Celebrating Simply

simplenativityI know for most of us, the week before Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year. For us, it’s usually insane. Donn spends lots of hours prepping one of the two biggest messages of the year and trying to make them fresh, plus there are a million other details that he’s thinking about as we pull MVF’s three special Christmas Eve-Eve services together. Add all of the regular Holiday Hustle and me singing at all three services, and you have a stressed-out situation waiting to explode.

Three years ago, Donn finally let me convince him to have a small get-together of friends and family over for his birthday. I actually sent out invitations, if I remember correctly. My sister and her gang were here from Texas, my parents and Hunter and Lauren came down from Bailey, and Trooper was on Christmas break from college in Utah… so about 12 family members and about 10 other friends.

That year, Donn’s birthday, which is December 22, was on a Sunday.

Since this was literally the first party he’d ever let me throw for him, I went full-on southern belle, determined that it was going to be a perfect event… my house would be sparkling and beautiful, the food and drink would be spectacular, and I would, of course, be the life of the party.

All of our family had come down the mountain for Church that Sunday morning, and then just stayed to help get things ready for the party. That morning, I felt a strange little twinge in my belly as I hugged and kissed my sister, but I was so busy, it was easy to ignore. Donn and Trooper had shared a stomach virus the week before- and I honestly felt that it was a Christmas Miracle that I had escaped unscathed.

After church, the family minus Hunter and Lauren converged on my house to help with party prep. The twinges in my belly seemed to be getting a little more persistent, but there was no evidence that anything was wrong with me, if you know what I mean. I skipped lunch just to be safe.

Guests were to start arriving at 5:30 and literally at 5:25 there was one final lurch of my stomach and I broke out into a cold sweat and raced to the bathroom. The twinges had suddenly become very large boulders that were rolling down my southernmost hill, and there was no stopping them. There was only making sure that they rolled into the right place.

Not only were boulders rolling down the hill, but a volcano was erupting up north. At the same time. We’ve all been there. Sitting on the toilet and heaving violently into the closest trash can which is tucked securely between your knees. I had just never been there five minutes before the start of a party I was hosting.

May I just say that, I do try to be a lady. I still say Yes Ma’am and No Ma’am, I hand write thank you notes, and I cover my mouth when I sneeze. But there was nothing ladylike about this stomach flu. It came straight from the bowels of hell, and it could not be dealt with quietly. The party was in the room adjacent to the one I was in, with one thin little wall separating us.

I tried to be quiet, I did. But soon my mother and sister were standing in the bathroom door holding their noses and staring at me with horror as I did my best impression of the exorcist. I kept saying “Get Out!” in between heaves. When they finally understood they threw a cold, wet rag on my forehead and said, Don’t worry about the party, we’ve got it!

The next ten to twelve hours were a blur- kind of like a closing sale at your favorite store- Everything Must Go! I survived the night and drug myself to the performances on the 23rd, sheepishly asking the custodian at the school to please unlock the bathroom next to the stage. But I was an empty vessel at that point.

The next day, I called my parents, where all of the family was staying, to confirm our plans for Christmas day only to hear that my sister had written a poem. I’d like to share it with you now.

THE BUG BEFORE CHRISTMAS

‘Twas just days before Christmas
When all thru the fam,
A stomach bug crept
Like a thief on the lam.

First Trooper, then Donn;
Next came Angie and Daddy,
Then Audrey and Ian
And now my turn, sadly.

I ran for the bathroom,
Tore open the lid
Then heaved like I’m dying
(When did I eat squid?)

Of shivers and headaches
And teeth-chatt’ring chills
And loud eardrum ringing
I’ve had quite my fill.

Four blankets, two aspirin,
Please, stomach, don’t lurch!
I don’t want the toilet
For my all-night perch.

My mother and hubby
Alone have been spared
So please, God, please let them
This virus not share!

Warn Hunter and Lauren,
Just keep them away.
Their new life should NOT be
Beginning this way!

Tomorrow is Christmas,
Your precious Son’s birth –
One act in all history
Revealing our worth.

This virus will die out
Eventually
But Your love will not dim
Through Eternity.

So puny and queasy
And mis’rably sick
I’d rather be Yours THUS –
One thankful (sick) chick.

We postponed Christmas for two days that year. When we all finally did get together on the 27th, it was a day of pajamas, hot chocolate by the fire, chicken and dumplings, old movies, and lots of sprite and crackers. It was the one time I can remember letting the wrapping paper lay on the floor all day… we were too drained to pick it up and that was ok.
There was no mad rush to get family pictures while everyone was dressed nice. No last minute wrapping. There was no going through the paper to plan our attack of day-after-Christmas sales. There was no fancy ham or turkey, and no rushing around trying to get things done, picked up, put away.

