Category Archives: Family

Spiritual Disciplines & The Classroom of Life

Photo Credit:  HFT Design

Photo Credit: HFT Design

LET’S GET SPIRITUAL!!!

What does it look like to live a spiritual life?  This is a question that I have had since I was young.  Even before I became a Christian I was drawn to spirituality and religion.  I wanted to know what it meant to be close to God and live a holy life.  Holy people are attractive to me.  Their selfless living, their intimacy with God, and their insight into life are things that I desire for myself.  This is why I was so drawn to the spiritual disciplines when I started my Christian walk;  practices like fasting, retreats of silence, lectio divina, and so forth.

In fact, if you want to make any money writing Christian books just write on discipleship, being “missional”, or the spiritual disciplines and you’re guaranteed to have a bestseller.  Why?  Because there is a powerful interest in rediscovering and re-applying these ancient practices of the Church, especially in evangelical circles.  During my years as an InterVarsity staff worker I would regularly take retreats of silence or practice disciplines like fasting as a way of growing in my walk with Christ.  I could easily do an hour-long daily devotion, complete with Scripture reading, journal writing, and praying.  I loved it.

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The Gift of Married Life

Just Us

There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage.
~Martin Luther

So he’s a bit of a fixer upper
But we know what to do
The way to fix this fixer upper
Is to fix him up with you
~The Trolls from Disney’s Frozen

This week I stand between two important days:  the anniversary of my wedding to Jenny and Father’s Day.  As such, I’ve been thinking a lot about both what it means to be a husband and a father and I’ve come to the conclusion that there a few gifts greater than those of a spouse and children, for I believe that it is in the beautiful vocations of both marriage and parenthood that God humbles the spiritually proud and shows grace to the weak.

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The Church Hunt: “Where Can I Find Community?”

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Since arriving in St. Louis, Jenny, the kids, and I have been spending time worshipping in a variety of different churches.  While we’re holding off getting involved in a church until we know where I will be stationed for my Field Education, we have approached this process as if we were looking for a church to join as newcomers to the area.  We’ve tried to be anonymous and just see what it is like being a random family entering a new church for the first time.  It has been an eye-opening experience.  In the coming weeks I’m going to be posting about some of these visits, but before I do that I wanted to take a couple of posts to talk about how to select a church and what to look for.

As I was cleaning out some of my files the other day I ran across a handout that I used to give to my graduating seniors when I worked in college ministry.  It is entitled “Getting Involved in a Local Church”.  As I was reading through it I realized that it has a lot of really good advice.  It was adapted by one of my former supervisors from the book Following Jesus in the “Real World” by Rich Lamb.  It poses a series of questions that every person should ask when evaluating a church along with some comments.

In his opening comments he writes the following:

Just because God may be at work in a particular church doesn’t necessarily imply you should join it.  Many factors contribute to preferences in church selection; obviously it would be foolish to talk about preferential factors.  It would be like saying, “You should only eat chocolate chip ice cream.”  But some aspects of a church are not like eating chocolate chip ice cream – they are more like bread and butter, or meat and potatoes (or for some people, sprouts and tofu).  They are essential for a healthy diet, not simply dessert after a meal.  It is helpful to ask some probing questions.

The first evaluative question he poses is:  “Where can I find community?”  Here is what he has to say:

Though essential, finding satisfying community in the context of church can be difficult.  Do community-forming structures exist?  Church small group structures vary, but usually at least offer the hope (and desire) for community.  Obviously, small groups that meet only once per month or every other Sunday evening for one hour will not be conducive to the kind of community we are hoping to find in a church.  In fact, this may be a good indicator that the church doesn’t really value community.  On the other hand, a church may not offer deep and developed community but may have the ingredients present for community to grow.  If you and a couple of friends were to take initiative and bring together a group of people or join a struggling but hopeful small group, then the right conditions for community may come together.

 

My advice:  Take initiative with people (invite them over or go out with them).  Be prepared to learn from many different kinds of people.

What I like about the advice given here is that it takes the search for community out of the consumer mindset that we often had by challenging us to ask the question:  “How can I help strengthen or even build community within an existing church?”  Oftentimes it is easy to slip into a consumer mindset:  one in which we expect community to come to us or just meet our needs.  But what is interesting here is how he is challenging us to think in terms of building community and taking initiative with others.

