Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Brandon Andress recently begam
Check him out: He's some great thought-provoking posts. - STEVE

brandon andress
20140518-162940-59380213.jpg    BY BRANDON ANDRESS

The rain intensified as we stared out the large windows into the darkness and talked about our next hiking trip to Alaska. We were killing a few moments while waiting for one more guy to show up to our weekly confession group.

It is worth noting at the outset that our gatherings are never without incident. The building in which we meet is nestled quite conveniently in a downtown residential area where substance abuse, domestic violence, and crime is commonplace. We have rushed outside on various occasions to play peacemakers by breaking up fights, to pray with those who are high and/or drunk, to give food to those who are hungry, to offer shelter to those who are homeless, and to comfort those who have been abused. While we show up weekly for our own benefit, to confess our sins one to another, there is no doubt that we are really there for the ministry of the neighborhood.

And on this particular rainy night… it would be no different.

The door opened and a completely soaked young man, about 20-years old, walked in and threw himself down on one of the vacant 1970′s sofa chairs, as if we had been expecting him.  And by our response to him, he may have thought that we were indeed expecting him, as we greeted him with the delight of a long, lost friend.

“I’m drunk,” he stated, almost expecting us to be horrified.

We didn’t take the bait. A drunk guy walking into the church building seemed like the best dry place to be at that moment. Plus, we had all rattled the bottle at some point in our lives, so we were no different than our wet acquaintance.

“What’s going on man? Just wanting to get in out of the rain?”

Reaching for a sober thought he said, “I walk by this place all the time and want to come in to see what’s going on. I guess the alcohol gave me the courage to come in this time.”

We were certainly glad he came in… and we told him as much. Whether the conversation was Vodka-induced or not, it just didn’t matter.

This guy was clearly seeking something.  And we were privileged to be the ones who could potentially help him find it. We just didn’t know how desperate he was to find it.

“I’ve been thinking about killing myself lately.”

“Oh yeah, why have you been thinking that,” we asked gently.

“Because I don’t have a purpose in life. I think about it all the time and I have come to the conclusion that since I have no purpose, there is no reason to live.”

He continued with his line of thinking.

“My friend told me that if God wants us to be at peace… and if death will give me peace… then God wants me to die so I will be at peace. So I have thought about killing myself.”

All I could feel at that moment was a deep and profound sense of sadness.  Yes, for him, but even more so for the millions and millions of people in our country who are just as confused and hopeless.

There is no question that we live in an incredibly unique time in history in which there is a strange mass collision of shallowness, superficiality, competing narratives that try to explain our existence, and depersonalization wrought by technology, all accompanied by a growing disdain for spirituality, in general, and religion, in specific, from a hyper-rationalistic culture.

And it is my belief that this collision is leaving a growing number of people, especially younger generations, questioning their worth, their value, and their purpose in life.

The truth is that, whether some like it or not, humans have a longing to know that their lives matter and that there is a purpose for which they live.

And on that rainy night, we were witnesses to both the wreckage and the longing. The cry amidst the scattered parts was for someone, anyone to help make sense of the devastation.

From that vantage point, all one can see is rock bottom.  All one can feel is utter hopelessness.

Who can help me?  Who can save me?  Who can help me make sense of my life that is falling apart?  Do I not have a purpose?

He was asking the right questions, at the right time, to the right people.  But, too many times, I wonder if those in the same exact situation as this young man are left completely alone in their brokenness and alone with their unanswered questions.

It makes me wonder about the church and what we are doing and how we are doing it. With more people than ever abandoning faith, and the wreckage of lives continuing to pile up, I wonder when we are going to come to the realization that something needs to change?

As those who have been in the wreckage ourselves, and as those who have asked in the past about our own identity and purpose in the devastation, we know that the real beauty of the wreckage and all the broken and busted parts is that they can be pieced back together by a Restorer.

And that is the greatest news one could ever hear. But I wonder if we ever get a chance to share that with anyone on a daily or weekly basis?

For it is God who thoroughly restored us in Christ and gave us a new identity.  But even more than that… God gave us a purpose for which to live- that we may continue the task of restoring the lives of others.
And if that is where we have found our worth and our value. And if that is what wakes us in the morning and has our hearts and our passions throughout the day. And since we have found life in Christ and have been given the ongoing ministry of restoring people to God, of picking up the pieces and slowly, and lovingly putting them back together, ought that not be the task of the church?
Don’t miss the point here- I am not talking about this abstract, generalized idea of the church in which we each can agree that there is a problem, but easily hide and take no responsibility ourselves.
If there is a problem, we as individuals are the problem.

And you… yes you… not your pastor, not your church staff, not someone more educated in the Bible… YOU… have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ for the purpose of being a minister of reconciliation… a minister whose task is the restoration of people to God.
And that was our purpose that night as the church.

