3 Ways to Run an Awesome Worship Ministry (Or Any Other Kind)

Last night, the worship ministry at my church was thrown a party. We were fed heaping mounds of Qdoba’s in appreciation for everything we do for our church.

I say this not to brag of myself, but of our leaders. For such a party being thrown really tells you more about the kind of leadership we operate under, than anything else.

In short, it’s the best. But you’re probably wanting to know why, rather than just read those three words and walk off musing. In a world where so many people dread Mondays because of self-focused and incompetent bosses, good leadership is like water in the desert. It should be shared whenever possible.

Our worship ministry is entirely a volunteer outfit. We’re not paid (and there are many reasons that’s a good thing); it’s a practice-heavy gig, occupying hours of time outside rehearsal; and we’re thin enough at a couple positions that the same two or three people have been manning them for almost the entire decade.

Yet we musicians are happy to take our posts every week. We revolve around schedules around it; we leave our egos in the car; we practice our parts. There’s no drudgery; we look forward to it every week. In fact, as I look back on the 2010’s as they slip past us this month, I consider it one of the highlights and privileges of the decade.

What is it that our leaders do so right?

 

1. They create an environment of trust.

It’s a badge of honor out there, apparently, for managers to be able to strap a man to a plow and make him produce; there’s a sort of awe in the corporate world towards the type who can generate results, “get things done”.

But in the church, intended by God as a sanctuary for the heart, what’s the point in getting things done if you trample hearts in the process?

Our ministry leaders would probably say there is none. That’s certainly how they act. They show genuine kindness and concern for the condition of the hearts working for them. In one sense, that’s really just good leadership, church or no. Treat people well, they stay loyal. But given how rare it remains in the world, it’s worth mentioning.

The leader I play for, in particular, has this winning habit I’ve always appreciated: if he even suspects that he has miscommunicated or that there has been any hurt from the way he’s expressed himself, he circles back later and makes sure things are well. He’s conscientious about this, without coming off as obsequious. 95% of the time, there’s no problem. But even in the 5% (and I don’t even remember the last time), there’s little worry, because you always know he’s going to endeavor to set things right. It creates an atmosphere of trust.

 

2. It’s a collaborative effort.

Our leaders recognize the talent around them and welcome opinions – on new songs (or existing ones), new technology, new directions, and new recruits.

This is actually a really vulnerable thing for a leader, asking for opinions. What do you do when you get opinions you don’t want to hear, or opinions you simply can’t act upon? This is why many managers just don’t bother.

But ours do, and simply put, it makes people feel valued. They still can’t implement every idea they hear, and there’s only so much change they’re willing to have on the plate at any given moment (if they want it done right). But they can still ask, and they do. It means they know they don’t need to be the ones to know or be everything in the ministry (and can’t be anyway).

 

3. They make it a community.

It’s one thing to meet for practice and then bolt off the stage and head home without a word to anyone. Some ministries, apparently, do things that way.

But ours sits down and reads Scripture together. We ponder the tough questions. We consistently challenge and refine our own definitions of worship, seeking to make it as authentic as possible, and our leaders are at the head of that. And some of the most raucous, offbeat, wildly off-topic and hilarious conversations I’ve ever had, took place around our table.

You just can’t replace the value of that. It makes practice an anticipated time, relaxing nerves and cutting out diva mentalities. It ensures a constant striving towards our Savior, instead of a grind or an autopilot ministry. It’s, well, a family.

 

For the sake of avoiding big heads, I’ll probably stop there, but there’s more I could say (like the constant prayer or the intentional individual compliments). In the end, this is a ministry that earns the extra mile. It’s not just about enjoying music. These are people I’ll follow, people for whom I’ll give my best shot at even disliked worship songs, because they seek to be like the Savior I already follow. They aren’t perfect at it. Nobody is. But they strive. And they remind me it’s really God I’m giving my shot for.

And if some burgeoning worship leader out there happens to improbably stumble upon this tiny blog and be improved by this on-the-ground witness of successful ministry, well, it’s been a good day.

 

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Your Greatest Worship Experience Won’t Come At Church

I don’t have much against flashy, neon-drenched worship services courtesy of starched hair and skinny jeans.

