Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Well another year has past and a new one is upon us.

Are you where you expected to be by this time?

Has Christ become more real in your life during the past year?

What setbacks have you experienced?

What victories have you had?

We continue to follow the path that God has planned out for us. It is not always easy and at times we are impatient, but there is no better place to be then on the path He has planned for us.

This is a time of reflection and planning. So . . .

May this year bring you a closer walk with Him as you follow His lead! May the Spirit bring new light to you as you study His Word! May Father be pleased as we do the work He has planned for us this New Year!

Happy New Year

Dr. Val

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Legend of Christmas

The past few days I read a number of interesting articles on line. One UK article interviewed the Archbishop of Canterbury who told us that that Christmas was a legend. Well I have to tell you that caught my interest!

As I read the article I realized that the Archbishop was referring to things that the Christians have added over the centuries.

“What additions?” you ask.

Well, we don’t know for sure what animals were in the stable if any. But we can assume that there would be cattle, or oxen, sheep or even a donkey.

We also don’t know how many wise men there were. We do know that they gave gifts of three different substances (gold, frankincense and myrrh).

The wise men didn’t show up at the birth of Christ but probably a couple of years later. The passage in Matthew’s account of the wise men’s visit indicates that Jesus was no longer a baby but a young child. Additionally due to Herod’s order to kill all male children two years of age and under we gain a sense of the outside possible age of Jesus.

What do we know?

Jesus the Christ was born and we have three accounts of His birth. We call those accounts Matthew, Luke and John. These accounts are called gospels (good news).

Matthew looks at Jesus’ birth from the Jewish perspective. Jesus is seen as a direct descendant of David the founder of the dynasty of the nation of Israel (and the subsequent kingdom of Judah). Matthew lists Joseph (who would be Jesus’ “human” father because Joseph was married to Mary when Jesus was born and therefore by law the father of Jesus) genealogy and Jesus lawful right to the throne.

In Luke we have the second account of Jesus birth. This time we see him from the perspective of a man. We also are given His mother’s genealogy. This is important for a couple of reasons: first, we have Jesus’ ancestry that goes back to Adam and establishes His claim to David’s throne through His mother’s line. Second, God promised that one particular King of David’s line would never have a son sit on the throne again and Joseph was from this line. Thus God keeps His promise even while keeping the official line in tack.

In John’s Gospel we have the story of Jesus birth from God’s perspective. The Word who always was and is of the same essence as God the Father becomes flesh to do the Father’s bidding and to redeem all of creation.

Each account of Jesus’ birth gives us the story from a different perspective. Think of the truth of Christ’s birth as a multifaceted jewel. Each time you turn the gem slightly you see the gem and the fire of the gem from a different angle and thus from a different perception.

May the Creator who became the Created in order to redeem His Creation grant you a blessed and joyous Christmas this year!

Peace on earth

Dr. Val

Monday, December 17, 2007

And it came to pass . . .

A couple of days ago Randy Vader, president of PraiseGathering Music, shared this with a group of ministry people on a email list. Randy is not only president of a Christian music publishing company; he is also a prolific writer. In my opinion he often has profound thoughts that he shares with the Church community. He offered to let us share his Christmas thoughts with people in our ministries and I thought of you. I hope his thoughts will bless you as much as they have blessed me these past few days.

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus . . .

And it came to pass . . . I have always loved the poetic nuance of Luke's preamble to the story of the Incarnation. The simplicity of the language seems to suggest that these events unfolded almost casually, unremarkably, inevitably. Nothing could be further from the truth. Make no mistake – from the first cry that escaped from the lungs of that newborn baby, the plan of redemption that had been in place from the foundation of the world became locked in the dimensions of time and space as decreed by God the Creator. As in all the plans of the Father, the timing was perfect. And now we celebrate a story rooted in antiquity, vibrant and alive in the present, and guided by a sure and steady Hand toward the future. Christmas cannot be relegated to just an historical event. Christmas cannot be revered just for its ancient traditions. Christmas cannot be redefined into a non-defined national holiday. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, the Christ - who was conceived of the Holy Spirit - born of the Virgin Mary. Christmas is about discovery. Christmas is about believing in the miraculous attaching itself to the commonplace. Christmas is about Heaven touching Earth through promises made and promises kept. Christmas is about the wisdom of trusting and obeying, of seeking and finding. Christmas is about finally knowing that if you follow - there is a way home. The path to the Father may be a narrow way – but it is clearly marked by a manger, a bloodstained cross and an empty tomb. Our lives are inextricably woven into these sacred reminders of sacred holidays.

I had the joy of watching my children begin to grasp the significance of Christmas – which made the season so much more rich and meaningful. Then they grew up and moved away and I dreamed of one day having the chance to relive the joy through our grandchildren. And it came to pass . . .

Randy Vader - Christmas 2007

May you come to understand His Gift in a deeper way this Christmas season!

Dr. Val

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Exodus vs. Exile

Have you ever spent some time thinking about the nation of Israel and their Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land? In this story we see God’s concern for the injustice that Israel suffered. Israel oppressed and they call out to God for deliverance and He answers them by calling Moses to be the agent of their deliverance (Exodus 3:7-12). This paradigm is familiar throughout the New Testament. The theme of captivity, bondage and exodus is expressed in a number of passages but it can be seen especially in Hebrews 3:1-6.

