Category Archives: Life

Wisdom from Weakness

Weakness is not touted in our culture. We are taught early on of the importance of strength, performance, and reputation in our society. We learn to hide any and all measure of weakness because it will affect our ability to seem strong. The weight of this can be crushing and your weakness, whether it’s personal or professional, becomes the thing you fear the most.

If it is exposed, what will people think of me? How will I ever be respected? So we hide. We fear failure because of its destructive nature to our psyche and our reputation. We also watch as the strengths of other people are magnified and exalted so we long for similar strengths or for our strengths to be magnified.

No doubt our strengths are important and we need to identify where we excel as part of living a fulfilling life, but we should never fear or avoid our weaknesses.

Strengths are helpful, Weakness can be powerful

I’ve read plenty of books written by people touting their strengths and accomplishments, I’ve been to plenty of conferences where the best of the best share about their methods and how you can do it (usually for a fee to the speaker or buying their book).

I’ve learned much from people’s strengths, but I’ve been deeply impacted when people share about their weaknesses. There is something powerful when someone humbly shares about the wisdom and lessons they have learned from “failing” in certain areas or “failing” to live up to expectations, whether it’s personal expectations or other’s.

It seems to be in this humility of someone else that we are invited to be weak ourselves, to be set free from the façade of strength that we feel we must put up to be accepted and promoted. It is powerful in its countercultural nature.

Wisdom from Weakness

On top of its invitational nature, there is so much wisdom with those who walk through their weakness with humility and transparency. Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthian church is very transparent about his weakness, longing for it to be removed (don’t we all want that), but then recognizing that God’s power is perfected in our weakness.

I’ve learned a ton from people that have opened up about their weaknesses in financial management, parenting, leadership, teaching, evangelism, and friendship. Likely, more than I have learned from the experts and I’ve seen people thankful from learning from my weaknesses even though I find in myself a wishing for people learning from my strengths.

Paul even goes so far as to say he would boast in his weakness. This makes me and many of us cringe, wondering what would happen if we would so boldly proclaim our weakness. How did Paul get to this place?

Strength in Identity, not in Activity

Paul cared more about Jesus and his relationship with God than he did about his own reputation. He pleaded with God for his weakness to be taken away, but seeing God’s work in it, he became all the more concerned that people who care more about Jesus than they did about associating with Paul.

In Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, the invitation of faith is to admit weakness and need to God first. Faith sets us free from reputation management, self-promotion, and fear. It’s a freedom to forget about yourself and be most concerned with the benefits of others. My failures, past and present, my weaknesses and mistakes become a way to serve and bless others, giving them freedom to be weak and wisdom to walk through life.

It’s ok to be weak, to fail, and to make mistakes. We don’t have to hide them, but in Christ we are able to acknowledge them. No more shame in weakness or failure, and no pride in success or strength. Freedom.

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Life Comes Before Blogging

It’s been 6 months since I’ve blogged and most of that has been the result of life happening. It’s been a really busy season and I’ve missed blogging, but I am also thankful to have a 6 month break from it.

Blogging didn’t used to be a thing. Not for me, not for anyone, but it has become a somewhat healthy and sometimes unhealthy outlet for people’s thoughts and opinions. If you’re not careful and blogging becomes your thing, writing a blog can be similar to Instagram, presenting a snap shot as reality when life doesn’t match it. It’s not always the case, but it’s a perpetual temptation. In truth, most of our life is lived by presenting images and snap shots as the whole. Whether at work, at church or elsewhere we can present a picture that doesn’t match the reality of our hearts and real lives. Not everyone gets the grainy Instagram video version, but I do think life would be better if they did.

As life has gotten busy for me and I’ve had many things to process in the midst of it, blogging has taken a back seat. The interesting thing is that my January blogs were all about being present with my marriage, my kids, and my role as a pastor and friend at our church. As excess time became more limited and energy was spent to be present elsewhere, I had to drop something and that was blogging. If I had continued blogging, I would have been expressing incomplete, unprocessed, and unrealistic ideas and thoughts because life needed to happen and change me in the process.

