Saturday, February 13, 2016

You never know.

If you ever wonder why God puts people in your life, then let me tell you a story. When I was in college, I was part of a spiritually encouraging and forming group at University Heights Baptist Church in Stillwater, Oklahoma. This group was filled with snot nosed wing nuts like myself as well as other students who were more formed in their faith, like my wife. I made many life long friends in this group, found a mentor and even met my wife (not the wing nut) in this group. To only be a part of this group for a year, it is amazing to see what God did and how he bonded and formed us in this time. After college, we went our separate ways and served and ministered in places all over the world. Strange places like Poland, Vietnam and Massachusetts. With the advent of social media, we would leave a note celebrating a birth, anniversary or birthday, but every now and then, we have a situation like the one we have been dealing with this past week and these relationships grow even greater. Our family and staff at Pine Brook have been ministering to a family whose father has had a very rapidly developing case of liver cancer. This precious family made plans to take one last trip together to see the Grand Canyon. Last week, they left and were able to spend some time together seeing the canyon in a helicopter and enjoying their moments together. Toward the end of the week, the father developed serious complications and they were admitted into a hospice care facility near Phoenix, AZ, where they are trying to make his final moments as comfortable as possible. Our staff got the call and we knew we couldn't do much from 2,200 miles away. As we prayed about how to minister to them, technology and social media was a blessing, but we knew there was no replacement for being there, hugging them and pointing to the ultimate comfort that comes from Jesus.
This is where those relationships established years ago in this wonderful group becomes important. Bryan Intemann was one of my closest friends during this time and God had led he and his family to minister in Phoenix within the last few years. I messaged him about the situation and asked if he would go to the hospice center about and hour away from his office and he arranged to go see the family at once. Along the way, we texted, talked on the phone and stayed in contact about ministering to the family during this difficult time. He spent time praying with the family, hearing their stories and even making a french fry run for their two boys. As he left yesterday, he called and thanked me for the opportunity to be a part of ministering to this family. This morning, I received a text from him saying the family had texted him and asked him to come back to the facility because the father had taken a very bad turn overnight. I called the mother and prayed with her and through her tears, she spoke of how comforting it was to have Bryan there yesterday and on his way to be with them this morning. I know when Bryan is done praying with them later today, he will call and we will discuss what he saw and experienced. It will be hard for both of us and by this time tomorrow, this father may have passed away. However, it won't be before God used a rag, tag group of snot nosed wing nuts to encourage this family, share his gospel and bring glory to Him. Please pray for this family and join us in worshipping Jesus well during this time.

Friday, June 26, 2015

"So, what exactly are you doing now?"

I love this question because it means someone cares enough and is invested enough to want to know what is happening with us. I also hate this question because it means that they have been invested with us and know things have changed. I hate trying to navigate the explanation. But here goes.

Where have we been?
In August of 2008, we moved from Richmond, VA to South Hadley, MA in hopes of planting a church. Upon arrival, we connected and settled in nicely at MERCYhouse ( where I interned for a year as a church planting intern, learning the culture of New England and building relationships with people from MERCYhouse that were driving in from the South Hadley area. During this time, we began to host a small group in our home that in the course of a year, grew to over 40 people. It included a time where the men and women would connect in prayer, including a time where the men would meet in my basement surrounded by power tools and (never used) workout equipment, talk about theology, scripture, confess our sins and repent.
This growth caused us to move our timeline along quickly and in January of 2010, we began meeting as Valley Church and launched officially on Easter of 2010 where we saw over 90 people attend our first service. Valley Church was an amazing time and a challenging time as well. I cannot tell you the number of amazing friends that we made during that time and the lives that were changed as we encouraged people to worship Jesus and consider His Glorious Grace. Valley Church was blessed with a core group of young adults and young families who were constantly facing new things in life daily like marriage, kids, job relocation and time management. I learned a lot about leading a group like this, including the fact that I simply am not the right guy to lead an entrepreneurial enterprise like a church. I love shepherding people and seeing them grow in their affinity for Jesus, even in the simple daily things of  every day relationships and hospitality. In the end however, a church, especially a new church in New England like Valley Church, needed someone who would not only shepherd, but press on into new areas and bring a team on mission with them. In the end, that was not me and we ended Valley Church in December of 2012. I was blessed to have the chance to go back to MERCYhouse and reconnect with the staff there as the Associate Pastor. In January of 2013, I began at MERCYhouse and once again began to see those areas of shepherding and connection blossom. The staff at MERCYhouse and the people were an amazing blessing during this time. Young families began to grow during what we lovingly referred to as the "Baby Boom"and I consistently found myself counseling and mentoring these families in how to do life, raise and disciple their children, love their spouse and above all, worship Jesus. While at MERCYhouse, I began to realize that there was something else at play in my life that I didn't understand the severity or effects of fully.

