the journey continues.

This year I decided to kick-start the holiday with a FRIENDS mini-marathon of each season’s Thanksgiving episodes.  I have not been able to put my finger on it, but there is certainly a quality or characteristic of the sitcom that is therapeutic for me.  I find comfort, relief, and familiarity with each episode I watch.  It almost replicates, but does not come close to replacing, the emotions I feel when I am with my extended family for the holidays.

Thanksgiving has been bittersweet, though, as it is the first major holiday without my grandfather.  While it has been nearly five months since he passed away, there is still an air of freshness looming.  As I sit and write this in his study, I reflect on a life well lived – a loving husband and father, a war hero, and man of integrity who had a deep faith in Jesus.  These last five months have had their struggles, especially as it relates to my grandmother.  She is finding her way into early stages of dementia.  She has become irritable, frustrated, and increasingly emotional.  But despite the mountains and valleys, there is still so much I have to be thankful for.

Though Thanksgiving feels a bit different this year, there are some things that never change…mainly the presumptuous questions about school, work, and relationships.  My favorite inquires tend to be regarding the latter.  I have not had a serious relationship in a few years and I am always left feeling a bit inadequate or lacking.  While I am perfectly content with my relationship status, which is non-existent at this stage in life, the questions and disdain can be unpleasant to manage.  I guess it is hard to stay camouflaged as a single within a large family where nearly everyone is in a serious relationship.  Sometimes it makes me feel a little lonely since I do not have that attribute to relate.

The questions about work and school are a little easier to swallow.  Though I remain in higher education, I have launched a real estate investment company, named the Grand Rapids Group.  We have purchased a number of properties and have seen incredible return on investment.  I formerly owned a corporate video production company, Oswald Productions, but have sold it in order to launch this new venture.

While I am realizing success, at twenty-six, my next step in life remains ambiguous. I love higher education. But even as I love certain aspects of my career, it seems there is little left to intellectually challenge me. Not only that, but there is no room for promotion and I am already at the highest pay grade.  This leaves me caught between either looking for a new position or taking advantage of this time in life and continuing my education further.

Since high school I have toyed with the notion of being called to ministry.  But I have always been tempted to follow my selfish will, reasoning away God’s voice, ignoring it, or second-guessing myself as to whether he was actually talking to me at all.  No matter what I have done to suppress this inkling, it always remains steadfast in the back of my mind.

As a result, these last few weeks I have been really seeking God and asking him to open doors if I am to find my way into ministry.  Likely this will include seminary, or at least a theological degree of some sort.  And in all honesty, I am leaning toward the practicality and preparation of a Master’s of Divinity degree.  Schools I am considering include Wheaton, Princeton, Duke, Gordon, Asbury, and Fuller.  These schools run the gamut, but so do the degree offerings.

Well this post is far from a complete thought, but it is all my mind is spitting out at the moment.  Over the next few days I will attempt to gather my thoughts and express degree goals, as well as ministry opportunities I see myself heading toward.

So for now, I guess the journey continues.

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return.

But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the sovereign Lord my refuge. – Psalm 73:28

My grandmother asked me if I had been ill.  I asked her why she thought that I had not been well.  And she said that my eyes gave me away.  I tried to play it off, but she was adamant and determined to understand what my heartache was from.  Part of my exhaustion was for the very reason I found myself in conversation with my grandmother that friday evening.  My grandfather had had a heart attack early that morning.  Though he was in stable condition when I had visited him, the situation weighed heavily on my heart.  Sadly, his health quickly deteriorated and Sunday morning he was whisked into the arms of Jesus.  I have certainly struggled with his passing, not because I lack hope, but because I truly miss him.  He was one of the most godly men I knew and we were very close.  In fact, I was named after him.  Though I intend to detail his life and what he meant to me later on this week, to honor his memory, there was a another situation that very same friday that truly shattered my heart, partly because of the close proximity of who it involved and partly because of its topical relation to all that I resolutely abhor and have been writing about as of late: the sex slave trade and abuse of children.

A Fox News article on sex trafficking details how this week marked the eighth week-long operation to terminate such crimes in the United States.  There were “168 children rescued from the sex trade… [and] 281 pimps…arrested during the same period on state and federal charges (2014).” This sex-sting was concentrated in 106 cities nationwide and was coordinated by state and federal officials from Homeland Security and the FBI.  But what makes this story hit home is not merely that fact that “these are not faraway kids in faraway lands,” as FBI Director James Comey stated, but the fact that one of the predators was a colleague.  It should be noted that I have purposefully omitted the word, “alleged,” as following his arrest friday, John Balyo confessed to raping a 12-year-old boy.

John, who was host of a widely popular Christian morning radio show in West Michigan, was attending and live-casting from a three-day Christian concert series – Big Ticket Festival – in Gaylord, Michigan, when he was arrested.  The radio station, which has since (appropriately, I might add) cut ties with John, is affiliated with the Christian university with which I am employed.  With shocked, disgusted, and humble hearts, the university staff and faculty gathered this morning to lament, pray, and seek the Lord – first, for the victims that have been terrorized, and, second, for the depravity of the human heart.

