Sermon: Work At Rest

God is the giver of every good gift, which includes work and rest.  Did you ever think of rest as being a godly habit? Most of us probably don’t because productivity is so highly elevated.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with productivity.  In fact, productivity is good.  However, productivity at the expense of rest, intentional, godly rest, is detrimental.

Following In The Footsteps of Faithful Men, Part 5

After a long delay, this is the fifth part in a series profiling men who have had great influence in my life.

Tom Shumate
I first met Tom early in my ministry, when he was the executive director of Cottage Cove, an inner-city ministry in Nashville, TN. It’s an incredible ministry that reaches at risk kids with the love of Jesus. Two missions trips to Cottage Cove exposed me to these precious kids and the things they were learning – the arts, life skills and the Bible. It was amazing to see not only their passion poured out through things like digital photography or painting, but also their incredible Bible comprehension and memorization abilities even among the youngest. Cottage Cove was birthed out of Tom’s (and his wife, Kim’s) heart to love those that society so often neglects or gives up on.

Tom was a close friend to my senior pastor and in 2002 joined our church staff as the Pastor of Adult Discipleship. At first, I thought it was cool that the “new pastor” had been a professional recording artist and had personally known artists that I only knew through the radio or CD’s. The coming years would produce in me a genuine love and appreciation for this man.

Through Tom, I grew in my understanding of the gospel. Three key words characterized his ministry: “Freedom, Love & Forgiveness” and he continually hit on these themes found in the gospel. I grew in my understanding and appreciation for what it means to be in Christ and to have my identity in him. He had a tender heart for God, a genuine love for his family, an artsy eye and ability and a sharp sense of humor. My kind of guy.

There are those that think that pastors live in an ivory tower, shielded from the pains and difficulties of “the real world”. That is not true. There is going to be conflict anywhere there are people and trials even when alone. I got to experience the blood and pain of being in the trenches with Tom through some very arduous times. We experienced a true brotherhood together and it gave me a glimpse of what men coming back from war must feel like. The frustrations, hurts and fears were tackled together. It wasn’t simply work, it was life. Therapy sessions at Cedar Point (the greatest amusement park in the world), were always appreciated as there is something about going 90 mph, white knuckled and staring death in the face that keeps life in perspective (that and Kim made Hallow Weekends most enjoyable).  20130528-135637.jpg

Through it all, I saw a man who continued to love his God and his family well. He guided his family to safe harbor through some rough waters. Some people use difficulties as a reason to give up on God, to excuse inappropriate response or to get out of ministry. I saw in Tom a heart that became more focused and grew through the difficulty. That’s a God thing. I have appreciated Tom’s heart, example, passion, wisdom, creativity and laugh.

Tom, love ya bro. Please hit the Millennium Force for me.

I am so thankful for the godly men that God has placed in my life. Their instruction, example, correction and encouragement have meant so much to me and helped me become the man I am today. I am certain that having such people in life is critical to a healthy walk with God.  People who faithfully point the way are a divine gift.  Anyone can lead, but what are they leading to? That’s where Paul could say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).  I am blessed and can only hope that I lay down some faithful tracks myself.

One of my favorite songs by Tom reflects the coming glory of the church and the hope we have in Jesus.  We have so much to celebrate and so much to look forward to:

She Will Shine

Some look at her and they see a fallen woman
A perfect picture of an imperfect bride
He’ll be calling her home, he loves her
She’s the one he adores

And she will shine like the stars in a midnight sky
She will shine like the sun, she begins to rise
She will shine

Many years he has been so patiently waiting
For the time when his love will be glorified
The procession begins, he holds her
As the trumpet sounds

And she will shine like the stars in a midnight sky
She will shine like the sun, she begins to rise
She will shine

Pure and white
She will shine
We’ll be together glorified

She will shine like the stars in a midnight sky
She will shine like the sun, she begins to rise
We will shine like the stars in a midnight sky
We will shine like the sun, we begin to rise

We will shine

(CD is available here)

Following In the Footsteps of Faithful Men, Part 4

This is part 4 of a series honoring men who have made a great impact on my life.  God used them to help shape the man that I am today.

Dave Ambrose
Back in 1991, my friend Nate and I were at a graduation party when the new Sr High Director made his first appearance.  Before leaving, he approached us and said, “I know these guys.”  Pointing at me he said “You’re Rick,” and pointing at Nate, “You’re Jack.”  Nate and I didn’t know what to think about this guy but responded, “Uhhh…sure.”  His reply, “Hi, I’m Bob.”  From that day on he was always “Bob”.  And thus began the relationship with another man of God who would have a huge role in my teen years.

Although I thought that possibly our relationship would be short lived after my first outing with him.  The first event with Dave was to Six Flags Great America, an amusement park outside of Chicago.  It was the golden years of the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan…Scottie Pippen…John Paxson.  The Bulls had just won the NBA championship and Da Bulls mania was in high gear.  Walking into the park, Dave said, “I heard that game was rigged.”  Now mind you, Dave did not say it only for the few of us who were with him to hear.  There was a group of “natives” in front of us who quickly and rather excitedly countered this ridiculous assertion.  Then at the height of this group’s reaction, Dave pointed to me and exclaimed to them, “He said it.”

My thoughts were a cross of, “I’m dead,” and “Who is this guy?”

My time with Dave brought about many great memories.  There was the David Letterman show where his golden retriever, Buddy, ate meat out of another staff guy’s mouth.  Backpacking in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and trying to apply first aid to a guy’s bashed up knee while a bear was roaming around our campsite at dusk.  Introducing a group of guys to Francis “Psycho” Soyer, “You just made the list, buddy.”   Fleeing to his office after my friends and I were being chased by a “Harley dude” (although I must confess it was provoked).  Playing ding dong ditch on him only to end up having him chase us in his pajamas.  That didn’t end so well.  Running full speed through his backyard, I ended up being clotheslined by an unforeseen dog lead.  I was horizontal before I even hit the ground.  Lying there, flat on my back with the wind knocked out of me and gasping for breath, he nonchalantly walked up knowing his game had been caught.  I’ll never forget his laugh.

Looking beyond the peaks of sentiment though, Dave continued to build upon the foundation in my life.  I appreciated the weekly gettogethers at the north side Taco Bell (Sheboygan only had two, north & south).  Not only did it allow me the time to get out of school for “mentoring”, it provided a weekly opportunity for discipleship.  Dave was one that I had the opportunity to share my hopes and heartbreaks with.  When I felt like my teenage world was falling apart, he helped me to take it in stride.  He helped me place my confidence in the bigger picture God had in store.

Through him, I had the privilege of taking part in some first time ministry opportunities – leadership teams, service events, leading Bible 20130409-211440.jpgstudies or giving a talk at an event.  They were opportunities that helped cement what I wanted to do after high school.  His role in my life helped me see the kind of person that I wanted to be.  The kind of ministry that I desired to have.  He was strong in character, loved his wife well and faithfully pointed to Jesus.
It was a prodigious opportunity, when years later as youth pastor, I had the opportunity to sit under his training through Youth Specialties events in California and Ohio.  To see him impacting so many more lives, and now not only teenagers, but as a guy who could equip other youth leaders.  I remember proudly thinking, “That’s MY youth pastor.”

Dave, thank you so much for your role in my life.  I appreciate the time, wisdom, patience and love you gave.  I appreciate how you helped develop my abilities and entrusted me with opportunities that shaped me.  Thank you for pointing me to Jesus.  Your part cannot be understated and will never be taken for granted.  Love ya, bro.

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.