Thankful for…

Below is my typical “Here is what I am thankful for…” blog post for turkey day. Though, as you’ll see, it is anything but typical.

While I could express gratitude for a multitude of gifts in my life (and practicing consistent gratitude is the best way of developing a habit and heart of gratitude according to Michael Kelley), I want to explore in depth my thankfulness for something that I believe God is more thankful for than we might think…

The local church.

Jesus is thankful for his spouse, his body, his dwelling, his flock, his garden, and his family. We are all thankful for these things (a bride, our organs, our homes, our craft, our siblings, etc) that we adore in our lives. Jesus’ love for his church is organically connected to his gratitude for his church. He is glad that she exists, and he desires that she continue to exist.


Photo by Sara McAllister

But it is difficult (and even unbiblical) for us to talk of our gratitude for the ‘invisible church’ and never speak of our gratitude for the visible or local church. If Scripture goes into the minutia of the church and why each part is good and necessary (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). I want to spend the remainder of this post expressing my gratitude for the church I am blessed to pastor and be a part of, Hill City Church.

I am thankful that I am part of a church that is faithful to Scripture. These people believe in the “Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of Jesus”, and this Jesus is the biblical Jesus that neither conforms to trendy liberalism or self-righteous fundamentalism.

I am thankful that this church loves its city alongside its love for Jesus. These twin loves intersect in this church’s stated mission.

I am thankful this church has loved my wife and children well. While we don’t have the flashy programs for my children or some well-oiled women’s ministry for my wife, we have people who love developing relationships with my wife and children. These relationships are more key to long-term discipleship than some shiny curriculum.

I am thankful for my elder candidates for letting some rookie thirty-year-old pastor lead them, train them, and disciple them. They are extremely patient with me and they follow me well. I don’t always follow myself well, but they follow me well.

In connection to this, I am thankful that I can call these six elder candidates (Stephen Crotts, Kirk Irwin, Terence Kendrick, John McAllister, Brett Sartain, Fred Shope) my best friends. So often a pastor is told they need to develop these close-knit friendships outside their church and church’s leadership. I understand why that rationale is useful in a traditional church context, but I’m glad it doesn’t seem true in my context. My best friends are co-laborers in ministry. I love that.

I am thankful that this church as a whole has tolerated my growing pains as a preacher, leader, visionary, counselor, and all the other hats a church planter gets to wear. It seems like I say something embarrassing every week during announcement time (thanks for the reminder, Stephen). These people are quick to forgive me.

These folks give me feedback on my preaching. Some have told me when they have been moved in to tears. Others have told me when the sermon seemed too topical and not enough biblical. Some have expressed appreciation for always having Jesus present in the sermon. Others have encouraged me to continue developing my imagination through the reading of poetry and good works of literature. I am thankful for all the feedback I have gotten. (I remember during my first ever Hill City sermon on Colossians 1:4-8 that Eleanor Harris wanted to speak to me afterward and tell me what the sermon meant to her. Three and a half years later, she still goes out of her to tell me how the ministry of the Word affects her. I love you and am thankful for you, Eleanor.)

The people that come to me for counseling and tell me all their junk (and trust me not to spread news about their junk to the rest of the church)…thank you. It bewilders me that you trust me and feel comfortable enough to share intimate details with me. Sure, some of you keep me up at night, but my favorite part of being a pastor is meeting with people to listen, laugh, cry, pray, etc. Thank you for letting this be my ‘job’.

Thank you to those who throw parties, open your homes, feed people, let people live with you. You show the heart of Jesus and his gospel, and we probably wouldn’t have Grace in our home if we didn’t see others bring people into their homes and love them well. Stagers, Audrey, Sartains…thank you.

Crotts, Kendricks, McAllisters, Irwins, Tursis, Alters, and many others, you all have shown me what it looks like for a Christian to ‘throw the best party’ in our city. Thank you.

We also have some folks who serve in the manner and likeness of Jesus. When there is a need or a crisis I can count on these folks. I try to affirm their servant-leadership, but I need to do a better job at that. Thank you to these special people. (Sara McAllister, you always jump in when someone is in need. I don’t know how you do it given all the other things you have going on, but you are a blessing to those you serve. Thank you.)

