Migration, Ordination, and Translation

We made it to Greeley, CO safely and with most of our sanity. Heaps of thanks to all who prayed for us as we endured what ended up being a 24-hour road trip. Highlights of the trip include the following: the Top of Texas Catholic Superstore (like a religious Walmart?), the billboard in northern Texas advertizing a “24/7 Yum Machine” (a glorified vending machine), a giant mound in New Mexico with a single porta potty at the top (when you gotta go, you gotta … climb a mountain?), and Cullen’s commentary along the way (“Dad, this is another one of those nothing towns”). Aidan and Cullen both were great in the car. This was largely due to the fact that I purchased the entire Chronicles of Narnia series on CD before we left Birmingham, AL. The boys absolutely loved listening to these. For parents taking children on a long trip, I highly recommend this set of audio books. The guy who does the voice of Aslan overdramatizes the part a bit, but all in all I would say this is one of my best purchases ever!

Tomorrow, I head to Greenwood Community Church for an examination before the Ministerial Committee. I’m presently working through the EPC ordination process. The EPC is quite thorough, and I’m very thankful for this. A rigorous ordination/installation process plays a pivotal role in protecting our churches from false teaching.

On the subject of ordination, just this morning I was reading C.S. Lewis’ Essay Collection, and I stumbled across this gem, which I find worthy of sharing. Lewis writes:

Every examination for ordinands ought to include a passage from some standard theological work for translation into the vernacular. The work is laborious but it is immediately rewarded. By trying to translate our doctrines into vulgar (meaning “common”) speech we discover how much we understand them ourselves. Our failure to translate may sometimes be due to our ignorance of the vernacular; much more often it exposes the fact that we do not exactly know what we mean.

Agreed. Following the lead of a very influential professor of mine, I refer to this as “the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Many church leaders today are opting to cut all theological lingo out of their sermons. I think this is a mistake. We need to use words like “atonement,” “justification,” and “propitiation” in our sermons, because the Bible uses them–a lot! People need to know what these terms mean. Rather than shying away from such terms, pastors need to master the art of translation, of explaining biblical and theological words in such a way that anyone can understand them. I don’t care if someone doesn’t understand the word “atonement” when they come to our church; I do care if they don’t understand the term when they leave.

“Go West, Young Man”: We’re Off to Colorado

Pods 1Our pods just left for CO. We’re cramming the remainder of our possessions in our car and planning on leaving Birmingham, AL tomorrow morning at 3:00am (we’ll eat some barbeque in the car; happy Independence Day). We’ll drive first to Fort Worth, TX (about ten hours) and stay two nights with family there. Then we’ll leave at 3:00am on the morning of July 6th and head all the way to our new home, Greeley, CO (roughly twelve hours). So, yes, that’s twenty-two hours of driving … with a four and a six year old … and our four year old has just come down with a 103 fever! Poor little guy has awful luck when it comes to moving. When we moved to New Zealand three and a half years ago, he got Chickenpox on the plane.

As we get ready to go West, we ask our family and friends to pray for the following:

  • Quick healing for our youngest son, Cullen.
  • Safety as we travel unfamiliar roads at ridiculous hours of the morning.
  • Patience and gentleness for Dillon and Jamie. These will be greatly needed, as we will probably be listening to our boys sing the “Pink Elephants on Parade” song from Dumbo about 12,000 times.
  • A boundless supply of Benadryl, so Aidan and Cullen will sleep most of the way. (Alright, alright, I’m just kidding about this one. Maybe.)
  • Our first few weeks in Greeley, as we will have a lot to do: preaching, meetings, getting to know many new people, unpacking a few things, continuing the process of getting a house, investigating schools for Aidan, learning our way around the city, etc.

If you haven’t heard, the church I will be shepherding is Cornerstone Community Church (EPC). You can visit the church website here. And you can find sermon audio here. I’ll be preaching on July 12th, and, assuming the congregational meeting that day goes well, will be preaching weekly beginning August 2nd. Jamie, Aidan, Cullen, and I are excited to play a small part in the great things that God is doing in Greeley. Cornerstone family, we’ll see you soon!

Helps for Search Committees and Pastoral Candidates

Praying for DaddyA former professor of mine is fond of saying that most church committees consist of “the unwilling doing the unnecessary for the uninterested.” Thankfully, my most recent experience with a committee was nothing like this.

