A year ago today, I wrote a post in which I thanked those who had been used by God in my life to point me to Him in deeper ways. It popped up on my TimeHop app, and after re-reading it, I was freshly grateful for all those I mentioned.
It's based on Psalm 15, and since today is the 15th, I had read it again for my devotional time this morning.
".. honor the faithful followers of the Lord.." (Psalm 15:4, NLT)
I want to mention, for the past year, some of those whom I have seen "fear the Lord" and whose faithful walks with Jesus have encouraged me to follow Him with more joy.
While some below made the list last year, most are new. All are beloved.
Neal Nelson. Neal is our associate pastor at Northstar Church, and he is unashamedly my "right hand man." He is a relational guru. The running joke in our staff meetings is how he meets men at the park. Yep. It's because he has six kids, and so he takes the kids to the park often to give Teresa a break. Because Neal is always looking for good conversation - and because any time he gets into conversation with someone, he will talk to them about faith and Jesus, he often has conversations with other dads... at the park. He is fervently intentional about sharing His faith with confidence and joy.
Ben Brooks. Carolyn's grandfather passed away in February of this year. By his own admission, he was not a "good man" for many years of his life. God captured his heart, and he became a Christ follower in his 70s. He wrote in his Bible that on January 16, 2001 at 7:57 p.m., he gave his life to Jesus. He was baptized five days later. It is one of the most amazing stories of transformation. I was honored to preach his funeral and to be able to share the gospel of Jesus clearly at it, as he wished.
Erin Petersen. She stepped up and expressed interest after our former college minister resigned. She was quickly moved from interim to permanent after she demonstrated competence, calling and chemistry with our team. I've learned about depth in suffering all over again by watching her present her struggle and pain to the Lord as she battles complications from Lyme's Disease. Anyone who praises God amidst pain and heartache is worthy of emulation.
Northstar Staff. I mentioned Neal and Erin already, but truth be known, it's an amazing privilege to work with the people I do: Alex, Megan, Julie, Aaron, Brooke, Matt, Jessica, Joe, Evin, and Lindsay. Some are paid; others volunteer. All of them encourage me by how they follow Jesus, make faithful decisions and serve in joy! In a church like ours, heads have to be on swivel. Change seems to be the rule of the day. Yet, they are each steadfast in their witness and love for God's people.
Corie Carr. Corie is the wife of one of our Leadership Board members at our church. She has inspired me with her faith through her own health uncertainties this past year. She and Chris are consistently cheerful, always uplifting and intent on encouraging others.
Viktor Orekhov. He will probably be surprised to be included on this list since he's moved away from Blacksburg and we actually have infrequent contact. However, we've seen each other at weddings and have exchanged emails. In every context, I find out he pursues Jesus deeply. He loves the church. He wants God's glory. I can echo Paul in Philippians 1:3 about Viktor, for "I thank my God in all my remembrance of [him]."
Jamie Sanchez. Jamie moved to California this year to begin teaching at Biola University. She was a dear friend of our entire family, and she laughed at all my jokes. More importantly, she is in love with Jesus, and she esteems His Word. She inspires me with her relational intentionality.
Three men who are linked through faith as a result of campus ministry:
Ben Coulter. Ben was a college student at UAM when I first met him. I had the privilege of being an influence in his life, and as God directs it so often, Ben has had a profound influence on me. He served with me at Journey Church in Monticello as a co-pastor and worship leader. He has been one of my greatest encouragements and supporters. He still thinks my book Super Center Savior is better than Harry Potter. (Don't tell him otherwise.) Ben has labored hard this year as a pastor to proclaim the transforming power of Jesus over racial differences in a small town in Arkansas amid unsettling opposition. I respect and esteem him.
Jeremy Woodall. Jeremy was also a former student. He also served with me at Journey Church. And he also has been an incredible encourager. Jeremy didn't learn enough hard lessons through our launch of Journey Church and proceeded to help plant another church in southeast Arkansas. This year, he became the third of my relational circle to serve in my old role as the campus minister at UAM. He models a tenacious commitment to sharing the love of Christ with men boldly.
Phillip Slaughter. Phillip preceded Jeremy as campus minister at UAM. This year, in faith, he stepped down from that role, sensing that God was calling him into a new adventure. He has always listened to the Father's whispers well. I appreciate his sensitive heart and gracious spirit.
My family... they each continue to follow Jesus with all their hearts. It's humbling as a preacher to be preached to with such loving grace at home through their lives. I could copy and paste what I wrote last year about them because it is all still true, but here's some fresh gratitude:
Carolyn. We moved this year. It was a major feat. Knowing that I don't do well in upheaval, she worked tirelessly to turn a new house into an intimate home. She still thinks I preach great sermons (mainly because she would rather listen to This American Life podcasts than preacher podcasts and doesn't know any better). She prays for me daily. She continues to model a servant heart (even helping to redecorate and re-floor our church's office this summer). She disciples ladies. Simply put, she loves Jesus.
Sam. He's begun his sophomore year of college, and he relentlessly seeks Jesus. He embraces truth and speaks truth (sometimes brashly, but always with the goal of encouraging someone to follow Jesus). He is bold. He is full of laughter. He's exploring what a call to ministry looks like even as he serves with YoungLife in Charlotte. I've learned recently that he is retelling all my jokes to his friends there, and that they think he's funny.
Adelyn. She's a senior at Blacksburg High this year, and she's witnessed some amazing moments of transformation in her friends. She has kept Jesus central. She continues to grow as a worship leader, and not only that, she has embraced opportunities to lead. She still loves office supplies (it's a genetic thing), and she's begun to develop her voice as a writer that I believe will inspire others in the future.
There are so many others who belong here. So let me close with the same words from last year's post:
I challenge you to try to come up with your own list and honor those who fear the Lord. For those of you who know you were left off, my heart friends and soul mates, my prayer support and my encouragers, those who might have expected to see themselves here, please know it was not intentional. It’s a result of my own time-pressed-ness and mental shortcomings. It’s certainly not a result of my lack of wanting to honor you.
May our great God continue to be praised and honored by those who fear Him. My life has been nudged closer to His heart because of all of you.