Thursday, August 31, 2017

Curveballs and Humility

This past Sunday I preached a message on 2 Samuel 24. In the passage David orders a census, realizes it was sinful, is offered a choice of punishment, and eventually worships after paying for the right to do so. (You can read the message here or listen here, if you like.)

The reason for the idea of the curveball relates to the idea that David effectively threw himself a curve – things were going well, but he decided to place his trust in the size of Israel (and specifically the valiant men who could wield a sword) instead of God. We all make decisions that seem reasonable at the moment only to discover later that we have erred greatly in our understanding or calculations of some matter. For David, his error cost 70,000 individuals their lives. David’s remorse AND repentance kept the situation from being worse, but for the families of those 70,000, life would never be the same. Fortunately, David’s overall response was one of humility, and therefore he was honored by God – not only in the act of sacrifice, but in making the place of sacrifice the future site of the temple.

Humility is such a difficult trait. Human pride (especially male pride) is consuming at times. This is especially true in the world of sports. Every athlete wants to make the heroic play and conversely, no athlete wants to be responsible for letting the team down. I have many images flooding my mind right now of various plays in all sorts of games where a player gets “beat” and looks for an excuse. Perhaps the official should have called a foul/penalty...perhaps a teammate should have helped...perhaps a coach made the wrong call, etc. While these excuses can be made in most any sport, baseball is an especially interesting game.

Baseball is a team game which is individually based in so many ways. Unlike a running back in football who must have the help of the quarterback (to execute a proper hand-off) and the offensive line (to block), a baseball player at the plate cannot (let alone does not) rely on anyone else to get a hit, draw a walk, etc. And yet, that player’s individual performance affects the team, just like a running back’s does or any other position from any team sport. While all sports have a way of humbling even the best of athletes over time, not having anyone to blame but oneself is mostly unique to baseball among team sports.

And because of that, baseball is often said to be a humbling sport. I can think of few instances that better exhibit this fact than when a pitcher unleashes a quality curveball to a batter that is expecting a fastball. If you have witnessed this moment in a game, you will see the batter react in any number of ways with buckling knees or swinging like a five-year old being among the most prominent reactions. Oftentimes, a strikeout pitcher will save this pitch for two strikes, and after “bending one” in for strike three, the batter simply walks to the dugout knowing they have been bested. It is this exact moment that reveals a bit of humility.

The previous two paragraphs could be true of any level of competition from age twelve, but consider a professional athlete. If we just consider baseball, approximately 800 people on earth are on the rosters of the Major League Baseball teams. 800 people out of over 7 billion people worldwide (that's one in ten million, not one in a million!). These athletes are the cream of the crop and do not like to be humiliated (of course, some are not very humble at all). But, in a given moment, you may see even the best of athletes tip the cap to someone else who is better, even if only in that moment. It is this humility that can actually cause someone to train in order to excel in future situations.

The events of 2 Samuel 24 were near the end of David’s life. He did not have many future situations. But the humility he showed to Someone (that is, God) who was (is) better can serve to help us excel now. We all make plans – some of which are good, and others which are not. But life throws us curveballs all the time. And sometimes, those curveballs are due to our own choices. Yet, the curveballs that stymie us are not a surprise to God at all. Thus we must humble ourselves to Him who is better because He truly has our best interest at heart (1 Peter 5.6-7). Just as David humbled himself before the Lord, we must too. Just as David eventually listened to the council of a trusted leader, so must we. And just as David worshipped when the Lord intervened, so must we.

For as Jesus said, when we humble ourselves before God, He will lift us up. But if we seek to exalt ourselves, we will indeed be humbled (Matthew 23.12, paraphrased).

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Stuff, Desire, and the Love of God

As I look around my office right now, I realize I have a lot of stuff. And, at present, that stuff is only partially organized. One semester has wound down, another is beginning. One season of the church has ended, and a new focus is about to begin. Plus, as I have recently mentioned, I have begun a new initiative to train pastors internationally. So, my desk (and extended desk) have piles related to various aspects of ministry – church, seminary, and training – as well as some personal notes here and there as well.

