What I Liked (and didn’t like) from 2022

2021 was not the year my wife and I had hoped it would be so when 2022 came around, we were hoping for something far better than the previous year. And I am happy to say that 2022 was a far better year, but still a year filled with ups and downs. As a way for myself (and maybe others) to remember it, I’ve created a list of things below that I enjoyed and a small smattering of things I did not enjoy from 2022.

Books

I managed to read a couple of books this year (27 out of 35 on my Goodreads goal, just in case you were wondering). Here is a list of my favorites.

  • The Gospel Shaped Leader by Scott Thomas – I finished this book at the very beginning of 2022, but it began a string of books focusing on the character of christian/pastoral leadership that I so desperately think is needed in the American Church today. If not by the American Church, then it is character that I so desperately need! This book prioritized the humility and servitude emulated by Christ over the often bombastic displays of brash character we see in the church today. I would hear Scott speak not even two months earlier on the topic. Although it was not my most impactful read of the year, it is certainly one I will return to as a refresher of the gospel-way of ministry.
  • The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine – Three key takeaways from this book for pastors. 1) You are not sinning because you are not omnipresent. You’re in sin because you are trying to be. 2) You are not sinning because you are not omniscient. You’re in sin because you are trying to be. 3) You are not sinning because you are not omnipotent. You’re in sin because you are trying to be. Another pastor I heard from this year, Zack reminds us that pastors are sinful, finite humans. There is nothing special about us. There is nothing to be praised, only One to whom we point where that praise should be directed. I cannot recommend this book any more highly. It is a must read for anyone who hopes to be a pastor or is a pastor.
  • A Collection of Spiritual Discipline Books – I don’t have enough to say about each of these titles for a section under each of them, but I think these two, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero and Deeply Formed Life by Rich Villodas are both worth checking out. Both focus on some of the spiritual disciplines we tend to ignore like Sabbath, silence, and solitude. Scazzero’s work on silence and sabbath has done wonders for my own spiritual life.
  • The Lord is My Courage by K.J. Ramsey – I (read) this one on audiobook and I’m glad I did. Narrated by K.J. I am thankful for the way she tells her story alongside short phrases from Psalm 23. In this work, Ramsey divides the psalm into 35 small sections and walks us through the hurt she and her husband experienced from their church. As one who has been hurt by churches in the past, Ramsey was able to put “language to” and “sympathize with” my hurt. For anyone who has ever been hurt by a church, I encourage you listen to her narrate her story. It’s worth the listen!

Honorary Mention: Live No Lies by John Mark Comer

Podcasts

  • The Workshop Podcast – Look, I think it’s fair to put my own podcast on here. Sure, we haven’t recorded anything since the end of 2020. No, I’m not sure if we’ll ever record again. But I still enjoy going back and listening to some of the moments when life as simpler (kind of). Is there a chance we’ll record more…maybe? All I know is there is something fun about listening to two friends banter about (sometimes) silly things.
  • The Russell Moore Show – This goes into the serious category. I love about everything Russell Moore puts out! I don’t think there are many other voices that are as thoughtful or consistent on topics that deal with engaging our culture as Russell Moore. Which is why I appreciate every episode that is put up whether is a Q&A episode or one in which he speaks with a guest about topics ranging from politics to the family. If you want to live faithfully as a Christian in an ever changing world, this one is worth the listen.
  • Kluck – I’ve listened to The Happy Rant and The Gut Check Podcast for a long time. And while I enjoy both of those podcasts, I was very surprised when I heard about another podcast with Ted Kluck. Much like two friends talking Kluck has this same feel. Josh Lofthus and Ted Kluck spend their time discussing whatever they’d like which always has me laughing. For this reason I think Kluck is worth checking out.
  • 40 Minutes in the Old Testament – The Old Testament can be hard to understand. Hebrew is hard to understand. This is why I listen to this podcast. It is exactly as it is titled. Each episode Chad and Daniel spend 40 minutes unpacking an OT text. They may get through a chapter. They may get through a couple of verses. Either way it is packed with insight about passages I might have found difficult to understand before hearing their explanation.

