Thursday, December 30, 2010

Resolved: Starting January 1

I am a master of the obvious.  So, today is the perfect time to consider New Year's Resolutions.  The tradition of the New Year's Resolutions began in 153 B.C. Janus, a mythical king of early Rome was placed at the head of the calendar.

Janus could look back on past events and forward to the future with his two faces. Janus symbolized for the ancients our present appetite for resolutions.

So, as a review:  we commit to a new commitment for the New Year because of a make believe 2 headed god?  Excellent.

While I am pro taking inventory (looking back and learning), pro commitment, pro growth (looking forward with wisdom) and support calendars everywhere, I wonder about the soundness of New Year's resolutions
 (success rate between 8%-12%).  I suspect FB will be stocked with them over the next few days.

Two faced god aside, I don't think there is anything contrary to faith in a New Year Resolution (NYR), except perhaps the temptation of self directed, centered living--even and especially for "good" things. 

Examples of a NYR
From Pittsburgh Daily, the standard bearer list
  • Spend more quality time with family and friends
  • Fitness
  • Weight Loss
  • Quit Smoking
  • Enjoy life more
  • Quit Drinking
  • Get out of Debt
  • Learn Something New
  • Help Others
  • Get Organized

From  one Mystic Raven of the very wide world wide web
  • Accept Mortality
  • Accept That We All Worship Different Gods
  • Garden
  • Spend Time Thinking
  • We Comfortable Clothes
  • Enjoy Formality (etiquette, minus shoes, I think)
  • Remove Shoes
  • Eat Something Strange
  • Spend a Day in Bed
The first list is a common combination of common sense and abstract intentions for growth (why would anyone want to learn just one new thing in the next 365 days and what does it mean to enjoy life more)?

Mystic's list, while it lacks any ambition or substance and fully embraces as much nonsense as the first list has common sense, it does have the benefit of breaking the 8%-12% success rate.  I suspect many of us could accomplish a day in bed if we focused.  The shoe thing and comfy clothes too. 

What would Christ's list for us be? 
  • Love God
  • Love Others

Monday, December 27, 2010

Anybody Game? Post Christmas Giveaway

Bible teacher Beth Moore is creating a 2011 challenge to memorize two verses a month throughout the year, logging onto her blog to record which verse/translation.  Moore has also put together some cute spiral notebooks to hold each bi-weekly verse.

I am jumping in.  Would love some company and I have four extra spirals (note card size) to give out (free) to any of you who wants to share in this project.  

I have never been grand at memorizing scripture--I mix and blend and partially grab hold of verses, and I would love to have the ability to draw directly and accurately from Scripture for pray, journaling, listening and reading. 

If you want one of the spirals, let me know.  Moore calls all women who jump on her blog Siestas, as years ago she accidentally typed Siestas instead of Sisters and, "thought a nap had a divine calling".  So, the name stuck.

So, let me know if you want one of these cute books for a healthy assignment in the upcoming year, and I would get a kick out of having some company.

See and Reply

Luke 2:28-32; 38
Simeon says:  Lord, now You are letting your servant depart in peace, According to Your work;  For my eyes have see Your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel. 
Anna gives thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

Immanuel:  God with Us.  The Christmas story is so rich with characters and a plot that can capture my imagination year after year.  This year my mind drifted to the idea of Immanuel interrupting the ordinary events and lives of those in his presence.  Rich, poor, family, strangers...he dropped in and nothing seemed to change much, but everything had changed.   Mary and Joseph did the responsible and honorable things by the Law and circumcised Jesus on the 8th day--ordinary.  Until Simeon and Anna see the normal healthy baby boy, both recognize the child as the savior, the redeemer.  Then again live moves on.

The week after Christmas, the return of a more normal routine.  Will I recognize the interruption of Immanuel into the ordinary ebb and flow?  Will I respond?

Recognize and Respond.

Off to errands, returns, planning for 2011. 

Recognize and Respond.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

You Can Tell A Lot. Really?

I am amused by Twitter.  I like the pithy-ness of it, and there is more substance that FB posts, although far less personal. 

Case in point, a minister (not a minister from my church) whose tweets I follow wrote, "you can tell a lot about a person by whether or not they return a grocery cart." 

My snarky response was, Really?

What can you tell about a person based on his or her willingness to politely return the cart to the return bin?

I think you can clearly tell that the person is polite about retuning the cart to the bin.  Period.

It points to a problem of how we value and evaluate each other and frankly ourselves.   While I appreciate the gesture of following the cart return bin request and all requests, the acts proves nothing about the person who commits it or fails to commit it. 

Good people leave carts next to cars and bad people return them to bins.  At the risk of sounding critical, the minister should know better.  Sound theology would say we are all bad regardless of our cart courtesy, but it makes us feel better to be on the polite side of the "rule". 

Whats my point?  I am not sure.  Is this a comment about the limits of Twitter.  Perhaps.  Is it a practical application of the dangers of judging others and pride?  Perhaps. 

I think my point is that returning a grocery cart is a simple and helpful gesture.  It's nice to be helpful, but it's nothing more.  Failing to return the cart may make parking in that spot annoying, it may add a few seconds to a store employee's work--but all in all you can't tell anything about a person by the way he or she manges a cart.  Really.

Do I Love A What or A Who?

I am reading Phillip Yancey's, What Good is God?.  Like all of Yancey's work, it is excellent.  At one point, he is expressing ideas on grace as a reality and he quotes from a letter he received:  "I loved my Christian lifestyle, I didn't love God."

That comment has shadowed me for days.  Does it describe me?  I always thought of myself as D.L. Moody said, "yes, I am filled with the Holy Spirit, but I leak."

I do love the Christian lifestyle, in America--there is a lot to love.  Free from persecution, drawn to many wonderful and interesting people, often a source of encouragement and a place to serve that is frankly convenient.  

I also think God purposed us for his church, that we should as a simple matter, be actively serving the church.

Yet, that comment confronts me, am I loving a lifestyle not the person of Christ?  A lifestyle is a way of living that reflects the manners or values of a person or a group.  There is nothing wrong with a "Christian lifestyle" it reflects the person of Christ.  

The rub, the interesting point of the quote is the loving of lifestyle instead of loving the person the life is supposed to reflect.