Though I might never be able to make sense of, or even fully process, the horrendous acts John committed, I think it appropriate to declare that he in no way acted in representation of authentic Christianity, nor in conjunction with the Person of Jesus Christ.  John deserves the full condemnation of the law that governs the United States of America, including the full extent of the consequences as a result of his actions.  My hope and prayer is that he is brought to justice.  Furthermore, I pray that his heart be truly shattered and that he seeks true repentance, for Christ withholds forgiveness from none that honestly seek it.

In addition to discussing John’s situation, I want to briefly discuss the media’s attention to this story, along with the saddening internet comments from every self-righteous “Joe Shmoe” with a computer and an opinion.  Certainly John Balyo committed gruesome atrocities and is deserving of all criticism hurled his way, however, I am also disgusted by lowly individuals who are using this situation as a platform to score political points by raking Christianity through the coals.  It is not Christianity that is the cause of such monstrous and destructive acts, so much as it is the sinful human being, imperfectly striving to live a Christian life (or maybe even lying about living a Christian life). Many call this hypocrisy, and it certainly is.  But the message of Jesus is not that those who are Christians will not mess up or act hypocritically, it is that despite our shortcomings, despite our inability to do right, God’s grace and love and mercy is greater than the wrong we commit.  Additionally, I find it appropriate to point out that despite the vast number of Christians caught up in such hypocrisy and sin, there are tens of millions of secular people caught up in the same acts.  This means that this is not an issue solely to be focused on the Christian, but rather on the whole of humanity.

So what is the lesson to be learned? Likely John Balyo, just like many other sex predators, did not intend to ever get to the point where he would rape the innocence and future of a child.  Instead, it very well likely began with a glance.  There could have been explicit material he stumbled upon.  For a while it satisfied.  But to retain the high, his tastes began getting more perverted.  And as more time was consumed with perversion, more opportunity began to present itself, until finally it led him to the sickening situation he found himself in, which has ultimately destroyed his life – rejection of his family, loss of a job, and loss of a future, as likely he will spend the rest of his life in prison.  So let this be a wakeup call in your life, just as it is a wake up call in my life.  If there is something you are dealing with, even if it is just at the onset, I urge you to end it.  Do not let the potential embarrassment of your honesty and candidness keep you from asking a friend, a counselor, or a pastor for help.

As I conclude, I ask that you pray for the victims of these predators.  They are our children.  And their lives have been marred by physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse.

Return Lord Jesus, return.

the supreme court.

I have been following the Hollingsworth v. Perry and US v. Windsor cases moderately. I haven’t been the good and informed Republican that I used to be though! But as the Supreme Court gets ready to rule on each case, and with the wild-card Justices, I feel like their rulings will not end up satisfying anyone.

My hope is that in the case of Prop 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry), the Justices will uphold the will of the people as they chose to amend California’s state law. But my sneaky premonition is that Justices will interpret the 14th Amendment more liberally and find some minuscule reason to negate an official ruling, laying the ground for the state to ignore the popular vote and will of the people. However, I don’t foresee their ruling affecting other states per se.

I think the second case could go in a similar direction – meaning the court could weasel out of actually making a decision. But if they did decide to create precedence, I imagine that there would be some national impact as the High Court would leave the definition of marriage to be defined by each individual state. In doing so, the federal government would technically be recognizing same-sex marriage since would be an allowed (endorsed) lifestyle choice within the United States. 
 
Whatever the court decides, there are going to be some upset people. I just hope the Justices do what is Constitutionally honorable. And I suppose the Justices will weigh their decisions and outcomes, but hopefully their decision is not based on politics.
 
We shall await the Supreme Court’s decisions. 

America! America! / God shed his grace on thee / And crown thy good with brotherhood / From sea to shining sea!

The Fourth of July is a reflective day of celebration for citizens of the United States of America. Patriots of this great nation pay tribute to the adopted declaration by the Continental Congress on July 4th, 1776. It is a day colored by red, white, and blue. It is a day sketched with iconic traditionalism – the Star Spangled Banner, apple pie, baseball, parades, flags, barbecues, family, and friends. Of course the day wouldn’t be conclusive without an exultant firework display.

Just thinking about Independence Day myself, so many phenomenal memories flood my mind. When I was young my family always went downtown Grand Rapids to see the firework display over the Grand River. I actually used to hate the sound of the fireworks and I remember curling up close to my father and making him cover my ears with his hands! As I grew tradition changed and we began spending the day in Grand Haven. We would soak up the sun, walk the pier, and at the end of the day join thousands of people as the largest musical water fountain displayed patriotic anthems to a choreographed H2O musical before a firework display lit the sky with fervor. Over the years there have been a few obscure memories. One spent in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and one spent in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. What I loved most of each of these experiences was the fact that our perched vantage point allowed us to see neighboring fireworks in surrounding cities and towns! Fortunately, like the majority of Americans, the celebration doesn’t cease with the impressive show of sky-fire, but instead we head home to celebrate with our own firework displays. Some even resort to their pistols and shotguns to signify the resounding battle won that birthed a nation. The cracks and pops and booms can be heard until the morning light.

