Semper Reformanda

...some days even my lucky rocketship underpants don't help.

[Thursday, September 29, 2011]

Long awaited update -- and LEGO


Ok, so it's been over a year since I've blogged... no apologies here.

I'm in my 2nd year of MDiv studies, so life is busy. Add in the fact that I got married less than 2 months ago, and you can understand that I've had different priorities.

I'd love to pick this blog back up sometime in the future, but this is not that time. However, I can let you in on a new endeavor I'm taking.

I've posted on here before about my love for LEGO. Well, I'm taking the leap and posting my new creations on flickr.

You can follow my photostream here:

Ok, that's my only shameless promotion. I don't know how often I'll get to update... like I said, life is busy. But, I've got about 6 creations backlogged that I need to get photographed and edited. Hopefully that will keep you busy for a while.

[Thursday, August 26, 2010]

Why pursue a Masters of Divinity?


I was hanging out with some friends last night, and the question got asked why I was pursuing my Masters of Divinity. In the context of the conversation, they were comparing the MDiv to a Masters of Arts in Theology which is a much less intensive (and less expensive) degree. I feel like I answered the question well, but I thought I'd take a few moments to reflect further on my decision.

First of all, I need to define some things:

Master of Arts in Theological Studies:
~60 credit hours
Can be completed as a part-time student (night classes, and increasingly more online classes)
Lots of electives makes for very flexible scheduling
Intended for people not pursuing vocational ministry

Master of Divinity:
~106 credit hours
Requires both Greek and Hebrew language study
Requires being a full-time student, taking day classes (cannot be done at night)
Intended for people pursuing pastoral or other vocational ministry

I started in the MA program because at the time I had no ability to attend full-time, and wasn't even really thinking about vocational ministry. I was a homeowner and had a good job. I didn't really see myself as a pastor, so the MDiv just didn't seem to fit. However, through my studies, interactions with students, and relationships I'd built at church my thoughts began to change. I was speaking with a friend of mine, a student, and it just came to me... I needed to be at school full-time. That set in motion a series of events which led me to where I am now. See, somewhere in those few semesters that I was attending school at night, working, and volunteering at my church, my thoughts on ministry and my role in it changed. I began to outgrow my mold, I began to change and reevaluate who I was and what I should be. I began to question my beliefs and opened myself to change.

I don't think seminary is for everyone. I'm surrounded by great pastors and leaders very few of which have seminary or bible college training, and I am extremely blessed to know them and have learned quite a bit from them. I also don't think the MDiv is for everyone. There are many seminaries offering many great programs for people desiring training and further study.

However, the question is: Why am I pursuing a Masters of Divinity when it would be adequate and more economically beneficial to do a MA or even just doing interships or "on-the-job" training?

Desire -- I've wanted to get a MDiv for a pretty long time (albeit for different reasons, but it's been a desire nonetheless).

I'm an idiot -- Knowledge isn't everything, but it sure is something. I can definitely benefit from the education. I like the depth that the MDiv goes into versus the MA. Instead of focusing on survey work (MA), the MDiv focuses more on scripture exegesis. There is also a larger focus on teaching and public speaking, which I NEED HELP WITH!!!

Personality type -- I like to take things slow and make sure I'm overly prepared for things (that's why I show up 3 hours early to things and am a bit concerned about being on-time). Believe it or not, 106 credits for a masters degree might seem like a lot to you, but to me it sounds just right.

Call -- I've seen enough of God's fingerprints on my story surrounding seminary thus far that I'm comfortable in saying that I'm in the right place for the time being.

Proof Texting -- The seminary itself has been a confirmation that its the right place for me. Through relationships with the students and the professor's hearts and minds, I've honestly been quite amazed and pleased.

Discernment -- Believe it or not, I'm not good at making decisions (about some things). I'm looking forward to these next ~3 years as a way of figuring out where I fit into this big story, and how I can best use my talents and gifts for the kingdom.

Time management -- I was getting pulled in so many directions as a part-time student. I had my professional responsibilities, my church responsibilities, and my school responsibilities... plus a social life! Going full-time actually de-stresses my life and allows me to focus on one thing.