So what about you?  How well does your church do in fostering community?  In what ways can you help build or strengthen community?

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Snapshots: Our Recent Adventures

Below are some visual snapshots of our recent adventures in St. Louis.

Snapshot: How We Start Our Day

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Nick’s Mug                                                 Jenny’s Mug

ENOUGH SAID

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Arrival: University City

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Here’s a snapshot of what our neighborhood looks like. I love the architecture of the houses in our area.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD…
~Jeremiah 29:10

“I do not ask to walk smooth paths
Nor bear an easy load,
I pray for strength and fortitude
To climb the rock-strewn road.
Give me such courage and I can scale
The hardest peaks alone,
And transform every stumbling block
Into a stepping stone.”
~Gail Brook Burket

Well, we’ve arrived.  I know it has been a long time since I’ve posted, but our lives have been busy with packing, moving, unpacking, studying for entrance exams, and exploring our new city.  So, I wanted to give you all an update on some of the latest developments as well as a taste of where we’ve landed.

New Town:  University City

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City Hall, University City, MO

First and foremost, I wanted to introduce you to our new hometown:  University City, MO.  U-City is an inner-ring suburb of St. Louis, resting just north of the Washington University campus.  It was founded by Edward Garner Lewis, a publisher who bought 85 acres northwest of Forest Park around the time of the St. Louis World’s Fair.  Since that time U-City has grown, becoming both a residential and cultural hub.  Its downtown, the Loop, is packed with restaurants, bars, shopping, and theaters.  Its neighborhoods are filled with brick homes and two-flats.  Everything is walking distance and we’ve found several parks and playgrounds that we love hanging out at in the afternoons.  In many ways U-City reminds me of Oak Park, with its older homes and beautiful residential neighborhoods.  Many of the residential streets have been blocked off to through traffic, making them great for biking, jogging, and walking with the kids.

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The U-City Loop

In addition, the residents of U-City are incredibly diverse and our neighbors are friendly.  Since moving in we’ve talked gardening with the hipsters down the street, helped jump an undergrad’s car, patched up a biker who had a pretty rough spill on the street, and read stories to the neighborhood kids at the local library.  Furthermore, my wife has landed a job tutoring and we’re looking into having our oldest start preschool in the Fall.

In short, we love it here.

New Occupation:  Student

Doesn't that guy look like my brother?!

Doesn’t that guy look like my brother?!…Creepy…

I’m also readjusting to being a full-time student.  While Concordia‘s fall quarter doesn’t begin until the first week of September, I’ve already been hard at work taking exams, including the GRE and the Greek Entrance Exam.  The past several weeks have been filled with practice tests, flash cards, parsing, paradigm memorization and grammar reviews.  And if your brain hurts just reading that, know that my brain feels ten times worse.  I can’t remember the last time I have studied so hard in such a short amount of time.  Add to this the insanity of moving and unpacking and this certainly has been one of the most stressful times that I’ve faced in quite a while.

Still, there are many bright spots.  The first is that I not only passed the GRE, but passed with flying colors.  I received the highest score possible for the analytical writing section and one of the highest scores possible on the verbal reasoning portion.  These are the two areas of the exam that Concordia looks at most closely and it is nice to know that I performed at such a high level.

Spent several hours a day looking a pages like this

Spent several hours a day looking a pages like this

Second, I passed the Greek Entrance Exam, effectively testing out of both the Beginning Greek and Greek Readings courses.  This puts me ahead of most first-years at the Seminary and opens up the possibility of getting ahead in my coursework.

Finally, I’ve been offered a job at Concordia’s library.  While I cannot begin working until after my first day of class, it is nice to know that I have a job on campus and one that will work with my class schedule.  It is also nice to know that we will have some income as we move into the school year.