In other words, do I enjoy being a Christian more than I love Christ?

Is it semantics or is it a healthy question?

To love being a Christian is to love self.  Frankly to love Christ is to deny self.  Instead of working toward being a better Christian, should I not focus on loving Christ more? 

OK, so how?  What does that look like.  What difference does that perspective make?    Yancey points to a clear acceptance of grace.  To relate to God through His gift of grace,   

Yancey writes that rules or Christian lifestyle, "present a temptation to rely on external behavior rather than cultivating the inner life.   Basing your faith on externals has the advantage of letting you know exactly what is expected.  On the other hand it also makes faith easy to cast off.  I can exchange on way of behaving for another, like a chameleon changing colors while nothing really changes on the inside." 

So, this Christmas I accept the perfect gift of grace.  I look to the person of Christ, as a baby, as a teacher, as a miracle worker--as a savior and I remember he not only chose to die for me, he opts to dwell in me.  The internal presence is there, do I love it?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's Exam Week

It is exam week at our home.  If you are curious as to why we appear to be sucking on a lemon, please know it is the combination of pre-Christmas frenzy with multiple comprehensive finals.  Such academic festivity led me to ask as I wrap up (pardon pun) my latest study, what did I learn.  Then I ran across this quote:  "don't let your learning lead to knowledge but to action," from Paul Rahn--who may be a certifiable nut, but I like the idea.

My version is what did I learn and what difference does it make?

The primary focus of this study (Experiencing God by Henry Blackerby) is living every day asking, "what is God up to?" and "how can I adjust to join Him?".   God is at work all around, and am I will to jump in and cooperate with the invitation.

That is what I learned.  Now for the final exam--what difference does it make?  What action will it inspire?

  • Will I move from the Happy Land of Good Intentions to a land of intentional faithful living?
  • Will be a yes person instead of a no, or well...person?
  • Will I hold on to my stuff, my time, my money very loosely--willingly letting God to have easy access to what He gave me in the first place?
  • Will I do the hard thing, recognizing that God's great work was always, always, always more than the person initially imagined?
  • Will I stop criticizing and start just making things better, asking--what I can do, where can I contribute?
  • I will pray for people I don't much like and ask for forgiveness instead of focusing so much on who and how to forgive?
  • Will I trust God as a person and not try and trust "my faith".

The end of the study is the beginning of new lessons.  I look forward to a discussion Friday on Daily Life to hear how others plan to walk on a path that has been cleared just a bit.

I pray  that I walk that path minus the pucker that comes from a sour taste.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Just a Thought, More Later

You are God's Gift to Your Church.

A Sweet Sound

Then Sings My Soul: Special Edition by Robert J. Morgan is a beautiful and useful collection of 150 hymns--historically beloved hymns such as Amazing Grace, Fount of Every Blessing and Rock of Ages in addition to Easter Hymns, Christmas Hymns and Hymns of Thanksgiving. Even the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful are included. It would be a wonderful Christmas gift for a choir member or director, as the music is included on one page a devotional/historical context is featured on the facing page. This gives the story behind the music, the composer and the legacy of the music.

It captures the heart of the hymn, but in a way that moves the reader, not just the musician. My home church features traditional worship and this reference has deepened my understanding, appreciation of much of the music.

Mogan's compilation would edify the worship of adults could also educate students to the whole perspective surrounding this rich music. Traditional hymns have such theological depth, and with the added human interest behind the composition offers much to the reader.

It would be perfect for a choir to use as a rehearsal devotion, or a Sunday school teacher to add on a unique extra to a lesson. I highly recommend it.

To be expected or a shocking surprise?

Luke 2: 13-20 "Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.' When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the lord has told us about.'  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child and all who heart it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen which were just as they had been told."

Suddenly--unexpectedly.  Advent is a season of expectation, the focus on hope of what is to come built up by what has already happened.  Yet on this first Christmas night, the events unfolded are unexpected. 

So, is this a season of expectation or a season of the unexpected? 

Both, I think.

What are healthy expectations?  What are fair expectations?  What are ridiculous expectations?

What is God expecting from me this season?

What of the unexpected--is is welcome or resisted and how do I respond?  I loved the shepherd's respond, they went to see and told everyone about it.  Am I prepared to go, look and see the miracles around me, and do I treasure them in my heart or tell everyone about them?  Do I glorify God in what I have seen and heard?

Those are some good questions for me to hang by the chimney with care.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas Bins and Christmas Prayers

It’s bin-ginning to look a lot like Christmas. The Rubbermaid bins full of jolly holly are in the hall. The faux fabulous tree (we have a one person and one vacuum cleaner both allergic to pine needs) stands proudly naked in the living room. It’s beginning. I love the Christmas tension of trying to remember what is really important while having fun with the festivities.

Right now I am reminded looking over a two lists of prayers—that these are not prayers, they are people and in the middle of cooking shopping, decorating and celebrating are people surrounded by hurt and heaviness.

I think the world is a better place for a frosted cookie and a touch of curling ribbon, but the faithful perspective on it all colors my prayers, my study, my thoughts. I thought this morning, these lists are too long, too painful…what can I do?

Pray for healing, pray for hope—God works in mighty ways and has offered assurance that where we are today is not the end of the story. Yet, I want my friends and family better, well and I will ask God for that mercy.

Pray to remember and offer practical help…meals, car rides, notes, phone calls, meeting needs for attention, affection and real assistance do matter. So do kind words and patient expressions. I need to write that down on my palm print, like cheating on a test.

Pray for grace—that what I give this season is better than what others deserve or expect…I have been given daily grace, abundant blessings and salvation from the burden of my sin.

Pray to see what’s needed, looking past the garland and to-do list—see the people and respond to what I see.

Pray for joy—an ability to delight in the goodness of God regarding of circumstances. Happy Holidays are great fun, but joy is promised and always available.

Pray for wisdom, in spending money and time. Pray for wisdom in words and thoughts. Does my behavior match what I believe?

Pray to love, as I have been loved.

Christmas is a great time to laugh at the folly of our jolly, but it is also a perfect time to reflect the gifts of grace freely and lavishly.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What to say, when you don't know what to say

Happy Thanksgiving.  The Bible speaks often of both giving thanks and the time of harvest.  I hope you have a bounty to consider this week.