This theme of deliverance was especially impactful throughout Church history. Perhaps achieving its pinnacle in the American church, where it became a way of life. Think about the early pilgrims who founded the Plymouth and Massachusetts colonies. They were fleeing from oppression and hoped to find the Promise Land for themselves and their progeny. With the passing of years the desire to flee and move further and further west in their pursuit of spiritual and religious freedom became an overarching idea throughout the church in America. This pursuit of exodus was often linked with a belief in our rightness and the blessing of God upon our endeavors. We saw in our westward movement a sense of God’s intervention in our behalf and a divine destiny. In the past Americans have equated our national interest with God’s interest. This exodus mentality has provided us with a sense of destiny and that has affected our understanding of Christianity, or at least American white middle class Christianity. We rarely read Scripture through any other lens then our own.

We see the Exodus event as an escape rather then as a deliverance to serve. (Take another look at Exodus 3:7-12). We have often used this paradigm as an excuse for a lifestyle that promotes consumerism and a lack of interest in true worship and its results, true justice (Isaiah 1:10-17)

We are addicted to consumerism partly because of this Promise Land mentality. We believe that our acquiring of things will satisfy our hunger. Hunger is equated to still being on the journey to the Promised Land where hunger will be alleviated. Unfortunately, after succumbing to the advertising and marketing of these things that promise to assuage our hunger, we find we are soon restless and our appetite is unsatisfied and unfulfilled. This is because we have not learned to find our rest and satisfaction in the Lord.

Now in the exile paradigm which is also found in the Old Testament, God is concerned because of the injustice that Israel has perpetuated. Israel causes its own subjugation by its continued disobedience to live a life of deliverance in the Promised Land.

God promises Abraham that he and his progeny are blessed to be a blessing. This promise is now to be lived out in exile in Babylon. Israel’s call is to work out what it means to dwell as a stranger in a foreign land and yet to live as those who belong to Yahweh. God places His people in a position where they are expected to stay under their tribulation and live as exiles. This means there is no escape from their problem only perseverance (James 1) and to of all things, seek the welfare of their captors.

“Also, seek the peace [shalom] and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers [in shalom], you too will prosper [in shalom].” Jeremiah 29:7 (NIV)

Think of Daniel and then think of his modern day equivalents. The best and brightest men and women of their nations, who have chosen to stay and help their people and their nations by using their skills in difficult situations instead of journeying to the Promise Land (USA) where life is easy compared to their situation. We need to pray for their safety and ask God to bless their efforts to expand the Kingdom.

In the New Testament the church is called to exile as well as exodus.

“While we are highly attuned to avoid a faithful peculiarity that might offend, we also avoid a faithful peculiarity that might redeem. While we run from what might cause cultural or personal offence, we opt for benign acceptance of so many things that grieve our Lord Jesus Christ” (The Dangerous Act of Worship – Mark Labberton p.143)

Our unwillingness to live as exiles, faithful to our King, explains our willingness to let culture transform our lives instead of our transformation of culture. It also explains our willingness to fight meaningless worship wars instead of fighting the spiritual war of the Kingdom. We fight for our personal preferences instead of fighting to introduce people to the King.

It’s harder to live in exile then to live in exodus. We are forced to put down roots and live a life that interacts with the culture, to engage our culture and to speak to the issues of the day from a true Kingdom mindset.

“If we think we live in exodus, life is about getting to the promised land we think we deserve and desire. On the other hand, if we think we live in exile, then life’s agenda is all about living distinctly where we are and determining whether our home in God or in ‘Babylon’ will influence us most.” (Labberton, p.144)

Where we live is determined by how we live.

Worship in exodus is expressed in gratitude for our release form captivity to serve our God. While in the exile dimension, worship is the practice of our peculiar identity in a culture that is familiar yet foreign to us.

We are called to both exodus and exile living as New Testament believers. As Kingdom citizens we have often perverted the former while ignoring the latter. Today let’s not forget our profound gratitude for our deliverance while also not ignoring our responsibility to represent our King as his ambassadors until He returns!

Until He Returns

Dr Val

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Organism vs. Organization

I’ve been mulling over the terms Scripture uses to describe the church. We know that the church is referred to as the way, bride, family and body, just to name a few. The interesting thing that we notice from all of the metaphors used to describe the church tells us that the church is supposed to be relational. Another way of describe this is to refer to the church as organismal and not organizational.

To be honest, this is something that many churches either miss or ignore, especially as a church grows in age and/or size.

Organization (def.) - an administrative and functional structure

When a church gentrifies it often solidifies into an organization, the same thing happens when a church grows exponentially. Now don’t get me wrong, organization is important for any church. Without it we would have chaos! Even the early church experienced the need of organization when it became necessary to create deacons to help meet the growing needs of the widows and less fortunate (Acts 6:1-6). But the elders continued to be focused on their calling, prayer and ministry of the Word.

Organism (def.) - a complex structure of interdependent and subordinate elements whose relations and properties are largely determined by their function in the whole

But the church is designed to be an organism. We are called to reproduce and we are dependant on each other for our vitality and for the fulfillment of our reason to exist on this earth, the advancement of the Kingdom (until Christ’s return).

Often when a church grows, a major problem is that the staff is either understaffed and quickly forsakes organism for organization to accomplish many of their tasks, or even worse they become professional organizers.

When people are overwhelmed with their work or ministry, they either ignore the very people who can help them or they create a bureaucracy to alleviate their workload hoping to discourage people from volunteering. Then church staff complains about their lack of volunteers needed to accomplish their ministries.