That’s because I don’t know the hearts of the hair and jeans. When the great test of worship comes at 3am – when they get the dreaded phone call, or when they simply wake up with the old terror pressing in – for all I know, they pass with flying colors. They trust God. They worship at their bedside. Why assume they don’t?

See, your greatest worship experiences probably won’t come at church.

I attend a church that doesn’t have one of “those” worship experiences every week. We try to stay simple, competent, and authentic. Fortunately, it’s also a church that teaches us to think of ourselves with “sober judgment”, which has helped me check my critical spirit towards other churches and how they operate. We celebrate when other churches succeed.

After all, what access do I have to the hospital rooms in which the rubber of those believers’ faith meets the road?

What access do I have to their last late-night session with their thinning checkbook?

What access do I have when twenty years of isolation finally breaches the dam of their hearts and leaves them curled up against a silent wall, even after all their valiant demeanor from stage?

Your greatest worship experience won’t come at church. It comes unscheduled, unrehearsed, unforeseen, on days other than Sunday, when your character and trust are tested by life’s nastiest assaults. It comes when you’re on the ragged edge of snapping at your coworkers, or when the bottle’s comfort just feels irresistible, or the arms of someone you know you shouldn’t be seeing. The true and only question is simply this: will you choose him? Over despair? Over idols? Over distance?

That’s worship.

Raising your hands on Sunday means nothing if you sin with them the other six days. Tithing means little from a resistant giver. A degree from a Bible college is pointless if it’s not put into practice. This sounds harsh, but I can draw no other conclusion from Jesus’ words.

Worship at its deepest form happens not on the stage, but in the closet.

That’s actually comforting. It means your life doesn’t have to be the internal equivalent of multicolored spotlights and smoke machines for you to come before him. It means that humble churches without such assets can still run to him. It means that the “robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10) is ours regardless of the rest of our wardrobe.

Worship with your life.

And if it’s been a while since you did so, worship with repentance right now, in your closet. It can be done. Jesus awaits with open arms.

 

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Our Social Stratification and Its Role in Reaching the Poor

I attend a fairly well-to-do church. Much of my church family is middle-class with relatively stable incomes – a deft mix of business owners, farmers/ranchers, medical professionals, management types, educators, engineers, code geeks, and experienced tradesmen. That sort of thing. We live in comfortable homes, some of them rented, some of them remodeled by our own hands.

And it’s not just the money. Though we wouldn’t call ourselves filthy rich by any measure, we enjoy an assurance that many lack: we’ve got arrows in our quivers like degrees, certifications, references, and experience. Unexpected unemployment can still be dicey, but generally, we’ve got resources to fight it.

Now, the people I work with in the service sector are often not so blessed. Many have lots of mouths to feed, but without the resources to match. A fellow delivery driver lost the gig because her car got hit by a deer and she lacked the money to fix it. Another was trying to rise above a misdemeanor rap last time I saw him. It’s more common to find such folk living in humbler abodes – run-down apartment complexes, the less desirable trailer parks. Many of them have worked at dead-end jobs their entire life, without much in the way of resumes or references to catapult them to the next level. They also may never have learned where to even look for the button-up-shirt-and-benefits jobs that can widen a cashflow even without a degree, and many of them wouldn’t know the first thing about home renovation, or at least doing it right. (I emphasize that these are all general trends, not hard and fast rules.)

But while I was recently pondering the plight of the “first-world poor” in this country and the countless political solutions being bandied about, it occurred to me that probably the biggest gap between these two groups of people is their community.

The average attendee of my church potentially has an army of a thousand at their back should they ever want. It’s a remarkable position. At my church, you could quickly find a quality babysitter, mechanic, CPA, math tutor (ahem), veterinarian, property manager, plumber, graphics designer, pro bono attorney, or disaster restoration guy all in one congregation – maybe even all in one service, the way we’re going – without breaking a sweat. The overwhelmed mom has tight friends to help babysit (or be fodder for their internet business); the dad has buddies willing to jaunt over and help build the house he’s planning to flip and sell in two years. Basically, it’s much harder to crash and burn. You always have someone who can provide solutions and manpower.

What do the poor outside my church have?