In this post, I have an exciting announcement to make and a few words of advice to offer.

First, the announcement. As many of my readers will know, at the end of 2014 my family and I returned to the States from New Zealand, where we had been studying and serving the Lord since the start of 2012. We returned to the States confident that, in his perfect timing, God would let us know where he wanted us to serve him next. Over the past several months, I have talked to around forty churches and Christian colleges/seminaries and done (as far as I can tally) close to fifty interviews. It has been quite the process! But I am pleased to say that the Lord has now made it clear where he wants us. The search committee of Cornerstone Community Church (EPC) has unanimously nominated me to be their next Senior Pastor, and I have accepted the nomination. In the days ahead, my family and I will be traveling back to Greeley, CO. I will preach for the second time in Greeley on July 12th, and a congregational meeting will be held that day to affirm the call. We are excited to get to know our new faith family and grateful for this opportunity to play a small part in the great things God is doing at Cornerstone. Soli Deo gloria!

Second, the advice. I realize that many churches and numerous candidates out there presently find themselves in the stage of waiting and discerning that I myself have just gone through. I hope here to provide some helpful information gleaned from my experience.

Let’s start with what I think is the best process for a search team. The obvious initial step is to collect resumes. But after this first step, I came across a variety of approaches. Some committees called me and set up an in-person interview without taking the time to learn much about my theology and ministry philosophy. On one occasion my wife and I went to dinner with a search team and they almost immediately brought up a very specific eschatological view (dispensational premillennialism, for those who are into these things). Jamie gave me “the look” and I ordered something stronger to drink. It was clear that this wasn’t going to be a good fit. Another church received my resume, made no contact with me for four months, then, entirely out of the blue, called to set up an in-person visit. At the other end of the spectrum was the church that had me complete four questionnaires and do three telephone interviews (of nearly two hours each!) before the in-person interview. This, it seems to me, is a bit too much. You can only tell so much about a person on paper or over the phone.

In my judgment, the best process is the one Cornerstone used with me. There are essentially four steps. 1) Collect resumes. 2) Have candidates respond to a set of key questions in writing. 3) Conduct two phone interviews. The first one is for the search team to get to know the candidate. The second one is for the candidate to get to know the church and the community. 4) Bring the candidate (and spouse) to the church for the in-person interview and for an opportunity to preach at a neutral site. Of course, throughout the entire process, the search team is praying. This was abundantly clear to me as I interacted with the Cornerstone committee. Additionally, other matters will need to be worked into the four-step process outlined above, matters such as reviewing sermon samples, contacting references, and doing a background check.

Two further features of the Cornerstone committee struck me. One was that it was a diverse group. Men and women. Younger and older. Variety of backgrounds and professions. This, I think, is an excellent idea. The other was their willingness to bring both me and my wife to Greeley, Co (from Birmingham, AL) for the in-person interview. I did quite a few in-persons; most of the churches did not invite the spouse. In my mind, it is very important for both the husband and wife to go to the interview, and I would say that this is important from both perspectives. The search committee needs to get to know the husband and the wife. As we say in our house, “Ministry is a family affair.” Also, my wife frequently discerns things that I don’t, so having her with me is a tremendous help in trying to figure out if we are going to be the right fit for a particular church and area.

Moving along to the pastoral candidate’s part, let me first offer three words of encouragement. God is sovereign. God is good. When God bids us wait, he bids us wait for something. Basic truths, I know. But the search process sometimes has a way of eroding our theological foundation. Don’t let it. Keep these truths in mind.

As for the more practical stuff, the most important thing I can say is this: be yourself. You don’t want to go through the interview process as a pretender, get the call from a church, and then realize, “Oh great, now I have to be that guy.” It’s no fun being a schizophrenic shepherd. The God who called you and gifted you has a place where you can enjoy doing ministry the way you have been wired to do it.

Finally, the most frightening part of the process for some people is the questions. “What are they going to ask me?” “Will they want me to recite the Westminster Confession?” “What if they ask me about the seventy weeks of Daniel?” Being the overly organized, Type-A guy that I am, I kept every questionnaire I completed over the last six months or so. Below you will find a list of fifteen questions I was asked at least twice (and in some cases numerous times). We’re always thrown a curveball or two (I’ve also given you one of my curveballs below), but this list should help you get started in your thinking and preparation. May God lead you, as he has me, to that portion of his flock he wants you to shepherd.

