Always Hungry

Pastor Ben's blog

I like food. And I like to eat pretty often. Really, eating comprises much of my thoughts throughout the day. When I wake up, the first thing I do is make breakfast and coffee. Usually it’s four eggs made either in omelet form with bacon bits or over medium with some toast or sausage links. It’s the most important meal of the day, so I have to start off on the right foot!

Lunch is one of those things that sometimes get lost in the craziness of the day, but even before lunch I get that mid-morning hunger coming about 10am. It’s time to snack! Then eat lunch, then snack some more before dinner. Taylor University ruined me for dinner, because every day right at 5:00pm on the dot I am ready to eat. And it’s like, if I don’t eat now, I’m going to get hangry. Usually I have…

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Happy are the Sad

Pastor Ben's blog

Every week it is my goal to release a blog post on the next part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The goal is that you and I would be able to live a little more like Him every day.

Following Jesus is no easy task. Jesus Himself even tells us to count the cost before following Him because we may lose family members, friends, jobs, homes, and even our lives for following Him.

This is part two of this famous sermon.  Jesus references nine different perspectives of people whom God blesses in Matthew 5:3-11. These character and conduct traits are most often called “The Beattitudes.” For the purpose of this blogging series, we will talk about these as: timeless principles.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. – Matthew 5:4

Blessed are those who mourn…a.k.a. Happy are the sad…its paradoxical.

There is…

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The Poor in Spirit

Pastor Ben's blog

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) is one of Jesus’ most famous teaching moments. Jesus takes the time here to talk about the character and conduct of those who follow Him as their Lord and Savior.

Following Jesus is no easy task. Jesus Himself even tells us to count the cost before following Him because we may lose family members, friends, jobs, homes, and even our lives for following Him.

Over the course of a few blog posts, we are going to look at the beginning of this famous sermon and see where blessings come from. Jesus references eight different perspectives of people whom God blesses in Matthew 5:3-11. These character and conduct traits are most often called “The Beattitudes.

Jesus begins talking about each perspectives with an pronouncement of “God blesses” (or “blessed are the” ESV). This kind of “blessed” is talking about “happiness because of divine favor.”…

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And then there were 3–Aliya’s birth story

Connie wanted to share Aliya’s birth story, so I told her she could write it on this blog :) Enjoy!

I love a good story, so thought I would write out the story of how our daughter arrived. I heard SO many women’s birth stories while I was pregnant and was always amazed at how each one was different, and how not one of the births went as expected!

Backing up a little bit to my feelings approaching the birth – well, they were not always positive. Of course we were excited to be parents, but I often felt like I wasn’t ready. When people asked if I just couldn’t wait to be done with pregnancy and to meet our little girl, I would often reply with ‘no, she can take her time! I’m not ready!

I loved looking at baby girl clothes and was excited about becoming a mom, but was also nervous about the delivery and overall had a feeling that the pregnancy was going so fast and I didn’t have enough time to do everything before our daughter arrived. I was happy with our current life and couldn’t wrap my head around the huge change that was about to take place!

In the weeks approaching our due date, Ben and I became very wary about when we might go into labor. I suspected that I might be overdue just because that seems to be the case with most first babies, but I got told nearly every day by co-workers and strangers alike that they didn’t think I would make it to my due date, so that was in my head as well.

The Monday (6 days) before my due date, I remember feeling… weird.

I texted Ben at the end of my workday saying that I was having constant Braxton Hicks contractions. I knew it wasn’t real labor, but my stomach was repeatedly tightening way more than usual.

I went grocery shopping after work, and bought a ton of food (each of my last few trips had been big because I never knew when my last trip before baby was going to be!!) and being overall distracted because I felt weird and wasn’t sure if I was in the beginning stages of labor. That whole evening I felt different, but couldn’t really pinpoint what it was. Then around 10 PM, I felt my first contraction in the shower, but thought it was just a fluke. I felt another contraction in bed at 10:30 and asked Ben to check the time. He promptly fell asleep, but I stayed awake as my contractions continued to show up about every half an hour.