We just… were. And we just were… together. And looking back, it’s one of my favorite Christmases to date.

Later, I thought, maybe we’re on to something…

Our next two Christmases were simple too. We fixed up and sold our house of 19 years and have been in two different rentals since then, living a vastly pared-down life. There are two storage units full of our things, and they’ve been full of our things for the past two years. The place we live now with our college-aged son Trooper is a tiny pre-WWII shoebox built in 1940 with one bathroom and no working fan. We are buying stock in Poo-Pourri.

We’ve been in transition, and life has become so. much. simpler. Waiting on God to tell us what’s next… one door opening, another closing.

All of my foofy Christmas decorations are packed in the back of one of our storage units- we don’t even know which one. But I thought ahead and kept out a few meaningful things, knowing we’d have at least one Christmas without a permanent home.

And our last two Christmases have been beautiful. Quiet. Contemplative. Not full of fuss and stuff, or spending too much money, or noisy, hectic trips to malls and post offices, fighting traffic all the way.

They’ve been… simple. And full of wonder when we read the Christmas story in Luke, contemplating what it must have been like back then. Wondering how the God of all things could choose to come into a deafening, messy world and dwell with us.

There were no earthly celebrations planned, no foofy decorations strung up to welcome him. Most of us know that Jesus came without pomp into a less-than-perfect situation: his mother a teenage bride being led by her new husband into a foreign, unwelcoming place- doors were literally slammed in their faces. She was feeling the pains in her belly become more and more frequent, though hers were of a different kind. I can almost see Mary’s desperation as she looked around at what was surely the very last place on earth she would have chosen to have The Son of God and thought, “Not here. Not now.”

I don’t know how many times I asked my boys when they were little and standing in the middle of a mess that they’d made, “What?! Were you born in a barn?”

Jesus was.

Some say it was a cave. Regardless, it was full of hay and animals, and the stuff that accompanies animals. The scriptures seem to indicate that it was just Mary and Joseph. I’d like to imagine a scene of multiple Jewish women talking loudly as they fussed over Mary and shooed Joseph away- this was not a man’s work.   But if they were able to find a midwife, we aren’t told about her.

It was just Joseph, and Mary, and finally, finally… a baby. He came intimately and naturally, straight into the arms of his family, in about as lowly and humble a place as you can find. It was messy. It was dirty. It smelled bad.

The surroundings were far from perfect. And yet Jesus still showed up, right on time, right into the middle of our simple, undecorated mess.

Did you hear that? He chose to show up into the middle of our simple, undecorated, mess. He chose simplicity over pomp for a myriad of reasons, I’m sure. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us- in one stroke he became poor and we became rich.”

But the thing that speaks most loudly to me, especially this time of year, is how simple and intimate (and a little messy) his birth was. And if simple and intimate and messy is ok with the God of All Things, it should be ok for us as well.

I would encourage you to take a look at simplicity this holiday season. Try keeping most of your foofy decorations in boxes this year- if you’re like me, you only dread having to put them all away again from the second you take them out.

I can’t talk about Simplicity without mentioning Matthew 18:1-5. The Message translation puts it this way: “At about the same time, the disciples came to Jesus asking, “Who gets the highest rank in God’s kingdom? For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, ‘I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.”

Following Jesus isn’t difficult. You don’t have to jump through a million hoops. You don’t have to be a bible scholar. You don’t have to be “good enough” before you come to him… in fact, you can be in pretty bad shape. All you need to do is believe in him and confess that. Believe that he chose to come from his high place and become one of us as a tiny baby. Believe that he died for you, and that he rose from the dead for you… for all of us.

And then – grow the relationship just like you grow any friendship. Talk to him through prayer, just like you’d talk to any friend. Hear from him by reading the Bible, especially the New Testament. Dig deeper by trying a bible study, and joining a Lifegroup where other Christians are doing the same thing. And go forward into your new life in the simplicity that he provided for us.

If you’ve stepped away from your relationship with Christ, I would say that this Holiday season is the perfect time to renew your friendship. I promise, He will run to you with open arms and welcome you back.

In closing, the world-renowned philosopher Ferris Beuller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” So, instead of a huge, fussy, over-decorated, time-consuming holiday season, try taking out a few things you love and enjoy them.

Put down your cell phone.

Stay off of social media.

Spend time with the people you love and take the time to really love them.

Ask how they’re doing and really listen.

Let the dishes sit in the sink.

Leave the wrapping paper on the floor.

Make choices that help keep things simple and streamlined… so you have time for what’s really important- thankfulness, friends, family, and most importantly, Jesus.

