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The Value of Perspective

November 29, 2008

So I’ve been 30 for a week now.   And while the days leading up to my birthday, and immediately afterwards were essentially benign, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the past 24 hours or so.

I guess it could be encapsulated in a movie I just saw again tonight- a movie called “The Family Man.”  In the film, Nicholas Cage’s character (Jack) plays a very successful investment executive who is given a chance to see what it would be like to go back and change a decision he made at the beginning of his career.  Jack is placed in a new scenario where he’s married to his college sweetheart, has two kids, and works a blue collar career.  Whereas at first he’s yearning for his New York City Penthouse apartment and multi-million dollar existence, as time goes on he grows to love the family life he would have had if he had chosen his gal over his career.

So, why does this have me thinking?  Well, i guess it goes back to my beginnings as a Christian.  God saved me back in 1998 when I was 19 years old.  I was in college at Bowling Green State University studying a smattering of popular culture and English, and I was pretty much content to follow the path that my peers were on.  Let me explain- all of my life I was told that I was very intelligent, I always placed into the top classes, I was enrolled in the GATE program for gifted children, I scored quite high on standardized tests, and I was a National Merit Scholar at St. John’s Jesuit High School, one of the top college prep schools in the area… all this to say that on paper, I should have done well in college, graduated at the top of my class and garnered a well-paying career with all of the successes the world could offer.  But I didn’t.

From the time I came to know the Lord, I began to feel dissatisfied with the classes I was taking at BGSU.  The subject matter barely held my interest, and after 5 years of taking classes in an on-again-off-again enrollment, I decided that college wasn’t for me.  Around that same time, I was offered a job working for a college ministry.  You see, this whole time, I was also pursuing the knowledge of God, learning more about the Bible, and undergoing various forms of leadership training.  I was in the thick of the whole “progressive sanctification” process (not that we’re ever done with it on this side of Heaven) and I was beginning to discern God’s will for my life.

Over time, it was clear that God had put a call on my life to go into ministry.  And that’s where the rub began.  To this day, I’ve always found it to be an exercise in pride-swallowing when people ask me “what’s your degree?”  When I answer, “I don’t have a degree-yet,” it makes me feel like they must think I’m a failure.  After all, a 30-year-old with the abilities that I’ve been given should have a freaking Ph D by now.  Or at least a Master’s!

But it’s only now that I feel like God is calling me into higher education- a curriculum at a Seminary, for instance.  You see, back in the BGSU days, I was dissatisfied with the courses I was taking because I wasn’t wired for that line of study.  There’s no doubt in my mind that if I’d ignored God’s call on my life, I would probably be well-off and successful in the world’s eyes.  Instead, I’m living in a two-bedroom townhouse apartment that I had to rent in order to follow God’s call to plant a church in Toledo.   I own a perfectly good house in Indianapolis, Indiana that I’m trying to sell, but I can’t live there and follow God’s call at the same time.

I’ve been in ministry since January of 2002- almost 7 years.  And though I’ve been taking some time off from ‘vocational ministry’ to regroup from my last position at a seriously unhealthy church, I still feel God’s call, stronger than ever, to serve him in a pastoral capacity.

I guess the moral of this story is that there are times when I am tempted with the thought of ‘doing things my way’ because I could probably make more money and have more worldly success.  But as I look back over the past 10 years of my Christian life and especially the past 7 years of my life in ministry, I see how much God has done to woo me into a life that is far more fulfilling than any successes the world could ever offer.  Plus, I have a knockout wife that I never would’ve met otherwise!

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30

November 6, 2008

Each year when the air turns cool, the leaves change color, and the days grow shorter, I prepare to add another year to my age.  I was born on November 20th, 1978 at the Toledo Hosiptal in Toledo, Ohio to my unmarried birth mother and birth father, whom I’ve never met.  I was then transported to a pastor’s home to be looked after for one month and seven days by another man and woman that I’ve never met.  Finally, on December 27th 1978 I was finally adopted by my parents Christina and Joseph Lavalette (my birth mother wanted to wait until after Christmas to officially give me up).  And when I think about the orchestration of that process, I’m dumbfounded.

