Getting ready to come back from sabbatical

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them…” Acts 16:25

God has been at work in my life. Lots of pruning (ouch). Lots of prayer. Asking the Spirit to fill me with a holy joy that will sustain me through the ups and downs of everyday life. I love you guys and can’t wait to see you and preach on August 2nd!

Tomorrow Is World Suicide Prevention Day #BeThe1To

Tomorow is World Suicide Prevention Day and I wanted to stop and share a few thoughts with you. From most of the reading I do it seems that depression and suicide are on the rise here in America.

So here are a few articles, links, resources that can help you, or someone you love, know how to deal with the sensitive topic of suicide and depression.

HERE is an article I wrote about a year ago after Anthony Bourdain committed suicide.

THIS link has five steps you can take to help a friend who is contemplating suicide. #BeThe1To

HERE is a book that does a great job of talking about the fact that Christians can get depressed and what we can do about it.

One of the things that we need to keep in mind is that many times people who are hurting the most keep up a facade in public of being OK. So my suggestion would be that if you begin to wonder if someone is struggling ask them out for coffee. Ask questions. Genuinely listen. Show compassion. You could be the one that God uses to save a life.

If you need immediate help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 800-273-8255, or go to

Worship like your life is at stake

The world, and the wretched sin nature that we carry around with us 24 hours a day, are hell-bent on getting us to turn our eyes off of the beauty of Jesus Christ and to become intoxicated, or distracted, with a million other things. And when we do this we feel the impact almost immediately. We can run the gamut, from apathy, boredom, irritability, anger, falling into sinful habits, out of control thought life, worry, anxiety, etc.

I think the single best thing thing we can do in the middle of this spiritual battle is to worship God. Not just on Sunday morning, but during the busyness of everyday life. What is it that gives you life and draws you closer to God? Worship music? Bible study? Alone time? Getting outdoors?

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” -Luke 10: 38-42

I find for me one of the most powerful things I can do during the week is listen to worship music. As I listen to the gospel through the medium of music I find that my heart is softened and I can sense and experience the presence of God once again.

There is a spiritual battle going on and our heart is ground zero. Make no mistake about it, we will worship something or someone. If what we are worshipping is not Christ then it will rob us of the joy that we so desperately need to live a vibrant Christian life. The best thing we can do is in the middle of everyday life find time to worship, praise, and enjoy being in the presence of our God.

Over the past week I have listened to the song below many times. The audio tape in my brain tells me that I am a failure and self-loathing is not far behind. I find that I need to be reminded that God passionately loves me. Few things feed my soul like reveling in the undeserved love of God.

You don’t have to act like you have all together

I recently read this tweet by a pastor…

“I had a pastor once warn me against sharing my weaknesses. He told me it would be used against me. He was right, but I think I’d rather have some people reject an honest version of me, then a mythology I cannot maintain that benefits no one.” -Doug Bursch

The tweet made me quite emotional because there is pressure (from myself, from within Christianity, combination of both perhaps) to act like I have it all together. I know this is true because the very next line that I feel compelled to write is something like, “Hold up, don’t worry, I still meet the qualifications of an elder!” Which only proves to myself that the desire to put up a front, a facade, of spiritual perfection runs deep in my blood.

The reason I need to admit that I do not have it all together is because no one does. If the apostle Paul could tweet today he might write something like this, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” -Romans 7:21

I think it is wise for me to acknowledge what really should seem quite obvious. It feels liberating to admit it. But there is another reason that I need to communicate this to you. I know you don’t have it all together either. And that is OK. I don’t want anyone in my church to think that they have to put on an act. Instead, I want them to know that they can admit that they have struggles, weaknesses, fears, temptations, etc.

I often times think of this Imagine Dragons song, “Demons.” You can relax, it’s not about fallen angels. It’s about the fact that everyone is dealing with some hard stuff in their life. Everyone is going through a battle of some sort. In the video you see various individuals at an Imagine Dragons concert. At the concert it looks like they are doing great. But then it shows their personal life and you can see what they are really dealing with, the difficulties of life. It reminds me quite a bit of church. On Sunday morning we get dressed up, have our coffee and put on our best face. Yet the truth is that nearly all of us are coming to church with a limp, baggage, and pain.

What do I want you to know?