For those of you that know Christie and I, you are aware of a couple of things: 1. I married way, way over my head. 2. My wife has an amazing ability to see through my junk and pinpoint what is going on with me. When Valley Church ended and I took the position at MERCYhouse, she began pointing out what she was seeing in me. She mentioned that the joy that I once had wasn't there and that I was constantly drained by life and people in a way that never had happened before. She encouraged me seek help and prayer. I know at this point, if she were here watching me write this, she would want me to point out that she didn't always point these observations out graciously, but that is the nature of a relationship between a husband and a wife. The point is, she did see these things and then had to deal with me in this state for over two years. I trudged along during this time and struggled daily to find joy or even happiness. The best times were in my home playing with our baby daughter, Mavery, who was born in January of 2014 or watching silly movies and playing games with our girls. Even talking with Christie at times was too much, because I knew we would end up talking about what she was seeing and I just couldn't find it within me to "do" what needed to be done. I recently listened to a podcast by Eric Metaxas where he interviewed TV legend Dick Cavett, who has struggled with severe depression for many years. He explained his depression as being on a couch in your living room and someone telling you that there is a magic wand that can cure your depression on your kitchen table in the next room and depression will convince you that it's not worth getting off the couch because it probably wouldn't work for you anyway. That is exactly how I felt daily. There was little motivation to most things, including really important things that I knew needed to be done, thought through and addressed.
Each morning, that same struggle would be there. "What is the use of getting out of this bed?" "My wife is up and I will relocate from the bed to the couch, but I am in pure survival mode only today. Just make it to 9:00 PM so you can go back to bed." During this same time, I was the Associate Pastor at MERCYhouse, barely. What I mean by that is I would muster whatever motivation I could to perform the task that needed done and hope that would be enough. I knew and others knew it wasn't. There was a greater issue at work here. I finally listened to my wife, emailed our elder team, let them know what was going on, talked with a trusted couple in our church who had dealt with a history of depression and scheduled a doctors appointment where he, apparently using a BuzzFeed questionnaire, diagnosed me as "moderately to severely depressed". (I was hoping I would get Black Widow.)

Where we are.
In May, I resigned as Associate Pastor of MERCYhouse. I truly love MERCYhouse, the staff and the people there, however, it was apparent that what was needed and wanted was not a good fit for the gifts God had given me. So we began to pray about where God wanted us and what He wanted us to do. I applied for several jobs both in and out of ministry, both in and out of New England. During this same time, I was prescribed medication to deal with the depression and the acid reflux that I apparently had been dealing with for years as well. Both of these medications have been blessings from God. Neither is a miracle pill, but both have helped bring me to a place where I don't feel like I am digging out of a 60 foot whole each day. Bringing my feelings in line with the Truth of the Gospel is happening more readily now. Joy seems to be returning. Even through leaving MERCYhouse, there is hope in Jesus. We have prayed that God would lead us to where He wants us and it seems He has opened the door to this new direction.