Well, tomorrow is day 1 of the Fall semester for me. I'm really looking forward to it, and excited to see what the future holds. Thank you for joining me on this journey and being an important part of what makes me... me. Who would have thought that I'd be where I am today, considering where I came from?

[Monday, August 23, 2010]

What do you do when the power goes out at church?


This past weekend was one for the books at the Crossing church. We had some crazy storms in Chesterfield Friday night which caused a tree to fall on an electrical pole near the church. Needless to say, when I got to work at noon on Saturday, the place was pitch black. I called my boss, who was already there and that's when things got crazy.

Now, before coming to the Crossing, my initial thought process would have been to cancel church. You can't be indoors because there isn't power (no lights in the bathrooms, no fire alarm system, no AC) and it's pretty steamy outside, and still no power for microphones etc... However, I got to witness something pretty cool happen. As the leaders circled up to talk through everything for the weekend, we started throwing out ideas on how to have a service on the back lawn. We had a generator (big enough for sound equipment, not the whole building) and the ground was pretty dry from the storms the night previous. So, everyone jumped into action.

We still had some issues... like pitch black restrooms. Luckily, we found some battery powered tea-light candles which we used to add a romantic feel (or creepy/cultish depending on who you talked to) to the restrooms for the night. Also, the back lawn has some low parts which were pretty mushy still from the rain. However, when you dump a bunch of sawdust on those parts, the problem just seems to disappear! Also, it was pretty hot. We battled that as best we could by providing water stations and paper towels, which I think helped out quite a bit. By the 6:30 service, the sun had set enough that almost everyone was in the shade.

We made sure to catch people as they were coming in to make them aware of the situation, and everyone had such a great attitude. There was a sense that this was something special... just for those who had chosen to show up on Saturday night. It was a really neat atmosphere.

The stage was rather simple -- some risers, mics and speakers. They stripped worship down to an acoustic set of songs that everyone was pretty familiar with. My heart went out to those guys on the worship team because though it was cloudy, when the sun was out... it was HOT! But they persevered through sound check and two services. Randall was our speaker, and because of the heat he summarized a 30 minute message into about 5 for the sake of everyone who showed up.

To help out with the kids and even the adults, we got an ice cream truck to show up, which I think paid off considering the line I saw of people waiting.

After the second service, Randall headed to our Fenton location to record his full-length message for the services on Sunday. Fenton is our video multi-site, and we normally use a recording from Saturday's services on Sunday in Fenton. However, since the power was out, a Saturday service didn't get recorded and Fenton wouldn't have had any teaching Sunday morning. So a hot, sweaty and tired Randall headed down to Fenton (which did have power) to make sure that didn't happen.

I was hanging with some friends after church, and came back for my car around 11pm. Thankfully, the lights were back on by then. Sunday was packed (I got to be at Fenton) and the rest of the weekend went really well.

I'm just really happy and thankful I get to be a part of a place that is as flexible and inventive as the Crossing is. These crazy moments when things don't happen according to plan are really neat because in those moments when you feel like you're scrambling, you get to see God do some pretty awesome things... things you might have missed had you been in air conditioning.

[Monday, July 5, 2010]

Morning -- July 5th


“Called to be saints.”
Romans 1:7

We are very apt to regard the apostolic saints as if they were “saints” in a more especial manner than the other children of God. All are “saints” whom God has called by His grace, and sanctified by His Spirit; but we are apt to look upon the apostles as extraordinary beings, scarcely subject to the same weaknesses and temptations as ourselves. Yet in so doing we are forgetful of this truth, that the nearer a man lives to God the more intensely has he to mourn over his own evil heart; and the more his Master honours him in his service, the more also doth the evil of the flesh vex and tease him day by day. The fact is, if we had seen the apostle Paul, we should have thought him remarkably like the rest of the chosen family: and if we had talked with him, we should have said, “We find that his experience and ours are much the same. He is more faithful, more holy, and more deeply taught than we are, but he has the selfsame trials to endure. Nay, in some respects he is more sorely tried than ourselves.” Do not, then, look upon the ancient saints as being exempt either from infirmities or sins; and do not regard them with that mystic reverence which will almost make us idolaters. Their holiness is attainable even by us. We are “called to be saints” by that same voice which constrained them to their high vocation. It is a Christian’s duty to force his way into the inner circle of saintship; and if these saints were superior to us in their attainments, as they certainly were, let us follow them; let us emulate their ardour and holiness. We have the same light that they had, the same grace is accessible to us, and why should we rest satisfied until we have equalled them in heavenly character? They lived with Jesus, they lived for Jesus, therefore they grew like Jesus. Let us live by the same Spirit as they did, “looking unto Jesus,” and our saintship will soon be apparent.