I want you to know that it is OK for you to admit that you are not who you want to be. It is OK for you to admit that behind the scenes, when no one is looking, you are struggling. I guess what I want the most is for you to know that you are not alone. If the apostle Paul can come clean, drop the false image of having it all together, so can we.

What I’m Learning From NF

NF (Nathan Feuerstein) is a rapper and as of late he has definitely caught my attention. His music is catchy and I enjoy it, but the part that I find fascinating is that NF is writing about the intense pain that he deals with on a regular basis. I have always been drawn to artists who share their personal experiences when it comes to the difficulties that they have been through. Nearly every song I have heard from NF sounds like he had to go to a very dark place to reconnect with old memories and put it into a rhyme. After doing a little reading I realized that NF comes from a divorced home, his mom died of an overdose, and he was physically abused. It’s pretty easy to understand why his music is filled with pain, confusion and a desperate attempt to make sense of it all.

Here are some of the comments that I have found from random people on YouTube based on the song, “How Could You Leave”:

Emma Kennedy
2 weeks ago
Nate, your not alone. I have a mom that had me at 15 did drugs, and I got taken away from her..She lost all her 5 kids and I dont get to see 2 of my siblings at all. I have no bond or relationship with my mom or siblings…I have really bad anxiety, I can get anxiety attacks too. She was never there for anything, not for my graduations..or anything. I feel like im alone, and its nice to have you, Nate. To go home from school with my earbuds on listening too you, cuz you have helped me through everything. I still get to see her, she still does drugs, but im afraid those drugs are gonna take her..and listening to you is My THERAPY SESSION

wolfnation 091617
3 weeks ago
I love this song it hits hard it makes me thinks alot it puts u in so much feelings and I can rap this whole song.

TTV Raid Venom
2 weeks ago (edited)
Ive been through this I’m only 16 and my mom has been in jail my whole life she’s only been out for 3 years i barely know her she’s not dead but she’s no longer there it’s scaring to see your mom overdose because she popped your dead dogs pills. She always used to say she was coming to pick me and my brother up from my dads but never showed she had the swat i. Our house trying to get her this song really hits me thank you nf for being here for everyone your music helps so many people

These comments on YouTube are heart breaking because they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the pain that is occurring behind closed doors. Have you seen the statistics?  NPR reported this recently, “Suicide rates have increased in nearly every state over the past two decades, and half of the states have seen suicide rates go up more than 30 percent.” We live in a country where we have so much yet we see a growing sense of hopelessness. Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, are just a couple of well known celebrities who decided to end their life in the past few weeks.

Some of you might be wondering if an artist like NF has anything to truly offer besides venting his negative emotions. I am a parent myself, so I get your concern! I am not saying that his music is for everyone (listen with discernment), but I can say that I have found a redemptive message within his music.

In his song “Statement” he goes out of his way to point out that there are plenty of artists out there (he specifically names Eminem) who deal with their pain in inappropriate ways.

I grew up on Eminem, now look where the game’s at
Lame raps, Hollywood fame acts, I’m sick of the same trash

At times NF does get quite specific regarding the source of our true hope in life. In his song “All I Have” he writes these lines:

I don’t live for the world
I live for the King, I live for the King, focus

What you’re hearing now is me whether I’m in front or behind that curtain
I stand behind these words I’m a Christian but I’m not perfect

So what am I learning from all of this? I am learning that the church has to do a better job of being open and transparent regarding the difficulties of life. To quote Michael Stipe (and to date myself), “Everyone hurts sometimes.” Since this is true, how do we help people when we try to hide it? The truth is that when we hide the hard stuff we are (unintentionally) keeping people away from the church at a time when they desperately need to know that hope is alive. I try to be open about some of my struggles from the pulpit. I have heard on a number of occasions from people that it helps them to know that they are not the only person that has their fair share of ups and downs. We have also created a Care Ministry at our church. The Care Ministry is made up of men and women who are available to meet with anyone in the church, or our city, who needs someone to listen to them and encourage them.

I’ll end with one of my favorite NF songs, “Wake Up.” This is a powerful song that is challenging the assumptions that material possessions, or the stuff of life, can ever make us happy.