Their community looks very different. Often, they have a few close friends, mostly family, and those folks are often as poor and unconnected as they. I’m not fixing blame; I’m stating a problem. There just haven’t been that many dynamics in their lives that would naturally bring them into contact with richer, more versatile folks. Community college, a big social and vocational enabler, often isn’t an option because of kids and debt. And it isn’t just that they don’t go to church – that’s not where I’m going with this – they’re often introverts, sometimes feeling vaguely unwanted by the world, and really don’t go that many places at all.

It’s a situation robs a family of momentum. Social collateral, of a kind. There just aren’t that many paths out of such a life, not without immense expense that just isn’t practical.

(And yes, alcohol, drugs, and sloth are certainly part of some stories. So are the $3,400 DVD collections in their living rooms. But this isn’t part of the post, because this post is for someone else.)

I almost used the word “castes” to describe this social layering. I decided that was a little strong. It makes it sound intentional when none of us really mean to contribute to any of this.

But when Jesus said to help the poor, I don’t believe he was giving polite advice. He knew what the causes and barriers of poverty would be, in every epoch and culture. That doesn’t surprise him. Yet the command stands. He wanted us to go the distance. He certainly went out of his own way himself.

Could it be that equipping the poor is one of the ways a church was intended to serve as a light to the world?

So I wondered – do we know enough poor people?

Do our professional and personal circles bring us into enough contact with the poor?

Are we sharing experiences with people who might lack the same gear, hobbies, or interests as us because they haven’t had the time or money to pursue them?

Are we spending quality time around people who make us nervous because we never know when they honestly might just baldly ask for money?

Because, sad to say, I don’t know how many of these poor people I would know right now without my pizza gig. Probably not enough.

Most of us know someone like these. But oftentimes, we “allow” the chance for deeper friendship to slip away. We turn to other priorities, often legitimate, or perhaps just choosing friends who are closer to our world. It leads to a form of unintended social caste system, one whose layers can be defied and moved between (more so in this country than any other, in fact) but still requires a helping hand. The two groups just don’t have much in common, and we don’t fight the lack of inertia.

How might these people’s lives instantly be changed if they were invited to church? Regularly invested in? Handed a few life skills we picked up along the way? Or even just smiled at?

Many of my friends do take advantage of these opportunities. They’ve been a huge inspiration to me. But it’s taken an intentionality. Inviting these folks over to the next drywall hanging, using them as a babysitter (assuming trustworthiness) instead of the sister, or just introducing them to friends. It makes a difference in their lives. They pick up skills, connections, confidence, and yes, some money along the way.

I think it’s the sort of thing Jesus wants us to do.

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

The Man with a Cord Around His Neck

A couple summers ago, an unsettling moment intruded upon a random delivery.

In a fading summer twilight, I was bringing pizza to the local emergency room (draped up in plastic amidst a remodel at the time). As I was walking in, I’d noticed a young guy sitting on the curb, head down, but thought little of it. As I came back out, I felt compelled to say hello to him – a risky move for an introvert like myself, but doubly so given this guy appeared to be in some distress.

Pay attention to those little urges to connect. They could shape eternity.

I drew near to this young man and hailed him. He didn’t answer, head bowed, face hidden. Upon drawing closer, I registered sniffling. I asked if he was all right; he again didn’t answer. I asked him his name; he gave it.

It was then that I noticed the iPod cord, twisted tight around his neck. He was pulling on it so hard that it was bruising his skin.

Alarmed, I told him that I was concerned and asked him to stop. He didn’t. I told him that if he continued, I’d have no choice but to notify the ER personnel. He said he didn’t care. I ran inside and announced the situation to the front desk, and they sprang into action; a tall, imposing male nurse quickly sprinted out to the guy carrying a pair of scissors. While that happened, I took my leave and returned to my car.

My thoughts were jarred for the rest of my shift, sinking with the sun. The fact that this young man chose to sit right outside an ER as he harmed himself suggested that he did not want to die, that he was really crying out for help. It wasn’t the way I would have chosen to ask. Then again, I have no idea what pain the man was going through, what his story was. Ans the saying goes, “Be kind; everyone you know is grieving.”

I have not heard news of the man since. I hope he got the help he needed.

Many people would have done what I had the opportunity to do. I just happened to be there because someone nearby ordered cheese and sauce.