Fostering Our Identity in the King

If you asked my daughters why they think they’re princesses, they will most likely start into an extended monologue describing all of the relationships in our family as they relate to…me…the king. This all started way back when the girls were first becoming aware of the concept of princesses, and the undeniable fact that they wanted to be one. It was encouraged by my referencing them as “my princesses.” I would often hold them (and I still do) and kiss them, and tell them that they’re my princesses. A while back, one of them (I think it was Claire) asked me, “Papa, why am I acrown-necklace princess?” Even I’m smart enough to know that you can’t just declare yourself a princess. You have to have royal blood. You have to be in the royal family. You have to be related to the king. So in that moment, as concisely as I could, and with as much confident humility as I could muster…I explained to my girls that I’m the king, mommy is the queen, and because they are our daughters, that makes them princesses. Their eyes lit up and from that day on they’ve continued to make a pretty air-­tight argument that “I’m a princess because papa is the king.” And if anyone doesn’t seem to be stunned by that or show appreciation, they continue “and mommy is the queen and Silas is the prince!”

So cute, right?  (Not cute when they demand to be treated like princesses) But the point is, we all understand the power and implications intrinsic to relationships. At a very core level we all get what it means to have certain rights and privileges within our families that aren’t open to outsiders. We also know what it means to have certain expectations as members of our families. The same holds true in our relationship with God.

If we’re children of the KING, then what does it mean to foster our identity in King Jesus? We’re going to attempt to do that by looking briefly at what we’re talking about when we reference the “Kingdom of Heaven” and then we’re going to look briefly at what it means for us to be related to the King of that kind of kingdom.   

John 18

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
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So two things are made clear here. One, the Kingdom is not of this world and two, as King, His purpose is to “bear witness to the truth.” Pilate obviously asked the wrong question. He should have asked Jesus to clarify “what truth?” The clue lies in the phrase “bearing witness.”

Let’s go back in time just a bit to the conversations surrounding the last supper. If we look at John 14, we’ll get some clarity on what truth Jesus is bearing witness to.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.”

I don’t want to skip over the description of heaven here, but for sake of time I’m going to. Not because heaven isn’t important or significant, but because I believe the scope of Jesus’ kingdom carries even more weight than just the destination of heaven. Remember, we’re trying to figure out what Jesus meant when he said, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

 I think John 14 makes a strong case that PURPOSE—the truth Jesus is bearing witness to—is the reality that Jesus is the complete and exhaustive fulfillment of the Father’s desire and will to reveal Himself to mankind and make a way for man to be reconciled to God. And really, that’s just a fancy way of saying, THE GOSPEL! Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

So what is this Kingdom of Heaven all about? It’s about THE GOSPEL: the good news that Jesus is the way to the Father, exclusively; that Jesus is the truth, perfectly revealing the Father, His words and His works, and that Jesus is the life. John tells us in chapter 5:26 that the Son also has life in himself and the power to grant that eternal life to others. The Kingdom of heaven is about THE GOSPEL.

So now we’re going to talk about you. If you read this passage through verse 14, you can see the progression and the set-up for what this means for you. In verses 9-11 Jesus is basically telling his disciples that He is representing Christ. He’s speaking on the authority of the Father and he’s doing the works of the Father. He’s being about the Father’s business and that business is redemption.

Verse 12-14 says “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

He’s been about the Father’s business and now he’s telling you that he wants YOU to be about His business, too. It’s Kingdom business. Jesus sets examples and then asks us to imitate Him. If you believe in Jesus—if you’re related to the KING—then ask yourself, how am I bearing witness to the truth in my life? The way, the truth and the life. If you truly believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father, are you willing to share his love and grace with others? Or are you embarrassed that it might come across as politically incorrect?

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.

We could nuance the fire out of what it means when Jesus tells us that we will do greater works than He did. My personal understanding of this is that Jesus chose to place himself in one basic geographic location at a particular point in history to accomplish His saving work. But now he’s unleashed his Kingdom on the nations in a way that is described by Jesus in Matthew 13 as similar to adding yeast to a large amount of flour: Exponential growth of His KINGDOM as we imitate Christ.

I think the real question we all need to ask ourselves is when was the last time we asked God to do something so big and powerful that the results could only be explained by an all-powerful God? When was the last time we ended a prayer “IN JESUS NAME” because we were absolutely confident that what we were asking for was directly in line with Jesus’ kingdom purposes?

We’re related to the King. Let’s act like it. Let’s pray like it. Let’s foster our identity in it.