Taken from Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening

[Saturday, May 29, 2010]

Prayer Requests


Well, I think the upcoming couple of weeks has to be the most pivotal weeks of 2010 for myself and my friends... I am awestruck at how much is changing in people's lives over the course of the next few days. Here is a list of some. If you wouldn't mind, I'm sure they would appreciate the prayer, I know I would.

June 1st
-My parents fly out of Chicago to spend some time in Thailand with their friends who are serving as missionaries
-My friend Olivia Vitale comes back to the States after 9 months in Burkina Faso working at a school
-My friend Amanda Salmond is heading to Oakland California to work with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship over the summer
-My friend Becky Beerbower's husband returns home from Russia where he was working with an orphanage

June 3rd
-My two friends Casey Jordan and Matt Lybarger are heading to Israel for a couple of weeks to check out where the bible took place

June 4th
-My last day of work at Maritz
-My bible content exam at Covenant Seminary

June 5th
-My good friend Dustin Bailey will be marrying Andrea Brinkman... I get to be a groomsman

June 7th
-I start Greek classes

June 8th
-I get to start working grounds at my church for the summer

[Thursday, May 27, 2010]

A reflection


Five work days left before I transition from my job at Maritz to full-time seminary studies. This has been such a long time coming (a year or so), and there were so many steps that had to fall into place *just right* to get me here. Thinking back to last May, I don't really recall being that optimistic about the whole process... I mean, come on I had to sell an entire house in a recession... and that was just step 1! But, I knew it was a road I had to start down, and just take a step at a time.

Fast forward to November 2009, and I'm under contract. Now what? I've got no place to live. Luckily for me, I have family in town who were nice enough to let me dwell in their basement until I figured things out.

I also picked up a second job near the end of the summer of 2009 at my church, doing facility support (i.e. janitorial stuff). It is a great job, but I'd be lying if I ignored the fact that part of the reason for getting the job was to prepare for when I'd be quitting my full-time job.

Parallel to this, I had to actually get accepted to the degree program at my school, figure out my loan/scholarship eligibility, and make sure I get all my t's crossed and my i's dotted. Since I was a part-time student initially (pursuing an MA in Theological Studies), I got the impression I could fall through the cracks pretty easily if I wasn't careful. However, since Covenant is a rather small school, the staff is pretty much on a first-name basis with me.

Somewhere during this time, I also approached my boss about the fact that I'd be leaving. This was about the end of November 2009, and so when I went into her office to tell her I was quitting on June 4th 2010, she was a bit confused -- instead of a 2-week notice, it was more like a 6-month notice. Then, I went on to explain the situation: my project is pretty intensive and would require a nice "phase-out" period with my replacement, and I really don't want to let anything fall apart after I leave.

I finally got my acceptance letter into the Master of Divinity program which would be dominating the next ~3 years of my life, and that's when I started looking at finances. Since I was going to quit my job, which accounts for ~95% of my income, obviously something had to give. I'd already cut my expenses by quite a bit, and was saving like it was my job, but I was still going to need more income to cover rent/insurance/groceries/etc... So I approached my boss at church about getting more hours. He said he'd think about it (this was still in the Winter mind you). Furthermore, I started looking at the fact that school actually costs money! Thus, I start anxiously awaiting the time of the year when FASFA's come due.

We've now shrinked from 6 months to 3 months before the Summer term starts (because of my program, the school recommends you take 6 credits over the Summer to prepare you for the Fall). I still have no apartment, no guarantee that I'll have the income to pay for it, no idea what kind of financial aid I'll be receiving, and no replacement to train on my project at work.