I may not blog as consistently as I would like going forward, but here’s an update of all that has gone on this year as I attempt to re-enter the blogging world.

Transitions, Transitions, Transitions

In June, our church’s founding pastor, JR Vassar, announced his resignation and his move for all the right reasons. He loves his family and ministry and wants both of them to flourish. It’s a great reminder to put first things first.

That means we are and have been in a season of transition as a church. The beauty of it is that we are not changing directions as a church, but drilling deeper in the vision God has been cultivating for many years. We are moving even further into being a network of neighborhood congregations worshipping Jesus, engaging in gospel-centered communities on mission to love our neighbors and extend God’s grace to them, and plant new congregations on the back of these communities to meet the needs of our city.

In a few weeks we will launch Apostles Brooklyn as the fruit of God multiplying communities and providing local leaders to communicate truth and model the love of Christ to others. I’m excited about the future of Apostles Church, praying that continues to grow us a community that loves Jesus and loves others well.

It has been busy though during the transition, as I’ve taken on more responsibilities. I’ve preached more consistently than ever and I’ve actually enjoyed it more than ever before as well. I’ve had the privilege to be more involved with the talented members of our staff and working to grow together as a healthy team. But the best part of these last 6 months job-wise has been interacting with the amazing people of Apostles Church more. I’m amazed at God’s gift to our church in the people and community that He has brought and formed here. They are a huge gift.

I started a Coaching Business

What is coaching? Coaching is coming alongside people and leaders as they navigate through decisions, plans, and vision for their life and work. The aim is to empower people through coaching to achieve their goals and their growth.

It is something I’ve been doing informally for a while, but have recently made it more formal for a few reasons. I want to see God’s people and Jesus’ church flourish wherever it is and by God’s grace I have been able to help pastors, leaders, and Christians explore how that will look in their context. I love being a resource to our church and other churches to empower the spread of God’s love and mercy through Jesus.

This also provides an opportunity to bless my family and church by earning some additional income outside the church. Our church takes care of us well, but I also don’t want to be a burden on them in an expensive city as my family grows up here.

My Wife and Kids are Awesome

Speaking of my family, I have awesome kids and an amazing wife. The last 6 months has been amazing to watch them grow up even more into their own unique personalities. Calvin tested into the Gifted & Talented Program (way to go Cal!) in the NYC public schools and will start Kindergarten this fall at Eli’s school while Eli starts 2nd grade. They are too old! Mya continues to be too cute and is growing into a beautiful and outgoing little girl. She has yet to meet a stranger.

Our summer has been amazing. We fell in love with upstate New York this July with two small vacations and took the train down to South Carolina to enjoy time with extended family. The city during the summer is a dream as well and we’ve almost enjoyed everything on our summer bucket list from the beach to the various water playgrounds, the public library and the parks. It’s been incredibly refreshing.

Life will always come before blogging for me, but I do enjoy this being an outlet of my processed thoughts on life, the church, missional communities, and family. We’ll see if I can find adequate time for it.

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The Church Planting Wife: A Book for Every Man’s Wife

I recently read Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp, where he revised moody coverpulls back the curtain on pastoral ministry. In his book, he confronts the notion that pastors have their lives perfectly put together, never fail, and have different needs from every other Christian. Many books have been written for church planters and for pastors, but few have been so directly applicable to the hearts and lifestyle of pastors.

What Dangerous Calling is to pastors, The Church Planting Wife is to every pastor or church planter’s wife.

It is a breath of fresh air, reviving the soul with truth while sympathizing with the challenges that church planter’s wives face, but rarely feel the freedom to discuss. It is written to the woman who has the difficult task of ministering to the man who ministers to everyone else.

