Forged in Fire: Suffering & Christianity

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I’m not a big fan of television. I don’t have moral reasons against it, I just find it horribly boring most of the time. There are two shows that I will watch when they are on: The Walking Dead (of course) and Forged in Fire.

Forged in Fire is a contest show that awards money to the person who has forged the strongest blade. Many people view bladesmiths as an ancient career of the past but these men & women are beyond impressive with their craft! The finalists are given the task of re-creating a famous weapon from history. Each of them returns to their workshops, labors over the intricate details of their blades, and then returns to the show to have the blade tested.

Each person’s blade appears beautiful and well-crafted. The blades are tested through a series of stress tests. Each test is intense and has the power to shatter the blade and expose the blades imperfections. Every blade looks beautiful until it is under the scrutiny of pressure.

Might I suggest this is a perfect illustration of the Christian faith?

Peter, one of the leaders in the early church, describes the Christian faith this way:
You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith—more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7) 

Suffering, trials, and conflict reveal the true condition of our faith. If we are not deeply rooted in the Scriptures, committed to authentic community, and living by the power of the Holy Spirit we will not be able to endure these “stress tests.”


Are you going through a trial right now? What are you learning from God as a result? Let me know by leaving a comment, I’d love to hear from you! 

To the People of My Church – Dave Greenlee

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This past Sunday at Renovation Chuch, Dave Greenlee shared his testimony as part of the service. He graciously sent me the manuscript and gave me permission to share it on my blog – it is below!


To the People of My Church
Renovation Church – Garretson, SD
Dave Greenlee
Sunday, July 8th

People my age have a term for my testimony today. It is called “lay witness”. Lay as in layman, as in I’m not an expert and certainly not a Bible scholar; and witness because it a story about my own personal experiences.

I especially want to point out some special times in my life when I have experienced God’s grace in helping me make a decision or to get me through a difficult time. God’s grace is something that I haven’t earned and am not worthy to receive. Nonetheless, I am convinced that these times are real and they are special. Often, I observe them in my rear-view mirror.  If I recognize God’s hand when a special time happens, it makes me want to do a better job of “listening”. As I describe these special times I’m going to raise my hand as we sometimes do to praise God in our music. What I am saying is “this is not just lucky. This is from God”.

For example, I was born in the US, where we can be Christians without being persecuted. This is lucky, but I don’t think it is God’s intent for only some of us to be exposed to Christianity. I was raised by two wonderful parents who took me to church from an early age. It was First Baptist Church of Sioux Falls.  In those days, First Baptist was a group of people who were shepherded by Dr. Roger Fredrickson, my friend and pastor. <raise hand> The people of First Baptist started the Firehouse Ministry, Glory House and Sunrise Manufacturing, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for SD. Books have been written about these people and their times. I accepted Christ as my Savior and was baptized when I was 11 years old. For as long as I can remember, I have known that there was a God, and that Christ came to die for our sins. Sunday school was OK, but I especially benefited from the Scouting program at First Baptist. We went camping at Lewis and Clark, Newton Hills, and Lake Shetek. When I was 15, I got to go on a wilderness canoe trip in the Boundary Waters through the Sommers Canoe Base, near Ely, MN. God in nature was all around me, and this was huge in my life.

The next summer later, I got a job at the Canoe Base. I worked on the “base staff”, and also received swamper training so that when I turned 18, I could join the “trail staff” as a Wilderness Guide. Scouts came from all over the country, and we took them out on 10-day trips. Over a summer we might take out 5-6 groups. It was hard work but exhilarating, as we paddled hundreds of miles on the lakes, and portaged all our gear between the lakes. There are no roads, no boats, no airplanes, no buildings, no electricity, no cell phone coverage. <raise hand>

In 1969, three of my guide buddies and I took a couple Scout crews out and then left on a trip of our own – the trip of a lifetime. We drove to Winnipeg, took a float plane to Norway House, paddled the Hayes and God’s Rivers, met a few Cree Indians in small settlements like God’s River Narrows and Shamattawa. We eventually got to York Factory, an abandoned fur depot on Hudson Bay. Then we paddled around Marsh Point in the ocean waters of the Bay, and back upstream on the Nelson River for 5 days where we came to “mile 352” of the Canadian National Railroad.  In the middle of the night, we flagged the train returning from Churchill, and took it back down to Winnipeg. The trip took us over a month. I felt a strong sense of God in my life, but I was also pretty full of myself.