We are preparing to venture to the Great Plains, and my list of what should happen between now and the Interstate is long.  So, to check off "blog post" from the list, I copied a cute quiz from my friend Ellen's blog (Bluestocking Belle).  Share your answers!  You will see soon, I am perhaps not the most decisive person you have encountered.

Sweet or Savoury? Savoury, however not at all offended at the opportunity to share in some sweets!

Dresses or Jeans? Actually I like skirts, not dresses and I am recently warming up to jeans as I found a great fit/variety at Chico's.  One lady at church thought I wore skirts for religious reasons--so now I am looking for pants to keep it real.

House or Apartment? House

Shop Online or Offline? Offline, not much on shopping.

DVDs or Downloads? DVD's, although I love podcast subscriptions of sermons (I'm a geek)

Cocktails or Juice? Neither, but I guess juice.

Chocolate or Strawberry? Chocolate covered strawberries.

Laptop or PC? PC

Magazines or Newspapers? Magazines

Facebook or Twitter? Both, like Twitter more lately.

CDs or MP3s? MP3--love me some I-pod

Kids or Pets? 2K+1P= love, amusement and 2/3 eye rollers; 1/3 tail wagger

Macaroon or Cupcakes? Cupcakes

Walk or Run? Walk, what is category is elliptical?

Breakfast in Bed or Breakfast Out? Breakfast Out

Market or Supermarket? Supermarket

Sourdough or Grainy? Grainy--love 9 grain bread

Heels or Flats? Flats, but I love the idea of heels

Late nights or Not? Now not, unless project procrastination looms

Coffee or Tea? Coffee--love it strong and black.  Like tea, love me some coffee.

Will write some more substance soon, need to share some thoughts on conversations/study of perfectionism and worry.  In the mean time, worry yourselves sick about having a perfect Martha Stewart Thanksgiving feast.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bible Study: Why Bother?

Why "study" the Bible?  I ask that question often, with multiple reasons.  This morning, I thought of two.  First, compare faithful living to working out (even if you hate the gym).  Too often, we consider living faithfully as having a gym membership, shoes and workout clothes and going to the gym or outside for a leisurely walk on a treadmill or flat surface.  While it is a far better option than lounging on a couch, watching TV and eating Frito's--it is not enough to change the health, the shape or the effectiveness of our bodies. 

It won't produce a stronger more efficient,  more powerful body.  A strong study is like a personal trainer, one who pushes, directs, challenges and irritates the body to maximize its abilities and trim the fat.  Regular exercise under the direction of an instructor of sorts will lead to significant, tangible results.  Bible study does that by reminding us of what is really true, and what is really important. 

Bible study humbles us before God, shows the path and benefit of confession and direction to take for repentance. Example:  I just leaned in Bible study that repentance is not just confession of sins, but it is also turning in a new, Godly direction.  A change of direction might not be walking away from a specific sin, but still its a change to walk in obedience--this opened up new thoughts about repentance and faithfulness. 

Another beneift of  Bible study:  it focuses our minds, and keeps us from wandering.  In the NY Times yesterday was an article about the dangers of mind wandering.  The thrust was daydreaming leads to unhappiness.  

"Even if you are doing something that's really enjoyabe," Mr Killngsworth, Harvard researcher said, "that doesn't seem to protect against negative thoughts. Whatever people were doing they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else."

Personally, too frequently, day dreaming is often mulling over what was said, what needs to be said, who did not focuses on disappointments in my relationships and how I wish...This does lead to unhappiness.  I am thinking in exaggerated and negative terms and I am not tending to things that are real and also important.  
Study occupies my mind in a direction that is always healthy, never exaggerated and even if the lesson is frustrating or I disagree, it is not the same as dwelling on a real or perceived offense.  Why not mull over what God says, or how a study applies what God says?
I like to keep a running list of the reasons people should take on a Bible study.  It helps to have different views to encourage different people.  What reasons do you have for doing a study?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ending the Indulgence of Forgetting

I started this blog to create writing habits.  Writing, like any other discipline demands regularity.  Lately, I have ignored the blog using the excuse of I don't have anything to say (I never use that excuse regarding food/eating).    I have just indulged in laziness because I that option was available.  Upon reading this beautiful and challenging piece by Philip Yancey from Christianity Today, I wondered if I was doing more that just ignoring "my" writing, but also ignoring God.  His idea, shared below, is that the "riches" produced from a season of hard work lead to forgetting God.  Then, it hit me, this blog was to be an expression of faith, not just an exercise of communication--I think I forgot (or ignored) that part.  Blessed for the reminder.  

You, I have no doubt, will be blessed by the thoughts of Yancey below.  Enjoy the workout, it will be time well spent.

Forgetting God:  Why decadence drives out discipline. (from Christianity Today online)

Observing the modern world, French sociologist Jacques Ellul noted a striking trend: As the Christian gospel permeates society, it tends to produce values that, paradoxically, contradict the gospel. I sometimes test his theory while traveling overseas. I ask foreigners about the United States, the world's largest majority-Christian society.

"When I say the words United States, what comes to mind?" I ask. Invariably, I get these responses:

Wealth. Representing only 6 percent of the world's population, the United States generates more than a third of the world's economic output and dominates global finance.

Military power. We are, as the media constantly remind us, "the world's only superpower." Indeed, our current military budget exceeds the total of the next 23 biggest-spending nations combined.

Decadence. Overseas, most people get their images of the United States from Hollywood movies, which seem to them obsessed with sex and crime.

European nations, with their Christian roots, tend to manifest similar characteristics, which run counter to the teachings and example of Jesus, whose life was marked by poverty, self-sacrifice, and purity. No wonder followers of other religions, such as Islam, puzzle over Christianity, a powerful faith that nonetheless produces the opposite of its ideals in society at large. What accounts for this strange development?

I found a clue in the writings of Gordon Cosby, the founding pastor of Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. He noted that high-commitment Christian communities begin with a strong sense of devotion, which expresses itself in a life of discipline. Groups organized around devotion and discipline tend to produce abundance, but ultimately that very success breaks down discipline and leads to decadence.

