Sermon: Cross God’s Heart

When it comes to Christmas, we often picture the shepherds worshipping and celebrating the newborn baby Jesus.  Luke presents a couple other people that were celebrating the birth of the baby, now 8 days old, as well.  Their celebration is a reflection of a faithful, promise keeping God.  His promise continues to hold true today and is our great hope heading into 2017.

Legacy

In 2 Timothy, Paul writes to encourage a young pastor.  He reminds Timothy of the godly legacy that he has come from as he points to the faith handed down from his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (2 Timothy 2:5).  What a powerful reminder of the impact of godly women.

As Timothy had his Lois, I have my Bea.  Bea Harrison has walked faithfully with the Lord Grandma2.pngfor many years now and today is her 90th birthday.  To know her is to know her fiery sense of humor, her love of country and love of music.  She can zing and sing.  I am so appreciative, now more than ever, of her faithful walk with Jesus.  She was widowed 31 years ago, but used her testimony as a means of sharing God’s grace and hope.  The grace of God that had transformed her life and her marriage would now carry her onward.  She traveled regularly to Christian Women’s Clubs sharing her story with any who would listen.  She became a seasoned speaker.  As a boy, I remember her regularly listening to biblical preaching on the radio.  It wasn’t unusual to hear her listening to Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley or John MacArthur.  She has been an avid reader, having an immense library that she has been very generous with.

I remember one particular conversation with her my senior year of high school.  Our church had an annual youth Sunday where the teens would lead the church service and one of the guys would give the sermon.  That year it was my turn to share.  It was the first sermon I had ever given.  She caught me shortly before the service was to begin and asked if I was nervous.  I replied that I was.  At that point she surprised me by telling me that even after all the years of her speaking she still got nervous.  It was a good thing though.  It reminded her that it was through God’s strength and not her own.  That has stuck with me longer than anything else she has told me.  Those words continue to ring true to me every time I preach.  God’s strength, not my own.

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“Every leader should lead, show, and go the way.  If I am willing, God can use me in every circumstance of my life.” -note in Grandma’s Bible

A couple years ago Grandma was put into a nursing home.  That kind of adjustment can come with a lot of difficulties.  It has brought about a lot of changes for her.  Still, she sees the opportunity there as a mission field.  She has told me of all the people there that don’t know Jesus and she may be the last one to share with them.  She has also said that she doesn’t want to just sit around twiddling her thumbs until Jesus takes her home.  So she has done something about it.  She started a Bible study in her room.  She opens up the Scriptures and points people to the Savior.  I get tears in my eyes just thinking about this.  What a legacy! What a privilege to have an example of faith in my family line that loves Jesus, lives for Jesus and striving to finish well.

Today it is an honor to say, “Happy 90th Birthday, Grandma! Thank you for your faithful legacy in pointing your family to the hope and grace of Jesus.  I look forward to celebrating with you tomorrow.  I love you.”

Following In The Footsteps of Faithful Men, Part 3

This is part 3 of a series honoring men who have had a great impact on my life.

Mark Wilke
There are countless people who can say that they were greatly impacted by their youth ministry in their adolescent years. Many can say they had fun, but unfortunately not all can say that they were truly spiritually grounded in their faith.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Mark Wilke set the mold for me for what a youth pastor was. He was extremely funny yet sensitive, could teach the Bible in a way that was clear and understandable, played guitar and had a wife that could sing. It just seemed like the perfect combo. I remember many talks he would give that would include a special number by Julie. This is how youth ministry works, I thought. (Although I got the wife that can sing, my guitar is going on 20 years old and has been about as useful as the invisible dog I bought in middle school.)

Most of my time being influenced by Mark was on the periphery, since he was the Sr High Director when I was in Jr High. However, my freshman year of high school was one that was greatly impacted by him. It was after one of the talks at summer camp (Summer Charge ’90) that I began to sense God’s calling on my life. I remember clearly seeing the impact that was being made on my friends and in my own life. Walking across the sports field under a cloudless, starry night, I remember God tugging my heart.  My life would never be the same.

Up until then, there were various career choices I thought I’d be heading to. There was the zookeeper, then the private investigator, but now youth ministry was being stirred within me. Not only a ministry, but a school to attend: Moody Bible Institute.  20130406-124209.jpg

For one year I had the privilege of being under Mark’s ministry. I got to see him serve faithfully, even in the jobs that weren’t necessarily glorious. I saw that ministry wasn’t just about who you are or what you do “up front”. This man was having impact on my life beyond Francios the Puking Bat or being the ringleader of “Roll Out The Barrel” on a missions trip to Tennessee. When it was announced that he and Julie were leaving at the end of the school year in ’91 it was met with many tears. Probably every youth ministry in the 80’s or early 90’s had Michael W. Smith’s “Friends” sung at some point. We went with “Pray For Me” instead, which was pretty much just an updated version of the same song.

I didn’t really know how to express my appreciation for him into words at the time. So I did the next best thing. I made a mix tape. Michael W. Smith…Al Denson…Ray Boltz…Petra. It was all on there. I didn’t know what was going to come next when Mark left. I knew he would be missed. I was so thankful for this man who had laid some foundational work in my life.