1. What is the gospel?

2. Summarize your understanding of the Christian faith.

3. What are your strengths and weakness, and how do you compensate for your weaknesses?

4. What are your spiritual gifts?

5. What is your leadership style?

6. What is your philosophy of ministry?

7. How do you prepare for a Sunday sermon?

8. Tell us about your devotional habits.

9. How do you spot spiritual maturity in someone?

10. How do you define a healthy church?

11. What is your perspective on worship style, and what role have you personally taken in planning worship services?

12. Who are the historic or current Christians you return to again and again for instruction and inspiration?

13. Have you previously trained others in personal evangelism? If so, how?

14. What experience do you have in developing leaders in ministry?

15. How is the gospel transforming your life right now?

The Curve: Tell us about a time in your ministry when you just totally blew it.

PS – The picture at the top of this post is of my two boys, Aidan and Cullen, praying for me from Birmingham as I preached last weekend in Greeley. Like I said, ministry is a family affair.

Why Christians Should Get Vaccines

Those interested in learning more about the vaccination debate would do well to consult the May issue of Christianity Today.

Matthew Loftus, a family doctor based in Baltimore, has written a very good piece that encourages parents, and especially Christian parents, to vaccinate their children. Loftus argues that we should not let the rare story of a vaccine gone bad divert our attention away from the larger body of evidence. He writes, “The scientific evidence overwhelmingly suggests that vaccines carry a high chance of benefiting us and an incredibly low chance of harming us.”

Loftus also does an excellent job of explaining that vaccines still represent a crucial weapon against diseases that would otherwise kill, and that when parents opt out of vaccination because of concerns about their own children, they are whittling away at the herd immunity that protects the most vulnerable individuals (such as those who suffer from poverty and do not have the same power to protect themselves and their children). The measles, for example, which kills 146,000 people each year, is incredibly contagious. If 100 people are in a room, and 1 has the measles, 90 of those exposed–if not already vaccinated–will be infected. Bottom line: The decision to opt out of vaccination affects many, many others, not just our own children.

Again, the full article, written by Matthew Loftus, can be found in the May issue of CT.

A Piece of the Puzzle?: An Update on the Cause of Cullen’s Stroke

Here is a brief medical update for those who have so faithfully prayed for our family over the last six or seven weeks.

Since March 2nd, the doctors have been hard at work trying to determine the cause of Cullen’s stroke. This means lots of needles, blood, and tests, which is very scary for a kid who just turned four. But Cullen has been exceptionally brave for such a little guy, just like Reepicheep, his favorite character from Narnia.

Yesterday, the nurse at our pediatrician’s office called us with some test results. The main discovery is that Cullen is anemic. I am hopeful that this might be the missing piece of the puzzle for which we have been searching. Last night and early this morning, I read a few medical journals, and there is some evidence in the medical community to suggest a link between iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) and ischemic strokes, the type of stroke Cullen had. A 2007 study, published in Pediatrics, argues, “Children with iron-deficiency anemia accounted for more than half of all stroke cases in children without an underlying medical illness, which suggests that iron-deficiency anemia is a significant risk factor for stroke in otherwise healthy young children.” A 2011 study in Archives of Disease in Childhood further explores the association between IDA and ischemic strokes in children. I plan to discuss all of this with our neurologist ​when we meet with him on May 8th. He will know if the theory holds water.

The potential good news is that, if the neurologist thinks that IDA could have caused Cullen’s stroke, then it might be the case that we can greatly decrease the chance of future strokes simply by keeping Cullen on iron supplements. Here’s hoping (and praying).

Celebrating Our Father’s Loving Care: An Update on Cullen’s Progress

It’s mind-blowing how drastically the human body can change in a matter of days.

On March 1st my youngest son, Cullen, was running around like a wild man. The morning of March 2nd he had a stroke and for two full days couldn’t even stand to his feet. On March 4th he took a few steps while holding two hands for support. The next day he took a few more steps, and did so holding only one hand. By March 6th Cullen was walking across the room and back while holding one hand, and he even took several steps without assistance. On March 7th and 8th he was walking all over the place. Though still a bit shaky, he was getting much faster and never asked for help. March 9th we took Cullen to see the physical therapist at Children’s Hospital here in Birmingham, AL. He ran full speed for the first time since the stroke. He also walked up and down stairs without any help. The physical therapist gave him a great report and didn’t even schedule a follow-up visit.

