There have been few men who have left a lasting impact on my life.
An uncle or two
Young men I served with in college ministry
Five church pastors
Growing up near several small Dutch towns left some to be desired when I was kid. Looking back, I took a lot of that for granted: the potential for community, the beauty of the area, the pace of life. I return when I can, but prefer life in the city to that of neighborhoods so small that everybody knows everyone else’s business.
My family attended a small church for almost 20 years, maybe a little longer as my folks made the change to another well after I’d left home to attend college. The teachings of the Bible were preached from the pulpit in a way that made life seem full of rules that needed to be followed in order for me to be saved; life lived on a works-based faith, if you will. I don’t recall hearing or learning about God’s great grace or what it meant to have a deep, personal relationship with Jesus during my childhood, or the gospel message…my mother actually confirmed it in a recent conversation and the realization of that truth makes my heart sad. Very sad.
Americans have been given great freedom when it comes to religion, faith and how we live our lives. I fear that freedom will be coming to an end, sooner rather than later, whether I see it in my lifetime or its effects ripple through the next few generations.
In the last two months, the Vine has been going through a set of teachings based on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5.1-12) and we discussed the persecuted church just this week. Persecution in the U.S. is minimal compared to that of the Middle East or China. Christians may not be beaten, raped or murdered for their faith here, but we do face it in different ways and most of it comes from within the church.
Denominations are pitted, one against the other. Passersby are told that God is angry with them from street corners. People are judged based on what man sees every day when they should be loved, shown mercy, experience grace and the goodness of God and his love for them instead. There’s a lack of compassion for those Jesus would have hung out with in this day and age. We have the religious, the irreligious and the few who discover the truth and are set free.
Personally, I pray for the latter category. But am I?
It’s okay to question; to doubt (to an extent); to think upon.
God understands. Spiritual growth and sought-out truth can come from those moments.
I’ve seen pastors come and go in my short life and very few of them have left a lasting impact.
Gary opened my eyes to the concept of grace during confirmation classes when I was in high school. He also made it abundantly clear that my family wasn’t going to rot in hell for choosing to be an example in the public school, although it took my heart a little longer to catch up with that head knowledge.
Tim introduced me to the truth of the gospel message and how, even though I had made the choice to follow Jesus when I was four, it wasn’t a one-time thing. His authenticity, Bible-based knowledge and the truth he taught every week at Brookings Wesleyan, combined with a good dose of humor, helped pave the way for Jesus to touch my life in ways He wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. He was one of the main reasons I stayed in church and for that, I’ll forever be grateful to him for allowing God to use him in that matter and to God for opening those doors.
Nathan believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He also opened my eyes to the gift of music ministry.
Rick… I can’t help but smile over his constant teasing and his lack of mercy (spiritual gifting). He’s more than a pastor. He’s one of my best friends and you wouldn’t think the man had nearly two decades on me. He’s such a kid. But, his genuineness is hard to come by in today’s world. God gifted him with a wealth of knowledge and biblical wisdom, and gave him the ability to be real. His transparency is inspiring. His leadership points to God at every turn. He’s involved and proves it, every day. I am thankful for all of that, and so much more.
And finally, Ben: a young man I’ve had the privilege of watching grow in his relationship with Jesus. He was once lost and now found. Blind, but now he sees. His passion is contagious. His prayer life, inspiring. And his transparency too is has left an impact. In the last six years, since his walk with Jesus began, he’s learned more truth than I did as a child. I’ve had the honor and privilege of serving alongside him in our college ministry back in Brookings and again here in Minneapolis, at the Vine.
I’ve met some pretty awesome pastors, but these five men take the cake. They don’t preach from behind a pulpit, creating an image that places them higher on the holiness scale. They’re men. They are no less flawed than I am, or you. It’s through that authenticity that allows God to leave an impact in their wake. God has blessed each of them in their various forms of ministry and still uses them in their fields today to leave lasting impact for the glory of His kingdom. And God blesses those their lives touch, today and I pray that impact reaches into tomorrow.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident in this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains of defending and confirming the gospel, all of you are in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.