As Jesus followers we are called into the Kingdom Life. This blog will help us converse and learn what that means. It will contain thoughts on Scripture, Sermon Reflection, Leadership Training and interesting reads. -Pastor Jeff

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Wednesday After

On Wednesday Morning, when the smoke settles,
                When we feel like collapsing from the emotional exhaustion
                Of a relentless barrage of “What am I supposed to believe?” and
                “Who do I trust?”

I will love you.
                No matter how different your decision was from mine
                Of if like me you had to wrestle hard through your decision.
                Without making you feel as though you need to justify your decision.
                Without standing over you with arms folded in judgement.

I will love you.
                Maybe that love will take the form of an apology.
                We’ve said some things and thought some things that weren’t fair.
                They weren’t nice.
                They weren’t ok.
                And being caught up in the moment is no excuse.

I will love you.
                See I trust you.  I believe in you.  I know you did what you thought was right.
                You were trying.
                Like me…
                To make this world a better place.
                Maybe we’ve got different ideas of what that looks like.
                Or how to get there.
                But…just know.

I will love you.
                I will love you because I care about you.
                I will love you because I believe
                LOVE is stronger than HATE.
                I will love you because I believe
                LOVE makes peace and refuses to sow the seeds of VIOLENCE.
                I will love you because I believe
                We live best crossing bridges and locking arms
                Not insulated and isolated by ideology and hostility.

I will love you.
                Because we are in this together.
                You and I. 
                No getting away from it. 
                You can try to deny ME…but you can’t deny US.
                We are wrapped up together
                In web of mutual life.
                You affect me and I affect you.
                I choose the affect…
                And it is love, embrace, compassion
                Confession, humility, and care.

I will love you.
                No matter which banner you raise.
                No matter which side of the aisle you stood.
                No matter how different we are.
                No matter what you said, or what I said/thought
                About what you said. 

I will love you.
                When the smoke clears.
                When we get up in a world that over the course of 24 hours
                Will appear different to many in our society
                Know this…
                What doesn’t change is my commitment

                Because it’s best.
                It’s strong.
                It’s important.
                It heals.
                It perseveres.
                It protects.
                AND …It HOPES!

For I am a #hopetimist who believes though the world is not as it should be, God is busy at work, making it as it ought to be.  

Saturday, July 23, 2016

No Longer Quiet: A Response to the Growing Evangelical Support of Trump

I can no longer keep quiet.  I’ve tried.  I’ve tried through subtle pastoral influence to challenge many of the current political assumptions of fear, prejudice, and power-mongering.  I’ve been very clear regarding my lack of support for Donald Trump from the beginning.  However, I’ve not been this vocal until now.
Reading through Facebook, I encountered Dr. James Dobson’s endorsement of Trump and I can no longer keep quiet.  I am burdened by the growing Evangelical pressure to support Trump.  I refuse to be bullied into submission by respected, outspoken, and influential Evangelical leaders, as though now that the Faith Advisory Committee for Trump’s campaign has spoken, all other Evangelicals need to get on board.  Ben Carson and Jerry Fallwell Jr., “I’m not buying what your selling.”  

I AM now angry.

I AM angry that somehow Evangelical leaders would attempt to script Trump as the natural choice for Christian leadership in the country.  This makes absolutely no sense.  Support him if you like, but don’t try to spiritually guilt-trip me into embracing a man whose rhetoric and positions have consistently gone against my beliefs as an Evangelical Christian. 

DO NOT try to cast Trump as the clear choice for a candidate with integrity.
DO NOT use your platform to bully us lesser pastors into submission and suggest that a failure to vote for Trump would be somehow a collusion with principalities of evil and darkness.  That is a blatant misuse of your platform.

DO NOT, in stating the names of those on the counsel, attempt to use their positions and names to somehow justify your decisions.  For one thing, as an Evangelical, I have SUBSTANTIAL theological disagreements with Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell Jr. and refuse to embrace their leadership as somehow binding on my practice of faith.

DO NOT assume that my failure to support Trump is an endorsement for Clinton.  This ridiculous suggestion made by both parties that somehow a failure to vote for their party is giving the election to the other is a tactic of fear.  That’s not how a democracy works. 

I CAN vote for a third party.  

I CAN write in a name.  

I CAN opt to vote in all sorts of elections and yet protest the presidential election because my conscience is clear that I cannot vote for either candidate. 
I CAN still have a say if I protest.  I have voted in nearly all elections since I was 18.  I continually vote in local and state elections.  I pay taxes.  I participate in local organizations and agencies for the improvement of our communities.  I served my country as a veteran.  I support our law enforcement and try to build bridges with those who’ve suffered the abuses of prejudice and injustice.

So DO NOT tell me that because I won’t get in line that I somehow don’t have a say going forward. 