I am reminded of an experience that my wife had with a former worship pastor at a mega-church before they were called mega. She went in to speak with him and offered her services (she is an incredible keyboard player) She told him that that she wanted to serve in some capacity at the church, anything would be great, including playing for a SS class, just some place where she could serve. The worship pastor leaned back in his chair and said, “You mean you want me to create something for you to do?” DUH! Ah, yeah!!! That’s what a servant leader does. Train people to do the work of the ministry and then give ministry away!

If you don’t believe it, check out Eph 4:11-12.

In fact, think about this in 1 Corinthians we are told that the church is a body and that every part is important. The body is not complete and cannot function as God created it to function unless every part is doing its job. Can you imagine a body telling the lungs take a breather we don’t need you? Or the heart, would you stop all the pounding. Or the legs, you can sit this one out. And yet this is the attitude of many in leadership in today’s church.

We pray that God sends us the people we need to fulfill our mission here in this location but we fail to use or are too busy to use the very resources that God has provided.

We devalue the very people we are called to serve. We are often more interested in the “Big Picture” and neglect the “little grapes”. I am reminded that while Jesus ministered to the multitude, almost every miracle He did while He was here on earth was focused on the individual. The only exceptions I can think of are the water into wine and the two times that Jesus fed the multitudes. But think about the blind man, the leper, the woman with an issue of blood, the child raised from the dead or even Lazarus. Every one of these and so many more were Jesus caring for the individual. Perhaps in the midst of our “Big Picture” we have lost sight of what is important to God – individual people.

God forgive us for our failure to value the people you have called us, your servants, to lead.

Learning to value people the way God does

Dr. Val

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Confessions of a Reformed Idolater

Hi my name is Val and I’m an idolater.

Yes, I admit that I have problems with idol worship. No not the "American Idol" kind but the worst kind of idolatry, self worship!

God gave us very specific instructions about who or what we are to worship. An idol is anything that is a substitute for God. He will accept no rivals for His position in our lives, whether from false religions or from otherwise good things, such as family, money, or fame, which may usurp his preeminent place in our devotion.

But I find that I am narcissistic at my core. It’s all about me and often I replace God as the center of my worship and life. In fact a friend of mine at IWS and I were discussing the new trinity that often usurps God in our lives. Oh, you want to know the new trinity? Me, Myself & I

Unlike believers during Biblical times, we American believers no longer make physical idols (unless you count your house, cottage, sports car, boat, snowmobile, etc.). I tend to make idols out of my job, my people, my things, and especially ME.

Exodus 20:2-6 (NIV) says:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before (or “beside”)  me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

There are a couple of thoughts about this passage that I find significant. First, the word “you” in verse 3 is singular so it means individually you or me. Second the passage says if you want to be connected with the Numinous you can’t bring other things or persons with you into the Presence. You must come alone and empty handed.

You see, this isn’t saying that we don’t love other things – such as our spouse… kids… friends… jobs… our hobbies, or even that we love them any less. But rather, Scripture is saying that we love all these other things… through the lens of our relationship with the living God!In other words, we let our relationship with God… influence everything else that we do. That’s #1!You shall have no other gods before me!

God please forgive me for the times that I’ve put my way and me first. May Your will and Your way be done on earth (especially in my heart and life) as it is in heaven!

Amen and amen

Dr. Val

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Names Have Been Changed . . .

. . . To Protect The Guilty

I’ve been thinking about this blog for some time, as I begin writing it today I am wondering if this might prove to be a couple of blogs.

About four and a half months ago I responded to an Internet ad for a senior pastor position. As I tried checked out the church it became apparent that a headhunter had placed the ad for the church.

I was rather excited when I received a call from the headhunter and we seemed to hit it off. We had a lot in common both having left extremely conservative backgrounds; eventually we both did our Master’s degree at the same seminary (although different years).

As we discussed the church situation, I got very interested in the church and he told me that he thought I was good fit with the church and the profile that they had created. He told me he would be sending me some information about the church (their by-laws, church constitution, etc.).

Well four months have gone by and I’ve yet to receive this information. A week went by and I sent the headhunter a thank you note and mentioned that I was looking for ward to getting the information about the church. A couple of weeks went by and I dropped the headhunter an email mentioning that I had not received the information.

In all I’ve sent four follow-up emails and I’ve also called the headhunting company three time and left messages on the partner’s voicemail asking for him to let me know what the current situation was with this church. To date I have not received an email response nor a returned phone call.

What makes this situation so unique is the fact that we discussed how unfortunate it was that churches rarely responded to candidates (my personal average is 20% response). The partner explained to me that they handled a number of Fortune 500 company placements and that they did placements for churches to help them to be more professional in their approach to pastoral placements.

Apparently this headhunter is too busy dealing with his Fortune 500 customers to answer an email or return a phone call.

Obviously something has changed and this church is not the place that Father has in mind for me.

It is interesting that often churches and their leadership (and in this case those they have hired) are unable to treat others, as they would like to be treated.

A couple of years ago I was serving as an associate pastor at a church that was seeking a new senior pastor. I had our church secretary keep track of all of the pastors who sent us their resumes. I reminded our pastoral search committee and elders to let these people know what our process is and where the church is inn the process. I also encouraged them to send out either letters or emails to candidates regardless if the church was interested in continuing to pursue them or not. Common courtesy needs to be practiced. In one of Jesus’ most famous sermons he teaches on the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you). What a great lesson to apply for every aspect of our lives.


Dr. Val

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Verify, Verify, Verify

My youngest daughter was home over the Thanksgiving holiday and one night we got into a discussion over an article I had read on-line. The article was on the discovery by genetic scientists who had discovered a way to create embryonic stem cells from skin cells.