As far as we can tell, Cullen is back to his boisterous, acrobatic, pre-stroke self, with just one minor exception: he has not yet regained full control of the right side of his face. He’s making progress in this area, but things are moving slowly. We still have no information with respect to the cause of the stroke. We should be receiving test results within the month, and we are scheduled to meet with a neurosurgeon in two weeks. Hopefully he will have some answers for us. Whether or not we discover the cause of the stroke, we are grateful to our sovereign God for his healing touch. We may not ever (at least in this life) find out what exactly happened to Cullen on the morning of March 2nd. Sometimes we aren’t meant to know. And in those mysterious occurrences, those times when we know the least, we lean most on the Lord. The doctors may not be able to take actions to decrease the chances of future strokes. Whatever happens, we take comfort in the fact that Cullen is in the care of our loving Father, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, things high and low, visible and invisible, great and small. This God is not weak; He is almighty. He is not whimsical; He is faithful. He is not reckless; He is wise.

We will provide additional updates if new information comes to light. Literally thousands of people have followed Cullen’s story and prayed fervently for our family over the last week and a half. Again, we would like to express our sincere gratitude.

Grace, mercy, and peace,

Dillon, Jamie, Aidan, and Cullen

Emerging from Our Chasm: An Update on My Son, Cullen

In the early days of this week my family lived deep in a dark chasm of anguish. No one else lives in this chasm. Not even God. Or so we felt at times.

On Monday, March 2nd, my three-year-old son, Cullen, fell and hit his head on the gymnasium floor at his school. My wife, Jamie, teaches at Cullen’s school, and was in the gym when the fall occurred, though she did not see exactly what happened, nor did any of the other adults who were present. Cullen’s mouth was bleeding, and he was crying, but Jamie was able to calm him down, and he sat in her lap for the next hour or so. Things appeared to be getting back to normal–no harm done–when suddenly Cullen started coughing and vomiting. Jamie rushed him to the bathroom where he continued vomiting and then lost his balance and fell over. As Jamie describes it, Cullen did not seem to be unconscious, but it appeared as if he suddenly lost all feeling in the right side of his face, the same side he had fallen on an hour earlier. A wonderful friend of Jamie’s who serves as the co-director of the school rushed her and Cullen to the ER in Tuscaloosa. I met them at the hospital shortly thereafter. Within the next few hours Cullen vomited two more times and appeared very tired. We also noticed that he had a pretty bad fat lip on the right side of his mouth. At this point, Jamie and I both thought he had a concussion. The hospital in Tuscaloosa did a CT scan, and they didn’t find anything disconcerting, but the doctor wanted us to go to Children’s Hospital in downtown Birmingham to have Cullen examined by the specialists there. Just before we left Tuscaloosa, the doctor said, “In the end I think this is just going to be a fall at school combined with a case of the flu. I don’t even think he has a concussion.” And so we headed by ambulance to Children’s, hopes high.

When we arrived at Children’s we met with the general pediatrics team and the neurology team, and they almost immediately expressed their concern for Cullen. By this time, the right side of Cullen’s face appeared swollen, he could not move his eyes to the right, and he could not stand to his feet or walk. He also insisted on laying only on the right side of his face. They did another CT scan, this time taking a close look at the neck as well, but again the scan showed nothing problematic. We stayed in the hospital overnight and were told they would most likely do an MRI the next morning. At this stage, we knew it was more than the flu, and the two teams at Children’s were in agreement that it did not appear to be a standard concussion. So we prayed. And we questioned God, albeit quietly. All night long.

On Tuesday, March 3rd, they did the MRI. Cullen did fine in the “bear cave,” as we called it, and as he rested in the hospital bed I stepped out to get a cup of coffee. I returned to our room to find a neurosurgeon talking to Jamie. She was crying. The MRI revealed that Cullen had suffered a stroke. “Are you sure?” I asked. “He’s three years old! How can he have a stroke?” We met later with the neurology team; they confirmed the news. Indubitably, our little boy had suffered a minor stroke in his pons, the message station of the brain. The pons contains nuclei that deal with equilibrium, eye movement, facial expressions, posture, and so on. This fit with what we had been seeing in Cullen. The general pediatrics team came by later to tell us that we would be staying one more night. They also informed us that they would be starting a series of tests, trying to determine the cause of the stroke. Our tears were our food that night. And with the one who penned Psalm 42, we screamed at God: “Why have you forgotten [us]?!”

