Category: Personal Life


A common, and biblical, metaphor for describing the office of pastor is that of the faithful shepherd.  Jesus presents Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).  Drawing from the deep well of the Old Testament canon, Christ brought to mind the words of the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Micah.

Isaiah 40:11 Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs, And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.

Ezekiel 34:23 “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.

Micah 5:4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth.

The imagery is certainly a beautiful reminder of the loving care in which Jesus provides to us.  It is best illustrated in the Shepherd’s Psalm.  According to this psalm, God provides for us, blesses us, nurtures us, protects us, and leads us in the paths of righteousness (Psalm 23).

This same representation is used in the New Testament also.

Hebrews 13:20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,

1 Peter 2:25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

1 Peter 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

Though pastor is arguably the most common title for church leaders today, it is only found twice in the AV translation of Scripture.  Well, sort of, let me explain.  In the Old Testament, Jeremiah invokes the term as he prays to God for vindication in the midst of a corrupt people (Jer. 17:16).  Paul uses it in Ephesians, teaching on the various offices of the New Testament Church.  He writes, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11).  The Greek term for pastor is poimen (pronounced poy-mayne) and though not translated often as pastor in the AV, it is found in numerous other verses, translated as “shepherd” (Matt. 9:36; Matt. 25:32; Matt. 26:31; Mk. 6:34; Mk. 14:27; Lk. 2:8, 15, 18, 20; Jn. 10:2, 11-12, 14, 16; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25).

The Good Shepherd, painting, Philippe de Champaigne

Cliché advice comes frequently in the ministry.  It will come from pastors, church members, non-church members, the unsaved (which can include any of the three previous groupings), etc.  No matter one’s experience level with the Christian faith, their biblical literacy, or even their genuine interest in your ministry, people will always have advice for you.  In my young and more impetuous days, I did not know how to handle these moments.  Over the years, I have learned how to smile, nod, and then hand it all over to God.  Oh what a difference a decade in ministry can make!

The most popular advice centers upon my role as shepherd.  I am advised to feed the flock, nurture the flock, love the flock, admonish the flock, protect the flock, and so on and so forth.  While I believe each of these charges are biblical in nature and I strive to fulfill them each day, I do believe there is a misnomer that arises from such advice.  These charges are not universally applicative.  What I mean is, God’s command in all of this is directed toward HIS FLOCK!  The sad reality is that mingled among the sheep (the true followers of the Great Shepherd) are some old goats (Matt. 25:32-33) and even a few wolves (Matt. 7:15; Matt. 10:16; Lk. 10:3; Acts 20:29).

So my advice to my fellow pastors?  Feed the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:1), love the goats and share the Gospel with them at every opportunity (Lk. 19:10), and love the wolves as well, but be sure to freely use your shepherd’s crook against them (Jude 3, 4).

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A blog post about the Zimmerman trial?  I know dear readers, you are accustomed to being on the cutting edge of blog topics!  I do not think anything I write today will necessarily bring anything new to the debate table.  Yet, this post has more to do with working through my own personal interpretations of the Zimmerman trial than it does with changing anyone’s mind on the topic.

I have purposely waited a week to collect my thoughts and attempt to approach the problem with new eyes.  I must admit that I am as flawed as any other person on earth, admittedly more so on many issues, so my initial reaction to things is not always correct.  To be more plain, I struggle with reacting in the flesh rather than in the Holy Spirit.  I am a sinner saved by the grace of God, and sometimes the old nature has a way of making an appearance, especially in my reactions to the mainstream media.

I admit my flaws so that anyone reading this will not assume my personal opinion holds anymore weight than another.  I must also admit my bias before I continue.  I loathe the state of the modern media.  Loathe is perhaps not strong enough a word to describe my distaste for the practices of the day.  I have always believed, and continue to believe, journalism is to be as non-biased as humanly possible.  I qualified that statement with “as humanly possible” for a reason.  I am aware we all carry bias in our sinful hearts.  I feel the modern media has forgone the balanced approach to news and chosen sides on the right and left.  As such, I have no confidence in the media narratives from right or left on the matter.

Oh well, no use lamenting that which I cannot change, so I will end my digression and move onward to the topic at hand.