Cosby termed this pattern the "monastic cycle"-with good reason, for the movements led by idealists such as Francis of Assisi and Benedict of Nursia repeatedly demonstrate the cycle. In the sixth century, early Benedictines worked hard to clear forests and cultivate land, investing their surplus in drainage, livestock, and seed. Six centuries later, according to historian Paul Johnson, "Benedictine abbeys had virtually ceased to be spiritual institutions. They had become collegiate sinecures reserved very largely for members of the upper classes." The abbots absorbed about half the order's revenue in order to maintain their luxurious lifestyles, becoming "unenterprising, upper-class parasites."

Dominicans, Jesuits, and Franciscans duplicated the cycle: an initial burst of devotion and discipline, a resulting period of abundance, then a drift toward indulgence until some reformer came along to revive the ideals of the founder. Protestant reformers faced the same challenge. John Wesley warned upwardly mobile Methodists:

I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.

As the Old Testament shows, entire nations can fall into the same pattern. Hebrew prophets sounded the loudest alarms during times when ancient Israel appeared to be thriving. Whenever the economy boomed and peace prevailed, the Israelites attended less and less to spiritual matters and looked instead to military power and alliances for their security. In the prophets' phrase, they forgot God.

Perhaps we should call this trend the "human cycle" rather than the "monastic cycle," because it applies to individuals as well as to religious movements and nations. Beginning with Adam and Eve's brief sojourn in Paradise, people have shown an inability to handle prosperity. We turn to God out of need and forget God when things go well.

Americans who go on short-term mission trips to third-world countries often return with glowing reports about the fervency they found among believers. Eager faith in the midst of poverty and oppression contrasts sharply with the complacency and self-centeredness in our land of plenty.

Observing this trend in numerous countries, I better understand why Jesus warned against wealth and called the poor and persecuted "blessed." Out of sheer desperation, the needy may turn to God. Meanwhile I worry about my own society, which relies mainly on its wealth and power and fills every vacant space with entertainment options. Can we, in a time of abundance, find a way to break the "monastic cycle"? On the answer to that question, our future health may hinge.

By Philip Yancey

Monday, November 8, 2010

Reflecting on What God Actually Says

R. P. Nettelhorst compiled substantive passages of scripture arranged daily for A Year With God: Make His Thoughts Your Thoughts. In addition to the verses, the entire devotional study is arranged by theme, for example: Love and Hate; Perseverance and Quitting; Hope and Fear for personal application or prayer intercession.

In addition to those disciple friendly qualities, Nettelhorst also includes a relevant, well written commentary that could easily lead to effective journaling or other avenues for personal study.

It would make a much appreciated Christmas gift to a member of one’s small group or ministry leader—it is gender neutral in application and challenging enough for a mature believer, but also straightforward for someone newer to study to easily grasp.

The premise is that through considering what God said, exactly as He said it, the reader will be able to adjust thoughts to reflect the truth of God more and more.

All of the scripture is pulled from the Old Testament, so those unfamiliar with those texts will have a great opportunity to learn though a practical and encouraging approach.

Scripture passages are featured using multiple translations, which is effective in application but such significant variety can frustrate some study methods.

Overall, A Year With God is a quality collection of daily reading, published in a fresh and relevant way that should encourage growth in any who embrace it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Highlighting both Grace and Truth

The Grace of God, written by Andy Stanley (senior pastor of Northpoint Church) is an excellent book which goes far to grasp the depth and consequence of grace in the relationship between God and believer. It would be an effective tool for a small group or class as a study guide, or for personal growth.

The practical application of Biblical lives and circumstances-- to understanding the principles which come out of that truth, and then working all of that into a personal faithful response is the great takeaway of Stanley’s work.

It is packed with story after story from the scriptures and carefully reasoned so that it makes not just an impression but a difference in the life of a believer. It’s simply really effective teaching, not burdened with clich├ęs or legalism.

Stanley has a great sense of humor, and strong sense of why people struggle in accepting grace and really struggle with giving grace, which makes The Grace of God an enjoyable as well as edifying read.

Grace, when believed and lived out is powerful and Stanley’s work captures that reality. If the reader is familiar Stanley’s sermons from Northpoint Church, a lot of the writing will be recognizable. However, the compilation of so much work into one piece, more than accounts for this duplication.

The Grace of God will be time well invested, and would also be a great gift for another.

Monday, October 18, 2010

How to Look at People: The Good, Bad and Ugly

Most people you dislike aren't as bad as you think. Most people you admire aren't as good as you think. Look to Jesus. (something I saw on Twitter)

This piece of pithy wisdom is true, but what does this really look like on a Monday morning? What does it mean to, look to Jesus?

I think to look to Jesus is to first consider who I really am, the real consequence of being saved—as one who needs saving. That’s always humbling and eases my dislike of others, as I am no picnic myself.

It reminds me Christ saved me and not look to others for that role or response. Those I admire, I admire for good reason—they are easy to love or respect or both. However, they are neither the creator nor sustainer of my soul—and they, like me need the ongoing work of a savior.

To look to Jesus is to bring him into every relationship, even the ones that have much joy or much irritation. It’s a perspective that adds His attitude and personality (grace) so that two become three, and that math make the equation much more sensible and not so defined by just positive or negative emotions.

The presence of grace really can make the ugly, beautiful and allows for unhealthy admiration to be replaced by healthy appreciation and affection.

It is a secure launching pad for a Monday morning. Fresh French Roast is a nice add too.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thoughtful Consideration of Blogging

NT Wright, Bishop of Durham (I love that title) packs a lot of wisdom in this three minute response to blogging/technology.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Does It Translate?

John Maxwell, noted author and sage just published a book on the Five Levels of Leadership.  I have not read the book, but I did glance at the graphic (perfect shortcut when I am already behind schedule and it's only 9:23 am). 

It's vintage Maxwell, but what occurred to me this morning is does it translate to other relationships outside of the work world?

Does it, for example, translate to parenting?  Why do my kids follow me?   What about my roles at church or in volunteer realms...why do people follow me? 

Why is that question even important?  I think it's important, even if I can't truly know why others might join in working with me or what motivates my kid's trust...but it's an important consideration because a faithful life is a combination of constant humility and exaltation.

