In Remembrance

Pastor Mike, Spreading Light’s founder, passed away in August of 2018 and went home to be with the Lord following a battle with cancer that was not able to be won in this life. Shortly before his death, Mike asked me to take over his websites for the purposes of maintaining them and to take the burden of doing so from his wife.

This post should have been written a long time ago but it took me some time to come to grips with the loss of my closest friend and be able to approach continuing his work through this ministry. If he was known as Pastor Mike, I guess you could refer to me as Layman Tim.

As Spreading Light Ministries has moved to a new host and some of the related websites are being shuttered to be able to focus efforts more keenly on spreadinglight.com, some aspects of the ministry might look a little sparse for a time. At one point, Pastor Mike had over 20 domain names filled with theological content and all related to spreadinglight.com. That content from the periphery websites has not been lost and has been archived for now. Part of the reason for this contraction of web space is that the nature of the internet has changed quite a bit in the past 7 or 8 years. Mike saw this change and how devastating it could be to websites such as this first hand.

At it’s height, Spreading Light was reaching people in over 100 countries around the world. But Google changed its search algorithm and Pastor Mike saw traffic drop to a fraction of what it once had been, and consequently the income that supported Spreading Light Ministries also. Concurrently with Google changing search algorithms, the way people interact with the internet changed. Spreading Light was founded before social media and smartphones and as such was not built in a way to take advantage of that changing landscape of internet interactivity.

It is with all of that in mind, that I think about the future of Spreading Light Ministries. It will continue to be a repository of Mike’s life’s work. But the changing nature of the internet that I outlined in the previous paragraph also mean that for Spreading Light to continue to have an impact now and in the future and for people around the world to once again be able to find and have the opportunity to read Mike’s words of encouragement, that it has to become more than that.

I hope that you, dear reader, will come along for that journey. I would never claim to have the depth of theological understanding, educational background, or ability to write so extensively on biblical topics as Pastor Mike. I do hope though that I am able to build on that legacy in some small degree and in so doing, ensure that Spreading Light continues to be accessible to a new generation of web users.

– Layman Tim

2014 – The Year of Grace

Theologically speaking, grace is God’s righteousness at Christ’s expense.  It is what is given to us on account of our faith.  It is what is needed for salvation.  And absolutely everyone needs grace because we’re all sinners.

More generically though, grace is unmerited favor.  Grace is something that is given to us that we didn’t earn and can’t possibly repay.  We need grace for salvation but God’s grace doesn’t stop at just salvation.  And that is my focus for this year.  I need more grace in my life.

Taking a cue from a friend who placed a theme on upcoming years, last year I declared it to be a year of Jubilee.  This didn’t turn out anything like I expected but God was still praised and celebrated in 2013 as I wrote about in my previous post.

The reason I decided on making 2014 a year of grace is because I could really use some unmerited favor.  Now, this may just sound like I want to rub a genie’s lamp and expect to have some wishes granted.  That would be great but it obviously isn’t happening nor would I want it to be so.

Instead, I want grace because more and more I’m beginning to realize that I have little control over what goes on in life.  Certainly there are aspects that I can control.  With regards to my health I can eat properly and exercise regularly.  But that isn’t a guarantee that I will be healthy.  With regard to my finances, I can work diligently at my job and wisely save and invest my money.  But that isn’t a guarantee that my job will remain or that my investments won’t crash in the stock market.

There is just so much of life that I have no control over.  And just maybe, the things that I do have control over I obsess about too much.  The more difficult life gets, the greater our tendency becomes to control what little we have control over.  Rather than hand things over to God, we claw and scrape and try to hold onto the last things that we do have control of.

And that’s why I need grace and that’s what I’m asking for in particular this year.  I’ve been working too hard to make things happen on my own.  Some people rely on themselves because of a lack of faith in God.  I don’t feel like that’s the case with me.  But instead, my feeling is that often we ask God to do things for us and His response is “I’ve given you all the tools you need to accomplish this already.”  And then people get upset at God because they continue to do nothing and blame God for not answering their prayer.

But I’m on the other end of that.  Yes, I’ve prayed but I’ve continued to work as hard as I can to make things happen.  My work hasn’t accomplished what I hoped for.  I need grace.  It’s not that I deserve what I want in life.  It’s not that it’s owed to me because I’ve worked so hard for it.

