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My Journey

“I want you to die to your vision of being a lead pastor and serve Kendrick and the vision of Grace Church with all your heart. If and when I reopen that vision, Kendrick will open the door.” — God

 

Calling vs Called Ones

As with many areas in which one earns a living there is a pinnacle position. While it is changing in the American Christian landscape, in the “ministry” traditionally that pinnacle position is either international missionary or a lead pastor with “your own church.” This is what I believed from age 10, when I first felt a calling to be a pastor, until 2010 when I came on board as a full-time member of the staff of Grace Church in Chapel Hill, NC.

Don’t get me wrong, the idea of being a lead pastor is not a problem. People are called to do that and are very good at it. The problem for me was that my success and identity was also wrapped up in that title. I thought a lot about it when I was a volunteer leader of the youth ministry, when I went to seminary, again when I was a pastoral intern. While I always gave my all to the season of life that I was in, my eyes were on the “next step” to the “pinnacle” of the ministry call.

This became a hindrance to me. I developed a heart for ministry, not a heart for the house — the house I was called to: Grace Church. In my mind, anything that hindered my ministry advancement was, by nature, a problem or even a rivalry.

Perhaps the critical test came for me in the Spring of 2006. This is when my lead pastor, Kendrick Vinar, asked me to stop leading the entire youth ministry and just lead the middle school ministry, and then had a newer, more experienced pastor oversee the senior high ministry. Now, the theological purist in me wanted to say that advancing the Kingdom is advancing the Kingdom no matter the age bracket or designation. But in reality, I felt like a failure and like I was being demoted. I felt this so strongly that I almost walked away from Grace and was even advised to do so by some very trusted people. But Tiffanee saw my pride and my gifting and told me I should devote myself to middle school ministry and I did. It was a minimalist’s way of passing a test, but God is gracious and still granted a passing grade. I also loved the next four years of middle school ministry.

As with a lot of things, this test only set me up for more. Near the end of my seminary days, there was an idea of a church plant that never happened. Then the possibility of becoming a lead pastor at two other churches that never materialized. I even made the final cut to be an executive pastor at one of the fastest growing churches in NC, but didn’t get the job. Then Grace hired me on as a potential multi-site pastor, but just a few weeks after agreeing to the job, the leadership realized that it was premature to do multi-site and instead made plans to add services and work on the church culture. Again, in the natural, many of these items could have felt like set backs. But in most of these, I just plotted along. Honestly, coming out of seminary after the economic crash of 2008, I was just stupid happy to have a job that paid in the ministry.

 

Then God spoke.

Shorty after coming on board full-time at Grace I began pondering again the “my own church” thing. God knew, this was going to be a problem. I was on a prayer retreat in 2010 when I clearly heard it: “I want you to die to your vision of being a lead pastor and serve Kendrick and the vision of Grace Church with all your heart. If and when I reopen that vision, Kendrick will open the door.” God had spoken. Not loudly, but clearly.

I thought about fighting it, but I knew it was God. So I dedicated myself to serving Kendrick and his vision for Grace Church. What happened was that his vision became my vision in a way that I had never really owned in the previous five years of serving with him.

Again, God was setting me up. I was given two new assignments. Assignments that in the natural I would have never chosen for myself. I was tasked with reforming the First Impressions Ministry (FIT) and then was named the Children’s Pastor. The 2006 Jeremy would have been devastated. After all, 2006 Jeremy would have thought there is only one step down for middle school ministry and that is kids. But I had died to that ambition, so I was free to embrace this kingdom call.

I’m not going to lie and say it was all flower gardens and dancing unicorns. Rebuilding FIT and leading Grace Kids were easily among the hardest things I have ever done. I stepped on minefields, I made people mad, I lost friends, I had to humble myself, I had to do a lot of things that I didn’t like. But in it I learned how to lead, how to learn, how to find true friends, how to build support structures, how to release responsibility, how to adapt when its demanded, etc. In short, I really became an adult. One who had a true vision of what “ministry” is — empowering others for the work of the Kingdom, not someone who builds his own.

Then comes August 2014. I was in the midst of reorganizing the FIT ministry to make is better for the coming year, recruiting almost 40 new teachers to Grace Kids in preparation for the Fall surge, and Grace was about to embark on the history-making REACH campaign to double the size of our facility. At home, Tiff and I were preparing to add our fourth child to our family. I was working hard and, honestly, loving life. It was awesome.

