Surrender

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” Psalm 23:1

When I am in control of my life, bad things happen. Not intentionally, but it’s the consequences that get me.
I am selfish: Me first, what I want and what I desire.
I am arrogant: I know what is best for me AND for you.
I am bitter: I compare myself to you and your possessions, wealth and status and become jealous and angry at you.
I am discontent: Nothing is ever good enough and I always want something else.
I am fearful: Afraid of failure, afraid of success and afraid of what others think,
It has been my experience that when I am in control, I am miserable.

When God is in control, when I submit my will and the care of my life over to God, life is good.
God provides for my needs: Not wants and desires.
God provides me with rest: Green pastures in which to find silence and rest.
God provides me with peace: I am next to quiet waters that will quench my thirst. This is a much better picture than I could ever conceive or provide on my own.

When we surrender our lives to God (on a daily basis) we begin to experience the provision, care and guidance of God. Our worries and anxieties are relieved and we become aware of the the present moment. We no longer have one foot in the past and one in the future. We are in the present moment. We experience serenity. We get a break from the chatter of a thousand monkeys that is going on in our head. We are satisfied, silent and serene.

There are those …

There are those people in your life…

– who love you unconditionally

– who know better than that

– who will not forgive you

– who ignore you

– who forget you

– who say they forgive you but act otherwise

– who speak lies about you, even though you seek to make amends

– who want nothing to do you with you because you will hurt their reputation

– who are hurtful because they enjoy it

– who are hurtful and they don’t know it

For us addicts, we need to focus on those who love us unconditionally. Yet, the others get in the way. It seems unfair that we are ignored and forgotten in spite of our hard work of sobriety and getting our life together. We cry out, “Look what we are now! We have a good job! Our families are strong! Our lives are getting better!” only to be met with deafening silence.

We admit our faults and own up to our actions. We do not expect special treatment and continually remind ourselves that we have hurt others and the only remedy is to keep our own side of the street clean. We plead and yearn for nothing more than Grace.

We do find Grace and we find it Jesus Christ. It is he who was with us in our dark moments of pain and mental anguish. He was there as we numbed our pain and walked around in a fog knowing deep down there is a better way. He continued to whisper lovingly to us that he is our peace, our lover, our savior, our redeemer and our God. He was also with those we held captive by our actions. Our spouses, our children, our friends and our loved ones. He also whispered to them that he will take care of them.

We hide in the shadows because we know that we are considered bad people. The words loser, druggie, drunk, worthless and pathetic are just some of the labels used to describe us. It is rare to find the person who will call us beloved, worthy and valuable.

So each morning we awake and ask God to help us through this one day. This one day only and knowing that if we can make it through this one day, we have the pleasure to ask him tomorrow for the same thing.

The Prayer of St. Patrick:

I arise today

Through the strength of heaven;

Light of the sun, Splendor of fire,

Speed of lightning, Swiftness of the wind,

Depth of the sea, Stability of the earth,

Firmness of the rock.

I arise today

Through God’s strength to pilot me;

God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me,

God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me,

God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me,

God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to protect me,

God’s hosts to save me Afar and near,

Alone or in a mulitude.

Christ shield me today

Against wounding

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through the mighty strength

Of the Lord of creation.

 

Dear Martins Creek

To Martins Creek,

I’m doing okay and it’s wonderful. I would be lying to you all if I said that I was stress free and blissful. That doesn’t exist on this side of Heaven. I am doing okay. That means, “I am doing well. I am not covered up in my bed crying all day.” I am clean and sober and have been since April of 2014. Life is great! Sure, I experience the stress of being unemployed but please know that I am trying. There are a good number of Holmes County businesses that know I am looking for work. I have had lots of coffee with old friends and new acquaintances talking about life and making connections for employment. Friends, I am doing well. I have not felt this good emotionally and mentally in a few years. I am okay. We as a family are okay.

I also want to take this opportunity to say a few words about my time at Martins Creek. First, I miss you. I mostly miss your kids, but I miss you. I miss seeing your faces, hearing you laugh, hearing your stories and talking to you. I miss being with you the most. I miss our time together on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. I miss being a part of your lives and I miss you being a part of mine.