Music

There wasn’t a lot in music that I loved this year. I honestly think it was a disappoint year of music. But I have one album that I enjoyed.

  • Live Archive by Kings Kaleidoscope – My 2022 Spotify Wrapped said I listened to this artist more than any other this year and I believe it! This album was the reason. Live Archive is filled with every live recording since 2015. While I enjoy the studio versions of each song, I’ve appreciated the difference of the live recordings. The album is made up of 43 tracks and 2.5 hours of listening time. Perfect for those shorted road trips this holiday season.
  • Things I did not like – Can we address Taylor Swift? I get it, she’s rerecording her albums the way she wants them and that is (I guess) kind of noble of her. But she’s also gotten a massive payday from them which is something that has been largely overlooked by her fans and mostly everyone else. Taylor Swift is something I’d like to hear less of in 2023.

General Things

  • My Church – The church I’m currently an Associate Pastor at has had a rough 2022. We lost our lead pastor and a number of elders as a result in June and July. Much to my dismay, this was not my first experience in which leadership has hurt the people it should be shepherding. In spite of all this, I am proud to be a part of this church. The elders, the staff, the deacons, and the members have beautifully strove together amidst events that have closed other churches. I find immense joy from serving alongside each and every one of them! Repeatedly, I’d say when I started this position, “Not everyone can be this nice.” The truth is, they are all nicer, more gracious, and more sincere than I originally thought. I am underserving of being at a church so beautiful! Still, I look forward to serving them in 2023 and many, many more years to come.
  • A Healthy Pregnancy – Many who have read my previous posts know my wife and I lost a baby last year due to Trisomy 18. As a result, we were hesitant to “try” again. I am happy to say that my wife is over 20 weeks pregnant with another boy, Shiloh Koa. While it is too soon to guarantee, we have rejoiced in health of our baby boy and are praying for continued health as we approach his due date.
  • Things I did not like – Anger culture and a reason to be angry about everything. Division in this country is at a high-point. That, I can take. We can be divided about a number of things and talk with civility. What has been unenjoyable and downright wicked is the vitriol with which we attack each other over our difference from politics to who got what they deserved: Chris Rock or Will Smith (yeah, that was this year!). And unfortunately, Christians have not been excluded from this trend. When we should be marked by gentleness, self-control, peace, and love, we look more like the rest of the world. My hope for this next year is for unity brought about by Christians being more defined by the Spirit than desirous for petty arguments.

For those of you who have made it this far, I hope that you might find enjoyment in the things I enjoyed (and didn’t enjoy) this year. Additionally, I want to wish you a Happy New Year and many blessings on 2023!

Discipleship is Hard

“Discipleship is not cool, it’s hard,” I thought while drinking my six-dollar pour over coffee in a hipster coffee shop, wearing a cardigan.

I understand the irony of the statement above. But isn’t this what we have all been taught at some level in American Christianity? Doesn’t the best discipleship happen over a cup of ‘probably-overly expensive coffee’ in a hipster coffee shop? Maybe a McDonalds is more your speed? Nonetheless, I think we have all bought the charade that discipleship is for those who know what they are doing every step of the way.

When in reality, discipleship is so messy (and I mean ‘so’ with like a thousand o’s behind it). It takes time and effort. It means stagnation in your life and in the life of the one you are discipling. We are often too afraid to mention this, even in a blog post, because we are supposed to be the ‘experts’ when we begin discipling someone else. In a culture of ‘experts’ (because they spent 10,000 hours or some other arbitrary number in this craft or because they read a couple of blog posts on the subject which is more likely), discipleship is not one of those things we should ever feel like we have mastered. I would venture to guess there is only one person who ever believed they were worthy of discipling someone else.