What I hope is that, if you are struggling today and you just can’t regulate, if it’s searing to burst from your mouth or body, you will seek help. Seek it from God, who sent his son to navigate himself into a position of “not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). And seek it from the people he sends. There are countless people around you – even strangers – who will listen without judging.

May we all be such people.

A Thank-You to Fast Food Managers

If you think about it, store managers play an underappreciated and frankly crucial role in our society.

We all likely have fond memories of our first bosses. Well, perhaps not all so fond. But I do.

At my first job (Taco Johns’, in case you were dying of curiosity), I had a GM named Cyndi. She was hilarious, compassionate, efficient, a great trainer, and on top of her job. Kind of like a mom to us young pups, she listened, understood, encouraged, and kept smiles on our faces. She gave us rides to work when we needed (and may or may not have handed her closing crew a Chaco Taco on the sly every once in a while). It’s so important to have someone like that to guide you over your first steps into the working world.

But their role is far more significant than just herding plebes. During my time in the service industry (or just walking through stores), I’ve seen employees carrying a lot of adversity. I’ve worked alongside people trying to beat theft or substance raps. I’ve taken my lunch from window-workers with obvious speech impediments or severe social impairments. I’ve had my groceries run by folks who couldn’t read or add.

The service sector is peppered with low-skilled, down-on-their luck types who can barely do the jobs they were hired for. If upper-level human resources types had their way, we’d probably see only the bright, brisk, friendly, and fully competent types manning the front counter and layaway desk instead. It’d make sense.

Instead, we see the struggling and under-qualified as well – ecause some store manager somewhere made a different call.

And I am so glad they did.

It can be risky to employ those who struggle with people or competence, especially when safety issues are involved (e.g. food). To be sure, a business has the right to hire the best.

But a manager who invests in people, who believes in second chances and will work to hand their people the tools that need…that’s love. Struggling people are completely reliant on that goodwill to get back into the realm of the employed game. I don’t want to get poisoned as a customet, but if my biggest problem at the checkout line is getting held up because the cashier’s hands are shaking, I can count my blessings.

Store managers are gatekeepers in our society in a very real way. McDonald’s store managers, hold your heads high – your job carries more eternal significance than you may have realized. Given that there seem to be more and more broken folks pounding on these gates with each passing year, you could do more good in the world than a CEO making ten times your salary.

Such managers often lead pretty thankless existences. They have to deal with constant turnover; a competent crew lasting months would be a dream. They often don’t make much. They’ve got families they battle to feed, just like us. They get plenty of abuse from their own bosses and have to bear the weight of firing people (which, hopefully, is a weight for them, no matter how much the fired deserve it). They can’t please everybody, and there are days when it seems they can’t please anybody. And if anything goes epically wrong – the product, an employee, something completely out of anyone’s control – guess who gets blamed?

Of course, not every manager is an angel. As Spiderman often heard, with great power comes great responsibility. You’re not ruler of a henhouse, but a steward of the poor and suffering. You have not gained power and authority by accident; you’ve been given it by God. Treat your employees as more important than yourself. Their livelihoods depend on you. God does not give a person power for his or her own comfort or control, but for the welfare of those beneath you.

And God brings it back around to you. I’d be glad to help out most of my former bosses even today. Remember the saying: we are judged not by how we treat our peers, but by how we treat those beneath us.

To the bosses who have helped salvage lives by bringing in the misfit, recovering, recently released, or marginally skilled, and getting a paycheck to them and their kids, you are part of what keeps the world turning. Thank you.

Just figured you wouldn’t mind hearing such things on a Monday. May your grills be hot and your hands fully washed.

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Sometimes You Just Have to Declare

I asked a co-worker today if there was anything I could pray for him about this coming week.

He looked at me for a moment, then dropped his eyes to his phone, shook his head almost imperceptibly, and mumbled words no doubt borne from decades of unremitting disappointment: “There’s nothing anyone can do.”

Lord knows those words have tried to gnaw their way into my soul. Too often, I’ve let them.

But something about hearing them from outside my head, from another’s lips, lit a fire in me. And I’m glad for that.

I do not know why some people are asked to walk this earth without basic love, without functioning bodies, without full bellies.