Christine Hoover is married to Kyle Hoover and in 2008 they moved to Charlottesville, Virginia to start a new church to bless the people of Charlottesville and the students at the University of Virginia. Her new book is candid, transparent, and direct in teaching to church planter’s wives about the joys and struggles, trials and triumphs of church planting. It combines storytelling, teaching, and counseling to care for the heart and life of the church planter’s wife.

The book begins with her recounting the difficulties of the first year and how they brought her to question God’s plan as they lost their meeting place one year into their efforts. While every person in ministry I know has come to this crossroads, Christine highlights God’s purposes so well as she unpacks God’s work in her life.

“God allowed the difficulty of church planting to sift me, to bring the issues of my heart to the surface. I realized that if I didn’t address these things, my marriage, my family, and my own heart were in danger. God was refining me, cleaning me out, and teaching me dependence rather than self-reliance. I could continue my attempts at controlling and relying on myself, or I could submit myself in dependence on Him…I chose to trust Him with my heart and let Him do – through church planting – the work He needed to do in me.” The Church Planting Wife, p. 19-20

Christine goes on to expose her heart and the lessons she has learned along the way. From wrestling with the role of the church planter’s wife as she hears God remind her “Follow Me. Serve your family. Love people.” to dealing with the sacrifices every church planter and pastor’s family face along the way.

She takes us along her journey to understand friendships in this new world of church planting, how she has learned to stay encouraged amidst discouragement and criticism, and provides practical wisdom connected with powerful truth to guide wives through their own challenges.

Impactful for Any Believer

I found myself incredibly encouraged and challenged simply by being reminded to be dependent on God, trusting Him, and letting faithfulness be my banner of success. This book is refreshing for any believer, but certainly powerful for every church planter’s wife. I would also recommend it to any pastor and his wife as well. The insights are spot on for what every pastor and his wife that I know have and are facing.

She includes interviews from other church planter’s wives, such as Lauren Chandler, Yvette Mason, Ginger Vassar, and Jennifer Carter. Women, who like her, have learned through joy and challenge the blessings of dependence on God in church planting.

A Book for Every Man’s Wife

As I read this book and heard Christine describe all she has learned while supporting her husband and family in church planting, I couldn’t help but see it as beneficial for every man’s wife. Church leadership and church planting have a unique way of reminding those involved that they are on God’s mission, but the call for every Christian is no different, we just don’t always see ourselves as sent by God to that new job in a new location.

I’ve seen many wives follow their husbands to new cities and new careers face some of the same struggles and challenges, and they would all benefit from Christine’s wisdom as she learned to trust God, support her husband, care for her family, and love her neighbors.

I’ve known the Hoovers for over a decade, they did our premarital counseling, and Kyle officiated my wedding. It is no surprise to me to see their faithfulness to God being used to start a church that loves people and serves their city well. It is also no surprise to see such a fantastic book filled with truth, grace, and wisdom be written and published to bless God’s church.

You can buy it on Amazon here: The Church Planting Wife. You can also read more from Christine Hoover on her blog, gracecoversme.com.

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2013 Resolutions: The Fourth of Four

Recently I read the book Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp. He openly discusses the culture of the church that typically views the pastor as having it all together all the time and how this pressure can be challenging on pastors. While God has called qualified people to be pastors, they are still people, flawed and in need of a Savior. Their character, convictions, and competencies are those of a leader, but no leader is perfect and expectations must change.

My last resolution is to be a faithful shepherd, pastor of my church, but also to be a fellow brother in Christ with my church. The fourth of four resolutions is simply to be a friend and to be a friend in need. 4a & 4b if you will.

To be a friend & a friend in need

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a powerful thing, powerful to save anyone from a life bent away from God’s desires, transform anyone, and empower all who embrace it by faith to meet the needs of others. Throughout the scriptures, God speaks about blessing people with Himself in order that they would be a blessing for others.

Part of this reality is that I am have been given certain gifts and a certain role in the body of Christ, for me it is to be a pastor. This involves studying the word of God, praying, counseling people in the scriptures, dialoguing about Jesus and His gospel with anyone regardless of their beliefs or background, and cultivating communities that do the same. If you were to boil it down to one idea, it’s to be a true friend to anyone I meet, to love them with the love of Christ that they might know about a relationship with God.