What made this discussion all the more fascinating is that my daughter is in her second year of her PhD program at Duke. Her field of study is molecular genetics and microbiology. So she is much more versed on the subject than this doctor of theology. She had a hard time believing that someone had been able to devolve a cell that had already been determined in it’s life cycle to be a skin cell. This could be a major break through for science and for medicine, to say nothing of the theological implications.

My daughter questioned my source and was dismissive of the claims that are made and stories that are reported in the media today. She like many of us has little respect for the way stories are reported. Often in an attempt to be first with the news or trying to simplify the story important data is left out or not thoroughly vetted.

She wanted to know my source and the source that the news reporter used before she was willing to accept this new information. I told her that I often found interesting information on the Drudge Report. The article was listed and it came from a decent source but she googled the story and found that it had been reported in a number leading scientific journals.

As fascinating as this discovery is, I was more fascinated by my daughter’s desire to know the truth and to verify my perception of the truth. My daughter is becoming a true scientist. I hope that she is also a true Berean. That when she hears preaching she will demand the same proof from reliable sources.

As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
Acts 17:10-12 (NIV)

My hope is that each of you, too, will be like the Bereans in your lives today.

Dr Val

PS If you’d like to read more about skin cells devolving into stem cells check out this article.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Addendum To The Truth In Labeling

It has occurred to me that there are times when we don’t hide our character issues but rather we choose to give up our rights in order to effectively minister to others. This deals with the weaker brother issue.

When the human writer Paul spoke to this issue he wanted us to be willing to give up our rights for the sake of those we seek to serve. The one exception was when this issue was a doctrinal one. For example, Paul continued to eat with Gentiles believers even when Jewish Christians complained that the Old Covenant indicated that devote Jews were not to have dealings with Gentiles. You see the New Covenant’s teaching was clear that God had broken down the walls separating Jews & Gentiles; Bond & Free; Male or Female. Those who were devoted followers of Christ became New Creations. As such they had a whole new set of relations and responsibilities.

In the past I have from time to time refrained from certain practices in some people’s presence because I did not wish to offend them. But I did not chaff at this choice, nor did I complain that my rights had been violated. I choose to willingly give up something that in reality was not nearly as important as my ability to effectively minister to the flock.

When live by my convictions, I did not hide them nor ignore them. Rather I taught what I had learned from Scripture. Praying that God would give my flock maturity to accept a teaching that was from the Lord but not from their tradition.

That’s the biggest problem with living by Grace. It is so much easier when all I had to do was live by a set of rules that man had made (often good men with the best of intentions). When faced with living in the grace that our Lord has given us, sometimes I find it harder to always know what is right. I find that I am “forced” again and again to seek the Lord’s leading.

I have also found that sometimes and in certain seasons the Spirit chooses to deal with my life in different ways than in my neighbor’s life. We must not expect that the path our Comforter decides to lead us down to be identical to others paths. Often paths diverge only to converge again down the road. Due to our own individuality we are often taught different things at different times. But the goal is always the same to be conformed to the Son’s image.

Here’s looking at Him

Dr. Val

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Truth In Labeling

The government requires that the information on the labels of our food tell us exactly what is inside the package. When the label doesn’t tell the truth its possible that people could suffer an allergic reaction and in extreme situations die.

Wouldn’t be great if pastors came with labels. When pastors candidate and don’t tell the truth about their doctrinal positions, belief systems, or Christian practices their churches suffer and in the process pastors get hurt, too.

I recently ran across an article about a young pastor and his wife who were transplants from the liberal East Coast to the prairies of the conservative Midwest. The wife writes the letter sharing their frustrations and struggles serving a community with a different belief system then theirs.

But do the people who fill the pews each week really know us, my husband and me? . . . The painful, real life answer, here in the reality of our life, in the midst of the prairie winds, is no. We find that we can not [sic] be completely and wholly authentic with our church. Being in ministry, in this traditional context, allows us no such opportunity. That makes us appear to be hypocrites, to be people who tear down the notion of church rather than build up and edify all that Christ showed us it was and is to be. But, to us, the reality of life is that we live each day as a balancing act that we have to uphold in order to “fit” and to “minister” effectively. . . We were called to this church family, and they are completely unlike us. They were pre-fabricated before we came; they had their presuppositions, their lifestyles, and their ideologies set in place. We weren’t friends with them first. We were jammed into a place where we had never been before,
We weren’t friends with them first. We were jammed into a place where we had never been before, in the midst of their already formed relationships.Many of our lifestyle choices, presuppositions, and ideologies do not correspond with theirs, nor that of the church affiliation. Do I think alcohol, in moderation, is wrong? Do I think smoking is bad? Do I think “bad” words are wrong? A resounding “no” to all of these. Do our congregation members know we think these things? Again, I say no.

As the preaching minister (and spouse) of a conservative rural church, we are not afforded the opportunity to be real and authentic. It would scare people; they would call us heretics, they would more than likely run us out of town and take our livelihood with them. We have been called here, for whatever purpose, and have not been afforded the opportunity or been led to be somewhere else, that more fits who we are. . . .

We have no where [sic] to be real anymore. The isolation begins to grow. We will continue to walk the balance beam, to know when to hold back, to know when to not say more or share more. We will continue to walk along on this journey, feeling somewhat empty because we can not [sic] find somewhere that we can truly call home. accessed 11-10-2007.

You can’t help but feel for this wife and her husband. I know the feeling of being trapped in a ministry where you don’t fit. It is disheartening, discouraging and often debilitating.