But I know my God is the God of mid-life crises – and all-life crises. The God who healed ailments of twelve (Luke 8), eighteen (Luke 13), and thirty-eight years (John 5). Who healed people blind and lame from birth. Imagine waiting for your answer that long. Most of us would go about our business in that time, give up, cut our losses, buy the wheelchair and accessible house and call it final. Or maybe walk away from God entirely.

Not us. I pray it is not us.

Sometimes we need to get angry…not at God, but at our disbelief. We need to stand straight, face the letdown, gird ourselves, and slap back. We need to claim and declare that the Lord is faithful.

Not claim and declare the outcome we want – claim and declare the character of the one we’re beseeching. They’re different things. The first leaves room for, “I am dependent on this answer for my well-being and might shelve God in weariness if it doesn’t come.” The second says, “I love God.”

At some point, the answer is irrelevant. What matters is what we believe.

Sure, we struggle to be satisfied with making it a “mere” soul exercise, especially when the tragedy actively burns your soul on a daily basis. So try this: which statement gives the better chance of eliciting the miracle from God? I’d say the latter. It loves the giver rather than the gift.

But I’ve found it’s an iffy question to ask. It invites a mercenary, transactional attitude.

At some point, like William Wallace rallying the Scots, we have to admit that the stand matters more than the result. If you run, throw in the towel, or shelve your faith, how will you look back on that decision for the rest of your days?

I want to stand. I want to shout into the howling dark that God is coming for it, treat it like the glass-chinned bully it is. I want him to have my best love, one that’s given even when hope is deferred.

So I will snarl at the lies this week. May God give me breath. And I will pray for my co-worker, that God might surprise him.

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

What If Jesus Announced That He Would Return On…

Brandon J. Adams

The following scenario will not happen. “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows – neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son — except the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

I don’t anticipate the Lord going back on such long-laid plans. After all, the prior verse says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (v. 35).

But humor me for a moment, and consider this hypothetical exchange:

Church: “Lord, we faint. We long for your presence. Please, please tell us when you’re coming back.”

Jesus: “Oh, very well. The Father has relented and authorized me to tell you. I will be returning on…”

Global bated breath. People in every village, city, region, and nation await the next words. One of the most significant, weighty questions ever pondered on earth is about to be answered.

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Let Your Inner Rhoda Talk

storm-4582219_960_720For this I’m grateful: my denominational tastes put me in position to drink a lot of sound Bible.

My social media feeds are culled inlets of soulful Scriptural truth. I get a foundation of obedience and surrender. Names like Tozer, Chambers, Piper, ten Boom, and Elliott roll through my feed, highlighting the narrowness and ache of Jesus’ path. I get it. Life is not a flowery bed of ease, a get-rich scheme, or a catapult to political power, or about me. Though this isn’t pleasant news, it’s true, and I would rather know up front than blindsided later.

But on occasion, it can be such a drag. (Yeesh. Is that okay to say?)

There’s plenty in this vein on how to handle a “no” from God. We know he is not a vending machine. We learn that sometimes perseverance in prayer is needed. We understand that God has his sovereign reasons, that he’s up to things above our pay grade. We accept the immense value of patience and suffering in shaping and refining our souls, in teaching us to rely on the giver rather than the gifts. It worked for Jesus (Hebrews 2:10).

To be in both worlds full

Is more than God was, who was hungry here

– George Herbert

And if we read Scripture with ice-cold objectivity for long enough, we eventually pick up the idea that, quite frankly, disappointment in our lives is sometimes the only thing that will keep our wandering hearts bound to God.

See, I’ve learned my lines.

Meanwhile, we broach the topic of miracles and answered prayers oh so gingerly. Certainly not with boldness. We’re too uncomfortable for that; it feels vaguely immature. Risky. You know what I mean. Perish the thought of that health-and-wealth business. We’re determined not to get our theology wrong, and that’s excellent, because we value getting Jesus’ words right (not always a fashionable practice).

But sometimes I wonder…

Are we just having a hard time hoping?

Are we just making excuses for our unbelief?

Are we just trying to muffle a voice deep down that’s wearily confessing, “I just don’t expect much from God. He doesn’t work that way anymore. Let’s just obey now and we’ll get heaven later.”