 

The “Open Door

It was Friday night, August 1st, 2014. I sat down on my couch to chillax a bit and thew open my laptop. In my inbox was a forwarded message from Kendrick titled “New Pastor.” The body of the email simply said this, “This may be crazy, but you were the first person who came to mind.” I then read the forward message. As my eyes scanned it, I realized something — this was a solicitation for a lead pastor from a sister church. I felt my pulse quicken just a bit as I read the description. “Could this work? Is this for real? Please God let it be in a cool location.” The email ended, “Steve Chupp, Senior Pastor, Harvest Community Church, Goshen, In.” Where in the world is Goshen Indiana? I felt a bit excited and a bit, well, disappointed as well. I mean common, why not Hawaii? 😉

The following Monday I met with Kendrick. My basic sentiment to him was that I was honored that he thought me capable of such an role, but in general I was very happy at Grace and very happy about what God was doing. I wanted to hear what he had to say. We both were on the same sheet of music — let’s knock on the door, see what God is doing. It seemed like such a long-shot anyway. I mean, what is there to lose? So Kendrick said he would give the lead pastor a call (Steve Chupp was an old friend), and feel out the situation. If it was worth pursuing, we would. If not, I would gladly get back to the work of serving Grace Church.

Two hours later, Kendrick was raving about his conversation with Steve. The following week there was a phone interview, then personality tests, and another phone interview. The door had been opened.

 

At Home in a Strange Place

Goshen is a quaint little town in the midst of Amish country Indiana. It sits about 30 minutes outside of South Bend. While the town itself feels small and relatively secluded, the five county are, known as Michiana because it includes a few counties in Michigan, has almost a million residents. I had heard of this town because the founder of Grace Church, Jerry Daley, had spoken about it. Apparently during the Jesus Movement of the 1970s, Goshen was a hotbed of revival. It was out of this movement, that Harvest Community Church was born.

In addition to the familiarity of its reputation there was another connection I didn’t expect. I have a board of five coaches that I meet with monthly. As it turns out, two of them were very familiar with the area — having either lived there or with family there. It was starting to feel strange how familiar the place was.

In October, Tiffanee and I journeyed to Goshen to see the church. The stay included a lot of time with Steve and his wife Ronda as well as a five hour meeting with the elders and wives. This is where events took a turn for the “probably.”

I don’t give off good first impressions. My wife, who still married me, thought I was a jerk when she first met me. Yet I was sitting in a room with eleven complete strangers, asking and answering difficult questions and yet felt so at home. It was, in many ways, like I knew them and they knew me. Even in issues of vision, goals, philosophy terms like “that’s exactly what we think” or “that was our goal from a few years ago” were being used. It was a moment that felt like God was working. Above all, there open-arm acceptance of Tiffanee was inescapable. They instantly seemed to connect, love and respect her. It meant the world to me.

The weekend was not all “clear signs from heaven” though. When Tiff and I drove around Goshen, the town itself felt very foreign to us and the weight a cross-country move was heavy on our hearts. What was God up to?

This trip was followed a few weeks later by a visit to Grace Church by Harvest’s associate pastor, Jim Drier, his wife Joyce along with Phil, one of the elders, and his wife Diann. They spent their time getting to know my family, seeing our ministry context and, of course, visiting Grace on a Sunday morning. That same “home” experience was there again. They felt very much like family to me and were clearly quality people.

The reality of what was happening was sinking in. Could God be calling us away from our season at Grace?

 

The Offer

The offer from Harvest hit my inbox in November. The theoretical long-shot had just become a reality. Now it was time to hear God.

 

A Woman of Many Questions

All along Tiffanee had been playing a vital role in all of this. She asked the toughest questions of the elders when we visited Harvest, she was making sure I was in position to hear God and not pursue ambition, she wanted to know her family would be taken care of and she also wanted to do God’s will. But, the offer had thrown both of us in a bit of an emotional loop. There was so much to consider, and yet we hardly knew how to begin processing this information.

We had several meetings with Kendrick and his wife Nana during these stages of the process. The two of them walked us through how to begin, how to listen, what questions to ask, and gave us freedom to take our time. The freedom was also granted to us by Steve Chupp when I asked him for two months to think and pray about everything. We had a good excuse, the coming of our fourth child in December, but still; two months is two months.

The first step of processing the decision came when I asked Tiffanee for any and all the questions she had for me about the accepting the new position. She went off for several hours on a Saturday, prayed, and came back with four pages of questions. Yes… four pages! It was honestly, the greatest gift of God I received in this process.

Over the next week, I woke up an hour earlier than normal and spent that hour praying and journaling the answers to these questions. As I did, who I am, what God was saying, what I was afraid of, what our marriage was supposed to be, etc. all started to become clear. While it was not the “ah ha” moment of an answer, it crystalized exactly what I needed from God to know his will clearly in this decision.

Those questions, along with so many other actions from my wife, were the perfect example of what a godly “help mate” is supposed to be. God gave me the right women, and I am so grateful for her.

 

Chaos

Between the time of the offer and the time of decision, there were a few intermediate steps put in place. Harvest asked that Tiffanee and I come to Goshen again for one final meeting. This would be a time to meet their extended leadership and their congregation as well as preach. Steve, Jim and I also had several phone conversations to further vet issues of theology, philosophy and leadership. But in general, there was a lot of waiting.

