Monday, January 28, 2008
6:10am- alarm. First thought was to pray the Lord's prayer (master the depth and richness of this prayer, and you will understand what Jesus' spiritual life looked like). Grabbed a bite to eat
7:00 Prayer meeting with TSC (about 70 students) on campus. Rarely do I wake up on Mondays desiring to go and pray. Never do I regret it.
8:30 Cornerstone staff meeting. This is not your typical staff meeting. We laugh our heads off, share "God-stories", pray, cry, laugh (repeated for emphasis).... It's like a large family that loves being together. If someone is going on a vacation, they literally plan to leave after our Monday morning staff meeting. Our lead pastor Troy Nesbitt is the master at keeping things relational and fun.
9:45-11:15- Staff Director's meeting. Those of us that oversee our own staff teams are "directors." This is another fun meeting, but we address issues and talk about ministry related stuff. For example, today we talked about a church plant in West Des Moines, how to keep the church aware of what's going on in various ministries without adding too much "clutter" from the front, debriefed a recent couple's retreat...
Noon-1:20- Basketball on campus, shower (Mon. & Tues. are my days to exercise by playing ball)
1:20-4:00 Studied for my message on prayer this week at TSC (to be honest, there was about a 5 minute nap in there. Who can stay awake reading for 3 hours right after lunch? Superman? Einstein? I'm neither.)
4:00-5:15- I met with a group of college men (TSC leaders) I'm discipling. That's the spiritual way of saying we hang out and talk about life, God, ministry, etc... I had them share about how they are planning to lead this semester, and I challenged them to read their Bibles and continue to set a pace for others to follow in that.
5:30- Ate, played Cranium with the kids (I made up questions, songs, etc), read to them, and put them to bed.
7:30- blogging and watching state of the union address
The hardest thing to avoid in ministry is hypocrisy. The great destroyer of hypocrisy is authenticity. So I try to be as authentic as possible, but it's hard. For example, I wanted you to think I was more productive in my 1-4 study time than I really was. I was distracted. I took a nap. I checked some email. I studied about prayer, but had a hard time praying.
Talk is cheap, and that's mostly what pastor's do.
Take a minute to pray for your pastor(s). Pray that they would live authentic lives before God and that they would have a genuine love for people.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
The kids are down by 7:10, and Leatha and I get a quiet evening to read, talk, and hang out.
It was a pretty typical Sunday, although I didn't have any major responsibilities with our weekend services. I met with some people this morning after attending one of our services, then I had an afternoon meeting with the worship leaders in our church.
The message this morning was from 2 Corinthians 12... "My grace is sufficient for you- for my power is perfected in your weakness." Grace should be central to every gathering of God's people. I have a friend who recently went through a hard time. He felt ashamed to go back to church because of what people might think. It's such a tragedy.
Church should be a safe place to be flawed.
You can't be a Christian unless you're in touch with how bad off you really are. The more I read through Luke- I see this so clearly in Jesus' ministry. If you've been forgiven much, you love much. If you've been forgiven little, then you love little. That's what Jesus said. But there's no such thing as someone being forgiven "little." That person might not be as well off as they think.
Is your church a place where you can live an honest life?
Are you welcomed where you're at, and at the same time challenged to live for Jesus?
If you're not welcomed as a sinner in need of grace...
If you're not challenged to live for Jesus and change...
Find a new church.
Is that too harsh? simplistic?
Saturday, January 26, 2008
How do I know?
It was confirmed with red letters (In most Bibles, all the red text is Jesus talking).
I woke up this morning stoked about the $5K that has been given to the Leatha foundation. Then God seemed to be saying, "Mark, are you willing to give your wealth for the orphans? Remember what I said yesterday in Luke 14 about inviting in people who can never repay you- the crippled, blind, lame, the poor? And remember the Piper quote..." (Here's the Piper quote that has been troubling me for weeks...)
“The trajedy is that Satan uses the guilt of all those failures to strip you of your once radical dream and to put in its place a life that is happy and safe and secure, American middle-class, filled with superficial pleasures so that you someday die on your lakeside rocking chair- wrinkled and useless and leaving a big fat inheritance to your middle age children to confirm them in their worldliness…the point is not what you do with your loose change- the point of that is what you do with your life. You don’t want to be always sitting high in your SUV dropping nickels in other people’s dreams. Is that really where you want to go? Give me that favorite car, give me that favorite house, give me that favorite wife and I will drop nickels for the rest of my life in other people’s dreams…” John Piper at Passion Conference
The rest of the day I made breakfast for the kids (cereal...is that considered "making breakfast"?), ran errands, did some reading and performed a wedding ceremony.