Once I finally reach the point of saying “God I can’t do this” and completely handing it over to Him, all I can do is rely on His grace.  Because God doesn’t owe me anything.  My faithfulness to God does not warrant that I get what I want from Him.  My past struggles do not mean that God needs to right the balance sheet now in order to be fair.  All I can say is that I don’t deserve what I’m asking for but I can’t do it myself and I need the Lord to make it possible.

So that’s my theme for this year.  I need unmerited favor.  I don’t deserve it and I certainly don’t deserve it more than anyone else.  That’s the point of being unmerited.  All I can do is ask and expect God to provide.  And in the meantime, I need to stop trying to do God’s job for Him and allow Him to work.

The End of Jubilee

At the beginning of the year, I declared 2013 to be the year of Jubilee.  From an outsider’s perspective, I could not have been more wrong in my declaration.  Without getting into all that has happened this year, I will say that this has been the most difficult year of my life ten times over.  At the top of my difficulties was discovering that I had colon cancer and having 18 inches of my colon removed.

I am a man of faith and I can honestly say that at no point during this year was my faith in God shaken.  That being said, I really believe that the word cancer is the scariest word in the English language.  No matter how you fare, there is life before cancer and there is life after cancer.

How can I possibly look back and declare this year to be a year of Jubilee?  Because in the midst of your greatest difficulties you get to see how great God is.  Through the entire process I was surrounded by a peace that can only come from God.  I was blessed with tremendous doctors and ended up seeing one of the top doctors in the country even though that wasn’t my original intent.

In May I ended up in the hospital due to bleeding.  What I learned later was that most people don’t even experience bleeding like mine with colon cancer.  Because I am young, doctors typically overlook typical symptoms of colon cancer.  And indeed this actually happened as a CT scan saw the large polyp in my colon but diagnosed it as something else.  It might have only been because I was dehydrated and lost so much blood that I passed out in the bathroom that a full colonoscopy was ordered.

The polyp that was found ended up sending me to Baltimore.  The local doctors didn’t even want to touch it.  While the polyp could have been removed by taking out a piece of my colon, one of the top doctors in the country was able to remove it as an outpatient procedure.  I didn’t spend a night in the hospital.

A week later I got a phone call saying that the polyp was cancerous.  It appeared as though the cancer was contained but there was a chance that it had spread to the lymph nodes.  The surrounding lymph nodes would need to be taken out as well.  I was referred to another doctor who would ultimately perform that surgery in less than three weeks.

My second doctor I had no less than half a dozen nurses tell me – unprompted – was the best one to have for such a procedure and they’d only go to her.  These are the kinds of things you want to hear awaiting surgery and during recovery.  In the end, I had 18 inches of my colon removed and only spent 4 days in the hospital.

My cancer was diagnosed as only stage 1 which means that I have every reason to expect a full recovery.  It had not spread beyond the polyp that was removed, I did not require any chemo or radiation treatments, and I am currently cancer free.  If I go five years without a recurrence, I’ll be considered medically cured.

Through all of this I have been reminded that God is not good; He is great!  This is not the route I would have chosen for myself by any means.  But rather than feel abandoned or forgotten by God, I know that I am blessed.  Most times colon cancer is not discovered until it has reached stage 2 or 3 when the situation is more difficult.  It’s not even typically scanned for if you’re under 50 which means that when it is found in younger people it’s even more likely to be further along.  But for some reason I happened to bleed enough to go to the hospital and despite a misdiagnosed CT scan, my cancer was still discovered – and discovered early.  Many people would consider me unlucky to have cancer in the first place.  I consider myself blessed that it was found so early.  I don’t believe in coincidences and I have every reason to believe that the Lord still has plenty of work for me to do.

Was 2013 the year of Jubilee that I had hoped for?  Absolutely not.  Cancer was only the greatest of my trials this past year but not the only one.  But at the end of 2013 I can praise God even more than before because I have seen His hand at work and His power in undeniable.

Sometimes God has to tell us like He told the apostle Paul, His grace is sufficient for us.  We don’t know what kind of ailments Paul suffered from but God told him that His grace was sufficient to deal with his problems.  I learned that lesson in a powerful way this year and it’s a message that I will be able to repeat to everyone who is enduring hardships.

