Friday, July 25, 2014

My Life: My Birth Story

The other day, I shared a short review of Jerry Bridges new book, God Took Me by the Hand. One of the things I took away from that book is the need to tell life stories. I'm not pretending to be Jerry Bridges or that anyone would want to hear my life story. But I thought if I do not write these things down (at least for my kids), I'll forget about them. They may not hear them. And so today I'm starting a series of stories that I'm going to write to show how God has been active in my life throughout my life. I'm writing these stories for my children, you just get to look through the window of our storytime (if you want). 

I thought I would start with my birth story. I know I was there, but do not remember much about it. Several years ago, I asked my mom to write down some of the details of my birth so I would have them. These are her words as she recalls the events of the beginning of my life.
"On October 31, 1973, I went to the hospital, trusting to have a baby that night because our insurance ran out that day. When I had not given birth by the next morning, the doctor took an x-ray to see how many babies I was carrying: 'One big one' was the report. (There were no ultrasounds back then.) Labor was induced and at 4:44 that afternoon, Thad was born. Then on Saturday night, November 3, as we were celebrating with my sister the birth of our 9 pound 1 ounce baby boy, the doctor entered our room and said, 'Mr. and Mrs. Bergmeier, you have a very sick son.' 
He then proceeded to tell how Thad had a blood infection, which caused him to be very lethargic and to run a temperature, was jaundice, had a collapsed lung, and had an enlarged heart, which probably meant a congenital heart disease. Thad had already been put under the lights for the jaundice, and a heart specialist had been called in. At first I thought God was punishing me because I really did not want two babies so close together. That night God showed me again Romans 8:28-29. I studied it and read it over and over again. All this was to be for God's glory. Later that night a young nurse started to witness to me. God had everything lined up just the way He designed it to be. The next day, Sunday, I went home without my baby. 
Because we lived about thirty minutes from the hospital and I had a child not quite a year old at home, I did not get to see Thad everyday. On Monday we talked to the heart specialist. He said that he would call us back the next day because he was running all kinds of tests on Thad and would not have the results until the next afternoon. Tuesday afternoon he called and asked us to meet him that night outside the nursery so he could talk to us about Thad. We went, expecting to hear how we were going to have to deal with an invalid. The doctor then said that if he had not personally examined Thad Saturday night, he would have thought that someone had switched babies. Thad's blood infection was clear, he was no longer lethargic, and he did not have a fever. His lung was working properly. His heart was still large but probably just to fill his large chest cavity. (Several doctors had told us that Thad had the broadest shoulders and largest chest cavity they had ever seen.) The doctor referred to Thad as the miracle baby. We verbally gave God the credit. When the doctor asked if we had any questions, Gary had one: 'Will he be able to play sports?' 
'Yes.' 
'Will he be able to play football?' 
'With the size of those shoulders and chest cavity, he better.' 
Since there had been so many things wrong with Thad, the doctor wanted to keep him in the hospital until the next Sunday, just for observation. Finally, when he was ten days old, we brought home a healthy baby boy, knowing that God had something very special planned for him."
I never played football, but I did play futbol. Maybe my dad just mispronounced it back in the day.

I would ask my mom to tell me this story often as a child. She would always end the story the same way: "God has something special for you someday." I don't know why I used to ask her to tell the story. Maybe it was simply that I longed to be considered special. Maybe it was because there was something inside of me that was curious as to what that "something special" was that God would have for me someday.

I used to love having my mom tell that story. I don't share it much these days. I don't know why. I don't know why I was born so sick and then healed so quickly. I don't know why me and not the countless other children who are born with illnesses. Maybe I don't share it so much today because of fear that I won't live up to that "God's got something special for you" feeling. That can be a lot of pressure.

One thing is for sure. God began to take me by the hand (to borrow Bridge's verbage) while I was still in the womb. He began to work in my heart back then (physically and spiritually). And for that I'm thankful. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Pastor's Kid by Barnabas Piper

I have been on vacation the past two weeks and have taken the opportunity to do a lot of reading. One of the books I read early on in the vacation was Barnabas Piper's new book, The Pastor's Kid. You might have guessed from his name, Barnabas is the son of the well-known pastor, John Piper. And so when I saw that he was coming out with a book on what it is like growing up as a pastor's kid, I wanted to read it for three reasons. 