But looking past the papers, I see knickknacks such as a bobblehead bear with a golf ball and a few penguins in various decor from the days where I exclusively used Linux (the mascot is a penguin). I have a few momentos of my days playing baseball, a few pictures of my family, a set of headphones, a flashlight, and other stuff. Really, I have a lot of stuff. And that is just one part of one room. Behind me I have a ton of books on a bookshelf and I have continuously worked to fill those shelves with book I have read this year. I spend a lot of money on books and stuff. (Stuff must be a technical term, I am using it so much!) Oh, and, of course, I am typing this blog on my computer which has six books holding up a monitor with a few post its on it. Plus the keyboard, mouse, mouse pad, speakers, and general office “stuff” like pens, tape, kleenex, etc all of which is atop a desk which has a chair for me to sit. Just stuff – and a lot of it.

Why am I seemingly rambling about the stuff around me? This past week my friend, Reggie, preached a sermon entitled, The Love God Hates.” His primary text was 1 John 2 which, in part, speaks of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, or as the ESV renders it the “pride of possessions.” Now, I don’t think many of us would list a pair of scissors as one of our prime possessions, but the fact is, that everything I see around me is something that was purchased (either with money or with time – as in something made). Reggie’s point was that we often put our focus on what the world offers (stuff like computers and books) rather than God. When we do lose focus, we not only distract ourselves from God, but we alienate ourselves from Him as well.

Of course, none of the “stuff” I have mentioned is necessarily bad. After all, how could I blog without a device connected to the internet (i.e. a computer, phone, tablet, etc.). How can I learn if without reading (and the Bible is one of the books on my desk – actually the one closest to me). As has often been expressed in similar manner, “it is not that we have stuff, it is if the stuff has us.” Reggie’s words on Sunday were a good reminder that we must be on guard of what we truly desire because even the stuff we have is not really ours (or won’t be someday). That great new phone – it will one day be trash. That new outfit – it may be out of style before long. That new car – it will sit in a junk yard several years down the road. After all, it is just stuff.

As humans we love stuff. But humans are not stuff. We are of value – not always to one another, but always, ALWAYS to God. The Bible makes that abundantly clear. And what is more amazing is that while humans usually discard stuff we no longer “love” because it is used or broken, God loves us because we are abused and broken. Romans 5.8 is one of the best verses in the Bible because it shows that God is not just another god. He is a “But God” kind of God. “But God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8). God values us over all of the stuff He made. And He loves us even when we value our stuff over Him.

The God of the Bible deserves our affection. The God of the Bible deserves our devotion. The God of the Bible deserves us – totally and completely. You and I have a lot of stuff around us, but let us never lose sight that whatever we may have or hope to have in this world cannot begin to measure against how much God longs for us to be with Him.

Before this post leaves your mind, take a moment to look at the stuff around you. Take a moment to identify your stuff by name, then label all of it collectively as “stuff.” Finally, make the choice to realize that your stuff can be good, but it should never be your god because our stuff can never love us like the true God can and has. Let your desire before for God, not for stuff. If you and I will commit to desiring Him, our desires will eventually become God’s desires. And when our desires match His, He has promised to fulfill all of those desires for our sake and His glory (Psalm 37.4).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

How Big Is My God?

Being a pastor has many elements to it, but one biblical responsibility is to equip others for the work of ministry. One way I do this is to allow others to teach from the pulpit in what I call Teaching Moments. These “Moments” provide a link to what I am teaching and may provide further context or perhaps have an element of devotion. However, beyond these “Moments” I try to provide a few opportunities each year for others to preach even when I am present. I know many churches do this, but most churches that are single-staff churches do not. Yet, by providing this opportunity, one other individual is away preaching at other churches as much or more as he is present at ours. Another individual has grown a great deal as well, and is stepping into new ventures because of it.

It seems to me that two periods during the year find me away from the pulpit for a period of weeks. One is just after Resurrection Sunday and the other is August.  During these times, I take some time to reflect on my own preaching, but also to learn from others. On August 6th, I was challenged in our service to consider How Big is God? That was the sermon title, and the answer is that “the answer is unknowable because God is immeasurable” (Rick Sons). But the concluding idea was not really about how big God is, but how big is my God. As I return to reflecting on sermons in this blog, I thought this was a good sermon to consider.

This blog is entitled fotonni which is a reversal of the phrase, “in not of.” If my God is truly big (to me), then I should be willing to live, in, not of, instead of chasing this world. The series I finished last month on my vision, mission, strategy, and steps, is designed to keep me focused in that direction, but I am far from perfect in following my own sequence. However, my God has “grown” a great deal over the past twelve months which is largely reflected in the most recent posts on what is next for me.