Sometimes the characters that exit in one chapter of our lives find their way reintroduced later in the story. I am one who is fortunate to have such a story with Mark. In 2000, he was the senior pastor of a young church in Ohio and I had the privilege of coming to his church to serve as their first youth pastor. For five years I had the honor of serving with him and my life has been forever changed.

His weekly “Good morning, family” served as a reminder that we were related by a mutual Heavenly Father, not just a gathering of isolated individuals. This bond goes deeper than DNA. He had an incredible ability to impact the heart with truth. He was passionate about his preaching because he was in love with the One his preaching pointed to. Mark didn’t follow a set pattern of preaching. In other words, you weren’t going to hear 5 steps to this or 3 steps to that. He just preached. Verse by verse. With a rapid fire delivery that was sure to hit you with something. You could hear a sermon and be laughing one moment and gasping for breath the next because of the impact of the truth he was boldly proclaiming. The non-outline method seemed unique and yet I saw it connecting with people of all ages. He impacted the way I preach.

Mark helped me cut my teeth in ministry. I had incredible freedom to work and grow. Ministry was fun. He allowed me to be real and vulnerable during difficult times in my life. He encouraged me. There was relationship “outside the office”. He helped me to see that healthy churches need to have a healthy staff and healthy leadership. We had a great staff who truly enjoyed one another. He provided a model for that. He cared for my personal development, not only what I could produce. He helped me establish parameters in emphasizing my family as my ministry priority.

Mark continually pointed to the fact that as believers, we win. The worst that can happen is that we die…and then we go home. So there is no fear in death, no reason not to give our all. The “tag line” for the church was “It’s All About God”. Mark helped me to see what that meant.

Mark, for your role in some important chapters in my life, I am eternally grateful. Thank you. Love ya, bro.

Following In the Footsteps of Faithful Men, Part 2

In my last post, I expressed my desire to honor men whose lives and example have personally touched my life. This is the second part of that series.

Jon MacDonald, my Brother-in-Law
I have an older sister. A little over three years older to be exact. You learn a lot in having an older sibling. As the oldest, they are the first to experience the uncertainties of life as well as test the parameters of parents. The younger sibling gets to test the resilience of the older. They are the first to push buttons and look for chinks in the armor. I sure did my share of armor inspection.

Observing my sister’s teenage years was interesting. I watched as her social circle expanded. I respected her friendships. Then there was the day she had her first boyfriend. This guy was cool. He had lines shaved on the sides of his head, which at the time, was pretty awesome. At least in my eyes (hey, it was the 80’s). I asked if he would go to my barber with me so that I could get lines shaved in the side of my head too. He did. And so did I. Lines. On the side of my head…gnarly.

When she broke up with him, I was dumbfounded. How could she break up with the guy with cool lines on the side of his head?

Around that time, this guy named Jon MacDonald asked if I wanted to go bowling with him sometime. Absolutely! All I really knew of Jon was that he was kind of the leader of my sister’s singing group. Or at least he introduced the group (“As was said, we are the Campus Life Lightshine…”). The fact that this senior was willing to take a 6th grade kid bowling was pretty exciting for me. Little did I know at the time that it was all part of a strategy to get closer to my sister (it’s ok, I’m over it now).  Photo Apr 03, 8 43 38 PM

When they began dating shortly after, lines on the sides of heads no longer mattered. Jon had a magnetic personality. He had posters of Petra in his room.  His humor, boldness and like-ability quickly won me over. Now it was no longer about lines on the side of my head but copying Jon’s quips. “There you have it.” “Pronoblem,” which I thought was so cool at the time because it was a mix of “no” and “problem”. Ingenious. Because of him, I had a newfound appreciation for Coke and quotes from “Top Gun”.  He was good on the basketball court, but could also clear it like no one’s business.

As the years went on, I came to respect Jon’s love for Jesus. He was the first person that I observed “go into ministry”. I saw how God captured his heart and how that relationship affected everything else that he did. Over the years he has encouraged me, challenged me, prayed for me and sharpened me.

I have witnessed over the years how he has faithfully loved my sister and my nephews. What you see is what you get. His life, marriage and family have become an example to countless others. I have observed him from afar, handle new responsibilities and change with a great attitude, grace and gusto. He has been fruitful in his ministries between Columbus, Ohio and Sheboygan, Wisconsin. There have been many ripples of impact as a result of Jon’s life and ministry. My marriage is a result of that as my wife was in his youth ministry in Ohio (that’s another story for a later blog).

Between a glass half full or half empty, Jon is one who will say it’s not only half full but just what is needed, if not more. He praises God for the drink.  He is an encourager. Again, he is not one who would toot his own horn, but point to God’s continual grace in his life. Jon has become a pillar in our family, not only immediate, but extended as well. He has turned routine family gatherings into opportunities to share God’s goodness and faithfulness with one another. He unashamedly follows Jesus and points others to Him. He has been a sounding board not as only a brother in family, but a brother in ministry. I respect his strength, vulnerability and passion.

Jon has shown me that it’s not about lines on the sides of heads that matter, but following closely the lines of the race set before us, eyes fixed on Jesus.

Love you, Bro. You can be my wingman anytime.