People of faith should have followers, or a following.  Others should trust them for the reasons at the top of the pyramid.  Yet, their work should be marked with humility, with an others-first perspective. 

I look at the bottom of the pyramid and I cringe and think, how many people engage with me because, "they have to."  How often would my children think that? 

Maxwell says this is a process not a position, which I think is true (he will be so affirmed by my validation).  It's an interesting way to look at how others might see us, how they look at the opportunity to work with us. 

To engage at the top of this descriptive would be a positive thing, to look at working partnerships or family relationships as a blessing not an assignment--what a more powerful purpose.

As I work through tasks both inside and outside the home, I intend to remind myself, why would someone want to work with me?  What am I doing to move the relationship beyond an assignment and more to an opportunity?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Familar Land Mines: Emotional E-mails

Emotions, not for email.  A friend was experiencing a legitimate frustration in a committee planning cycle and called me to read an e-mail response before sending it.  The act of reading it aloud was all she needed, hearing her words did the editing trick. 

I still encouraged her that being right in expressing her frustration was not enought to make it wise---e-mails are only able to effectively handle facts.  E-mail communication crumbles under the weight of expressing emotions.

This is true in both negative and positive ways.  Does the smiley face at the end of the statement really discount the sarcasm that precedes it? (nope)  Do lines of exclamation points and other punctuation abuse drive home a point with more clarity?  (not so much)  Is YELLING AT SOMEONE THROUGH YOUR CAP LOCK BUTTON going to make them listen more closely? (I am thinking, no)

We know this, so why do we continue to try and communicate our emotions through a vehicle which will result in worse communication and exaggerate problems versus solve them?  Why do we choose to make matters worse?

I think it is the quick fix, the momentary satisfaction of pushing the send button and sending the attitude in addition to the information.

It's not just negative e-mails either--cute does not correspond well either.  A written story can be funny, but one-liners, cute comebacks, the cyber equivalent of a wink wink (also can be tried, without much effectiveness through punctuation ;) does not really add value to the message ;) ---does it?

My advice, not needed as the writer of this e-mail knew it, was stick to facts.  The beauty of e-mail is in the quick exchange.  It can be used to share a story, if the writer is up to taking the time to write the context--who, what, where, when, how and why.

But use words to express facts not emotions.  If you are mad, say, "I am mad or frustrated," straight up.  Only say, "thanks a lot" if you mean thanks a lot.  If you mean, "I don't appreciate this," then say that.

E-mail should not be a guess what I am really feeling through this quick hit or new punctuation symbol combo.

Corporations now have e-mail style books and etiquette, which points to the fact I have not stumbled upon a new tension.  However, it is a tension and frankly temptation that I confront regularly.  This post is a reminder to me, to communicate emotions I need the full context of body language and I need my listener to have the chance to reply.  I need to wait for face or face, and not with a snarky statement followed by and assortment of  :) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Worthy Words from "A Leader's Heart"

A Leader’s Heart devotional book by John Maxwell is functional and inspiring for those times where quick and relevant reflection is ideal. The 365 pages of scripture and Maxwell leadership application followed by short journaling space is the perfect way to approach a meeting, a study session, a class or an assignment. It’s a positive catalyst to remind one what is really important before launching feet or head first into a task.

It is also beautifully bound and would a make a wonderful gift for someone taking on a new job or leadership role in the church or workplace. A Leader’s Heart focuses on truths of faith in the context of work and leadership without a hint of sentimentality. It has Maxwell’s typical gift for practical wisdom with an inspired approach and expectation of excellence.

I also appreciated how the scripture references come from every part of the Bible, prompting a more interesting and varied approach to the overall call of leadership. Goal setting, generosity, hope, influence, servant’s heart, purposes are just a sample of the topics, really the character qualities of a leader who acts with Christ like integrity.

I recommend for anyone who is currently serving as a leader or embarking on a new call to cull from Maxwell’s wisdom and challenges as a way to focus daily on effective service.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"What's It Like to be on the Other Side of Me?"

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another, not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.  Romans 12:10-11

I just read a great question, "what's it like to be on the other side of me?"  It points to developing empathy, and a healthy sensitivity about what others see--an attempt at honest self assessment without narcissism.  Thought a lot about that, as I wonder if I am superficially strong and relationally weak.

I care about lots of people, but do I actively love?  Is my concern for others loyal, hospitable, lacking hypocrisy, open minded, respectful, peace keeping, generous--or is it (yes) too often just a general wish for good will to all and to all a good night?

Do I have time to love others, really love them--listen to the whole story, do something helpful, engage without noticing faults or frustrations? 

What's it like on the other side of me?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Not a good nor a God move

You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise:  Deuteronomy 6:7

I think this blog is read by 10's of people every other month, and none of them shares much DNA with me, so I am safe.  I also think I made a mistake under the dangerous umbrella of good intentions, but motivated by offense and a mama bear's desire to protect.

One of the Swan chicks went to a camp this summer, and upon returning requested friend status on Facebook (my husband swears FB is the spawn of Satan) of her counselor--a 20 year old sophomore in college.   This request was declined and repeated and then ignored--which is ok certainly the counselor's prerogative, but the said 20 year old accepted many other camper friend requests.   For those not familiar with FB, the rub is this--my daughter can see who the counselor's friends are and also see interaction between counselor and other campers, when the campers are friends with my daughter.   If you are not "on FB" none of this makes sense--but cut to the chase my daughter was flatly rejected by someone she esteems and she knew the extent of the rejection.

Found out about all of this two days ago.  Prayed, then wrote.   Should have prayed, then slept and prayed again.   The temptation to blast said 20 year old was overwhelming.  I came very close and may have actually done that.  Do have some guilt about reaction and hubby commented that I had some other options than the one I chose which would have also resolved the situation.  Then he repeated his feeling about FB being evil, evil, evil-- etc, etc.

This woman hurt my daughter and I slapped back.  I chose my words carefully, but I know how to hit like the mafia where it is not really visible to the naked eye. 

My girl is now "friends" with this counselor, she does not know I wrote the counselor with some pointed concerns and observations.  My girl is also thrilled that the counselor finally "found the time to check her friends request".   