But the gospel of Jesus Christ is also powerful enough for me to confront my weakness. This brings freedom to acknowledge that there are times when I am a friend in need and that God has provided people in my life, from all background or beliefs and especially in the church that share my beliefs to help me when I am in need.

The perception that the pastor has it all together all the time is an impossible expectation because no one does, except for Jesus. We are all in progress, constantly learning and growing, and the gospel of Jesus Christ brings freedom to walk in this reality. This allows me to sit down with a friend and be honest. I can let people know that there are times when I’m tired, times when I’m not as happy as I wish I was or had been last week and that I need their help to change. That there are times when I’m not fired up about reading the scriptures or talking about the Lord, but I don’t want to feel this way and many times it is the help of other people in our community, using their stories and their gifts that God provides a path toward change.

Use My Gifts and Benefit from the Gifts of Others

This also provides me perspective on how I’m gifted and to celebrate how others have been gifted. It takes the pressure off to always have the solution, to be able to say I don’t know, and to honor how God has uniquely gifted other people. God’s design was to gift all of God’s people to serve all of God’s creation.

When all gifts are celebrated, honored, and embraced by the church, the church truly begins to embody Jesus Christ who possesses and exercises all of the gifts perfectly. The church would like everyone they interact with to experience Jesus through them, but it’s only possible when individuals are introduced and invited to experience the entire community of Christ followers.

I hope this year involves helping people identify how they have been uniquely designed and gifted by God to serve others, to equip them and empower them to do so and to see those gifts be used to love others well.

These are my resolutions and I hope that I can look back at the end of the year having been fully present to enjoy my marriage, love my kids, and serve the city we live in by empowering and serving my church. Here’s to 2013.

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2013 Resolutions: The Third of Four

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These are my kids. They are each unique, funny in their own quirky ways, and teach me more than they will ever know about life, God, and what matters most (candy & fun of course!). I’m amazed at the gift they are to me, blessings even though they are imperfect, and how easy they are to love despite their rebelliousness sometimes.

Barnabas Piper wrote an article recently titled 7 Things a Pastor’s Kid Needs from a Father on the Gospel Coalition. It was incredibly encouraging to hear him be open about his own experience and also offer wisdom for others. When I first became a parent, I didn’t consider the thought that I would be a pastor eventually and that my kids might be known as “pastor’s kids”. They are just my kids and I am just their dad. As I considered these resolutions, these sentences stuck with me.

A pastor’s children, though, are carried on the current of their parents’ calling. It is often a life of singular struggle and uncommon needs. These struggles often stem from the failures of the father. This isn’t to cast full blame on pastors for their children’s problems. But it is to say that pastors need to work to be good dads…

He also leads off with the number 1 thing our kids need is to just be their dad.

Yes, you are called to pastor your family, but PKs want a dad—someone who plays with them, protects them, makes them laugh, loves their mom, gives hugs, pays attention, teaches them how to build a budget and change the oil and field a ground ball. We want committed love and warmth.

So the third of four resolutions is to just be their dad.

Fascinated by them and aiming for fun with them

For me this starts with being fascinated by them, being curious at the things they enjoy, want to do, and the things that bother them, annoy them, and hurt them. Each of my children have their own personality (and a growing confidence with it). They like different things, some of those are easy for me to like, but others I’m learning to enjoy.

As I’ve walk home each evening this year, I pray for my children and my wife. I’m also asking for grace to enter into my home ready to play, eat dinner, and talk with my kids instead of wanting to rest and disconnect. Frankly, it’s not easy to transition home, but since I’ve been doing this, I find myself more prepared to get beaten up and wrestle with my boys while trying to enjoy the tea and fake cookies my little girl has made on her fake kitchen.