Wednesday, March 4th, the neurology team visited us again. In short, they said that Cullen is a medical mystery. For starters, strokes among children are very uncommon. Additionally, the doctors do not currently know what caused Cullen’s stroke. Nor do they know if the stroke and the head trauma are related. Finally, they do not know why the stroke affected the right side of Cullen’s face but not the entire right side of his body. “It’s kids like you,” the chief neurologist said to Cullen, “that keep us doctors humble.” The much more encouraging news was that everyone seemed optimistic about Cullen’s recovery. The portion of his pons that was not getting the blood it required to function properly is no longer operational. There is no “reviving” this section of the brain. But what often occurs in that small number of children who have strokes is that the brain rewires itself, so that other parts pick up the slack caused by the part that is no longer functioning. If this happens with Cullen, the neurology team told us, he will eventually get back to normal.

We’ve been at home for a few days now, and we have good reason to think that Cullen’s brain is rewiring itself. His eye movement has improved greatly, as has his balance. He no longer complains of dizziness or blurred vision. He is getting his appetite back. He seems to be regaining control of the right side of his face. And he is starting to walk again. On Wednesday he took several steps while holding both my hands. Thursday he walked across the room holding only one hand. Today he walked across the room and back without assistance. He is still very shaky as he walks, but we are definitely moving in the right direction.

Many, many friends and family members have been praying for us this week. For this, we are so very grateful. Please continue praying in the weeks and months ahead. Specifically, please pray for six things. 1) Pray for a full recovery for Cullen. 2) Pray for the doctors to learn more about the cause of Cullen’s stroke. If they can determine the cause, hopefully they can prevent this type of thing from happening again. 3) Pray for Cullen to stay flu free. Until the doctors learn more about the cause of the stroke, they have put Cullen on aspirin. If he is exposed to the flu while taking aspirin there is a small chance he will develop Reye’s syndrome, a very serious, potentially fatal condition. 4) Pray for Aidan, Cullen’s five-year-old brother. Obviously, Aidan does not understand everything that has happened, but he knows that something is wrong. Pray that he will not think the increased attention mommy and daddy are giving to “Culley” means a decrease in affection for him. 5) Ask the Lord to supply strength and patience for me and Jamie as we work with Cullen each new day. 6) Pray for our extended family as they cope with all of this.

We are emerging from our chasm, though “emerging” sounds too triumphant. Crawling is more like it. There have been hours where God seemed absent. But we are beginning to understand that He wasn’t absent; we were just unaware of His presence. Like Aslan before Lucy finds the proper spell in the magician’s book, God was invisible to us. We couldn’t see anything properly when our eyes were blurred with tears. But the spell has been found. We have seen the Great Lion. He was with us all the time. And now we know Him more intimately than ever before. For without sickness, you cannot know God as Healer. Without pain, you cannot know Him as Comforter. And without despair, you cannot know Him as Sustainer.

If “Being in Love” Doesn’t Last

It’s Valentine’s Day weekend, so a few comments on “being in love” are in order. When in Rome.

If I had to chop down a tree every time a magazine interview, TV show, or movie sent us the message that the moment you “fall out of love” with someone is the moment it’s okay to end the relationship, we’d all be living in Thneedville. (That, dear reader, is a reference to The Lorax. Yes, I have children.) And if we all lived in Thneedville, a hollow of artificiality–no real trees, plants, or flowers–love would lie dormant, because romance cannot exist without roses, of course.

Jesting aside, here’s what I want to say. The message our culture bellows is this: Fall in love. Get married. Fall out of love. Get a divorce. Start again.

As I wrote about last Friday, I’ve been spending some quality time with C.S. Lewis this year. In Mere Christianity (1952), Lewis writes of “being in love” and “loving.” His comments are a far cry from what we often hear today.

Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,’ then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true … But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense—love as distinct from ‘being in love’—is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other … ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it (Mere Christianity, 108-109).


The Importance of Tech Boundaries for Children

Rick Stawarz, founder of Appinstructor, has written an excellent little piece titled, “Creating Healthy Tech Boundaries for Your Kids.” Here are two of my favorite parts:

The first step in establishing boundaries is to consider how you the parent actively model usage of technology. Kids will simply mimic what they see you doing. Many of us have felt the conviction of our child’s request to put down the phone and listen. If we ourselves do not recognize the addictive nature of technology, then how can we expect to instruct our children along the same lines?