Déjà View

elevensMountain View Fellowship is celebrating its 11 year anniversary this Sunday, October 2, 2016.  WOW!  I can’t believe it’s gone by so fast.  It seems like yesterday when a small group of people were meeting in a basement dreaming about a church that “only God holds the reigns to” and where “a suit and a mohawk will sit side by side.”

Ironically, our first Sunday was October 2, 2005.  As I reflect back on eleven years of MVF being broken over and over again for eastern Colorado, I am completely humbled and overwhelmed with gratitude.  If I were to thank every single person God has used over the years to make MVF what it is today, I would likely never stop writing.  So, as we celebrate eleven years, I want to share a couple of things God has impressed upon me:

From the early years, God showed us time and time again He was more faithful than we deserved.  He made it obvious MVF was His church and not ours.  Every stage has required steps of increasing faith and each time God has done what only He can do.

He is in control.  Because God patiently walked with us, the faith of your pastors and the MVF leadership isn’t anywhere close to where it was eleven years ago.  He has grown us up in Him and we believe it’s because He has a plan for MVF bigger than we can ever imagine.  A great example is our building program.  Although it has been one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever experienced in my life, it has been a lesson in God’s provision and timing.  In hindsight our elders felt God leading us down this path not only to build His church but to grow our faith and trust in Him.  After five years of planning (two of which we’ve spent wrestling with the county), your elders have come to the sobering conclusion God has allowed us to walk this path where the project (and overall cost) has greatly increased step by step because our faith wasn’t big enough to even start the process had all of it been known in advance.  Today we’re willing to take this huge step of faith that we wouldn’t have taken five years ago.  Reason?  We’ve learned God is in control and He is faithful and trustworthy.

Eleven years ago, I entered into ministry to become a pastor of this new thing we now call MVF because I love God and you.  It was unquestionably a “calling” which I could not ignore (trust me, I tried).  I left a good paying job with great benefits and security to launch a church on the I-70 Corridor with a group of crazy people who were passionate about God and lost people – many of whom are still giving it all they have at MVF.  It’s not just me.  It’s not just the staff.  It’s not just the elders or leadership.

MVF is full of people who love God and are passionate about building His kingdom.  Our Motive is “You Over Me” because that’s how the core group of people at MVF live their lives – always sacrificing for the glory of God.  You’ve shown up early every week for eleven years to set up for services, parked in the farthest corners of the parking lot, watched other people’s children, given up your seats, greeted people you didn’t know with a smile, switched to another service to make room, let go of your preference of worship, led weekly Lifegroups, attended all kinds of meetings during the week, etc., etc., etc.  Why?  To see people far from God come face-to-face with the One who loved & died for them.  To celebrate 372 baptisms and countless transformed lives and restored relationships.  All of you are so godly in how you serve without complaining- even when I have another “idea” about how we can do better which usually requires some measure of change.  I’m humbled by you and honored to serve with such a great family of brothers and sisters.  You make MVF great by being a reflection of Christ to eastern Colorado.  

People typically refer to their occupation as their “work” because it’s stressful and something they have to do.  I can honestly say mine has been a pleasure.  Do I have regrets? Yes, but none God hasn’t been able to overcome (Praise God for that).  But the majority of the last eleven years have been a journey of blessing and growth.

I sit in amazement of how God has taken our measly offering and turned it into something beautiful.  I’m shocked how fast eleven years has gone by and how much God has done in and through MVF.  I look forward to seeing what He will do over the next eleven.  Happy Anniversary MVF!

Surviving the School Year… Don’t Let the Poo Pile Up!

You might remember that one of my last blogs (Inspect What You Expect) left you with a cliff hanger!!! I’m SURE you have been waiting with bated breath to hear how I got the dog poo out of the basement window well.  At least humor me…  Honestly it was rather anticlimactic.  I opened the window, got a rubber glove and a bucket, and went to town.  It just had to be done.  My failure to deal with it in the fall only left the same poo to be dealt with in the spring.  It didn’t just go away. 

So how does this apply to the school year?  Well last year at the end of the year, we were all excited and ready for a break.  A break from lunch packing, homework schedules, teacher communication, getting out the door without looking like a homeless person, or whatever your “thing” was.  But just like the poo, all those things didn’t go away over the summer.  They’re all back! 

Back and Better Than EVER!

I like Pinterest, I like idea-sharing, I like efficiency, in fact I plan for efficiency.  At some level, I think all parents do.  Their goal and hope is to have things “ready.”  Obviously we are all at different levels of readiness.  The question I’m asking myself this school year is, “What if all the preparation doesn’t pay off?”  So for instance, when….

I set out all of the clothes the night before.  My girls wake up complaining about how those jeans don’t feel right.