The rest of us, who are not the Son of God, have found ourselves stumbling through a slew of awkward conversations which consist of many different ways of encouraging the younger believer to pursue Christ more fully in their lives, to see Christ as more magnificent than they already see Him, or to call them to repent of ongoing sin in their lives. All of these conversations are not simple. They are not cut and dry, black and white. They are difficult! Battling our own sinful flesh and our own pursuit of Christ is hard enough, but encouraging others to battle their flesh and pursue Christ is not easy.

This is why I am encouraged when I look at Scripture and see messed up, broken, sinful men and women who still see their role in discipleship as one which cannot given up. They knew the cost. They knew the difficulty. They realized that some of the people they discipled might not continue in the faith. But they all did something profound: They continued to disciple those who needed to be discipled because they believed in the message of the Gospel to change them. They believed in the Spirit which dwelled in each of them to bring to completion what was not yet complete. They believed that they were called to, as Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, share not only the Gospel of God but also their own selves.

So let me encourage you. Press on! Press forward! It will still be hard. But be thankful that Christ is always with you in your work to encourage, exhort, and disciple others. And we shouldn’t want it any other way.

“You Shall Know Them By Their Mask”

The above line is not in Scripture in case you were wondering. It is a clever distortion of a phrase I’ve heard from quite a few people after some recent events in my life. The line above should read: You shall know them by their love. This phrase is also not found in Scripture. So why then do I write something with a “semi-clickbatey” title? Am I here to talk about how true Christians should give up their rights and wear a mask in order to love their neighbor? No, I don’t really have the time or the energy to make an argument like that, although I’m sure I could. I’m sure there are other articles that have done that well enough. Am I writing this because there is a difference between the Christians who wear a mask and the Christians won’t or refuse to wear a mask? No (I’m sure there is a difference but the spectrum is so large that it would take a year-long LifeWay Study to figure it out).

The reason I write is because of the poorly paraphrased verse in that first paragraph. It should say this:

By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

Through all of these arguments of wear a mask vs. don’t wear a mask; this is a government conspiracy vs. this isn’t a government conspiracy; the mask doesn’t help vs. the mask does help, I’ve seen more animosity and anger between people who claim to be Christians than I’ve seen love for one another. I’ve seen more fruit of the flesh than I have fruit of the Spirit. I’ve seen more online interactions which carry an heir of superiority than a Christ-like humility.

As someone who also is a Christ-follower with firm opinions on these issues, I know I have the same temptation to consider my opinion on this issue as greater than theirs. I have the same proclivity to consider their side as unloving and less faithful to scripture than my own. The reality is that we all have blindspots in our Christian lives. None of us always see where attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions fall far short of Christlikeness. We can always sacrifice love for the pursuit of truth.

But this is not what we have been called to as believers. Instead, let us take time to listen and consider how we can best respond to someone who disagrees with us in a loving manner. Lord willing, Covid will be over one day and when it is many of us will forget the smaller arguments that were had. But one thing people will alway remember is how they were treated by their fellow Christian brothers and sisters. Will it be filled with love? Or will others find that a surgical mask wasn’t the only mask we were wearing?

Why Short Term Missions Matters

img_1627This is an older entry of mine. It was written in the summer of 2016. Hope you enjoy. 

Summer means warmer weather, schools’s out, kids are home and vacations. But for youth ministry in the church, we see two big events often taking place: summer camp and mission trip. Both are useful. Both are profitable. Both can be used for God’s glory and for the maturity of our students.
But, I’m not here to write about the benefits of camp (Maybe I will on a later date). Rather, I want to write about the benefits of mission trips.  Is there really any benefit to it? I would like to give several reasons why it is.
  1. Students partake in the Great Commission
 