I also want to say “thank you.” Thank you for walking with me for almost 20 years. You welcomed me when I was a punk college kid who started dating one of your daughters. You welcomed me when I was a Baptist kid who did not know that a church could have more than one hymnal and that they could be different colors. You welcomed me when I had no idea what 606 meant or that harmony had four parts. You. Welcomed. Me. You took my bad and made me better. Then you did the unthinkable: you turned me into a Mennonite pastor. Crazy. A man by the name of Carl (remember him? I miss him too) convinced you that I was worth the risk. You led me and challenged me and opened up a new world of calling and passion that I had never known before. You loved me. You took a risk on me. You have shown me Grace.

Let’s talk about Grace. For 13 years, you called me your Associate pastor or Youth pastor depending on your experience. For 13 years you let me pour into the lives of your children. You gave me permission to show them the Grace and Love and Glory of Jesus Christ. I will never forget that and can never express my love and gratitude for you. For 13 years I had front row seats to your lives and got to see your kids grow up and take off. It was 13 amazing years.

Then on Sunday, October 12, 2014 you blew me away. Remember that morning? It was the morning when I resigned from my position as Associate pastor. It was the morning when I confessed to my sins and failures. The morning when I came clean about my behavior and accepted responsibility for my actions that brought hurt and pain to some people. It was my lowest morning. But then you did it. You took your faith seriously and put into action what you believed. You forgave me. You touched me. Like Jesus placing his hands on the lepers, you placed your hands on me. You came to me and you meant it. In the sanctuary, in that room designated for worship, we not only embraced each other but we embraced Christ.

Grace became tangible for me at that time. Grace became more than some theological idea and became real. Did you know that you can smell Grace? It smells like the perfume of old ladies, the cologne of men, the different laundry detergents we use and the smell of cough drops and gum. You can’t smell it unless you are in the midst of a Grace moment. It overwhelmed me from all of the hugs and tears and handshakes that you gave me in that moment. Thank you. Thank you for risking. Thank you for forgiving. Thank you for touching. Thank you, Bob, for taking that long and lonely walk up the aisle to stand by my side.

My heart is heavy because of how I wronged myself, my family and you. My heart is heavy because that is not how I wanted my time with you to end. My heart is heavy because we never got to celebrate the years we had together. My heart is heavy because I still feel like I let all of you down. My heart is heavy because I never got to tell your kids how sorry I am, never got to tell them that I love them, never got to tell them to not fall into the trap that I did and never got to tell them one last time that they are loved, beautiful, the Beloved of God and that they have unsurpassable worth.

Yet, my life is good. I know that you love me and have forgiven me. I also know that there are some of you who are glad that I am gone and that there are some of you who have not forgiven me. And that is alright. Not everyone can. I find peace in knowing that God, Kris, my kids, my family and my friends love me, have forgiven me and want me to move on. That is enough. I consider that to be a really good life.

Oh Martins Creek, I love you. I miss you. I thank you. May you find the same Grace extended to you that you have extended to me.

Going to Hell

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 16:18-19

Someone recently asked me what hell is like and if I believed that hell was an physical location where the damned souls would burn for an eternity of misery and suffering. I told them that I don’t know what hell is going to be like and that, like a friend once told me, I am not a fan of being a fan of hell. Of course, the other side of that theological coin is the question of heaven and all that entails. Again, I don’t know what heaven is going to be like. Sometimes we get so focused on the afterlife and eternity that we forget to pay attention to the life right in front of us.

Recently, traveled with the group of amazing musicians and artists of Timothy’s Gift as they brought hope, love and joy to the inmates and staff of eleven prisons in Florida. Having never been to any type of prison facility, I was a bit anxious to visit. Yet, it became one of the greatest experiences of my life. I don’t know what hell will be like in the afterlife, but I am sure that a maximum security state penitentiary is hell on earth. Especially if you have multiple life sentences and no chance of parole. To be confined to the same buildings, crappy food, daily routine, clothing and judgement every day for the rest of your life is hell. It is not being able to see your family at holidays, birthdays or summer barbecues. Ever. It is the lonely existence of a prisoner that is hell on earth. It is in this man made hell where murderers, rapists, thieves, abusers, liars and molesters must spend the rest of their earthly lives.

