Thankful and Treat Project

Paula and I are passionate about our children's classical education. Sometimes it's a difficult road in the day to day grind, but when we step back and evaluate our progress and our children, we are blown away by their level of knowledge, wisdom, and genuine care for others. They have intellect, values, and passions that already far exceed anything we have. We have reached the point in our children's lives and their education that they are now teaching us and giving us a perspective that challenges our old ways, which creates growth for our entire family. We've prayed for years that this would happen and we are now enjoying the many fruits. It is so much fun and this Thanksgiving it is that for which I am most grateful.

I would like to share a project they've been working on for over a year. I've had the privilege of teaching them a unit, that has turned into a year-long project, on entrepreneurship. The goal of the unit is to explore the lessons of life through entrepreneurship and inspire the values of serving, belonging, and giving back to a community. I want to simply to pass on some of the values and lessons I've gained and learned in my own journey. They have been tasked with creating a small business. I have overseen their progress and challenged them along the way, but they have been responsible for all the work. We are now ready for the next chapter in this project, sharing the vision and executing the plan. So head on over to woodstocktreats.com and see what we've been up to. Tell us where we've failed with an understanding that it's an educational project but also, please do order something. I want them to experience these new challenges in a community that wants the best for them as well. They are so excited about this and I can't wait to see their reaction to the first orders. And I promise, Paula oversees the baking, we won't poison you. Thanks for loving ours!

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How I Reached the Underground

Twenty-two years ago I believed the good news of Jesus Christ. I was not a part of nor attending any church. By God’s grace, the message of the gospel was delivered and I finally received it in a postal truck while delivering mail. Over the next 20 years I experienced just about everything one can experience in our modern church models. I took the deep dive into church and the Christian culture, but I never felt fully at home there. I even went to seminary hoping to become a cross cultural missionary, thinking that’s exactly where God would want me. He initially led me to Himself largely void of Christian culture and so it made sense that He would use me to serve the same purpose, to take the good news and apply it cross-culturally.

I came into the church as an outsider. I was welcomed literally with open arms by some of the most loving and gracious Christians. They loved and served me well. But as much as I was accepted there were was always a part of me that didn’t belong no matter how much I fought it. My experiences before I became a believer, while not unique, did give me a perspective on church and the Great Commision that was a minority position. I left for seminary to get it all straightened out. Seminary was great in so many ways but didn’t help my perspective that the church’s mission to reach the nations was largely futile as it was being practiced in the church. I learned that 70% of Americans today have no interest in attending a church gathering of any type. I also learned that only 20% of Christians have any idea what the Great Commision says and less than 5% have a clue as to what it means for their lives. Those statistics reflected what a challenge it is to make any headway in terms of reaching others with the good news of Jesus Christ. Only 30% of Americans are even interested in a church gathering and only 5% of those within the church have any idea what it means to reach them. These are not winning odds and yet the massive resources of the church are misapplied with little to no care for what doesn’t work. While I don’t doubt the well-meaningness of so many Christians and churches, the model simply isn’t working in relation to reaching unbelievers. How many more resources will we waste on models that get so few results? Those questions weighed heavy on me year after year.  

So I set out to change it from within. I took an outreach minister internship from my home church in hopes of starting something that had never been done in the 200 year history of that church. I found some success. So then I started a nonprofit ministry set out to connect the community of believers (lots of churches) into the community of need (lots of different needs), seeking to put the church directly in front of unbelievers in hopes that real conversations, culture, redemption, and discipleship would occur. Others joined me and perspectives were changed.

Eventually a group of folks desired to plant a church that would seek out the community of need and do church in a much more simple way, focused on doing life with one another and intentionally spending time with unbelievers. I was all about that missional church life and it was good. I was much more comfortable in this Christian ghetto, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling of still being an outsider in a Christian world that I had finely groomed into everything I thought I wanted.

Then came the brewery. It was originally nothing more than a missional community started from our church to meet others in our community and get to know them over homebrewing. And it grew. And grew. And grew to become Reformation Brewery, a legitimate business. I quickly began to see something new that beer was doing. It was bringing people together that I had longed to see together. It happened when I stopped trying to force it to happen. It taught me a lot about the gospel but it also brought its share of disdain from the Christian community. As an introvert, I felt the ostracism deeply. Over time I made the very difficult decision to let go of the church ministry and see where God might take me next. Little did I know He would lead me deeper into the Underground.

I am now almost two years removed from formal vocational ministry. Some might say disgraced by my vocation as the CEO of a brewery. But never have I been more at home. While I will never outrun (nor do I desire to outrun) my history, I am in a position now that I only dreamed about 20 years ago and would never have dreamed the context in which I’m found. I’m in cross-cultural ministry every single day. I’ve learned more in the last 2 years about myself, the gospel, and others than I had in the previous 20 years combined.