With just two weeks to go until my 30th birthday, I find it overwhelming that I’ve had three sets of parents.  Obviously, the woman and man that I call Mom and Dad are very near and dear to my heart.  They raised me, provided for me, and still to this day love me.  But I can’t help wondering about the other two sets of parents- the ones who brought me into this world, and the ones who cared for me during that first month or so of my life.  And I hope someday, I’m able to thank them for loving me enough to let me go.

I’m amazed at how God took a presumably unwanted and unexpected situation (the pregnancy of my birth mother) and turned it into (dare I say) a wonderful outcome.  Not only did my birth parents act responsibly by letting me live, they also gave the parents that raised me a baby when they didn’t think they could conceive (which later turned out to be false, hence my brother Mike).  And that was just the beginning.

Over the years, I’ve struggled to find happiness and fulfillment by means that the world erroneously says will satisfy. But it wasn’t until 11 years ago, when God grabbed ahold of my heart with his irresistible grace that I found out what life’s really about- knowing and making known His son Jesus Christ.  And ever since, I’ve fought and kicked and screamed as He took me and created in me a new heart and slowly began the process of progressive sanctification while simultaneously consecrating me to His service.  As a loving father shows a simple-minded youngster a better way, so God has lovingly revealed to me His glory, causing new desires and new life to spring up inside me.

So when I think about the fact that God took me from an unwanted pregnancy to a man and husband who desperately wants to serve Him, lead others to Him, and glorify His name, I am truly humbled.  And as I look ahead to my 30th birthday, I am reminded that Jesus began His ministry at age 30, so it can’t be that bad of an age!

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Small Group Study in Toledo

November 4, 2008

I’ve had some questions about what I’ll be up to once I’m in Toledo.  Therefore, I wanted to let you all know of a small group opportunity that will be starting in two weeks.

I’ll be leading a small group home study on the Song of Solomon beginning Sunday November 16th at 7pm.  We will be utilizing Mars Hill Church’s (the one in Seattle) current sermon series “The Peasant Princess” via Vodcast, and having a time of discussion afterwards with the provided group discussion curriculum.  If, for any reason, you can’t make it to a week or two, don’t worry, because the sermon is on Mars Hill Church’s website (www.marshillchurch.org) as well as iTunes (in the podcast section).

We will be meeting at a house in West Toledo (the Sylvania/Douglas area) as long as space permits (and if we outgrow that location, we’ll find one bigger!).  If you need more information/the address/a hug, give me a call at 419.973.0259 or email me at jefflavalette@gmail.com.  You can also find me on myspace and Facebook.

I’m really excited about this study, and I can’t wait to see what God does with it.  Please feel free to invite your friends.  See you on the 16th at 7pm.

By Grace Alone,

Jeffrey Lavalette

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God is sovereign, I am not.

November 3, 2008

I have been continually amazed at what’s been going on in the past few weeks.  Though I’m not yet even moved to Toledo to begin our preliminary church planting prep work, God is already moving in very obvious ways.  And He’s constantly reminding me of His faithfulness and plan.

For example, Ashley and I have been growing close to a few friends who have also felt a call to plant something fresh in Toledo.  And despite our varied backgrounds and stories, there is a prevalent common thread interwoven throughout all of our lives- the desire to glorify God and teach others about God-centered theology rather than the moralistic deism that seems so pervasive in the churches we’ve encountered. We have a hunger for God’s word in our own lives, and a thirst for the Holy Spirit to rain down on us.  Sounds kinda crazy, I know, but it’s refreshing to meet like-minded men and women with similar desires for the Church.

What’s more, it’s as though there’s no real rhyme or reason to it, yet everything is interconnected.  Ash and I enjoyed a tremendously encouraging lunch yesterday with some brand new friends- an area pastor and his wife who, like us, have experienced some really tough times in the church that have led them to raise questions and really dig deep to allow God to refine them for His work.

Suffice it to say that though the past year has been the hardest year of my life, I feel that He’s beginning to show me some of the reasons He allowed me to endure the suffering and hardship.  And as we make the transition back to Toledo, Ashley and I are both very excited to be part of God’s plan for what’s next.

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Here’s to Being Refined

September 22, 2008

My wife brought it to my attention that I haven’t contributed to this blog in quite some time.  And she’s right, I really haven’t been able to come up with much to say.  I think the reason for this is that I’ve been facing a lot of challenges lately, hence I’ve been mostly in ‘processing mode.’

