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It is not about what I am doing

Like most pastors, I really want our church family to know their Bibles. My desire for that explains why I preach the way that I do. I preach expository messages, informed by a quote I heard at the very first chapel service I attended while in seminary: “There are two kinds of preaching – expository, and bad.” In addition, I like to alternate testaments, so that our church family gets to see how the Bible works together, and that ultimately all of it points to Christ. I also like to preach through books that have been authored by different individuals, again, so that our church family gets to see how the Bible is one unified story, despite the differences in authors, audiences, languages, locations, dates, etc.

Currently, I am preaching through the book of Jonah. At first glance, I thought it was going to be a quick, 4 week series. Jonah has 4 chapters, a lot of it was narrative, so I figured this would be among my more brief and swifter series. But then I began to study the book intently. When I did so, I realized that 4 weeks was too short. There is way more going on than it appears. Four weeks quickly became 7 weeks. It has been a joy to get to preach through this book. Jonah’s account has revealed my tendencies and exposed my heart. His story has reaffirmed God’s relentless pursuit of me, and His relentless grace to me.

One theme that continues to pop up each week – so much so that our church family can repeat it on command – is that the story of Jonah is not about what Jonah is doing for God, but what God is doing for Jonah. And in like manner, my story is not what I am doing for God, it is what God is doing for me AND what He has already done for me through His Son.

Dwelling long on that truth has been challenging, yet encouraging. Nearly everyone defines themselves by what they do – “I’m a doctor, I’m a student, I’m a plumber, I’m a pastor…” What would it look like if we defined ourselves not by what we do, but by what God is doing in us? It might be a little weird and wonky to say it out loud “Hi, I’m Carl, and God is causing me to grow in the area of patience” (you know, I might just try that). But what if we started to at least think that way? What if we stopped defining ourselves by our spiritual works resume – “I teach this class, I lead this small group, I serve in this ministry…” and instead stopped long enough to recognize that God is doing a unique work in us? Do you recognize His work in your life? What area of your life/mind/heart is He working on? How have you been experiencing His presence? What is He teaching you? What He is nudging you to do? How is He bringing about His work of grace in your life? I’d love to hear it, so if you are willing, share your story of what God is doing for you in the comments section. A follow up post on my coming to grips with this will be coming next week, so I’ll be sharing too!


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Five for Friday

Drat. Missed the end of Friday. But, I’m just going to pretend that I’m writing this from Fairbanks, Alaska where it still is Friday. If I can pretend, then so can you. Get your parkas and wool hats, and read what I’ve been reading this week…

Can Jesus Heal Mental Illness?  This is part one of what is (so far) a 4-part series by Heath Lambert of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. The remainder of the series is worth your attention as well.

Expressing our emotions. Another series of posts. The one I have linked to is the 6th (and final) post of a large series on emotions by Dr. Bob Kellemen on his RPM Ministries site. This post has all of the links to the previous posts, so you’ll be able to get caught up. Dr. Kellemen helps us to understand our emotions biblically. If you have emotions of any type, give these a good, long look.

40 Joys through Jesus. When your heart needs some cheering up. I really appreciate folks who do the research I typically avoid! This is devotional material here folks. You could read through it quickly, but I’d encourage you to take it in slowly.

Millenials and the False Gospel of Nice. “There is anecdotal evidence that seems to indicate a robustly orthodox evangelicalism is growing among the young.” A counter-argument to the narrative that orthodoxy is causing young evangelicals to leave the church.

The importance of the right running shoes, and proper fit. This is a slideshow of what can happen if you make a mistake on either. Not pretty. Downright ugly, if not nasty. If you have a weak stomach, maybe skip this one.


Looking for God’s pleasure

Mentally preparing to soon begin training for another marathon (my poor training means in actuality it will be a half-marathon), I often think of the Eric Liddell quote “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” As soon as that thought bubble dissipates, the next one to appear is my own quote, “On this issue, Eric Liddell was an idiot.”

I enjoy running. But I don’t think I have ever described it as “pleasure.” I wish I had the perspective of Eric Liddell. I would even settle for the perspective of my dog Fledge, who usually has a “HEY LOOK! I’M RUNNING!!! WHEEEEEEEEE!!!” expression on his face.

I do admire Eric’s enjoyment of running. It is a commentary on my own character, and not his, that I do not share his thoughts. But he was exactly right. Not just about running either. He was right about God’s pleasure. This may not have been what he intended, but he was still very much correct. From the above quote, replace the word “run.”

-When I pray, I feel God’s pleasure.

-When I give, I feel God’s pleasure.

-When I sing praises to Him, I feel God’s pleasure.

-When I show love to others, I feel God’s pleasure.