By now, if you do not know the names George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin, I want to welcome you back to planet earth, particular these United States.  I say that because the only plausible reason you have not heard these names is you are an alien visitor or you were abducted by the aforementioned aliens and have just been teleported back to a cow pasture in Kansas after a one year captivity in a space ship.

The new law of the internet says that anytime you mention an alien, you must post a picture of this guy.

The new law of the internet says that anytime you mention an alien, you must post a picture of this guy.

I will not take the time to recap the entire story, you can find that here.  I will say that on July 13, 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty by a jury of his peers in the 2nd degree murder of Trayvon Martin.  It has been a topic of discussion over the past month and continues to be a divisive subject for many.  While my typical writing voice with such posts is serious with a splash of humor, from this point forward in the post I will abstain from my usual behavior due to the nature of the subject matter.

I feel I also must preface the following discussion with a disclaimer of intent.  I do not know, as I will elaborate later, what happened on February 26, 2012.  I have no strong opinion to either Martin or Zimmerman, the left or the right, prosecution or defense, etc.  My opinions in this piece are more geared towards the systems that surround us as a civilized people.  It asks for us to make a visible line of demarcation between flawed human perceptions and perfect spiritual truth.

The key problem with the outcome of the trial was the cries of derision at the jury’s decision.  The reactions came from a plethora of sources such as your usual race-baiters Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, from pro-athlethes, from pop stars, and every one that runs the gamut in between.  My Facebook feed was littered with family members, friends, and acquaintances on multiple sides of ethnicity, gender, and financial class, opining on the case.  There were cries of a corrupt judicial system or miscarriages of justice on one hand, and as you can imagine, there were cheers of support for a smooth trial and a right verdict.  This is where the case of mistaken identity has arisen.

We have adopted the wrong idea about secular justice, the American Justice System specifically.  Too many people believe that secular justice and truth are synonymous with one another.  They are not.  American justice aspires to lofty goals of equality, truth, and the defense of human rights.  These goals are not always attainable under the man-made system of law.  The American judicial system is administered by fallen judges, tried by imperfect lawyers, and decided by errant jurists.  As a system it is subject to decay and after years of degradation it becomes an anemic shell of its foundational principles.  On a human level, justice does not equate truth, the two can operate exclusive of one another in this fallen society and often times do.  We know this because innocent men have been imprisoned and guilty men have gone free.

The masses cry for justice, yet they do not always want the truth!

Pontius Pilate famously asked, “What is truth?” after Jesus declared to the pontiff His reason for coming into the world (John 18:37-38).  There are no shortages of answers in regards to truth.  For this reason, skeptics have declared “truth” to be subjective.  I write from a Christian perspective, so I accept truth is personified in Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  Secularists would disagree with my assessment, and my answer to them is write your own blog!  Truth comes forward throughout the pages of Scripture.  Jesus declares that worship must be performed “in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).  He declared Himself “truth” (see 14:6 above).  Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples’ sanctification by godly “truth” (John 17:17).  Jesus’ claims point to truth being found in God alone.  This concept of truth’s divine source is supported through Scripture (Exo. 34:6; Deut. 32:4; Psa. 43:3; 119:142).

So what is the conclusion to the matter?  I do not think there will ever be a conclusion as long as both sides are embroiled in a quest for justice.  Justice is flawed despite humanity’s best efforts to the contrary.  The only recourse is truth.  The problem with truth is our limited capacity to know truth because we are finite beings.  There is truth, free from media spin, personal feelings, and political agendas in the Zimmerman-Martin ordeal.  The question remains whether the truth of the matter will be revealed.

I pray for Trayvon Martin’s family.  It is not the natural order of the world for parents to bury their children.  The situation is compounded by the tragic events of February 26, 2012.  Regardless of your personal perception of Trayvon Martin’s life, he was a young man that died before having experienced many of the wonders of life.  It happens far too frequently in our world and it is no respecter of race, gender, or social status.  Whatever your perception of Trayvon Martin’s character, good or bad, the fact remains he has no more opportunity to add unto or to take away from it.  A life has been lost and this is a true tragedy.

I know the statistics of murder among juveniles, black on black crime, and dozens of other tragic events that plague humanity.  I find people spout off such statistics as if the numbers somehow excuse or over-shadow individual events such as this one.  All these events are horrific, yet we cannot miss the tree for the forest.