That’s when chaos hit. Although our entire family had the flu shot, we then all got the flu. Mine knocked me out for three days. But by far the worst case was the one that hit my wife. It was diagnosed 15 minutes before she delivered our fourth child, Whitley. This meant a 48 hour period of separation between Tiffanee and her new baby — no contact at all. Oh yeah, she was born on December 22nd, so it was the week of Christmas.

It took a very caring nurse and some key connections in the Wake Med pharmacy, but Tiff, Whitley and I were able to come home Christmas Eve. Just past midnight on Christmas morning, Tiffanee got to hold and feed Whitley for the first time. It was a treasured and bitter-sweet moment all at once.

Christmas Day was relatively normal, but Tiff was sick, Whitley wasn’t sleeping and had it not been for the help of family, it would have been super rough. For people like Tiffanee and me, this was not the environment we would choose to make one of the most important decisions in our lives.

 

A Final Trip

Due to the complications with the flu and a new-born, Tiffanee and I decided that it would be best if she and Whitley did not accompany me to Goshen for the final visit in January. This was hard on both of us. For Tiffanee, it mean trusting me to interpret what happened to her in a way that she could be confident in a decision. For me, it was trusting my own instincts to interpret what was going on — something my wife is infinitely better at that I am.

It was a whirlwind trip. Steve and Ronda has me meet virtually everyone who was anyone in the town — including the mayor. The weekend also included meetings with their young adults, their ministry leaders, their elders and wives, preaching on Sunday morning and a reception with the entire congregation. There was no rest for this weary traveler and I liked it that way.

Going up there I had a list of questions in my head to ask, but mostly I wanted to see if that “at home” feeling was still there when I met the broader congregation. Let’s be honest, as awesome as the meeting with the elders had been in October, that was the group of people with the greatest incentive to have me come. Surely there would be more skeptics in the broader congregation.

The skeptics really didn’t show. Everywhere I went I felt at home. Furthermore, the number of Harvest members that said to me “you feel like one of us” was remarkable. In addition to this, all the questions I had (and several others I didn’t know I had) were answered. In some cases, it was almost as if God went out of his way to confirm things that needed to be confirmed. I headed home emotionally overwhelmed.

 

The Kingdom of the King

The following Monday I was again in Kendrick’s office. The trip had, in one sense, seemed clear but I still needed a few things interpreted for me. As I sat on the couch in his office talking about my experience I saw it happen. The light went on in Kendrick’s eyes. True, it was a light that was probably already 90 percent there, but it was obvious that it went on. “Jeremy, this is God. You are supposed to do it,” he confirmed.

His words didn’t really need to be said for me to know what to do, I knew what God was doing I was just a little scared to admit it. They did need to be said as a final fulfillment of a promise of God; Kendrick was opening the door for a final time. He was confirming the direction of God.

That was really the beginning of the end. There were several more conversations with Tiff as we navigated God’s confirming peace for several days and also sought the advice of others; but all the signals came back bright green. God wanted us to go to Goshen. So about 10 days after being in Indiana, I called Steve and gladly accepted the position of future lead pastor. God had fulfilled a calling.

Looking back on this journey I realized why God had asked me to die to this vision. In reality, its answer was demonstrated in my pastor, Kendrick Vinar. It was an issue of the Kingdom of King Jesus. You see if being the “lead pastor” is the pinnacle of the ministry, then there is a ladder to climb. In reality, the Bible proclaims us all priests and all ministers. The lead pastor and the street sweeper or the Ph.D. are all alike, we are called to proclaim the rule and authority of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in whatever sphere he places us. Prior to God asking me to die to the vision of being a lead pastor, I thought that a staff pastor was better than a kids pastor who was better that the Sunday school teacher. What arrogance! If God had allowed me to become a lead pastor at that time I would have tried to build my own kingdom and not his.

Dying to this vision allowed me to engage kingdom advancement at its most basic level — to do all things as service to the King. True, I never would have seen myself as the leader of the FIT ministry or the kids ministry, but for those seasons I gave myself fully to advancing Jesus’ kingdom in those capacities. And I gained a tremendous love and respect for the many ministers at Grace who freely and weekly gave of their time to greet others and serve the next generation for Jesus. I saw the kingdom coming in their actions and learned to treasure it. Death had brought vision and perspective.

In the end, God also used Kendrick’s actions of opening the door to this calling as a final example of Kingdom generosity. In the church world, they say that there are three things that prevent a church from reaching people; parking space, seating space and children’s space. At Grace, I oversee all three of those areas. And, by the grace of God and great leadership from Kendrick and the staff, Grace Church has grown by more than 10 percent per year each year I have stewarded these areas. There are plenty of pastors across America who could have been tempted to be possessive of such a staff member. Indeed, many would have because they might have been confused between building their own kingdom and building King Jesus’ kingdom.