-When I’m doing a good deed, I feel God’s pleasure.

Not too difficult to figure out how God’s pleasure is at work in those instances. What about these?

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Would they be welcome?

Last Sunday, I made a statement during the course of my message that could have made our church family a little uncomfortable. However, when I said it, not a single eyebrow was raised. It was as if what they heard was expected, or commonplace, or already understood. For that, I am profoundly grateful for the church family I have the privilege of serving, North River Community Church. I pray God allows them to see fruit from the ease with which they readily embraced this.

I shared with them a question I was asked a few weeks earlier during our Tuesday morning men’s Bible study. We are a small bunch, and while there is a structure to what we do, it is not particularly rigid, allowing for discussion, debate, encouragement, and questions, sometimes (ok, often) tangentially related to the text we are studying. That was the case when a brief discussion about a hot topic came up, leading to the question – “If a homosexual couple came to this church, would they be welcome?”

I answered that question for our church family on Sunday, and am expanding it a little here: Continue reading


Five for (late night) Friday

Really pushing to avoid this becoming a Five for Saturday…

An impending marriage. I pray that when the day comes for me to launch my daughters into marriage, I respond as well as Dr. R.C. Sproul, Jr has.

Christ’s victory is our victory. YES!

Are you competent to counsel? “Do you care enough to ask when someone seems troubled? Are you wise enough to point to Christ and His Word, not your opinion? Are you humble enough to pray on the spot for their struggle or burden?”

Where did all these Calvinists come from? Fascinating (and well-researched) infographic from Josh Byers and Tim Challies about the New Calvinism.

Dear future mom. Beautiful, moving message to a future mom of a child with Down syndrome.

And with 10 minutes to spare, got this done on Friday.

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Confident otters

My day to day demeanor has been described in a variety of ways. Some have labeled it as having a crisis meter perpetually pegged on low. Others have wondered if my rejection of a Chicken Little mindset has swung to the opposite extreme of being an older, masculine Pollyanna. Pejoratively, it has been described as having a basis far from reality. Those with a more encouraging bent have categorized it as remaining hopeful in all things.

There exists a personality test that measures an individual’s thoughts, beliefs, and actions and makes comparisons with members of the animal kingdom: Lion, Otter, Golden retriever, and Beaver. Based on that metric, I am off the charts Otter. The summary statement of the Otter is “It will all work out.” If only I had a nickel for every time I said that…

Unfortunately, it rarely shows up in my facial expressions. I’m not much of a smiler, I have never considered myself a good smiler, and it has not crossed my mind to practice smiling. Accordingly, there are more than a few who, when looking at my face, think I am irritated or troubled, when more than likely the exact opposite is true. The Otter’s summary statement is precisely how I go through life. It will all work out.


Photo by “Mike” Michael L. Baird [CC-BY-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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Polar exploration and worship leaders

In December of 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton set sail for Antarctica, with the goal of being the first to cross the continent. Called the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, Shackleton considered it to be the last great polar journey. The story of this trip, the crew’s ordeal of being stranded when their boat was crushed by the ice of the seas, and their subsequent rescue is simultaneously frightening and inspiring.

What captures the attention of many about Shackleton’s expedition is how he recruited men to join him. It is alleged that prior to the journey, he posted an ad in the London Times which said…

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.

It is believed that some 5000 men responded to this advertisement. 27 men were selected, and if I can ruin the end of the story for you, all 27 of the men survived the astounding hardship of what began as a dream in Shackleton’s mind. He had a vision and a plan, and needed others to join him in order to see it come to fruition. He put out what seemed to be an impossible request, and found eager volunteers.

“What does this have to do with worship leaders?” is what you may be asking yourself while gently mocking me for the possibility that I may be taking an illustration too far. Perhaps I am. But, I have your attention thus far, so I’ll keep going. The church we serve at is in a relatively remote location. Someone counted it up and along 18 miles of paved road, there are 130 homes in what makes up the North River valley. Small population, small church, few resources. For the past 9 months, we have been without regular, committed worship leaders for our Sunday morning gatherings. We have been extraordinarily blessed by friends who have led us in music once or twice a month, for whom we are profoundly grateful. Most Sundays though, we are a capella. Do you need to have musicians in order to have a church? Absolutely not. Is it a gift and blessing if you have them? You betcha. With that, I now put forward my best Shackletonian request…

Men wanted to lead a grace-filled journey, serving through music. No pay. No fame. Remote location. Uncertain lodging options. Eternal recognition is guaranteed, as is the great appreciation of a church family. Opportunity to serve among the unknown and unremembered, to lift praises to the One who can be known, and to lead His people to a corporate remembrance of Him.