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Who Are You Owin’? (4)

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BY OWEN HUGHES, Associate Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

Who Are You Owin’?

DISCLAIMER: My blog posts will be about gratitude. Gratitude, thankfulness, and appreciation do not come naturally to me, but there are so many people that I owe so much to. People who invested in me, who spent time with me, who pursued me, and who shaped me. Some were intentional, others were unintentional, and others were just being themselves. So, my blog posts will be about people who have made me who I am today. People I am “owin’” for making me, well, Owen. Disclaimer: I am not a writer and I’m not an aspiring writer. So, if my writing is “offensive,” either because of structure or grammar or both, please forgive me.

Matt Ryman

     This blog post is one that I have shared in many different places: small groups, youth groups, and sermon illustrations. It is the story in my life where I experienced a humiliating failure and how a group of men, and one in particular, spoke some of the most shaping words to me.

     I did not do well in my undergrad education. I went to Grove City College and flunked out after two years with a 1.7 GPA. I didn’t party or get wrapped up with the wrong crowd. I just could not manage my time and was the king of procrastination. When I went back to Grove City, I had taken a year off, worked very hard at a restaurant in South Carolina, and had a girlfriend who I wanted to marry (and I did!). With a new motivation to work hard, I finished my degree and ended up with a 2.6 GPA. I then swore I would never go back to school. 

     In 2008, I felt God’s hand guiding me back to school, this time to get a theological degree and to become a minister. I worked hard for five years; Amber worked hard for 5 years. We sacrificed (if I wanted to be spiritual, I would say “invested”) every Saturday and all of our savings into seminary. In 2013 I graduated and was offered a job at the church we were attending and had been the part-time youth guy.

     They hired me with the understanding that I would get ordained within a year. The ordination process was brutal. It consisted of five written exams that included basically everything you have learned in seminary. You must submit two papers in Greek and Hebrew. Then you must sit for an oral exam that can last as long as the men who are examining you want it to last. My first one was three hours and my second one was four hours. These oral exams are quick-fire questions about everything from your devotional life to ancient church history.

     When I walked into the room for this oral exam, I was seated at the end of the table in a chair that was considerably lower than everyone else’s. I don’t think this was intentional, but the chair was so low that when I bent my head down, it actually touched the table. I sat there, very nervous, and the first question they asked me was about my devotional life. I admitted to them that I hadn’t had much of a devotional life over the past year since I was busy with work and studying for my ordination. The guys then rifted for about 30 minutes on the importance of a devotional life for a pastor. Sweat started to build up on my hands and all of a sudden, my devotional life came back to me and I started to pray that the sweat wouldn’t start running down my face!

They moved on to Bible knowledge.
They asked me, “Who is your favorite Old Testament character?”
 I said, “Joshua.” 
They said, “Where do you find Joshua?”
I said, “The book of Joshua.”
They could see the level of intellect they were dealing with, so they said “Great; now outline the book of Joshua.”
With wide eyes, I said, “Every chapter?”
“Yes.”
Gulp.

      I got to chapter four and then stalled out. During the following questions, I managed to get the engine cranked again, but by the last few questions, the guys were pushing my broken-down brain to the side of the road.

     At this point, sweat was the least of my worries. When it came time for me to explain what the atonement was and where to find it in the Bible, my head was on the table and I was crying. I was devastated. Five years of seminary. A call to the ministry at a church. My wife sacrificing so much time and energy for me. Hours taken from my children. Tens of thousands of dollars spent. Letting down my family, my father and mother, my church, and God. As I sat there, an objective failure, the guys wanted to make sure I understood why it was important for my seminary education to be more than “head deep.” They spent almost an hour talking about the importance of making the Gospel more just an intellectual exercise, but a heart movement. As they finished driving this point into the mind and heart of a failed seminarian, they started to shape a young pastor. Matt Ryman, the pastor at University Presbyterian in Orlando Florida told me to stand up. I did and he hugged me. He told me that this doesn’t matter at all. He told me education, ordination, ministry success, ministry failure, doesn’t matter at all to Jesus or eternity. He told me my identity is not in what I do or don’t do. My identity is in Christ and Christ alone. He is the one who called me, who saved me, and who holds me. Matt spoke the simple truths of the Gospel that have the most profound effect on a person’s life. My life is hid in Christ. That is my identity.