Where we are going.
Over the past 2 years, I have been working with a local camp in the Pioneer Valley, Pine Brook (
as a speaker at their camps and retreats. Last year, I began working with their staff on some of the programming that is offered and built a great relationship with them. As we met to discuss an offer to join their Board of Directors, it became evident that I could fulfill a better position on staff with Pine Brook and after some discussion and prayer, we created the position of Spiritual Director at Pine Brook camp. I am very excited about this position because I get to take an existing structure and connect each of those pieces in the structure more clearly to the Gospel. Additionally, I am leading the camp into new territory by creating programming that will encourage and grow the families in the Pioneer Valley as they disciple their children, grow in their marriages and worship Jesus. Lastly, I will be able to use those shepherding skills with a group of staff at the camp which serve in various capacities throughout the summers. Leading this group and seeing them grow in their love of Jesus, their capacity to serve and their worship of Jesus will be part of what I value most in ministry, life on life discipleship. A mentor friend of mine was helping me reflect back on some of the events of the past 8 years and he told me that the measure of our ministry is not in the buildings that were built, the churches that sustained for centuries or the magnitude of the programming, but it is and always has been in the lives that were changed by God and His Holy Spirit and the power of Jesus through our gifts. So, what are we doing now? Being available, obedient, still and knowing that HE IS GOD and doing this out loud, around the people of New England.

Monday, November 18, 2013

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Grounds

I'm not sure why, but after a weekend full of tag (also insert "yard", "garage" and "junk") sale activities and preaching, we decided to switch the office and the school room yesterday.
Yesterday, it rained a rain that would make any rain forrest proud, which was an amazing blessing, because it could have rained just as easily and heavily this weekend, but alas, in God's sovereignty, it held off until yesterday. Rearranging always means finding things that you knew were there, but you didn't know you had.

I found cords to cameras and allen wrenches that went to some item from Ikea, but the most significant thing that I found and took a little time to read were my journals. My journals have sat on my bookshelf for nearly 3 years now and I haven't touched them, but as I moved a box of books today I came across one of my journals that I forgot I had. I began writing in it January 28, 2008. I finished this particular journal somewhere around February, of 2009. The last dated journal entry was January 18, 2009. However, there are many pages of full of streams of consciousness, notes from meetings or sermon preparation work after that last dated entry.

What made this particular journal so interesting is that it chronicles the time I spent after leaving Grove Avenue Baptist Church, in Richmond, VA and went through our arrival and start here in Massachusetts. If you were to compare this time in my life to the making of a cup of coffee, this would be the time where you just finished grinding the coffee beans and you are putting the grounds into the filter. It was a raw time, but a time that truly was on the cusp of seeing God brew something good.

As I look at this journal and compare it to other earlier journals, there is a distinct difference in what I am writing. The journals before this one is full of a sing-song dirge of self loathing and self hatred. I was constantly feeling sorry for myself or crucifying myself for various situations, feelings and sins. This journal was different though. For the first time, may ever in my life, I realized I needed to repent and that the work of the cross was sufficient for forgiveness and restoration.

I mourned out failure, fear, frustration, bitterness, hatred, and lots and lots of sin on these pages. But, instead of explaining them away or blaming others (or over-blaming myself), I repented.

I was broken from the "failure" of another ministry and church not succeeding. I was angry at a lot of people, myself included. But what God did was take my broken grounds and pour His Spirit through me as I repented and submitted to Him and He made something good.

He is still making something good.

Fully caffeinated and resting in His Grace,


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hot Indignation

I was blessed this morning to get a break from being with my girls to go to the coffee shop and hang out for a couple of hours. As with most trips to the coffee shop, I have an agenda in mind, but it often get's readjusted by my "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" brain or circumstances in general. This morning was no different.

I was not scheduled to meet with anyone today. This was simply a study time. I ordered my usual at the coffee shop. When I know I am preaching on the coming Sunday, I will usually take a few hours to finish up (ahem...start) my sermon on Thursdays or Fridays. At one point when I was preaching regularly at Valley Church, I came in for months straight and ordered the same thing each week, a plain bagel toasted with a side of peanut butter (for only .25 cents extra) and a large coffee. During this stretch, I felt like Norm from Cheers. (Favorite Normisms) Every time I walked in, the baristas knew what I wanted and would even start the order before I reached the counter.

Today was an extra special day, because I got to use my Coffee Club Punch Card to purchase the coffee. After 10 punches on the card, your next cup is free....

BTW, I love the little dance I do with whatever barista is working on the particular day that redeem my card. It always goes something like this -

Barista - "You get a free cup of coffee today. What can I get you?"