You DO NOT get to make that call.

DO NOT use your platforms and hyperbole as a scare tactic to the masses.  It is precisely these tactics that have led us to this mess and divisiveness in the first place.  Playing on people’s fears with an “over the top” rhetoric has driven those that could have bridged the divide out of the election cycle leaving us the two most divisive voices…and YOU ARE playing right into that.  


I will not let my congregation be controlled by the “elite Evangelicals” who have somehow found their role in scripting a future I believe stands contrary to the Kingdom of God.  I love my people too much for that.  

I WILL NOT SUPPORT either candidate for the presidency of the United States of America.  I DO so as an act of conscience and protest.  I WILL NOT BE BULLIED into a ridiculous corner by those that still want to use Jesus and the Christian faith as the baptismal waters for political agendas. 
I DO love my people and will continue to do so regardless who they vote for, because I AM ONE KINGDOM MINDED and it’s not Ceasar’s or any extension of power and dominance.  I WILL CONTINUE to spread the good news of the Resurrection of Jesus, the Crucifixion, and the coming Kingdom of my Lord.  

I WILL love those our systems alienate.  

I WILL stand against injustice, challenge supremacy, and question motives.

I WILL trust that God’s hand is more sturdy than the flimsy palms of any political party.  

I AM ANGRY…BUT I AM HOPEFUL!  Hopeful that followers of Jesus, no matter the outcome will stand together in pursuit of God’s vision of the redeeming and healing of all things, the embrace of the outsiders, the care of the poor and down-trodden, the feeding of the hungry, and the empowerment of creativity and hope to make a more peaceful future.  

Dr. Dobson, I HAVE respected you throughout this last 15 years of my Christian life and appreciate the great difference you’ve made.  BUT DO NOT abuse this influence and play into the fears of the people.  YOU KNOW WHO YOUR LORD IS!  YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR HOPE LAY!  DON’T put all your eggs into that tattered basket.  I have profound respect for you.  I’m glad you’ve been given a voice but please be aware that you may be scripted into a story that you will one day wish was never told. 

Pastor Jeff Stark
Hopeful/Protesting Pastor

Friday, July 8, 2016

Image Broken, Heart Broken - It Matters

Father, how your heart must break.

This morning I woke up to the anguish of more senseless death.  Immediately I felt the weight of the sorrow, the lament of loss, the confusion and frustration of others, and the impending onslaught of vitriol and anger spewing opinion after opinion about whose lives matter most.

My heart broke…it still breaks.

Yet in prayer this morning, I couldn’t get past how much sorrow this must bring you, O God.

You God, the One that has knit each and every person on this earth together in the wombs of their mothers.  You God, the One that refuses to see the color of skin, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, political agenda, ethnic origin, or the job one holds as the primary identifier of our lives, but instead chooses to see us first and foremost as your beloved children. 

How your heart must break when your children lash out against one another.
Now Lord, I pray you are prepared for what we will do with these stories.  We will use them.  We will use them to push already established agendas moving to demands for action without pausing for confession and lament.
We will use these stories as evidence of your non-existence.

Some will say, “If there is a God how could he let these kinds of things to continually happen?”

Really, Lord.  How foolish we are that we would for a second attempt to pawn these actions of death, brutality, violence, hatred, injustice, and retaliation on to you.  It’s like we’ve learned nothing from our Genesis predecessors.  We like Adam are still pushing off blame on to you as he did in the garden.  We like Cain are still refusing to be our brother’s keeper.  We are responsible.  We are responsible for the hate, fear, anger, and brutality that resides deep in the core of our hearts.

We give space for prejudice to fester.

We justify retaliation.

We incite violence in response to violence as though that is ever the answer.

We expect those that serve and defend to do so on streets filled with dangerous weapons, day after day and night after night, with little pay, little respect, and even less appreciation.
We seek to narrowly define our neighbors like the expert in the law in Luke 10 to ensure we call “neighbor” only those that are already most like us, who think like us, who look like us, and who act like us.  This narrow definition gives us permission to make “them” out to be the bad guys and gals.
Shame on us, O Lord.  This is not your fault, but our failure.  It is our failure to live into the amazingly high calling to be the Image of God.  We mar, corrupt, and pervert your image leaving you almost indistinguishable in the lives of humanity. 

Lord, some will say, “This is the sign that the end is near.”  Perhaps, I don’t know.  I know this isn’t the first time in history that you’ve witnessed your children destroy one another at alarming rates.  I’m afraid the doomsday prophet is again passing off responsibility.  The desire to escape is a failure to reckon with integrity and faithfulness with the world we live in now.
To hope for the end of all things simply means we don’t have to change our attitudes and actions.  It means the world can go to hell in a handbasket and at the last minute you come to swoop down and save the day, leaving us to say, “Thank God, I thought I was going to have to do something there.”
And yet when Jesus prayed…

“Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” 

Something about what we do here matters. 