Today begins the second week that Ashley and I are living in different cities.  She’s up in Toledo working at her new job, while I’m still here in Indianapolis with our dogs praying every day that God will sell our house.  And it’s a weird sense of helplessness… because I can’t do anything to sell this house… I’ve worked on the yard, we’ve put in new tile, everything is neat and tidy… but until God brings someone through the door to buy it, my house will keep me here in Indy.

I’ve even tried to find side jobs in Toledo that would supplement my income and make it possible to rent an apartment so that we can both be in the same place.  But so far nothing has panned out.  As a result, I’m trying to figure out the lesson God has for me in all of this.

At times, I’m tempted to get angry or upset at the fact that my hands are basically tied.  Then again, with all of the reformed theology I’ve been reading over the past year, it only makes sense that I’m now getting a real-life lesson in God’s sovereignty… it’s A LOT easier to swallow on paper than it is in real life.  And the crazy part is that God is still GOOD, and LOVING, and RIGHTEOUS, and AMAZING, even though I’m not particularly a fan of His timing right now.

It’s kind of funny, actually, because I’ve taught others about how God’s timing is perfect, and that God knows everything that they’re going through, and that He is in control.  And now I’m getting to practically learn that myself.

And even though I sometimes downright hate the situation I’m in, it doesn’t change God’s timeless truths and promises.  In other words, the context doesn’t change the truth.  It is of no consequence that I don’t like something that’s going on.  I DON’T CHANGE THE TRUTH- THE TRUTH CHANGES ME.

True to form, God is using a situation that permeates every facet of my life to make sure the point gets driven home… i’m away from my wife, i’m away from my family, i’m away from ministry, and anyone who could be a distraction is hours away by car.  i’m literally an island here in Indy.  There’s nothing to dilute the situation.

Of course, He’s still providing for me, and encouraging me through His Word and through periodic phone calls and even a trip back to Toledo every now and then.  But by and large, I’m just here.  Here with Him.  No one else (well, there are the dogs, of course, but they’re not much in the way of conversation).

If I believe that God is constantly preparing me for what’s next (and I do believe that) then I also have to believe that I am being refined right now.  And the refining process isn’t a pleasurable one.  When refining metal, the metalsmith uses heat and pressure to get the impurities to rise to the top so he can skim them off and throw them away.

So here’s to being refined!  May it be a thorough and far-reaching process.  Cheers!

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Contend for the faith…

August 29, 2008

Jude 1: 3-4 (ESV) says:

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

I find myself coming back to this verse whenever I read about the so-called “Emergent” church. It’s not that I would ever seek to defame or slander another brother or sister in Christ. But I have to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

I’ve been perusing the works of such “Emergent” leaders as Brian McLaren and Rob Bell over the past few days, and to be honest, I can’t believe an entire segment of my generation, as well as the generations coming up behind mine, are latching onto such erroneous ideas. I thought we all prided ourselves as “free thinkers”- well at least we got the ‘free’ part down- but we also have to THINK!

In one of his Nooma videos, Bell postulates that when Peter hopped out of the boat to walk on water with Christ, he lacked confidence in HIMSELF, hence he began to sink. But when Peter regained his self-confidence, he began to walk on the water. What a bunch of horsecrap!

Bell also asserts that Christ has confidence in US, faith in US and THAT’S WHY he was able to leave things in the hands of the disciples… because he TRUSTED THEM. Again, that’s completely FALSE. As Jesus was ready to ascend to the right hand of the Father, he instructed the disciples to WAIT FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT to come before they did anything. Jesus trusted the HOLY SPIRIT, not the disciples.

And notice what happened after that… in the book of Acts, the disciples completely ignore Jesus’ instructions, and they go ahead and pick a disciple to replace Judas. As it turns out Matthias (their new choice) isn’t really mentioned in any significance after he’s selected. Whereas if they’d waited for the Holy Spirit to come, they would have known to choose Saul of Tarsus (later called Paul- oh, by the way, he wrote a bunch of the New Testament books). Jesus didn’t have faith in the disciples, He had faith in the HOLY SPIRIT.

It’s actually amazing to me that Rob Bell, being as intelligent as he clearly is, could misinterpret scripture this blatantly. Then again, he IS the same guy who said we wouldn’t lose much if the Virgin Birth of Christ turned out to be a lie (Velvet Elvis).