I make lunch the night before (or better yet, have a super cool organizer for my child to be able to make his own lunch).  But my child forgets to utilize my hard work and put his lunch in his bag.

I have asked said child 3 times to brush his teeth, and the last time yelled to get his attention.

I set aside time in my day to help with homework, and I don’t understand what the homework is!

I daily remind my children as they head out the door to make good choices, and yet I receive a poor report from school.

I nightly pray God’s protection over my children while they are at school.  I find out my child was injured at school.

I want my kids to have the whole package of experiences when it comes to school and childhood, and now I find myself running every different direction.

You homeschool your children.  You wield the double sword of academic education and parenting all in one sitting!

So when… all of these things happen, what’s going to make this year different?  My “response” is what I hope and pray will be different.   I want to try using the ultimate “life hack” – the infallible Word of God:)  bible-makes-a-love-heart1

So when the jeans don’t fit right and complaints come pouring out of my child’s mouth… I want to gently and kindly remind them (and myself) that God tells us to “Do everything without complaining or arguing”  Philippians 2:14.  Even when putting on our clothes.  And then remind them to be thankful they have clothes (or at least clean ones).

And when the child forgets to take the lunch I so DILIGENTLY prepared, maybe this time I will choose to show grace (knowing that I forget things too) and gently remind him that this is his responsibility and God values diligence. Proverbs 22:29

When I find myself yelling to get my child’s attention…  I hope to first, stop yelling because James 1:20 tells me that “the anger of man, does not produce right action”.  And then I will consistently hold my child accountable to responding the first time.

When I find I don’t understand what is happening at school whether it be homework, social interactions, or safety issues, I will pursue being “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” James 1:19.  Knowing that I should not rush to judgement or emotion before hearing all the facts.

When I find myself signed up for too many things, I want to run everything through the grid of Matthew 6:33 to determine if the activity has Kingdom value.  How can I (and my children) best love God and others through this activity.   “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things (even a blessed and full childhood) will be added to you.”

And homeschool parents, you have one of the hardest jobs out there!  I’ve often thought about how hard that would be.  If I were in that situation I would imagine I would cling to all of the same truths and then plead with God to bathe me in buckets of grace as I seek to “speak truth (educate) in love” all while seeking to parent my children well.

So this year with God’s help, I am purposing to do things differently.  I don’t want the same poo to be there at the end of the year… Who wants to join me?

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Kelly Curtis
Director of MVF Kids

It’s Just Me…

Hunter and LaurenThis seems like a true circle. Many of you may know me as Donn’s son or as the “pastor’s kid.” The truth is, I hope that I can be much more than just those things. It’s not that I am embarrassed of my family or am resentful of them in any way. It has more to do with the fact that since my family moved here back in 1995 I have always been known for what my family members did.

Originally I was that State Patrol officer’s kid. Then my mother became the secretary at the church we were attending and I was her son. After that my parents became the volunteer youth leaders and then I was the son that wasn’t old enough to be going to youth group. Then my dad felt called to be the pastor of a new church… and well, you get the idea.

I thought that it would be better in school and truth be told, it was worse. Every action/inaction was a reflection of my family who, it seemed, EVERYONE knew. It was not until college that I experienced the freedom of not being known. For the first time in my life people got to know me for who I was and not who my parents or brother were. It was just me.

Now that I’ve moved back to Strasburg I have already been reminded that this has not necessarily changed. Again, it’s not a bad thing; I’m proud of my family and what we stand for… but I would also like for the people of MVF to see my actions apart from my mother, father, and brother.

So when I was asked to write a blog to introduce myself, I thought about how I could write this. I decided the best thing to do would be to describe what my life has looked like since I left Strasburg and really started asking myself the question, “Who am I?”

I graduated in 2008 from SHS and got out of town as quickly as possible. I knew that I wanted to be a youth pastor and so I only applied to one school: Ozark Christian College. When I got there I found incredible freedom to do what I wanted. I was placed in an academic dorm on a floor of guys that prided themselves on being very intellectual and theological.

I felt like I was not accepted or liked. I graduated from Strasburg High School with my Associate’s Degree and entered college as a junior. However, at OCC they had Christian prerequisite classes that I was required to take. This meant that as I was taking junior level classes in theology while I was taking the freshman prerequisite classes that were giving me the required knowledge for the junior classes I was taking.

Simply put, I didn’t do well my first semester. I was placed on academic probation and the frustration that was already evident by the other people who were living all around me only increased. After talking with my academic advisor we figured out what was going on and why I was having such a hard time with everything. After a long talk and some shifting of the following semester’s classes I went from being on academic probation directly to the honor roll.