As we entered the first prison facility on that early Monday morning, I felt as though we were entering the gates of hell. It was a complex designed to keep the worst of society away from the best of society. It was a fortress of sin, despair and judgement. I felt so out of place and not even sure what I was doing there, or really what any of us were doing there. Melissa Greene, the “Hope Curator” for Timothy’s Gift and main presenter said it perfect during her message; “I have not walked a step in your shoes, never walked the yard, never slept on the same bed, never stared at the same four walls as you. What could we possibly bring you or say to you?” I echo those same comments. I have no idea what it is like be a prisoner or to face intense security every waking and sleeping moment of my life. What could we possibly give them? What could we possibly say or do for them? We were in hell, there seemed to be no hope or joy.

Then it happened. We brought the message of heaven with us. Of course! How could I be so naive? We brought with us the message of hope and love and dignity to the inmates. We didn’t bring Jesus because he was already there. We simply reminded them of this great truth and opened up the glory of heaven. It seemed so simple after the first visit. All we needed to do was to tell the inmates that they were loved. We simply needed to tell them that Jesus stood for them and remembered them. They are not forgotten because Christ is already there.

The gates of hell cannot withstand the Church. The gates of hell cannot withstand God’s people loving each other. The gates of hell cannot keep out hope or joy or love. The Church, the actual people of God, can break down the gates of hell with the message of hope and love. This is the message of heaven: you are the beloved of God and nothing you do can keep God from loving you as one of his children. 

While I don’t know what heaven and hell will be like in the afterlife, I do know what it looks like here on earth. Hell are those places of prison, those places of suffering, those places of hurt and those places of darkness where no hope can be found. Heaven is when the people of God put aside their difference in theology and love each other. Heaven is when we love those that society has cast to the side. Heaven is when we love those who are forgotten and feel unloved. That is heaven and that is a force that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. So go. Go to hell and bring heaven with you.

For more information about Timothy’s Gift and to hear the story behind this amazing ministry, click here.

Expectations: Yours and Theirs

Growing up, I was expected to behave in a certain way. I was expected to listen to my parents (listening is very different than obedience), study hard, get to my job on time, go to church, etc. While in college I was expected to attend class, study hard, declare a major, make new friends, have fun (but not too much), prepare for my future, hopefully find a wife (winner) and then graduate with a well paying job in my field of study waiting for me. Well, some of those expectations did not really work out so well. In fact, I failed on most of those expectations. Don’t get me wrong, life has worked out extremely well for me, just not in the expected way.

We all have expectations for our lives and those can be good. We should be expected to be polite, friendly, flush, wash our hands and not end up incarcerated in a federal penitentiary. But where are your expectations coming from? Who is telling you that you should go to this school, get this job, marry this person, buy this house or live this lifestyle? I have been thinking about the expectations placed upon my own life recently. In my line of work, there are certain expectations that come along with the gig.

I have been an Associate/Youth Pastor for the past 10 years and have enjoyed ministering to youth. I love my church and the amazing people who fill the pews every Sunday, even those who forget how to get to church from time to time. I really love my youth group and all of the kids who have come and gone over these past 10 years. But after a while, an Associate/Youth pastor is expected to “move up” to the lead pastor role. Kind of like a badge of honor thing. You did your time doing small time ministry, now step up behind the pulpit and lead a congregation. That system of expectations works really well for many people.

I chased that expectation earlier this year. In fact, the whole process took about a year but came to a messy halt this past January and February. See, I listened to the voices that encouraged me to embrace the expected career arc of a pastor. I don’t blame them, I also thought that was what I was supposed to do. I thought I was to be the next lead pastor of a certain congregation. But when it came down to the interviews, trial sermon, all of the things that go into a pastor “auditioning” it was obvious to my wife and I that we were not to go. Our expectations of “moving up” behind the pulpit failed. I feel like it was a disaster. I went through dark periods of guilt as if I let down two congregations (my current one and the trial one), I let down their leadership team, I let down my mentors and ultimately let down myself. I did not meet those expectations. I did not meet “their” expectations.