I don’t really know what Kendrick’s struggle may or may not have been like as he evaluated how he would advised me. His demeanor was always so for me that it was hard to tell. Perhaps it was easy and he had great faith and confidence in God. Perhaps it was a struggle and he was simply trusting God to come through. All I know is that he demonstrated the open-handed nature of the Kingdom of God. Be faithful to invest what God has entrusted to you, and God will prove faithful to entrust you with more. I can’t wait to see how God will reward him, and I hope other pastors of growing churches will follow his example with their staff and resources.

 

A Remarkable Woman

Finally, not enough can be said for my wife Tiffanee. By nature, she likes slow processes and controlled environments. Making a major life decision while bringing her fourth child into the world — especially with the complicating factors of the flu — is not her ideal. But through this entire process — the good, the bad and the ugly that all couples walk through when choosing to trust God like never before — she has blossomed.

Most godly men understand why they fell in love with their wives, and it stays with them throughout their marriage. Many continue to grow in admiration of their wives as their marriage matures. Occasionally, we get a rare gift when God pulls back the curtains and reveals his purposes for why he gave you the woman in your life. This process has been just such an occasion. It has been quite clear that his sovereign wisdom was more at work when he gave me Tiff than was my lame attempt at pursuing her. I truly need her and am grateful to her for standing hand in hand with me throughout this entire journey. SHMILY.

As I close, as much as this has been about my journey the reality is that the journey for the Gwaltney family is just beginning. We are very excited about the new season that God is bringing us into. If you are reading this and you are from Goshen and Harvest Community Church, we can’t wait to be with you and serve you. At the same time, we are very sad about the closing of a season. If you are reading this and are from Grace Church or the Triangle area, know that we love you and are grateful for you and you will be very missed in our lives. Finally, we are somewhat scared. That mysterious scared that happens when you are at peace, but you are stepping out into the unknown. An unknown in which only God can prove himself faithful. It is a true walk of faith and the only walk I would ever want to go on.

 

Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt You shall dwell in the land of Goshen.. There I will provide for you so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty. Genesis 45:9b-11

It has happened to me twice this year. I was going about the business of the day when suddenly I received a text from a long time disciple. The first read, “Russell Wilson filed for divorce?” A few months later, the second one read, “What’s up with Mark Driscoll?”

 A brief text conversation ensued in which my final response was, “That’s why we are supposed to cling to Jesus, not men.”

 It’s been a rough year for my Christian heroes. Two of them, ironically enough, both currently in Seattle and both of them I grew fond of in Wake County, NC. I am an unabashed Russell Wilson fan. He’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to what the young people call a “man crush.” Since he played for three years and is an alum of my alma mater, NC State, and since he went undefeated against our arch rival, UNC, he certainly has a place in my fandom heart.

 During his stay here in Raleigh there were always stories about his faith. State fans lovingly called him a “poor-man’s Tim Tebow” due to his leadership on the field and his faith. Since he was from NC State and not a powerhouse like Florida, neither his play nor his faith hit the national scene until much later. But we knew. So when I saw the story this past spring of his pending divorce, it grieved me. He has been/is such a great model of loving Jesus, I was bummed (granted, I know nothing of the circumstances of the divorce).

 Driscoll was similar. I first heard him speak at a seminar on the missional movement when I was attending Southeaster Baptist Theological Seminary, just north of Raleigh. At the time I was struggling personally with how to rectify the “church-growth movement” with “Biblical fidelity.” Being surrounded by theological study, I wondered if they could both exist in the same place. When I heard Driscoll preach with unabashed love for the truth of God, yet he pastored a mega church, I heard God say, “you can do that.” It was a watershed moment in my ministry calling. So naturally, what is going on right now is confusing at best, downright tragic at worst (I have family that has left Mars Hill because of what is going on).

 On top of all of this, the social media world allows everyone to have an opinion on everything (including me). And, especially in the case of Driscoll, it seems that church discipline has to be conducted on a public forum. In both cases I have heard the word hypocrisy dropped, in the Driscoll case I have heard cries for God’s wrath as well as statements about how Seattle’s Christianity has been thrown in a state of disarray and may never recover. Anger, hurt and disappointment abound. “This ruins my day,” said the text message in one of those conversations.

 I can certainly understand. After all, in Christianity we praise our heroes of old. Heroes like Paul and Barnabas; St. Nicholas and Jerome; Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Aquinas. We laud the reformers like Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin. We direct people to the examples of the revivalist like Zenzindorf and Jonathan Edwards, and the pioneer missionaries like William Carey. Then, of course, there are the amazing people like Charles Spurgeon and Charles Finney. We praise them in children’s books, we talk about them in our histories, we teach about them in Sunday school and we assign their writings in seminaries. These are the true heroes of the faith that we should emulate, applaud and our modern church leaders should be like. After all, in our media driven, egotistical, bigger is better age – mega church pastors and Christian heroes don’t have the character that they used to have.

