Monday, December 31, 2007
Sunday, December 30, 2007
The Hays family was visiting family and friends in Texas over Christmas break. Jerry and Don serve together on the Concordia Seminary Student Association.
Indeed a sobering reminder for all of us that life is precious and that we draw each of our breaths but by the grace of God.
Please lift up your hearts and prayers with us in support of the Hays and Dase families, that God grants them all His abundant peace and comfort during this very difficult time. May God bless you richly.
Don, Stacye, Hannah, & Elizabeth Ray
Friday, December 28, 2007
Those funny Lutherans!
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Otherwise, our Christmas was really nice. We spent the day as a family, opening presents, eating, and resting. We had planned to go caroling at a nearby hospital with some other sem families, but with Hannah feeling cruddy, we decided to try again next year. Hannah got lots of art stuff, some new books, new Barbie-type dolls, and from Santa, a new Bible, which she loves. It's the same Bible they use in her Sunday school and while it's still not the actual Bible, the stories are longer than her toddler Bible and incorporate a few phrases from Scripture. We read quite a bit from it yesterday.
And now begins "the twelve days of Christmas," which has a special significance in our family. Not only is January 6 Epiphany (the day we celebrate the Wise Men bringing gifts to the baby King), but it's also Don's birthday. When Don was growing up, they didn't really do stocking stuffers, but each member of the family would have a basket with 12 small gifts in it and they would open up one each day after Christmas leading up to January 6. That's a special memory for Don, but I've never been able to get my act together enough to buy 12 small, meaningful gifts for him or anyone else. One year I tried stuffing his stocking with small things from the dollar store, and while he was sweet about it, the truth is that my oh-so-practical husband really would rather not have gifts that aren't useful. Anyway, in honor of the twelve days of Christmas and Epiphany, I thought I'd post this video I found on another blog I enjoy reading.
In other news, Bethie now has 7 teeth (if I don't post that now I'll forget to) and she enjoyed her first Christmas as well. For her, it was a perfect day - she got to be at home with her favorite people, take all her naps in her bed, and get lots of attention. She got to scoot around on the floor eating scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon. She got a Rock-a-Stack from Grammies, so of course that's tons of fun. Her favorite thing seemed to be a floating Baby Einstein book. She chewed on and turned the pages of that book for the longest time yesterday.
Don got some pint glasses from Schlafly Bottleworks, a local brewery with beer we really like. (For all you Bakersfieldians, it's a lot like Lengthwise, only much bigger.) He is also excited to try making creme brulee with his new kit and blow torch. I got a Harry Potter movie, some jewelry, new dish towels, a Concordia Seminary sweatshirt, smelly-good lotion, and a cranberry candle.
These small gifts were certainly a joy for us to give to each other. Still, we know that the best present of all was the one Hannah opened first: the baby Jesus.
Merry Christmas and a Joyful New Year!
Friday, December 21, 2007
I quickly learned to carry Hannah into and out of the car because it seemed that no matter where we went or where we parked, there were several inches of snow and ice on each side of the car. I saw several parking lots that were totally cleared of snow, but of course none of the ones we visited had that honor. We learned to shovel and salt the porches, stairs, and walkways. We scraped ice off of our car numerous times.
On Saturday morning we woke up to snow. There wasn't much - only 2-3 inches maybe. But it was enough to sled so we
Then on Sunday we let Hannah skip her nap and we went sledding again. By then we had 6-8 inches accumulation and the sledding was great. We went over to Concordia Park with some friends and found a looooong hill to sled down. Hannah was awesome - she kept going down by herself, either on bottom or tummy. She'd rock herself back and forth and would veer off course, almost crashing into trees. But thankfully, no injuries except some very cold toes by the time we got home. What a fun weekend!
Andy by now (Friday), almost all the snow has melted. I've been struck that something that can look so beautiful can then look so dang ugly when it gets dirty and full of dead grass and leaves. It's really pretty nasty looking around here now and I can't wait for it all to melt now.
So here's our slide show - enjoy! And if we don't get a new posting up by Christmas, just know that we pray that your celebration of Jesus' birthday will be full of peace, joy, love, and of course thankfulness to Christ for coming to earth to provide salvation for you. Merry CHRISTmas!
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Elizabeth got some fun toys too - things she can chase after, stack, nest, and of course, chew on. Speaking of Elizabeth, she got her 6th tooth yesterday. Now she has 3 on top and 3 on bottom. If she doesn't get any more for a while she'll end up looking pretty lopsided because the third one on top is on the opposite side from the third one on bottom.
In other news, the girls are finally sleeping together in the same room and Don and I have our room back! They've been in the same room for about two weeks now and are doing great. And it's so nice to be able to read or put laundry away in our room at 7:30 at night! And also, we don't have to be so quiet in the evening because the girls are now on the opposite side of the house (before, one was on each side, so no matter where we were, we tried to talk quietly for their sake). So it's quite nice to feel normal again when the girls are sleeping and not tippy-toe around.
We're trying not to get all rushed and hectic this Christmas season. Since Hannah's still so young, we don't have as many school/Sunday school programs, Christmas parties, and other "must-dos" as we might have in a few years. I'm still trying to keep things simple. Having said that, we still need to send Christmas cards; figure out, create, and mail Christmas presents to our family in CA, TN, OH, TX, and GA; buy each of the girls' ornaments for this year; wrap the girls' gifts we have so far and hide them from Hannah; try and take some (nice) Christmas pictures of the girls together; figure out and create gifts for Hannah's teachers; go to Hannah's school Christmas party and program later that same night; and of course spend some time together as a family, worshipping the Christ Child, and teaching Hannah what Christmas is all about. Whew! (future pastor's editorial comment: we'll be sure to keep that last part at the forefront of all we do... :-) )
I'll wrap up by saying that we hope and pray that you also try to take time to breathe, spend time with your family, and focus on Jesus Christ, who came to Earth out of love for YOU, so that He could live an obedient life in your place and die for your sins (and ours too!). He loves you so much, He wants nothing more than to have a deeper relationship with you, regardless of how far or near you are to Him today.
We pray that Holy Spirit will be in your heart, giving you the peace that only God can give. Merry, Merry CHRISTmas! With Love,
Stacye, Don, Hannah, & Elizabeth
Monday, December 3, 2007
How do you define what is enough for you? How much is enough money to make, to save and to spend? How do you define for yourself what is enough clothing, enough food, enough electronic gadgets, enough television channels and enough time to watch them, enough sporting events, enough shoes and enough popularity? How much is enough for you? That is an intensely personal question. No one can answer it for us, but we answer it daily by the choices we make.
The enemy is at work in our world determined to help us each answer that question in exactly the same way. Regardless of our income, our lifestyle, our investment portfolio or class, our enemy wants us to respond in unison with one voice and answer, "just a little more."
You can be a discontent millionaire and a discontent pauper. Discontentment knows no economic boundaries. The common denominator is a gnawing desire to have what is just out of reach or what someone else has, believing that it will finally make us truly happy.
Discontentment dries our spirit. It does so because, at its core, it is an indictment of God's gracious care and provision in our lives. It accuses God of holding back and holding out. It assumes that we deserve more, but somehow we are not receiving all we really need.
