Thursday, December 13, 2012

I've moved.

Hey Kids.

I've moved blog sites. I'm on tumblr now.

This blog just feel a bit too clunky for me. Hopefully I'll be motivated to put more content on there. We'll see.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Jesus is Lord and _______ is not

Each time our student ministry gathers mid-week, we try to retell the story of God's redemption through the things we do. We enter in together through games, laughter, and songs of praise. We confess and pray that we are sinners and we need God. We share good news through the Word and testimony. We respond based on the grace from the word. We bless each other as we prepare to go on our own ways.

We plot our worship. And with students, plotting worship can be avenues for extreme creativity to remind them of God's story of redemption.

I took a bit of a risk when planning this year by committing several Wednesday nights to the book of Revelation. Because of the comic book like images John the Seer presents, the book becomes difficult to minds that are moving from concrete thought to abstraction. Also, the pessimism of a subculture obsessed with the so-called "End Times" that has produced such media as Thief in the NightThe Late Great Planet Earth, and Left Behind, has placed a connotation of fear on this text. It really is a shame because the beauty of Revelation is that through all its strange images and warnings, it is a wonderful spring of hope for the people of God.

Last week, we spent some time in Revelation 13:1-10. After playing a game, singing some songs, and praying, I read from Psalm 137 as part of the confession/bad news stage of the plot:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
     when we remembered Zion.

The strange thing about the people of God--we're a people who been bullied, pushed around, taken captive, enslaved, exiled. First under Egypt, and after not being able to get our act together as a kingdom, Assyria in the north. Then Babylon in the south. Then Persia. Then Greece. And finally when the words of Revelation were penned, Rome.  The words of this Psalm are the most raw in the Bible about how nasty it can get. The Psalmist laments how horrible it is living under the rule of someone else and is pinning for home.

I wonder if this is how students feel. They've undergone systemic abandonment. They are left without a place many of the times. They can be surrounded with people, technology, and numerous possessions and still lack community, authenticity, and joy. Empires constantly are enslaving them while at the same time telling them the lie that they can't live without them. 

So too was it for the people of God called "Christian" when John described this beast. This beast was strong, way stronger than the ones Daniel speaks about. In fact, John kinda takes all of the qualities of those beasts and reshapes them into the one that the Dragon calls out of the sea. This is the super beast. This beast has gone to another level. We'll call this level beastmode.
The beastmode serves as a foil to the one who is the center of this beautiful text: the Lamb who was Slain. It too has a mortal wound but somehow miraculously lives. It too is given power authority. It too marks its followers. In fact, when people see it, they just point and say, "Who is like the beast?!?! Who can challenge it?!?!"

Who can challenge Rome? Who can challenge its military strength? Who can challenge its technology?

But as John is writing these words it is like he's drawing a political cartoon. Though the beast poses as the Lamb who was Slain, he is a counterfeit, a fake, and false.

Though Rome may promise "peace" all they would bring was a sword. Though the may promise financial security, the wealth funnels to the top. Though the emperor posits himself as a God, he is not the author of life and the creator of all things. 

The problem for Christian at this time wasn't that they worship the God of Israel and that they believed Jesus was the Son of God. Religious plurality was rampant through the Roman Empire. Worship whoever, just pay homage to Caesar. And the homage wasn't limited to a temple. It was in the marketplace and in any social setting. The problem Christians faced was that in saying "Jesus is Lord" they were also implying that "Caesar is not." For this, they were putting their lives on the line.

But even though the hand of the empire is strong, even though the beast has gone into beastmode, it's still just a parody of the one true God. It tries to play God, but eventually it crumbles. The Lamb is still the center of all things, and it is by his blood that the saints and the people of God, who have always lived on the margins, will overcome. 

John has to remind the church of this:

“Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (13:10).