Our attitudes matter. 

The hate, fear, and prejudice in our hearts matter.  Our anger and hatred that produces violence and death matters.  Our inability and unwillingness to change the systemic issues of injustice in our society matters.  Our intolerance and our willingness to stereotype those with whom we disagree matters. 

The lives of the weak and defenseless matters.  The lives of those that stand in defense of the weak and defenseless matters.  The neighbor with whom we have nothing in common matters. 

The rainbow flag waving member of the LGBTQ community matters.

The man who kissed his baby girl on the forehead before leaving his house, shield fixed on his chest believing he’s making a difference for the good, unsure of the danger lurking around every corner matters.

The burqa wearing woman matters.

The hooded black teen matters.

The white family in suburbia matters.

The man who risked his life crossing the border in search of a job to support his family matters.

The suit wearing Baptist standing on the front steps of his church matters.

The mentally ill matter.  The elderly matter.  The orphan matters.  The homeless matter.
They all matter!  What we do matters…why?  Because it matters to you!  Because you, O God, see a world you’ve crafted with your own hands and lives you’ve molded to reflect your image run amuck and your heart breaks.  What happens here, what happens to us, what we choose to do to one another matters.

Until we deal decisively with the corruption lingering deep in our hearts, until we are willing to confess our sins, until we stop seeking someone to blame or an escape hatch to get us out of this big bad place, we will be destined to replay the history of brutality and sadness, heartache and violence.  Only once we realize that every seed of prejudice, hate, and unchecked anger planted gives rise to a society that turns on itself and devours itself, will we be positioned to make a difference.

Violence begets violence.

Prejudice begets prejudice.

Hate begets hate.

Blame passes off responsibility.

Lord, teach us to both lament and confess.  Teach us to lament that which breaks your heart, the death of all…because all matter to YOU!  Teach us to confess instead of assigning blame.  Teach us to nurture with great responsibility, sacrifice, and diligence the world as we have it now, so that, perhaps somehow your divine intentions for peace, love, and hope can be glimpsed through our actions of brother keeping and neighbor making.  

Lord have your way with us.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Goosing My Wife: Developing a Vision for Marriage

We want to be one of those couples still goosing one another in the kitchen at 65 making our grandkids cringe with disgust.

This is my customary answer when I talk with couples in preparation for marriage.  I ask them, “What’s your preferred picture of the future?  What do you want your marriage to look like in thirty or forty years?”

See I just showed my hand a little bit there.  There’s a philosophy of life at work there.  I tend to believe that life is more meaningful if there is a picture driving our actions.  If there’s something out front of us, something that captivates our imagination, something that screams, “Yes, when we get there, this is what I want it to look like,” I believe our day to day actions tend to hold together.  Now, before you go all sentimental on me, I have a pretty strong realist vein that runs through my body.  It’s the kind of vein that says, “nothing is guaranteed.”  Right, I get that.  Any number of situations or issues could arise that makes that picture impossible.  But without a picture, I often feel as though I’m taking on life willy-nilly, with little glue that holds together my actions, words, ambitions, and relationships.
So I choose a picture.

And in my picture I’m goosing my wife in the kitchen at 65.  That’s my picture, what’s yours?

Now wait…

Before you answer that question, there is something you ought to know.  The moment you choose a picture, you are responsible for the work that makes that picture possible.  That means, daily, we choose actions, attitudes, and words that lend themselves to the greatest possibility of making that picture possible.  Listen, if I haven’t done the daily work of caring for my wife, loving her, making time for her, flirting with her, then by the time we get to 65 and I try to goose her, she’s liable to pop knots in my head with a skillet.

We don’t just arrive at our picture.  We lean in toward our picture by choosing to act daily in ways that make that picture possible.

Now wait…

I need to back up for a moment.

We didn’t get married with a picture in mind.  In fact, I’m not sure what we were thinking when we got married.  We were two young (21 and 22) kids, infatuated with the idea of love, steeped in Hollywood romanticism, about as far as we could be from God, and wrapped in a number of dysfunctions and addictions.   Put more simply, we had relatives taking bets at our wedding about how many months it would last.  We got 6 months from one (which we almost proved right).  For the first three years of marriage, we had no picture in mind, only survival.  We were two deeply selfish, sinful, messy, broken, people trying to navigate a path with multiple twists and turns, in the dark.  Talk about the blind leading the blind.

In those first 3 years we nearly divorced six times.

In those first 3 years we did nearly everything a couple could do to wound one another.
In those first 3 years two little boys were the only two threads holding together an unraveling relationship.