The Apostle Paul turns this idea on its head when he says that he has learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance. Wealth and the accumulation of stuff is of no consequence. Contentment transcends what's in our bank accounts and storage units. For Paul, and for all of us who are in Christ, the secret is not a mind manipulation process or a new form of the power of positive thinking. It is the truth of God's presence, provision and providence in our lives. It is a daily trust that God is always near us, will always 'supply all of our needs, according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus', and is sovereign over every circumstance in our lives.
Presence, provision and providence. Because of his certainty in them, Paul could write from the bowels of a dark prison with a spirit of contentment. In the midst of the most demanding of situations Paul knows this contentment, because, for him, Christ is enough.
Is Christ your full provision today? Can you rest in him, knowing that regardless of your situation, whether in plenty or in want, you are content in him? If you can know and claim that contentment for yourself, you will also know the refreshing release from the anxious striving for more and more. And your spirit will be refreshed.
Gracious Lord, my provider and constant companion, help me today to be released from the bondage of always wanting more. Forgive me of my lack of trust in you, and for seeking happiness in the accumulation of things or experiences, instead of seeking my only contentment in you. I give myself back to you today and ask that your presence, provision and providence will be the sole source of my daily contentment. I know you want the every best for me, and I trust you with my life. Refresh my spirit and give me a heart that is at rest and content in you alone. I pray this in your almighty and gracious name, Amen.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Hebrew is full of strange characters and odd-sounding words I've never seen or heard of before, and which are unlike anything else in the galaxy, I'm convinced. It's just plain weird.
But I guess anyone learning English for the first time would say the same about this language. Can you imagine being a non-native English student trying to understand our strange idioms (which seem "normal" to us) like "the whole kit and kaboodle" or "have at it"??? What kind of stupid sayings are those?
And so why should I expect Hebrew be any different? It's got its quirks, but so do all of us. And God still loves us. So I guess I should strive to love Hebrew, too. Aw, shucks.
And now, from Hebrew characters to online characters...
Stacye and I sheepishly entered the online world of Facebook this past weekend. We have heard a lot about it, mostly from friends of ours in the 18-25 year-old range, but had not yet explored it for ourselves.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Facebook, it is an online gathering place of sorts that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them. Each person has their own page where you can post pictures, upload videos, share favorite quotes and books, email each other, have online discussions about things of common interest, you name it.
Facebook essentially allows people to keep in touch and build relationships with each other using the Internet as their "meeting place" versus having to travel to an "old-school" Rotary Club meeting or community center gathering. It's made up of many networks, each based around a company, region, or school. You can join the networks that reflect your real-life communities to learn more about the people who work, live, or study around you.
Anyhow, you can check it out at www.facebook.com where you can easily set up your own account if you don't already have one. This is the way today's youth talk and connect with each other.
And while joining Facebook won't stave off the wrinkles and gray hair that come with the joys of parenthood (and Hebrew), maybe it will help us stay in touch with our friends, family, and frontiers of society a bit more effectively.
Off to study Hebrew. Eventually. First, I need to see if I have any new Facebook friends!
Love and blessings,
Don, Stacye, and the girls
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Dr. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, devoted two full days of his own national radio broadcast to airing edited portions of Dr. MacArthur's comments. You can listen to the edited portions of Part I of Dr. MacArthur's message here, and Part II here. And the entire written transcript of Dr. MacArthur's remarks can be found here on his website, Grace to You
Here is the quote I pulled from Dr. MacArthur's closing comments that touched my heart, and I pray touches yours as well. You can listen to an edited portion of the quote below firsthand; it begins just before minute 24:00 on Part II linked above:
"What do you have to pray for? You have to pray for the Word of the living God to be proclaimed across this nation. And if it's not being proclaimed in churches, it's not going to be proclaimed anywhere else.
This is not a time for weak men in weak ministries preaching weak messages. This is a time to call on God to raise up a generation of passionate faithful gracious loving preachers of the Word so that a nation can listen to God...
Your prayer and mine has to be that God would raise up faithful preachers and people who would proclaim His Word across this land. Pray for this generation of young men that God will call and shape and send, pray for pastors everywhere. Pray for lay people, for Christians to be bold.
There's only one solution and that's the truth--the truth by which God saves, by which God sanctifies, and if this nation will respond and listen to His truth, God will open the flood gates... But there's no other way than that people listen to (God) and walk in (His) ways. It's not going to happen if there's a famine of the hearing of the Word of God.
Pray that the Word, as (the Apostle) Paul said, would have free course and that it would run with all its power across this land. With all its beauty and magnificence, all its power and grace, that people would hear and believe and be saved and be obedient.
I don't know what God's plan is, I just see here what His heart is. 'O, that My people would listen to me,' (Psalm 81:13) that's the heart of God."
God be with you and bless you richly this Thanksgiving,
Don, Stacye, Hannah, Elizabeth (& Grammies!)
Monday, November 19, 2007
Hannah: Mommies don't have beards.
Mommy: No, Hannah. They usually don't.
H: Some Daddies have beards.
M: Yes, sometimes they do.
H: My Daddy doesn't have a beard. He has a chin.
(bawling and whining, in the middle of a looonnngg tantrum)
H: IIIII'm getting tiiiired of thiiiiiis...
M&D (laughing): Yeah Hannah, we are too.
(in the middle of a nap-time temper tantrum)
H: IIIIIII caaaaan't sleeeeeeep...
M&D: Um, yeah. Walking out to the living room and crying isn't usually conducive to sleep.
(at least once a day)
H: At my school, where Mrs. V. lives...
(and this is followed by some story about her preschool and her teacher, Mrs. Vande Vrede)
(we often hear this one when she's supposed to be taking a nap)
H: There's a bug beezing around my room.
And the kicker...Here's the background story: Hannah is currently sleeping on her mattress on the floor of our room while Elizabeth learns to sleep through the night in the crib in the girls' room. When I put Hannah to bed I sit on her mattress with her for stories and prayers. A few nights ago Don asked me not to sit on it because it's meant for kids, not adults. Of course, I forgot and last night I did the same routine and sat on her mattress. After the story, here's what she said:
H: Mommy, Daddy has told you several times not to sit on my bed because it's not for big people. It's supposed to be for kids. So maybe next time you can make it easier and just remember what Daddy told you and not sit on my mattress.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
-Christian author and columnist Angie Ward
Saturday, November 17, 2007
I think God has given us enough first-hand credibility as a family to be able to speak forth frankly and empathetically about money and material possessions, particularly in regards to what the Bible has to say about it.
I would like to share with you our story as a married couple and family:
From 2001-2004, Stacye and I together as a household were among the top 1% of wage earners in Kern County, CA. Plainly stated, we made a lot of money.
In March 2004, being 7 months pregnant, Stacye resigned her job in anticipation of becoming a full-time stay at home mom. In late April 2004, I was unexpectedly fired for sharing my faith in the workplace. Nearly overnight, we went from being in the top 1% of money-makers in our county to both of us being unemployed. That is, both unemployed with a mortgage to pay and a baby due literally any day.