Me - "I will take the largest cup of coffee that you are legally allowed to give me with the redemption of said card."

Barista (With simultaneous look of disgust and morbid amusement) - "One large cup of coffee." (Punches buttons on cash register.)

Me - "Do people actually participate in this program and order a small cup of coffee when they get a free cup?"

Barista (With only disgust now.) - "Some people don't want that much caffeine. So they prefer a smaller cup."

Me - "Oh. That seems to be a waste of effort. You pay the price to achieve such an accomplishment of having your card punched 10 times and then you settle for a small cup of coffee when you are allowed to have a large cup of coffee."

Barista (indignant) - "Do you want me to leave you room at the top for cream?"

Me - "Yes please."

Anyway, today was free large cup of coffee day, so the only item that was deducted from the gift card was the price of the bagel and the .25 cent peanut butter (some days you just have to live a little). You might think that I would splurge a bit more and maybe take on something else, say a scone or a fresh macaroon, but to you I say, "Get behind me Satan!"

I sat down ready to take on the text that I was asked to preach from, Psalm 119: 57-64. I had my preaching Bible and my Study Bible with me and I looked forward to spending the hour and a half refining the sermon. I was blessed to preach this sermon already last Sunday at the English Speaking Service of the Chinese Church of Amherst. That particular sermon went really well and really all I wanted to do was tweak some intro items to fit the MERCYhouse audience better and get a clearer understanding of the prior verses in Psalm 119.

As I read Psalm 119 1-56, I was taken back by many things, but verse 53 really sent my mind wondering. The writer writes - "Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law. ( ESV)

So here are my thoughts on this verse -

  1. "Hot Indignation" would be an amazing name for a band.
  2. I am not sure I have been seized by hot indignantion in a long time.
  3. Would I need medication if I found myself hotly indignant?
  4. Hot Indignation would also be a great name for a dance troupe - See here and here and finally here.
  5. Notice why the writer is hotly indignant - because people forsake the law of God. This obviously needs to be understood with Gospel Glasses (thank you Robert Krumrey), but why be so offended (hotly indignant!) that someone would not follow God.
  6. Do I need to be hotly indignant about this as well? Why am I not hotly indignant about this?
  7. As my friend Matthew Thorne pointed out, "Hot Indignation" would also be a great name for a Taco Truck. (Touché my friend, touché in deed.)
  8. Does all of this hot indignation spoken of here connect with church discipline?
So I have now given you a cookie, have fun with that mouse. Can't wait to see where this thought process takes you. 

With much love and fully caffeinated,


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Being Dad.

You may have noticed I redecorated the place. With all the change that 2012 brought, I thought it would be good to reflect these changes in this blog. One of the greatest blessings of being a pastor is the  times I get to spend discussing, counseling, dreaming and being with others over coffee at a place with a wonderful atmosphere that invites community and connection. Some amazing friends knew what a blessing coffee dates like these were to me and gave me a $50 gift certificate to my favorite local coffee shop. So what I hope to do is show the blessing of this gift by sharing how this time spent is so much more than coffee and caffeine.

I have to admit, $50 worth of coffee is a lot. I considered buying as many large cups of coffee as I could with that amount and spreading them across multiple tables. But alas, that is a lot of cream & sugar. (Yes, I do sissify my coffee a bit. Don't judge me.) I also considered buying a "round" for everyone in the coffee shop, but I simply couldn't pull myself to torture the barista on duty that much. My final thought for what to do with the $50 was to alternate buying the cheapest drink the coffee shop offered and the most expensive drink it offered each visit, but who am I kidding, I have enough things in my life to keep track of, coffee rotations would only add more stress.

I used this gift certificate for the first time today. It was one of the most important appointments that I was able to keep all year. It was a meeting with my three daughters. I took the three of them to get a warm drink after we went snow-sledding this afternoon. Western Mass was blessed with several inches of snow over the last week (White Christmas indeed!) and it all packed up very nicely making the hills around South Hadley frozen sledding lanes of sheer joy for all the kids of the area. The girls had a blast as they raced down the snow packed slope near the building where we used to meet as Valley Church. (More on that later.) We stayed for a little over an hour or just until the lure of a cup of warm hot chocolate could not be ignored any longer. Then we packed our plastic discs and leaky inner tube up in the van and headed to The Thirsty Mind to break into this $50 of caffeinated bliss.

