Thursday, April 30, 2009

10 Things that have Changed My Life: #7- Calvinism

I am reformed in theology.  Most who know me know this.  For that reason, I almost did not include this in my list of 10 things that have changed my life.  It has also become kind of a fad among Christians in college, which makes me less incline to be public about it.  But alas, I must.

I am a 7-pointer (yes..  I am that hardcore) and a firm believer in Calvinism.  I will even admit this, it is hard for me to understand the Gospel outside of the lens of Calvinism.  It is one of those ideas that when you finally accept it, you start seeing it everywhere and wonder how you could have ever missed it.  My conversion story (blasphemy?) is simple: shortly after I became a Christian, as a senior in high school, I was exposed to the doctrinal system of Calvinism and quickly understood it as truth.

Just like most recent converts to Calvinism, I became a super enthusiastic hyper-Calvinist for a while- but eventually settled down.  I try my best not to make it into or use it as a system or paradigm for doctrine, but instead in a doxological way- which I think is closer to Paul and Augustine.  

Nevertheless, Calvinism thoroughly influences my preaching, prayer, ministry, and joy.  No other doctrine has opened up the glory of the Cross or been such a warm blanket to my soul at dark times.  Hello, my name is Mike.  I am a Calvinist.

Monday, April 27, 2009

10 Things that have Changed My Life: #6- Matt Chandler

My absolute favorite preacher, Chandler is the lead/teaching pastor at The Village Church near Dallas, TX.  I first heard him speak three years ago at a college conference called Focus.  He absolutely tore it up.  I started downloading his sermons and began listening to them religiously (no pun intended..).

Chandler has impacted my life in three different ways.  First, his ability to teach and communicate ignited a similar desire in my own heart.  Through his ministry, I was awakened to the reality of what can happen because of dynamic preaching.

Second, the actual content of his teaching has impacted my walk with Christ in what is probably an immeasurable degree.  He preaches the scriptures in an engaging and clear way- always showing Jesus in the text.

Lastly, much of my own leadership style and philosophy of ministry comes directly from how Chandler does things and how the Village is operated.  I never want to copy- but I am definitely taking the good things that he does and trying my best to reproduce them in Sugar Land in my particular context with my particular skills.

If you haven’t heard him speak, stop what you are doing and go download one of his sermons.  Seriously.

Who is your favorite preacher/speaker?  How have they impacted you?

Monday, April 20, 2009

10 Things that have Changed My Life: #5- Jesus and the Victory of God

I am an avid reader.  It is one of the ways that I worship best.  Having said that, there are a handful of books that have completely rocked my world and one of them is this hefty tome penned by N.T. Wright.  Jesus and the Victory of God is the second book in Wright’s seminal undertaking- his Christian Origins and the Question of God series.  This book is not for the faint of heart and has undoubtedly changed my life for multiple reasons.

One reason is that it was practically the first theological book I ever read.  As a senior in high school my theology teacher gave me this book to read when I began to show an interest in theology.  I would come to him daily with questions about scripture and doctrine, and one day I came to him asking about Mark 13.  He handed me this book and said that the answer was inside.  =)  Wanting to prove myself, I quickly began reading and was soon absolutely consumed.  I can remember working through that book with every free second of my life for about three weeks.  During lunch, between classes (and I confess, sometimes during), after school, at night.  The world that I found inside Wright’s work- a world of honesty and real scholarship- was the world that I wanted to spend the rest of my life in.  I had found a calling.

Not only was my love for theology solidified by reading JVOG, but the things I learned about Jesus shook the foundation of my faith and my understanding of the Gospels.  I finally began to understand eschatology, the kingdom, and some of the more difficult and troubling passages of the gospels.  Two things I got from the book continue to shape my thinking, prayers, and ministry.  1- That Jesus was fully man.  We tend to overemphasize his ‘God-ness’, to the point that he becomes a super hero and some pieces of the gospels make no sense.  2- That Jesus was a theologian.  Although not trained, he studied the scriptures and found a vocation and plan for the kingdom.  More specifically, Jesus’ use of Isaiah and Daniel and his uniting of them into his own purpose.

Have you ever read anything that will have an eternal impact on your life and those around you?  Please comment and share!

Monday, April 13, 2009

10 Things that have Changed My Life: #4- Xanax

The summer before my junior year in high school I developed a crippling, mysterious illness that would change my life forever.  It started out with recurring panic attacks which soon led to a full blown panic disorder accompanied by agoraphobia.  I thought I was going crazy (I guess I kinda did, actually).

While the medical search was on to figure out what was causing this, my family physician prescribed the anti-anxiety drug Xanax to help me get through the debilitating fear that had captured my life.  Xanax became my lifeline.  My key to a normal life again.  I could not be awake without being on it and I most definitely couldn’t leave the house without being on it.  I was a “clock watcher”- always watching the clock to make sure I was still under the influ... err, protection of my miracle drug.  As I developed a tolerance of the drug, I was forced to take more and more, many times to the ignorance of my parents or doctors.  The depression followed soon after.

I shy away from the term “drug addict” for a few different reasons.  For one, I was a blue-collar participant.  All my drugs were legal and out of a prescription bottle.  Also, while I do believe I was addicted to it, and had to take other drugs, have counseling, and work at getting off of it- I never went through many of the lifelong struggles that drug addicts often face.  Christ’s grace found me before that, praise Him.