Regularly talk to your kids about what they are doing on their iPad, and invite them to ask you the same thing. Asking what someone is doing on their iPad or smartphone (in a polite way!) can actually be a fun way to open up new conversations with your kids. Likewise, if they learn that Mom and Dad use their iPad for reading rather than social media, it will communicate right usage of these devices. Encouraging these interruptions proves to your kids that you prioritize them over email.

I encourage you to read the full post here. Rick is a fellow Beeson grad. He presently serves as an Academic Technology Administrator at a Christian school in Minneapolis, MN, while also running the Minneapolis branch of Appinstructor.

A Family That Doesn’t Do Sleepovers

Tim Challies and his wife, Aileen, have set what I think is an excellent rule for their children. Challies writes about the rule here. And here is a short section of his post:

Before my children were even old enough to ask, Aileen and I talked it through and decided we would not allow our kids to do sleepovers. Now let’s be clear: there is no biblical command that forbids them, so this was not a matter of clear right and wrong, but a matter of attempting to act with wisdom. We determined we would make it a family rule: Our children would not be allowed to spend the night at their friends’ homes. We believed they would face a particular kind of vulnerability if they found themselves alone and in bed outside our care, and we wanted to protect them from it. So they have stayed at their grandparents’ and have stayed with my sisters when we’ve visited the South, but they have not stayed at friend’s homes.

Some may call this overprotective behavior. I prefer to call it discerning parenting. I have often said that the job of the Christian parent, simply stated, is to prepare your child to leave your home and go out into the world as a participant in the Triune God’s plan of redemption. It seems to me that one of the ways we prepare our children to leave our homes as devoted disciples is by keeping them in our homes when they are young. Of course, I don’t mean for you to keep your child in your home all the time. Just this morning I was trying to think of a way to get my two boys out of the house so I could get some work done in peace and quiet! What I mean is that the more opportunities for families to eat together at the dinner table, the better. The more gatherings for evening family worship, the better. The more words prayed by a father and mother over their children as the children are tucked in at night, the better. You get the idea. Overprotective? No. Loving? Caring? Wise? Yes.

Teaching My Boys the Apostles’ Creed

We have devoted part of our family worship time in recent months to learning the Apostles’ Creed. If you are unfamiliar with the Apostles’ Creed, I recommend Alister McGrath’s book, “I Believe”: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed. McGrath writes: “[The Apostles’ Creed] is the oldest and simplest creed of the church. All Christian traditions recognize its authority and its importance as a standard of doctrine. To study the Apostles’ Creed is to investigate a central element of our common Christian heritage. It is an affirmation of the basic beliefs that unite Christians throughout the world and across the centuries” (14). Here is a video of my sons reciting the Creed (with only the slightest bit of coaching from dad).




“Back to school, back to school, so my dad won’t think I’m a fool…” –Billy Madison

It’s the start of a new school year in the States, so here’s some helpful reading. First, for parents: “Educating Our Kids: Exploring the Options.” Second, for college students: “10 Things to Do in College (Probably) More Important Than Going to Class.” And a hearty “Yes!” to numbers 1, 4, 7, and 10. Here’s number 10:

10. This is the single greatest piece of advice I’m going to give you: Go to Office Hours.
This is time that faculty has (to) set aside to meet one-on-one with students, and you should take advantage of it. Go early and go often: Form relationships with your teacher, ask questions about difficult material, prime them for that moment when you’ll ask for a letter of recommendation, and show them that you care — not just about your grade, but about your education. Do this whether your instructor is a TA barely older than yourself, or a world-famous professor once interviewed on The Daily Show. Just don’t be surprised if that hilarious, engaging lecturer acts, in office hours, like you’ve just walked in on him in the toilet. Academics are some of the most socially awkward people on the planet.

I hope I don’t fit the stereotype…

Reminiscences of a Trigenarian or Random Thoughts of a Guy Who is Getting Way Too Old

Thirty. It’s the speed limit on Back Beach Road here in Port Chalmers, New Zealand (which is about as fast as I feel comfortable driving on any New Zealand road!), and it’s now the number of years I have been alive. Such a monumental occasion calls for a blog post. On this first of (hopefully) many days as a trigenarian, I would like to reflect on a few of the things in my life for which I am thankful. In the fashion typical of a Type-A individual, my reflection takes the form of a list. The list is in fairly random order.