The summer after my freshman year at OCC, I worked an internship near my grandparents in Colorado Springs at a church that my parents had attended before ever moving to Strasburg. I loved it and only became more confident that this is what God had in mind for me.

I came back to Ozark pumped up and more excited than ever. The dorm floor I was placed on had the rule that every semester we got new roommates. The roommate that I had for the first semester of my sophomore year was the guy who was basically the social leader of the floor. It took all of three weeks of me asking questions and watching movies in my dorm room for him to come to resent me. He quickly turned the whole floor against me.

I was no longer welcome to spend free time with the other guys. So I spent my spare time working part time at an indoor putt putt golf course. I got really good at a sport that no one cares about. I put in lots of overtime and got paid a decent amount. But I had no friends and felt like an outsider.

I was soon offered a weekend position at a church as an intern. I accepted without any hesitation. I was now off campus as much as I possibly could be. I enjoyed the internship a lot but when it wrapped up, I couldn’t take being at OCC anymore. So, I took a break and spent the following year back in Strasburg.

This would be a year of change for me… it became both intolerable and critical for me as far as making me the man I am today. I discovered not just who I was, but more importantly, who God wanted me to be. I even found the woman that I would marry. After a rough year and lots of health issues, I decided to go back to a different school that was closer to my bride-to-be. This lead me to Dallas Christian College.

I found an entirely different environment at DCC. An entire school that was more dedicated to doing ministry than just learning about it. A school that was much smaller than Ozark but was twice as passionate about saving the lost. I was home, almost.

I proposed to Lauren after my first semester at DCC; some of you may remember, as I proposed on stage at Mountain View Fellowship’s Christmas Eve-Eve service.  We set our date for January 2014.

The following year I worked hard. I worked the night shift at a hotel during the week and filled in as the children’s pastor for an inner-city Hispanic church named Iglesias De Miestro in Dallas. I also carried a heavy load those two semesters… one at 19 credit hours and the following at 22 credit hours. Sometimes I look back and wonder how I did it, but I know God gave me the strength.

It was all worth it… I had more ministry experience than ever before, I graduated early, had a beautiful wife, and was ready to start this new life adventure! I was hired at Aspen Ridge Church and worked there for two and a half years. I had the pleasure of watching God take that youth ministry from six teens to over sixty. Now that I’m here at Mountain View Fellowship, I’m craving being part of long-term student ministry. Using the experience that I (and all of our youth workers) have, the youth team and I will be able to craft a student ministry for both middle and high school teens that will be welcoming, safe, and encouraging. Our goal is to show teens that God loves them, that the Bible is still relevant today, and that He has a plan for their life.

As you will come to find, our student ministry will always be doing something. Every month we’ll be reaching out to new students and friends of the students already coming. We’ll be showing them first-hand how to serve, and give them experiences that will impact the rest of their life.

All of this will be done though the building of relationships with the students so they’ll always have somewhere to turn and a safe place to talk where they won’t be judged. But most importantly this will all be done so that we can point students to a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I have the pleasure to be part of a team of dedicated sponsors (that are all amazing, by the way… you should hug the next one you see!) that leads this already successful group of students into a ministry that will overflow into the communities of Bennett, Byers, Strasburg, and beyond.

I ask for your prayers and support as we start this mission of winning the students of the 1-70 corridor as they dive into a life-long relationship with Jesus. I ask this not as Donn’s son, Angie’s kid, or the guitar player’s older brother, but as the Youth Pastor God has called me to be, and the man that I am trying to become.

-Hunter Headley
Hunter Crazy

Open and Closed Doors

My sister and I are pretty close. We talk and text quite a bit and have a deep sister-bond thing going on. She lives in Houston and whenever I visit her, the second I walk through the front door with my suitcase and pillow, (Don’t judge. That thing has been all over the world.) it’s like going home, because she’s there. Her entry isn’t big or fancy, but it’s welcoming and I know I can immediately kick off my shoes and get comfy. Most importantly, her door is easy to walk through, and I know it’s always open.

Once in high school, I had an argument with a girlfriend. After cooling off and deciding that the blame was partly mine and our friendship was worth more to me than being right, I went to her house to apologize. She answered the door and before I could get five words out, she slammed it in my face. Apparently I had taken a step towards her when I started talking, because the door literally hit my forehead and took out the toes on one foot. Though we could eventually hang out again, it was unfortunately never the same.   That particular door closed painfully and abruptly (both physically and emotionally) and stayed closed.

open-closed-door1

Doors seem to be a theme in my life lately because the only constant has been change. What do doors have to do with change? Whenever you walk through an open door your environment or situation changes. Whenever a door closes, you either stay where you are, or, if that’s not an option, you go in a different direction.