It occurred to me that I feel better equipped to handle a no from God than a yes.

Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. He knocked at the door in the gateway, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gateway.

“You’re crazy!” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true. Then they said, “It’s his angel!” Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded. (Acts 12:11-16)

It’s hilarious. The fledgling church is praying, but when God answers, there’s no confident grinning, no “yep, I knew he’d come through.” They’re floored. God supernaturally keeps Rhoda from bringing the evidence inside so that the story will record them almost resisting good news, coming up with alternative explanations. These downtrodden Roman citizens weren’t used to shining angels and chains falling off wrists.

I can relate. It’s not a “no” that would surprise me from God these days; it’s a “yes”.

How bad is that?

Miraculous events have taken place in my church in the last year and I hardly know what to do with it. God is moving powerfully through South Asia and I’m shaking my head like a dog getting out of the water. He really does this stuff?

But I know why. I’ve witnessed my share of “no’s”, as have we all. Perhaps it’s that disappointment that I’ve wrapped around myself like a cloak for my heart. It’s a practice that walks a very fine line between guarded heart (Proverbs 4:23) and lack of faith.

There are days when I need to read less about the lack of a miracle, and more about miracles.

Fortunately, Scripture’s up for that. Remarkable displays of power, signs and wonders –  Scripture loses vast swaths of its educational value to us if they’re no longer active. They’re for God’s glory, of course, for pointing people to him. But they’re also out of his generous heart and his desire to come through. Why cannot I simply sit back like a little child and let him…?

Like water sloshing back and forth in a pipe seeking its level, I find myself sliding back towards balance in God’s Word – its hope and its surrender.

I won’t accept a fortune-cookie Christianity that outdoes itself every week in predicting exciting new bombshells for your life and never presages anything bad. But neither am I going to truss up my heart in resignation and call it holiness.

How, Lord? How will my inner Rhoda convince the rest of my heart?

Through his Spirit. Only way.

So I will pray, study, and let God do the answering.

Who knows what will happen?

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

 

My Extraordinary Mission Trip

Wondering why (hoping?) that I’d fallen off the earth entirely?

Not this time. But I did travel to the other side of it.

For ten days this month, God called me to the unspeakable privilege of carrying his gospel to an unreached people group in South Asia. There are security concerns due to the region’s hostility towards Christianity, so I won’t reveal the exact location. I spent six days there, two days traveling each way, and six days afterwards lolling about jet-lagged out of my mind. That accounts for my absence.

It was…extraordinary.

I got to wade through ankle-high trash carrying rice bowls…and the Good News…to impoverished but smiling people living under urban bridges.

I got to pray with them as they eagerly set aside their own deities (or at least began the process) and accepted the one true God.

I got to travel to tiny tarp villages in the absolute middle of nowhere to teach and encourage brand new believers in sweltering brick huts.

I got to encourage new brethren from a fisherman’s village.

I got to lay hands on all these brothers and sisters asking God for jobs, healings, the end of family abuse, and protection against forced idol worship.

I got to share my faith, along with my team, with a confident but attentive Muslim waitress at a Hard Rock Cafe.

I got to watch out of the window at the poverty and chaos generated by false religion.

I got to speak at a Sunday morning service about, as George Whitefield said, repenting of both our sin and our righteousness (as in, repenting of our attempts to gain status before God and letting the cross be 100% of our justification).

I got to meet the beleaguered but determined brothers and sisters who are doing the gruntwork on their home soil, pleading with their countrymen to come to Christ.

It was…amazing.

And not easy. I remember being pretty freaked out as we drove to our first bridge site, asked to step out of a rental van and simply start sharing the Gospel with complete strangers. It required everything I’d ever learned (or taught myself back home). Did I trust God to back me up? Was my confidence in my identity in him? Did I know the Gospel? Could I answer their questions (I remember one young man curious to know how and why Jesus was killed)?

God was faithful. My teammates were marvelous. The prayer and financial support from my church was palpable.

And people are in the kingdom of God now, who weren’t before.

I’ll be back to my normal blogging schedule and headspace here soon, but I’ll warn you now: if talk of foreign missions makes you uncomfortable, this blog might not be the place for you anymore. We are called; we are not given the option. Thousands plunge daily, millions annually, into hell. I hope you’ll stick around and let yourself be challenged as I was.