Thanks be to God, a position opened up at our church at nearly the same time I lost my job. I went to work for St. John's for three years, before enrolling at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis this past July.
And now, I am a full-time student and Stacye works only minimally part-time to ensure she can continue to be at home with our daughters. Thus, our current annual household income ranks us among the poorest in the nation.
And, in the 6 years since we've been married, our giving as a percentage of our gross income has consistently and intentionally risen year over year, and God has blessed us to be able to be debt-free (we had between the two of us over $100,000 in non-mortgage debt when we got married). During that same time, our savings increased, we never missed a mortgage payment--not one--and we never had a single late payment to any of our creditors. Thanks be to God, our credit scores are among the highest in the country.
We've been financially wealthy...a "middle class" family...and now--by the government's definition--poor. We've been in debt beyond (not just up to) our eyeballs, and we've struggled with the temptations that having lots of disposable cash on hand can bring. We've given away more than we think we can afford and we've seen God's hand guide, bless, and protect us all along the way.
Were it not for Him, we would not be where we are today. And thanks to Him, we are content. Truly.
In many ways, we can identify intimately with the Apostle Paul when he says, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:12-13).
It grieves me--indeed it breaks my heart--to see just how deeply people struggle with money issues in life. Because I've been there. We've been there. It particularly makes my heart heavy to see souls who place too great a value on their financial wealth and material possessions. Stacye and I confess that we used to define ourselves in our heart by how much money we were making, even by how much we were giving away. But God doesn't define us that way; that is the way of the world!
The Apostle Paul urges us in Romans 12:2, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
What does that mean? It means that we shouldn't seek after the things of this world to define who we are. We should not devote our lives to the pursuit of material wealth and status, but rather to the Lord and what God genuinely desires for us. We are to seek God's will, not our fleshly desires. We are to use our resources in accordance with God's will, not what the world tells us we should do. The two, indeed, are often in direct contradiction to each other. God's will leads us to glory, the world's will to death.
Oh, God, the burden I have for doing the Lord's will and helping people overcome the inestimable and worldly attraction of material wealth and possessions. Oh, my Lord, my heart is heavy. I pray. I pray...
I do believe, indeed, that this is one of the greatest challenges for American Christians today: learning how to use our money and our material possessions in accordance with God's will, and not in the ways of this world. The battle is fierce, the enemy is powerful, but thanks be to God that the Lord has already won.
Let us walk forth in this confidence, looking only to Him--not to our money and our material possessions--to derive our sense of self-worth and purpose in life.
With God's love and richest blessings,
Friday, November 9, 2007
Praise God, I passed Greek! And as you can see, I gleefully joined my brothers in the post-Greek ritual dive into the Concordia Seminary campus fountain! The very COLD fountain, that is! (Be sure to turn up the volume on your computer to enjoy the slideshow to its fullest!)
Thanks be to God and His work through Stacye's steadfast support, Dr. Voelz, my studious brothers, and the prayers of many, I got the second-highest final grade in our class. And I am absolutely thrilled to have passed! Thank you for your continued love and support.
Taking a dip for Jesus,
Don, Stacye, and the girls
Thursday, November 8, 2007
This YouTube video (immediately below, shot this past Summer) is evidence of the nuttiness Greek imbues to an otherwise sane soul.
Our illustrious Greek professor, Dr. Jim Voelz, is in the video as well (the only one in a suit). The other segments of the video (tossing trashcans in the classroom, shooting basketballs at a moving trashcan, tossing hats, and having thumb wars) are all ways my student peers let off stream during an otherwise nutty 10-week process. And yes, these ARE future pastors! I can say our Fall Greek class has done some mildly wild and wacky things to keep us level-headed as well, but thankfully our antics were not caught on video!
It remains to be seen if my classmates and I will take the plunge tomorrow after we pass our final. Mind you, the summer guys took a dip in August when it was 95 degrees outside; it is now November and hovering in the 40's. We'll indeed be excited to pass Greek...just don't know if we'll be THAT excited!
Will post again after we get word of the final results tomorrow afternoon. Your prayers are much appreciated.
God's love and blessings,
Don and the girls
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
And so I prayed last night something to the effect of: "Lord, you know we made the prayerful decision to invest literally thousands of your dollars in this car, and we continue to hope and pray you will bless it for the duration of seminary. Please help everything to work out; if we need a new car, please provide it. We don't want to use your precious resources on an unnecessary expense. If we need to get this one fixed, provide the resources to do so. If we need a car while it's getting fixed, please help us, Lord. Amen."
Now, we've never lived here before; we don't know any mechanics from Adam. So last night I emailed a professor we know and love who has been here for more than 15 years, asking for he and his wife's recommendation. Unbeknownst to me, Stacye was talking with his wife about our car trouble at precisely the same time I was emailing him! And she said to Stacye, "Oh, you can borrow our car for as long as you need it, in case you need to get yours fixed." And this morning, the professor emailed me with a very good recommendation of a nearby mechanic.
So Stacye went to their house this afternoon, got their Mazda sedan (which they use often as a "loaner" to those who need it), and we took our car to the shop.
The point is this: this couple truly is a living example of how--biblically--I believe God wants us to use and employ our material possessions. Our possessions belong to Him, God entrusts them to us, and we are merely the managers of all He has given us.
In the early Christian church, new believers in many instances sold their possessions and freely provided for each other's daily needs as they arose. Imagine if Americans consistently lived in such a way...
Imagine if we allowed Christ to infuse our hearts and minds and lives to the extent that no one in any community was "without." Imagine if each of us lived with an open hand, allowing what passes into our lives from God to pass freely through us to others. Imagine a place where God's people willingly and graciously shared "their" resources with others who needed them for a time, as this couple has done with us. Imagine the community that would be created as a result! Imagine the overflowing joy that would abound! Imagine the love that would be shared!
I believe without question this is how God wants us to live. I would encourage you to read Deuteronomy 15:7-8,10 for further insight.
We are made in God's image, and our God is a God of love, grace, and overflowing generosity. We Americans have far more money and material resources than we will ever need for ourselves. We Americans are arguably the wealthiest people on earth that have ever been or will ever be. And to be sure, the Bible tells us clearly that our material wealth is indeed a blessing from God!
But where we go wrong is that we somehow think it's all for us. Me, me, me. But that's not what Scripture tells us. The Bible says, "You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion. And through us, your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God" (2 Corinthians 9:11).
In what ways can you share what God has given you with someone who might be in need?
May God guide you and bless you richly as you consider the possibilities...
In His Love and Service,
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Thank You for this yummy food again.
Strawberries are sooo good
(there were no strawberries)
And ice cream
(there was no ice cream)
And chocolate and vanilla.
Thank You for me and Mommy and Daddy and Elizabeth and the cribs
(cribs? did she mean our "crib" like MTV Cribs?)
And Nana and Papa
And Uncle and Auntie
In Jesus' name we pray,
And Mommy's thank You for...
I have begun a series of in-depth visits with St. John's Director of Community Life, to learn about how they (with great effectiveness) do small groups, introductory membership classes, and new member assimilation.