Yes, I know that this couple believes that God called them to this ministry. I can’t help but wonder if these folks missed something. It appears that they were more interested in finding a place to minister rather then finding the place where God wanted them to be. They were willing to obfuscate the truth of their Christian walk to gain the opportunity to minister.

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 2 Cor. 4:1-2 (NIV)

Believers are commanded to speak the truth to members of the body
16 These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; Zechariah 8:16 (NIV)

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. Ephesians 4:25 (NIV)

I understand their desire to minister and the temptation to omit some of their personal convictions to gain a ministry. It’s easy to fall into this trap.

Having to hide your true beliefs will not only be chaffing it will ultimately cause you to hate your ministry.

My most effective ministries have been those that I owned up to my potential doctrinal differences, Christian convictions, ministry goals, and values.

I remember one such ministry where during the interview process I was asked my position on using contemporary praise and worship music in the services. I thought to myself “Oh brother, here we go. This should shut down this interview pretty quickly!”

After explaining why I would use contemporary P&W music I sat back and waited to here their reaction. The search committee chairman eagerly exclaimed, “Great! When can you start?”

Over the next 9 years when some people questioned our use of this style of music I was able to remind them that I had been honest with them from the beginning. I had not hidden anything from them and had no secret agenda. . I ministered in integrity and I believe that God blessed our ministry in a miraculous way.

17 A truthful witness gives honest testimony,
but a false witness tells lies. Proverbs 12:17 (NIV)
14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, Ephesians 6:14 (NIV)

Sometimes it’s hard to be true to your convictions.

It’s tempting to shave the truth so I can get busy ministering (forgetting that I am ministering where I am while I wait for Father to launch me into His next place to serve.

I am waiting on the Lord to open a new ministry in His time and like in the past, I’m going to be true to what God has taught me. I’m looking forward to sharing with you and the new ministry he has in mind for me.

Until then I’ll try to continue to speak the truth in love.

Dr. Val

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the America we celebrate a national day of thanksgiving. While this is a civil holiday, the roots of this celebration can be traced back to the pilgrims that founded the Plymouth Colony. These men and women set a day aside to thank their Creator for the providence that he had provided them during their first year in the New World.

Thanksgiving and praise are related in God’s economy. The later refers to our appreciation for who God is while the former refers to our appreciation and gratitude for what he has provided for us.

This week I want to encourage you to spend 5 minutes each day leading up to Thanksgiving Day to practice a eucharistic lifestyle and track your attitude.

Now I know that some of our Protestant tribes are skittish about this word (Eucharist), it is simply the transliteration of the Greek word eucharistía. We translate this word as thanksgiving. Some Christian tribes have infused this word with more meaning then the writers of Scriptures originally meant it to have.

I believe that as we begin to live a thankful life especially as we reflect on the greatest gift that God gave to us through His Son. We celebrate this gift when we participate in Communion. This is the embodiment of the highest act of thanksgiving for the greatest gift received from God, the sacrifice of Jesus. Out of this flows the grateful acknowledgement of past mercies we have received.

In reflecting on the greatest gift ever given, we will find that we become a more grateful person. You will grow closer to Father and through that growth you will grow closer to those around you.

So during this time I want to encourage you to “Count Your Blessings”. It will change your lives and after all the writer Paul told us. . .

Be joyful always; 17pray continually; 18give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thes. 5:16-18 (NIV)

God does not tell us to thank Him for the circumstances but to give thanks in the midst of our circumstances. God is faithful with His presence and power during difficult times in our lives.

Have a great Thanksgiving

Pastor Val

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I received an interesting comment responding to one of my latest posts. And I feel compelled to address it.

Hi Anonymous,

I want to thank you for your response and the transparency that you were willing to share with me. I can hear the hurt and frustration that you are living with.

As to the specific allegations, I won’t speculate on them for a number of reasons.

1. I have no knowledge of the situation at your church (and neither do most of us).

2. We have only heard one side of this situation (There are always at least two and we have no way of knowing how information is accurate. The possibility exists that there are more facts then we are aware of at this point).

3. Scripture tells us not accept an accusations against an elder except there be two or three witnesses (1 Tim 5:19).

4. I don’t want to create controversy or gossip (2 Cor. 12:20).

Since I cannot be a part of the solution I won’t be a part of the problem.

I will simply say that I have known many good leaders and they are still human. So we need to all pray for our leaders and remember that we have a Leader who will never fail us or disappoint us. So keep your eyes focused on Him!

I’d like to address in general the concerns that Anonymous brought up.

Obviously Anonymous you are hurting regarding the situation.

I understand your frustration and anger. I’ve experienced similar feelings myself from time to time.

None of us are happy when we feel that an injustice has been done to family, our friends, or us. If this is your situation, I am so sorry that you are experiencing what appears to be a difficult season in your life. Those of us who have lived the Christian life for any length of time know that life is not always fair. God never promised that following Christ would be easy or fair. The Apostle Paul at times suffered because of other believers and Jesus told us that we should expect no better treatment then He received while He was here on earth. 2 Tim 4 also tells us that some men’s sin precedes them to the judgment and some follow after them.

I’d like to offer several thoughts to help you as you work through this situation:

1. Ultimately God is in control. (If it was God’s will to have a different under-shepherd in any local community He could easily replace them)

2. Each of us serves at the pleasure of our King and occasionally he chooses to move us (Sometimes we’re just a little slow in understanding His leading. I’ve had the proverbial two by four smack me upside the head because I failed to follow God’s leading when He wanted me to move to a new ministry).