“I don’t think that God wants you to die.  In fact, God wants you to live…and to live a full life.  And I am not quite sure that a full life and peace is found in death.

I had his complete attention.

“There are two ways,” I started.

“One way is full of life, love, joy, kindness, unity, peace, turning the other cheek, forgiveness, mercy, service, grace, and hope… and it is beautiful and our hearts long to be a part of something so exquisite. That is the way of Christ- it is our true identity and our true purpose in this life.  Christ gives us a new identity and then our purpose is to take that new kind of life to others.  And that is what you are being invited into right now.”

I could see his eyes beginning to tear up as if he could never imagine that such a life is possible. Restoration was taking place in the rubble. And then I continued.

“But there is also another way.  There is the way of death, hatred, bitterness, revenge, retaliation, division, self-centeredness, rage, resentment, judgment, pride, and despair. This way is not of God. And it is this kind of existence that strips away our true identity and true purpose in this life.”

“I don’t want that,” he said.

We all stood together, embraced as brothers, and began to pray.  And it felt as if the prodigal son had come home.  Home to the open arms of the Father through the embrace of a few guys who realized that we are all ministers who God is using for the restoration of others.

And these open arms are wide enough to hold together all of the broken pieces and loving enough to help put them back together.

It was a beautiful moment for the church, the people, that night.

And we were honored to be a part of what God was doing.

Questions to Consider:
Being that our country has changed and is continuing to change so rapidly and so dramatically, with more people than ever abandoning faith but searching for identity and purpose in their lives, how are you, as a minister of reconciliation… as a minister of restoration… realizing your purpose amidst the wreckage?

Church Leaders, how are you equipping your congregation to understand their identity and then to realize their purpose as ministers of reconciliation outside of the church building?

How does your individual church need to change in order to begin ministering to people in the midst of our cultural wreckage?

I would love to hear your feedback!

Friday, June 13, 2014



Phil and Lindsay Schiavoni--new parents June 12, 2014

Two dear friends became parents yesterday - for the first time. Kaylee Joy, 7 lbs., 19 3/4 inches came into the world of Phil and Lindsay Schiavoni. I cannot imagine two better persons to be parents.  Kaylee will be truly blessed.

Sunday will be Phil's first Father's Day and as his pastor and friend, I am going to presume to give him some counsel. I am sure he won't mind you over-hearing.

"Phil, I suspect this is an awesome morning for you.  Kaylee and Lindsay probably came home yesterday and I suspect you didn't get much sleep.  (Keeping up with Facebook greetings kept you busy before that).  I imagine Lindsay already misses the nursing staff of the hospital.  It's on you now, brother. Actually, a whole lot will be on you for at least the next 20 years. If Kaylee is as creative and crazy as you can be, you may be gray by then--but it'll be good gray.

You don't know enough yet to be a success at this new gig--but you know the One Who does.  Keep close to God and pray for wisdom every day.  Pray for the love you need for Kaylee, but that'll come easy.  Pray for your daughter that she will grow into the person God created her to be.  Pray for you and Lindsay both that you will be guided by God's vision.  That really is at the heart of Solomon's counsel in Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child in the way (she) should go."  It is founded on God's values and vision, but the scriptures are equally clear that we are unique individuals with different giftings and callings.  Don't just teach her morals and good behaviors--teach her how to discover the masterpiece God is making of her.  And even when she seems to be different from you, be more concerned that she is like her Heavenly Father.

Love Kaylee--but love Lindsay more.  Do I need to say more?

Always see her as God's child entrusted into your care so that she can learn of God's love.  Model for her the values that she needs to be a Christ follower.  Be ready to answer, "Why?"  It's not rebellion, it's just her way of learning.  And make sure Jesus is no stranger in your home.

You have the prayers and support of Dianne and I, your church, your family, and your friends.  Don't be afraid to ask for help.

That's enough.  God will show you the rest in His time.

Your brother and friend, 


Thursday, June 5, 2014


Lately one of my strong concerns as a pastor is the disappearance of Sabbath as a lifestyle value even for Christians.  Michael Kelley in his blog FORWARD PROGRESS gave one of the most thorough and articulate explanation/defense of this grossly undervalued/underpracticed which is a core value of the Judaeo-Christian faith. - STEVE


“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That’s how it all begins. And when I say “all” I mean all. This is the source of all things. It was an event that is absolutely unrepeatable. Unreproducable. Unobservable – because God was the only one there. Out of nothing, God made “everything.”

God created not out of boredom, because eternity was getting a little stale. Not out of loneliness, for God is completely and totally sufficient in and of Himself. God created out of love. It’s not unlike the reason why we have children. Some people have kids because they’re lonely or because they feel like there is a void in their lives. But often times, when kids come into the picture, it doesn’t necessarily fix that hole; it might put a band aid on it for a while, but it will come back. The best reason a husband and a wife have children is out of an overflow of love for one another. They love each other, and they want that love to spill over into others as well. So they have kids.