Ted Harris, thank you for making sure the IRS doesn’t go after us. :-) You work hard as our Treasurer, and you get little thanks and no compensation.

To those of you who suffer from serious health trauma, thank you for showing me what it means to share in the sufferings of Jesus. It is hard what you go through, but you point me and others to Jesus through your faithfulness.

To those of you with financial stress who still give tithes and offerings to Hill City, thank you. Many others would just spend the money they don’t have on things they don’t need, but you give the little money you do have on God’s kingdom. You show me the generosity of Jesus through your faithfulness.

Andy and Ellie Stager, I tear up as I type this sentence. You are the reason I am now the pastor of this church. Thank you for shepherding and growing this flock the previous three years. Andy, I could have not asked for a better mentor, pastor, teacher, and friend. Ellie, thank you for being a best friend to Ashlee.

Dave and Heidi Baniszewski, thank you for giving me the categories to understand the Bible’s view on poverty and what it means to help the least of these.

(Stagers and Baniszewkis, please move back to Rock Hill. Thank you.)

Olsons, thank you for eggs. More importantly, thank you for your unique commitment to Hill City. It doesn’t go unnoticed.

Terence and Denise, your commitment to discipling our children deserves many thanks. My firstborn son is learning about the Trinity because of you two. Thank you.

Those of you who have been in strife, disagreement, conflict, or hostility with Hill City Church, me, our leadership, or individuals within the church but who chose faithfulness to Scripture in by “living peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18), thank you. Because of you, I’ve been reminded and our church has been reminded that the gospel message is one of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). You are peacemakers, and you are blessed (Matthew 5:9). You have shown us the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Reconciliation and peacemaking is simple but hard. It is scriptural yet painful. Thank you for being gospelicious in the best send of the term.

To those of you who have left the church because of unresolved tension or conflict, thank you. I thank you for the time you did spend in our community as part of our extended spiritual family. I am sorry things did not work out, and I would love to get together again to let the gospel do its work between us. It might be hard, but it is what Jesus wants. However, I thank you for the time you did invest with us and in our mission for our city. I hope one day to gather around the table with you again.

Musicians, you guys are awesome. People have come back to our church again because of your gifts. Thank you.

Our Help Team has aided several households in serious crisis situations. Thank you! We are going to have some amazing deacons some day.

Community Group leaders and disciple-makers…keep plugging away. I thank you and appreciate you for planting seeds, building community, and helping foster a gospel imagination in others. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

Doug and Cindy Stelzig, thank you for donating your time and ministry gifts to our church plant. I hope others may imitate you two in your servanthood.

Silas, when you are old enough some day to read this, I am grateful you were the first covenant child I baptized. Your parents love Jesus, and I pray you will love Jesus too.

Reggie, thank you for being the first adult for me to baptize. My love for you has grown over the past year. Thank you for letting someone so different from you be your pastor and friend.

Friday Arts Project, thank you for letting Hill City Church latch on to your success. We try to claim ‘credit’ for all the cool things you do. But it is all you. Keep it up, and we’ll just continue to enjoy the ride.

Stephen, thank you for helping start Friday Arts Project while a college student. And thank you for being instrumental in planting Hill City Church.

Kirk and Sarah, thank you for letting our church support your mission work. I get excited every time I talk to people about what you two are doing. (And thank you for the whiskey.)

Ralphie, Simon, and Grace. I love you. I pray you all might know, follow, and treasure the Jesus I get to serve and proclaim for a living.

Ashlee, thank you for not moving to another country when I wrote you that awkward letter seven years ago asking you to be my girlfriend. And thank you for partnering with me in life, marriage, parenting, ministry, and Netflixing. Oh, and thank you for finding me physically attractive. I am still trying to figure that one out.

I know there is much more to be thankful for. I wish to could type out a tangible thank you to every individual in Hill City Church, but some folks are bashful and certain details should remain private.

Let’s continue to be an extended spiritual family on mission together for the truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus for the flourishing of Rock Hill. It’s only been two days in being gone on vacation, but I miss you all. Thank you for being a group worthy to be missed.


O Happy Fault, O Happy New Blog


My gifted wife helped me update the presentation and theme of this blog. I hope it gives me better focus on my writing and reflecting on the beauty we find in the ordinary and the broken.