Three days from now will be one year since I departed for my first international mission trip. Being in my mid-forties, this is late for engaging in this way, and although I believe my reasons are sufficient for having not gone before, they are merely excuses. Our family has long supported missions financially, including specific missionary families, and children through various organizations. Additionally, having received theological instruction at a seminary for over a decade, I am certainly aware of the need for missions and have a grasp of the history, theory, and practice of missions as well. I have also been on more than a handful of mission trips within the United States, so I was not ignorant of missions – nor of what God can do to a person on such a trip.

But...having gone to Kenya, my world has truly enlarged over this past year. Some of that is geographically, but most of that enlarging relates to what (or is that where?) God is calling me to do (go). When I left for Kenya, I knew I would be going into the "bush" to talk about Jesus, but I knew my main responsibility was to train pastors. Those few days have now shaped a new organization as I have mentioned in my last couple of posts. My thoughts now are not just related to training pastors in Kenya (although I look very forward to continuing to doing that), but in locations all around the world. Who knew that one little trip could have such a tremendous impact? 

Ok, yes, God knew. And that is why I know my God is big. It is also why I say He is growing. Not in a literal sense, of course, but to me. I have a high view of God, and my recent series on vision, mission, strategy, and steps should indicate how I desire to live my life according to that high view. But as I continue to learn more about Him, and more about what He wants me to do, I must decide if I will follow my desires, or follow Him. Ultimately, I must choose to follow Him because only He knows where I am going.

How big is my God? Big, but not yet big enough. As John the baptizer said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3.30). As I make John’s mantra my own, I will truly begin to see how big my God really is!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Next...(Part 3)

Over the last two weeks I have revealed what I will now be professionally pursuing in addition to pastoring and teaching as an adjunct. Week 1 was painted in broad strokes (here) while I got more specific last week providing the name of our new organization and a brief overview of why the organization now exists (here). Both posts come immediately following an extended look at my process for evaluating what I pursue, how I pursue, and why it matters. The purpose of this brief series of posts (ending with this one), is to show how PTC fits into the overall process. I completed part of that discussion last week moving from the bottom (Steps) up (to Strategy), and will complete that look this week by putting PTC in context of my Mission and Vision.


Several weeks ago, I reviewed each of the four aspects of my Mission statement. In review, my mission is to:
  • Love Jesus and submit to Him in order to serve others – beginning with my family.
  • Grow in my knowledge and understanding of God and His will for me.
  • Trust His provision.
  • Externalize my faith, in part by, teaching others and encourage others in their relationship to Christ so that they will then disciple others.

PTC fits these extremely well. First, the goal of PTC is to train pastors and church leaders who are in areas which may prevent them from having opportunities to receive training in traditional ways. Thus, we must go beyond the normal means of providing training, which requires us to not only provide information, but to make the presentation possible. This will require grand efforts in many cases and a good deal of money and coordination among many people who will be necessary to accomplish this task.

Second, making disciples is undoubtedly a part of God’s will for all who follow Jesus. The question is how to do it. Without a doubt, I believe God has positioned certain people and instances in my life over these past couple of years to lead me to the development of PTC. I must continue to seek what God would have me do, but for now, I know that includes the context of PTC.

Third, this organization will be non-profit (paperwork is currently being reviewed). To not only provide the coordination for training, but also the physical equipment needed in these remote places, will require a great amount of financial resources, time, and energy. As for the time and energy, I must cling to Colossians 1.28-29 personally. As for the financial, I must allow God to move the hearts who steward the “cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50.10) to provide the necessary resources PTC needs to make this opportunity a reality.

Finally, the aim of PTC is to train others who will then train others. That is the essence of the Great Commission, and that is the ultimate purpose of PTC.

So, the focus of PTC is well-established within my personal Mission Statement. And, as I have previously stated, fulfillment of my Mission moves me closer to my Vision of becoming the man God has called me to be.


I do not pretend to be anywhere close to whom God would have me to be. But I know that I move closer when I am obedient, and as I mentioned above, I have no doubt that my engagement in PTC is a step of obedience. It is also a step of faith. The combination of obedience of faith are also an expression of love towards God. Thus, I fully believe that being a part of organizing and leading PTC will be one of the most rewarding endeavors I will experience. It will likely also be one of the most challenging which is why I believe the timing is right. I have learned a great deal about myself in completing my doctoral work. I have learned a great deal about others in the process as well. Additionally, I now know better what it means to lead a church, teach others who lead churches of all sizes, and am learning how that fits into the global context.