Before anything was created, there was an inexhaustible amount of love among the members of the Trinity. And that love spilled out into the creation of all that we see and know. So in the beginning God created. He created the molecules and the cellular division. He created the ecosystems that work in tandem with each other through His common grace. He knit together the vast number of individual species in all their glorious variety. He set the orbits of the planets in such a way that the tides on earth don’t rise more than they should. He planned night and day to be an appropriate amount of time to support different life systems in different areas. God not only created, but He created in such a way that all of His creation fits together in a harmonious way.

But let’s not stop there either. For in as much as God created the physical universe, He also created things that are invisible to us and yet are integral for the way we live. Take time, for instance. God thought that up, too, in the same way He thought up the Venus fly-trap or the brown trout. This too sprang from His creativity.

And so the process of creation went for six days. The heavenly bodies. The creatures and plantlife of the seas and the air. Then humanity, stamped and made uniquely with the imprint of the image of God. And then, quite suddenly it seems, creation is over. The end and conclusion comes at the end of day 6, as recorded as chapter 1 closes and moves into chapter 2, beginning in verse 31:

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. But the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

That’s how the account of creation ends. And at first glance, it doesn’t seem to end with a bang, but with a whimper. Don’t we expect some more? Some bigger fireworks? Something more extensive? Like one final grand act? What’s more interesting and even confusing, is the use of the word “rest” to describe God’s lack of activity on day 7. That seems to contradict much of what we believe to be true about God.

That sounds more like a term that should be applied to us, because that’s what we do on the weekends. We work and work and work until we can’t work any more, and finally when the weekend rolls around us, we want to do nothing except rest. To nap. To stop thinking. To lay on the couch. We want to rest because that’s what you do when you’re exhausted. But God?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure it’s exhausting work to create. It’s not like He had been idle for the previous 7 days; God had been busily working hard during those days. But rest? Our God? The one who doesn’t slumber or sleep? That God?

And we’re right to suspect something fishy going on here, because a better translation for the word “rest” is actually “cease.” That’s the context in which we should read this. God stopped, but He didn’t stop because He needed a break. God doesn’t need breaks. He stopped because He was finished. There wasn’t any more to do. It was very good. The verb translated as “rest” in most other contexts carries the implication of taking up a position of safety, security, or stability; of settling down or settling in. It is marked by God’s ceasing the work of the previous six days and settling into the stability of the cosmos. And that is important.

In our eyes, this might be the “bang” that we think creation should end with, but the institution of the Sabbath is more than just an appendix to bring creation to its closure. This is actually the climactic moment of creation – the thing that brings it all together for us.

The reason we have trouble seeing Sabbath as the climactic moment is because it’s not centered on us. We would much rather that the climax be the creation of man and woman, and that this seventh day is just something tagged onto the end, but it’s not. It’s the summation. And we struggle with that because if that’s so, then it’s not about us. It’s about God. It’s about His completed and very good creative work and recognizing it as such.

Those two elements – completion and celebration – are what the Sabbath is all about. It’s not about exhaustion for God, and it shouldn’t be about that for us. God doesn’t invite us as His people into the story of creation until this moment. And by inviting us in here, indeed commanding us to be regular partakers of this Sabbath moment, we know that in Sabbath-ing we are to have the same purpose as He did on this first Sabbath. We are to celebrate the completed, creative work of God. But as we close the Old Testament and move to the New, we begin to see the true implications not only of Sabbath but of creation as a whole.

The creation of the universe, as it turns out, is a paradigm – a precedent – that is repeated over and over again throughout redemptive history. And it’s one we have a personal knowledge of. Though this was the first time when God called light out of darkness, substance out of the void, and life out of nothingness, it wouldn’t be the last time. This model of creative activity has been repeated over and over and over again throughout the years following His initial creative work.

The same thing has happened in us. At one time, we were all children of darkness. Slaves to the kingdom of the air. Void of hope and life. And yet the Great Creator once again stepped into the darkness and the void and spoke, and life sprang up again inside of us. He called us from darkness to light, from nothing to significance, from outsiders to children. And He created a new heart inside of us that is bent toward Him. What God did at creation started the pattern He has continued throughout the rest of history, and we stand in the long line of His workmanship.

And now, much as He did on the seventh day then, after He created life in us in Christ, He stands back in Sabbath. Not because He’s tired, but because He’s finished. When Jesus hung on the cross, His pronouncement was one that has great meaning for the followers of Jesus and the children of God. It is indeed finished. We don’t need to strive any more. We don’t need to improve on what God has done. The work He has done in us is His work, and it is very good. The call for us now is to Sabbath along with God, reflecting on and enjoying His finished work in creation. Creating us in Jesus.