Around this time, the rumor that I was leaving got back to me. I had only told a select few people at work about this because being MONTHS away, I didn't want to send anyone into a panic. But, word did leak out so I went public (so to speak). I had the conversation with my project teams and I just felt a sense of relief. "OK, this is real... this is going to happen."

Finally, I got the name of my replacement -- he works in New Jersey. "OK, this should be interesting. I've never trained anyone over the phone before."

Around Easter, I get my financial aid letter -- a 25% tuition scholarship, and the ability to take up to the max possible in subsidized loans (the good ones). I was happy... not sure if I could have gotten any more as a first-year. This made it possible for me to use hard numbers to figure out how big of a hole I was digging. Surprisingly, I was pleased with the outcome. Because of my mad saving between selling my house and now, I actually felt pretty comfortable with the numbers.

Training my replacement went pretty well. He's got a good head on his shoulders and a ton of experience in the field. I felt pretty comfortable about the work situation, so I started to transfer my energy to other question marks.

I was still living in my sister's basement, and it was never intended to be a long-term solution (90% of my stuff stayed in boxes), so I started trying to figure out a new living situation. A few things had fallen through (which is why I moved in with Erin and Steve in the first place), and obviously my budget is pretty tight, so this was going to be interesting. That's when I got a phone call from my friend Ty whose living situation just changed as well. He was interested in living together. So we started looking at apartments. Before long, we found a place we could move into at the beginning of May.

Also, around this time I met with my church boss again about extra work. He sounded promising about giving me 2 full days of work a week during the Summer (in addition to my normal hours). Yeah, its only for the Summer, but that will get me through the Summer. We can worry about the Fall and the future later.

Somewhere in here, I received a letter that I was in my grace period on my student loans. A little history -- as long as you are in school, your loan payments are in deferment (they are deferred until you aren't in school anymore). On top of that, they give you a one-time 6-month grace period after graduation before you have to start making payments. I took the Spring 2010 semester off because of time commitments and everything mentioned above, and also because there wasn't a class I could take, so I went into repayment because from the perspective of the school/student loan people, I was no longer a student.

As soon as I was made aware of this, I got on the phones and tried to figure out what I was going to do. If I used all my 6 months now, that meant I couldn't use it after I graduated... not a deal breaker, but it would have been nice in case I can't find a job or something. Turns out I will be re-entering school one week BEFORE my 6 month grace period runs out. This means that as long as my enrollment status is changed to student before that 6 months is up, I get the WHOLE 6 month grace period back!!! I had to ask the guy on the phone twice to make sure I understood him right. This means that I have to be in contact with the Registrar to send a special letter to the loan people updating them on my status before June 15th.

I start school June 7th, 2010. Reflecting on this journey just excites me all the more. See, something I didn't really mention is that through all of this, I was lost and confused, unsure and suspicious. Yet, God remained constant. I remember praying back before step 1 was completed: "God, if you want me to do this, you're going to have to do something... because no one is buying my house." Look at where we are now. I see God all over this story, directing my steps and using some wonderful people in my life to help me along the way. Not my timing, but his. Not my will, but his. Not my glory, but his. How humbling!

[Thursday, April 29, 2010]

The Next Step


A good friend of mine is finishing up some time in Burkina Faso, Africa. She posted this today... I'm quoting the whole entry.

September 12, 2008 — “God, I am continuing to pray about this year and the upcoming year. Lord, I want to be your vessel I want to help further your kingdom. I desire for people to know about you. People that don’t already know about you. God, I pray that you would reveal to me what it is you have in store for my life, specifically post-grad plans…God, I have this desire to teach abroad. I have a heart for Africa, the poor and children…God, I want to do bold, courageous, beautiful, amazing, wonderful things for your kingdom.”

I wrote this prayer before God had even placed Burkina Faso on my heart. Fast forward to today and I find myself praying the same prayer, except now, instead of post-grad plans, I am asking the Lord, “What is your will for my life post-Burkina?” As my time begins to come to an end here, I have a constant battle going on in my head. I could find so many reasons to stay in Burkina and yet, I could find so many reasons to go home. Today is another day where I find myself saying, “God, I trust you. Really, I do and I’m at peace not knowing what it is you have in store for me next…whatever it is Lord, I will go where you send me.”

