Thursday, February 25, 2010


When Zac Hess and I prayed for Dr. David Plaster today, he used the phrase "Plaster-ite" for his loyal band of disciples. As VP of Grace College, Plaster seized the opportunity to mentor myriad of young leaders. We were a ragamuffin crew: athletes and addicts, chaplains and chumps, promising pastors and apparent failures.

My freshman year my closest friend Casey told me, "You have to meet with Plaster." Casey was a man of imperatives. (I recall the imperative to attend Grace, otherwise my salvation was in jeopardy.) This call to action was non-negotiable.

By the end of my freshman year, Dr. Plaster and I regularly dialogued in his office. The discussion lasted for four years. Two of my greatest insecurities were part of an ongoing confession. He provided assurance and a sense of normalcy. "I cannot relate to people," I admitted when considering a future in pastoral ministries. "Neither could I," he responded, "but I learned to push the button." His band of Plaster-ites would suggest that button has rarely been unpushed.

My second insecurity emerged when I started dating my wife-to-be. Often I felt like a relational imbecile: selfish, guarded, horny, and incapable of spiritual leadership. "The hallmark of your relationship," Plaster affirmed, "is your willingness to communicate. That is key." Perhaps I'll author his book on marriage: communicate. In the style of my friend Casey, it will be an imperative.

I found out about Dr. Plaster's sickness last Sunday morning. I was getting ready to preach on faith without works, which is dead (James 2:14-26). As an illustration I intended to flaunt my baptismal certificate as a sure sign of my vibrant faith. (This was a great improvement from earlier markers: Christian tee-shirts and D.C. Talk cassette tapes.)

Baptism is a ordinance that names (Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27). Trinity names are conferred upon the person immersed in the waters. The baptized, baptizer and witnessing church likewise apply their names to the holy union. Then we frame a document and make it official.

Dr. Plaster baptized me, making me a certified Plaster-ite. In this fact I take pride. Perhaps I resurrect an old argument from 1 Corinthians 1 about the baptizer, but I wonder if our arguments for mode are any less embarrassing. I suppose Plaster would be the best guy to ask; he wrote a book titled Ordinances. At this point, though, we need to resurrect bodies, not theological arguments.

So we, Plaster-ites (or not), the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Project Refuge

I watch a homeless guy eat ten cookies. He washes them down with a glass of milk. I am volunteering at a temporary shelter housed in the east wing of a local church. Each guest is granted linens, a cot, transportation, and access to the kitchen. Tonight the pan of cookies is favored.

My job is to make guests feel at home and human. We play games and share stories. They are victims and vagrants, convicts and Christians, addicts and dads. They are the least of these, and admit feeling thus. Cookies are a consolation.

I stay awake all night, making sure no thefts occur, no emergency alarms sound without immediate response, and no one sleeps past breakfast. My eyes grow weary. I read books and pace the hallways. I can hear one visitor snoring.

In the morning someone carrying a hot dish will relieve me. I will return to my home feeling warmed by my good deed and the hope of a nap. The guests will eat egg casserole and return to the streets, feeling cold and ambivalent toward the church.

Fortunately, I am not here to help them love me or the church. I am here to offer refuge. The mission is accomplished; they are all sleeping.

(NOTE: Project Refuge is a seasonal homeless shelter sponsored by the Greater Warsaw Ministerial Association and Salvation Army)

Saturday, February 13, 2010


I'm speaking at a youth retreat this weekend. The afternoon is dedicated to free time, so I went exploring the town of Gladwin, MI, which boasts two coffee shops that do not have wireless Internet. So I am at Pizza Hut, working on my third Diet Pepsi. The consolation is the fact that my server filled the glass with more ice than soda.

My escape to WiFi land during free-time is perhaps hypocritical. While students are skating about the camp on frozen lakes and snow-covered paths, I've hidden myself in a virtual environment. Earlier in the day I talked about the false community (and pseudo-fame) that are implied by blog followers and Facebook friends. Get sunlight and smell people's breath, I suggested. Mine smells like garlic and Alfredo sauce.

Herein lies my dilemma: I talk about real connection and hide myself in a Pizza Hut franchise to write blogs and make YouTube videos. The thing about this location, compared with Good News Camp, is I can control my digital landscape with the click of a button. The myth of control tempts us all. In fact, it is the topic of my next session (cf. Matt. 4:8-11).

Thus, I am not a hypocrite after all, but simply a participant of the passage.