I hold no grudges against them. In fact, I love them. I feel like they helped me to learn a lesson about expectations, meeting those expectations and, ultimately, where they come from. I feel like too often in life we get our expectations from other people. They may be parents, friends, teachers or trusted mentors. They probably mean well and only have your best interest in mind. But I think we place too much value and worth on the expectations of others and not enough on the passion we have growing inside of us. What if we were expected to do what we are passionate about? What if we were expected to do what we love? What if we were not expected to worry about salaries, retirement plans and moving up the social ladder? How different would our lives be if we sacrificed material possessions so that we could do what we were really passionate about?

I have a friend who was probably at one time in high school expected to go into the family business. Instead, he followed his passions and talents and is now an amazing pediatric oncologist who helps kids and their parents walk through the horrible journey that is cancer. This guy inspires me. He has a passion for his job, has a passion for his family and his hobbies. He loves life and I think it probably has something to do with the fact that he is doing what he is passionate about and did not listen to the expectations of others.

I am finding my passion, the “thing” inside of my soul that gets me up in the morning. It’s the passion which brings joy to my life, joy to others and makes your life feel like the puzzle is coming together. There is a big difference between the expectations people place on us and the passion that fuels our lives. I want to do the unexpected, I want to do what I am passionate about. Even though I am probably expected to “move up” behind the pulpit someday, I am realizing that right now in my life, I don’t have that passion or drive to do that. I feel that I am gifted to work with kids and there are sometimes it feels like it is not good enough for some people in my field of work. But I think when  we go against others expectations, we cannot help but have this collision of passion and expectations. I hope that I always follow my passion, even if it changes. I hope that I encourage my own kids to follow their passion and do what they love. My 10 year old son wants to open his own bakery when he grows up. He wants to make cakes and pastries. You know what, Emrick? Go for it! Maybe if I follow one of my newly discovered passions of writing, I will make enough money from the books I write that I can pay for your own bakery. Let’s follow our passions first and be wary of those who put expectations on our lives.

Much love.

Martins Creek Mennonite Advent Devotional, Day 28

During the season of Advent, people from our congregation at Martins Creek Mennonite Church have collaborated to create an Advent devotional.  Each entry has been written by one of our own, both young and old.  We hope these meditations are a blessing to you during this Advent season.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYGq-5DbCfk

O Holy Night                                    

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Martins Creek Mennonite Advent Devotional, Day 27

During the season of Advent, people from our congregation at Martins Creek Mennonite Church have collaborated to create an Advent devotional.  Each entry has been written by one of our own, both young and old.  We hope these meditations are a blessing to you during this Advent season.

Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 14                                  

God teaches His desires to those who are willing to listen. In this scripture we see the confidence that the Psalmist David has in the ways of God; so much confidence that he desires to make God’s ways his lifestyle. God leads us step by step, correcting us when we find ourselves on an evil path. One avenue in which God corrects us and teaches what He desires from us for our good and His glory is through something David did not have; the Gospels. Yes, there are other ways that God speaks to His people, but studying the lifestyle and words of Jesus is the best way to achieve the life and become the person that God intended for us to be! Imagine being David, living life without knowing Jesus. David still had a confidence towards the God of salvation, but today, because of Christmas, we can experience knowing Jesus! Jesus, who lived and walked among us, experienced the temptations, the hardships and the evils of this world. Unlike David, we are given an example of a person who models the same potential we have to live a pure life!

“Teach me thy paths”… Lord, there is an evil road and a narrow right road. It is easy to follow the evil road sometimes, but you sent your son to teach us what right! You decide when and how we hear your covenant. Lead us to the stable; lead us to Jesus Christ. Help us to recognize your teachings and to understand what you desire from us. God, you are the provider of everything we need. Thank you for providing Jesus, saving us from the evil one and showing us how to live a life for our good and your glory! Help us to anticipate this advent season the ways in which you will show us your love. Amen.