I love weddings- especially ones like this. It was probably one of the best I've had the privilege of being a part of, mostly because it was such a God story. Phillip and Erin Ramsey, thanks for including us in your wedding- bless you!
I just finished watching Creighton lose and now I'm going to catch a little "Letters from Iwo Jima" on my laptop before I fall asleep.
Church tomorrow- I love going to (and working at) a church where you actually look forward to going!
Friday, January 25, 2008
After dropping Ava off at school, I went to my office. I chatted with some people who said Brandon Barker hit a home run at TSC. It's always reassuring when you know your substitute did a much better job than you would do on your best day. But I reassure myself with the fact that I'm better at skateboarding.
Just kidding. This line of work is not really about being a great orator. Ezekiel 33:30-32 is a great reminder of that. It's not really about the messenger, but about the message.
Stop and dwell on that cliche for a moment.
It's a good thing, too, because I tried to listen to one of my messages yesterday, and I couldn't even bear to listen. I had more "like" "and" "um" "you knows" than a 13 year old yapping with a friend on her cell phone. The only difference: I say "bro" and "dude" more...
Oh yeah, back to what I did today... in the office I spent about an hour on the phone with Louis Nelms, who leads Gospelink to let him know we raised close to $5,000 for the Leatha Foundation Orphanage. He was blown away by the generosity of our college students. Thanks, Salt Company, for being the best college students in the world! We worked out the logistics to get the money wired to Malawi.
I met with a student and heard about his recent trip to China, we had a staff meeting, I met with a couple guys about possibly coming on staff next year, then I rushed home to print out my wedding notes, jumped in the van with the family and headed off to Des Moines for a wedding rehearsal.
It's 9:45 pm and my day is finally over- my body aches and is crying out for sleep. My prayer as I lay my head down is that Makai (currently sick) will sleep through the night, and that Leatha's sleep will be amazing! (She was up all night with him last night)
Thursday, January 24, 2008
But there is good news.
I just learned from wikipedia that each year influenza is responsible for 10 billion dollars lost in productivity (just in U.S.). The good news is that I don't think I contributed to that problem...does a pastor being sick really affect the economy? It's not like a pastor's job is tangibly productive. There aren't houses that didn't get designed or framed or drywalled because I laid in bed for 3 days.
But there was some productivity. My heart was met with more force this morning from Luke 12-13. I just decided today- I think Luke is my favorite of all the gospels. I had two critical conversations with people in our college ministry who just found out their parent's have serious health problems. It tears my heart out. I prayed with them and encouraged them with Isaiah 26:3. I also spent an hour this morning with some dear friends who are visiting from a hemisphere away (Kazakstan)- Jake, Stephanie, Eva, and Luke Huck.
I managed to waste some more time...
- I tried to earn some man points by watching Live Free or Die Hard. It was terrible. I kept telling myself, "Mark, you can make it through this whole movie." However, I just couldn't. But thanks to redbox, just time, and not money was wasted.
I can't tell you how anxious I am to get on with life tomorrow!
P.S.- I just got a text message that our college ministry gave $4,000 dollars tonight to the Leatha Foundation Orphanage! I'll fill you in on more details when I get them tomorrow.
We asked Cameron some questions on his birthday...
What is your favorite song? "I like to sing 'One Way' with Beck.'"
Name your favorite possession. "Only 1? My Larrymobile because the wheels go fast on it and it's really cool."
What is your favorite meal and dessert? "Pizza, corn, and ice cream."
What would you like to be when you grow up? "Policeman."
Is it ever ok to lie? "No."
What is your favorite thing to do with your family? "Play games-especially PIG."
Who is the nicest person you know? "I can't think of anyone. A lot of kids I know are little and they hit me."
What does it mean to love someone? "That's a hard one...like love your neighbor?"
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
I always ask what they want to have for supper and every year they say pizza and corn (two things they love and don't eat that often).
We haven't given many gifts to our children, mostly because they are little and don't need much. This will probably change in the future a little.
Cakes have always been simple. The child usually picks the flavor and frosting. This year Cameron colored a picture of LarryBoy and we're going to put that on the cake (much easier than me trying to be creative with frosting---though I wish I was good at that kind of thing).