This sense of patriotism is a display of who we are as Americans and the history that brought us to where we are today. Americans are sons and daughters of immigrants. Many of us are muts – an ancestral makeup of diverse backgrounds. I for one am part Native American, German, English, and Dutch. We were born of tough people. People who fought for freedom. People who fought to give their children freedom. We defeated the British’s cruel tyrants and unrepresented taxation. And a nation was founded that is accepting of all people. A nation was founded that allows individuality, grants opportunity, fights for liberty, and allows religious freedom. The toughness, the love of country, the fight to protect our land is in our blood. It is who we are.

It was George Williams Curtis that said, “A man’s country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle; and patriotism is loyalty to that principle.” Our principle in the land of the brave is truth. And “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, they they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And in honor of this nation’s 236th birthday, I have selected a few quotes by our founding fathers that signify love for country, love for freedom, and a love for Jesus Christ.

“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.” 
The Trumpet Voice of Freedom: Patrick Henry of Virginia, p. iii.

“Resistance to tyranny becomes the Christian and social duty of each individual. … Continue steadfast and, with a proper sense of your dependence on God, nobly defend those rights which heaven gave, and no man ought to take from us.” 
History of the United States of America, Vol. II, p. 229.

“I am a real Christian – that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.” 
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, p. 385.

“While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”
The Writings of Washington, pp. 342-343.

May God continue to bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America!

Let freedom ring.

Oh you want to tell your story but you don’t know where to start / Well, your mother’s pretty lonely but she don’t have a heart / And you met the rich and famous and they’re screwed up the same / Even “love will tear us apart” don’t ease the pain

There indeed is a growing uncertainty during this worldwide economic crisis. It is a plight that has emerged and universally affects even the greatest of nations. Many countries are laden with hefty debts, stagnant economies, and extraordinary unemployment.

The United States is not without its own entanglements that need be resolved. Our leaders have spent trillions of dollars in hopes to combat this state of economy. There have been many ideas of thought ranging from spending programs to budget cuts. Yet we find the economy in decline, families struggling to provide a stable income, and individuals surviving paycheck to paycheck.

From observation, there seems to be plenty of reporting regarding the effects the economy has on certain societal classes. Sadly, it seems a hostile jealousy is being cultivated between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

A current example would be the recent class warfare encouraged by the Occupy Wall Street movement. They claim, as “a leaderless resistance” of a diverse group of individuals, to represent “the 99%” of people, which will no longer tolerate “the greed and corruption of the 1%,” (Occupy Wall Street, 2012). While they may have noteworthy ideals, their thinking is humanistic, rather than biblical, as they falsely premise that those who are wealthy purposefully suppress the poor.

Born out of what could be argued as their own greed and corruption, the Occupy movement has adopted an attitude of entitlement. Purporting, with a Robin Hood mentality, that the poor have a right to what the rich have earned. Instead of being responsible and seeking a respectful solution, they childishly shift the blame of their own economic frustrations through vices of vengeance and hatred.

But the irony remains. A world corrupted by sinful humanity seeks a self-serving humanistic explanation. To an unbeliever, the hurt and pain they face is a direct response to the fear they feel when they realize their hope, their wealth, is not enough to guarantee a stable and secure future.

As Christians, we need to sympathize with the suffering that these individuals face because an accurate assessment of the situation reveals that the real issue is not the deficit of their pocketbooks, but the deficit in their hearts.

And it is this revelation that suggests opportunity – an opportunity to love, to teach, and to proclaim the Gospel. For until the unbeliever recognizes that there is no hope outside of the God of Israel (Psalm 130:7) they will continue to live in fear and desperation.

This Truth is conveyed through an intentional conviction that we are to live our lives as a worship offering to Jesus Christ by ending any personal hypocrisy. We are called not to merely be hearers of the Word, but doers. It will be through our actions that an authentic faith will be revealed if we trust God at His Word and believe that He keeps His promises (Psalm 18:30), including the assurance that our needs will be met (Matthew 6:26).

Once we recognize that the heart of the issue is the issue of the heart, we can liberate ourselves from any perverse hope and unwarranted fear. This does not mean, as Christians, we will be removed from financial trial or tribulation, as we still are affected by the economic woes facing humanity. But we can seek biblical wisdom on such topics as finances, education, investment, and giving to prepare ourselves as astute stewards of the resources God has blessed us with.

The Hebert and Hansen Wedding Teaser

October 1st, 2011. Charlevoix, Michigan.

A crisp day. A deep blue sky. The glistening lake. And so began a fresh journey, a new life where two individuals united to become one.

The Hebert and Hansen wedding was one of love, faithfulness, and joy. And it was Oswald Productions, Grand Rapids’ premier videography company, which was there to capture the beginning of their happily ever after.