Back in college at the University of Redlands, I worked on my degree in Environmental Science, and protested the Viet Nam war. At least part of me thought God was guiding me. I applied for a draft deferment as a Conscientious Objector, and Dr. Fredrickson wrote me a letter of support. In those days, Quakers were generally respected as pacifists, but Baptists, not so much. One of the elders from First Baptist sent me a quote, “War will exist until that distant day when the Conscientious Objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the Warrior does today.”  John F. Kennedy

I was worried about the draft, and my number was 40, so I was going to be called as soon as I graduated and lost my 2S deferment. At my college was a Physics professor named Dr. Albert Baez. His daughter was and is Joan Baez, a folk singer involved in Viet Nam protests, and who married David Harris, and activist who was in jail as a draft resistor, that is, for refusing to be drafted. Looking back, I guess because I knew that since Dr. Baez was a real person in my life, maybe Joan Baez would be a real person who would let me ask her for some advice. So, I drove to the Los Altos hills, found a commune and worked for a couple hours with some people who were digging a cistern. When I asked about Ms. Baez, a guy told me she was often around but not today. He gave me directions to her home. When I got there, I walked through a gate and found her out in the yard on a blanket with her son Gabriel. She was kind enough to talk with me about my concerns. She told me going to jail was not a good solution for anyone. As it turns out, I didn’t have to make a difficult decision for jail, Canada, or the military.  I got the 1-O (conscientious objector) deferment and before I could perform “alternative service” the draft and the war ended. <raise hand>

That same year, I got married to a girl I met in college (University of Redlands), and started an internship with Jack Dangermond and his Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). I worked there four years, and along the way, graduated with a BA in Environmental Science. I picked up skills in making maps and geographic databases with the computers of the day. When my oldest son Tad was just 6 months old, we decided to leave California and get back to the Midwest. I had no job prospects – just a very strong feeling that the Midwest would be a better place for my family and the confidence that everything would work out. I went to job interviews where I showed people my maps and they gave me a blank look – ahead of my time? It all seems pretty naïve and very risky in retrospect. After a couple weeks staying with my parents in Iowa, the importance of a job became clear. I set up an interview at the EROS Data Center, where I met Dr. Fred Waltz. Fred looked at my high-tech maps and told me “the people here don’t know it yet, but they need the skills you have.” He offered me a job as a “machine operator” that started at $6.05 / hour. <raise hand> The machine turned out to be a million-dollar image processing computer in Dr. Waltz’ Data Analysis Lab. I got to work with Geologists, Foresters, Soil Scientists, Hydrologists, Land Planners, and Atmospheric Physicists – we learned how to study the earth using newly developed tools for Satellite Remote Sensing and Digital Image Processing. It was an exciting time.

Over the years, I went to church once in a while, mostly to give my kids an example of how good people live and what good people do. There were a few “special times”, often during our canoe trips to Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. If God was talking to me, I wasn’t being a very good listener. A recurring theme in my life was that when I felt God’s presence in my life, I would say “OK, Thanks. I’ll take it from there” as if I don’t need God to help me. That is, until I do…

My wife and I separated, and were divorced when the kids were 10, 13, and 16. It was not my finest hour, and my kids were disappointed in me to say the least. On the plus side, my ex-wife and I did a good job focusing on the needs of the kids, and that helped us all to get through a difficult time. After the boys graduated from high school and had gone to college, and Meghan was finishing high school and living with her Mom, I married the love of my life, Sue.  This time I got it right. Sue is smarter than me and has a wry sense of humor. She can more than match my dominating personality. She has filled our life with Arabian horses, Afghan Hounds, free range chickens, and a big garden. Our kids, her two and my three, are grown up and flourishing. We are truly blessed. Now in our mid-sixties, we have dumped our day jobs to grow cold-hardy grapes and make award winning wine.  We built a winery up on the hill, and I even got to help my son Chet as he laid tile, painted, and trimmed out the building.

About 5 years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night. On the night-stand was a flyer that had come in the mail. It was from the Rescue Church and it said there would be an organizational meeting to discuss a new church in Garretson. Talk about a wakeup call. I remember thinking, and maybe saying out loud “OK, I get it. I’m supposed to do this.”  We met in the back of Annie’s (now Omar’s) and the rest is history. <raise hand>

In 2016, Pastor Tyler baptized me in a stock tank across the street at the Legion. These days, I often find myself saying “we are blessed” (e.g. by the view from our winery, by the rain we just got, by our health, by our sons and daughters, by our grandkids…). When someone asks me how I’m doing, I usually say “better than I deserve”. This time I think I got it right.

Dear Lord,

Help us to listen for those special times, and to respond to them by submitting to your plan for us. Help us to do your work, even if is outside our comfort zone.

In Jesus name,

Amen

A Conversation with an Anglican Priest

I had the honor of interviewing my friend Christopher Haberman. Christopher is an Anglican Priest and church planter of the Church of the Resurrection in Sioux Falls. We talked about church planting, Anglicanism, liturgy, communion, among many other things. The full conversation is below!

(If you are reading this in your e-mail, you will have to go to the actual page to watch the video)

Changes Coming to Renovation Church

One of the questions I have been wrestling with is how we can give more freedom to the Holy Spirit to lead in our services. The model of having a paid professional do all of the speaking & leading is not a biblical model. Below is a video sharing some of the things we are going to experiment with this summer. If you live in the Garretson area, I’d love for you to be my guest. Our service is on Sundays at 10am at the Garretson School!
http://www.renovationchurchsd.com

(If you are reading this in your e-mail, you will need to go to the actual page to see the video)

Church Membership Class (Online)!