New Quirks:  Yes…there are downsides…

As you’ve probably guessed, things are going really well for us.  However, there are still some downsides to life here.  Here are a couple of the hilarious/frustrating/quirky things about our move:

  • Mosquitos:  They’re everywhere.  Seriously.  I’ve never seen anything this bad in Chicagoland.  I’m fairly certain I’ve contracted malaria and west Nile virus already…
  • Humidity:  The word “jungle” comes to mind.  There is not a single day that doesn’t go by where we all don’t come home sweaty and sticky.  Gross…
  • Schnuk’s:  Never before has so expensive a grocery store been invented.  There is no way that a family of four with a grad student for a breadwinner can possibly have the budget required to purchase an average week’s worth of groceries at this place.  We are already on the hunt for a local Aldi and will definitely be taking advantage of the seminary’s food pantry.
  • Cardinals:  Yup, they’re everywhere too.  And I’m not talking about those beautiful red songbirds.  I’m talking about those drunken religious fanatics known as Cardinal’s baseball fans.  I’ve already been scolded on numerous occasions for being from Chicago and very nearly burned at the stake for being a Cubs fan.

But in all seriousness the biggest things we miss are our friends and family from Chicagoland.  While being in a new town has been great, we miss the community that we had.

In the coming weeks we will be visiting churches, building relationships with new friends, both on and off campus, and continuing to prepare ourselves for the start of the school year.  So stay tuned and, as always, thank you so much for your prayers and support.

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Decision: St. Louis

St_Louis_Arch

The LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you…”
~Genesis 12:1 (NIV)

Since my post about leaving Trinity many people have asked me what our next steps will be.  After many conversations, deliberations, and prayer we’ve arrived at our decision:  we’re heading to St. Louis to attend Concordia Seminary.  While it’s a fairly simple thing to write, the journey to that decision has not been an easy or straightforward one.  So, I wanted to take some time to explain our decision, but also to give you some insight into what the process has been like for us as a family.

The Opportunity

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Back when we first knew that my job was being eliminated, one of the options that our church extended to us was to attend Concordia Seminary, with the hope that this would help fast-track my path to ordination, provide me with solid theological grounding in the Lutheran tradition, and leave the door open to returning to Trinity for my pastoral internship and, God willing, an eventual call back to full-time pastoral ministry in our home congregation.

But there was a huge lingering question:  do we feel called to the Lutheran church?  After all, I had served in an interdenominational college ministry for six years and have been studying at a seminary affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church.  As such, we’ve been exposed to a variety of Christian traditions.  It only made sense to ask the question, “Are we ready to be tied to this denomination and to this theological tradition?”  Furthermore, this was a question that many people around us have been asking.  There are some in our denomination, and some looking in from the outside, who are disillusioned with the level of infighting that has taken place in recent years and who urged us to consider getting out.  Others, however, believe deeply in the theological convictions that undergird the Lutheran tradition and urged us to stay even in the face of such struggles.

stl windowAt the end of the day, I have to say that there are a variety of reasons that we’ve decided to say “Yes” to this calling to the Lutheran church.  First, I love the Lutheran commitment to the solae of the Reformation:  sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria.  Their high view of scripture and justification through faith in Christ alone are convictions that we, as evangelicals, share with our Lutheran brothers and sisters.  But beyond this, I love the acknowledgement of mystery, the commitment to the sacraments, and the thoroughly biblical way in which they articulate and ground their confessions.  If the basis on which we take part in a denomination is to be grounded in the theological confessions of that denomination, then the Lutheran church has a lot going for it.

But beyond this, there is a wonderful community of visionaries, reformers, pioneers, activists, missionaries, and shepherds within this faith tradition who inspire and encourage us.  Yes, our denomination has its conflicts, its infighting, its politics, but what denomination doesn’t?  No denomination is perfect.  And yet, the Lutheran church also has a rich community of those who are committed to advancing the Gospel and helping people grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, Concordia Seminary itself is committed to equipping pastors for the harvest.  I’m excited to see programs like MissionShift taking off as the Seminary partners with church leaders, activists, and social justice practitioners to train up-and-coming pastors on how to reach the world next door.

As such, I want to be a part of this growing community.  But I’ve also learned that it is easiest to build bridges from the inside.  If I desire to be the change that I wish to see in the denomination, I need to do so as one who has expressed, in both word and deed, a commitment to it.  I can think of no greater commitment than submitting to its authority, teaching, and formation by attending seminary.  True change happens in the context of relationship.  Going to Concordia, in my mind, will solidify that relationship and help shape me as a pastor within this tradition.