I've also asked and received permission to attend some upcoming meetings of the Board of Directors, as I want to observe and learn how the staff leadership team effectively leads and partners with the board on matters of church strategy and business planning. My first board meeting observation will take place in early November.
In addition--and thanks in large part to a personal relationship one of my seminary brothers has--myself and the three other first-year St. John field workers have also been blessed by the willing partnership of T.F., a local St. Louis CPA businessman who is an active member of St. John. T.F. consults with business clients on missioning, visioning, strategic planning, operations and management, and the execution of business plans. He has begun formally and freely sharing with the four of us what he charges his clients thousands of dollars to receive. It is a tremendous blessing indeed! I would offer that the information he is sharing with us is vital for effective leadership in ministry. I wish more of our brothers-in-formation could receive the tremendous insights we are gaining, too. Unfortunately, our seminary does not offer such information as part of its classroom curriculum.
Coupled with the "on the side" training we are receiving from T.F., St. John has also paid for a professional church consultant, D.H., to visit with us several times throughout this first year to help us in similar ways. D.H. is an ordained pastor with nearly 30 years of parish ministry experience, who shares with us curriculum on developing effective mission and vision statements, strategic plans, and the like. A double blessing indeed!
And last but certainly not least, today was my first official opportunity to be part of the dynamic and uplifting worship services here at St. John. My job this first time through as a new field worker was simply to shadow and closely observe the lead Pastor and a second-year seminiarian throughout the morning as they communed the congregants, read the responsive prayers and liturgy, and the proclaimed the message and the Scriptures for the day. It was a tremendous behind-the-scenes look at how St. John conducts worship with excellence. I am grateful for the opportunity and look forward to personally reading and serving in a similar way soon.
I also learned today that I will begin teaching bible studies on Sunday mornings after the New Year, beginning with a portion of the Book of Romans. Interestingly enough, the Book of Romans was also the first book of the Bible I taught on at St. John's Bakersfield, many years ago.
All told, St. John is a wonderful "learning laboratory" for an eager, inquisitive, "type-A"-prone soul like me. I have been told (and am learning from first-hand experience) that if we are proactive and assertive and take personal responsibility for requesting opportunities to learn and grow at St. John, that the church leaders will give them to us in spades.
If my first 6 weeks are any indication of my next three or four years in this place, St. John Ellisville promises to be a Heaven-sent field work opportunity! Praise the Lord!!
And as always, thank you a thousand times over for your continued love, prayers, encouragement, and personal financial support! We would not and could not be here were it not for you and God's work through you.
God's love and blessings as we serve Him together,
Don, Stacye, and the girls :-)
Friday, October 19, 2007
Hannah: Peat after me.
H: Lord Jesus,
M: Lord Jesus,
H: Sank You for this yummy food
M: Thank You for this yummy food (etc. etc. etc.)
H: That You've given us.
H: And our hair is soooo soft.
H: And sank You for Elizabeth and her toys
H: And she has two teeth
(Editor's note: she has four teeth.)
H: In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
H: And Mommy's thank you for....
(That last line is supposed to be "And Mommy's thankful for..." and then I fill in the blank.)
Just thought you all would get a kick out of Hannah's prayers and our soft hair. Happy praying!
Stacye, the girls, and the Greek scholar
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
1) Studying Greek has taught me academic (and lifestyle) discipline.
I'm no dummy. God has enabled me to do well academically. I earned nearly a 3.9 GPA in my undergraduate coursework, earning two college degrees in 4 years Magna Cum Laude and Cum Laude, respectively. Praise God.
I have to admit: my end-result undergraduate grades belie the fact that I wasn't very disciplined back then. (OK, I'll admit it...I wasn't disciplined at all, really). I was such a foolish and arrogant idiot. I would brag to Stacye and my friends in my undergraduate years about how I could research and write a 10-page paper literally at the last minute and get a straight A on it. My peers hated me for it. And I loved rubbing their noses in it. (Humility, as you can tell, was not a strong suit of mine back when I was in college). My M.O. in my undergraduate years was this: I would drink beer, go out with friends, play video games, sleep (often in that order), and generally procrastinate until the very last possible minute. And then I would allow my self-induced circumstances to create in me a sense of death-is-at-your-doorstep-and-you're-not-ready-for-it panic and anxiety, which would in turn focus me intensely to get my work done (because I had left myself no other choice). As much as I had allowed myself to think I was "Joe Cool," I was really "Joe Fool" for the way I was managing myself and my time.
When I got here to seminary, I truly realized that my old way of "going to college" was ridiculous. And frankly, it was only because of Greek that I began to appreciate a new way of "doing business" as it were.
You see, with Greek, we study for 5-7 hours each day, plus 2-3 hours in class every day. If you miss one day, you're dead. Sunk. Caput. Fuggeddaboudit. Seriously, it is of the utmost importance to stay on top of the language day in, day out, for every single day of the 10 weeks we are sprinting this Grecian Marathon. I had (have) no other choice than to be disciplined in my studies here, if I have any hope of honoring God with my effort and (hopefully, prayerfully) my grades.
And for God working in and through me to break old (bad) college habits, I am eternally grateful. Why? My new way of doing business has resulted in a more ordered and peaceful life, better long-term retention of the material--and yes--good grades. Praise God, I got a 96% on our Greek midterm. My wife would also say, "And thank goodness I don't have to hear you whine and complain to me about how 'I still have to write 4 more pages, and my paper is due in 2 hours.'" I love her.
2) Studying Greek keeps life in perspective.
There are worse things in life that "being forced" to take Greek. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I needed to say it.
My student colleagues and I often joke about the unparalleled academic rigors of Greek. But I do my level best not to complain about it. Yes, it's quite difficult. Yes, it's tedious. Yes, it's plain, old-fashioned academic hard work. But it's not the end of the world. And no one has died doing it (to my knowledge...yet). This too shall pass. The sun will shine tomorrow (at least that's what the weatherman says)...and if he's wrong, that means either it's really cloudy outside or Jesus is returning. Either way, it's all good. Greek isn't a nuclear war, afterall. It's just Greek.
3) Studying Greek builds character.
There are few things more rewarding in life than doing something tremendously difficult for the Lord...not giving up...and succeeding. Whether it be parenting a strong-willed child, persevering through difficult circumstances at work, beating cancer, or passing Elementary Greek with a straight-A (I pray), this is most certainly true. There is a lot to be said for not giving up. It's so easy in this music on-demand, microwave-laden, instant-messaged, immediate gratification-oriented world of ours to give up. But there is real and lasting joy in staying the course. Literally, in my case. To stick with it. To persevere. To keep on truckin'.
The Apostle Peter addresses the notion of perseverance in his letter to the heavily-persecuted early Christian church. Mind you, Peter was writing to people who lived at the time of Nero. Nero would have Christians dragged from the streets, wrapped in cloths soaked in pitch, tied to stakes, and then set on fire--alive--to "entertain" his guests.
These new Christians were suffering. Badly. Unimaginably. (And we think we have it bad not being able to say the pledge of allegiance in some public schools?)
These faithful Christians in the early church were wondering why Jesus was not returning (as quickly as they had hoped and thought He would). They were enduring incredibly difficult circumstances with no end in sight. And they had begun to lose hope. But Peter says, "Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little. To Him be the dominion forever. Amen" (1 Peter 5:10-11, CSB).