LENT: Prepare the Way of the Lord (Week 6)

Week 6-Dying With Christ

  • This is the sixth Sunday in the season of Lent. This week we are highlighting the truth that we are all called to die with Christ. Our scripture meditation this week is from a very familiar passage in Galatians 6. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The Lenten season is a sobering reminder that we are called to die with Jesus Christ. The moment we embraced Jesus Christ by faith we died spiritually with Christ. The Bible is clear that the law and our good works are not capable of making us righteous. We need the powerful, substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, to forgive us of our sins and to give us new life. But the call to die with Christ is also a way of life for the Christian. We are called every day to give up our selfish desires, addictions, bitterness, anger, materialism, prejudice, worry and lust so that the glory of Jesus Christ is more evident in us.

Scripture Meditation

Questions for reflection

  • What is God saying to you through this passage? What will your response be to what God is saying to you?
  • Spend time meditating on what it means to die with Christ on a daily basis.
  • What are some areas of your life that still need to die? Habits or ways of living that need to be repented of?
  • Spend time praising God for the amazing fact that he loved you so much that he sent his Son to die for you.

The featured picture is the “Crucifixion Painting” by Philippe De Champaigne

The song is “Death in His Grave” by John Mark McMillan (A great song as we slowly begin to turn our attention to Easter Sunday!)

LENT: Prepare the Way of the Lord (Week 4)

Week 4-God’s Word

  • We have reached week 4 of the Lenten season. I hope and pray that by now you are growing in your love for Jesus Christ as you have been contemplating the amazing truths of the gospel. Frequently during the Lenten season we think about what we can give up (food, bad habits, unforgiveness, anger, etc.) While there will be times that we want to fast from something for Lent, most importantly what we want to be doing is feasting on God’s Word. Our Scripture meditation for this week is all about Jesus Christ being led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by Satan. During this temptation we find how even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was dependent on Scripture to be able to withstand temptation and to experience spiritual victory. Spend time this week reading and meditating on Matthew 4:1-11. Ask God to give you a renewed desire to know him better by becoming a better student of his Word.


Scripture Meditation

Questions for Reflection

  • Here are the the two most important questions you can ask after reading God’s Word: What is God saying to you through this passage? What will your response be to what God is saying?
  • How did Jesus respond to the temptations of Satan? (verses 4, 7, 10) If Jesus was so dependent on Scripture what does that mean for you and me?
  • After fasting for 40 days there is no doubt that Jesus was in a weakened state. Satan saw this as an opportunity to attack Jesus and try to get him to give into a temptation. When are you at your weakest against temptations? How can you use Scripture to help you in those moments of weakness?
  • Do you have a regular plan for reading Scripture? You can find some solid Scripture reading plans HERE.

“Lent is a time for discipline, for confession, for honesty, not because God is mean or fault-finding or finger-pointing but because he wants us to know the joy of being cleaned out, ready for all the good things he now has in store.” -N.T. Wright 

The featured picture is “The Temptation in the Wilderness” by Briton Rivière

The second picture is “The Temptation of Jesus” by Gustave Dore

Song is “Dear Wormwood” by The Oh Hellos

LENT: Prepare the Way of the Lord (WEEK 3)

lent6Week 3-Serving

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Jesus’ entire life was characterized by serving others. In Matthew 20:28 we read this, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The purpose of Lent is to immerse our hearts and minds in the truths of the gospel, worship Jesus Christ, and to ask God for the strength to walk in the ways of Jesus. If we are going to immerse our hearts and minds in the gospel we will have to spend most of our time thinking about the cross. The servant’s heart and sacrificial attitude of Jesus is most clearly on display on the cross. The wages we earned for our sin was death (Romans 6:23). Jesus graciously served us by dying on the cross, in our place, taking our sins upon himself, so that we could be forgiven and have eternal life. We worship Jesus because of his great love for us demonstrated on the cross. But it does not stop there. Because of this great love poured out on our behalf we now should desire to go and serve others. This week spend time mediating on Mark 8:31-38. In this passage we find that Peter has a strong aversion to the idea of serving others. Jesus goes on to tell Peter (and you and I) “For whoever would save his life, will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

Scripture Meditation
Mark 8:31-38

Questions for Reflection
• Here are the the two most important questions you can ask after reading God’s Word: What is God saying to you through this passage? What will your response be to what God is saying?
• Why did Jesus say that the “Son of Man must suffer many things”?
• In what ways was Peter setting his mind on the things of man, not on the things of God? How are we tempted to do the same thing today?
• Jesus says that if we are going to follow him we will deny ourselves and take up our cross. What are some ways that you need to deny yourself this week so that you can truly follow in the path of Christ?
• Moms and dads, ask your kids how they can be serving others (home, neighborhood, school).