I’ve lost contact with some good friends but I’ve gained incredible new ones. Reformation Brewery is a mess of people. But it’s my underground outpost, my mission field where I get to know all kinds of people and serve them what I’ve been served, grace upon grace.

And if I might put out my first dispatch, “Send help now!” I need fellow gospel-drenched believers to join me. The laborers are few. The fields are ripe and ever expanding. You’ll need to die to self. You might get dirty. But God is rich in mercy and beauty is found in the strangest places. "How do I get there?" The power to live in the Underground is found in the freedom of the gospel that gives us the great freedom to risk. Gospel believers can risk the most because we have the least to lose. We get to be initiators of all things becoming new. And if I might dare say, advance the kingdom. 

Always Reforming

"We still protest- not just against Rome and the Radical Anabaptists, but also against an 'enthusiasm' that's become the new normal in much of our own Christian world today. We still believe that the rich resources of the Reformation must be to bear on the modern church if we are to recover the joy, hope, and confidence of the gospel." -Eric Landry

The Resurrection of Analog

Social media is a complete dumpster fire of idiocy and fallacy. However, nothing is truly new, idiocy and fallacy have followed us all of our days. But what is truly sad is the loneliness, alienation, and lack of influence in our impatient digital age. Perhaps it’s time for the resurrection of analog. And yes, I do recognize the irony of this being a digital post shared through social media. 

Is it time for an analog reformation? Let me be clear, to embrace analog is not to embrace nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia. There is no goal of rolling back the digital age to some arbitrary point in the past where things were “better.” Whatever point we would pick, we are not willing to sacrifice the improvements that innovation and technology have brought society. Nor is embracing analog about freezing the status quo, halting the digital age where it stands and refusing to innovate or progress. There is no clearly defined status quo to preserve.


Rather, as we indulge our digital urges, might we come to a fuller awareness of all the nuance of the analog world? Every new digital proficiency reveals two or three analog experiences or responses that we’d never really been aware of, that we had taken for granted. Appreciation and intentionality of analog experiences might just bring us deeper connection to the world in which we live. 


Furthermore, analog is very human as it deals with our condition with honesty. We encounter variation minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, month to month, year to year. Digital is less human, it’s in love with data, accuracy, and has an intolerance for variances. It seeks to manage. Humans and the human experience have proven difficult to manage. We are inaccurate beings, but also beautifully nuanced. We can be both short sighted and wise, impatient yet honorable, sinful and saintly and everything in between, which gives life purpose and meaning. 

So here are some suggestions for embracing analog. 


First, embrace the human experience fully. Humanity will never be fully digital nor should it be. Life is more full and free when analog and digital are balanced. Get outside, go to the concert, the ballgame, or live theater. Eat something indulgent now and then, play a board game. Analog will bring experiences that a digital rendering will always lack. 


Secondly, don’t settle for mere digital descriptions of reality. The essence of analog is direct and present without the need for translation. Most of human history has been experienced in analog and their lives were just as full as any in the digital age. The description of truth will never be as real as the experience of truth. 


Finally, don’t be seduced by the digital siren call. Digital is not all that revolutionary, and the latest, greatest next digital advancement is not going to fundamentally change anything. Beware that unbalanced digital consumption can blur our very real senses and numb us to analog living. Digital will always be easier to measure and we live in a time where measurement is itself a quasi-religious act that’s easy to control. Humans are created to be free. With freedom comes the unpredictable, the gift of surprise. Digital is a fake sovereign, we should resist the urge to bow before it. Embrace analog, you might just find something real in the some of the simplest experiences. 
 

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Conversations Over Beer

A snippet of analog conversation between one full-time vocational minister and a former one, over a few beers. 

"You know we live in a post-Christian context and Christians need to come to terms with this reality as soon as possible or risk being pushed further to the fringes of society."

"So much of our American Christianity is just the good life defined by the American dream. Working hard, acquiring stuff with a very thin veil of Jesus-overlay."

"I find that sad. We have served them to the point that their comfort trumps the gospel. Did our collective success make them into what they are? Did we win? At what cost?"

"Maybe we've reached more people and given then a lovely idea of 'church' and 'community', yet left them without any of the crushing or outstanding news. Our best news is the American dream? Ouch." 

"That dream is a relic for so many. And perhaps that is the opportunity. There is a reality that gives you more grace, more peace, more joy, and more freedom than anything you've ever dreamed possible. Gospel freedom must be real. But we must immerse ourselves into this mess of society. We helped create it."