First, I am a pastor. Second, I have children. Third, I love them dearly and want to do everything I can to help them avoid any stereotypical or extraordinary demands placed on them because I am a pastor. I was happy to find out that my third reason is the main reason Barnabas wrote this book. He seeks to correct wrong thinking of expectations placed upon the children of pastors.

In the beginning of the book, he calls for pastors, and churches in general, to back off of an undue expectation of the Pastor's Kid (PK) to be someone different than every other kid in the church. He shows how it is unfair for the PK and creates a wrongful expectation of perfection that is impossible to bear. He shares how he felt everyone expected him to be perfect because his dad was the pastor. That is not only unfair, it is impossible. He talks about living in the fishbowl, where everyone hears and knows things about you . . . but they don't know you. That's painful for the PK. He shares, 
"PK's want to be known, not just known of. We want to be in relationships that cut through the facades and fronts and unearth the insecurities and needs. We long for those friends and mentors who will willfully set aside all they think they know of us as PKs and get to know us as people. These friends will engage our passions, our interests, our fears, our confusions . . . PKs struggle, and if all we have are people around us who know of us, we bottle those struggles inside and the pressure builds. Being known is a release, a way to pour out our problems and be helped, supported, corrected, taught, and simply known" (37). 
I was really drawn to my children through reading this book. It made me want to do a better job shepherding them in this area. I have had many conversations with my oldest son, who is now 14, about this issue. I often ask him if he feels any pressure from anyone because I'm the pastor of the church. So far, he says he doesn't. Only he knows if he is being honest with me. I hope so. I consistently reaffirm to him that if he ever feels that, he needs to let me know. I want him to feel freedom to be real; to struggle, to grow, to develop his own relationship with Jesus.

Barnabas offers several solutions to these problems faced by the PK. For one, he says what the PK needs more than anything else is grace. Of course, doesn't everyone? But what he means by this is that the PK needs to see grace from his parents (specifically dad) more than hear about grace. He shares one way this happens . . .
"What the PK needs is parents who not only admit to being sinners but actually admit to sins. It is far more powerful for a child to see his parents admitting, apologizing for, and working to correct real, actual sins. When a father refers to himself as a sinner and says he needs grace but doesn't make a habit out of admitting and apologizing for specific failings, he mixes up his kids. PKs see the lost tempers, the harsh words, the overwork, the pride, the gossip. We know what sins our dad commits, but if he doesn't admit to them, we can lose respect for him. We also fail to learn to recognize sins in our own lives, and even if we do see them, we won't admit them. Why should we? Dad doesn't" (79). 
My guess is that this is good parenting advice, not just specifically for pastors.

But he also says the church needs to show grace. He consistently begs that the church treat the PK as they would treat any other child in the church. In the appendix of the book, Piper offers Seven Rules For When You Meet a PK (pg. 145-147). These are helpful and could be expanded upon in depth. But they are things that are helpful for those in the church to think through.
  1. Do not ask us 'What is it like to be the son or daughter of . . .
  2. Do not quote our dads to us.
  3. Do not ask us anything personal you would not ask of anyone else.
  4. Do not ask us anything about our dads' position on anything.
  5. Do not assume you can gain audience with the pastor through us.
  6. Do not assume that we agree with all the utterances of our fathers.
  7. Get to know us.
I feel our church does a good job of this. But it is one thing I will continue to keep an eye on in the future.

While I assume my children are having a different experience growing up in a church being my children than Barnabas did being John Piper's son (size of church, breadth of ministry, popularity, etc...), he makes many great points I need to pay careful attention to. No matter if you are a pastor, pastor's wife, or a congregant, I hope you will give some thought as to how you can care for the children of pastors. After all, as one PK was quoted as saying in the book . . .
"Where is there a safe place to go with your struggles? Who can you talk to? Not even the pastor . . ."
That touches me deeply.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A True Spiritual Community?