To respond to this, we offered students the chance to confess, "Jesus is Lord" while explicitly naming the things that are not. Here's how they filled in the blanks:
  • Jesus is Lord, and my self-doubt is not
  • Jesus is Lord, and the pretty popular girls are not
  • Jesus is Lord, and the world & its influences are not
  • Jesus is Lord, and technology is not
  • Jesus is Lord, and fear is not
  • Jesus is Lord, and money is not
  • Jesus is Lord, and my phone is not
  • Jesus is Lord, and the bully is not
  • Jesus is Lord, and my hurt is not
The list went on. And it goes on. We need to be reminded constantly. Jesus is Lord, and _____ is not.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Abundance and Scarcity

Transformation comes to us in many different ways. Entire behaviors can be changed for the better. A vexing physical ailment can behealed. For me, I’ve undergone a transformation of knowledge in my head tobelief in my heart. This happened to me while I was with a team of awesome people in Malawi a couple of weeks ago.

One of the most profound articles I have read is by a world class Old Testament author named Walter Brueggemann. The article is entitled “A Liturgy of Abundance and the Myth of Scarcity.” In it, Brueggemann traces through the narrative of Scripture showing how when God created everything good, he created everything in abundance. The abundance of God’s creation is exemplified in the ability of God’s creation to pro-create; two become one and bear children, flowers and plants pollinate, birds of the air nest and fish ofthe sea spawn. God created this space for us to fill it up. There will always be enough of what God has deemed “very good.”

Brueggemann then points out a crisis that occurs in Genesis 47. Prior to this point in the narrative, the blessing of God in creation is evident in all the work of God’s people. When the threat of famine hits the land, the powers that be react in fear, and hoard all available goods. They operate under the myth of scarcity—that there will never be enough, so they must take everything.

The beauty of the Scriptures is that the reveal the world for what it is. This story captures what has happened because of sin.The world has operated under the myth of scarcity’s dominion. It has pervaded our economies. It drives fear. It has made the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Before going to Malawi, I understood the theological assertion that God has created in abundance. I’ve studied it. I took specific courses in Seminary on Theology of Creation. Opening to the front page of the BBC, CNN, the Huffington Post, and Fox News all share the same story regardless of political stance: our world operates under the myth of scarcity. I knew it. It was obvious. I’ve always been able to recognize the conflict between the two.

If there has been anyone who has suffered under the myth of scarcity, it is the rural poor in Malawi. Shortly before my trip, my good friend Bryan recommended a book to me, “The Boy who Harnessed the Wind.” This is a story about a boy William who grew up very poor in a rural area in Northern Malawi near the town of Kasungu (We actually passed through Kasungu on our way to Mzimba, where the Area Development Projects are). I was so glad I read this story before going because it gave tremendous insight into rural life in Malawi: how the rainy season lasts from December to February, how the staple crop of Malawi is maize, and from maize they make their staple food nsima.

He also was able to share how horrible things were during a famine that took place right after the turn of the century. The rains never came that December that year. Malawi had a great government program set up incase this would ever happen where each year farmers would sell their surplus to the agency and it would be kept should a famine come to sell back to the famers. However, corruption in the government led officials to sell off the surplus for personal gain to surrounding countries. The price of maize thus skyrocketed, leaving the rural poor much poorer than they had been before. 

William recalls the pains of starvation. He tells of how he raced to Kasungu and was nearly trampled when the maize became available. He remembers each day only having a pinch of nsima.

This is what happens when people believe that there isn't enough so they have to take it all. They have to hoard the goods. They have to sell off the extra so that they make the profit. This is not the world that God has created.

We who are fortunate to have everything we need are constantly tempted to fall into this myth of scarcity. But it wasn’t until I stood on the red dirt in Malawi, staring up at a huge basket overflowing with maize that I believed in my heart that our God has created in abundance. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I had to look it up later, but this is the verse that comes to mind thinking about seeing the full storehouses:

The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. (Deuteronomy 28:12).

When I saw the baskets full of maize, I swear I was staring at the storehouses of heaven.

These people who most likely have suffered starvation notonly have food, but also now have food to sustain them. The farmers, their families, the orphans they watch after, and their entire villages have created avenues for lasting income and storehouses that will last for them through famines. They are loaned livestock and whatever offspring is produced they pass on to the next village. It’s a generosity you only see in the Kingdom of God.

I am so thankful for the partnership between World Vision and Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. They together have brought good news to these people by way of connecting the church to lasting food security projects. Organizations like these work towards the abundance that God has infused into this creation and away from the scarcity the brokenness of our sin has perpetuated.