1. I am thankful for God’s grace. By grace I have been saved through faith. And this is not my own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that I have no right to boast (Eph 2:8-9). Before the foundation of the world, God chose me (Eph 1:4). For this, I am so very thankful. As Charles Spurgeon says, “I believe in the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with such special love” (Defense of Calvinism).

2. I am thankful for my beautiful wife, Jamie. For eight years now, Jamie has been by my side. We’ve become parents, moved house–from Alabama to New Zealand–and experienced numerous other adventures together. Since Jamie and I met, I have been involved in both pastoral ministry and theological education (as a student, teacher, or both). Without Jamie’s unselfish concern for the advancement of the gospel, my work would not be possible. I am truly blessed to have such a loving, supportive, talented, and beautiful wife. (Seriously, what in the world is she doing with me?)

3. I am thankful for my rambunctious boys, Aidan Thomas and Cullen Timothy. I have no greater joy than to know that my children are walking in truth (3 John 4). Nothing makes this Reformed dad happier than to hear Aidan and Cullen name their stuffed animals “Augustine the Hippo” and “Luther the Lion,” and to hear both boys respond to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Man’s primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Plus, I love having two little fishing buddies.

4. I am thankful for my parents. From childhood I have been acquainted with the sacred writings (2 Tim 3:15). I have my parents to thank for this. As the fellow once said: “When your son asks you how long he has to go to church, just tell him that he has to go until he wants to go.” That’s about how it was in our house growing up. Our family worshiped together. Our family read Scripture together. The first time I heard about Jesus, I heard about him from my mom and dad. For this, I am thankful.

5. I am thankful for my grandparents. My grandparents are some of the greatest people I know. When I think of the one who has passed away, and the three who are still with us, I think of Paul’s words in Gal 5:22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Faithful saints. That’s my grandparents.

6. I am thankful for my two brothers and their families. They may make fun of me for wearing the same sweater every year to the family Christmas party, and one of them may call me “Pope Dillon,” because I am not currently serving in a Baptist church (and apparently for him all non-Baptists are Roman Catholics…), but I have many memories of great times with my brothers. Some of these memories involve a Chinese buffet, a .22 caliber rifle, and golf clubs (but not mixed together). This is not the place to provide the details.

7. I am thankful for my extended family. My extended family get-togethers are always entertaining. Many of us have started our own families now. And some of us live far away, so we are not able to fill our spot on the stairs for the yearly family picture (I’m still in mourning about this). But folks in my family are always there for one another. For this, I am thankful.

8. I am thankful for my father-in-law and mother-in-law. They have loved me and supported me in so many ways since we first met in freezing-cold Wisconsin eight years ago. They set a great example for their grandchildren by using their talents for the glory of God. And they have officially gotten me hooked on Disney World.

9. I am thankful for my brother-in-law. Who else would be crazy enough to climb the foothills of Aoraki/Mount Cook with me at such a ridiculously rapid pace?

10. I am thankful for the churches I have served in through the years. I think of my years at Bellview, Hunter Street, Flint Hill, New Beginnings, and now my time at Owaka Grace Fellowship, and I remember all the wonderful people in each of these churches who have made such an impact on my life. I hope and pray that, despite my many weaknesses and failures, I have been a faithful shepherd of the portions of God’s flock that he has temporarily entrusted to my care.

11. I am thankful for my call to pastoral ministry. How grateful I am that God summoned and gifted me, an obviously plain man, to proclaim the excellencies of the one who called me out of darkness and into the marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9). While there is in our day no shortage of “philosophies of ministry,” I appreciate John Calvin’s approach. In his commentary on 1 Timothy, Calvin writes: “Men often set before them some other aim than to approve themselves to Christ; many seek applause for their cleverness, eloquence or profound knowledge, and that is why they pay less attention to the basic necessities which are apt to produce less popular admiration. But Paul tells Timothy to be content with this one thing, that he should be a faithful minister of Christ. And we should certainly regard this as a far more honourable title than being called a thousand times over seraphic and subtle doctors. Let us remember therefore that it is the greatest honour than can befall a godly pastor to be accounted a good servant of Christ, so that during his whole ministry this should be his only aim.”