Do you want great relationships with people? Do you desire to live as God created you to live? Do you hope that you could have friendships that speak into your life and you into theirs without hesitation or pretense? Then think deeply about this thought . . . 
"A spiritual community consists of people who have the integrity to come clean. It is comprised of those who own their shortcomings and failures because they hate them more than they hate the shortcomings and failures of others, who therefore discover that a well of pure water flows beneath they most fetid corruption . . . Integrity is the first step: We must admit to our community, to a spiritual friend or a spiritual director, who we are at our worst. We must tell our stories to someone without consciously leaving out a chapter" (Larry Crabb, Becoming a True Spiritual Community, 30-31).
A few questions to think about . . .
  • Is this possible?
  • Why or why not?
  • How badly do we want spiritual community?
  • What could we do to lead the way towards this sort of community?
  • What are we afraid of?
  • Are you afraid to share or afraid to hear what others share?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

God Took Me by the Hand by Jerry Bridges

Many consider Jerry Bridges as one of the top Christian authors in the past 30 years. I would be one of the many. His first publication, The Pursuit of Holiness, is the first Christian book I read after getting serious about the Lord, between my junior and senior year of high school. I was hooked. Since that time, I have been blessed by his gospel-saturated writing in his books. He was gospel-centered before it was cool to be gospel-centered. 

I'm probably wrong, but it would not surprise me to learn that his books have been read and studied in different bible studies more than any other author. Because of my appreciation for his thinking and writing, when I saw he had come out with a new book, I quickly grabbed it and read it in one day. That was several months ago.

God Took Me by the Hand is a great read. It is so different from any of his other books as it is his memoirs. In this book, he shares his life story, from how God opened his eyes unto salvation to his struggle with many theological concepts to his career ambitions. Throughout it all, he shares God's providence of being actively involved in his life in all aspects.

The providence of God is a doctrine that we do not talk much about these days. That's unfortunate. At the beginning of the book, he shares some insights into this doctrine and then throughout the book, shows how God was actively involved in every twist and turn of his life. Here are a few thoughts he has about the the providence of God.
"God's providence is His constant care for and His absolute rule over all His creation for His own glory and the good of His people . . . To say that God rules can give us an image of a king ruling from his throne, making major decisions but basically unaware of the day-to-day events occurring in his kingdom. But to say that God rules over His creation is to say that He controls all events and circumstances. Absolutely nothing can happen outside the controlling hand of God" (19).
But God's providence is even more than this. He goes on to say . . .
"God not only controls all events and circumstances, He directs all of them so that they accomplish His purposes. God is 'hands on' in directing the affairs of His creation . . . God not only directs all things to accomplish His purposes, He orchestrates all diverse events, things we consider 'good' and things we consider 'bad,' so that the end product displays the beauty of His glory" (20-21). 
These may not be easy doctrines to swallow or understand, but in each of these thoughts, Bridges shares verse after verse in support. My goal in this review is not to defend this doctrine (maybe that will come later). But I wanted to show the premise of the book, because in conjunction with these thoughts, he shares the significance of common and special grace in understanding God's hand in our life. The way he weaves these truths throughout his life's story is something special. It is something that is noticeable as you look back on life. As the old adage goes, "hindsight is 20/20 vision."

I won't share much of his life in this review. If you have enjoyed his writing ministry, you really should read it. He ends the book with this thought:
"I do know that for over sixty-five years God has been leading me by His invisible hand of providence, most of the time in fairly routine ways and sometimes in remarkable ways. But whether it was routine or remarkable, God has been leading me. I trust Him to continue to do that until He calls me home. Someone has said, 'Everyone has a life story, but not every story gets written.' I have written mine, not because my story is particularly important, but because it so clearly and so consistently over the years illustrates the unusual providence of God in the life of a very unpromising young boy. As you read this, I hope that you can see why I say, it seems that when I was seventeen years old, God took me by the hand and said, 'Come with Me'" (147-148).
As I read his story, it made me think of how I have witnessed God's hand in my life in the past. One of the things I took from this book is my desire to remember my past. I think it is way too easy to forget how God has been active in our life. I want my kids to know how much God has been involved in my life. And if you are interested, I wouldn't mind you knowing it as well. And so, I think from time to time, I'm going to write some things on the blog here as a way to remind myself and encourage others as how God's hand has been active upon my life the past 40 years (yes, I'm 40 years old).