It was somewhat surreal, and I can’t even completely remember what was going through my mind. I think I was trying to mentally review everything we had learned in birthing class, and trying to do the techniques I had learned to relax during contractions. Ben woke up around two or three, and took some time to process when I told him that I was pretty sure I was in labor. At that point, I was thinking I would probably be in labor for a long time and had read many stories about labor that started and stopped, so I told Ben I planned on walking our dog Molly and vacuuming the floor in the morning to keep labor progressing. (Spoiler alert: that didn’t end up happening.) :)

From that point on, Ben stayed awake and helped me through contractions, and we tried to get rest in between. Throughout the night, I remember the contractions being uncomfortable, but manageable. Right around 6AM, the contractions got really bad. They came more frequently, dropping from every 7 or 9 minutes to being less than 5 minutes apart, but weren’t consistent. I was trying to text my boss and my family, and it took me more than an hour to send the texts due to all the starting and stopping with the contractions coming on so fast!

I called the doctor to ask what I should do. I said my contractions weren’t a minute long, but were coming really fast and seemed inconsistent and difficult to time. The on-call doctor said they really like the contractions to be a minute long, and asked if I’d like to head into the office to have my progress checked. I remember being confused- I thought I was in active labor and felt way too uncomfortable for a visit to the doctor’s office, but now I was doubting myself!

Ben was supposed to coach his soccer team’s district game that day, so had to run some soccer equipment over to the school so the team would have it. I remember the contractions getting even worse, so it was difficult for me to move forward with brushing my teeth and getting dressed. I got a call from the regular medical staff I was working with asking if I’d like to come in to the office and get checked. I remember panting into the phone something like ‘heck no, we’ll see you at the hospital!

Even though we determined around 7 or 8 that we NEEDED to get to the hospital, we didn’t get there until 9- it was just so hard for me to do anything! My hospital bag wasn’t packed, so I remember Ben asking what he should put in it and me having trouble focusing on making any sort of decision. (Lesson learned for next time- I’ll have a bag packed far in advance!) ;)

We had taken a series of birthing classes called The Bradley Method to help prepare us for the labor & delivery process, and to prepare me to do the birth without any pain medication. Ben attended these classes too and was trained to be my ‘coach’ and help me through contractions. I remember telling Ben at home that I didn’t think I could do this, and that if I got to the hospital and was only 2 or 3 centimeters dilated, I’d have to get something for the pain. However, we got to Holland Hospital (finally) and found out I was 8 centimeters dilated! I was relieved to know the majority of it was already over and that I could deliver naturally as planned. It only seemed to be a few more contractions before I was ready to push. Our doctor broke my water and then the pushing began!

I pushed for 40 or so minutes, and then Aliya Joy Marshall was born at 10:20am, less than an hour and a half after getting to the hospital. She was 8 lbs, 6 oz, and 21 inches long!

The whole process seemed to go by so fast. I remember telling Ben during labor that we’re adopting the rest of our kids ;) but it’s true what they say- you really do forget about the pain after it’s over!

img_4907Already I’ve learned so much as a parent. First of all, thankfully, all my feelings of unreadiness and not wanting the pregnancy to end disappeared when Aliya arrived. All my fears about sleepless nights, baby blues, and not being ready became irrelevant when I met the little girl that had been inside me for the last 9 months! I also quickly learned that I could no longer control the image I put forth to other people– when Aliya came, my house wasn’t guest-ready, my hospital bag wasn’t packed so I left the hospital in an old t-shirt and sweatpants (not the cutesy homecoming I had pictured), and I couldn’t control if Aliya was peacefully sleeping or crying her head off when guests came.

I’ve learned I have to be okay with my house being imperfect and slightly messy, as now I choose to spend my time snuggling Aliya rather than making my house as clean as I’d like it.

I’ve even gained a new perspective on God’s perfect and steady love for us, as I aim to love my daughter the same amount whether she’s smiling at me in the daytime or won’t stop fussing in the middle of the night.

So, that’s our birth story! More than anything, Ben and I are thankful that our baby is healthy and happy. Now we’re looking forward to all the fun and challenges that await us in parenthood!

A Chance to Lead

Politics naturally divide. It’s Republican v Democrat v Independent and on and on. Looking at the numbers of votes, our country is very divided. Many millions didn’t want Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. Many millions didn’t want Hillary Rodham Clinton as President of the United States. 

Whether you like it or not, whether you voted for him or not, Donald J Trump IS the President Elect of the United States of America. 