Jubilee is a celebration of God’s goodness and I have certainly experienced that this year.  It’s not what I wanted but I’m sure that God didn’t make a mistake that it was what I needed.

Back to Work

Needless to say I’ve been working recently, just not my normal work.  My wife and I had the fun and excitement of packing the entire house.  After Christmas we had three weeks to get our new house ready to move into.  This meant commuting 35 miles from my mother-in-law’s house each day so I could paint, and tear up carpet, and clean.  Ok, my wife and other ladies did most of the cleaning.  But still everything was exhausting work, especially when you go home and you’re not sleeping in your own bed and you know that you get to get up and do the same thing over again the next day.

I started preaching at my new church on the first Sunday of January but it really didn’t feel the same since we weren’t moved in.  Last week was dedicated to unpacking which makes this the first week that I feel like I’m really “working.”  What I’ve discovered is that I actually kind of miss working.  I love preaching and in many ways it doesn’t even feel like work (except when I’m working hard to finish a sermon at the last minute.)  But this is my first week that I’ve had hospital visits and reports and other administrative stuff to do.  And strangely it feels pretty good.  Two weeks from now I might be ready to tear my hair out but for the moment this is alright.

When I interviewed for this position I was asked the question whether I felt that being a pastor was a job or a calling.  My response was one that I’ve heard from others but is true for me as well.  You should only be a pastor if you can’t find fulfillment doing anything else.  If you can be happy working in an office or on a construction site or elsewhere, that’s great.  Do that.  But if nothing else will bring you fulfillment like working in the ministry then that is a clear sign that God has called you to it.

This week I feel as if God has reaffirmed my calling.  Even the parts of ministry that I don’t particularly enjoy, I have missed because it is a part of what God has called me to do.  I’m thankful that God has me where He wants me and that I’m doing what He wants me to do.  I pray that He will continue to guide and direct me in the next step.

Merry Christmas

This week my wife and I are heading home for Christmas and then we’ll spend the next two weeks getting our new house ready to move into.  The last few weeks, really I suppose the last six or seven months, have been chaotic and I hope that things will really start to calm down in January once we get unpacked.  So there’s a very good chance that I won’t be posting anything for a few weeks.  Once things get settled down I hope to be back to work creating websites full force. 

In the midst of all of the chaos I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and remind all of you the real reason for this season.  Getting together with friends and family is important this time of year as is a sense of generosity and giving.  But it all comes down to celebrating the birth of our Savior.  No matter what else you do in the midst of your celebrating remember to celebrate the wonderful gift that God gave all of us.

Embracing Facebook

I personally hate social networking.  I think that it is one of the biggest time wasters imaginable.  People who I want to stay in contact with I either see on a regular basis or email.  Beyond that I couldn’t care less that someone I know ate at Applebees and had a great time there.  I know that this is the kind of meaningless stuff that gets posted all of the time because my wife recently joined Facebook and she gets posts like this.  I honestly think that things like this weaken legitimate social interaction and because of it people are going to lose the ability to have intelligent conversations about important topics.  Actually, scratch that.  If you’ve ever read comments on any political or otherwise controversial topic, our society has already reached that point.  There’s one intelligent comment for every 20 personal attacks and pointless posts by someone who didn’t fully read the article before feeling the need to tell everyone their opinion.

This isn’t to sound like a bitter old man, just stating my dislike for the direction that things are heading.  Nevertheless I can see the way things are going and social media in its current form are going to be around for a while.  I have resisted joining before because I was certain that it was a fad that would go away sooner or later.  Kind of like Myspace or whatever was big before that.  I also had hopes of Google releasing something bigger and better than Facebook.  But none of this appears to be the case at least in the near future.

And so I have signed up for Facebook and created a page for Spreading Light Ministries.  While I have relied heavily on search engines and links from other sites to drive traffic to my own, I realize that Facebook has become a huge word of mouth traffic driver.  I still don’t particularly like it but I’m considering it a necessary evil in order to continue to expand the reach of my web ministry.  I’m really probably behind the times on this one but I’ve resisted long enough.