But then…


Three years into our marriage, separated by a military deployment, determined to divorce upon my return, Jesus happened.  Thousands of miles away, a month apart from one another, Jesus showed up in our lives and called us to be His followers.  Three years into our marriage, Jesus dismantled our old selves, those old nasty, broken, selfish, sinful selves and made us new creations.  And something changed!  And He was bringing us back together.

Wait don’t cue the doves and Kenny G music yet.   There was a moment in flying back from the Balkans that it hit me, “Wait, we didn’t like each other much when we weren’t Jesus followers, what makes me think we will like each other now that we are?”  But when I walked into the gym where we were to meet our families after our arrival, I saw the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen in my life.  It was the first time I’d seen my wife without the veil of sin covering my eyes.

But wait…

We had a lot of work to do.

Work.  There’s that word again.  We knew that the damage we’d done to one another wouldn’t be healed up easily.  Oh yeah, and besides being made new creations, we still lacked the resources and tools to make a strong marriage.  We were now walking in grace, a little less young, but still dumb.  We had some learning and maturing to do.

But where would we turn?

To Jesus…well of course.

But also…

To His church.

The first weekend I was home, Angie and I were determined to find a church where God was working.  She suggested the Nazarene church in Clarksville because that’s where she’d gotten saved.  Not having any idea what a Nazarene was, I reluctantly said ok.  And that’s where it started, my first weekend back from deployment.  Immediately Angie and I connected to a church family that took interest in us. 

Crazy, right?

Here was a group of people who wanted to make an investment in a couple, former alcoholics, messy, broken, bar-hopping, bouncer, party-going, still a little rough around the edges.  What were they thinking?  Ah, they were just showing us the same love and acceptance that Jesus had already shown us.  We didn’t know much about words like “Incarnation” back then, but quickly that community became the hands and feet of Jesus in our lives. 

And then…

They said, “We’ve got tools.”

And boy did they ever.

We were surrounded with love, encouragement, wisdom, and healthy examples of what a faith-filled couple looks like.  Each Thursday evening for about 6 months or more, a lay person named Earl came to our home at 9pm after our children had gone to bed and poured into our lives.  He was discipling us (we didn’t know that word either).  He talked to us about what it means to be healthy followers of Jesus and serve one another selflessly.  He began to help us understand the work required in making marriage work.

Then there were those two couples.

Remember that damage we did for three years?  Well one night that came to surface.  In that moment, we were threatened.  This thing could go either way.  Some pain, some scars aren’t healed easily or at a moment at an altar.  Sometimes they take time.  AND…community!  That night two couples were there for us.  The guys took me to a different house.  The women stayed with Angie at our house.

How long?

All night!  There they stood alongside us, wept with us, prayed us through the evening, and for the days and weeks following continually spoke into our lives.  We wouldn’t have made it through that night had it not been for the church.

That’s right, I said it.  The church saved our marriage.
They taught us crazy things.  You know like, “the world doesn’t revolve around either of us.”  (I still struggle with that one.)  They taught us how to communicate with one another.  They walked through the grief process of the death of both of Angie’s parents.  In fact, when Angie’s mother died three weeks after we arrived at our first Senior Pastor assignment without insurance, it was the church, Erin Church of the Nazarene, in Tennessee, that took up a secret offering to pay for the funeral expenses in full. 

They taught us about commitment and devotion.
I still remember driving home from church one morning when it hit me, “Angie, divorce is no longer an option.”  She said, “How can you say that?  You don’t know what might happen.”  I said, “As long as it’s not an option then we will have to live each and every day like it’s not an option.  That means if we are stuck with one another from this day forward, we better be more committed to blessing one another than being obnoxiously selfish.”

But that wasn’t all…

They taught us to be committed Jesus followers.  We learned about the necessity of prayer to guard our tongues from saying things we’d later regret.  We discovered the necessity of maintaining purity in our sexuality with one another, to protect our intimacy from outside influences.  We even learned that our marriage isn’t the end all be all.  Our marriage was caught up into something bigger than us.

It is the Kingdom of God.

Our marriage isn’t simply about our happiness.  It is about living lives that give credible witness to redemptive, reconciling, restorative Kingdom of God.  That means the picture I have isn’t simply about the picture.  It means that the daily sacrificial, selfless, humble, thoughtful, peace-making actions and words that dot the landscape of our lives give human flesh to the Kingdom of God.
Wait a minute.

That means…we were being shaped in our marriage to be the hands and feet of Jesus to others.  Now the church wasn’t just helping us.  We were the church giving our lives away to others. 

And then…

You know what happened as we learned new tools?  A picture started to emerge.  It was no longer a picture of survival, but instead, a picture of flourishing.  We could, because of Jesus and the impact of His church see a future.  And in that picture I was goosing my wife in the kitchen at 65.