From whence comes the idea that fault is good?

The Latin expression o felix culpa comes from the  Paschal Vigil Mass Exsultet (“O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer”) and the writings of St. Augustine’s (354-430 AD) Enchiridion (“For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist”).

The basic idea is that the true event of the Fall in history is evidence of God’s goodness since it brings about the beauty of Redemption through the incarnation and the atonement of Jesus. Philosophers have wondered whether this observation means it is possible that a world that never experiences of Fall and Redemption isn’t as good as a world which does experience the great-making qualities.

While I have explored this idea in both my undergraduate and graduate studies in philosophical theology, I am also interested in this paradigm as I pastor my flock, dialogue with neighbors, and seek the welfare of the city where my family lives.

O Felix Culpa isn’t some cheap, easy fix to someone who suffers great tragedy, struggles to overcome addiction, has experienced abuse, was abandoned by their spouse, etc. Rather, it’s an invitation to explore the truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus in the complexity of a world which both frowns and smiles.

I also invite you to come back to read, reflect, and comment below on the content of this blog.

Some Thoughts on Sports and its Fans at the End of my Sports Fast

I’ve been on a sports fast since the beginning of football season.  I haven’t been perfect as I’ve checked the occasional score or stat here and there.  It was impossible not to know who won big games since Facebook and Twitter give you up-to-date info and emotions on sports.  In addition, I would watch a game if I was with neighbors, friends, or if my wife and boys wanted to watch.  Still, my overall sports intake was cut down by more than half, and it was good for me.

Being on the outside of sports these last five months opened my eyes to a lot of issues concerning our American culture, sports culture, church culture, and family culture.  Below are some observations I’ve made and some lessons I’ve taken away from my fast.

1.  The Word “Fan” is Short for “Fanatic”

I’ve heard Colin Cowherd and others make this point, and I never knew how true it was until these last five months.  Reading FB statuses, Twitter feeds, and having conversations with people about their teams is a frustrating task.  Fans who think they are “objective” about their team and their team’s rivals are delusional.

I remember reading one fan predict the score between his team and his team’s rival.  “We are going to beat them by two touchdowns at least!”  “Oh yeah, you are on the road, you have matchup problems, it’s a rivalry game, and Vegas isn’t even giving you 14 points.  I’ll take the underdog.”  “You’re crazy!  We’re gonna smoke em!”  Sure enough, the rival team covered…and won the game.

All sports fans don’t just buy into a team, or a player…they buy into a narrative.  Not only is their team much much better (or sometimes much much worse) than what is actually the case, but other teams that would infringe on their narrative are much much better or much much worse than what is actually the case.  If you are a fan of a major SEC football program, then you argue that other SEC teams aren’t nearly as glamorous as they seem.  Your fanbase is the best and most objective, the rival fanbase is crazy, irrational, and it would be purgatory or worse to be associated with that team. (Does it amaze you the emotion we pour into what a bunch of 19 and 20 year old kids do with a football?)

Fans are fanatics.  They want their narrative to be true in the end, and they will cover up facts and reality to preserve that narrative.

2.  How I Watch Sports is a Witness to the Gospel

When I was in high school, I would throw objects across the room when my team blew the game.  I cursed out refs when they blew the 1999 NFC Chmapionship game for my Bucs (I get that Harry Potter forehead burn whenever I now see a “catch” where any part of the ball hits the ground).  If I wasn’t a Christian, I may have done some voodoo on Brett Favre.

In all seriousness, I’m glad I can watch a game like an adult now.  Sure, I get peeved sometimes, but it is usually if a player isn’t hustling, the ref totally blew a call, etc.  I don’t get mad if my team just loses.  I hardly ever raise my voice, type an ALL CAPS FACEBOOK STATUS ABOUT HOW MY TEAM WAS SCREWED!, etc.

I also never say that I hate another team, player, coach, etc.  How I handle myself during a sports game or in discussing sports is a witness to the gospel, and I know that my boys will imitate the way I watch sports just as I imitated my father.

Colin Cowherd says it best.  Like your team, but love your family.  Fans can easily switch these things around.