So, if you’d like to follow what is going on with Spreading Light Ministries and share it with all of your friends, then you can find our Facebook page at Spreading Light Ministries.  There is also a Twitter feed which will mainly just have updates about the Facebook page.  But you can follow us on Twitter @spreadinglightm or on the page spreadinglightm.

The end of summer

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer and I must say that this summer can’t be over soon enough now.  What began as a summer full of excitement quickly turned to frustration and despair.  Beginning around the 4th of July weekend my wife starting getting sick with her pregnancy.  As basically every woman in my church tried to reassure me, every woman goes through varying degrees of morning sickness.  Unfortunately I’ve also discovered that this is practically a competition among women to say who had the worst morning sickness.

While morning sickness was definitely a factor this was not my wife’s only problem and for the entire month I couldn’t leave her alone.  Despite the fact that I work from my home office, this caused some people to accuse me of not doing my full job.  I will always maintain that as much as I love the church, my wife comes first.  In fact if I can’t take care of my family, I’m not much of a pastor because the church structure (at least ideally) is based on the family model.  While other people take days off to tend to sick children, spouses, or parents, unless I take an entire week off, my workload doesn’t decrease.  No one accepts the excuse of “that was my day off” for not being visited in the hospital or being tended to for whatever their problem is.

July ended with my wife having a miscarriage.  We were assured by the doctors that it had nothing to do with my wife being sick and nothing that either of us did, these things just happen and unfortunately quite often.  Nevertheless, this does little to dull the pain.  Three other pastors failed in offering any words of comfort during this time – one actually made me feel worse after the fact.  The truth is that there are no true words of comfort to offer in such a time.  Others who have gone through the experience can sympathize a bit more but still I believe that each experience is very personal.

One thing that I can offer to anyone trying to console someone else going through the pain of miscarriage is to never pretend like the child is replaceable and the woman will be pregant again in no time.  While we had no trouble getting pregnant I’ve seen that many who have had heartbreaking miscarriages also had trouble getting pregnant in the first place, sometimes taking years.  Beyond that a child is not replaceable.  It does not matter if the parents never got to know their child, from the moment they found out they were pregnant they had hopes and dreams for the child and all of those dreams died with that child.  Telling a grieving parent that they will be pregnant again soon is like telling a grieving spouse that they will find someone else and get remarried soon.  There is no replacement.  Even though people mean well in saying it, they really aren’t words of comfort.

After two months – one month of tending to my wife and another of picking up the pieces – life is starting to return to normal a bit.  My wife and I are strong and with God’s help we will make it through this.  The week after the miscarriage I was able to stand in front of my church and say that despite all that had happened, God is still good and He’s still with us.  I know that I’m the exception but I have never questioned why God allowed this to happen or became angry or complained that it was unfair.  I have repeatedly told people that God did not abandon them in times or trial nor fail them when their prayers weren’t answered the way they hoped.  I not only have to believe this as well, I truly do believe it.

And so life goes on.  I don’t know precisely what life holds in store for us right now.  I certainly don’t know precisely why this happened, only that my wife and I are going to be stronger from the experience.  Right now I’m using the changing of the seasons to put a symbolic close to a very difficult and painful season of my life.  And I know that a month from now and a year from now I will still be able to say as I do today that God is still good despite all that has taken place.

Waiting for Baby

A couple of weeks ago my life was thrown into complete disarray as my wife and I discovered that we are expecting our first child.  As far as disarray goes, this is the good kind.  Nevertheless time has moved at a different speed than before and my weeks have run together.  It doesn’t help that we’re experiencing a miserable heat wave or the fact that we have had guests most of last week and will again this week.  And none of them are baby related – they were planning on coming before we learned about the baby.

Aside from being excited I’ve had a few other thoughts on the pregnancy so far.  My first is that I have no clue how other women do it.  My wife has the luxury of staying home and she has been tired and miserable off and on.  She’s coped alright but I can’t even imagine her getting up and being at a regular job at 8 and coming home at 5.