Emails, mostly. Brandon Barker is going to speak for me at TSC this week. He is a great communicator, one of the best speakers to youth in all of Iowa. I know he'll hit a home run.
This morning I caught up on my reading (Luke 4-11) and posted on the TSC blog. Honestly, it felt more like homework than a fresh word from God. But as my dad says, "Sometimes reading the Bible is like eating plain shredded wheat- dry but nourishing." Sometimes less is more when I read my Bible, mostly because I'm such a slow reader and I have poor reading comprehension.
I watched more Planet Earth and I'm about to watch 3:10 to Yuma. I love Westerns (especially Lonesome Dove and the Return to Lonesome Dove- Pride and Prejudice for men, but not quite as wholesome), but I wish there was some resource out there (i.e. a movie reviewer...) who I could trust for which movies are worth watching. Any ideas?
I've found movies to be a much better waste of time than television. With the constant breaks in the story line ("We interrupt this tv show to tell you about 10 more things you don't need."), our minds are taught to think in sound bytes. That's not good for the brain.
Reading is best, but it's the last thing I want to do right now...
I think Iowa State plays on ESPN tonight, so I guess this is the exception to my theory. We all know there's nothing to sharpen the mind like a good sporting event on TV.
PS- As far as pure entertainment value goes, we didn't like Spiderman 3. BUT, in terms of the themes presented (i.e. destructiveness of vengeance, bitterness, rage, and anger) it depicted the world as it really is.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Which raises the question... "C'mon, it's the middle of the week, when every normal person in the world is out being productive- who sits around at home on Tuesdays writing blogs?"
Pastors do, I guess. (and some college students).
"What do pastors do all day?" It's one question that I get a lot. So I thought I'd give an answer. The problem is that there is too much in one week to post on one day (though at the moment I have the time to write, you don't have the time or interest to read it in one sitting). Over the next week, I'll give you a concise version of my day. I think this will be a pretty typical week in the life of Mark Arant, college pastor.
This is my only (reliable) day off. Saturdays and Sundays are often filled with weddings, college events, church responsibilities, retreats, etc. so I fight pretty hard to keep Tuesday as a day off. Which means I'm selective about which calls I take, and I try to stay away from the church office.
I'm sick today- runny nose, achy, feverish. Late nights and early mornings (which I had a few of last week) are a formula for sickness. It's my "thorn in the flesh."
But, I can't just lay around in bed all day and expect Leatha to do everything (we have 4 little kids). So I got up around4:00 am and ate a grapefruit and threw down some echinacia. I helped Beck go potty at 5:15 and put him back to bed. I dozed off for a few minutes and woke up around 7:30. I consider this the official start to my day.
Read my Bible and used SOAP
Ate some frittata that Leatha made
Watched the kids for 2 hours while Leatha went to the chiropractor. I did school with the oldest two (phonics- how does Leatha do it- what a lesson in patience!) and cut everyone's fingernails.
Shoveled the driveway/walks. Took our neighbor's snowblower to the shop (I ripped the cord out trying to start it last night- don't you love those unexpected $40 expenses of life?).
I felt so sick I came inside and laid down. Leatha brought me some homemade chicken noodle soup. Showered with Makai and Cameron. Rested for an hour- which involved sleep and watching some Planet Earth (check out the 14 minute preview video...epic)- while the kids listened to Addy and did afternoon nap/room time.
(evening plan in future tense- I'll change it tomorrow if it's not really what happens)
Will take the kids to "ISU Swim and Gym". Dinner (leftover chicken, potato wedges and broccoli). Read Big Truths for family devotions. Brush kids' teeth and get them to bed by 7:00. Pray a Psalm over them, then (gladly and with great relief) fall into bed and do our best to finish Spiderman 3 (We rarely finish movies in one night, as we're usually asleep by 9:30 or 10.
That's a pretty typical day off.
Monday, January 21, 2008
I grew up blocks away from Westroads Mall in Omaha, where a gunman lit up employees and shoppers in Von Maur a little over a month ago. I don't understand why there is such easy access to AK-47s and other assault rifles. Having done youth ministry for four years, I know there are thousands of youth with the same rage that fueled this young man (and access to those same weapons?).
One of my good friends, Joseph Madoul (click "stories" and find his name), is one of the lost boys of Sudan. Leonard Boswell, an Iowa Democrat, fought for seven years to get him (and others) safely to the U.S.
I think our earth is a stewardship from God, and therefore shouldn't be trashed by our (esp. corporate?) carelessness and excessive lifestyles.