Whatever feelings that brings up in you, whether fear, excitement, dread, expectancy, hatred, hope… The fact is that Donald J. Trump is going to be our president. 

As American citizens, it is our responsibility to allow him the opportunity to lead. We may not agree with him being our president, we may not be excited about it, but even Hillary Clinton admitted that we have to give him a chance to lead. 

Our country is deeply divided. We are divided across political parties, across religious beliefs, across races and socioeconomic statuses. And yet the very name of our country bears the word “united.”

One leader said this: “Whoever wins the presidency, half the country will have disagreed. Wise leaders never mistake wins for unanimous agreement.” – Rob Cizek. This is so true. We naturally won’t all agree on the elected official, but protesting and riots won’t change the outcome. 

There is so much hate, on both ends of the spectrum. Can we pursue something better? Can we pursue peace? Can we extend a hand of love and kindness across the aisle?

It is now the responsibility and opportunity of America’s citizens to once again be united. That is the challenge. And challenging it will be.

What’s so Amazing About Grace?

I want to share an excerpt from Philip Yancey’s book What’s so Amazing About Grace? I just finished reading it and wow. It is a challenging book. It is a book that challenges my understanding of the depths of grace that God gives to us. I would highly encourage everyone to read it.

While reading it, I was slightly disheartened at the way he describes the responses of many Christians in regards to culture and the way our society is going. The vitriol of some Christians writing letters to Yancey and others simply astounded me. As followers of Christ, we must be better able to engage the culture with grace and truth. The truth that is not balanced with love can be unloving. Sometimes we can be so focused on pointing out the bad news of someone else’s sin that we forget to also communicate the good news of the salvation of Jesus Christ. Realization of the bad news should lead us to the good news, but too often we communicate only the bad news, which is truth. But love shares the whole story. We are a complex creation, and we need to treat every single person, regardless of his or her actions, as the image of God. We understand and defend this regarding unborn children, but can too easily forget it when, for example, we are across the aisle from someone from the LGBT community.

I hope and pray that you will read these words and consider next time the way that you interact with someone reveals to them who Christ is. Are you proud of the reputation your actions (whether on social media outlets or in person) are making of Christ?

“Jesus came to found a new kind of kingdom that could coexist in Jerusalem and also spread into Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. In a parable he warned that those farmers who concentrate on pulling up weeds…may destroy the wheat along with the weeds. Leave matters of judgment to the one true Judge, Jesus advised.

The apostle Paul had much to say about the immorality of individual church members but little to say about the immorality of pagan Rome. He rarely railed against the abuses in Rome–slavery, idolatry, violent games, political oppression, greed–even though such abuses surely offended Christians of that day as much as our deteriorating society offends Christians today.

When I went to the White House to visit President Clinton, I knew well that his reputation among conservative Christians hinged on two issues: abortion and homosexual rights. I agree fully that these are important moral issues which Christians must address. But when I went through the New Testament I could find very little related to either one. Both practices existed then, in a different and more egregious form. Roman citizens did not rely principally on abortion for birth control. The women bore their babies, then abandoned them by the side of the road for wild animals or vultures. Likewise, Romans and Greeks also practiced a form of same-gender sex: older men commonly used young boys as their sex slaves, in pederasty.

Thus in Jesus’ and Paul’s day both these moral issues asserted themselves in ways that today would be criminal in any civilized country on earth. No country allows a person to kill a full-term, delivered baby. No country legally permits sex with children. Jesus and Paul doubtless knew of these deplorable practices. And yet Jesus said nothing about either one, and Paul made only a few references to cross-gender sex. Both concentrated not on the pagan kingdom around them but on the alternative kingdom of God.

For this reason, I wonder about the enormous energy being devoted these days to restoring morality to the United States. Are we concentrating more on the kingdom of this world than on the kingdom that is not of this world? The public image of the evangelical church today is practically defined by an emphasis on two issues that Jesus did not even mention. How will we feel if historians of the future look back on the evangelical church of the 1990s and declare, “They fought bravely on the moral fronts of abortion and homosexual rights,” while at the same time reporting that we did little to fulfill the Great Commission, and we did little to spread the aroma of grace in the world?”

This was written in 1997. I think the message is timeless.

Let freedom ring!