Peter says that after you have suffered--endured--persevered a little (that is, "in-comparison-to-eternity-a-little"), God will personally (personally, because He loves you) restore you, confirm you, strengthen you, and support you. The Greek word for "little" as in "little while" literally means, "puny." Itty-bitty. A "teensy period of time." You will be a heartier and more blessed soul for having endured suffering for this comparatively short while, Peter says.
And please know these aren't just a bunch of biblical platitudes I'm casually spewing at you because I think they sound nice. I share them with you in love, because they're true. I know. And you may, from your own personal experiences, too.
So whether your suffering is Elementary Greek, or a job loss, or financial difficulties, or marital strife, or illness, or a move, or parenting woes, or things at work not going your way, or __________________________, God is with you.
And Jesus loves you. He is seeing you through to The End. Which, for those of us who know Christ as our Lord and Savior, is really just a incomparably wonderful Beginning. As Martin Luther said, let us live for today and That Day.
And as the writer of the Hebrews reminds us, "Since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God's throne. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won't grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:1-3, CSB).
I'm off to study Greek. For a little while.
Running--and prayerfully enduring--the race with you,
Monday, October 8, 2007
Knowing that I was (still am) not the world's most patient soul ("and the award for the world's greatest understatement of the year goes to..."), and knowing that patience is a valuable fruit of the Spirit, I prayed for patience some years ago, against the sober advice of several Christians I know.
And the result?
God makes me wait. A lot. And God can wait a really long time.
Another way He's grown my patience is by allowing situations which try my patience to enter my life. I used to joke when our eldest daughter was younger, "I prayed for patience, and God blessed me with a two year old!"
In regards to waiting, the Bible says in Psalm 90:4 that a thousand years in God's sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. I've decided that's really not fair, because time is forever to Him, but my alarm clock still goes off every morning. We joke about the 7:1 dog years ratio: 1 year for us is the equivalent of 7 for a dog, in terms of their physical degeneration. How about 1,000 to 1? God can indeed wait a really long time.
Another significant way that God will give me patience is to show me "the finish line" or give me an in-depth glimpse of where He's taking me, but then not allow me to get there...just yet. It's like someone letting you peek at the end of a really great novel--for just a moment, for just long enough to get the big picture and maybe know how it's all going to end--but then they quickly close the book and force you to read the whole story...word by word...thought by thought...page by page...day by day...until one day, it arrives. In God's time.
We can't make the sun rise or set any faster than it already does, I told my wife recently. This is most certainly true.
In his book, Embracing Soul Care, author Stephen W. Smith wisely notes:
"We don't like waiting. The microwave doesn't work fast enough; the internet connection is too slow. But something transformational happens when a person learns to wait. The caterpillar spinning its cocoon is not preparing a place of escape but a place to wait for transformation, a sanctuary for change.
The time of waiting is actually a season of becoming.
Transformation doesn't come if we move too quickly. We need to make space for God. When we wait and are still, He comes near. The place of waiting can provide asylum, not to hide but to hear God."
Smith continues with a phrase I just love, "Waiting sets aside the unimportant and allows the one waiting to be seized by the eternally significant." Read that again. And again. And let God's peace, truth, and light soak into your soul.
And lastly he says, "Through waiting, we find that our wings are more than wings of butterflies. We are taught to soar on wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31)."
I'm waiting. For the Lord. On the Lord. With the Lord. By way of the Lord.
Maybe you're waiting, too.
Maybe you're waiting for test results. Or a baby. Or for healing. An answer to prayer. A building to be built. A friend or family member to come to Christ. A loved one to return home. Or go Home. Or for your retirement. Your debts to be paid off. For graduation day. For your spouse to quit drinking. Or for the day you will meet Jesus face to face and (for those of us who know Jesus) be reunited with our loved ones once and for all--forever.
May God bless you...indeed strengthen you...yes, comfort you...yea, encourage you...and most certainly love you in your season of waiting.
It's not easy. Jesus knows. He loves you and He knows how you feel. And it's good to know that the One we know knows.
Sunday, October 7, 2007
Bo Ward (pictured below), a well-loved and well-respected businessman in the Clarksville, Tennessee community surrounding Fort Campbell, tragically took his own life in rather shocking fashion on Thursday night; you may have read or heard of the story, as it made national news for the better part of a day late last week. Click here if you wish to read the account as reported by the local Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle.
Don's brothers knew Bo well, and Don had the opportunity to visit and meet with Bo several years ago at his home in Clarksville. Bo was an outgoing and engaging man who loved the soldiers and their families deeply, and supported them in any way that he could.
Click here to read a Leaf-Chronicle article about Bo's support of the soldiers and the Clarksville community.
We would ask that you just take a moment to include in your prayers Bo's widow, Faye, and their family; the Clarksville City Council and community; all those who witnessed the incident; and the employees and soldiers Bo left behind.
May God have mercy on his soul, and may we each find comfort not in the things of this world, but in and through the Risen Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for us all. Let us hold fast to that hope--the hope of Jesus--now and forever. Amen.
May God hear our prayers as we serve Him together,
Thursday, October 4, 2007
I've been studying 55-60 hours each week for the last 5 weeks, and it is paying off. There have been many days over these last few weeks where my non-detailed oriented brain has bumped heads (to say the least) with the very detailed creature that Greek most definitely is, but God has miraculously knitted together connections in this head of mine to help me "get it" nonetheless.
Now I pray I continue to study effectively at the same pace I've been studying, and pass the final (known as "The Qualifier") in early November with the same gusto God gave me today. I also pray He helps me retain the knowledge He's given me beyond our Greek class, so that Greek remains a tool I can use and employ throughout my life and forthcoming career.
On another note, God seems to be working through me and a fourth-year seminarian brother of mine, MW, in a special way. MW and I serve together on the Student Assocation (student government) here at the sem. He heads up the Spiritual Life Committee, of which I am a newly-minted member, and I serve also as one of two first-year married student representatives (as I shared on a recent post).
MW and I are quietly (at least around here) and prayerfully exploring the possibility of starting up some type of intentional small group and prayer effort for our campus. It may even take the form of actually working with our administration to get every guy (and gal) on this campus into a small group, for prayer, accountability, and fellowship. Presently (suprisingly?), nothing like it exists at our seminary. We are in the early infant stages of exploring and fact-gathering, but I wanted to share it with you so that you can be in prayer about the effort with us and for us.
The devil most certainly would not want something like this to succeed, and I'm sure he'll throw every trick from his pathetic and hell-bound book at it to try and stop it from happening. Please pray for a hedge of protection around MW and I and our families, and around all others who may become involved. Please also pray that God will open doors and hearts to be receptive to the concept, and that He would work through us and this effort for His glory and for the edification and strengthening of His servants, our families, and our community.