I'm not sure about the war.
I'm not cool with torture- the ends don't justify the means.
There is more.
But the irony of this is that I've never once voted for a Democrat.
In reading the Mayflower, I came across this quote that struck me...
"My initial impression of the period was bounded by two conflicting preconceptions: the time honored tradition of how the Pilgrims came to symbolize all that is good about America and the now equally familiar modern tale of how the evil Europeans annihilated the innocent Native Americans. I soon learned that the real-life Indian and English of the 17th century were too smart, too generous, too greedy, too brave- in short, too human- to behave so predictably."
Just like Pilgrim-Native American conflict, we are too human to be "all in" for a man-made political system. And just like the world of Massasoit and William Bradford, the world is too complex to be Republican or Democrat on every issue.
This is just one more reason I still believe the Church and the Kingdom of God (God's institutions) are the hope of the world. So maybe how we live is more important than how we vote.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
The Children's Illustrated Bible (this is a GREAT resource to have for your family)- Leatha reads this to them in the morning.
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis (Leatha listens to this during morning snack time. It's from the Focus on the Family Radio Theater.
My ABC Bible Verses by Susan Hunt (at lunch)
Big Truths for Little Kids by Susan & Richie Hunt (for family devotions at night)
Addy Learns a Lesson (from The American Girls Collection- Our kids have really gotten into this)
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Guess where we ate lunch today? Yep---Hickory Park (For those of you who have never been to Ames- it's the most famous restaurant in town). Cameron will be 5 on Thursday the 24th. Mark's parents came to visit today and took us out to eat. He was a little embarrassed when the waitresses sang happy birthday to him. Grandma Linda got him a transformer phone and a spiderman umbrella.
Friday, January 18, 2008
Thursday, January 17, 2008
About 8 years ago I had my first encounter.
I'm reminded of this story, because tonight I'm teaching Psalm 1 at our college ministry, The Salt Company.
We were recording our third TSC CD- the Cornerstone auditorium was packed with about 700 college students whose hearts were on fire for God. I had some relatives there who happened to meet an Indonesian woman in the bathroom. This woman asked if she could pray for my two aunts. She began praying into their lives with insight that only God could know. There were some pretty specific things that she told them (and being from Indonesia, she obviously had no way of knowing my family).
A couple years later, I saw she was visiting Ames (she had 3 children at ISU). I sought her out and asked her to pray for me. It was surreal. The best I can describe it, God was speaking through her, directly to me. It was not an eery, fortune teller kind of experience (i.e. "You will go to this city and something bad is going to happen..."). It was comforting and encouraging, yet it challenged me to press on in faith.
One thing she told me, "You haven't been praying Scripture over your daughter [at the time, we just had Ava]- and you need to." I said, "What does that mean?"
She said, "Pray the Psalms over her every night. Pick a Psalm, and pray that for her. Psalm 1 is a good one to remember."
From that night on (over 6 years ago), to the best of my knowledge, I have not failed to pray the Scriptures (especially the Psalms) over my children. My favorite has become Psalm 23:3, "Guide [Ava, Cameron, Beck, and Makai] on a path of righteousness for your name's sake." Psalm 1 is a close second.
Some other time I'll tell you about the encounter I had with her this fall...
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
I love World War II history. My Grandpa Bill (Arant) was in the war. It was a fascinating time in our nation's history.
The first book that drew me into WWII was In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton. (Thanks, Bob Thune, Jr. for the book recommendation 8 years (?) ago.)
Two movies that do a great job with the war are Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. BOB is one of the few movies that is as good as the book. When people think of Saving Private Ryan, they may remember the opening D-Day scene. But that is not the most important scene, or the best part of the movie. Thanks, David Churchill for teaching me how to watch a movie...
The question of the movie- "Who is this Private Ryan? Is he worth it?" Tom Hanks' character, Captain Miller said, "He better be worth it. He better go home and cure a disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb."
So at the end of the movie we get Spielberg's view of whether or not Private Ryan was worth saving. The older Private Ryan is kneeling in front of Captain Miller's grave, wondering if he was worth the sacrifice of these fallen comrades when he has this conversation with his wife:
Old James Ryan: Tell me I have led a good life.
Ryan's Wife: What?
Old James Ryan: Tell me I'm a good man.
Ryan's Wife: You are. [with a pat on the back and awkwardly restraining emotion which was so common for that generation]
Behind them we see a blurred image of Ryan's offspring. It's as though Spielberg is saying, "You don't have to find the cure for cancer to be 'worth it.' Raising a family and being a good man is all Private Ryan had to do to be worth it.