We need to be reminded often of the truth of God’s abundance. Over and over again we need to undergo a transformation of simple knowledge in our head to belief in our heart.
I read this morning from Mark 8:14-21, which provides asummary of Jesus trying to get this message through the dense heads of his disciples:

14 The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and thatof Herod.” 16 They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.” 17 Aware oftheir discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. 20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” 21 He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

The yeasts of the Pharisees and of Herod sell off the surplus when famine comes. Our hearts are hardened as Pharaoh’s was when our lifestyles enslave others. We forget that God has delivered us out of the lifeof slavery and into the life of freedom. The abundance of God’s creation is always enough for his people—twelve baskets are left after the feeding of the 5,000 representing the wholeness of the twelve tribes of Israel. Seven baskets are left over after Jesus feeds 4,000. This represents God’s provision for all of creation. Jesus reveals to us the heart of God the creator through the sacrament of breaking bread and sharing it. God has given us enough to sustain this world. Will we choose to understand?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Yearning for Adoption

Around Mother's Day this year, I was flipping through photos on Instagram and one made me stop just before I was about to swipe the screen to continue scrolling. Friends of mine that I have only had loose contact with at best for the last couple of years posted a photo of a boy they are in the process of adopting from Haiti. The boy's name is Andy, and in the photo he is smiling from ear to ear. Also captured in the photo is a mother's day card he had sent to his mother Jen. In my heart, I could only imagine the spectrum of emotion that card would bring. With no doubt, tremendous joy would accompany it. To know receive a token of love from a new child would be such an amazing gift. At the same time, thousands of miles currently separate the family. Andy is their son, but he isn't home yet. I was heartbroken for them.

Around the same time as I first saw this instagram picture, I was working on sharing some reflections on Romans 8:22-27 with my students. Here's the text:

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as son, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is een is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.

In a sense, we're all awaiting adoption. We're groaning for it--the land longs for it--all of creation is yearning for it. We desperately long for a world put to rights by God--a world where mercy and justice reign--a world that our vocabulary doesn't quite contain. We lack the words we need to really describe that longing. Yet, when I see a picture of Andy smiling and giving mother's day love, I get somewhat of a grip on it. But even so our prayers for newness sometimes don't seem like enough.

As I prepared for the trip to Malawi with the World Vision/NCM team, I really had no idea what to expect. I was asked to lead a small devotion for the team during the week, and this Scripture immediately came to mind. I knew that ahead of us on the journey would be images and sights that would be difficult to process, so to this Scripture I turned.

I shared with the group Andy's story about groaning for adoption. We reflected about some of the things we saw in the first few days of our visit; forests that had been decimated by arsonists, children running though rock and dirt barefoot, and one in nine or one in ten of the persons we encountered as living with either HIV or Aids. One the other hand, images flooded our minds of water springing up from new wells, noises of livestock and chicken in the villages, and sights of beautiful greens as corn, onions, and beans were growing. The land is groaning for redemption; the land is being made new.

I directed the group to intercessory prayer. The reason I love the Romans 8:22-27 passage so much is because of the hope we have in a Spirit that is able to speak the language of prayer that our words cannot utter no matter how hard we try. I urged everyone just to lift up a name or an experience from the day in the area development projects without giving many more words to it. After each request was presented, we followed the simple liturgy, 'Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy'. In this practice of prayer, we let the Spirit fill in the words we didn't know how to speak.

As we were heading home, I had a serendipitous encounter that I now view as a grace from God. Our flight from Lilongwe to Addis had been delayed, and we worried we were going to miss the flight back to Washington, DC. Upon arrival, we learned that they had held the flight and were waiting for us to board. We rushed through from one gate to the next, breathing a deep sigh because we would make the journey home as planned. I found my seat, plopped down and looked to my right. In that moment I saw one of the most joyous things I have ever seen. There sat a new mother and a new father who were bringing home their adopted child for the first time. In there faces was excitement, nerves, exhaustion, and incredible relief. Through the flight, we shared a bit of conversation. Eric and Carol (from Minneapolis) had been on this journey to adopt for three years. Their son (whose name started with a 'B' and ended with a 'lou'...I wish I could remember it exactly) is 20 months old and came from an orphanage in southern Ethiopia. He was so good on the flight. Finally their longing to have a child of their own had come to fruition.