I won’t even get started on how abysmal McLaren’s viewpoints are… just read “Why We’re Not Emergent” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck or “Becoming Conversant with the Emergent Church” by DA Carson.

My point is this- in an age when information is more available than ever, it seems like we’re getting dumber. It seems that anyone with a new idea automatically gains credence by virtue of the fact that their idea is new, rather than on the merit of their idea. Let’s not forget, that’s how the Mormon Church operates, and we don’t have to look very hard to see the swiss cheese theology going on there.

I’m blown away by the fact that McLaren thinks he’s found the “Secret Message of Jesus.” As Ravi Zacharias put it, “Are they BORED with God? Has it really taken 2000 years to figure out Jesus’ actual message?” NO it hasn’t.

In the name of tolerance we’re sacrificing truth. When you throw the absolutes out the window you have absolutely nothing. I mean, how can a guy who refers to the Bible for his example of how Christ lived, also deny that the Bible is valid, accurate, and without error? Why are some parts of the Bible “safe” and others “too threatening or divisive?” Since when did this buffet-style of theology become acceptable?

And the worst thing of all, in my opinion, isn’t that people are doing a shoddy job of researching their facts, but rather that through this “Emergent” church, people are being taught about a false Jesus. As Mark Driscoll puts it, the Emergent stream only wants to focus on the “marginalized peasant Jesus who was all about love and acceptance rather than the Jesus of Revelation who is coming to make war on those who haven’t repented of their sin and turned to Him.” Driscoll makes the point that when we focus too much on the “incarnational’ Christ and not enough on the “Exaltation” of Christ, we lose… Jesus.

Sure, it’s all well and good to go feed people who are hungry, and heal people who are sick, and love people who are marginalized, but THAT”S ONLY HALF OF IT. The other half is seen in the examples of John the Baptist and Jesus. REPENT, TURN FROM SIN, PUT YOUR FAITH IN JESUS… not “all roads lead to one God,” not “oh, well I don’t want to tell you you’re wrong, because it might hurt your feelings.” The fact is, some things are wrong. And denying the Bible is to deny Christ. And you don’t want to go there.

If someone was walking down a road, and at the end of the road was a pit filled with poisonous snakes, wouldn’t you tell them to turn back? Even if they were completely convinced that the road they were on would lead them to their dream-come-true, or the destiny that they’ve been seeking, or if it ‘just feels right for them?’ YES, of course you would. So why is it so hard for guys like McLaren, Bell, Pagitt, Kimball, and their Emergent posse to actually MAN UP and preach the word for what it really is?

I don’t think it’s a lack of intelligence…

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Community

August 26, 2008

I’ve really struggled to make sure what I write on here is more than just “oh, so i went to the store today… and i went to the movies… blah blah blah,” hence the fact that I don’t write on here every day, but rather only when something meaningful comes to mind. And yesterday I reached a place of clarity when it comes to why God is so stinking insistent on His people being on community.

Life sucks without community. I’ve been studying my Bible, listening to/watching multiple teachings/sermons each week, and spending time in prayer daily, but I’ve been hitting a ceiling growth-wise. I guess sometimes the best way to see something is in its absence. Let me explain.

Over this past weekend, Ashley and I went to Toledo, Ohio to make some final preparations for our move. And between spending time with my family, some old friends, and one of my mentors, I was reminded of what it is like to be around genuine, loving people. I had some killer deep conversations and engaged with real, transparent people and while it was amazing, it also reminded me of that void that I’ve been feeling for the past few months.

When I look at the New Testament Church, I see a group of men on mission, working together, training each other up, sending each other out, and all that jazz. I see communities taking care of each other. I see accountability, prayer, support, admonishment, strong leadership, and most of all, love. And for the most part, Ashley and I have been an island here in Indianapolis, especially now that our only close friends have all moved on (literally, like out of state) to new ministry pursuits.

As I search for the purpose in all of this, it feels like I’m being taught the importance of community by feeling the pain and sadness of not having community. In other words, I hope that once Ash and I are surrounded by good, God-pursuing, authentically-living community, we’ll be sure not to take it for granted. And i can’t help but feel that as a result of this void, we’ll actively try to create the kind of community we’re currently lacking once we land in our new destination.

I guess you could say that God has given me a new perspective on Hebrews 10:24-25 which says:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (English Standard Version)