One early and encouraging blessing along these lines is that MW and I have secured the assistance and partnership of the Community Life Leader, GH, at my field work church, St. John in Ellisville, MO. GH is a wonderful soul who leads and directs the highly effective small group and assimilation efforts at St. John; indeed, no small feat for a thriving church with over 2,200 regular attenders. GH has freely and graciously agreed to provide us with insight on how to effectively "do" small groups from an administrative and leadership standpoint; most definitely helpful information for us and our future churches we will one day pastor, and also for MW and I as we explore possibilities for our seminary community as well. Please also keep GH and St. John in your prayers, and I will be sure to keep you posted on our progress.
Thank you again for your continued love and support--we would not and could be here were it not for your prayers, financial support, and continued encouragement. God is working through you in amazing ways. Please let us know how we can be praying for you as well. You can click the email link in the upper right hand corner of our homepage, and we will be sure to include your specific request in our family's daily prayers.
Love and blessings to you and yours,
Don and the girls
Sunday, September 30, 2007
We had fun showing mom our apartment and having her involved in a little bit of our life here. On her first day here we actually bought a dining table and chairs. Up to that point, we were eating meals at our coffee table, but that was getting old. I saw a set in a store ad for only $100 - the table and four chairs. The table's two leaves both drop down and the chairs store inside, so it has a very small footprint - perfect for our small apartment.
The next day was Sunday. We all attended church together and that evening we met my cousin Erin and her boyfriend Paul at a local restaurant (Pujols 5, created by Cardinals player Albert Pujols). Monday, mom went with Hannah and me to Hannah's counseling appointment, then we went to the Turtle Playground and the St. Louis Zoo. That night mom went with me to my "Boxes" Bible study.
Tuesday was our trip to The Magic House - everyone had a great time, including Bethie! They have a huge water table there, where kids can pour, squirt, and play with water. Mom noticed that they have cut-out seats for babies to sit in and splash and play in the water too. Bethie ended up with water all over her face and head! It was really cute and I'll post pictures later. We came home for a short rest before we joined many other seminary families for dinner in the dining hall for family night.
On Wednesday, the girls and mom and I drove out to Columbia, MO to visit a friend from Bakersfield. Sandy is originally from Missouri, lived in CA for a while, and moved back to MO three years ago. We met Sandy for lunch at D. Rowe's, met her "Auntie M," walked around Shelter Gardens, and headed home. Then it was back out (with Don) for dinner at Fitz's in U City.
Thursday, it was time for Hannah to go to preschool. Mom, Bethie, and I went shopping for new curtains after dropping Hannah off. That evening I had Bible study again and while I was gone, my great uncle and aunt (Al & Jane, my dad's aunt and uncle) arrived. They were on a brief vacation (they live in Minnesota) and it worked out great for them to visit St. Louis and see us and mom while she was here. The next morning (Friday), we all went to chapel together here on campus and when Don went back to class, the rest of us went to Grant's Farm. It was our first visit and a lot of fun. It's owned by Anheuser-Busch and it's like a small zoo. We saw zebras, bison, long horn cattle, mountain goats, elephants, camels, llamas, bald eagles, the famous Clydesdales, and Hannah survived feeding the billy goats (and has a T-shirt to prove it!) We have cute pictures from that trip too and I'll them post sometime soon. That evening we all attended the Friday bar-b-que here on campus together and got to introduce the family to a few more of our new friends.
Way too quickly, that brought us to Saturday, and mom had to return home. I told her that I wish I had scheduled in a little more down time, because being so busy made her visit seem to go by so much faster. (We think she's going to return in early December - we'll probably be snowed in and won't be able to leave the house - just the thing to make the visit drag along!) It was great having her here - she's such a help. She slides into our routine and just knows what to do that helps the most. Hannah behaved great the whole time mom was here. Unfortunately, the separation was hard again. The night mom left (last night), it took Hannah over two hours to fall asleep. Then she woke up early this morning and had a pretty major meltdown before church. And after church, she never took a nap. It seems like she's really reluctant to be alone in her room. So please keep her (and us) in your prayers. This move and all the transition has been really hard on our little three-year-old!
And keep Don in your prayers too. Tomorrow begins week 5 of Greek - on Friday he'll be halfway through. His mid-term is on Thursday, so please pray for focused study time and for a good grade. I'm sure he'll post an update as soon as he gets his grade, if not before.
Thanks for reading and for all your prayers. Love and God's blessings to all,
Stacye, Don, Hannah, & Elizabeth
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Anyway, young...old...young-at-heart...whatever. The point is this: my good friend and fellow first-year seminarian, TH, and I have been elected by our peers to serve as 1st year married seminiarian representatives on our Student Senate. TH garnered a few more votes than I did, and my wife wisely noted that's likely because he has a dart board and a beer fridge in his basement, and I don't. This is most certainly true.
TH joked with me this afternoon (as he referred to my undergraduate degree in Political Science-Public Policy)...saying, "I guess beer and darts beats policy any day!" Especially on a good Lutheran campus like ours, where our predominantly German brothers and sisters enjoy good beer.
Nonetheless, TH and I look forward to a year of service together, representing the concerns of our fellow classmates to our larger student body and to our seminary administration. It will be good to serve God and our peers together as brothers who genuinely enjoy each other's company.
And TH and I can be sure to discuss public policy along the way. Over a mug of beer and a game of darts, of course.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Here's how it works: the first balloon to launch is the Energizer Bunny Hot "Hare" Balloon. The balloon is 166 feet high - 15 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty and the tallest balloon in the country. Its ears alone are 60 feet tall, which is the size of an average hot air balloon. It takes 30 million BTUs to power him up into the air - or the equivalent of 50,000 gas grills cooking half a million burgers. Once it's off the ground, the other 70 "hound" balloons begin to inflate and take off. Whichever balloon lands closest to the bunny wins. It was so fun seeing the different colors of balloons, the different shapes, hearing the burners lighting, and watching dozens of balloons floating right over our heads. Check out the slide show below:
In other news, Don is still working hard on Greek. He's using electronic flash cards, write on/wipe off grids, and study groups with friends. Hannah is thrilled beyond belief that her Noni will be here in a week. Also, she starts preschool this week - Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8-3. Elizabeth is still a happy fun baby. She loves Mommy so much she wakes up 2-3 times a night to visit with me (well, not me so much as my boobs). zzzzzzzzz oh wait - what was I saying? Oh yeah, Bethie isn't sleeping through the night and it's driving me bonkers. In the next couple days, we're going to set up the air mattress in the den for Don, warn our neighbors, and tough out the crying. Hannah was about the same age and (according to Don's memory) it only took about 2 nights of crying and she began sleeping through the night, which she's done ever since. So pray for us!
I've been getting involved in some Bible Studies and classes...in fact, one of my prayers lately is that I don't over-schedule myself, something that would be very easy to do around here. I'm taking After the Boxes are Unpacked on Monday nights. This is an 8-week study helping women to settle in and adjust to changes - whether first year or fourth. Then on Tuesday mornings, I'll begin a Beth Moore study (Believing God) at St. John (our field work church). This one works out great because I'll have an hour or so after dropping Hannah off at preschool and then I'll go to Bible study with Bethie. Then Thursday nights is one of either Today's Light (reading through the Bible in 2 years), a mothers' class, or a wives' class (differs depending on the week). The last two are taught by Myra Richardt, a pastor's wife who moved here from California in part to be able to teach these classes to sem wives. She opens her home and teaches solely from the Bible. I attended the first mothers' class this past Thursday and already gained so much from her wisdom and ideas. What a blessing! (Oh, and these classes don't include any of the Tuesday night wives' classes offered by the Seminary or attending MOPS twice a week at St. John. And that's not to mention squeezing any tutoring in there. See what I mean about over-scheduling?)