I pray for George Zimmerman.  I do not know the thoughts that were running through his head on that fateful night.  I do not know if he left his vehicle with genuine concern for his personal safety and that of his neighbors.  I do not know if he exited with malice in his heart.  I do not know what unfolded between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman that winter night.  Who was the aggressor and who was the defender? From Zimmerman’s own admission, he discharged his pistol and this resulted in the death of Martin.  Sadly, this is the only truth we know for certain.  Was he justified in the use of deadly force?  According to a jury of his peers, the answer is yes.  Justice spoke and it declared George Zimmerman innocent in the 2nd degree murder of Trayvon Martin.  Was truth revealed in the jury’s decision?  Zimmerman is the only living person that knows with any certainty.

With such uncertainty, in what or whom can we trust?  Our legal system has its limitations.  Our ability to know truth is hindered by our own finite existence.  It is because of this uncertainty that I trust Jesus.  It is because I am finite that I place my trust in an infinite God.  Justice will be served one day because truth, glorious absolute truth, will be revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Revelation 20:11-13

“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.”

“He is going to be okay, isn’t he?” she asked me again, perhaps the one hundredth time I had heard that question.  She asked that question numerous times throughout the course of a normal day.  She asked it more frequently before visiting the doctor’s office, and she asked it every night as I prayed with her before bed.

Weeks earlier, prior to breaking my back, I had lied and said, “Yes, he is fine.  Stop worrying.”  I always told her to stop worrying, even though I was guilty of it myself.  I worried about Samuel having some type of birth defect.  I worried about Leah’s body reaching its physical limit and shutting down, potentially harming her and Samuel.  I worried about Leah’s health as each new day became a struggle for her.

I used worry in the past tense because I no longer worried about it.  In the midst of my own personal conflict, namely breaking my back, I had the time to reflect upon what God was doing in mine and Leah’s life.  Lying on my back with very limited mobility, I had time for plenty of introspection.  I was angry at God for our overall situation.  I was angry at God more specifically because of my wife’s health and the potentially bad health of my unborn son.  It was only after carefully consideration of Christ on the Cross, no less through the leading of the Holy Spirit, that I realized any suffering I endured in this world paled in comparison to Jesus’ suffering.  From that point forward, my burden of anxiety, which in turn produced my burden of anger, was lifted as I sought forgiveness from God and strength to move forward.  Thankfully, He is an ever gracious God to His children when it comes to forgiveness.

By this point in Leah’s journey, fatigue was the greatest enemy and it was only compounded by frequent bouts of insomnia.  Despite having placenta previa and placenta accreta, there were no serious complications that prompted the doctors to order an emergency delivery or bed rest.  There was no bleeding, major abdominal pain, nor were there any severe contractions.  She went twice weekly for Samuel’s heart monitoring and life continued onward.

It took weeks for me to recover from my injury to the point where I could function semi-normally.  I am blessed to pastor a church family filled with Christ-like servants.  We were flooded with kindness both personally and professionally.  After a few weeks, I tried to transition back into a normal routine; after all, Samuel’s delivery date was fast approaching.

Samuel’s original due date was May 28, and this date was established long before there was a sign of complications.  After it was determined Leah would need to deliver by c-section, the date was pushed ahead to May 20.  This change was of no consequence at the time.  However, as Leah’s ailments began to be unveiled, the doctor was beginning to eye the first week in May.

As a side note, Leah wanted to deliver Samuel on May 4th because she thought I would enjoy having a child born on Star Wars day.  She was absolutely correct, I think that would have been very cool.  Yet realistically, it was never going to happen because her doctor performed surgeries on Thursday, so May 2nd would have been the day.

Anyway, none of these dates would be relevant because Leah’s placenta accreta continued to advance and her surgeon decided April 25 was the day Samuel would make his appearance to the outside world.  All the tension that had been building since Leah’s diagnosis would finally be coming to a close.  The mystery surrounding Samuel’s health would be solved.  We were ready for the ordeal to be over and we finally had a day for the climactic scene of our story!