3.  I Appreciate My Father’s Sports Legacy More Than Ever

My own father was a sports nut, sure.  He was in 4-5 fantasy leagues…per sport (football, baseball, basketball)!  He could justify it since he usually made out with some winnings.  I joked at my dad’s funeral service that he and his friend, Bill Genovese, winning their fantasy basketball league nine years in a row is right up there with Cal Ripken Jr. or Brett Favre consecutive games played streaks.

Sure, my dad would react strongly at times, but he never went ballistic.  He never hated another team or player.  In fact, one of his best teaching moments was September 1997 when the Bucs played the 49ers at their home opener.  Both Steve Young and Jerry Rice got injured during the game.  When Rice was down, I began to cheer.  My dad immediately stopped me and said, “Son, even if we root against the other team, it is never funny when another team’s player is injured.  It is a serious matter.”  I have remembered that conversation these last sixteen years, and it has sobered my perspective on sports.

My dad was also an objective fan.  He never let his love for the Bucs, Braves, Lightning, etc. override his objectivity.  He was a great analyst of the game.  He appreciated plays by opposing players. (“Daniel, did you see what Daunte Culpepper just did?  What a play.”  Thankfully, the Bucs still won the game.) He only lost his objectivity when it came to lower-tier sports and teams.  Whether it was USF Women’s Basketball, Erskine College sports, Centre College sports, etc. he would let the “fanatic” come out a bit more.  I think he did this because he knew the games meant less and so a bit more liberty could be taken.

I still love my dad and think about him every day.  I’m glad he set a godly example, even though he wasn’t a Christian, when it came to sports.

4.  Sports Should Not be Idolized or Demonized

Our culture idolizes sports.  It was a shame that Richard Sherman’s rant received more headlines on MLK Day than the Doctor himself.  I’m sure Sherman thought that was a travesty as well.

Observing parents at little league games is quite embarrassing.  There is nothing mature about living vicariously through your child hoping that them scoring the winning point somehow justifies your existence.  Ugh.

I also have little patience for those who demonize a sport.  It is one thing to say, “Football isn’t my preference.”  It is another to say, “Football is the stupidest game ever invented and only serves barbaric purposes.”  Not only do such sentences deny the doctrine of common grace and general revelation, but it betrays that person’s ignorance.

Don’t idolize a sport (“If they eliminate kickoffs in football, all is lost!”) or demonize a sport (“If people stopped watching the NFL and shopped for organic food, this culture would be better off.”).  Be balanced.

5.  I Can’t Wait to Share Sports With My Sons

These last five months have not diminished my liking for sports.  I still cherish childhood memories sitting at Raymond James Stadium seeing Derrick Brooks, Mike Alstott, Warren Sapp, and John Lynch turn the Bucs into a Super Bowl champion.  I still cherish my autographed Tony Dungy book my dad got me for my birthday several years ago.  I think Peyton Manning is one of the best players to pay to watch.

I look forward to having my sons watch games, go to games, and root for…my teams?  Well, I hope they root for their dad’s Tampa and Florida teams, but they might end up rooting for Cam Newton and the Panthers.  And I have no problem with that.  I wouldn’t have a problem if one of my sons ends up getting a D-1 football scholarship to play for Florida State and go up against my Florida Gators.  I’ll just become a Noles fan.

Like your sports.  Love your family.  All for the gospel.

This Aint No Juice Fast

People brag about juice fasting, diets, etc.  For Lent, they give up social media, high fructose corn syrup, etc. for forty days.

I feel called by the Lord to fast from one particular thing, and it will go until the first week of February.

From now until Super Bowl 48, I will be giving up sports.

*Walks away from computer and sobs for 20 minutes*

I don’t know why this is happening now.  Couldn’t I prepare myself for this, you know, before the NFL preseason started?  It would have been nice to know I was going to do this before I picked every single NFL game and wrote down my predictions for the season which I planned to blog about next week.  Why did I confirm this on the day college football begins?

This isn’t really an ascetic or religious fast.  I don’t think sports are sinful.  I don’t get angry when my teams lose like I used to.  I’ve actually cut back on going to sports bars, listening to sports radio, etc.

Why am I doing this?  First, I feel called by Jesus to do this after thinking and praying about it.  It’s that simple.  Second, I preach in a church plant full of people who, for some strange reason, don’t care for sports.  One of the strengths of our church is community and loving culture.  I wonder how I might view community and culture in fasting from sports.