By looking back over the past couple of decades I can see how God has been preparing me for this venture. My learning has been expedited over the past few years and the context of that learning is more apparent to me now as well. While I still have far to go to become the man God desires, I certainly see His guidance in preparing me for the present, and I know He will be with me going forward as well.


So that is a brief look at how PTC fits within my overall approach to life. It is exciting to do something you love and be invigorated by a calling to change course a bit even as I approach fifty years of age. I watch so many people who seem to go through the motions. My personal prayer is that I do not come to that point and that is why I have developed a comprehensive process to help guide me and make sure I stay true to where I believe God is leading me.

While I do hope you will continue to engage with this blog each week in the years to come, I also hope you will find yourself checking in on the work of PTC on the company blog which will begin the week of Labor Day. The blog will be hosted on our website at Until then, keep reading here where next week, I will reflect on the big God I serve.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Next...(Part 2)

Last week, having concluded my series on how the 4L Model of Discipleship fits my Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Steps, I hinted at what my next venture includes. That venture is named Pastor Training Community (PTC for short).

PTC came to mind last year when I returned from Kenya. Having been a part of a team who trained over 100 pastors in 4 days in two different locations, the question became how to consistently train without having to be there physically. As I mentioned last week, many organizations around the world exist to share the gospel and train indigenous leaders. But no single organization can reach them all. Thus, PTC is seeking to do our part to train a part of the nearly two million pastors who need training worldwide. Our primary focus is to train pastors in remote locations, many of whom may be considered underprivileged.

My focus here is not to elaborate on PTC, but rather to show how this venture fits into my overall plan. If you wish to follow the happenings of PTC, a new blog will begin there in September. You may access the blog through the website. Additional social media outlets include Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You can find PTC at:

Website –
For Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, please search for "Pastor Training Community" and if you see this logo, you have the correct account.

As for how PTC fits my plans, let me briefly comment based upon each component of my overall process starting from the bottom (Steps) and moving to the top (Vision). To keep the post relatively brief, this week, I will focus on the Steps and Strategy. I will conclude this short series of posts by comparing the launch of PTC with my Mission and Vision.

LEARN – I am realizing each week how much I have to LEARN. I currently lead a church and have owned a small corporation before, but I have never organized a non-profit organization. Beyond the logistics of effectively leading the organization, because the primary task of PTC is to train pastors and church leaders around the globe, constant learning will be required to understand how to adapt the training to the people we will serve.

LIVE – The entirety of this venture is to LIVE what I know to be true. I must love God, love others and be a part of those who make disciples of all nations.

LOVE – If I am successful in the LIVE step, it should be because I am doing so with LOVE. I know I deeply care for the people I met in Kenya last year and presume the same will be true of the other places that God may send me.

LEAD – Training others abroad also requires me to LEAD those who are serving here. Over time, many of the daily/weekly responsibilities will be executed by others, but I must never lose my focus to LEAD.

LOVE – Again, this venture starts with my desire to serve God which requires loving God and loving others. PTC has already required a large sacrifice of time, and a modest amount of money to date, it will require much more in the coming weeks, let alone the years ahead. Of course, these sacrifices pale in comparison to the sacrifice Jesus made for me, but I doubt I would consider the sacrifice worth it if I did not love God and was learning to better love others.

EXERCISE – Discipline will be very important. Spiritual discipline because this venture is primarily focused on the spiritual aspects of life and ministry. Financial discipline (personally and for PTC) in order to accomplish the goals I/we have. Physical discipline because to travel to various places will require a body that is healthy.

ACTION – This relates to LIVE in the Steps portion. I know what I am to do (generally, and in this case, I am learning specifically), so I need to be doing what I know to do.

READ – I have been reading a great deal about a variety of topics this year, but much of the reading centers on leadership, and non-profit principles. Additionally, as I mentioned in the LEARN Step, I have so much to learn in general, that reading will be a constant – and that reading must include the Word of God.

NURTURE – One of the core values of PTC is to train leaders. Of course, PTC was founded to train pastors abroad, but the full measure is to make sure all individuals associated with PTC are nurtured in their faith and life to become leaders in their own right.

So, that is how the practical part of the process – my Strategy and Steps – relates to the launch of PTC. Next week, I will clarify how I see this new venture relating to my Mission and my Vision statements.