If you have been following along closely, you know there is going to be a big twist in the story before there can be any form of plot resolution.  At least, you expect a shocking plot twist at this time when you are reading a good book.  It adds to the conflict of the story and brings it to life for the reader.  Our story is no different, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Four weeks of planning for Samuel’s arrival soon turned into three, but in one fell swoop of a doctor’s visit, we only had two weeks left to prepare.  April 25th was the day and we were going to utilize every moment of it.  Or, we thought were going to utilize every moment.  Leah’s fatigue became increasingly worse and during those final two weeks, she began to have back contractions.  In the midst of caring for our older children, keeping the house in order, and working a full-time job, I was also doing my best to insure Leah did as little as possible.

Tentative plans were made for our children as the day approached.  Leah’s parents, who had traveled extensively for ministry through much of the month of April, were coming to be with us, along with Leah’s two sisters.  They were set to arrive on April 24.  They would find a hotel close to the hospital and keeping our two children with them.  Our goal was to minimize the trauma on our other two children by keeping their routines relatively normal.  Having gone on family vacations with Leah’s parents and sisters in previous summers, we knew I children would see it as an adventure.

Leah and I did I best to prepare in the midst of doctor’s appointments, preschool, and church.  Though the big event was still days away, Leah packed travel bags for Daniel and Ellie and placed them in the minivan.  There were a few tasks that remained incomplete when we left on the afternoon of April 24 to meet Leah’s parents and sisters in Newport News for dinner, but they could be easily dealt with when we returned home.

I am not exactly sure who loves Red Lobster in Leah’s family, conceivably all of them because we go there a lot, which is awesome because I love it too.  We found ourselves at Red Lobster in Newport News this night enjoying time with family.  The kids were naturally excited because our family was visiting, but they were also anticipating staying in a hotel with Grampy and Grammy.  Or, they were anticipating the hotel having a pool.  It was surely a combination of the two.  Leah’s family appeared equally excited at all the possibilities before them with our children for a few days.

The evening was going well.  We made it through the appetizer and salad phases without major incident, which means only three or four calls for bathroom breaks with the kids.  The waiter brings out the main course dishes and splays them before us like a seaside cornucopia overflowing with fried shrimp, scallops, fish, and clams.  After the initial excitement of the food before us wore off, Leah arises rather quickly and goes to the restroom.  She returns a few moments later to inform me that she is bleeding and we need to go to the hospital immediately.  The table erupts as if someone has pulled a fire alarm.  I head out to get the van and plot my course for Norfolk General Hospital.

The morning of March 13, 2013 was not much different from the others.  I woke up to children running up and down the hall making every attempt to be quiet as not to wake up daddy and failing miserably.  I loosed the mask of my CPAP machine, took a deep breath, and pulled myself up from the bed.  Leah was moving from kitchen to bathroom in a repetitive pattern as she spent time with the kids while getting ready for work.  Everything was normal, almost everything.

Even though spring was little more than a week away, our area was enduring a rather nasty cold front.  Weather in the southeast is never predictable, but March displayed the type of schizophrenic behavior you only expect from relatives at a family reunion.  Temperatures dipped as low as 24 degrees to as high as 72 in that span.  The thirteenth was not a particularly memorable day.  The overnight temperature dipped below freezing causing a heavy frost to coat everything.

The rear exit from our home has a large wooden ramp.  It is a nice feature and has served us well through the years.  You appreciate it most when you are trying to make only one trip from the minivan to the house after grocery shopping.  Its one drawback is that the smallest amount of moisture can turn it into a splintery Slip-N-Slide if temperatures drop below freezing.  This day was one of those days.

If you are familiar with the Lord of the Rings, you probably know that Bilbo told his beloved nephew Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  Oh, Bilbo, truer words can only be found in the Holy Bible.  I assessed the situation when I stepped out the door that morning.  The frost was visible on the wood slats, and for the briefest moment I had the clarity of mind to use the other door and avoid the ramp completely.  Sadly, the moment of clarity was just that—a moment.  I started down the ramp.

I made it halfway down the ramp when my left foot suddenly appeared in front of my face.  I thought it odd, but it was soon followed by the right foot.  My regular view of the frost covered field out behind the house was quickly replaced with the morning sky.  With a thud, I landed on my back and the air was forced from my lungs.  I was in shock for a moment, trying to catch my breath.  I did not hit my head, but it took me a few moments to gain my senses and realize what had just happened.  Pain was shooting throughout my body and I laid there gasping for breath in between the jolts of pain.