This morning I woke up with every intention of working a lot on finishing writing first grade curriculum and preparing school materials for next school year and while there is still time to get work done, I can’t help but have a heavy, saddened heart. This morning I had the opportunity to help a local pastor and a few others (including some of the teachers from school) make mud bricks for the pastor’s new church in Yako. It was a great time and pictures will definitely be posted the next time I am in Ouaga. After working for a while under the strong African sun, I returned back to my house to give my clothes to Maimounata, so she could wash them.

After Maimounata was finished, I walked her to my courtyard door and said goodbye. Seconds later, I heard a sweet, little voice down the street shout, “O-lee-vee-a, O-lee-vee-a.” I turned my head to see my 9-year old neighbor Nadia smiling and waving at me. I motioned to her to come over. In my not-so-fluent French, we made a little small talk.

I explained, “Nadia, I want to play games and color, just like we did a few weeks ago, but I have a lot of work I have to get done today, but I will invite you over another day, especially because I only have one month left here. Did you know I am leaving to go back to the United States at the end of May?”

After hearing this, Nadia became very quiet and her big, beautiful brown eyes welled up with tears.

I asked, “Are you crying because you are sick?” Nadia shook her head.

“Did someone say something that hurt your feelings?” Again, she shook her head.

“Are you crying because I am leaving soon?” to which she replied yes by nodding her head.

Trying not to well up with tears myself, I gave her a kiss on the cheek and a big hug.

“Oh Nadia, my pretty girl, you are so special. I think you are so special and God does too. I love you. Don’t cry, I will be here for another month. We have lots of time to spend together,” I explained.

She continued to cry. I invited her into my courtyard and brought a cup of Kool-Aid outside for both of us and we sat on the porch. Nadia started to come around and talk to me a little. This sweet, little 9 year old has quite a story, which I had heard from Lynn, but after finishing our Kool-Aid, Nadia personally shared her story with me. While holding Nadia in my arms and rocking her back and forth on my front porch, she noticed a calendar on the table next to us. She picked it up and I began to say the name of each month.

When I got to June, she said, “That is the month my mother died. She died on a Tuesday.”

Nadia continued, “My mother was in a fire, her clothing caught on fire, and she caught on fire. We were at my grandmother’s house, which is not too far from here. Boris (my friend and also an employee of Lynn) was there. My Mom died at the hospital.”

“Were you at your house when this happened?” I asked.

She responded, “Yes.”

“Oh Nadia, I am so sorry. That is not easy. How old were you when this happened?” I asked.

“I was 4 years old,” she said.

Tears began streaming down her face and mine as well, as I listened. Crying is a symbol of weakness in this culture, and holding Nadia, watching her cry, I felt as if these were tears that had been held inside for 5 years. After her mother died, her father, who lives in the same town, opted to send her to live in another courtyard near me to be cared for by a friend of the family. In Burkina, a child is considered to be an orphan if one or both parents are not present in their life. So, this sweet, little girl at the tender age of 4 lost not only a Mom, but also a Dad and she became an orphan. The family whom she was sent to live with has provided the basics for her- shelter, food, and clothing, but her emotional needs have been neglected and from the sounds I hear at night in my courtyard, beatings have become a frequent occurrence in her life. My heart breaks for children who are mistreated and seeing Nadia grow up without anyone to really care for her is no different. If only I could take children in these types of situations home with me and care for them. After Nadia shared her story with me, we had a good conversation about Jesus, who he is, how much he loves us, and how if we ask him to live in our heart, we can spend eternity with him. While I can love Nadia during my time here, I know that Nadia needs and longs for a greater love, a love that can only be found in Christ.

Based on the day’s events, it is so hard to think about leaving, but I say again, “Lord, I trust you and am at peace with not knowing what the next step is. Your faithful and I know that in your perfect timing, you will show me where it is you desire for me to be.” So, with one month remaining of my time here in Burkina, I am clinging to Him- to His promises, to the hope found in Him, to His love, to His faithfulness, and to His strength.