Thank you, Jordan

Eric and Jordan in 2010.

As I come to the end of my time serving Grace Church of Simi Valley, I am profoundly thankful for the grace of God that has been poured out on me, often through the people I’ve been placed around. Particularly, I am grateful for the life and ministry of our pastor, Jordan Bakker. Paul wrote in Galatians that “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” Maybe it’s an under-applied passage in Scripture, but it’s certainly a valuable one. This blog is my way of publicly thanking Jordan him for his faithfulness as well as reminding the church of the blessing of being under his leadership.

  1. Thank you for seeing potential in a young, idealist, college-age student who had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. You zeroed in on me, encouraged me, and gave me a taste for ministry that has fueled much of my life. I still have the email you wrote me in 2007 where you asked if I’d be interested in doing a summer internship. Rereading it reminded me of the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing then, and I particularly remember the joy of thinking, “Hey, he thinks that I might have something to offer!” Even though I had a lot of growing up to do, you focused on my strengths and challenged me to keep it up.
  2. Thank you for giving me John Piper’s book Desiring God. During a time in my life that I was asking big questions, Piper not only satisfied my intellectual appetite but provided a biblical framework that has shaped the way I think about life and ministry.
  3. Thank you for frequently pointing your airsoft gun at me during my summer internship, thus initiating negotiations, and teaching me that sometimes the best way to get you to stop is to not even react.
  4. Thank you for making fun of preachers who used words like “betwixt” and “hitherto,” attempting to sound like a Puritan. I could have become one of those guys.
  5. Thank you for thinking of me when you considered who would be a good fit to serve in the student ministries department at Grace Brethren Church in 2011.
  6. Thank you for demonstrating that a strong leader is never caught off guard, never surprised, and that the ability for such resilience is rooted in a robust belief in the sovereignty of God.
  7. Thank you for repeatedly seeing opportunities in challenges, and communicating them to the people around you. Many obstacles that could have discouraged us were presented as positive opportunities for us to learn, stretch, and grow.
  8. Thank you for checking in on me without micromanaging me.
  9. Thank you for being a shepherd, not a hireling. You can’t turn off being a pastor.
  10. Thank you for loving Erin and your girls well. You are an example to me.
  11. Thank you for making ministry a delight, and teaching me that the best work environments are those where there’s time to laugh and have fun together.
  12. Thank you for showing me that often the best way to shepherd people is to ask good questions and listen well.
  13. Thank you for reminding me never to take myself too seriously.
  14. Thank you for emphasizing the need for good, strategic, communication. I think I’ve known how important what we say is. You taught me the importance of when and how we say it.
  15. Thank you for emphasizing the need for faith-filled mobility while not giving up the need for slow, plodding maturity.
  16. Thank you for showing that discipleship is mostly just intentional friendship, and that the aim of our charge is love. Love can’t be programmed.
  17. Thank you for saying again and again, especially in my early years, that love is inefficient, that ministry is messy, and that people matter more than programs.
  18. Thank you for resisting any program or initiative that potentially undercuts genuine spiritual growth in the lives of your flock.
  19. Thank you for never giving away truth at the expense of love, nor love at the expense of truth.
  20. Thank you for the jokes that pop-up unplanned in your sermons, even the ones that made me cringe. They remind me that preaching ought to be an extension of the personality, and that your style in the pulpit wasn’t much different than your lifestyle outside it.
  21. Thank you for giving a young man like me opportunities to preach, and encouraging me in it.
  22. Thank you for making bets on your favorite sports teams.

    I bet Jordan that the Lakers would win a championship before the Warriors would. I lost.
  23. Thank you for always having your office door unlocked, and telling me in the early days that you made it a point to always welcome whoever might come into your office because you never knew what good you might be able to do for them.
  24. Thank you for how you gently handled some of the mentally handicapped who have come into our church community. The way you have treated them with dignity and honor is exemplary.
  25. Thank you for laughing hard at things, so we know where you are at all times.
  26. Thank you for saying frequently that your greatest fear for the church is that nothing happens, that we would just happily exist without taking any risks.
  27. Thank you for grabbing hold of the church-revitalization idea and running with it, leading in it, and praying for it. You have been its greatest champion, which is a mark of good leadership and God-trusting humility.
  28. Thank you for all the times you’ve asked about my wife and kids.
  29. Thank you for giving me a good example of how to lead men who are my father’s age.
  30. Thank you for inviting me, and others, into your life, including your struggles and difficulties. This is the foundation of all the other things I’ve learned from you. You have embodied Paul’s heart in 2 Timothy 3:10, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness.”

As I step into a new role as a lead pastor in a different church, I am sure that I will find more to be thankful for, like a kid who isn’t thankful for his parents until he becomes one. God, in his wise and gracious providence, used you in my life to place me on a path of service to Jesus Christ. From an earthly perspective, I can confidently say that apart from your influence I would not be in ministry. I thank God for you, and want to encourage you to continue onward and upward, being faithful to our Lord and Savior, waiting for his blessed appearing, eager to spend your life for the advance of the gospel and the glory of God.

The right time to raise your voice

What do you raise your voice for?

Everyone is built with a release valve for the pressures of life. What’s inside must come out. We express– we cry, we laugh, we mumble, we shout. We get perplexed. We get elated. Our inward life is revealed in our expressions: our eyes, our mouths, our voices convey the thoughts and convictions of the heart.

And we raise our voices. What goes on inside you that turns up the volume of your voice?