 

 

 

Conversations Over Beer

He asks, "What are looking for in people to hire?"

"Honestly?", I reply. "Of course."

"I'm seeking those who know the art of relating. The soft skills, the one who's secure in their identity and isn't looking for a defense. Graceful in their presence and a clear perception of reality. It might sound simple but it's not easy to find in these times. We are relationally challenged, full of guilt and shame that keeps us bound to ourselves, unable to truly serve and therefore know others. Real relationships and when did we have to start qualifying them with 'real', anyway, they are fundamentally rooted in one's freedom to die to self in order to give life to another. You can't fake this, and those who have it are easily known. And I'm on the hunt for them, 24/7."

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20 Years of Fighting for Freedom

Twenty years of marriage to you has been the greatest illustration of unadulterated grace in my life. We started with bricks of law and bondage as high as the north Georgia sky. We have fought and thrown every brick, and a home of grace now stands. Because you have fought me I now taste, see, smell, touch, and hear the daily siren call of freedom. A gift unlike any other. You have brought me countless times to my own glorious ruin and held the hammer to nail my self-righteousness to the only tree of good news. I have been rescued from myself and led in the deeps of untold glories with your hand in mine. Our story is more beautiful because you refuse to accept lesser narratives; regardless of their shape, size, influence or veneers. Thank you for being the greatest fighter for freedom to ever live. 

20 years. Sounds impressive by some standards. But we both know we're not impressive. We're mere recipients of grace. And grace has led us out of the exhausting insanity to hide and to fix. We are free to be nothing, and there, to find true love. To twenty more years of dying and in so doing, flying free forever, cheers! 

 

 Photo: Chris Henderson

Photo: Chris Henderson

Conversations Over Beer

So good....

"There is nothing inherently wrong with the law. It is our sinful inability to adhere to the law that drives us toward something more. Jesus recognized the inability of the law, which shows us exactly who we ought to be, to provide its own fulfillment. Christ did not say the law is bad. He said instead the law is wholly good. But most importantly, he said that the law is no skilled mechanic. It cannot fix what is broken. In our brokenness we innately desire to be comforted and loved. In our desire for love we find insufficiency. In our insufficiency we find a deep need. The healing to our brokenness is in the One who is sufficient, and the love we long for. ...It does not take long to understand that embracing a grace-filled life is something that scares both the church and the world. Neither environment (church or the world) is safe. This is why there is truly only one specific place to stand, even if it continually moves. This is the place of God’s one-way love and its imputing accuracy, which rescues the human situation in every case where it is given play. It witnesses no sector of human affairs immune to the disease, but also none immune to the cure. The timeless truth of grace breathes new life." 

Haiti: Eight Years Later

It’s been eights year since my experience in earthquake devastated Haiti. Ironically, Haiti is in the news again for all the wrong reasons. I’m still unable to put into words the experiences I had over the course of those two weeks in January of 2010. There are nights that I still hear the crying of babies trapped inside the rubble and remember being absolutely powerless and furious over the helplessness. Every time I pass dead animals on the side of the road the scent carries me back to when all my senses experienced unspeakable horrors. I still don’t talk much about the details to anyone nor do I desire to. I experienced Haiti in its darkest “shithole” and I’m proud that it’s still stuck to me.

I still pray for baby Moses, who's life was saved yet orphaned. He should be about 9 years old now. I pray God raises him up to lead his people. I still pray for every child that survived the collapse of the orphanage, wherever they are today. I was assured most would be adopted into French families, but wherever they are I pray they’re healthy, happy, and full of life. Every time I use a Dewalt drill I’m taken back to the triage surgical tent holding medical tools while an eighty-year-old German surgeon used a Dewalt and some stainless steel screws to put a femur back together. That man and his German team saved countless lives. I am grateful for those I met from all over the world and for experiencing a unity of heart that I can only express as heavenly.  

My life has taken many turns and I can probably trace every one of them to this restarting point of my life at 33, a curious number. In some ways, it feels like a lifetime ago as a new life sprang forth from that moment. And yet my life is strangely stuck in that moment. The playlist that comforted me on nights of eerie quiet in a city of nearly one million people is the foundation of the playlist I listen to every day. I am both more of a man and less of one eight years later. All the lessons I learned a year later are lessons that I still cherish and that continue to teach me. I’ve never been freer yet wrung out. The old keeps dying. I know the new keeps coming and I’m hopeful even in the midst of a lot of darkness. Haiti, eight years later, thanks for helping set me free. 
 