     Over the following months, I had some of the sweetest times of study. I actually hid the word of God in my heart, and it changed me. My father and I would FaceTime two or more times a week and he would test me on my studies. Those are still some of my fondest memories with my Dad. God imprinted on my heart that my identity is not in my success or my failure. In fact, He has always been bigger to me in my failure, because it is when I am nothing that He is my everything.

     I am definitely ownin’ Matt Ryman for seeing an opportunity in my failure to drive home the beautiful truth that my identity is in Christ and Christ alone!

     When it comes to those who have encouraged you in your identity in Christ, who are you owin’?

Posted by Rev. Owen Hughes with

Keeping the Lord's Day

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     Have you ever had the experience of giving up something you treasure only to receive something of far greater value in return? When I was a young adult, I was 6’ 2’’ tall and weighed about 165 pounds. Yes, I heard all the jokes, like the one about having to run around in the shower in order to get wet (not literally true, by the way – a few steps to each side were usually sufficient). I also temporarily enjoyed that rare, mysterious ability to be able to eat anything I wanted without gaining any weight. Put all of that together with a sweet tooth and an over-indulgent mother and, needless to say, some very bad eating habits were developed. One of the worst was my 9:00 pm binge. I would come home from baseball or basketball practice famished and proceed to consume either a whole frozen pizza and/or a quarter of an apple pie (my mother made 2 or 3 every week) with a few scoops of ice cream. When I left home, my involvement in sports diminished, but my 9:00 pm binges continued (sadly, minus the apple pies).

     When I reached the age of thirty, God, in His infinite wisdom, threw a switch somewhere in my over-heated metabolism, and, all of a sudden, my days of eating on a blank caloric check were over. My poor eating habits suddenly began adding pounds to my frame, and, since I had never learned any discipline, I was helpless against the onslaught. As a matter of fact, the 9:00 pm binges were now more deeply entrenched than ever, at that point known as the “whew…work is done, the kids are in bed, time to veg out in front of the TV” binge. It has taken me years to break my addiction to that cherished ritual, but in the process of giving it up, I have gained many better gifts in return. I’m eating less and more healthy foods; I feel better; the food budget is smaller, and I have learned much about resisting the lusts of the flesh.

     It is so often that way in our relationship with the Lord. Like little children hanging onto a much-loved but broken and useless toy, we kick and scream when our heavenly Father begins to take it away from us for our own good. We are too short-sighted to realize that He wants to replace it with something brand new that is far better and lasts far longer.

     One area where I see this struggle against God’s better provision for us is our use of our time. I have often made the comparison between the tithe as the 1/10th of our increase that belongs to the Lord, and the Lord’s Day, which is the 1/7th of our time that belongs to the Lord. In each case, we show our trust in the Lord’s provision by giving a significant portion back to Him – that tenth of our money is His, not ours; that seventh of our time is His, not ours.

     I do not have space here to present a full Biblical case for the ongoing requirement for observing the first day of the week as a Sabbath, a day of rest and worship. I will assume agreement on that point. But I am convinced that most believers who believe in keeping the Lord’s Day do not believe that the Lord expects us to give to Him a full 1/7th of our week. The Lord’s Day is to be a “holy” day – a day set apart from the normal work and responsibilities of the rest of the week. Knowing how to keep the Sabbath can be difficult to discern in some instances, but, in general, the principle is pretty clear – as far as possible, we are to lay aside the activities and responsibilities that characterize the other six days of our week in order that we might spend the day “in the public and private exercises of God’s worship” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 60). We seem to have downsized our Lord’s Day to a more “manageable” 1/14th of our week at best, or, more often, 1/100th of our week (if it is only restricted to a couple of hours in church). The rest of our so-called “Lord’s Day” is spent on our own wants and needs and looks pretty much like any other day of the week.

     I would challenge you to look at how you observe your Lord’s Day and answer the questions for yourself: “Am I giving to the Lord the full 1/7th of my week that He requires? Or do I give Him a pittance of a couple of hours so that I can spend the rest of the day as a ‘family day,’ or an ‘overtime day,’ or a ‘household chore day,’ or a ‘shopping day?’” Do you trust Him to give you enough time for these purposes during the other six days of the week?

     The sad truth is that we are not cheating the Lord by limiting the hours of His day, we are cheating ourselves. We must take the long view, give up our bad Sabbath habits, and trust Him to provide us with the results that He has promised: “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight…then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob…” (Isaiah 58:13,14).

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

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