As many of you know, I am the Lead Pastor of Renovation Church. I just finished recording our membership class so that people can “attend” the class when it is convenient for them. If you are curious about the story, values, vision, or beliefs of Renovation Church, check out the membership class!

(If you are reading this in your e-mail you will have to go to the actual page to see the video).

 

Low Attendance & Insecurity

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My understanding of leadership is that a leader is a person who is bold, courageous, and confident. Leaders aren’t perfect but they are pretty close. Leaders refuse to dwell on weakness and insecurity – instead, they exploit their strengths in order to make a bigger impact.

Well, I’m going to break all the rules of leadership with this blog post. I have been going back-and-forth with myself on how honest & transparent I want to be through a public medium such as a blog. I’ve been told that pastors should only share their insecurities with other pastors so they don’t cause the people who follow them to doubt their leadership.

But this is what I know: Every Sunday I remind the people of Renovation Church that we serve a crucified Savior. The message of the cross is a stumbling block for it displays Jesus at His absolute weakest point. He is abandoned by his disciples, rejected by the crowds, beaten by the Roman Guards, and crucified completely naked – this is true humiliation. Yet it was precisely at His weakest point that He conquered death, sin, and the grave. It is in our weakness that Christ’s power is perfected within us (2 Cor. 12:9).

So here’s my confession to you: I am deeply insecure about who I am as a pastor. Two weeks ago I had the honor of performing child dedications and we had around 70 people in attendance (which is a good Sunday for us).

Yesterday, we had 33 people in attendance. This is the lowest our attendance has been in years. I have nothing to blame it on – it was a beautiful day and there were no major events happening in the community that I am aware of. In my own sinful pride (self-pity is another form of pride) I became extremely discouraged when I got home after the service (just ask my wife!). Rather than praising God for the fact that He brought 33 souls – people loved by Him – under my care on Sunday, I complained and felt like a failure for all the people that WEREN’T there.

That’s a problem.

It’s a problem that I find my identity in attendance numbers & budget numbers.

It’s a problem that I am too afraid of people doubting me that I refuse to be transparent about how insecure I am when people skip church.

It’s a problem if I cover up the pain of people leaving the church through spiritual jargon rather than dealing with my real emotions.

It’s a problem because it’s in direct contradiction to the crucified Savior whom I worship. The One who emphasizes weakness & transparency as true strength.

Since yesterday afternoon I have been continually preaching the Gospel to my own heart. Here are the truths I am reminding myself continually in an effort to fight for joy. I pray this reflection encourages you as you begin a new week. To be honest, I’m writing this primarily for myself so that the next time I am discouraged I can read this post and remind myself of these marvelous truths:

1. My identity is the result of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.
As I shared above, self-pity comes from the same root as arrogance – pride. It is an obsession with “self” and a demand that we get what we deserve. The truth is, if any of us got what we “deserved” we would be in Hell right now – separated from God as a result of our sin. The beauty of the Gospel is that my identity isn’t the result of who I am or what I have done but because of who Jesus is and what He has done through his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. My identity needs to be rooted in the Gospel – not some cheap form of “success” in the church world.

 2. It is not my job to build the church – Jesus promises to do that.
Renovation Church does not belong to me – it belongs to Christ. He is the One called to grow the church – I am simply called to be faithful. I need to remember that “growth” doesn’t always look like increased attendance and giving. Sometimes growth can look like subtraction (i.e. Jesus once “grew” his movement from 15,000 people to 12 after a controversial message – see John 6)

3. Weakness is not a liability.
One of the sports I love to participate in is boxing. When you are in a boxing ring you do not want to show any weakness or openings. As soon as you show an opening you are usually rebuked by a swift punch to the face! The “foolishness” of the cross is that the way we display Christ as our treasure is to BOAST in our weaknesses (1 Cor. 11:30). We openly talk about our insecurity, our weakness, and our doubts. That is what makes Christian leadership distinctively Christian. We do not hide from our brokenness & sickness because we trust the One who came not for the healthy but for the sick (Mark 2:17).

These are three truths I am reminding myself of this week. I pray our attendance increases this coming Sunday – but what if it doesn’t? What we if go from 33 people to 20 people? I will fight for joy. I will celebrate the people who are there rather than despair about those who aren’t. I will remember that it’s seriously amazing that even one person entrusts himself/herself to my spiritual leadership. I will be honest about my own brokenness with the goal of pointing people to Christ – not Tyler Ramsbey.


P.S. – I’m not writing this to get your pity. Many of you have FAR more difficult things you are wrestling with than insecurity & low attendance at church. Instead, my hope is that this will encourage you to preach the Gospel to your own soul. Have a great week!