Often as I sat trying to pass the hours until we were back in the states, I'd look over and just give a half smile. Coming home for Eric and Carol presents a whole new list of challenges but a joy that is greater. When we were getting ready to land I had to tell them: 'I don't know you all, but I just want you to know that I am so happy for you'.

I have joy because as difficult as it is to believe sometimes, God is in the process of adopting us into sonship (and daughtership). One day the adoption will be made complete. Our bodies will be transformed. In the meantime, we who are awaiting our adoption have the opportunity to do things on this earth that are a foretaste of the great adoption that is to come. We care for the marginalized. We take in the orphan. We investigate ways to preserve what God has created. 

And in the meantime our prayers are carried by the Spirit who gives better words to them than might ever be able to conjure. 

Thanks be to God.

Note: The Capozzi Family is still awaiting the adoption of their son Andy to come through. Please join with their family in prayer as they long for him to come home.

Friday, August 10, 2012

I'm going to Malawi

I pastor students, and I take the responsibility to show God's compelling love seriously. God's love compels us to stand against injustice, to bring peace in a violent world, and to see every single human being as created in the imago Dei.

As a means of helping students understand human dignity we participated in a 30 Hour Famine. I partook in a famine in High School, saw it is as a positive experience, so I thought we'd give it a try too. The purpose of the 30 Hour Famine is to go without food for 30 hours in order to gain some sort of an idea of what kids are experiencing all across the world. We also raise money through our efforts. These dollars are sent directly to families to provide means of sustenance and sustainability.

Our group set a pretty basic goal: we wanted to make sure 6 kids were fed and clothed for a year. As news about the famine effort spread throughout our church, everyone got behind our students. By the time all was said and done, we raised enough money for 33 kids to receive good news in the form of bread for a year. For that all we can say is thanks be to God.

In June I received a call from NCM with the invitation to join a team to go to Malawi in conjunction with World Vision to survey what is happening with the funds we raised from the famine. We would have the opportunity to meet families and children who are being given new life and hope. I spoke to my wife Nicole about it, called my boss to see what he thought, and in both instances the response was the same: "You're going, right?"It was a tone to say, if you don't go, you'd be ludicrous. Needless to say, I said I'm there.

Next Thursday, I will be off. I fly into Seattle to meet up with the team for a day of training at the World Vision headquarters. Then we will begin a 27 hour journey to Malawi. We will be there for 5 days. Check out the map below:

I must say I'm humbled by this opportunity to see what God is up to in a world where I am the alien and the stranger. Romans 8 has also been on my mind because I don't really know how to pray for what is ahead. But I do know "the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express" (Rom 8:26). I pray that I may gain some semblance of solidarity with these people, in order to groan as they groan.

I'd love it if you'd be willing to pray along with me. Here are a few ways you:

Pray for the team, especially the students going along. The team consists of a couple of World Vision employees, 4 youth pastors, and 3 students. Pray the students are inspired to a life of passionate following Jesus and working for his redemption.

Pray for my family. Perhaps the most difficult part of this is that I will miss my family so much. Nicole and Britton will be busy the whole time, but leaving them for any period of time is never fun.

Pray for this part of the world. People are hungry and there is much suffering. We're there to see how people are finding avenues not only to get food but to have a consistent supply of food through farming and other work. Yet, the need is still great. We're there to assess how we can develop new ways to end hunger locally and abroad.

You can also keep up with the journey. Here is where you can follow Team Malawi: 
twitter: @30HF 
instagram: 30HF 

God's newness is breaking into this present world despite ourselves and our sinfulness. What a privilege is it to be a hand in the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Open Up

The weekend before last, I had the privilege of taking the seniors of our student ministry for a get away trip to Chicago. We did what you do in Chicago.

Like going to Wrigley Field:

And eating at Lou Malnati's:

And observing the skyline from the top of the Hancock:

During our time in Chicago, we talked alot about the next step of their journeys, prayed together, and just relaxed without a rigid schedule. Our time in the city was awesome. But my bet is that all three of the guys would tell you it wasn't the best part of the trip. The best time of the trip would be worshipping with a small hispanic congregation in North Chicago, IL.