Do you agree with their conclusion about what makes a life worth saving?
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
This is my brother-in-law's favorite quote (thanks, Donnie!). This statement is prophetic- there is so much here to think about.
When I was doing youth ministry, I had a dad meet with me about his son, who was in 9th grade at the time. His son was slacking in school, and he wanted my help. It was a family where academics ruled. It was the key to unlocking a successful life.
I don't think he was too excited about my response.
I said, "Bro, [that's my way of getting on the same page with really smart people], your son needs to give his heart and soul to Jesus Christ. The heart is the control center for every word, thought, and action. A heart surrendered to Jesus is the starting point of a life that matters. I think out of this surrender will flow hard work, character, etc..."
In not so many words, he attempted to affirm my response, but take the Jesus edge off of it. As my friend Ed Noble said about parents of teens, "Most parents want their kids to have just enough Jesus to keep them off drugs."
How do we raise our kids to succeed at things that matter forever? (I've got opinions, to be sure, but at the end of the day, I've never parented a teenager)
In what ways do parents fall into the trap of raising kids to succeed in the non-essentials of life?
Sunday, January 13, 2008
A family means a mom and dad in their mid to upper 30's with (maybe) one child.
Religion is merely a historical fact, not a present reality.
Churches are museums that also serve as a place for funeral and wedding ceremonies.
My fear is that it seems to be traveling west. This is a must read article.
Then we realized something was wrong with spending the majority of our time telling our kids to be be quiet and stare at the television. Then there was the time Mark had the brilliant idea of watching Princess Bride with our kids (our oldest is 6). Needless to say, the torture and near suicide scenes weren't quite age appropriate ("Daddy, what is she going to do with that knife?"). So Mark is learning to defer to Leatha more... Don't get me wrong, we still watch movies every other week. But we found game night to be a nice break from the movies...
We play monopoly, battleship, candyland, and our favorites UNO and PIG.
What do you guys do for family night? Movie or game ideas?
Have you ever had 31 orphans at your doorstep?
A couple weeks ago, the Arant household was visited by 31 orphans from Malawi, Africa. Here's how it happened...
For the last 6 or so years, we have been supporting Thomas Tambula, an African pastor, through Gospelink (www.gospelink.org). We get quarterly updates filled with his adventurous personal and ministry stories (i.e. hyenas killing his dogs, wind storms blowing down his house, encounters with poisonous snakes, hundreds of people becoming followers of Jesus, etc). About 6 months ago, Thomas told us that his wife, Aefe, and 6 other women started an orphanage and named it the "Leatha Foundation Centre." We sent them some money, not realizing what it would become. It went from 10 to 31 in no time. They have been turning other orphans away because they want to care for the ones they currently have. Around Christmas, we received these pictures (Left Picture: the women who started the Leatha foundation; Right Picture: the orphans).
We were overwhelmed when we saw these pictures. We realize this is an opportunity to care for these children, to love them as an extension of our family. There are more orphans to be cared for. If you are interested in supporting the Leatha Foundation, please email Leatha at firstname.lastname@example.org. Every penny goes to these orphans and caring for their needs. All of your gifts are tax deductible. There is also the possibility of traveling to Malawi to visit the orphanage in person.
Our lives will never be the same after this impoverished continent invaded our suburban lives.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
In 1997 I had a theological Copernican revolution. I sat under Piper's teaching at the first Passion conference and my mind and soul nearly exploded. I read everything by Piper. (Desiring God is a must read) I even did an independent study with my atheist prof at Iowa State on The End for Which God Created the World by Jonathan Edwards, because it was the book that shaped Piper's thinking about God.
The last few years I have tried to avoid Piper (subconsciously?). I think he attracts people with a chip on their shoulder. I was one of those people. I became overly opinionated about things I should not have been so sure of.
But I think I went too far. Every messenger other than Jesus will fall short. As someone whose job is to teach the Bible, I needed this. After re-reading this book today, my heart and soul were rekindled for a passion for the glory of God.
"People are starving for the greatness of God. But most of them would not give this diagnosis of their troubled lives. The majesty of God is an unknown cure. There are far more popular prescriptions on the market, but the benefit of any other remedy is brief and shallow. Preaching that does not have the aroma of God's greatness may entertain for a season, but it will not touch the hidden cry of the soul, 'Show me thy glory!'"