12. I am thankful for the professors who have trained me for ministry. I think especially of Beeson Divinity School, and the world-class academics/front-line churchmen and churchwomen who taught me so much. My three years at Beeson were some of the best years of my life thus far. I also think of the University of Otago, and my superb supervisor, who has influenced me tremendously.

13. I am thankful for my colleagues in ministry. For friends ministering in the name of Christ Jesus all over the world, I am thankful. I thank you especially for your prayers and the encouraging words you send my way from time to time. Continue to hold me accountable. I will do the same for you.

(Note from the Narrator: At this point in the post, a terrible case of writer’s block set in, and Dillon could no longer think of serious things for which he is thankful. But he simply could not allow himself to make a list of thirteen items. There are two reasons for this. First, the number thirteen is considered by many to be an unlucky number. Dillon does not really believe in luck, but, as he is getting older now, he figured it was not a risk worth taking. Second, Dillon has obsessive-compusive disorder, and odd numbers make him uneasy. Thus, the list continues, but without the sincerity that characterizes the first part above.)

14. I am thankful for our adventures in New Zealand. New Zealand is a beautiful country. The grass is always green. The water is always blue. You can surf and snow ski in the same day. There is no traffic. There are no snakes. And there are more sheep than people. What more could a guy ask for?

15. I am thankful for the sun. I suppose I’ve always been thankful for that great big ball of heat in the sky, but I am much, much more thankful for it now that I live in New Zealand. When the sun is shining in the winter, you see, the temperature in our house rises to a blistering 55 degrees fahrenheit, which is so warm that I can’t even see my breath when I exhale. Aidan is always deeply bothered when this happens. He usually cries out, “Dad, where did your smoke go?”

16. I am thankful for central heating. The central heating I once had. See # 15.

17. I am thankful for coffee. According to my latest tally, I’ve had 1,092 cups since I started working on my doctoral thesis. Coffee is my lifeblood. Tea is fine, and I’ve tried to start drinking more of it since we moved to New Zealand. But coffee… well… it completes me.

18. I am thankful for Johnny Cash. I once read his autobiography, Cash, and I have been hooked on his music ever since. He’s the only guy I know who can follow a song about a drunken Native American with a song about the crucifixion and get away with it. Read the autobiography and you’ll understand.

19. I am thankful for Netflix. The watch instantly feature is the best invention since sliced bread. It’s television shows with no commercials and no waiting until next week to see what’s going to happen. It gives you the chance to get caught up on all the old shows you never got to watch when they first aired. Like Arrested Development. How did I miss this show the first time around? Never again will I be able to keep a straight face when someone calls me a chicken.

20. I am thankful for Felonious Gru. If you don’t know Gru, he’s the main character in Despicable Me and in Despicable Me 2. Steve Carell does the voice, and he’s hilarious. He has a Russian accent (even though, according to an interview, he comes from Albuquerque, New Mexico), is the adoptive father of Margo, Edith, and Agnes, and the current boss of the Minions. He has been given a knighthood, once had his own cooking show, and can hold his breath for thirty seconds. Both my boys love the character, and pretty much everything about the films. And even if my boys didn’t love the films, I would probably still watch them. You’re never too old to laugh at a Russian with a long nose.

(Note from the Narrator: I warned you.)

Give the Gift of Augustine

Attention parents and grandparents: there’s still time to pick up a few more Christmas presents for the kids, so let me recommend two great gifts that require no assembly, no grooming, and that make no noise!

If you have time, go here and read my final article for Christian Today Australia. It’s entitled, “Augustine, the Hippo: Theological Tools for the Tots.” The article tells you about a couple of fantastic books for your children.

You can find both books for a decent price at amazon.

Fathering and Pastoring: A Must-Read for Men in Ministry

The Gospel Coalition has just published an excellent post by Barnabas Piper entitled 7 Things a Pastor’s Kid Needs From a Father. If you are a man in ministry, it is definitely worth reading. You can access the full article here. One of my favorite sections:

Yes, you are called to pastor your family, but PKs want a dad—someone who plays with them, protects them, makes them laugh, loves their mom, gives hugs, pays attention, teaches them how to build a budget and change the oil and field a ground ball. We want committed love and warmth. We want a dad who’s not a workaholic. It’s hypocritical to call your congregation to a life of love, sacrifice, and passionate gospel living while neglecting your own family. If a mortgage broker or salesman works too much at 60 hours a week, so do you. Leave work and be present for your kids. Your children will spit on your pastoring if they miss out on your fathering.