So how did Xanax change my life?  Well, it led me to the cross.  It buckled my prideful knees until I was forced to die to myself and find a glorious life in Christ.  To this day, when I am frustrated, depressed, or anxious, the temptation of finding some Xanax to fix everything pops up in my mind; but I fight the temptations with prayer and remembrance of the depression and afflictions of the drug and also the long hard work I undertook to be free of it.  These little temptations help me always stay focused on the cross and to never let my pride swell up to what it once was before life, and God, shattered it that summer and the following year.

Monday, April 6, 2009

10 Things that have Changed My Life: #3- Learning Hebrew and Greek

I am currently working towards getting two undergraduate degrees, one in Christian Theology and one in Biblical Languages.  By God’s grace I only have one more year left... (depending on what I want to do for graduate study)  The areas of study for the Biblical Languages degree are the languages of (biblical) Hebrew and (biblical) Greek.  Each is broken down into a couple basic grammar classes and then some increasingly intense reading and translating classes.  I am done with my Hebrew studies and in my last class (Senior Seminar) for my Greek studies.

Being someone who failed Spanish in high school, learning the languages was challenging to say the least but I found that with the right motivation anything can be learned.  One of the many things that happens when you fully learn a language is that you truly start to understand syntax, grammar, and semantics.  This leads to a whole new world of reading texts.  

The impact that learning these languages has had on me goes well beyond what the words mean- anybody can figure that out through google.  What it has taught me is how to truly read a text.  It teaches you how to ask the right questions.  Before I knew Hebrew and Greek, I would look at a verse or passage of Scripture and think it was fairly basic and elementary.  Now almost any text contains question after question and is embedded with hours of truth, theology, play, and worship.  Learning Hebrew and Greek, though challenging and sometimes frustrating, has changed my life.

Has anything you’ve learned ever changed your life?  Please comment and share!

Friday, April 3, 2009

10 Things that have Changed My Life: #2- Sky Ranch

Sky Ranch.  Two words that bring an incredible measure of joy to my heart.  If there was ever anything in my life that caused me to believe that God works out all things, even the tiniest details, for His glory- it would be the story of how I arrived at Sky Ranch and what happened there that summer.

The end of my freshman year of college found me quitting my job as keyholder at Lifeway Christian Bookstore and looking to get away for a summer to “find myself.”  I started looking at different Christian summer camps at the request of my mentor Janelle, who had told me that it would be a great summer and just what I needed.  Originally I applied, interviewed, and had hoped to land a job at Camp Ozark.  They did not offer me a job.  As a last second scramble, right before summer arrived, I faxed off interviews to as many camps as I could find online and received an invitation for a phone interview from two of them, one of them being Sky Ranch.  I first received a job offer from the other camp and was about to take it when I was offered a job at a closer, more established, and better paying (I won’t lie..  haha) camp called Sky Ranch.  I accepted and looked forward to a summer of relaxing, playing with kids, and forgetting about my problems.

I could make this story very, very, very long but I don’t think it is wise.  You can ask me for all the details if you really care, and haven’t heard them already.  As it happened, camp did not turn out to be the stress-free summer I was looking for, but rather a summer of growth, stretching, and leadership training.  I learned so many things that summer that I cannot even begin to list them off: what it means to be a leader, what it means to be a servant, how to love someone well, what true community is, how to lovingly correct someone, how to handle conflict, how to sail (thanks, JP!), how to give every ounce of energy and effort you have to a ministry, and the list goes on.

When I recall my summer at Sky Ranch, I refer to it as the period in my life where God grew me from a boy into a man.  I can now see it as the period of my life where God was growing, shaping, and molding me into the person and leader that I am today.  I thank God for Sky Ranch and for getting me there- all in his perfect timing and wisdom.

Have you had a period of time, or a circumstance or situation, that God used to absolutely change your life?  Please comment and share!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

10 Things that have Changed My Life: #1- Mentors

My walk with Christ and my ministry have both been grown exponentially by the presence of Godly men and women in my life, willing to encourage and rebuke me.  Shortly after Christ found me, he brought a man named Tony into my life (Tony was a teacher at my high school; who had also taught me in 8th grade).  

Tony (see left picture) started meeting with me weekly for lunch and we would pray and discuss Scripture.  He was very vulnerable with his struggles and past and brought me in to be a part of his family.  Tony’s willingness to spend time with me and be honest both contributed to creating an atmosphere where I could be completely honest and totally see-through.  To this day, few people know as much about me as this Godly man.  He helped me walk through some very monumental issues that arose early on in my Christian life and I know for a fact that I would not be where I am today if it were not for his loving guidance.

As I graduated high school, Tony was blessed with twin girls- and those two factors significantly changed our relationship.  I soon began to become really close with another Godly man and his wife- Chris and Janelle.  Chris was the worship pastor at the church I was going to (is now my worship pastor!) and led a weekly Bible study that I attended (and now lead!).  Chris and Janelle (see picture on right) have played maybe the largest role in my ministry, from guiding me along the way, to eventually becoming a Pastor at 20 years old.  I frequently have long arguments (err..  “robust conversation”) with Chris on all things theological- and have found that he and Janelle are both great at advising me on practical decisions and giving me necessary rebuke.  On a side note, their beautiful daughter (my sister!) is one of the greatest joys in my life!  Hearing her say, "I love you, Bubba" with a little smile absolutely makes my heart melt.  =)

These relationships, and others, have engrained in me an appreciation for the biblical model of discipleship by doing life together.  My greatest piece of advice to young Christians wishing to grow in their faith is to find an older man or woman who seeks after Christ- and live life with them.  Submit to their authority and learn from their wisdom.  I would not be where I am today without the love and care that I have received from the mentors Christ has placed in my life.  Praise him!

Have you ever had a mentor?  Please comment and share!