3. God has a plan and his plan revolves around the advancement of His kingdom and glory
God’s desire is for each of us to mature and at times this means that we grow through times of deep spiritual pain and grief.

4. God works things out for our good. (Just remember that often our definition of good and God’s definition differ.)

5. God promises to provide for all of our needs.

Now I know that these thoughts are easy to say, harder to hold close. Yes there have been times when I have railed against what I perceive as the injustice of serving our King. And then I’m reminded that it’s not about me and it’s not about my idea of justice. (I’m reminded that often God’s thoughts and ways don’t jive with mine) As we grow in Christian maturity we learn to accept God’s plan for our lives.

The probability is that the situation that you wrote about did not happen to you personally. And that brings up another set of issues.

God’s desire is for believers to live in harmony and unity. You see, when someone has wronged us or we have wronged them, God provided steps for us to bring about reconciliation and restoration for the parties involved.

But when we are not the injured or injuring party we have not really been harmed. When we become involved and choose sides we are taking up someone else’s offense. God does not provide teaching on how to be reconciled when we are not involved in the situation. We are stuck with feeling and no way to resolve them. We are forced to abandon our feelings, which is a very difficult thing to do. The ancient poet of Israel speaks to this very issue in Psalm 15. The ancient Rabbis believed that each verse was like a multifaceted gem and must be looked at all sides to fully see what the verse is telling us. Verse 3 in this Psalm can also be read to not take up someone else’s cause.

A final series of comments needs to be addressed to those of us in spiritual leadership. We are called to be servant leaders to emulate our Great Shepherd. Often it seems that we fail miserably to think as servants to the entire body (this includes staff members, too).

To often we have seen pastors deal with issues in a non-servant way. Remember we are called to the service of the basin and towel.

When we make decisions we need to remember that these decisions affect the entire body. After all when any part of the body hurts the entire body is affected. It is necessary to speak the truth and address painful issues with as much discretion as possible to limit the pain to the body but with as much transparency to help the body to heal.

May God grant you peace and the strength to stay under this testing that God is using you to conform you to His Son’s image.


Pastor Val

Monday, November 12, 2007

I’ve Been Terminated!

Yes, I’m done! I received the notification last night.

Jim Cymbala in his book Fresh Wind Fresh Fire laments that he does not have a seminary degree. When asked if one is needed to be a pastor he assures us that it is not. But if you don’t have an advanced degree, he recommends that your read, read and read some more.

Eight years ago I stared out on a journey that began as an opportunity to alleviate boredom. I was between ministries and I had promised my daughters that I would not seek a ministry outside of the Detroit area until they were out of high school. (Since then I’ve served in two local ministries)

To pass the time I enrolled at Liberty Baptist Seminary and earned my master’s degree in a little less than 5 years. By that time I had found a doctoral program that intrigued me and so 3 years ago I began my doctoral studies at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. The degree I pursued was a theological one centered in worship and spiritual formation with an emphasis of looking at future with the lens of the ancient past.

Last night I received notification that my thesis was accepted and I am now a doctor of the church. Because doctoral degrees are terminal (think the highest or final degree one can receive, not lost jobs or death), it is traditional in academia that upon acceptance of your thesis or dissertation to claim the doctoral title. The actual ceremony and hooding will actually take place until next June.

Over the past few years I’ve had time to reflect on my reasons for pursuing higher degrees.

Here are some of them:

1. I was bored. (Now what will I do?)

2. I once lost out on a “job” because I did not have a seminary degree. (Now I’m probably over qualified!)

3. While I had done a tremendous amount of study and reading (like Jim Cymbala) some people refused to give credence to my teaching. (They’ll probably still ignore it!)

4. I found that I enjoyed learning.

5. I really like to read. (I’ve found that I’m a passable writer, too.)

6. I’ve discovered that the more I’ve learned the more questions I have and the more areas I’d like to study.

7. God has especially used the doctorate to prepare me for the next phase of my ministry (preaching, teaching and leading a church).

A learned man once said that an expert is a person who knows more and more about less and less.

I guess I now qualify as one of those people!

Dr. Val

Honoring Our Citizen Soldiers

Today we honor the men and women of the armed services. We acknowledge their patriotism and self-sacrifice to protect us. For over 230 years these brave patriots have answered the call of our country and many have laid down their lives for our protection. We salute their sacrifice and ask God’s grace on the families of those who have lost loved ones.

Many of us have given sons and daughters and friends who have willingly laid down their lives in the service of our country. One dear friend of mine lost his son a year ago in Iraq. I can testify as to the devastation that it brings upon a family. I honor this son and the entire family on this day that we honor our citizens in uniform (professional or otherwise).

May God grant them solace and grace in a special way today!

I hope you have sensed my heart and the respect and tribute that I give to our people in uniform. And I take nothing away from them today.

But on days like today I am moved to think of my dual citizenship and of those who have served in the service of our King. I wish that my fellow dual citizens could find a way to honor those veterans who have faithfully served our King and Kingdom. Some have served with distinction but have never been honored, remembered or even known.

While it would be nice to recognize their dedicated service here in the embassies around the world, perhaps that recognition won’t happen until we all get to go home and celebrate in the capital with the King.

Until that fateful day,

May God grant each of us solace and grace in a special way today!

Pastor Val

Friday, November 9, 2007

Water Pt Deux

I wanted to continue my thoughts on water from a recent blog.

Here is an excerpt from an article from that they posted back in September.

