So much has happened in my life and with our family over the past few months, it's hard to even keep up with it all. The emotional ups and downs of recent days have been significant, and I am trying to keep up with Jesus as we follow him into new territory. I am discovering that the horizon looks different than it did a year ago. Things have changed.
All things are new.
Fresh. Different. Recent. Revived.
With so much newness, I want to give you a glimpse into what God has been up to in our lives, some snapshots of the new.
A New School: I've been a full-time student at George Fox Evangelical Seminary since this past January, and it's been deeply enriching, challenging, and life-giving to be in such a diverse Christian learning community. I anticipate graduating with my Master of Arts in Theological Studies in 2017, then go on to pursue a PhD in the realm of theology and religious studies. (More on that PhD stuff later).
A New Book: My third book, Jesus Goes to the Movies: The Youth Ministry Film Guide, released this past August. Releasing a book feels akin to giving birth, in a less-messy sort of way. It is giving life and independence to a creative initiative, the final result of so many months of dreaming, writing, editing, re-writing, freaking out, and finally sending it into the world. A culmination of the past decade of youth ministry and movie-watching, the book is an accessible practical theological of film and its many connections with the minds and hearts of young people. If you like movies or are involved in youth ministry, this book is for you.
A New Ministry Role: Starting this next week, I will be the interim High School Director at Lake Grove Presbyterian Church in Lake Oswego. After a 4-week speaking series with their high school group in May, I now find myself in the place of shepherding and guiding the high school teens through a season of transition this school year as their former high school director (a great, long-time friend) moved into a new role at a new church. I look forward to being back in a youth ministry role, pacing alongside teens in their journey with Christ and guiding them into the ways of the kingdom of God. The role is a temporary one. While I am still incredibly passionate about youth ministry, there is a new vocational direction I'm headed...
A New Vocation and Church Plant: After nearly two years of prayer, wrestling, conversation, questions, research, dreaming, and more prayer, I am taking steps towards church planting. We want to plant a church in the heart of inner Southeast Portland, embedding gospel roots in the deep reaches of the Sellwood, Moreland, and Woodstock neighborhoods. When folks ask me "why?" my answer feels almost childlike in its simplicity: "Because people in SE Portland don't know Jesus yet." While there has been a significant growth of gospel-centered churches in the greater Portland area over the past decade, these particular SE neighborhoods remain largely untouched by localized church communities. I think Jesus wants us to join him in those neighborhoods in being and sharing good news. Portland has changed so much since we left it 8 years ago to move to Arizona. Keeping with my theme, it's a whole new city. But my love for this city--and this region of the city in SE--has only grown over those 8 years, and I am eager to see how God will work in and through a new church community embodying his gospel in SE Portland. (I'll share more on church planting in future posts. Keep our family and the church plant in your prayers, as we have only just begun the journey.)
A New Heart: Our son, Alister, was diagnosed with a serious heart condition only a few weeks after he was born. It's news no parent wants to receive, and when we heard his heart was failing, I was grieved. We endured for a few months as he grew bigger and stronger, watching his heart closely to see what might happen. About a month ago, he had heart surgery; the doctors opened up his chest and, simply put, fixed his heart. We have noticed the difference in his energy and demeanor already. We have a reinvigorated, energetic, delightful little boy with the cutest expressions and the scar on his chest as a permanent reminder of his ordeal. We are also deeply overwhelmed and grateful for the love and prayers sent our way during this difficult season. We've been so encouraged by emails, text messages, Facebook comments, and the prayerful presence of friends and family.
A New Hope: Not Star Wars Episode IV. Even better. Our son has a new heart, yet I think my heart has also been made new. In the fall of 2014, one year ago, I was at the lowest point in a season of burnout, unsure if there was anything good on the horizon of my life. Through the past year, I've been in a process of healing and resurrection, and now better understand and love myself and the God who created me. The horizon is brimming with hope, and I eagerly anticipate the future with a renewed sense of calling and passion.
I recall sitting in the office of a seminary professor this past year, asking him if there was any hope beyond the burnout. He said this, "You need to know, Joel, there is hope; but it will require death…the death of your pride, the death of your plans. It will require the death of your current concept of Jesus; but there is resurrection, so there is hope! The new, resurrected you will be more whole and more real. Jesus is not done with you yet."
Jesus is not done with me yet. He's not done with you either. He once said, "I am making all things new." I think he meant it.