Finally, and most personally, we have the support and prayers of our home congregation in sending us.  If ever there were ever a reason for a person to enter seminary, my hope would be that it is because his or her home church is commissioning, blessing, and sending him/her to do so.  We have that.  I’m honored that Trinity sees itself as a sending congregation that equips workers for the harvest.  The fact that our church desires to send us, financially support us, pray for us, and maintain an ongoing relationship with us means more to me than any other factor.  Rarely do I see churches taking such an active role in the formation of their leaders, much less investing such care and support in them as they go.  I’m excited to see how our partnership and relationship will develop in the years to come, and my ultimate hope is to return to our home congregation so that we might continue to bless them through our service and leadership.

The Challenge

But even with all of these wonderful reasons for going to Concordia, the decision has not been easy and there has been no small amount of pain as we’ve moved forward.  The truth is that this change happened far more quickly and unexpectedly than we were prepared for.  When we first learned of this staffing change we were preparing to fulfill the dream of purchasing our first home.  We were also putting down roots in our community, preparing our eldest child for preschool, and enjoying our growing relationships with people in our church.  I was enjoying my graduate work at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Jenny was looking forward to pursuing her own personal professional goals of tutoring, volunteering with InterVarsity, and becoming a Master Gardener.

iStock-10376306_close-up-tree-pruning_s3x4_leadThis change, in many ways, is an uprooting, a pruning.  We will be leaving behind family, friends, and colleagues.  There are many plans and hopes which, once again, are being put on hold for the sake of ministry, and while the calling is a good one, there is heartache as well.  As Jenny and I reflected on this a bit last night we realized that our daughter will be leaving behind the friends she has had since birth and that our son will return to the area without the connections that his sister was able to develop as she grew.  Jenny, while always a pillar of support to me, is once again putting her own hopes and dreams on hold for the sake of her husband’s call to ministry, a reality of which I am painfully aware.  One of the greatest struggles in this has been the reality that many people have expressed direct support to me while Jenny has, at times, been left feeling isolated and out of the loop on this leg of the journey, not sure what to share or whom to share it with.  I’m reminded, again, that the calling of a pastor is also the calling of his spouse, and just as a pastor can oftentimes feel isolated and alone, so too can his wife.  It has been sinking in more and more just how hard this transition will be for Jenny and the kids, and so I ask not only for prayers, but visible and direct expressions of support for them as they make this transition with me.

Furthermore, we are moving to a new city without jobs, without housing, and without financial stability.  There are still many unknowns and unanswered questions about what our life will look like and how we will make ends meet, even with the support of our home congregation.  These are daunting questions which, for a young family, are difficult to answer.

IMGOne of the themes that seems to come back to us, again and again, is this image of the nomad.  In very real ways, because of finances, jobs, and life transitions, we have always been on the move, and while it is one thing to say, “this world is not our home” it is another to be reminded of it year in and year out.  The reality is that we are beginning to feel it.  On the intellectual level we know that God has and always will take care of us, but that has not lessened the emotional reality and weight of this change.  Never before have I longed more for a sense of “place” than I do now, just as we are preparing to leave one place behind in exchange for another.

So, it is with this in mind that I ask for your support and prayers, not just for me and my studies, but for my wife, my children, my family.  Specifically, I would ask for the following things:

  • Please pray that Jenny and I would find both housing and jobs quickly.  We are looking to move in mid-July, but we need to have a home and some possibilities for income shortly thereafter.
  • Please offer support and encouragement to our family.  This is a transition for all of us, and so my wife and my kids are going to need just as much love and support as I do.  We need your help and support emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and, yes, physically (hugs are always appreciated).
  • Please pray for our preparation.  We have a lot of packing to do and paperwork to file.  Furthermore, I need to prepare for my entrance exams and the GRE.  This will be a stressful time for us, so please understand if we don’t answer emails and phone calls immediately.  We love you.  We just need time to get reoriented.
  • Pray for our times together as a family.  In the midst of the busyness of a move it is easy to allow our personal times together to slip.  Pray for us and encourage us to take time for ourselves in the midst of this transition.

Again, in all of this we are confident that this is God’s next step for us, but we are also wrestling with the challenges of this change.  We appreciate all of the support and encouragement that has been extended thus far and we are grateful to God, our family, our church, and our friends.

Stay tuned for further updates 🙂

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