As much as youth ministry harps on making disciples and making disciples that make disciples, the practice can remain absent from our ministries. Mission trips can help with this. Our students have heard it said that they are to go out and partake in the Great Commission teaching all peoples everything that Christ has taught us, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. So why aren’t they doing this? Perhaps it is because they have not been put in a situation where they must. Mission trips force students to be uncomfortable and to share their faith. To go on mission trips, even short term mission trips, is to allow them the opportunity to love on others, share their faith and possibly watch God work in the hearts of those they are ministering to.
  1. Students realize the things they have been blessed with
 
I have heard this response multiple times from those who have gone on mission trips. I also have experienced this. If we want to open up the eyes of the students to the great blessings God has given them, mission trips are a helpful way to do so. The common response: “I never knew how blessed I was and how much I take things for granted such as…” Trust me, you will hear this from at a minimum one student who goes on the mission trip.
  1. Students see modeled for them Kingdom work
 
I think of Paul’s command in Philippians 3 to “join in imitating” him as he imitated Christ. Students often only get to see their leaders on a Wednesday night of Sunday morning in the context of the church. If they are lucky, their leaders are meeting with them outside the context of the church. But, It is not very often that they get to see their youth pastor or their small group leader serving outside the context of the walls of the church building. By serving alongside their leaders, they learn to imitate them. They see their leaders serving and hopefully, as a result, they in turn desire to serve as well. It creates an opportunity of discipleship for the leader and an opportunity to learn for the student.
  1. Students live out their faith
 
This is not to say that students don’t live our their faith in their many platforms and roles at home. What this does imply is that they are more likely to live out their faith in the context of a mission trip. We can hear the text of James 2 when it says that “faith without works is dead.” James 1 goes even further to describe pure religion. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…” Mission trips are often spent serving the “orphans and the widows” of the area. When we serve the helpless, we are showing the love of Christ to those who have nothing to give back. This serving can and should be a response to the grace God has shown us and is a faint picture of that grace and mercy.
  1. Students learn their spiritual gifts and talents
 
Many students do not know the gifts and abilities that God has given them. This may be because they have not been given an opportunity in the church to use them. We can give them a spiritual inventory survey, but what good will that do if they never use their gifts? Enter in the mission trip. Mission trips can reveal the gifts and talents that God, through the work of the Spirit has given to them. Helping to run and VBS, the student may find that they are gifted at teaching. Helping with music ministry, a student may be equipped by the Spirit to help lead worship at their youth group or church. Some may simply find that they are incredible encouragers and can use those gifts in their own body.
  1. Students learn to love each other
 
Mission trips have a tendency to draw the people who participate close together. Whether this is a work of God or simply the amount of time that they spend together in a car, it is undeniably true. On mission trips we often learn the best and worst about people. We learn who they are, what motivates them and what makes them angry. Should we think this is a negative thing, I challenge us to think again. It is often these shared experiences on a mission trip that bring them close together and to develop a deep and profound love for each other.
  1. Students get a true vision of the Church
 
Chances are our students attend a church which has a lot of people that are like themselves. They have made friends at church with people who are like themselves. Many, as they grow up will experience “church life” with those who are most like them. But this is not reality. Revelation 5 gives a picture of people from “every tribe and language and people and nation.” This is a true picture of the Church. Mission trips can at least familiarize them with this vision. Christians are not simply those like them, but will include a multitude of cultures, languages, and peoples.
So Why Go?
 
The truth sadly is that these reasons may not be convincing enough for a youth ministry to get involved in mission trips. There are dozens of other benefits that could be mention. What I do hope is that these 7 benefits will at least spur some closer to the idea of going on a mission trip. For others who already do mission trips, I only hope that this is an encouragement to continue to do them.
If you still need convincing, let me remind you with the words of Jesus in Luke 11: “The harvest is plentiful, yet the laborers are few.”
 
My hope is that we can teach those students in our lives that they are a part of this call. They are called to go. They are called to labor. They are called to be obedient to the Great Commission. Why not do it through mission trips?