I was right, that is obvious.  It was also the right thing to make clear how significant, what a big deal it is, to manage FB and campers with care--its a very public forum.  I was wrong to write assumption into my inquiry--and I knew it at the time and did it anyway.  Cheap grace--act poorly (sin) and clean up later. 

Not a good move nor a God move.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Backing the "Got Junk?" Truck Up To My Heart

"They said to one another, "surely we are being punished because of our brother.  We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen;  that's why this distress has come upon us."  Genesis 42:21

The transfer of distress from Joseph to his brothers comes from a 20 year old act was never accounted for in their lives.  They (correctly) experience the weight of an old crime.

It's the kind of thing we want others to feel when they wrong us--a transfer of that distress--your bad acts toward me go back onto you.  Yet, it is something I would prefer to shortchange in my own life--to keep my bad acts, my over-reacts, my criticism and selfishness private and "give them to God," and move on.  

However, in those relationships when I have exerted myself, where I have authority and influence, I need an open accountability from people in addition to my accountability to God.  

In relationships and opportunities, I need the accountability--the honest assessment of my direction and decisions-- from scripture, from worship/preaching, from study, from prayer, from other people:  the accountability of the consequence of saying what is true about my sin.

Part of the challenge I face is that not every wrong act, and especially wrong thoughts are exposed to direct consequence.  It think I kind of get away with a critical spirit or indifference. 

That is where the transfer of distress or guilt comes in.  I may not have to confront the wrong and make it right--but the failure to do so will leave me carrying that knowledge and feeling the distress.  Unsaid sin is not unexpressed sin.

Is it enough to have Christ hold me accountable or do I have to go through the potential embarrassment and loss of a feeling of control that comes when I confess to other people?  When I do, I heal faster and learn more and I am better equipped to pass on making the same mistake again.

Is confession to Christ enough--well of course.   Sin is sin against God--David said, "against you and you only I have sinned" and Christ alone has the power to forgive and extend grace and mercy to relieve the due punishment of the sin.

However, adding to that reality of faith is the opportunity for God to use other people to mold me and move me to greater maturity.  It also may be the quickest path to ease guilt.

The first step of true confession to God is accepting responsibility in the temptation to default to indifference or excuses--adding people to the confessional work adds the element of greater good, greater healing, greater recovering coming from the bad.

The reality of good coming from my bad encourages me to open up, and not isolate or cheapen the grace of God by keeping it a secret between God and me. 

The season is changing, and it's time to clean out the closet a bit and show others what needs to be tossed as it it ill fitting and out of style.

Hunting for a God Will

What is God's will for my life--is NOT the right question.  The proper question is What is God's will, once I know that, I can adjust my life to Him.  In other words, what is it God is purposing to accomplish where I am?  Once I know what God is doing, then I know what I need to do.  The focus needs to be on God not on my life.

The foundation of a large portion of my fall study time.  I know it will be a worthy adventure because I know myself and adjust is not the first word that pops into a description of my natural desires. 

This study confronts a common misconception about faithful living--rather than ask God to approve or reject my choices, the study moves to see God as the choice. 

It's week one, so the how to and when and where and what it looks like questions have not been answered.  This I know my will and God's will are too often at odds, and I am excited to think that through this study my will may actually reflects his will in a clear, bold, effective way.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Heightened Awareness, A Heightened Response

Out Live Your Life by Max Lucado unpacks much of the book of Acts. It’s the story of God working through very ordinary people in very extraordinary ways. It’s also the story of the lasting power of faithfulness.
Lucado, with typical poignancy and humor confronts the distance between God’s truth—there is a world in much need and the reality there is world full of Christians able, but not always willing to meet that need. Yet, he confronts that tension in a way that encourages and creatively gets the read to consider actively responding to close that gap.

Included in the book is a relevant and thorough discussion/action guide, written by David Drury. It functions well for both individual reflect and as a tool for a small group meeting.

Out Live Your Life contains a rich compilation of modern issues –related to hunger or orphans or resources, Biblical study and exploration and application, connecting the Christian, to the scripture to the need. It gently, but directly pulls down the walls of indifference and excuses that people erect to ignore problems.

The stories and study move the reader to a heightened awareness and heightened response so that our way of life extends beyond our comfortable reach and lasts beyond our days.

Groups or individuals looking for a renewal should pick up Out Live Your Life Today—it will motivate you to make a difference.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

An Inspired Twist from Familar Narratives

The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters by Andy Andrews is a lovely collection of stories that moved me to consider how ordinary, but bold faithfulness can have extraordinary impact, blessing many in ways I will never know.

It powerfully captures the reality of legacy, inspiring us to appreciate the creative ways our lives influence. Andrews thrust is that, “every move you make, every action you take matters.” The point is to consider our purpose, our place as having value.

Andrews takes well known outcomes and pulls the reader back into the origin of great people’s great work that changed the world. It reminded me of Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” in its fresh twist on familiar narratives—and it has the same effect of being clever and memorable.

In addition to the moving stories is the equally beautiful art throughout the entire book. Each page is visually inspiring too.

It is simple and elegant and very brief—a compilation of three stories to make his point that our lives make a difference and to live with that truth in mind.

This would be a wonderful gift for a student embarking on a new chapter of life, or following a point of accomplishment. It would also serve to lift and remind a friend or colleague that our life and work and relationships matter.

Permission to Speak Freely Speaks to the Heart

Permission to Speak Freely

Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace by Anne Jackson:

Jackson tells her story beautifully, but also weaves so many other stories into this beautiful collection, this offering of honesty and hope. The honesty of the book comes from no pity, but plenty of compassion. Victims are not presented as helpless, but their path to hope is clearly presented.

To capture elegance and bluntness within each essay and piece of art is unique and powerful. Jackson also successfully trims all unnecessary detail, but paints the picture, the tapestry with thoroughness.

I thought about, prayed for and was moved through each journey and was captivated and inspired.

I am leading a women’s retreat this fall and teaching several studies. I am already planning on how I can share Jackson’s work with these groups, it is that versatile in its reach.

It is a series of short stories, the book while substantive does leave the reader wanting more. It has that very common feel of a collection from a blog and other scattered experiences and observation. Jackson owns that from the start, so the reader does not miss a traditional narrative structure (much).