Happy fourth of July, and happy 240th birthday America! A lot has happened since 1776. We have cars, air conditioning, a “unified” country of fifty states, and the freedom to do pretty much what we want when we want to. Yeah, we have to obey laws and stuff, but we are still free to do what we want. We just have to pay the price for doing what we want if it happens to break a law.

Freedom is really a special thing. Not everyone in the world gets to experience it, and those of us who do often take it for granted. It can be too easy to forget those who have paid the ultimate price so that we could experience freedom. Days like Memorial Day or Independence Day help us as a country to remember, but in normal day-to-day life, unless we have a loved one who recently served, is currently serving, or who paid the ultimate price for our freedom while serving, we don’t think too often about how we are able to live in freedom.

Today, of all days, let us celebrate well and joyously our country, and those who have given us the ability to live in freedom. Our soldiers have made possible the freedom to worship in the open whoever we want, to walk down the street without fear of a car bomb or being at home and not worrying about a terrorist group rolling through the street taking us captive. We are free to pursue education and careers that many don’t have the ability to do. We have the freedom to sit at home and play video games all day, read books, watch TV or go to the movie theater if we choose. We have the freedom to vote for our leaders and to have a say in how our country is run.

All of this is made possible because of the sacrifice of normal men and women doing extraordinary things.

This is all for our physical freedoms. There is One who paid the ultimate price so that we could be spiritually free. Jesus Christ came to earth, died on a cross for you and for me, and rose again from the dead three days later so that we could have the freedom to choose not to sin. He died so we could be saved from the wrath of God and so we could live in freedom from the power and penalty of sin. He died and rose again so that you and I could receive the free gift of eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. – John 1:12

But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. – Acts 2:21

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1

Christ has set us free so that we could have a relationship with God and have eternal life with Him when we die. He also set us free so that right now, living on earth, we could live in freedom from the slavery of sin and so we can live the full, satisfying life that Jesus promises (John 10:10).

Remember today why you and I get to live in freedom. Remember those who have paid the price for freedom. Remember the Ultimate Sacrifice that gives us the ability to live in spiritual freedom for eternity. Remember. And let the remembrance lead you to thankful action.

Life Lessons from “Creed” (Part 1)

Last week I went to see the movie “Creed.” If you haven’t seen it yet, you should probably stop what you’re doing and go watch it right now. It’s the latest movie in the “Rocky” franchise, and it is another great addition. It is better than Rocky IV or V for sure. Whether you enjoy boxing or not, the principles in this movie, the hard work and dedication, are inspirational. Growing up, if I ever needed inspiration or encouragement to go workout or get hyped before a game or something, listening to the “Rocky” soundtrack was always a good option. “Eye of the Tiger” is a great song! Even listening to some of the motivational speeches from the movies on YouTube will change your life in a positive way.
Over the course of the next few blogs I post, I want to share some quality quotes from the movie that I pray will bring encouragement and hope to your life, as well as challenging you to grow and move forward in the right direction. That is a great passion of mine, and something I desire in myself and those I am able to impact. I want us to grow and not stay still. I want us to move forward and not backward or side to side. I want to see action plans and goal setting and a singular focus on pursuing Christ as we go through life. That is a large part of the reason why I blog.
Here is the first quote from “Creed”:
“You can’t learn anything talking. You know that? It’s a fact of life.”
Rocky is giving this advice to the young Adonis Creed who keeps talking and mouthing off and talking big to the other boxes and coaches around him. Rocky reminds him that he can’t learn by talking. He needs to stop, be quiet, and receive wisdom and instruction. Ultimately that is his only hope in succeeding is to stop talking and listen to those who have been there, who have the experience, and who know what they are talking about.
I’m not sure where you are at in life, but you can constantly learn from those around you. Access to books, blogs, podcasts, and all sorts of information is at an all-time high. There is no reason not to learn. And, as John Maxwell wisely proclaims, leaders are learners.
What can you do to learn? Take the time to slow down, turn off the music, stop talking, and start listening. After all, as many of us have heard before, God gave us one mouth but two ears, so we should listen (at least) twice as often as we speak. This is a good principle for learning and growing in any area we want to. The Bible says in James 1:19 that we should be “…quick to hear, slow to speak…”
listenIf it is at work with a new program or assignment, take the time to ask questions, and then listen. If it is spiritual growth you desire, take the time to sit and listen; listen to the Word, listen to a preacher; listen to God in prayer instead of just talking at Him. If it is personal growth, take the time to find a mentor and ask good questions so you can sit back and glean wisdom as you listen.
The unspoken warning behind this is to be careful who you are listening to. Rocky was advising Creed to listen to the best in the business, those who had a proven track record and knew what they were talking about. This is a great place to start.
This is a powerful principle for all of us. Today, take the time to sit back and listen. Don’t do all the talking and don’t allow distractions to get in the way of actively listening.
Take the time to listen. It really can only benefit your life.