I am playing single Dad this week because Christie has taken a group of Mt. Holyoke students to the Passion Conference in Atlanta. She left Sunday and will be gone until this next Saturday. I love that Christie is getting to experience this event this week with these women. This mentoring and ministry is part of what attracted me to her nearly 17 years ago when we began dating and she still loves to serve young women and point them to Jesus. So I can handle being single Dad for a few days.

First up to order was Kenzie and Kiah, who ordered a hot chocolate with whipped cream on top. This old standby usually lasts about 2 and a half minutes in the hands of these liquid chocolate fiends. Today was no different. No longer had the barista called out, "Two medium hot chocolate's with whipped cream!", and my two youngest girls had downed their drinks without ever coming up for a breath. It was impressive to say the least.

Next, Maddie ordered her favorite drink, a Peppermint Mocha with whipped cream. The combination of Peppermint and Chocolate is seriously too much for Maddie to turn down. Ice cream, cookies, cakes, you name it, it is her favorite. It always has been. My greatest fear has always been that someone would be selling magic Peppermint Mocha beans on the side of the road and Maddie would stop and trade her soul for a jar full. (This is why Maddie is forbidden from talking to strangers with jars full of beans... ever. No exceptions.) This drink didn't last much longer than her sister's drinks despite being served up last.

The final drink of the evening was mine and it was simply a large French Roast with room. I knew I would need to be up late tonight and I couldn't skimp on the caffeine. Unfortunately, the Thirsty Mind does not yet offer their coffee in an  IV bag to be taken intravenously. However, I am sure it on the table for development in 2013. (Patent Pending)

As we sat and enjoyed the ambiance of the Thirsty Mind, we talked about how fun it was to sled today,  what our plan for the rest of the night was and the dinner that we were going to go home to cook. Normally, I am the one at these coffee meetings who leads others and I am expected to have all the answers. Usually I am asking the questions to discover the problems and give the direction, consolation or encouragement. In other words, it was nice today to simply be with my girls and be Dad.

Lately, it has been really important to remember to be Dad. At the beginning of December, the church that we moved to Western Mass to plant, Valley Church, closed it's doors for good. I want to say publicly, that ending was the right decision, but it certainly feels anything but "right", especially as we draw to this reflective time of ending and anticipate new beginnings for 2013. As a man (please understand, I am speaking as a man, simply because I am one and am not inferring that women may not or cannot feel the same way), I struggle to not be identified by the successes and failures in my life and Valley Church has felt like an incredible, rotting, stinking, failure for a while now. With this constantly haunting me, it is hard to fight for joy in being a child of God, a husband and a Dad. Basically, I can't and won't recognize the Truth of Jesus and instead, I settle for the old nature of feeling the failure over and over because I feel like that is what I deserve. Unfortunately, the ones who then are forced to deal with the resulting state primarily are my wife and the girls. This past week, it so bad, I felt I had to move, do something, anything to simply go forward or if not forward, simply a direction different than the direction I was going in. Thank God I have an amazing place like MERCYhouse to move forward to. Today, moving forward meant I sat, drank my coffee, watched the girls enjoy theirs and took in the moment.

When I got this $50 gift certificate, I anticipated having deep, wonderful meetings and seeing God do amazing things. I didn't, however, know that the first appointment was solely for me. My girls were conductors of God's grace today as we sat and enjoyed our time together. I was recharged by this moment and God showed me Truth during this time. I still feel like a failure. Trusting Jesus in these moments and through these situations is a process of relationship. Today, I need to trust Him and experience His grace for what is true. Today, I need to recognize what I am feeling for what it is, feelings. They do not define me or determine who (or Whose) I am, was and will be. Thank you God for Jesus and what He did on the cross, which now truly defines and determines who and Whose I am.

So after today, there is $36.36 left on the gift certificate. I certainly look forward to spending it well. Happy 2013!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Coming Soon

Coming soon. The Rise of the McCullah Blog.