Picture is ‘Christ in Gethsemane’, Vasily Perov (1878). Song is “Jerusalem” by CityAlight.

Ruth 2: A Better Man

Part 1 of Ruth started HERE.

Eddie Vedder wrote the incredibly sad song “Better Man” in 1984 about an abusive relationship his mother was in with his step-father. The song communicates the idea that Vedder’s mom is in despair because she does not think that a better man is out there.

She lies and says she’s in love with him, can’t find a better man…
She dreams in color, she dreams in red, can’t find a better man…
Can’t find a better man
Can’t find a better man

Fast forward to the year 2017. We seem to be in crisis mode when it comes to what godly manhood looks like. Politicians, celebrities, and pastors are in the news for all the wrong reasons. Abuse. Sexual misconduct. You wonder, is there a better man out there?

This Sunday I will be preaching from Ruth 2. As I was studying this particular passage it struck me how timely it was for what is going on in our culture today. If there is one thing we desperately need it is some men who we can look to as godly role models.  In Ruth 2 we are introduced to a man by the name of Boaz. There are a number of characteristics that stood out to me regarding Boaz. Allow me to share a few with you.

  • Godly men live out their faith in the workplace
    • Boaz did not buy into the lie that we need to keep our faith and our work separate. Boaz was open (not pushy) about his faith with his employees. In Ruth 2:4 here is how Boaz greets his staff, And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.”  Boaz is the kind of boss any one would want to have BECAUSE his faith had such an impact on how he treated people in the workplace. What difference is our faith making in the workplace?
  • Godly men show compassion to those who are poor, marginalized and thought to be unimportant by society
    • Boaz ends up showing tremendous grace and kindness to Ruth. She is in his fields trying to scrape together enough grain to feed herself and Naomi. I’m thinking that many successful men in Boaz’s day would not have given Ruth a second thought. Woman. Gentile. From the hated land of Moab. Boaz goes out of his way to show grace, HESED love, and compassion to this woman. He provides her with an abundance of food and gives her hope when she needs it the most. Do we notice those who are hurting or struggling right around us in everyday life?
  • Godly men make women feel safe
    • Boaz commands his young men to stay away from Ruth so that she is not sexually or physically abused by them. Ruth is incredibly vulnerable working out in the fields by herself and Boaz steps in and protects her. But Boaz’s compassion does not stop there. In verse 8 Boaz refers to Ruth as his “daughter”.  Boaz’s motives are pure and Ruth is blown away by the fact that she is in the presence of a very powerful man and he is treating her like a family member.
    • I must confess this makes me think about how safe women must have felt with Jesus. Jesus did not run away from female friendships. Instead, some of his closest friends and disciples were women. Jesus never used his position of influence or power selfishly. Jesus was always looking to serve, bless and show compassion. Do we make woman feel safe in our presence?
  • Godly men use their money, time and resources to be a blessing to others
    • Boaz was very generous with all that he had so that he could be a blessing to others. Not only was Boaz generous but he encouraged his employees to be generous as well. In verse 15 we read this, When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her.” Boaz knew that life was not just about making as much money as possible. Boaz had his eyes open for people that God was strategically bringing into his life so that he could show them HESED love. Are we using our money, resources and talents for the good of others?

Of course, this story is not primarily about Ruth or Boaz. Boaz is merely a dim reflection of the better Man that was to come about 1000 years later. Boaz was a godly man but he too was a sinner. Boaz was the GOEL (kinsman-redeemer) for Ruth. But Jesus would be the ultimate GOEL (Kinsman-Redeemer) for all humanity. I want to be a better man. I want to be less like me and more like Boaz. I have to remember that it is not enough just to say that I need to be more like Boaz. Moral exhortations to be better won’t change my sinful heart. Every single day I need to die to self so that the life of Jesus Christ is set ablaze in me.