An amazing thing happened a couple weeks ago. It was the opening day of the University of Central Florida’s new football stadium. This new $55 million dollar facility is a beauty. It has seats for over 43,000 screaming football fans, and on this day, every seat was filled. But something wasn’t right at the first game ever played in the stadium just outside Orlando. People were fainting. Actually, over a dozen people needed to be treated on this not surprisingly hot day in central Florida. According to news reports, emergency workers passed out free cups of water, but the hot temperatures were just too much for some people. Sounds like a sad story. Things like this happen on hot days. What’s so amazing about this story? I’m glad you asked...

You see, the new $55 million dollar facility was built with no water fountains. Not one. According to a local fire official, “We don’t have water fountains on the property here. So going to the water stations and making purchases of water or bringing bottled water with you is paramount.”

The obvious question is: “How do you build such a massive facility (in Orlando, FL of all places) and not allow for hydration of the 40,000+ people who will be utilizing the facility?” When you add the fact that there were no water fountains, the reality that people suffered from heat exhaustion is suddenly much less surprising. The stadium actually ran out of the $3.00 bottled waters from vendors as well. The University has openly apologized for ‘underestimating the need for water’.

I also know a mega church that built an auditorium that seats over 2000 and has only one drinking fountain in the lobby. Doesn’t sound like a problem until you have a sold out crowd for a concert on a hot summer night and no other source of water available to the audience. Planning is everything when you build a new facility, regardless if it’s a stadium or an auditorium.

You see when it comes right down to it, the church is in the water business. Only we don’t serve up just refreshment that comes from water fountains, we offer the Living Water that Jesus talks about in John 4. The type of water that we offer causes people to, as Jesus puts it, ‘never thirst again’.

When we think about our responsibility as Christ followers to provide fountains of this living water the question that comes to mind is why are there no lines outside of the majority of our churches to receive this water that quenches thirst?

Could it be that we are doing a poor job of letting people know that we have life giving water? (John 7:37-39; Rev. 21:6; 22:17)

Could it be that we are hoarding our water, fearing a drought? (Lamentations 5:4)

Could it be that we’ve polluted our fountains? (James 3:9-12)

Could it be that we have limited fountains in our churches? (2 Kings 2:19-21)

Maybe we need to get back to offering a cup of water in our Lord’s name? (Matt 10:42)

When will we realize that there a lot of thirsty people around us that are dying for lack of water?

Have a drink on me

Pastor Val

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Life in the Fast Lane

At 10:50 PM last night I got one of those calls that every parent dreads.

“Your daughter has been in an accident. She is all right, a little banged up but she’d like you to come to the scene.”

Her mother and I quickly jumped into the car and drove the 3 and one half miles up the road to check on our daughter.

She had been in her car stopped and waiting to turn into her friend’s sub when she was rear-ended. The car looked totaled to my untrained eyes.

We took her to the emergence room at the hospital. After a couple of x-rays, a cat scan and a doctor’s examination, we finally left the hospital.

She’s a little so banged up and in a neck brace but she’s home!

At times like these I am reminded of how fragile life is and how gracious Father is in taking care of our loved ones and us.

Things like cars can be replaced but family members can never be replaced.

Father, thanks for watching over our oldest last night. I know you are trying to get her attention. (She knows it, too.) I just pray that she won’t prove to be as dense as her old man is sometimes.

May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven


Pastor Val

Saturday, November 3, 2007


It seems almost impossible that there would be a shortage of fresh water in America, but it’s happening.
“The severe drought tightening like a vise across the Southeast has threatened the water supply of cities large and small, sending politicians scrambling for solutions. But Orme, about 40 miles west of Chattanooga and 150 miles northwest of Atlanta, is a town where the worst-case scenario has already come to pass: The water has run out.”
“Three days a week, the volunteer fire chief hops in a 1961 fire truck at 5:30 a.m. - before the school bus blocks the narrow road - and drives a few miles to an Alabama fire hydrant. He meets with another truck from nearby New Hope, Ala. The two drivers make about a dozen runs back and forth, hauling about 20,000 gallons of water from the hydrant to Orme's tank.”
For three hours each night the residents of this small town have running water. Each evening the mayor turns on the tap for the 145 people who live in Orme TN.

For many around the world lack of water has always been the norm.
But did you know...
1.1 billion people lack access to an improved water supply - approximately one in six people on earth.
2.6 billion people in the world lack access to improved sanitation.
Less than 1% of the world's fresh water (or about 0.007% of all water on earth) is readily accessible for direct human use.
A person can live weeks without food, but only days without water.
A person needs 4 to 5 gallons of water per day to survive. (
4, 5)
The average American individual uses 100 to 176 gallons of water at home each day. (
6, 7)The average African family uses about 5 gallons of water each day. (7)
Millions of women and children spend several hours a day collecting water from distant, often polluted sources.
Water systems fail at a rate of 50% or higher. (
8, 9)
Every $1 spent on water and sanitation creates on average another $8 in costs averted and productivity gained.
Almost two in three people lacking access to clean water live on less $2 a day.
Poor people living in the slums often pay 5-10 times more for per liter of water than wealthy people living in the same city.

The ancient poet told of how his soul longs for God much like a deer panted for the cool clean water of a brook (Psalm 42:1). So our soul will be thirsty for God. Jesus proclaims himself the fountain of living water in John 4. Water is often associated with the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 4:3-4) and the knowledge of God (Isaiah 11:9).

Spiritually there are times when we endure drought, sometimes of our making, and other times by God’s plan to conform us into His image.

How are you doing today? Are you going through a time of drought? Are you thirsty to know God and not just know about Him?

Can I offer you a cool drink?