I follow Jackson’s blog now and continue to find her perspective highly engaging and relevant.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lack of Faith or Quirky Hangup?

"Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' . . . Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."----Matthew 6:31

"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."----Philippians 4:19 

The Nagging Problem of “Little” Fears…

I have an irrational fear of medical procedures, most specifically of dental work. I really do regress to a basket case posture when then semiannual call for teeth cleaning comes my way. Recently, I dodged the call, threw away the postcard in an act of silliness in response to my fear of the procedures.

My family is blessed to be in the hands of a wonderful dentist, and I fully understand the benefit of regular care, but my anxiety is so exaggerated that I procrastinated this routine appointment.

Is this an issue of faith? Is this just a quirky hang up or something larger? In reflecting on fear and faith, I came to a point that my fear and anxiety was in fact a form of unbelief.

My fear was determining my behavior. I rested in the reality of my anxiety, and in that moment it was bigger that my faith in the God of the universe. Crazy, and unfaithful (big word for sin).

I have the great blessing of great medical care, care that will enhance my life—such opportunity should result in my thankfulness, regardless of physical discomfort.

I needed to remember such things are gifts, and to dismiss or grumble over them is in fact a faithless (sinful) response, and instead give thanks to God for such blessing and benefit.

Before penning this entry, I called the doctor’s office and look forward to a long overdue appointment in two weeks.
Heavenly Father, I give thanks that your presence is everywhere, even the seemingly little circumstances. I give thanks that you care about those little things that I allow to become big when I approach them without remembering my faith and your grace is the lens through which I should look at all things. Help me remember that when I am tempted to settle in destructive emotions. Thank you for willing and wanting for us so much more than to live in fear, but in your purpose. In Your Son’s Powerful Name I Pray…

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Editors Needed for Meadering Devo

Revelation 4:1-11 1 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. 4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. 6 Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: "HOLY, HOLY, HOLY IS THE LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS, AND IS, AND IS TO COME." 9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: 11 "You are worthy, our LORD and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being."

Revelation is never my first choice for study, I just can not wrap around it very well and it's on the receiving end of so much speculation and prediction (I left the Left Behind Series on store shelves).  

So, when I offered to contribute to RPC devotions and just take whatever anybody else did not want, I was not fully prepared to be assigned a long passage from Revelation.  That's what I get for fake generosity.   Next time I need to pull a greedy grab of my devo scripture of choice, that is real Christian living.

Here is my rough draft for the one or two of you reading, again, fumbling in the dark, leaving tons of room for the Holy Spirit to move the reader beyond the feeble start:
In the book of Revelation, John shares with us a closer look into heaven. Heaven is a place that is whole, not burdened or corrupted with the brokenness of this world. Heaven is a place of perfect worship.

It is a wild description of God’s throne with powerful imagery which captures who is in heaven and more importantly, how they relate to each other. The throne is the God-head, It is a place that erupts with lightning and thunder, it is the source of all power. Then, John writes of an interesting mix of the others, all of whom respond or react to the power of the throne with all glory, honor and thanks.

It’s relationship: The creator and the created perfectly engaged.

It’s worship: The creator and the created perfectly engaged.

It’s the answer: When we engage a noisy world full of questions, distractions and temptation, we do well to remember that worship is the first best response. That our whole lives are purposed to be a response to God’s power.

I was getting lost in my own little mind, which is an amusing place to be, going in circles about offer/respond...initiation/answer...and wrapping it into worship (the theme for the devotional book).  This meandering is a normal process of writing for me--I may well die with blogs and not books because of it. 

Need to get it to practical application, any thoughts?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What is Best?

"And this is my prayer, that your love may abound more an more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ."  Philippians 1: 9-10

I am reading, "Permission to Speak Freely," by Anne Jackson and the gist of the book is tension in church culture.  In the beginning she asks, "what is the one thing you feel you can't say in the church?" 

Some of the feedback she received:
"I currently feel no connection to God when I pray or read the Bible.  Sometimes I wonder if this whole Christianity thing is a lie.   Most of the time I never feel forgiven for my sins, partly because it's hard to forgive myself, the other part is that church people seem to never let you let it go and move forward.  Why do we have lavish worship centers but there are starving children in our own backyards and around the world." 

I asked myself, what is the thing I would be afraid to say in church?  Certainly some confessions (which is the main thrust of the book) but even still I wondered what if Jackson's inquiry was turned in a different direction.

What are some things that I should say in church, but don't.  Not criticism, that is cheap and easy--and too often rolls off my tongue.  No, the words that Paul is might I offer wisdom, insight that reflects growing to what is best?

What is left unsaid that should be offered up, to move in the direction of best, the word means to know that which makes a difference?  What can I speak to a make a difference --create a good tension in the church?

Some of my answers: 
The reason people should be in a Bible study together is to know God more completely and then respond to that with confidence not bound as much by life circumstance.   People should give, time and money--money and time because it is the only way to not live selfishly.   People need encouragement, attention and good humor.  Ministry work is not always a smashing success, but is always worth the effort.  Prayer is not a substitute for actually working.  (that is sarcastic, let's try again).   Serving is action, prayer is connecting to God--God always answers prayer the same way:  with himself (borrowed but can't remember from whom).  Prayer is essential but it is not the same as serving other people.   Back to good humor, we need laughter--it is one of the greatest gifts from God, its free and easy and blesses so much.  There is tragedy that needs healing comfort, but we get that, sometimes we forget to pursue laughter. 

Random, but too often unsaid.  I wonder what kind of good tension would come from more of that--what should be said that is wise, and insightful, and moves the church toward what is best? 

What would you say?

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Mind and Heart Shaped Like a Sieve

I will have to revisit my odd couplets from plot lines and sins of small group ministry, as I have loaned the book to a friend at church.  Maybe that's a blessing, because what started as a helpful way for me to apply two lessons quickly became contrived.   I still love the plot lines and need the help on groups ministry, but not everything good harmonizes:  like morning coffee and morning tooth brushing.  Both great and helpful but don't sync up.  Hmmm.  It's Monday.

Spending some time with Paul--this morning. 
"I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:3-6

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows."  2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Paul is confident, he has been persuaded, that God has valued us enough not just to forgive or save us, but accomplish good work in us, through us.   Later in 2 Corinthians he suggests that good work is that we might comfort those in trouble.  That in pain, we can have comfort in God and that comfort is not to ease our suffering but is to give us something that another can use. 