We’ve always tried to Sabbath together as a family on Saturdays, planning a family outing that we enjoy together, to make memories, and most times we come home physically tired. But I’ve found that physically tired can provide an enjoyable “rest” if it’s from delighting in the family. I’ve also found great joy in a Saturday afternoon playing baseball with my boys, just being their dad, where they don’t think of me in light of Sunday responsibilities.

Listening and Sharing

As my sons get older and come home from school, we have some of the most fascinating conversations. From discussing why singing “Hey Sexy Lady” from Gangnam Style (thanks for having only 3 English words) doesn’t honor women to bullies, why we have to read when we can just do math, and which girl my sons are sure they are going to marry.

I’m learning to listen, to ask questions about how it makes them feel or what it makes them think instead of immediately jump to teaching or correcting mode. I’m also learning to remember some stories from my childhood, the things I thought and learned along the way both in failures and success. They love to hear stories about my life that mirror some of their experiences. It’s also helpful for me to remember that I was a knucklehead once with loving parents, and by God’s grace I made it to today.

Discipline and Delight

When I was in Tacoma, Washington last October at Soma School, I picked up a book at my host home that I don’t even remember, but it was about the husband and father’s role entering into a home. The idea that has stuck with me is that a husband/father must be able to enter or leave the home without disrupting or damaging the environment.

I’m reminded about this when my presence sends our kids into hyper-excitement right before dinnertime. I have to be conscious of what I’m walking into, but I also must be a part of setting that environment. This has involved recognizing that our hope is for our family to delight in one another, to love and honor one another, but that doesn’t just happen when a family is in the same room.

We’ve discovered that discipline and delight are linked. We have 5 family ways that we encourage and teach our children to aim for in hopes of loving one another well, but just like me they don’t always love and honor one another. They fight, steal each other’s toys, and whine (yes, just like me). We’ve discovered that discipline, without anger, creates an environment of delight. Confession and forgiveness, from me and them, has been helpful as we hope to create a delightful environment.

This resolution is essentially aiming to be fully present at home for my kids and not for my own benefit. I need to be resolved to remember this often because I am susceptible to selfishness, as we all are, and my selfishness doesn’t aim to enjoy and love them, it’s aims to find that for myself.

These are my kids and I love them. I love being their dad.

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2013 Resolutions: The Second of Four

Gentry_142This is me and my amazing wife. She’s a gift and a crown to me. We are in the midst of our 8th year of marriage. While resolutions tend to communicate something needing to be fixed, this is a resolution is to increase the joy that is already there.

The second of my four resolutions is simple: just to be her husband.

We’ve served as marriage mentors and been a part of guiding pre-marital counseling for other couples and every time we do that we learn so much from leading and teaching. Last year, I read Real Marriage by Mark Driscoll and The Meaning of Marriage by Tim & Kathy Keller. They were both incredibly helpful books that moved beyond the concept and theology of marriage into the practical realities of a marriage growing and flourishing amidst parenting and everyday life challenges.

My wife is and has been my best friend, her passion for life and Jesus challenge me and have made me into a better man. So what would this resolution mean if things are already good?

Focusing even more on Friendship & Romance

The bible speaks to husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way and to lead them well. Without getting into theological convictions, I’ve learned over 7 years that you never stop learning about your spouse, especially as life and circumstances change.

Amber and I met as ministry partners in college and we remain an effective couple serving God and others together. As we’ve grown as parents, we’ve learned to parent our wonderful, though not perfect, children together. We work well together, but marriage is more than complimenting one another and serving side by side. It’s a continued growth in relationship in friendship and romance.

In friendship, I’m learning to listen to the joys of life alongside the challenges and hurt. My tendency is not to fully celebrate the joys and to jump into problem solving mode before ever sympathizing with the problem (note: not the best for a friendship). Since moving to NYC, our friendship has grown exponentially as we’ve learned to rely on one another through transitions in our life together and it’s been amazing to learn to enjoy one another while also sympathizing with one another. Our nights usually end over a glass of wine and good conversation involving laughter, dialogue, and coming to a consensus on the approach to what’s going on in life. Our friendship is great and I don’t want that to slip, so I’m resolved for it to be a focus so that our friendship continues to get even better.

