Friday, August 23, 2019

After Three Decades

Twilight and Dawn
I closed out my twenties over Taco Bell with a Cheesy Gordita Crunch and a Mexican Pizza. When that was finished, I went with my life long friend, Kellen, to Sonic where we reminisced about high school, college, and seminary. We laughed about getting detention for ditching school to watch The Two Towers. We talked about our love for enigmatic Bob Jones University—its oddities and its stellar faculty. Then I went home and spent my final minutes being twenty nine watching Bob’s Burgers with Cherayah. Great night. 

This morning I drove to PVHS (Si Señor breakfast burrito in hand) listening to my new favorite song, “Don’t Take the Money” by the Bleachers and an old favorite,  Green Day’s “When I Come Around.” Taylor Swift, celebrating the beginning of my third decade, released her new album, “Lover.” That was very thoughtful of her. Thank you, Taylor! During second hour, my office filled wall to wall with students who wished me a happy birthday. I was met with Al Hurricane’s Feliz Cumpleaños and students screaming "Happy birthday, Josh!" They were loud and the crowds in the hallway looked to see what all the commotion was about (super embarrassing). My office is always teeming with students. I wouldn’t have it any other way.  My being at Piedra Vista High School was entirely unexpected. It was one of those joyful surprises along life’s path. 

Three Decades
I’m thirty years old. That’s hard to believe. It got here faster that I thought possible. Thirty is one of those birthdays that makes you reflect. Surprisingly, I'm not as depressed about it as I thought I would be.  Thirty is a milestone. 


Each of these birthdays represent definitive stages in our life—teens, twenties, and thirties.  Each has its own challenges, its own celebrations. Formative all. 

My teenage years were filled with confidence. I had direction, I knew the next step. It was always going to be Bob Jones University. It was training for the ministry.  Everything mostly went according to plan.  I look back at that time of life with fondness. Life revolved around Grace Baptist Church—the academy, the youth group, the Sunday service, and the incredible people there. Most weeks, I was at Grace six out seven days, some weeks I was there every day. 

My twenties were filled with turbulence. I didn’t have direction. I didn’t know the next step. My twenties is where my idealism died. It was during this decade that I experienced pain and watched as aspirations and goals withered away. I expected to close out my twenties with a wife and maybe a few niños, but that didn’t happen. I lost my Grandpa, Juan Valdez, when I was 19. But his death still weighed heavily on me six months later when I turned 20, and even now when I think about him, I hurt. I miss him terribly. It didn’t stop with my Papa Juan, I would lose my Great Grandma, Marie and my Great Uncle Andy. Tragically, I would lose my older cousins Shane and Micah. 

There were many highs and lows during the twenties-- a decade of extremes, really. I survived getting an MDiv. I landed a job at a church where I ministered to people I loved with my whole heart. High. I was removed from that church and also lost many relationships. Low. In 2014, Tony Romo finally received the recognition he deserved as an elite NFL QB (and the greatest QB in Dallas Cowboys history).  High. Then in 2016, an injury forced him into retirement and he was replaced by a scrub who wasn’t worthy to succeed him. Low. I’m still salty about it, so don’t bring it up. Ever. 

Lest we give way to depression, we must pause and celebrate the twenties as well. Half of my twenties were spent at Bob Jones University. There, I received a robust education—classically refined, broadly humanitarian, and unflinchingly biblical. There, I forged friendships with quality people that will last a lifetime. 

In my twenties, I became a homeowner. For years, I dreamed of having a place for my theological library, and I finally have it. I’m enjoying having friends and family over. I love having Nacho Libre and Napoleon Dynamite showings. In my twenties, I finally attended Together for the Gospel and Shepherds’ Conference. For years, John MacArthur has shepherded me from afar— teaching me the Bible, and modeling faithful ministry for me. It was a joy to meet him and express to him my appreciation for his ministry. 

As I reflect upon three decades of life, the only word I can use to describe the path thus far is providence. I’ve learned God’s providence, seen God’s providence, and experienced God’s providence. Providence is God’s governance of this world, it is his orchestration of all things to bring about his will. God, we read, “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). All things, both good and bad, fall under his governance. Even evil is redeemed in providence. While Joseph’s brothers tried to murder him, and only intended him harm, God’s purpose in it was redemptive and preserved an entire nation. Joseph would confess, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20). 