 Yeah, I know, sounds good. I even heard my preaching voice come out while I was typing it. There is only one problem. The Christian “heroes” of old really aren’t any better (perhaps they were worse) that the so called Christian “heroes” of today.

 We all know Paul. He murdered Christians before he was saved. True, he met Jesus, experience transformation and was a key catalyst in the first church. However, we can forget that he and Barnabas had one of the first and most public church splits (probably amidst accusations of family favoritism) and Paul struggled with sin his entire life (thorn in the flesh and Romans 7 as exhibits 1 and 1A).

 St. Nicholas, according to legend, got into a fight at a church counsel with a heretic. Yes… Santa Clause was in a public brawl. Now, to be sure, it is legend. And it was a genuine heretic. But can you imagine how that would play out on Twitter today?

 Jerome’s translation of the Vulgate was most likely funded by his live-next door girlfriend who he wasn’t married too. By next door I mean they had caves near each other.

 Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux and Aquinas were all remarkable church fathers whose writings I love. They all also wrote prayers to Mary, and relicts, and other things that were blatant idolatry compared to the Biblical teaching.

 Then we get to the really colorful characters – the reformers. Martin Luther in many ways saved the gospel. But he was crass, hot tempered, depressed, bullying and an anti-Semite. John Calvin had a man killed and had a less that awesome marriage (his eulogy to his wife at her funeral was “she never got in my way”). Then there was Zwingli. Zwingli early on in his life mentored a group of young men in ministry and the Bible. They were his partners in the reformation of Switzerland. One of the items he taught them was that baptizing believers after their confession of faith was more biblically accurate than infant baptism. Several years later, due to political concerns, Zwingli ordered the execution of many of these same disciples for baptizing people after their confession of faith. Death by convenient hypocrisy.

 Jonathan Edwards worked 12-14 hour days and came close to neglecting his family. There is a book on the market today about his wife titled “Married to a Difficult Man.” Ludwig Von Zenzindorf lead the Moravian missionary movement (almost 100 years before William Carey’s modern missionary movement). The only problem was that he often left his wife at home to care for the Moravian community, and went on many-month-long mission trips with a woman he admired and was probably in-love with as his assistant (To be sure, there is NO evidence of a physical affair, but certain inappropriate emotional attachment was there. After Zenzindorf’s wife died, the two were married before Ludwig died 3 years later). Finally, William Carey was a great missionary whose wife went insane on the missions field. Spurgeon played out a church split in public and it lead to tremendous controversy and Charles Finney is still having his preaching dissected today because many people today aren’t sure if he actually proclaimed a Biblical gospel.

 Yet in all of these cases, God changed the world through the life-giving message of Jesus Christ using these scoundrels and scallywags! Scoundrels and scallywags just like you and me who God raised with a level of anointing to very public figures – moral warts and character flaws included.

 So what am I saying? Am I justifying modern Christian leaders for their sin? NO. I’m speaking to those people who feel “my day has been ruined” when they find out a leader falls or lets them down. We should remember a few things.

#1 – Jesus is the hero. Not the people he saves. We are all despicable people entangled in sin and in desperate need of the Savior – even after we love Jesus. Sanctification is a life-long process and none of us are glorified. Treating Christian leaders as if their justification equals their glorification is both unfair and setting ourselves up for disappointment. Jesus NEVER fails, his people always do in some way or another (and have since Genesis 3).

#2 – We should be careful of who we put our trust in. Trust should be in Jesus and God the Father. There are also millions of godly Christian leaders with great character and are worthy of our trust. But in our microwave society, it might be an exercise in wisdom to vet some of these leaders in light of Biblical teaching before we join their church, follow their ministry or, certainly, proclaim them a hero. Also, when leaders are accused of sin, we should hold our trust in a place of privilege. We are always commanded to forgive, but we are not always commanded to trust.

#3 – We should be slow to wish for justice (vengeance) and wise in how we discuss the matter. Paul killed Christians. I am sure many in the early church wished God’s wrath on Him. In the history of Biblical revelation, thought he deserved it, that would have been a shame. Biblically here are two things we always know: 1) God will defend his Bride against all long-term impurity or destruction. 2) God judges leaders at a greater level than others followers. We can rest assure that the one who is Faithful and True will prove faithful in these promises. However, openly lashing out against people in need of God’s mercy reminds me a bit of Jonah sitting outside of Nineveh emulating the terrible twos because God saved 120,000 men, women and children (and also much cattle). God wasn’t pleased with Jonah. I also find it instructive that the two great heretics of the Bible, Demas and Diotrephes, were called out by Paul and John. But the apostles’ warnings and list of faults could have fit on one Twitter post; one with the line “when I come I will tell you more” (3 Jn. 10).