I have a friend from Seminary named Edward. Edward and I met in a graduate course that we took at Olivet. We both speak of it as one of the best courses we have ever taken. For any of you interested in taking a course on Pauline studies, do yourself a favor, find Troy Martin, and take the course with him. You will not regret it. Two years later, I was sitting in an NTS classroom and in walked Edward to the room.

Edward pastors a hispanic congregation in North Chicago, IL. When I began to plan this time away with our seniors, I wanted the experience to be more dynamic than simply going and consuming activity. In what I viewed as my last teaching opportunity with them, I wanted them to experience cross-cultural worship and a hospitality they have never seen before. What we ended up finding was a hospitality I had never seen before.

I had arranged with Edward that we would stay with a Belizean family from his congregation. Now I grew up only 9 miles away from the church, and it would have been very easy just to stay at my parent's house, go to church with them, and go back. We had even spent some time at my parent's house early that afternoon to rest some, and one of my students asked, "Hey why don't we just stay here." Again, I wanted them to have to have a different experience than watching movies and laying around.

On that Friday evening, we arrived at their house to drop off our things before we made our way to the church for service. Immediately, Mrs. Estrada asked us to come in a get something to eat. She had prepared for us lamb chops and oh my, they were fantastic. She said over and over to us, "You're very welcome here."

As soon as we walked into the church, we were made family. Folks came to us and welcomed us with a sincerity that I have seen as rare. One of the really neat things about their worship gatherings is that they take time to share a small meal together after the service. Even though there was a bit of a language barrier, we sat and talked with different people from the congregation for about an hour or so after the service. They made us tostadas (which were the truth). Though our language, our skin color, and our culture was different, we felt an incredible sense of belonging.

This was just the beginning. We went back and shared more time with the Estradas after church. The family dynamic was some quite foreign to us. The house consisted of Gregorio and Ada, the heads of the household, their sons, their son's wife, and a friend. Their sons, Greg and Albert, and both in their twenties. They both work, are in school, and contribute to the good of the household.

Perhaps the most profound thing about our time with them is that the next day would be their son Greg's birthday. The night before his mother mentioned that they were going to have a surprise party for him and she would like us to be a part of it. We said sure. The next day, early in the morning we there was a lot of commotion. We all slept in the basement, and at about 7:30 their son Albert woke us up to share in the surprise. They already had several friends over, and within a couple of minutes we were at Greg's bedroom door with his dad knocking on it. He knocked a few times, and out came Greg. We all then sang "Happy Birthday!"

Then there was the food. Belizean Tomalleys. They were big. And there were lots. Then came the Belizean horchata. We sat, ate, and shared conversation all morning.

I'd call it a picture of God's kingdom.

As we prepared to leave, Gregorio asked if he could pray for us as a we went on our way. We gathered in a circle and he prayed in spanish while his son Albert translated for us. It was one of the most open, graceful prayers of blessing I have ever heard.

I've never experienced strangers at a family birthday party. Culture has dictated that these times are sacred family times, and that there are limits to who can come. I left home at the age of 18, and haven't lived there for more than 2 weeks at a time since. I have always felt that if I were to live at home again, I'd be some sort of failure. In my mind, it is you grow up, you leave, and you make your own way.

Yet, love and family were valued over self-sustainability or individual endeavor. They live in the beauty of a family model that is not restricted to the nuclear family. Their friend living with them is family. They still live together as a household even when a son is married. And love compels them to open their home to a youth pastor and three students getting ready to enter college and treat them as family. That's the kingdom, and that is true hospitality.

After we said our thank yous and our goodbyes, I asked the students to reflect on staying there a bit as we drove away. The student who asked me if we could just crash at my parent's house said, "I'm so glad we came here instead of staying there. It was awesome!" I'm glad they were catching on to the incredible grace they were shown.

My hope and my prayer for myself and my students is that their lives would be open to being hospitable. In a culture were we fortress what we value, we have to learn to be open and value giving what we have to those who are in need.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


The other night I picked up a book entitled The Story of God, The Story of Us. Now every book generally has acknowledgements, but most of us glance over them quickly in order to get into the meat of the the text and to get going with it. Somehow I got myself caught up in what Gladding called "Sleeve Notes." He recalled how he used to spend hours in his room growing up listening to CD's and reading the sleeve notes of the album over and over again to see who produced and wrote what; who played this and who played that on each song.