And here, with facing pain, suffering, and unfulfilled expectation we wrestle with providence and doubt his goodness. What is going on in my life? What are you doing God? Do you care? Why? And as we wrestle and as we cling to God, we eventually come to affirm the truth of Romans 8:30, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” 

“Providence is wiser than you, and you may be confident it has suited all things better to your eternal good than you could do had you been left to your own option.” ~ John Flavel

Most recently and prominently in my life, I've seen providence in the church I pastor, Higher Ground Church. I never expected to plant and pastor a church plant, but that was God’s plan. His direction was clear, and he singlehandedly brought about everything with Higher Ground.  He brought me to Grace Hill Church, a church that is passionate about Gospel spreading and Kingdom work. The elders at Grace Hill cared for me during a difficult time, and the church helped me in the process of planting, even sending over some of their people. God provided me with an incredibly supportive network for church planting (SEND Network). He provided a church building for us out of nowhere. Through SEND, he provided us with funding. He provided us with people who are theologically unified, who are passionate about the Gospel, and who are hungry for expository preaching. He gave us a full band. He gave us a children’s ministry director and another elder in training.  He even supplied a specific community for us to invest our Gospel efforts in, and they sought us out! 

It’s better than what I could have done. It’s better than even the desires I had. It's better than what I pictured for my life at this stage. 

God has guided my life along every step of this journey. Most of the time it didn’t seem clear, and nothing felt definitive. I’ve learned that this is God’s way of doing things. He leads us, we trust and follow, even when things don't make sense. Providence is appreciated in retrospect. 

The story of my thirties isn’t written yet. But I’m looking forward to what it holds for me. I’ve experienced God’s providential hand. I’ve learned to trust him, to hold his hand as I step out into the unknown. Psalm 16:11 changed my life as a freshman in college, and it is a verse I cling to now and think on every single day. 

You make known to me the path of life;
 in your presence there is fullness of joy;
 at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 
~ Psalm 16:11

After three decades, I look to God as he makes known to me life’s path. I experience joy in his presence and bask in the satisfying pleasure that relationship with him brings. For the past, I thank him. For the future, I trust him. 

“There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Exposing My Christian School

Grace Baptist Academy Class of 2007
Recently, Vice President Pence’s wife resumed teaching at a Christian school. Immediately, a controversy ensued and we were told that this was completely inappropriate. It was inappropriate because of the school’s bigotry. For what bigotry was this Christian school guilty? It held to biblical teaching concerning marriage and sexual ethics. On Twitter, A New York Times reporter encouraged people to tell their stories using the above hashtag.

The following is my reflection upon my Christian school. This is my exposure. 

From sixth grade through graduation, I attended a small Christian school in northwestern New Mexico.  Grace Baptist Academy is an accredited Christian school, offering education from kindergarten through high school. Following my graduation from GBA, I earned a bachelor's and master's degree. Currently, I serve as a pastor at a new church plant. I am also working a new, experimental job at a public school: Intervention Specialist. The basic objective for this position is to decrease drop outs with at-risk youth by building a mentoring relationship with them. This is an exciting opportunity to help troubled youth succeed in school and mature as young adults. 

I learned much at Grace and was equipped to succeed. I look back very fondly on my time there. Here are a few reasons why:

When you go to a small school, there is no flying under the radar. There is no laying low. You don’t go unnoticed. You know everybody, and everybody knows you. This is both annoying and amazing. When you are forced to be around the same people every single day you get to truly know them—their stories, dreams, drama, quirks, and buttons. It is fun to push those buttons. 

Close proximity means that other people’s high school drama becomes your drama—whether you’d like it to be or not. These can lead to some tense and hilarious encounters. Through it all, meaningful, deep friendships are formed. 

Some of my closest friendships were born—Kellen, Sean, Jonny, Tylor—these are guys I spent every day with at GBA. These are guys that I still talk to every day. I’ve been a groomsmen in two of their weddings and will be one in another wedding this summer. They’ve been reliable confidants and helpful encouragers. Jonny was a founding member of Higher Ground Church—a church we planted a few months ago. 

Its messy and its magnificent. Solid, lasting friendships are formed in Christian schools.  