Finally, I want to say a huge "Hi" and "I miss you" to my (former) MOPS group at St. John's in Bakersfield and WarmLine (also of Bakersfield). When I realized the other day that MOPS had had their first meeting of the year, I felt really sad. I didn't realize how much harder the move and transition would be on me once everything "back home" kicked into gear again. It's so hard knowing that two groups that were such a huge part of my life have both moved on and I'm not there to participate. So I just want everyone to know that you're all in my prayers and in my heart. I wish I could be there and I miss you tons. That's about all I can say, except thanks again for reading, for your prayers, and your support.
Love to all,
Stacye and the ballooners
Friday, September 7, 2007
But size is not the ultimate (or even primary) determining factor for whether or not a church is healthy (indeed there are many smaller, healthy churches in the nation who are making a tremendous difference for the Kingdom); rather, Scripturally speaking: zeal for Christ and for reaching the lost, and an unwavering commitment to the Holy Scriptures and Christ's command to "Go, and make disciples of all nations" are some key defining factors...and St. John holds true to that.
St. John has 8--yes, that's right, 8--services throughout the week, including one of them offsite at a local brewery, Schlafly Brewery. The strategy with the Schlafly service is that, by preaching and teaching off campus at a site where an unchurched crowd is more likely to go, we can share Christ's love and message with people who might never step foot on a church campus.
St. John is definitely one of the more "contemporary" Lutheran churches in the St. Louis area, and perhaps in the nation. Yet the church does also provide two traditional services each week for those who prefer hymns and organ music for their worship.
I must admit, the Warehouse service at St. John Ellisville--the most contemporary service they offer--put me out of my comfort zone. But it wasn't (isn't, and won't ever be) about me. It was (is, and forever will be) about Jesus, and about the people in that room who desperately need to know Him. And if that contemporary style is a better spiritual conversation-starter for those lost souls than one with hymns and organ music, then I need to be OK with it. Church isn't about me, and it isn't about serving me and helping me to feel comfortable. After all, "even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve," (Mark 10:45) and "to seek and save what was lost" (Luke 19:10).
St. John in Ellisville also has a preschool and elementary school, which we will visit next week and where we are prayerfully considering enrolling our eldest daughter for preschool.
As our "Field Work Church," St. John will serve as our family's official place of worship for years one, two, and four while we're at the seminary (year three is our internship--or, "vicarage"--year, where we could end up at any church in the nation for one year, before coming back to seminary in St. Louis for our fourth and final year in the Master's of Divinity program). St. John will also be where, for about 8-10 hours per week, I will participate in and support the life of the congregation--not as layman, and not as an ordained pastor--but as a student-worker living in the "gray area" between laity and ordination. That means I might help with everything from serving communion, to teaching a bible study, to participating in outreach events, to attending and observing board meetings, you name it. All the while, I will primarily be working under the direction and supervision of one of their Associate Pastors, Pete Mueller.
We also have several assignments to complete over the course of the time we're at our Field Work churches. These practical assignments include everything from studying and reporting on the demographics of the community and the congregation, to interviewing a cross-section of parishioners, to setting personal and ministry growth goals.
We believe it is God's will for us to be at St. John, and we look forward with a combination of eager anticipation and to-be-expected first-year butterflies, as we await what He has in store.
Thank you so very much for your ongoing love and prayerful support. We could not do this without you, and without God's encouraging work through you.
Love and blessings,
Don, Stacye, and the girls
Monday, September 3, 2007
Long story short, I'll be driving to a local Lutheran church tomorrow to write a check for $43 and place my order for the following:
4 lb. Chicken Leg Quarters
24 oz. Beef Back Ribs
1 lb. 80/20 Lean Ground Beef
2 lb. Breaded Chicken Tenders
24 oz. Bone-in Pork Chops
1 lb. Ground Turkey
18 oz. Stuffed Manicotti (Cheese)
12 oz. Smoked Sausage
Betty Crocker Seasoned Potatoes
7 oz. Cheeseburger Dinner
16 oz. Green Beans
16 oz. Baby Carrots
2 lb. Onions
1 lb. Pinto Beans
1 lb. Rice
7 oz. Blueberry Muffin Mix
10 ct. Homestyle Waffles
1 Dessert Item
Family Convenience Meal Special from Golden Cuisine
(Five Delicious Dinner Entrees: Spaghetti & Meatballs, Roasted Chicken Dinner, Meatloaf Patty & Gravy, Fettuccini Alfredo, Country Herb Chicken. Includes five breads, five skim milks, ten margarine cups, and five desserts.)
I encourage you to check out their website. I was almost in tears reading about the ministry. We'll be able to take advantage of this amazing blessing while we're here at seminary, sometimes for as low as $25 per month (the above list is supposed to feed us for 2+ weeks). When you combine all this with the Seminary's Food Bank, we will be spending virtually no money at regular grocery stores. (We'll have to buy milk and other dairy products and some fresh produce, but that's about it.) I'd like to further encourage you to support this awesome ministry, but I didn't see any way to support financially on their website, except to become a host church (distribute meals). Hey all you St. John's members out there...maybe if the word gets out, St. John's may become a host site? The closest host site I could find was Lancaster and there is nothing in the Central Valley...food for thought (get it?).
Anyway - it's late and I really should go to bed! Don starts Greek tomorrow (Tuesday) - keep him in your prayers. Love to all - thanks for reading and praying. We miss you!
Stacye (the food lady)
and Don, Hannah, and Elizabeth (the food eaters)
P.S. Last night we were ultra-adventurous and rode the Metro into Downtown (Laclede's Landing) with some friends for the Big Muddy Blues Festival. Very fun, even though we got the girls home waaaayyyy too late. Oh well - sometimes you just have to get out of the regular routine and do something different. Now it's time to buckle down and get serious about Greek. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, something, something, something, Omega! Do I pass? Think Don'll let me tutor him?
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Today is the opening Convocation for the new school year - our first official act as a seminary family. Don will dress up in a suit and sit with his class. The girls and I will go and sit in the back - we'll see how they do! Thank you for keeping us in prayer as we oficially begin this adventure God has planned out for us. We pray that you are blessed - we feel like we are!
In Christ's love,
Saturday, September 1, 2007
DR: My seminary orientation is complete, and I now look forward to Elementary Greek, which begins on Tuesday. I have Dr. James Voelz as my professor; he wrote our text book and is legendary among Lutheran circles and the seminary community for his thorough, entertaining, witty, and informative teaching style. I have heard that mini-basketballs regularly fly throughout his classroom (occasionally catching a glancing blow at an unsuspecting seminarian) and a stuffed weasel or two may even make an appearance. Having studied Greek in Bakersfield before coming to the sem, I know that having a moment or two of humor to punctuate our intense studies will be a blessing.