Setting the right bar

There is a statement that I’ve heard a number of times, and I’m sure you have as well. It’s used in athletics and business, it’s used in school and at home. The statement usually goes something like this “Set the bar high” or “raise the bar” or simply just “set the bar.” I was recently reflecting on this statement and thought I would write a little something about it that hopefully will be an encouragement to you and help you unlock untapped potential in your life.
In setting the bar, I think we often set it in the wrong way. Parents or schools or jobs can set the bar for us if we let them. When that happens it can be set too low, it can be set too high; it is rarely set at the right level for us.
It may not be challenging, or it may be too challenging. The challenge today with this post, the encouragement today, is to

Set your own bar.

When you set your own bar you can challenge yourself, you can keep moving forward, you can keep track of it. When you set your own bar you have a goal to reach that is measurable and attainable by you. You have set it yourself, so you will be able to meet it yourself.
Set the barWhat bar you going to set for yourself today? Will it be challenging? Can you reach it? What will it take to get there?
No one else should have the power to dictate your potential or your future.
Only you have that choice.
Set your own bar, and set it high enough that you have to grow and stretch just to reach it. Then, set another bar. Just a little higher so it requires just a little more growth and just a little bigger stretch.
Set the bar high enough that you are challenged to perform and be stretched in order to grow. We are really either moving forward or moving backward in life (no one wants to be in that in between place…it’s called stagnation and it’s smelly and full of moldy, gross stuff the breeds disease, and in reality stagnation is really moving backward).
What are you going to do today? Have other people been setting the bar for you? Take back control of that bar and set it where it will force you to grow, and yet in a place that really is attainable.
Set one goal at a time, and once you reach that goal set another one that is just a little more difficult. Try it out. See what happens.
And you know what, if you start before January 1, you don’t even need to set a “New Year’s Resolution” because your goal setting has already begun.
I’d love to hear how this works out for you! Feel free to comment below about your bar/goal setting and how it has affected your life, one way or the other. Thanks!

Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself

Life can be pretty hectic. Our schedules get busy, our calendars get full, our days go quickly. Time flies!

With this busyness, life can kind of stop being fun if we let it. We start to get serious and stressed and task oriented. There are things we have to get done but there never seems to be enough time. The holidays are coming up and just add to the craziness. Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ll probably be there again later this week. It’s cyclical.

But the thing is, we can’t take ourselves too seriously. We can’t be so busy and stressed and worried about money or getting to the dentist or doing the dishes or mowing the lawn or finishing homework or some chore that we let tasks take the joy out of life.

I was reminded of the hilarity of life this past Sunday. I had asked to make an announcement about our college group at the church, and so first and second service I had a time slot to go up on stage and talk about our group. The first service was totally normal, nothing too crazy happened. But then came the second service.

I got out of my seat and was walking up the stairs as the song was finishing up. So the crowd wasn’t super focused on me and what I was doing, but something new had entered their line of sight, so I’m sure it caught the attention of a good amount. As I got to the top step, I must have not been paying very close attention, because my foot got caught and I stumbled. I caught myself so I didn’t fall flat on my face, but I definitely tripped going up the stairs in front of a whole crowd!

keep-calm-laugh-at-yourselfSo when it came time to make my announcement, I just owned it and let everyone know that yep, I did indeed trip over that top step! We all had a good laugh and moved on with the announcement.

After I was done on stage, I came down and some of the students were laughing at me, and I was like, “Hey, we just gotta have some fun up there!”

It reminded me that when life gets crazy and busy and stressful, we need to have a good laugh at our own expense. It keeps things in perspective, keeps us moving forward, and just releases some tension.

So go have some fun today, laugh at yourself, and release a little stress :)