When my sense finally returned, I tried calling for Leah.  I am not exactly sure why I was calling for her.  There was nothing for her to do.  She could not pick me up, or even help me up because doing so would mean coming down the frost-covered ramp.  My calls went unheard, as I expected.  Finally, I began to press the remote door locking button on Leah’s key chain.  I did this for minute before I saw my son’s head poke out the back door.  “Get your mom please,” I forced out through gritted teeth.

Leah became frantic when she came to the door and I began to question why I had even called her to the door.  I was able, after the most excruciating ten minutes of my life to this point, work my way up with the help of the hand rail.  I could not stand up straight and walked like a slow moving treasure hunter who could not take his eyes from the ground.  I made it to my chair and remained there until forced to move.

My precious wife wanted me to go immediately to the emergency room.  I was able to deflect her because I still possessed pain medication from a shoulder surgery in October.  I assured her they would only give me pain medication and muscle relaxers.  This only gave me a brief reprieve and she was soon asking me once again to go to the ER, or if not the ER, call our physician and seek to slip into his daily schedule.  I refused.

My wife did what many wives have done through the years when dealing with an obstinate husband.  She called my mother.  I still maintain this was a dirty move, but I cannot argue with its effectiveness.  A two minute phone call from my mother got Leah what she had lobbying for most of the day.

Leah’s instinct was correct and my logic was wrong.  It happens often enough that it should not surprise me, but pride makes many of us slower learners.  When the doctors had finished their diagnosis, I walked, rather shuffled, from the ER with two fractured vertebrae and a severely bruised coccyx, which is a fancy word for tail bone.  That is right, I had broken my back in the fall.

To put our life into perspective at this point of the journey, Leah was in the midst of a high risk pregnancy and continuing to become more fatigued each day, and I broke my back.

Up until this point in my 35 years of life, I never understood how someone could be angry at God.  I saw it as a pointless venture, a road to nowhere.  When you become angry at God, I thought, what recourse do you have because God will always be right and you will always be wrong?  Even with that knowledge in my heart, I became angry with God.  It was short-lived and personal, but it was certainly anger.

The conversation in my mind went like this:

“Father, you know how much our family is struggling at the moment with Leah’s condition.  Why did you allow this to happen to me now?  Why not after Leah delivered?  Why here?  Why now?”

I played through that dialogue for nearly a week.  There was no self-pity.  I did not lament my lot in life; I bristled at it.  People get angry all the time, why was this so different.  It was different because of the hypocrisy that was creeping into my life.  I was incapacitated with a broken back, my wife was deteriorating weekly under the strain of her pregnancy, and I was angry at the only One who could truly help my situation.  As mentioned, I stayed in this hypocritical state for nearly a week.

I had last preached on March 10, a mere three days before my accident.  Though heavily medicated with pain medication, I was groggy, but fundamentally aware of my fractured emotional state and declining spiritual condition.  I reached for my sermon notebook and began flipping through its pages.  I had no intention of writing, and I was not interested in reading, which made picking up the notebook all the more puzzling.  I came to the last sermon I preached, Contentment in the Christian Life from 1 Corinthians 7:17-24.

This sermon led me to the first few chapters of Job.  And like all things from God, Job led me to the Gospels and the Cross of Christ.  My anger melted away and was replaced with shame.  How could I be angry in my condition or my wife’s condition when I considered the sufferings of Christ?  I did not know why I picked up that notebook, but I knew what God was trying to tell me.  No amount of suffering I can endure will ever match the agony of Christ.

I let go of my anger and replaced it with thankfulness.  Am I saying I became thankful for a broken back?  Yes, I am.  Knowing myself as I do, I am confident I would not have come to my realization for a very long time.  I allowed my anger with the circumstances to obscure my judgment and harden my heart to that which I knew to be true.  God is good and gracious every moment of every day.  I made peace with God, asking for forgiveness for my anger.  I sought strength for the days ahead and assurances that I could share with my family for the trials that were to come.

God knew the lesson I needed to learn, He knew the perfect time to teach me that lesson, and more importantly, He knew how important that lesson would be in the days to come.  So at peace with God, I moved ahead with peace in my heart concerning God’s plan for our family.