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dwelling In God's House Forever

I am preaching on Psalm 23 this morning. In my studies this week, I came across several quotes from Phillip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. 

Now, I love to read. I have developed quite a vast library in the past fifteen years. While I faintly remember seeing this book, I never bought it or read it. After being impressed by a few quotes, I decided to order the book. After taking some time this week to read most of it, I can say without hesitation . . . it is pure gold!

I jokingly said on Twitter last night that maybe for my sermon on Psalm 23 this morning, I should just get up and read portions of his book. It's that good. I will never look at this Psalm the same way again.

The Psalm famously ends in verse 6 with these words: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Speaking on that last thought, Keller says these words:
"Here is a sheep so utterly satisfied with its lot in life, so fully contented with the care it receives, so much 'at home' with the shepherd that there is not a shred of desire for a change. Stated in simple, direct, rather rough ranch language, it would be put like this, 'Nothing will ever make me leave this outfit--it's great!' 
Conversely, on the shepherd's side there has developed a great affection and devotion to his flock. He would never think of parting with such sheep. Healthy, contented, productive sheep are his delight and profit. So strong, now, are the bonds between them that it is in very truth--forever" (165-166).
I love it!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Church that Prays Together by Elmer Towns & Daniel Henderson

Several months ago, I picked up several books that have to do with churches praying. The concept of being a church that spends time praying together has been heavy upon my heart. And so I want to read more about this concept. One of the first books I have read is The Church that Prays Together by Elmer Towns & Daniel Henderson.

In this book, Towns and Henderson take a look at ten different types of churches and how they make prayer central to their mission. The premise of the book was intriguing to me as I wanted to see how different churches integrate prayer into their ministry. And believe me when I say this, they look at different churches. But they are clear from the beginning that they are going to look at all different shapes and sizes of churches. 
"First, we wanted to look at several different denominations, because people from different theological persuasion can pray and get answers to their prayers. Second, we wanted to look at different sizes of churches. We believe small-, medium-, and mega-size churches are all uniquely privileged by God to do His work through prayer." (12).
While they say they are going to talk about the prayer life of 10 Dynamic Churches, they only talk about nine of them (although, one is in two locations, so maybe that is why there is a discrepancy). The nine churches they investigate are: 
  • Jefferson Baptist Church; Jefferson, Oregon
  • The Brooklyn Tabernacle; Brooklyn, New York
  • Second Baptist Church; Houston, Texas
  • Arcade Church; Sacramento, California
  • Lakeview Wesleyan Church; Marion, Indiana
  • Christ Fellowship; Palm Gardens, Florida
  • Central Christian Church of East Valley; Mesa & Gilbert, Arizona
  • Vietnamese Baptist Church; Houston, Texas
  • Thomas Road Baptist Church; Lynchburg, Virginia
Let me share about the one church that impacted me the most and why. Pastor Dee Duke of Jefferson Baptist Church firmly believes that the way a church becomes a prayer church is only if the pastors of the church pray. After being convicted of this, he set seven specific goals for his life and ministry concerning prayer, which they quote on page 18:
  1. Spend on uninterrupted hour per day praying by himself.
  2. Spend one hour per day praying with at least one other person.
  3. Pray for everyone in the church by name weekly.
  4. Pray at least once per month with other pastors.
  5. Preach on prayer for three months.
  6. Plan four major church prayer events each year (always to precede a major evangelistic thrust). 
  7. Identify the church's 'farm' (twenty miles in every direction from the church), claim it, and target prayer for it.
Now, I can take issue with some of these things (for instance, the claiming the church's farm . . . I'm not even sure what that means). But the thing that impressed me is that he committed to praying. I bet there were days and weeks in which he didn't reach his goal. But it made a conscious decision to begin praying. 

I wonder if sometimes, we make things way too complicated. I know I do. Even in reading this book, I want to find out what churches do when it comes to prayer. And what I know I should do is to pray. Simply pray. The older I get in my spiritual life with Christ, the more I realize I don't pray enough. I know we probably all could say that, but I'm saying it. I don't pray like I should. I'm lazy. I'm way too content to live off my own strengths and energy. I'm way too self-dependent. 

That needs to change. I hope it does.