Each week I’m considering, how can I grow as a friend to my wife? It’s fun.

In romance, I’m learning to increase my displays of love in little ways while also planning consistent date nights and even fun getaways together to communicate my joy and love for her. I’ve never been the hopeless romantic, but I’m learning what makes my wife feel special, not what a romantic comedy communicates makes women feel special. Last night we went on our date night, enjoyed a great meal and time together while friends of ours had fun with and watched our kids. Our family is better when our enjoyment of one another is better. Our kids enjoy life more when mom and dad enjoy each other as husband and wife. Plus they love our friends (they call them their friends) and we’re glad they feel a part of our family life.

I’m also asking myself often, how does she feel loved by me recently? Not to feel guilty, but to imagine new ways.

This resolution has been helped by the first that I mentioned yesterday, to be fully present, to care for my wife as she feels cared for in the moment. I fail, miserably at times, but I’m learning and I’m excited about this year, for the fun and joy that it will bring to our home.

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2013 Resolutions: The First of Four

Since it’s 2 weeks into the New Year I’ve had time to actually consider my resolutions. I’m good at resolving, I’m just not always the best at persevering in the resolution, but as I considered this year I decided to develop my resolutions differently.

Instead of looking at something to change me on the outside (i.e. eating better, not drinking Dr. Pepper, or working out more) I decided to evaluate what changes would play into my normal rhythm of life and have a qualitative influence. As I considered these things, I took some time to evaluate what was most valuable and if there was anything over the last year that prevented me from enjoying what I value most.

I’ve decided on 4 resolutions and over the next 4 days, I’ll explain what they are and why. Putting it on a blog for me is essentially asking for public accountability and serves as an opportunity for me to return to it at the end of the year to see how these resolutions affected the year.

The First: To Be Present

I’m an internal processor of what is going on in my life, often carrying ideas, stress, or random thoughts with me even in the midst of sitting in my living room playing legos with my kids or mid-conversation in public. It’s easy for my mind to wander to what might be on Twitter, if someone liked my latest Instagram picture of my kids (because what else would I take a picture of? Food?) or if I received an email about that issue we’ve been trying to resolve at the office.

I’ve noticed myself over the last year bringing the stress of things undone, the sadness of tragedy or hurt from a person in the church, and the next ministry idea to the kitchen table or living room in my head. When this happens, I’m not fully present and my family recognizes it. It’s not an issue that just comes up at home, I feel it in meetings at the office, over coffee, or even walking around NYC. I’d like to pretend it doesn’t affect my relationships, but I know that’s incorrect.

“Wherever you are, be all there.”

Jim Elliot, a missionary who was killed in South America by the tribe he was hoping to bless, said “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

That’s my hope for this year. That each moment, I’m faithful by being present and engaged with whatever the situation may be. I’m trying not to respond to every notification on my phone, to listen intently to the conversation and care more about the one talking than where I wish the conversation was actually going.

As I’ve tried to do this, I’ve discovered already some helpful ways to free my mind mentally. Before I go home, I take 10-15 minutes to write down all that is on my mind, what is left undone, what emotions I’m carrying home and what emotions/thoughts I’d like to take home instead. I’ve found that writing this out and praying to God about these things has brought a peace that I didn’t have over the last year in leaving the office. Before each meeting I’ve found myself praying for grace and strength to focus on the immediate, trusting God for time to focus on the things undone I can’t wait to work on now or time to plan for the future.

I’m enjoying it so far and I hope it continues. Relationships, conversations, and activities are all a little more fun when you’re fully present. It seems small as I consider it, but I’m pretty sure this resolution will influence and impact of the rest of my resolutions. I’ll expand on those in the next few days, but for now enjoy this spoken word from Propaganda titled “Be Present”.

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