Third, I wonder if I will be a better husband and dad if I took a break from sports.  Saturdays and Sundays will be available to my wife and boys.  Fourth, I want to see how difficult it is to break away from something that is an addiction and idol for many of us.  I do think sports is an idol of mine.  I love the athleticism, drama, and pageantry of it all.  In addition, memories of my dad propel me toward sports, and sometimes I spend 4-8 hours watching football game just because I want to remember my dad.  But that is not a good excuse to waste a day away from one’s family…especially 16 times a year.

Fifth, I wonder what will happen to me personally.  Will I lose weight?  Read my Bible more?  Read more?  Invest in my college students and church more?  Love and serve people more?  Experience new things?  Love Jesus more?

Finally, will I finally get the message of Ecclesiastes?  Sports fans, teams, and players are driven by the desire to see a champion crowned in their sport.  We pour everything in that desire.  We judge, cheer, boo, and let out many other emotions as this goal is pursued.  Then, a champion is crowned.

“Hmmm, I wonder who will win it next year?”

The cyclical vanity of it all.

I appreciate Tom Brady’s honesty after he won his third Super Bowl in 2005,

“Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, ‘Hey man, this is what is.’ I reached my goal, my dream, my life. I think, ‘God, it’s got to be more than this.’ I mean this isn’t, this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be … I love playing football and I love being quarterback for this team. But at the same time, I think there are a lot of other parts about me that I’m trying to find.”

I don’t like Brady. (Why is that?  I don’t even know the guy.  I like Peyton Manning, but he could be more of a jerk than Brady for all I know.) But I feel like him in many ways.  Most of my teams (Bucs, Gators, Lightning) have won championships.  I’ve been to amazing sports (and wrestling) events.  I have all these memories with my dad that I cherish.  But, I feel like I am trying to find other parts.  The next ten months will be crucial to my family’s future as we pray about our next ministry phase.  I am committing myself to several college students as I disciple them and open my life to them.  I am being discipled by one of the greatest men I’ve met.  I need to make sure my household is in order and that my wife is being discipled.  I have people looking to me for vision and answers on a number of ministry issues.

In summary, I feel called by Jesus to do this.  I look forward to watching the Super Bowl in five months, but until then I hope to have other things on my mind besides watching hours of TV sports, listening to hours of sports radio, attending hours of live sporting events, and talking for hours about sports.  No ESPN.  No Bleacher Report.  None of it.

But pro-wrestling isn’t a sport.  So I will still watch that.  :-)

Oh, okay.  No pro-wrestling either.  Happy?

Stuff that Annoys Christians: A New Blog Series

Last week I was at a workshop/conference put on by a Christian ministry with my boss and pastor.  Like any of these gatherings, there was a time of worship.  As we were leaving one of the sessions my boss remarked, “I don’t want to sound uptight, but I see why many folks see ‘contemporary praise music’ as shallow.”  I agreed and we started discussing our views on the matter.

Essentially, we couldn’t come up with any exegetical or systematic theological reasons for our distaste in the time of worship.  The lyrics weren’t unbiblical, and the only instruments used were an acoustic guitar and stand up bass.  Rather, we embraced the notion articulated by William B. Evans on contemporary Christian worship music, it’s tacky.  

After this discussion, my boss and I shifted the conversation to contemporary evangelical squabbles (Keller and Kellerites, Mark Driscoll, being ‘missional’, Sonship, the new urbanism, etc.).  Then, we came up a copernican theological revolution, a theological missile to end all Reformed wars:  they are annoying.  

In other words, I dislike twenty new Crossway books for the same reason I dislike Tom Brady:  they are annoying.  They might be competent and successful, but just as I dislike the average Patriots fan who wants to convince me Brady is ‘without question’ better than Peyton Manning, I dislike Crossway authors trying to find a 1,237 ways to be gospel-centered.

So, I’ll be having some fun poking fun at the evangelical sub-culture.  What are somethings that annoy you but have become the brunt of heavy theological debate?  N.T. Wright, Redeemer NYC, The Gospel Coalition, John Piper’s tweets, Mark Driscoll on The View, missional everything, covenant everything, Daryl Hart, Christians moving to the city, etc.  It’s all up for grabs!  


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