#4 – We should remember and pray for the victims (unless of course Wilson in the QB and San Fran is the defense ;-). There was one Tweet that caught me in the Mars Hill scenario. It read something like this, “of all tweets calling for prayers for Driscoll, I have yet to see one calling for prayer for the victims.” There are always victims. I stand with my family members who left Mars Hill – that is a Biblically acceptable way to lead and potentially dangerous church. We should understand this. Years ago I was apart of a situation where the victim was overlooked, and the leader was defended. In the end, the victim was right and the leader was wrong and it was indeed tragic.

#5 – We should always, always, always remember that NONE of us gets what we deserve. That is the nature of grace and mercy seen in the ultimate justice – the cross. We deserved that, we, by faith, don’t get it. We should also remember that we are always one decision away from completely destroying our character and reputation. But God is a God of redemption and mercy. We should look at the log in our eyes, before judging our “heros” too harshly when they turn out to be just like us.

In the end I will simply call for one final reminder about how we should view our Christian heros past and present. In Ephesians 5, Paul likens the relationship between Jesus and his Bride to marriage. When I counsel engaged couples I am always sure to tell them the following. When you get married you will find that you married a sinner: someone who can’t meet your needs, can’t make you happy, and can leave you lonely. While there is MUCH joy in marriage, God sets it up this way. It is because the deepest desires for fulfilling intimacy can only be found in him. Every time our spouse fails us (big or small) we are to always forgive, we should evaluate the issue of trust, but we are also to be instructed by that pain to cling evermore tightly to the true Bridegroom who alone can fulfill our deepest needs and desires. Their failure is a call to come closer to Jesus.

There is a similar principle with our heroes. Every time one falls or failed in the past, we should forgive, we should evaluate the issue of trust, but we should always stare directly at the bright light of the perfect hero – Jesus Christ himself. He is the only faithful and true knight in shinning armor there to deliver his Bride from the pain of sin.

 I am praying for Mars Hill. I am praying for Russell Wilson and his wife and am still rooting for him on the field (in fact my son is wearing his NC State number as we anticipate State’s opening game today). May God turn the evil in our lives evermore to increase his glory.

There is a favorite picture in my family.  It’s a picture of me standing in a 14 foot fishing boat.  Behind me is my grandfather, Paw Paw, dressed in his signature Osh Kosh overalls, holding a black fishing rod with me holding the line on that rod with a small fish, a brim, dangling from the end.  It was my first fish!  A great moment caught on camera.

From that age, roughly 2 or 3 years old, though my childhood fishing was a family tradition.  Usually on a Saturday morning my dad would wake up my brothers and me, we’d head out to a local pond, catch a few fish, and then return home.  When we parked the ol’ truck into the driveway my youngest brothers would go running into the house to bring Mom out to see the catch, Dad and I would pull open the top of the cooler to show her and the guys would all stand back and take the standard, “you should be impressed with our fishing skills” pose.  Great times.

This winter I decided it was time to look for a hobby.  I returned to the roots of fishing.  I was amazed how much I enjoyed it, especially when I took the girls.  But our first few times out we didn’t catch anything.

That changed yesterday and it brought back a flood of memories.  We were at our favorite little park that has a lake for fishing.  More than an hour had gone by and the best we’d done was lose crickets to fish too small to bite the hook.  All of a sudden I saw the orange bobber on Kara’s kid rod dive under the water.  I grabbed it and yelled for the girls, who were playing near by, to come over.  Sure enough a 12 inch catfish broke the water and I began to yell for Hailey to bring me the net.  I pulled it in, Hailey helped me net it and, together, the girls and I landed our first real fish of the season!

I then managed to pull out my phone and snap this picture – the girl’s first fish.  Another classic.

That afternoon the three of us drove home.  When we parked the van in the driveway, Hailey and Kara went running off into the house to find Tiffanee.  I went to the back of the van opened up the cooler, and then the three of us looked at Tiff and took the standard “you should be impressed with our fishing ability” pose.  And she was.

It’s amazing how simple traditions can conjure up such love, unity and, quite frankly, fun for the whole family.  I can’t wait to get my next hook wet with my four fishing buddies.

[Alright… I admit it… the title is a bit misleading.  I believe in hell primarily for only one reason.  Because the Bible teaches about its existence with absolute clarity.  It is a place for Satan, his demons and the unrepentant people of the earth.  However, I do find something comforting in the Biblical doctrine of hell.  That is what this post is about.]