To My Future Daughter

people-2590172_640Sweetheart,

I was laid off from my primary job last month.

It happens. No hard feelings. It was a great gig while it lasted, working for good people.

If this bores your yet-nonexistent mind to tears, I’ll skip to where this affects you: though I’ve finally managed to save up a bit, I want you to know that it wasn’t an option to stay content with my second job (pizza delivery) after the lay-off. It wasn’t an option to just tread water financially. I found myself compelled to turn around and find new primary employment, go right back to sixty hours a week, even though I’ve been plugging away at that pace for eight years.

Because of you.

You’re the reason why I keep knocking myself out year in and year out, why it never bugs me to take a longer shift, why it didn’t bother me to skip the big-screen TV and streaming subscriptions, why I keep hitting the gym to secure some semblance of energy in middle age, and why I’m planning to buy and remodel a house next year without any experience.

Because of you, sweetheart. You’re worth it.

I want it to be the best version of me that finally, God willing, gets to hold you someday. A red carpet rolled out for your life, colored by Jesus’ blood.

This is all syrupily, comically premature, of course, because I’m so far back in the process that I don’t even know who your mother will be yet (I still hope you look like her – it’s gotta be an improvement).

But still, somehow, I think about you all the time. Having church friends who are cranking out babies right and left probably has something to do with it – que sera sera.

I’ve got so many plans, God willing. We’ll talk about Jesus in the same breath as Daniel Tiger. We’ll be opening Bibles as often as candy wrappers. We’ll hit our knees in our igloo and gape at God’s handiwork from our treehouse. Your first guitar (or kazoo?) songs will be worship songs, I’m betting. Jesus is my hero, and I want him to be yours. He needs me to train you, and that’s why I train myself now.

If that happens, you’ll stand out. And that’s both awesome and terrifying.

Gosh, what an insane world you’ll be born into. The Joker would be proud. If it’s not a physical war, it’s a war of ideas on the worldly plane and of kingdoms on the spiritual one. The clash is fiercer than ever, and we’ve both been drafted.

If I do my job, if you know Jesus and the woman he’s calling you to be, if God answers my prayers, you’ll bear a spark nobody can miss. You’ll be functional. You’ll be kind. And, sad commentary as it is, that will probably make you stick out like a sore thumb in the chaos of the 2030s. Your peers will look up to you. Employers will trust you. The church will see fit to send you to the nations, to those born less privileged. Colleges will court you. So will guys (I’ve already bought a shotgun) until they get bored and wander off because you’re waiting until God hits the horn and produces a guy who is just as enthralled with Him.

If I do my job. God have mercy.

But it’ll also make you a target. The Scriptural life isn’t popular anymore, and people attack what they admire. Will we have to live off the grid to stand on the Word? I can’t say. But it does no good to mince words, sweetheart: you will be hated, just as I will be. Just as He is.

It almost makes me hope that you don’t stand out. That I can just hide you in a bunker, staple Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak to your shoulders, or expose everyone who meets you to memory-blocking pheromones.

But we both know these aren’t options. Follow Jesus and the world will see.

So I have to train you for that, too. I have to teach you to do what’s right even when nobody’s watching (or when everyone’s watching). I must model deriving identity and strength from Christ, not the world. I’ve got to serve, date, and prioritize your mom so you know what a real family looks like. I can’t spare the rod, even if it hurts me more. Because if I don’t yank you back, life and Satan will. And they won’t be gentle.

Maybe you’ll be all dresses and dollhouses; maybe you’ll be a true country girl with an ATV and a 17-point shed by high school. Fine by me, even if one hits my checkbook harder. Your essence will be seen and loved.

But no matter what, I know God’s got you. And that wonderful knowledge crucifies my fear.

If I don’t make it all the way to hand you off on your wedding day (definitely won’t happen if the Seahawks keep getting up my blood pressure), may this letter find you, dear daughter. May you know how much I adore you, even now, before you were a glint in anyone’s eye. Because you were in Jesus’ eye from the beginning, and he’s given up far more for you than I ever could.

With all my eagerly waiting heart,

Dad

P.S. Grandma wants you to hurry up and get here.