 

The Last Jedi and The Value of Humility

So I made a public post via facebook declaring my appreciation and enjoyment of The Last Jedi. Little did I know that such a bold stand would dominate many of my holiday and beer conversations. I get it, the movie wasn’t flawless and I hear your valid grievances and saw the same plot holes and gaps in pace you keep bellyaching about. But it was not the same old thing. And that’s where I liked it the most. 

It’s incredibly difficult to take such an epic franchise and challenge the entire order. But that’s exactly what this film does. One of my longest gripes with the Star Wars franchise was the stark contrast between the heroes and the villains. They did very little up until The Last Jedi to explore the concepts of justice and moral righteousness within the villains and the value of hypocrisy and failure in the heroes. Now I get it, it’s hard to see our heroes on the big screen struggle with hypocrisy and failure. There is a pharisee (dare I say our own "dark side') within us all that enjoys identifying with heroes that never fail or lose a fight while ignoring our own frailty, imprudence, and defeat. And while we’ve seen the heroes lose a fight in this franchise, we’ve never had to deal with deep and real failure that is within every hero. 

In The Last Jedi, every single hero fails and that brings complications that make for great storytelling and even greater lessons beyond the theater, none so poignant and contextually relevant than the value of being humbled. The dark side exists in all of us, including our heroes. Up until this point we’ve always been presented with a darkness that pursues the good guys, but now we’ve been presented with something far more humbling, the good guys are pursued by a darkness within themselves. Perhaps that’s too heavy for the franchise that could honestly just make billions of dollars regurgitating the same ole space western. But I appreciate the honest attempt to bring a bit more honesty to the universe. Anytime I can escape and enjoy a story with my kids at the theater is a success in my book, but when I can escape and then have something really meaningful to talk about with my kids after the movie, it’s 5 stars. 

Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.-Yoda

Don't Forget the Dive

Over the last few years I’ve visited just about every type of location that sells beer in the state of Georgia. I’m struck with awe at the diversity of scenes, people, and places that pour beer. From the highest brow craft beer bar to the stainless walls of tap nirvana to the stickiest dungeons of beer 101 and everything in between. I can honestly say there are parts I enjoy about every bar/restaurant that offers an experience with beer. The best ones are not insecure about the experience they deliver, they truly know who they are and are not trying to be something else. I really appreciate these places, even when they don’t serve Reformation on tap or even in a can. But there is one experience that I think the new generation of beer drinkers are at risk of missing out on. The local dive. 

This is the place where your dad or grandad probably enjoyed a cold one. It likely has some mass brewery neons flickering in the windows. You might see some folks who look, speak, and feel completely unlike you. But it’s a communal place. Most of the folks at the bar know each other and agree with each other even though there might be some raised voices around the conversations they’re having. They’re not scared to talk about controversial issues of the day. They may even offend you when you come in there trying to sell your, as one once said to me, “craft beer $%!^”. But if you can hang in there and take a good ribbing, you might also learn a thing or two about life and wisdom. 

I once had the honor of sitting next to two Vietnam veterans who told me stories of horror as well as some wild adventures on the other side of the world. I eventually got to tell them my story and I left with two new friends. I didn't leave agreeing with their outward perspectives of the world or their preferences in beer, but isn’t life made for just this? Having conversations, sharing perspectives, toasting a few stories and shaking hands on the way out. 

As an owner of an independent brewery, I am passionate about the products we craft and the values and vision of freedom that we stand for. I am proud to represent and introduce anyone to our beers and to share my story. I’d love to have better personal and business relationships with more local dives and offer my beer and my brand values to these establishments and historical beer institutions. But at the end of the day, I get it. They know who they are and why they do it. And in that, they have something to offer every beer drinker. So the next time you’re out looking for a beer, don’t forget the dive.

What are some of your favorite local dives? 

In memory of Ballad Shearer, lover of the folks who patron the dive. 
 

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The One True Thing

More and more I'm quizzed by fellow Christians, pastors, and ministers regarding the nature of Reformation Brewery as "ministry to the culture." Often they come with notepads and are ready for my 5 Tips to Engaging the Culture. I usually begin by simply listening to their questions and trying to gain insight into their ministry and life perspective so that I can contextualize my answer to make sense. The more people I've met over the years, the more I've gained incredible respect for the many different perspectives that Christians and ministers have on life and the nature of ministry. It is truly a mosaic and there is great beauty in that.