Caring Teachers
One of the things that impresses me now (that didn’t back then) is the immense sacrifice Christian school teachers make. Educators, in general, are sacrificial people. Even though they earn a pittance of a salary, teachers are some of the most giving people on the planet. They give their energy and their off contract time to students. They supply their classroom  with their own money. They emotionally invest in their students.  Teachers are constantly expected to do more work for the same, low pay. 

This is especially true for Christian school teachers. They earn far less than their public school counterparts. At Grace, I knew deep down that my teachers cared about me. They loved me. Genuinely. There were times when this obnoxious teenager named Josh Valdez may have gotten on their nerves—but they loved me. They chose to continue to serve me. They taught, explained, offered time after class, checked in on me, and reached out to my parents. They made it their objective to not let me fall behind. They wanted me to succeed academically and personally. Heroes all. 

Christ Centered Education
One of the convictions of the Christian worldview is that all truth is God’s truth. In our study of the humanities, the sciences, and the arts we learn more about God—his nature, his ways, and his creation. This theological foundation and drive for Christ centered education fuels interest and advance in all of these fields. The world does not need Christian “alternatives” in humanities, the sciences, or the arts. What the world needs is Christians to excel in these respective fields. Diverse Christians thriving in the humanities, curiously minded Christians advancing in scientific fields, and creative Christians writing, singing, recording, and performing beautiful pieces—integration, not isolation, is key for Christian witness. We’re to be in the world, but not of it. Present but not defined by its values or its behaviors. We’re to be a light (Matt. 14:13-16), and set apart in truth (John 17:14-19).

At Grace, I received a classical, diverse education that prepared me to succeed both in college, graduate school, and in the workforce. I don't think I'm alone in that. In standardized testing, the students at GBA regularly outperform their public school peers.

In addition to taking standard classes (science, math, history, language, public speaking, and technology), I was required to take choir, theater, Bible and theology. Every year, we participated in a fine arts festival where students competed with other Christian schools in art, music, public speech, and acting. Grace Baptist Academy being apart of Grace Baptist Church allowed us, at times, to serve others in ministry. What resulted was the education of whole person—head (academics), heart (spirituality), and hands (service). 

Spiritual Growth
While I greatly value the education I received at Grace, its most significant contribution to me was spiritual growth. By taking classes in the Old and New Testament, I learned major story arcs of the Bible. I was exposed to the beliefs of cults and other expressions of counterfeit Christianity in a class on world religions. My knowledge of God dramatically increased when I took courses in systematic theology. Christianity became to me a substantive faith, one that feeds the mind as much as it stirs the heart. Through the study of Christian doctrine, my devotional life took off—I was compelled to study my Bible to discover more about this glorious God. What started in high school has continued to drive me to the Scripture.

Paired with an academic Bible curriculum was chapel. At GBA, we had chapel a couple of times a week. During this time, we would sing hymns and then the school administrator or one of the pastors on staff would preach. Sometimes, we had guest preachers or missionaries. These chapel sessions were formative times for me. They pointed us to Christ, fed us with the word, and exposed us to global missions. After graduation, it was a real honor for me to be asked preach at GBA’s chapel service. Christian school helped me to grow in Christlikeness. 

Christian schools aren’t for everyone. Many Christian young people belong in public schools. They will have far more opportunities to build Gospel relationships with their peers and serve as lights in darkness. Christian schools should never be used to foster isolationism from the world. That’s antithetical to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). Nor should Christians schools be seen as the primary means for spiritual development. That responsibility falls upon fathers (Eph. 6:4).  If, however, Christian parents want their children to receive an education from a Christian worldview,  gain deep biblical knowledge, and supplement their family discipleship with spiritual development, then a Christian school is a viable option. 

At Grace Baptist Academy, I received an education that was in the classical tradition,  academically robust, and spiritually sensitive. It was the education of the whole person—head, heart, and hands. I was instilled with academic knowledge, biblical morality, discipline and a work ethic. 

We’ve been summoned to expose Christian schools. 

This is my exposure.

Far from being bastions of bigotry, Christian schools are places to receive a classical education, grow socially, learn under caring teachers, have service opportunity, and be challenged to grow in Christian maturity. We need more of them.