Gladding's sleeve notes ran through some of the significant people in his journey who had helped him become a disciple of Jesus. That night after putting the book down, I laid in bed thinking through my life and some the significant people who have helped shaped me to who I am today. I'd like to share with you my sleeve notes.

My Mom and Dad
I am so very fortunate that from the earliest moments of my life, my folks committed to an alternative lifestyle marked by following Jesus. They did what they could to show me the way of Jesus. Prayer and Scripture became part of my primary speech because they were not taught to me out of fear or dispair but out of hope and love.

Marguerite Schwartz, Mrs. Schwartz I mean (I used to get in trouble for calling her by her first name) was my Kindergarten Sunday School teacher. Though there were three of us in our little Nazarene church in Iowa, she cared deeply that we know the stories that shape the history of those who follow Christ. Though now she is resting with Jesus, the things she taught us live on.

Kay Shumaker
Kay (yes, though still impolite I called her Kay) was my 2nd grade Sunday School teacher. I still remember the day we were learning about the 10 commandments and it hit me that things I own can replace God. She taught me very basically the meaning of serving God with all our heart and putting no other gods before him. I'd like to say that my heart has not wavered since 2nd grade! But alas, I've fallen short. The truth of the matter is that without learning that lesson I might have served a whole lot more false gods than I actually have in my life. For this lesson, I'm thankful.

Vince Flippo
Pastor (I called him Pastor, not Vince) was indeed my pastor. He nicknamed me Mattman, and the name was so awesome that I put it on my first little league jersey (which, by the way, I wore through college because it was massive on me in 2nd grade. Tragically, it was lost in the travels of the summer of 2005). He was my pastor in the sense that he didn't just preach every Sunday morning at the church we happened to attend, but he knew me and cared about me--a annoying little kid with a high pitched, incredibly loud voice. Through his life, he taught me a thing or two about pastoral care. I am thankful for this.

Norma Nelson
Mrs. Nelson was my fifth grade Sunday School teacher. What I remember about being a part of that fifth grade Sunday School class (besides the fact that my first crush was also in the class) was that through the years Mrs. Nelson took us through the story of Scripture. Learning the story has shaped me. I am thankful for the time she put into preparing to teach us God's story.

Chris Miller
Chris was a youth sponsor when I entered high school. He let me drive his car. He hung out with me. He invested hours in me when he had a job and a family. Chris represents multiple adults who surrounded me and supported me through high school even though at times I was arrogant, proud, and difficult. He (and they) showed me the value of investing in the future of the church.

David Wine
Prof. Wine was a professor at Olivet that I didn't have for a class until the last semester of my senior year. Without question, he should have pounded my roommate Levi and me when we conveniently forgot an presentation we were supposed to do for his Gen. Ed. Church and Christian Living course. Instead, he responded to us with grace by simply saying, "That's not good" upon hearing the news that we were unprepared to present. Prof. Wine cared more deeply for our spiritual formation than any other professor I have encountered. He along with his wife led Nicole and I through pre-marital counseling. I am thankful for him because I know I am still in his prayers.

Keith + Judi Schwanz
My first semester of seminary was difficult. The word to best characterize it was uncertainty. I wasn't sure if it was a fit, I wasn't sure of the direction of God's call on me, it was just tough. My conversations with Keith + Judi (both who were seminary profs) were always opportunities for direction and hope. They represented, for me, the community at seminary that existed to help me, as well as other students, through the uncertainty about the future. I am thankful that they are the sort to sit with students through very difficult questions.

These people are just a sample of the network of support that has surrounded me and cared that I become a passionate disciple of Jesus Christ. Absent from this list are other mentors, pastors, family and close friends who has played a terrific role in my via salutis.

Now, it is my opportunity to have a role in the spiritual formation of young people. I care deeply that the students of our church not just have one or two people who have played significant roles in helping them to follow Jesus, but to assure that there are a network of people to show them the way. I want them to form significant, appropriate, healthy relationships that are so meaningful that when they reflect on their lives, they see God's grace through these people.

I know I have.