Pastor Val

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Royalty Has It Perks

I’ve been watching with some interest the situation with the Windsor family in England this week. Here in America we have not had a monarchy for more than 231 years and yet we continue to be interested in what the Royals do and say.

Not growing up under a monarchy (even a constitutional one) I never really thought about the different degrees of royalty there were. The UK papers have been all a buzz over a failed blackmail attempt of the royal family. Apparently there the family is made up of major members of the family and minor members of the family. Some less than savory characters had contacted the family with supposedly secret video of a member of the royal family in a sex act and drug use. These people were arrested while trying to extort money from royal staff members who turned out to be police instead.

The papers in covering the account never identified the royal family member who supposedly stared in the video. They just assured that public that it was a minor member of the royal family. This member immediately contacted the family and the authorities when they received the blackmail note. While the Queen was upset and embarrassed over the incident but she announced that she was standing with her “distant” family member throughout this ordeal.

You see, I’m a minor member of a Royal Family, too. I got to thinking about the royal household I was adopted into years ago and how my Father has had to put up with many embarrassing incidents throughout my life. He too has stood by me and supported me every time I’ve failed to live up to my adopted heritage. Each time that I turned to Him and admitted how I had screwed up again and asked for His forgiveness and help, He was always there to forgive and reconnect with me.

Like the story of the prodigal, my Father was always waiting for me to come back and ready to receive me back into His companionship. And unlike the story of the prodigal, my Big Brother not only accepts me, He died to enable the adoption to go through!

I have a pretty cool family and we are looking for more members.

Feel like joining?

Pastor Val

Sunday, October 28, 2007

God’s Sense of Humor

The ancient Jewish writings tell us that we were created in the image of God. As image bearers of God we can learn much about the character of God by examining ourselves. For example, we know that God must have a sense of humor since we have one. Of course it doesn’t hurt my argument when reads the ancient poet who tells us that “the one enthroned in haven laughs” Psalm 2:4. So it doesn’t surprise me that Father has a unique sense of humor.

As many of you know, I am looking forward to a new ministry. I have been learning more about God’s sense of humor. As I’ve been waiting on God and his timing to launch me into my next ministry, I can’t help to occasionally have a conversation with Father and discuss what I’m going through and how I long to get busy with my next assignment.

Recently I was praying and complaining that with God’s kingdom being so vast that there must be some small corner of His kingdom where I could serve Him. I’ve been answering advertisements for pastor on the web and a church in California responded and asked me to consider their position.

Every time a church responds positively to my resume I always get pumped. So I was excited to get a packet of information from this church. That is until I read the proposed offer. This church in California was offering salary and parsonage. Sounds good so far.

(Now here is where God’s sense of humor comes in)

Yeah, the salary was $20,000 – for California!

For 24 hours I tried to figure out if I could do it and how could I do it. Then I remembered J. I Packer talking about how to determine God’s will in his book Knowing God. Packer reminds us that when trying to determine God’s will for our life, God expects us to use our God given abilities and brainpower. There was no rational way that I could take this job. While there is always the possibility that God wants us to step out in faith thus allowing God to do something spectacular, Scripture informs us that the miraculous doesn’t happen on a regular basis just occasionally. This just wasn’t such an occasion.

I looked up to the sky and told God “Now that’s not fumy!”

I know that God is ultimately in control but occasionally He has to remind me. In His time and His way it will happen, until then God will continue to teach me patience and something about His incredible sense of humor.

So I guess the joke is on me!

Pastor Val

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Big Brother" Is Listening

Last night our local NBC affiliate reported on how “Big Brother” might be listening in to our conversations via our cell phones. Apparently there is technology out there that can turn your cell phone into a microphone even if your cell phone is shut off. The cell phone might not even be yours but another person’s in the room.

Supposedly this technology is only legal (think Patriot Act) for the government to use with a court order. But WDIV interviewed private investigators who regularly use these programs in their investigations. Some boardrooms have become Cell Phone Free zones due to fear of industrial eavesdropping.

The FBI recently admitted in open court that there have been times when they have misused this technology to listen in on conversations that were not terrorist related. The ACLU and other groups are concerned about the potential abuse of this new technology.

Apparently the only sure way to ensure that your conversations cannot be overheard is to remove the battery from the cell phone.

While this is disturbing for Americans, being overheard by someone is nothing new for followers of God. After all we have know for centuries that we cannot escape from God’s presence (See Psalm 139:7-12). Theologians call this the omnipresence of God and when you couple that with another of His divine attributes his omniscience (God knows everything) we know that nothing can be hidden from Him. Since He sees all and knows all, we can be assured that He also knows what is best for us.

If you are concerned about what others might hear you say, how much more should we guard our tongues because our Father is listening after all we all know that “POS” is true for every believer.


Pastor Val

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New Beginnings

Today I begin a new blog. For years I’ve sent emails to my various ministry groups to encourage and inform them. My hope is that this blog will act much like my emails of the past.

I chose the name AncientFuture Mariner for this blog to describe the journey that I have been on for the last few years. Robert Webber, my friend and mentor, coined this concept as it applies to our understanding of the faith of the early church that once again resonates with the postmodern society, a society that is becoming more and more prevalent today. The society that we find ourselves dealing with is not the modernistic society of our parents. Rather this post Christian society of America is much like the society the early church found itself striving to reach in the first century, a society that is predominately non Christian, multicultural and poly-religious.

In this blog I expect to address areas of interest in the church, family and society at large from a Biblical perspective. My hope is that you will find this blog to be informative, occasionally humorous, and from time to time even thought provoking.

Pax my friend

Pastor Val