Another thing that has struck me is how many doctor’s appointments there have been.  We’ve had three appointments in the first two weeks and have to go back this week because because the baby isn’t quite as old as they thought and they want to be able to hear the heartbeat this week.  Not too long ago there weren’t any of these appointments.  While I’ll do anything to make sure that I have a healthy baby, it’s not like these appointments have done anything to improve its health and none have been checks because something seems wrong.  They are just routine and if something should happen to be wrong, there’s nothing they can do about it at this stage anyway.  I have health insurance and maternity coverage and I already feel like I’m being nickeled and dimed to death.  My first appointment cost $25 out of pocket, I’ll probably pay at least that much for the second appointment and the third I already paid a $40 copay for two minutes of the doctor’s time to tell us that the baby isn’t as old as they expected and we’ll have to come back next week.  And that doesn’t include the cost of what the insurance won’t pay for the ultrasound – or the second one we’ll get this week.  I knew having a baby was an expensive process but I thought that most of that would begin at the delivery and the costs going forward, not right now. 

Most importantly though, I touched by the wonder of God’s creation.  When we discovered we were pregnant I immediately thought of Psalm 139:13 – “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”  I plan on putting this on the wall of our nusery.  Last week I saw a tiny little speck on the ultrasound, no bigger than a grain of rice.  By this week that tiny little speck is supposed to have a discernable heartbeat.  I can’t tell you how amazed I am by this.  I can’t fathom something so small having a heartbeat and I can’t fathom the fact that one moment its heart will just begin to beat.  Even though it is what happens in every living creature there doesn’t seem to be anything natural about this to me.  There is no way that anyone can convince me that this is the result of a random process and it all just fell together.  Only God can do something like this and only He can give life and start a heartbeat in a being so tiny that only recently have we even been able to detect its presence.  I find myself amazed and in awe of God the further we go into this process.

It’s Maction Time!

What on earth is maction?  It is a new term for “massive action.”  I was recently talking to a friend and he said that he had set aside the month of June for maction.  He has a second child coming in August so pretty much whatever he hopes to accomplish in the next few months needs to be done now.

I’ve been absolutely wore out lately with church stuff.  Hospital visits always take a toll on me and I’ve had someone in the hospital for the last three weeks.  It all started with three people in the hospital which wouldn’t be out of the ordinary expect my church isn’t that big.  But I’ve also noticed before that hospital visits come in bunches.  I can go months without anyone in the hospital and suddenly I’ll have a group of them. 

All of this has left me worn out and feeling like I haven’t gotten much done lately.  It’s also a foolish time to take on any more projects.  Yesterday I decided to take on a new project on a whim however.  My whims have been some of the greatest ideas I’ve ever had and have been the cause of some of my greatest online successes.  Despite the fact that I had decided to focus all of my online work on Christian websites from now on, I took on an entertainment project.  Hoping to be ahead of the curve, I’m setting up a network of sites devoted to 3D technology.  If it doesn’t catch on I’m not too concerned because I don’t have too much invested in it.

Just having a change of pace has felt really good though.  I love the work I do as a pastor and I love what I do online.  If I had the option of doing them for free I would.  But it is nice to take on a new project that has no religious significance.  That way there is no real pressure to even complete the project if I don’t feel like it.  If the project fails, I won’t lose any sleep over it either because there is no significance to it other than an opportunity to supplement my income online.

While I’m energized I hope to get the bulk of the work done for the new sites.  Unlike the other projects that I’ve taken on recently, this one is meant to be short term.  This means that right now is time for maction.  Even though there’s not religious significance I’ll post the links here when the sites are completed just in case anyone is curious.  (And it helps my search engine ranking when there are more links too. 🙂 )

Stress

Just about everyone that I’ve talked to has been under a great deal of stress this week.  I don’t know if it is the start of summer that has done it or if it is the end of school for most students or what it is.  It has been a very odd week.

I usually handle stress very well.  I am not wired like most pastors who have a very ordered type A personality.  I’m much more laid back and take things as they come.  But even I have been feeling a lot of stress for the last few weeks.  Ironically, I was even on vacation last week but couldn’t escape a lot of the problems that I was supposed to vacate.  This week I saw the effects of my built up stress when I went to the doctor – my blood pressure was much higher than normal.  Usually my blood pressure is the only good thing I have going for me.

When we’re feeling stressed – and I have to preach to myself right now as well – we need to remember that God is in control no matter what.  He has promised to provide for our needs.  Beyond that, we’ll survive and He will give us the strength to handle whatever comes our way.  We are promised to never have more than we can handle.  This is an easy promise to believe in because when God is with us, we can handle anything.