Dr. Bruce Hartung, one of the Deans of Ministerial formation, spoke to us recently about the formation of pastors. That is a word--formation--they use a lot around here. They aren't training us technical methods of *how* to pastor, per se. Rather, the entire experience--from living in authentic community with each other, building relationships, allowing the rigors of classes/studies/family/work shape your soul--work together to *form* us as pastors. They have promised us we won't be the same people we are today four years from now.
Dr. Hartung especially focused on the "darker side" of seminary life in his orientation. We were reminded that--as future leaders in the Church--Satan has a huge target on our backs and on our families' backs. The evil one does not want us to be here, and he will use whatever tactics it takes to wear us down. Many current pastors, in their private moments, may indeed agree that their faith was weakest and their temptations strongest during their time at seminary.
Dr. Hartung had us write down on a 4x6 card what we believed our greatest areas of vulnerability and temptation are, then cover them with a cross, and submit them to him anonymously. He and the faculty will pray over the cards, and pray for a hedge of protection for us from the evil one. We also broke into small groups to pray for each other, and share our struggles with one another.
Pastors (and seminary students) are real people. Just because God has drawn us into this kind of ministry does not make us any holier than the rest of the souls sitting in church on Sunday morning. As Dr. Hartung reminded us, we are people who struggle with the same temptations and struggles our parishioners face: money issues; alcohol issues; relationship struggles; lust and temptations to sin sexually; fighting off laziness and sloth; dealing with arrogance and pride; encountering ridicule, discouragement, and depression; you name it. We are not immune. In fact, we are probably more vulnerable, if anything. Whatever area(s) we most struggle with in our lives and in our Christian walk, we can be sure Satan will tempt us most intensely right there.
And so, as it is with you, it is of the utmost importance we know what our greatest vulnerabilities are, name them, and cover them with the cross of Jesus Christ. We must share our weaknesses with one another, pray for each other, and love one another through Christ Jesus. Life this side of Heaven can at times be a great struggle in the midst of great blessings.
We see and hear the stories all too frequently: pastors, friends, neighbors, co-workers who gave in to great temptation...and whose lives and ministries and churches were in many cases ruined as a result. Sinning is fun, for a time. And that is perhaps one of Satan's greatest weapons: that it all looks like fun and games, on the surface. Getting intoxicated. Flirting with your office secretary. Keeping a little more money for yourself this time. Investing our lives in stuff rather than God and His people. Watching TV to "escape." It all leads to ruin. The Bible says, "He who tills his land will have plenty of food...but he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty." And that poverty can be spiritual, emotional, physical/financial/material, relational, or any combination thereof.
The only way out is to look to the Risen Christ--who was crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected! He has won the battle! We have victory in Jesus! Look to Christ! We must be honest with ourselves and with each other, humbly sharing our greatest vulnerabilities, praying over them, finding accountability partners to help us in the struggle, and tell others about the irreplaceable rest and peace we have in Jesus Christ. There is nothing greater than a life lived in Christ Jesus. Satan doesn't want you know that. He wants you to think your beer, your affair, your TV, your money, your stuff, your ________________ are more worthwhile and interesting than Christ. "It's OK," Satan says. "Just this one time. You're doing so well in the other areas of your life; you deserve it. Go for it." Satan is a liar. His path leads down to death. Don't buy the lie.
Be God's; stay close to Christ. And let us know how we can be praying for you, as we run this race in Christ Jesus together. You can email us via the email link at the top right of our homepage. We'd love to hear from you.
In His Love and Service,
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
One thing I found out today that will make our next couple of weeks somewhat full with anticipatory excitement: on Friday, September 7, I will found out which church will become my "Resident Field Education" (RFE) church. What this is is the church somewhere in the greater St. Louis area that will become our "church home" as a family, and where I will serve approximately 8 hours per week during my first, second, and fourth years at seminary. The goal is to provide me with some practical exposure to "real church work" while taking classes. I will work under the supervision and direction of a pastor at that church, doing potentially everything from teaching bible studies, doing visitations, or whatever else they need me and want me to do; I've heard the field work experience can vary greatly depending on the church and the nature of the supervising pastor. We will keep you posted!
More news to come soon, as we just got back from Texas visiting our good friends for their twin boys sons' baptisms...check back soon!
Thanks so very much for your ongoing loving and prayerful support--you are indeed a blessing to us!
Love and blessings,
DER on behalf of our family
Sunday, August 19, 2007
As we've written in an earlier post, St. John Ellisville is one of the largest LCMS churches in the country, worshipping about 2,500 souls each weekend (as a point of reference, St. John's in Bakersfield worships 650-750 souls a weekend). Among other things, the worship experiences at St. John Ellisville are dynamic, the teaching is edifying and encouraging, the church appears to be well-lead and well-administered, and they place a very high priority on ministry to children and youth.
On the way in to the main sanctuary today, we unexpectedly ran in Dr. Utech, a seminary professor in the practical theology department here, who also serves as the Director of the Field Education program. That means he is the one who works with congregations in the area to place guys like me into field work churches, so we can gain more practical church experience while we're going to school. He suggested we try the Warehouse service and meet Pete Mueller, one of the pastors on staff.
So we took him up on the suggestion. The Warehouse worship was a new and different experience for us. We enjoyed it. Very contemporary worship style in a relaxed setting.
The service was packed (about 200 souls in the small-to-medium space), literally standing room only. They have round tables in the back where you can sit with your family, munch on a bagel, and sip a cup of coffee while you worship. Lots of contemporary music (contemporary praise songs, Third Day covers, etc) lead by a worship team whose lively songs book-end a biblically-sound and devotional-feeling sermon on prayer. Exposed ceilings and air conditioning ducts, stamped concrete floors, stackable chairs, and not a necktie in the house! Pastor Pete sat on a stool for most of the service and wore loose fitting pants and shirt with Birkenstocks. The gentleman who served us communion wore khaki shorts and flip-flops.
Needless to say, the Warehouse ain't your mama's church! Translated, God and His everlasting truth does not change, but each generation may desire a different style and need a different conversation starter about spiritual matters. Indeed, it was a new and enjoyable experience for us that promises to launch St. John Ellisville and Jesus Christ into the hearts and minds of the next generation. Praise the Lord!
SJR: Surprise, surprise! The weather here yesterday was really nice (!) so we decided to go to Faust Park. It's about 25 minutes away and they have a great kids' playground, a carousel, a historic village, and of course, the Butterfly House (the main attraction, I think).
Hannah had fun feeding the ducks and playing on the playground before our picnic lunch. Then we walked around the historic village. It's rather small, but has some neat houses. The oldest structures are 150 years old! Then we went to the Butterfly House. We started inside with a 17-minute movie about butterflies. Then we went into the conservatory where they have about 1500 butterflies. I don't know what I was expecting, but I was just shocked at how many butterflies were flying around. They're absolutely everywhere - flying right next to you and landing on you (sometimes). My favorite was the Blue Morpho. I was going to tell you how darn hard it was to get a picture of one, but I found this photo and the explanation says it all. There is a glimpse of one in the slide show below. Enjoy the pictures!