If you know me at all, I’m usually not one to seek out or enjoy change. I’m generally not the one in our family who appreciates spontaneous adventures. I might even be a little… a-hem… uptight, according to a 50% poll result within our marriage. But this past season, especially in our personal lives, the amount of change has been incredible:

  • We had a friend stop by the office asking if we knew anyone who was looking to buy a house. (We’d been kicking around the idea of selling our home and getting completely out of debt.) The owner wanted to get rid of it quick and offered it to us at a reduced price. Door Opened.
  • We quickly decided to fix up and sell the house we’d raised our boys in and lived in for nineteen years. It sold quickly. Door opened.
  • We moved into the unfinished basement of our friend’s house and started to pay rent, thinking we were going to start remodeling the home as soon as the purchase was complete. There were issues with the purchase, so we continued to rent the house instead. Door Closed.
  • There was a sudden opening in the youth pastor position at our church. One Door Closed and a new Door Opened.
  • Donn began looking at and interviewing over sixty applicants. Our son, who has a bachelor’s in Youth Ministry from Dallas Christian College, sent his application in. Donn withdrew from the interviewing process completely and a committee was formed to hire the new youth pastor. Door Closed.
  • To our great glee and surprise, the committee chose our son Hunter to be the new youth pastor. He accepted the position. Door Opened.
  • When Hunter and his wife began looking at houses for their move to Strasburg, there was very little available, and nothing that they could afford. Door Seemingly Closed.
  • It occurred to us that they could afford the house we were currently renting. They loved it, spoke to the owner, and made the same deal we had originally made with the owner to buy a house they’ll be able to grow into and couldn’t have afforded otherwise. And it was a house that wouldn’t have been available at all had we not been renting (and unknowingly holding) it for them. Door Opened.
  • We were worried about continuing to live in the basement of a house our kids bought and started looking for a rental. We looked and prayed. Nothing seemed available. Door Closed
  • Just in time, and right before the kids moved into their new house, a friend tipped us off to a rental that hadn’t even come on the market yet. It’s small and needs some work, but we were able to acquire it and are working on making it home for the next few months while we walk through the next door (Opened).

Honestly, I could keep going on and on. And I bet if you looked at some of the circumstances currently going on in your life, you’d have a pretty big list of opened and closed doors yourself. A lot of people call these things fate or karma, but I don’t.

I think opened and closed doors are one of the biggest ways that God speaks to us and directs us. You didn’t get into your number one college choice? Door Closed. God has a plan for you somewhere else and that door will open; you’ll walk through it thinking you’ve settled for less than you wanted or that you didn’t make the mark, and your mind is going to be blown by how “right” everything is. God’s view of our lives is So. Much. Bigger. than our own.

Jesus compares himself to a door in John 14:6, He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. From this point forward, I’m going to refer to doors and gates interchangeably. We’re going to wrap this up with a shepherd and some sheep, so a gate completes the metaphor more naturally, with the same outcome.

gate_sheep_door

Here are a few things the Bible tells us that I believe in- instead of fate, luck, and karma… I pray you do too!

Jesus is the gate for the sheep. John 10:7- Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.”

He opens and closes the gates. John 10:9- “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.”

Jesus wants the best and fullest life possible for us. John 10:10-  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

The shepherd can see the wolf coming when the sheep can’t and opens and closes the gates for them to keep them safe. John 10:11-13 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

He is the Good Shepherd – He knows us and knows what’s best for us and opens and closes the gate/door to this end. John 10:14-15-  “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

It isn’t only “us” he cares for and this is why our “out” relationships are so important. John 10:16- I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

We can trust him to make decisions for us (by opening and closing the gate) because he wants the very best for us. Jeremiah 29:11- For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

 Sometimes it’s difficult to see past a closed door when it’s something you want badly. We can get lost staring at that door… trying to see what could have been (or, in our eyes, what should have been). We waste precious time not being open to God’s version and dwell on our own. Sometimes we bang on the door, insisting that we be let in, or worse, force our way in, failing to trust that whatever is behind it was not meant for us.

The next time a door knocks you in the head because it was slammed in your face, remember it’s the perfect opportunity for God to open the right one.

Finding Joy in Your Lament

Can I get 2 pumps of extra ‘sweet’ with my VENTE…

Did you know the French word ‘vente’ is a word meaning sale or selling? And sell they do…I love me some Starbucks!  It reminds me of the English word ‘vent’. Vent means to express (an emotion) usually in a loud or angry manner, to give often vigorous or emotional expression to ______… you fill in the blank. Maybe some injustice you are feeling? 

Interesting.

