, Steele stood by his side. Chandler preached in a sermon once:

I remember multiple cups of coffee where Dell Steele, who ended up being chairman of the elders here, would just smile as I talked. It was funny because I would leave going, “I think he likes me,” only to find out years later that he was like, “Oh, I hope we survive this idiot.” So Dell and I became good friends because he was able to honor my positional authority and speak life into my naïve arrogance. Because I came to the Village just absolutely sure of what was wrong with Evangelicalism and knowing how to fix it. And Dell was just excellent at asking the right question that made me go, “Oh!”

What if there were more elderly elders like Dell Steele who could come beside their young pastors and help graciously guide them in the way they should go? What if the young men coming out of seminaries and Bible colleges today were drawn to established churches because of the Christ-like support of the older sheep there, instead of driven away to do their own thing because of the intolerant bastions of “the way things have always been?”

(Some) old sheep don’t like to be led by young shepherds because old sheep are prideful.

Now, this isn’t to let the young shepherd off the hook—we’ve already established that he is zealous and probably arrogant. But what if this young, arrogant zealot was supported by a loving cast of church veterans who support him in his growth rather point out his imperfections?

(Some) old sheep hide their wounded pride by pointing out the blemishes of the young shepherd.

Sure, young pastors can be idiots—many of them would be the first to admit this. Young shepherds don’t need old sheep pointing out their every flaw. Young shepherds need gracious sheep who can humbly be led and trust God to use the young shepherd.

There are local churches that are dying with their congregants because they refuse to be led by someone younger and different than them.

What if young church leaders were excited to return to the church(es) of their youth and help transform them into church-planting churches, rather than just go off and do their own thing?

We must stop turning a blind eye to the older members of our churches who are pointing out the problems in the young pastor in an attempt to mend their wounded pride.

The immanent wisdom of an older sheep does not grant him permission to withhold grace from his younger shepherd. Rather, it implores him to show grace all the more.

The immanent wisdom of an older sheep does nothing but demand that he transfer that wisdom to the young shepherd.

One day, by the grace of God, I will be a young, zealous pastor with seemingly-impossible dreams for my local church and the body of Christ as a whole, and starting today I am going to pray regularly for a man like Dell Steele. A godly man who will be willing to set aside his pride for the sake of our church and the kingdom of God as a whole.

How I Long for My Indiana Home

 

I always get chills when I hear Jim Nabors sing that song. Susie begs me to stop every time I try to sing it when we go through Indiana traveling from one place to another.

This weekend, Susie and I had the opportunity to go back home for a couple of days. We’ll be up in Indiana a few times in the next couple of months, but we wanted to take some time to stop by Upland and Taylor University while all of our friends are around as they will be home for the holidays when we travel home the next few times.

It was a great weekend, and Susie and I enjoyed every minute of our time back home in Indiana. We loved it so much and, though we do enjoy being here in Nashville, we didn’t really want to come back. There’s something special about Upland, and there’s nothing like home in Fort Wayne.

I’m not sure any place will every feel like home outside of the Midwest, particularly northeastern grounds of Indiana that my feet have so faithfully stomped for the last 23 years until just recently.

As I was talking to my parents when Susie was visiting a friend for a few minutes a couple of streets away from my house, I was explaining why home is so special. I am a deeply nostalgic, reminiscent sort of guy. Certain places, events, or scenarios evoke much emotion for me, and these are a few of those. Some of my favorite, small, invaluable memories, particularly those dealing with this time of year (my favorite) are shared below:

There’s nothing like a high school football playoff game at Spuller Stadium when you’re too cold to care about the cold, and it won’t matter if you can just make it to state again.

There’s nothing like having coffee with a friend at Higher Grounds, smelling the fresh beans, and watching as the snow falls, hoping to have a school delay the next day as you see the cars begin to take the roads seriously.

There’s nothing like driving amidst Saturday afternoon traffic on Lima Road, passing houses much like mine, whose TVs are undoubtedly tuned to football and whose kitchens are filled will smells of fall as the pumpkins on their front porches have only just began to wither.

There’s nothing like looking at Glenbrook Mall and the other storefronts on Coliseum Boulevard knowing in just a few short weeks people will be lined up outside their doors waiting to rush in for the best holiday deals, shivering in their parkas and relying on their hot chocolate to fend off the frostbite. You can almost feel the anticipation as you pass by the relatively-quiet shops on a weekend in the beginning of November.

There’s nothing like Jefferson Pointe when it’s chilly and you scurry into FlatTop for a delicious, warm stir fry, making a pit stop at Starbucks to get a handheld heater, and speed-walking to Barnes and Noble and the other stores that, like those on Coliseum Boulevard, will be bustling with holiday shoppers soon enough.

There’s nothing like marathoning some Call of Duty with your brother and some friends over Thanksgiving and Christmas break while binging on Mountain Dew and probably having way too much fun for being four years out of high school.

In regards to Upland,

One of the best feelings in the world is joining a slew of other Taylor students and writing a paper on a gray, blustery fall day at the Gas City Starbucks, sipping good coffee, and listening to Radiohead as you watch the cars go by on the I-69 overpass just a stone’s throw away.

There’s nothing like leaving Upland Community Church on a Sunday, joining friends for lunch, watching football in your sweats, and just forgetting about homework for about 12 hours.

There are simply nothing like the fall colors on the Devil’s Backbone on the edge of Taylor University. Stunning.

Photo taken and owned by Jim Garringer
Photo taken and owned by Jim Garringer

Indiana is such a special place to me. Growing up, everyone in Fort Wayne complained about it being boring and never wanting to come back after graduation. Fort Wayne may not have all of the bells and whistles of a larger city, but no other city has Jefferson Point on a cold fall night or the atmosphere of the Gas City Starbucks on a fall evening. Here, in Nashville, Tennessee, one of the most popular cities in the country, I find myself quoting Jim Nabors, “How I long for my Indiana home.”