Is it when you’re angry? Is it when you’ve had enough? Is it during a crucial moment in the game? Is it at your spouse or kids? Is it at a screen? Is it at coworkers or bosses or subordinates?

Most times we should resist a raised voice, especially when it flows from anger or discontentment. But there’s a time for everything, including a time to raise your voice.

Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding…then you will understand the fear of the Lord.” Proverbs 2:3, 5

This passage is about how one gains wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. It’s nicely arranged: three conditional ifs and a then. If you do these three things, you’ll get this result. I love when Scripture makes it so simple and clear.

One of the conditions is that we must learn to raise our voice. The previous statement offers a parallel verb: “Call out.” Urgent. Loud. Eager. Expecting to be heard. Not willing to be ignored. Persistent and audacious. Vying for the attention of the hearer. If we would seek wisdom, there’s some aggression in the seeking.

This is God’s invitation for us to ask for wisdom. Set aside bashfulness. Be humbled by God’s holiness, but be emboldened by his offer. Pray like God really hears you. Pray like God wants to give you want you need. Let your prayers reflect the conviction that God is not only infinitely rich but also indescribably generous. He is able and willing. Go to him and with raised voice and high expectations. Bold, believing prayer is a key to unlock the door of wisdom.

Faithful Christians say goodbye a lot

Faithful Christians will always be saying good-bye. They are the ones who spend time investing in people, cultivating transparency and honesty, sharing in laughter and tears, serving together for the advance of their great cause. And sometimes they see their friends sense a call to a new place, and though their time together was sweet, they say goodbye in hope knowing they’ll meet again in the kingdom, and that the parting will be eternally worth it.

Or, after years of being loved and cared for, shepherded and trained, challenged and comforted, discipled and debriefed, they themselves will sense the inward call to go. The gospel is too sweet and Jesus is too glorious and the lost are too many for them to stay around. They hope that perhaps God might use them more in a new place. And so they go, trusting the everlasting arms to uphold them.

This goodbye discomfort is good and healthy for the church. When we start resisting the goodbyes, fearing them, or organizing our lives so as to avoid them, we’re no longer walking by faith. We’re either too settled, never open to what God may have for us, or too insulated, not investing in the people who God is calling to go.

So faithful Christians will say goodbye a lot. Because they will always be the ones invested in the sent, or invested in the going. They wear the shoes of “readiness given by the gospel of peace.” Having peace with God, they are ready for anything, including the risks of having to say goodbye.

Jesus knows that his disciples will often experience goodbye pains. That’s why he wanted to encourage them with goodbye promises:

Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

Mark 10:29-30

Jesus sees our goodbyes. And he reminds us that in Christ, goodbyes are investments, not sacrifices. What we give up we get back one hundredfold. One fine morning, a billion years from now, when I wake up in the new heavens and the new earth, the idea that I thought some temporary discomforts in this vapor- life were a sacrifice will seem laughable.

What I said at the beginning of this reflection is not actually true. I said, “Faithful Christians will always be saying goodbye.” But they won’t. There will come a day they will never say goodbye again, when they will all be home, forever, with their Lord and with their friends. We can say goodbye now because we know that soon, we’ll never have to do it again.

Look at the birds

Jesus tells us to “Look at the birds.” There are several imperatives in the Sermon on the Mount, but this is one probably doesn’t get the air-time it deserves. How fascinating that Jesus, to combat anxiety, prescribes bird-watching. Our busy lives often preclude times for prolonged, thoughtful observation of the created world. We’re up early, getting the kids fed and dressed and out the door, blazing off to work, tumbling in the front door afterwards, eating and reviewing the day before getting kids to bed. Our evenings often consist of screens and half-hearted, distracted conversations. The next morning starts it all again, and over time the frenzied activity oozes into our weekends, our Sundays, our family dinners, and we’re reaching a fever pitch we know is unhealthy but cannot break. Anxiety sets in, and the speed of life becomes almost unbearable. Now, we’re not only busy but worried and frenetic. Our anxiety propels us into more busyness, more activity, more unreflective routine-following.

And Jesus tells worriers: “Look at the birds.” Jesus will teach his disciples that healthy, well-fed birds are evidence of God’s fatherly care for his creation. They are taken care of by God, and shouldn’t we trust him to take care of us too? This should calm our hearts: God’s loving, providential care over the lives of his beloved children is the antidote to anxiety.

But let’s also consider that Jesus gave his disciples a very practical imperative: “Look at the birds” and then a bit later “Consider the lilies.” I wonder, is that command even doable for many Christians today? Is there room in the schedule for uninterrupted meditation on God’s created world? Do we still have the capacity to stare at something, grapple with it until it yields a lesson? In a world of beeps and buzzes and lights and sounds and likes and shares and clicks, can we meditate?

To fight worry, one must find a pace of life that makes “Look at the birds” a conceivable option. I fear too many Christians live in such a way that render Jesus’ commands to look at the birds and consider the lilies un-obeyable. These are thought activities you can’t do on the go. Nobody bird-watches in a hurry. Considering the lilies of the field can’t happen in an unsettled, frenzied life.

Our worries grow in the soils of busyness and activity, so Jesus gives us a command that forces us to stop. Slow down. Look. Ponder. Learn, and regain perspective. “Look at the birds.” 

Have you taken time lately to look at the birds? To consider the lilies? To pause, think, and remember who you are, who God is, and how he cares for you?