However, there is one common thread that I've often found missing throughout these conversations when it comes to Christian living and the nature of ministry. It's this one issue that I go to when I'm trying to communicate the nature of my approach to life and ministry (and therefore business). Furthermore, I believe it's the one issue that connects all of faithful historical Christianity and serves to contrast Christianity from all other worldviews, philosophies, and other Christian distortions. When the thread is lost, forgotten, or suppressed the world suffers. When the thread is heralded, praised, and exalted the world transforms with peace, love, and joy. And it sounds very simple, yet in our day it is rarely recognized, much less exercised. Your Christianity is impotent without this one truth. There is no substitute for it. This one single truth is that all of life is to be lived OUT of salvation and not FOR salvation. Another way of saying it, all of ministry is to be exercised OUT of the gospel and not performed FOR the gospel. Add any "if's, and's, or but's" you will distort this truth and suppress its power. 

Far too much ministry, far too many lives are lived attempting to gain and earn freedom (salvation) by performance. It's why we come with our notepads and crave the silver bullet method for life and ministry. We believe we have moved on from the gospel and that discipleship demands maturity. But the maturity we are gaining is too often self-righteousness rather than childlike faith in Christ. Any discipleship definition void of gospel centrality is bankrupt already. We never grow beyond the good news of Christ or past it, we simply grow deeper in love with it as it breaks us, heals us, and frees us over and over and over again. When we add things to the gospel we suppress the freedom of the gospel and therefore the attraction of the gospel. This suppression of the good news will always lead to new forms of moralism, to-do lists, and law. As a result, there is no freedom, there is no salvation, there is no peace, love, and joy.

This is where I begin to get into the conversation that is the very heart of Reformation. It's been central to reformation since the beginning of time. When the good news of the Messiah is recaptured and made the foundation, walls, doorway, windows, and roof of our message, reformation always happens. It matters not the context (culture, time or place). The gospel is truly universal good news.

There is a reformation of life and ministry in living OUT of salvation. Christian ministry, outreach, and cultural engagement become less project and more comprehensive lifestyle. When Christians are living OUT of salvation instead of FOR salvation they experience freedom. Freedom rooted in the very identity of Christ. This results in freedom to risk, freedom to engage, freedom to love, freedom to live as we are created to live. When there is nothing more to gain than the gospel itself, life becomes the gift that never stops giving. If you want to engage culture, or for that matter life and ministry, you've got to first stop you're "doing" for God and embrace the very goodness of God who has set you free. Life out of freedom will garner you plenty of critics and scorn from a world in bondage to its insecure self, but it might also fill up your church and your life with something that truly matters.

There is absolutely nothing more important or more central to my life and ministry. If I am more than five minutes away from thinking about the good news, I am lost. I need it over and over and over. I've tried growing beyond it and found nothing but bankrupt Christianity. Thankfully the gospel even came into that toxicity and rescued me again from such bondage. I never want to stray from it again. I want to be wise to discern the slick counterfeits and the sirens that call for anything else. I long to live out of its goodness and freedom regardless of who throws daggers. And I want to be so privileged to share it with anyone and everyone until all things are new.

19 Years of Together

Dear Paula,

Today marks nineteen years of marriage. Due to rainouts, we will spend it at a ball field watching our son run, jump, catch, throw and enjoy a game he has grown to love. But before we get there tonight I want you to know I’ve never been more thankful for you, my bride. This one carries a little more meaning. Not because of the number but because of what we’ve experienced in our marriage over these last five months.

For eighteen years and seven months our marriage has thrived under the pressures of pursuing and existing in vocational ministry. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. We’ve grown up together, we’ve shared many struggles together, we’ve suffered through incredible losses together and we’ve also experienced life’s greatest joys together. Being together through these years has been a beautiful part of our lives.

But, as you know, five months ago we made the difficult decision for our marriage and our family to step away from vocational pastoral ministry so I could invest my entire focus on leading a small and growing business. What has occurred since then has been quite unexpected in our marriage. As you helped me process through the wounds and scars that came with pastoring a small community of believers that I loved so deeply, so too came a renewed passion for you. I have fallen even deeper in love with you. As the process has played out I’ve experienced a new freedom and happiness in our marriage. We have laughed, sung and danced like never before. We have cherished and enjoyed our children like never before. You helped me see that the privileged burden of pastoring for ten years had taken a toil on me that I didn’t fully comprehend until the burden was no longer mine to carry. And as the burden passed with our decision to move on, so too came a new joy, a new blessing of being married to you. I believe our marriage has always been Grade A solid. But now it has reached a new height at nineteen years. It didn’t take reading a book on the topic or attending a conference, it didn’t even take new actions on our parts. It just took a new chapter of life. It’s hard to talk about my love and our marriage without the cliches, but five months into this chapter and I’m so truly grateful and happy that our relationship has been set free to keep reaching for new levels. See you tonight at the ball field. I love you. 

Spence

P.S. I tried to make this less “cheesy” than an Ed Sheeran song.