Put the 2 together and we can ‘vent’ or show vigorous emotion to try and ‘sell’ someone else on our side of an issue.  And just like adding some sweet stuff to our vente drinks, we usually try to throw in some ‘sweet stuff’ relating to ourselves to further the ‘sale’ of our side of the story.  Usually, we are venting to another person. Rarely are we seeking God.

I would propose that it’s okay to vent from time to time.  But, we may be going about it all wrong. As believers and Christ followers, we should be ‘lamenting’ not venting. And we should be lamenting to God, the only one with power to change circumstances, way more than venting an issue to move others to our side.

In King David’s time, he vented—I mean, lamented—many a time. A lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. Did you know that over a third of the Psalms found in the bible are laments? I find it ironic that a third of the psalms are expressing deep grief about something and yet the Jews referred to the Book of Psalms as ‘The Book of Praises.’  Laments and Praises—hmmm…I think we can learn something here.  

divorce

There is praise to be given despite the sorrow and grief.  There is joy to be found in Him, irregardless of the circumstances.  

For most of us parents, a send-off is bittersweet, a mixture of praise and sorrow—like the summer camp send off, or the college send off or the week at Grandma’s send off.  The send off is mixed with some sadness at being separated or a chapter of life ending and the joy (praise) in new opportunities and adventures. The preparation for this type of send off begins early and tends to be more highly anticipated than dreaded. But for some of us parents, there is another send off which is more dreaded than anticipated and where preparation is put off until the last possible moment. It’s the divorced child swap/send off. Statistically it happens in about half of all households. If you can relate, either as a parent or as a child of divorce, I am deeply sorry.

If you are divorced, I pray you know Christ as your Savior and feel His forgiveness and peace.  If your parents are divorced, I pray you not only know Christ as your Savior, but God as your ultimate parent, who loves you and protects you.

According to Moody Bible Commentary, a lament psalm has certain characteristics. It begins with an introductory plea to God followed by the specific lament or description of the issue being lamented over.

It’s that time again Lord.  Be gracious to me.  I don’t want to send my kids. I know it’s selfish, but I love being a mama.  I hate the ‘uglies’ that come out during this preparation time.

The arguing and fits over laundry, appropriate clothes to pack, and cleaning of their rooms, which is about so much more than a messy room. This is all the surface stuff Lord. This is what we ‘fight’ about rather than the real issue…divorce.

You know Lord, for a girl who always wanted to have a big family, to be a wife and a mama, divorce was not an option or even on my radar.

I never thought I would be sharing my kids. At least not until they got married and took off on their own.

I never thought I would miss out on holidays and vacations with my kids.

I never thought that trips to the airport, sending off my ‘unaccompanied minors,’ would be such a regular occurrence.

I never thought I would be comforting my crying kids as we said goodbye and then walking away…alone…while my own tears fall.

I never thought send offs would mean ‘losing it’ over messy rooms and packing.

There is a confession of trust in God despite the circumstances and a plea for help. Laments conclude with a promise to praise God in the circumstance AND no matter the outcome or lack of deliverance.

Oh, God, I know the kiddos struggle between sadness over leaving us and excitement about going to see their dad. Lord, help me to be a wise woman who builds up her house, not tears it down. I don’t want to make it any harder on them. I will put my trust in you Lord. I will be clinging to you God since we’ll be doing this send off thing for about 9 more years. I know messy rooms and packing shouldn’t be a big deal, but divorce has a way of amplifying the littlest things, Lord. It takes a lot of time to pack these kids, time I’d rather be spending doing something fun with them.  And what to pack? It drives me crazy when they forget stuff at their dad’s. I know Lord, You provided the stuff to begin with and You’ll work it out.. Thank you Lord for the cell phone, which I normally have issues with.  At least we can snap a photo of everything they’ve packed to help them.  Lord, I’m trusting you!  It is your strength and peace working within me. Thank you that You are concerned over all my tears and that You, God, are for me. I will praise You in all circumstances, including send offs. You’ve protected them every time thus far.  I read Proverbs 14:13 today, Lord.  “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, And the end of joy may be grief.”  Let us laugh together despite the circumstances, and Lord, let there be joy found in You! You are a good God and I will praise You! Amen.

Like King David modeled in his laments, we too can go to God, be real with Him about our issues, seek His help and guidance, and then declare our trust in Him and praise Him!

I don’t like the ‘uglies’ before send off.  I don’t like the actual send-off.  I don’t like the silent tears after send-off.  I’m telling you and I’m telling God.

Because if King David cried out to God and was real with Him, then I can too. He has given us the example of how to properly lament, not vent.

Jodi Ross
Director of Women’s Ministry at MVF
Ross family