Last night, as news rang out about the death of Osama Bin Laden at the hands of U.S. troops, a common phrase was being used – “Justice has been served.”  It is a statement that we run to quickly.  Yes, Bin Laden’s death is justified.  But is it justice?  I would submit, no… it just simply can’t be justice.

Why?  Simply put Bin Laden’s death is the death of one man.  A man responsible for killing thousands, perhaps ten’s of thousands of people.  Is one man’s death really justly equal to the death of thousands at his own hand?  Certainly not.

In fact, one could even say Bin Laden got off easy.  Of the thousands of people he killed, few went as easy as he did.  Think about the people in the buildings on 911 trapped above the fire.  They experienced nearly one hour or tortuous horror before falling to their deaths.  Or the people in the planes above Pennsylvania, many calling their relatives on cell phones to say “goodbye” before the plane inevitably went down.  Let alone the many others who suffered physically, emotionally, and psychologically at the hands of Bin Laden’s plans and plots – some still to this day.  What was “justice” for this?  A few minutes of a firefight and an instant, almost painless, death with a bullet through the head.  The quick death of Bin Laden seems to ring hallow to our sense of true justice.

This is the true problem of evil in the world today.  Try as we might, in our existence evil cannot receive true justice.  We can kill the terrorist but we cannot do so in a way that equates all the horror he’s inflicted upon the world.  How then is justice truly served?

Justice is found in the doctrine of hell.  In the biblical understanding of the afterlife, the evil will be judged based on their deed (Revelations 20-21).  While men like Bin Laden (at the hands of U.S. armed forces) or Hitler (killed by his own hand) might have experienced a quick death, they will not escape true justice.

There is such a thing as cumulative morality in the world.  People do evil things and good things and there is a record of the right or the wrong that we do.  Those who do evil things in this life that can never be completely or justly satisfied in this life will pay for their actions in eternity.  The doctrine of hell does satisfy this problem of evil.  Make no mistake about it, Bin Ladin was an evil man – more evil than most of humanity.  There is nothing Biblically wrong with believing that, and there is nothing Biblically wrong with being thankful that one like him received his due justice.  And hell does satisfy this sense of justice.

However, there is also such a thing as absolute morality.  That is our status as moral beings.  The Bible makes is clear that none of us has a good moral nature (Romans 3).  We are all, by nature, enemies of God (Ephesians 1-2).  And our offense against God is by nature eternal because God is eternal.  And an eternal crime CANNOT be satisfied even in an everlasting punishment in hell because eternity is GREATER than everlasting.  The reality is that from an absolute morality, I am no better than Bin Ladin.  Both by nature evil, both by nature an enemy of God, both by nature and the curse of sin doomed to an everlasting existence in hell.  So while hell does satisfy the cumulative nature of evil and justice, it cannot solve our absolute nature of evil and justice.

Only the cross of Christ can solve the problem of absolute morality.  That is because Jesus Christ was eternal and perfect.  He took on our sin by choice.  Died the death that sin required.  Because he was eternal (John 1), his morality and judgment was able to fulfill the requirements of our absolute moral state.  We are then made right, just, justified due to our faith in him and submission to his lordship (2 Corinthians 5).  Thus, in Jesus, every evil can be satisfied when we put our trust in him.  I can stand free from hell due to Jesus’ sacrifice for me, and the faith he grants me to trust that he satisfied the justice my sin deserves.

The reality of true justice is the reality that every evil ever committed will be completely paid for.  The question is, who pays for it?  Jesus with its absolute perfection through the death on the cross?  Or us in an everlasting existence in hell.  It is in this Biblical doctrine that justice is truly served.

Why does Donald Trump have the potential to be refreshing for 2012 Presidential Politics?

Before I get started let me say just one thing: I am not a Trump supporter for president.  In fact, there is only a VERY limit set of circumstances in which I would EVER consider voting for him.  However, I have always been fascinated by the Trump, and there is one major area in which he could be refreshing for the political process.

What area is that?  Simply put – frankness.

What do I mean?  I mean that by in large the political process has been hijacked by public relations spin doctors who have drilled the candidates with the notion that you can ONLY discuss the talking points (I have a degree in PR, so I can bash it a bit here).  The end result is that politicians rarely answer questions unless the reporter happens to throw one at them that perfectly fits the talking point.  This is infuriating to me because it demonstrates, at least a large percentage of the time, that politicians are afraid to be who they really are.

Trump, however, has build a personality-centered brand that projects him as the expert.  In short, he is his own handler (at least in the public’s eyes).  This means he’s far more likely to give candid, politically incorrect, or shocking, off-the-cuff answers to questions.  Sure, it will probably doom him in the end, but it will also further expose the phoniness of much of American politics.

Let me give you a few examples.

Last week I was watching an interview with Mitt Romney (someone I think is more qualified than Trump to be president).  The reporter asked Mitt, “You are successful businessman, Trump is a successful businessman.  In an economy like ours, what makes you more qualified then Mr. Trump to run the country?”