Friday, July 11, 2014

To Blog or Not To Blog

August 14, 2010 was a big day for me. It was the day that I registered and started to blog at ChangedbytheGospel. Before this date, I had considered blogging for a long time. I had many things to say, but didn't know if anyone would listen. I was really trying to count the cost of blogging because I didn't want to be the guy who said he was going to blog and then end up not posting anything for months at a time.

Over the last four years, I have written and posted just over 950 blog posts. Those first few years were great. In 2010, I averaged about 10 posts per month. But then I took it seriously in 2011 when I averaged just over 25 posts a month. In 2012, it dropped a bit to about 22 a month. And then in 2013, about 21 a month. But this year, I have averaged about 12 blog posts a month. To make matters worse, it has been over a month since I posted some new content to my blog. I have become that guy I didn't want to be when I started.

I am creeping up on the four year mark of starting this blog, which has led me to contemplate some things about this blog. Should I continue blogging and make it a priority or should I stop blogging? Or is it alright to be the guy who blogs once a month, even though I don't like it? In my thinking about these things, I have tried to make a list, which I'm sure is very inexhaustive. But I'd love any feedback any of you might have on this list as I try to decide what I should do with my blog.

Reasons to NOT Continue Blogging

1. The Time Commitment. To write something worthwhile (I'm not sure I've even done that with the 950 posts I have already made) it takes time. While I love to write, it takes time to carefully craft words and make arguments. It seems as if my life is constantly busy, and so I am asking myself whether this is one of the ways I should to be using my time? I don't know for sure. 

2. Difficulty of New Content. It's not easy coming up with something new. Something fresh. The topics to write about are difficult. While I have ideas (see below), it seems increasingly I sit in front of a blank screen begging for something to come out of my mind . . . and not much is coming (please, no jokes there). 

3. Many Good Bloggers. There are myriads of blogs out there today. There are many just like mine, well, not exactly, for they are much better writers. I don't think I can or desire to compete with them.

4. Readership. I tried for a while to give things away, promote, and increase the readership of this blog. And for some time, I did see many jumps. But is that what this is about? I just wonder if it creates something not so good inside of me that wants to be famous or well-known. Maybe a desire for readership is very bad for me personally. Just being honest.

5. Boring Blog Template. I am in dire need for a change in the template of my blog. I would love to change to a wordpress theme, but just don't have the time or resources to invest in making the transition. 

Reasons to Continue Blogging

1. A Place to Review Books. In the past few months when I have not been writing blog posts, I have continued to read. I have read four books that I have not reviewed. A few of them were good that I'd love to pass onto the few people that happen by here. Some are not so good and I'd like to tell people to not waste their time. Either way, it seems as if reviewing books is always a good thing. If nothing else, it helps me crystalize the book in my own mind, which helps me remember the book.

2. Unique Way of Ministry. It seems like blogging is a unique way to minister to the people of my church as well as those that I've had the opportunity to interact with in other churches. I cannot say everything I want to say to everyone about how the gospel has transformed my life, but I can write it down. 

3. Testimony to My Children. I don't think my kids read my blog. But if I were to continue, I would hope they might someday. How cool would it be for them someday to look back and read hundreds of things I wrote on how the gospel had influenced me? I would hope it would encourage and strengthen their faith. 

4. Some Cool Ideas. I know I shared earlier that it is difficult to come up with new content, but I have had some ideas recently that I think would be cool. I'll share one of them. One of my greatest things concerns is that my children learn discernment. I want them to look at situations and evaluate them in light of who Jesus is and what the gospel says. So often as parents, we just tell them no, without walking them through the discernment process. One of the ways many Christian parents do this is through the arts. We tell them "NO" when it comes to music, TV shows, or movies. One of the things we have done with our children (the jury is still out on whether it is a good thing or not) is that I let them listen to secular music. But we talk openly about it. And when they want to download a song, we take time to walk through the lyrics and evaluate them from a Christian perspective. I thought it would be fun to do a series evaluating some of the most current secular songs through the lens of the gospel. Good idea? I don't know, but it could be fun.

What Should I Do? I go on vacation the next couple of weeks and will probably post a few things from time to time as I think through this in my own mind. But I would love your feedback. Any thoughts?