Mitt’s answer – talking points, most of which were more aimed at the weaknesess of the Obama economic policy than those of Trump’s.  The reporter rephrased and asked again.  Again, the SAME talking points.  What is so infuriating is that Romney actually has a very good answer – “I’ve been successful in politics, government and in business.  That means that I know the foundation of good economics, the ability to articulate my message, and the ability to work with people from differing political philosophies to makes sure we get the job done.  Mr. Trump has only done this in business, and while extremely successful in the private sector, will quickly find out that Senators and Congressmen do not respond well to being treated like employees.”  Okay, I admit, the last line was a bit over the top… but still.  He has a good answer.  Think for yourself and answer the stupid question.

While I’m not certain of the source, I saw an headline where Trump was asked a similar question about the difference between him and Romney.  Trump’s answer, “I have more net worth than he does.”  Sure… pompous, arrogant, ignoring some of the issues.  But he answered the stupid question and in a way that highlights the bottom line in an economic environment where the bottom line means a lot.  “I am better than the rich businessman because I am a richer businessman” makes it simple to identify the win.

Even in the stupid Obama birth certificate exchanges, how does Trump respond when Obama releases the documentation?  “I’m proud of myself… I won.”  Again, arrogant, pompous, something that no other politician would ever say, but in this political environment, there are portions of the Republican party that want to see a win.

The refreshing thing about Trump, especially if he gains any type of traction in the primaries, is that he has the opportunity to demonstrate the phoniness of talking points, the ability to stay on message without them, and the desire that people have for authenticity in their candidate.  That is what Clinton and Reagan had – messaging plus authenticity.  While I’m not rooting for him as a candidate, I am rooting for him as a change-agent to the way politicians talk with the American people.

My Princesses

A few weeks ago, my parent flew our family out to visit them in California – a belated Christmas present.  We all went to Disneyland for the day.  Below are pictures from a wonderful day of princess hunting.  Of course my girls (children and wife) are the greatest princesses of all.  Enjoy!

 

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Day of Pain

As some of you might have seen form my wife’s facebook post, I was in the Duke Hospital Emergency Room until about 4:30am last night with an excruciating headache.  Here is the brief story.

Sunday afternoon on my drive back from Christmas break, I noticed the right side of my face was very tender – like I’d been punched.  Then, over the course of a few more hours, a headache developed between my right nostril and my right temple.  I got home, took some pain meds, and everything went back to normal except the tenderness.  The same phenomenon happened again on Monday and Tuesday.  On Wednesday, again the same thing occurred, but the headache was much more intense and it was coupled with pressure behind my eye, watering and redness of my right eye, and some body aches.  Pain meds helped the pain, but didn’t eliminate it.

Yesterday, again the same thing happened, but this time it was developing into my first full blow migraine and pain meds weren’t helping at all.  I had the day off and was watching the girls, so I called Tiffanee home to take the girls and went off to Duke Urgent Care in Brier Creek to get it checked out (since the pain came on at the same time each day, and was isolated essentially to my right eye, I sensed something was strange).

The doctor at Duke Urgent Care said it could be three things.  An Ocular Migraine, where the migraine had a central location behind my eye.  Cluster headaches, where a long series of headaches were attacking the same area of my head in groups.  Or, everyone’s favorite, a tumor.  He did rule out a stroke or blood clot.  He suggested a migraine medication and told me if symptoms got worse to go the Hospital so they could rule out other possibilities.

Two maximum doses of the migraine medication later, at about 1am, I was headed to Duke Hospital with some of the worse pain I’ve ever experienced.  I hoped I wasn’t just being a wuss with my first migraine (my wife gets them all the time), but at the same time I didn’t want to be the next Matt Chandler and they find a tumor behind my eye.  They got me in, hooked me up to an IV, pumped me full of migraine meds, Benedyrl and caffeine and began the diagnosis.  Again, cluster headaches, tumors and, another favorite, meningitis were on the docket.

They took a CT scan and, thankfully, discovered that I had a massive sinus blockage behind my right eye, which was created a headache with migraine like symptoms and pain.  So they gave me a antibiotic, some perkeset and, at about 4:30am, sent me home.

I’m feeling much better now.  Headache is mostly gone, pressure behind my eye is gone, and, while I’m a bit groggy, I’m alert, awake and enjoying the day.  A special thanks is owed to my wife, Tiffanee, for all she’s done for me in the last 24 hours – coming home, driving me to the ER, getting meds, etc.  She’s been awesome.  Also to Kathrine Holloway, who came over to our house last night at 1am to watch the girls while Tiff and I were gone.  Huge blessings.

I’ll keep you informed if there is anything new.

Blessings,

Jeremy