I pray for wisdom to know what is right, I pray for inspiration to act on what is right and I pray for peace in turmoil.  Is the real answer to those prayers not that I am a destination for God to pour those things in me but I am a distribution center a heart and mind shaped like a sieve, when that peace, wisdom, courage is sent out or poured into the lives of others.  

Faith has individual elements in that God created us with uniqueness, and saves us as individuals--but the continuous good work of God is not to grow me as an individual but is a deposit for others to draw from.

How open and available am I to my family, my friends, acquaintances and strangers to offer up what God has poured in?  Are my hands and heart open, not just to receive but have others take?  Am I tempted to hold onto, tuck away what God gives, rather than share it--gladly--remember others with thanks.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Venturing Out with Sound Leadership

Plot Line 2/7:  The Voyage and Return
Sin of Small Group Ministry 2/7: Lack of Point Leadership

I am combining two recent helpful works, the first from a writer's blog and the second from a ministry book--both feature 7 concepts, which I am shoving together in my mind and on the blog.

The second story line from the article is voyage and return.  Setting off from a base of operations to another place and then turning around to come back.  This is a perfect picture of ministry effort without leadership--the second sin of ministry.  

A sound leader moves forward in a determined direction, with a destination (purpose) in mind.  Going out and coming home is a vacation not an adventure.  It's a temporary departure from the established practices, but the biggest emphasis is temporary.  The return is what characterizes the voyage absent a leader.

Outcomes matter, where are we going and why?  What does this look like in 6 months, in a year?  What's a win?  

Sometimes people of faith just put an idea on the table, even a really good idea and think if it is God's will it will happen.  Yet, God does not intend for us to be spectators, I think God's will is for us to adopt best practices, hard work, skills and gifts and all of the qualities of effective leadership and planning.

In her essay, An Expedition to the Pole, Annie Dillard  describes the provisions of a nineteenth century group of explorers headed out to find the North Pole, and then return home.  Each ship had an auxiliary steam engine and a 12 day supply of coal for the projected 2-3 year voyage.  Instead of additional coal each ship had a 1,200 volume library, a hand organ, china place settings for officers with cut glass wine goblets and sterling silver flatware.  No one had special clothing for the Artic only the uniforms of Her Majesty's Navy.   Years later Inuit Eskimos came across the frozen remains of the expedition, men dressed in their finery and pulling lifeboat laden with place settings of sterling silver and some chocolate.   Their naivete is almost beyond comprehension but perhaps it will teach and warn us to lead a ministry or life expedition with wisdom and work and purpose with the end in mind.

It's true in family life too--what is the goal of parenting, of partnering in a healthy marriage.  Where are these relationships going, what should they look like in a year, in 10 years?  Example:  as mother, what do I want my daughters to look like in decade?  If I want them to be women of faith, am I moving them in that direction purposely?  Am I teaching them prayer if I want them to pray?   Am I modeling study, showing them the blessing that comes from time in scriptures?   Do they see regular generosity, and do I point them in that direction in their lives?

In ministry, can I point to the purpose and the person to move the work?  So often in ministry work the clear direction is lost in the good intention.   The vast majority of ministry work is a good idea, with the intent of helping someone somewhere.   That goodness is not enough.  The discipline of determining effectiveness is just as necessary.

Task one of a point leader, asking and answering important pointed questions before setting off on a new voyage so it is not just a vacation.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Seven: In Front of Me

Seven, One of God's good numbers.  Seven is a Biblical complete number--it represents the whole.

I am going to marry two completely conclusions from different teachers, each of which were outlined in seven thoughts/ideas.  I think odd couples are interesting.

First, from a writer's blog, the seven universal literary plot lines, which I thought of as seven types of story, seven life directions. 

Also, the principles from The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry a leadership and ministry tool published by Willow Creek Church. 
1/Plot Line:  Quest  
1/7 Sin Of Ministry:  Unclear Objectives.

The quest on the table is to communicate and execute ministry that grows, to encourage and equip people to experience and share a confident faith.

What happens when the sin of unclear objectives partners with the quest?
  • no agreement on purpose (opinions, not objectives, overwhelm the focus)
  • progress (change) is blocked
  • relationships break down (ego, emotion)
  • expect too much attention from staff (people want applause, affirmation--more ego)
  • people don't know role in church strategy (see work too narrowly). 
Takeaway:  don't get lost.  In working toward (questing) a ministry goal, sharp focus is essential.  What am I doing, and why?  What do I need to get it done?  What do I think/hope it looks like?   Who and what help do I need?  How can I help another?   Quest needs clarity for a whole.

Next odd couple:  2/7 Voyage & Return and Lack of Leadership

Thursday, August 5, 2010

God, what do you mean?

I quoted someone in my prayer journal a year ago that study of scriptures is an intimate association with an historic event.   In the same entry I wrote Yahweh is known as a God who wants to involve himself, its not just the story of God but how God wants to interact with his people.

Now I am considering the life of Joseph for a class, and through the lens of God involvement, God interaction--there is a tension.  Joseph was abused.  The punch line, the end of the story, Joseph says that God meant the harm for good.  No doubt, but the journey was full of tremendous pain.

That leads to Victor Frankl, the holocaust survivor who determined that the purpose of life was not pleasure (Freud) but meaning.  That to live is to live a life of meaning, even if that meaning is in the midst of pain, of enduring and trying to survive the horror of genocide.    Frankl did not think the only worthy life was one of pain, but that life was worth holding onto even when the pain is beyond measure.

I think that meaning is found in how God interacts, the where and the how and the when-- and the joy in recognizing and remembering it.  Joseph did not find God's interaction only in the pain, or only after the pain.  In seeing God's interaction though, Joseph understood the pain was not just pain and not to be endured alone.  That God took man's abuse and directed toward something of purpose and power, and that God was interacting with Joseph, with us all the time.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Living A Better Story

Donald Miller wrote in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
     "So I started obeying a little. I'd feel God wanting me to hold my tongue and I would. It didn't feel natural at first; it felt fake, like I was being a character somebody else wanted me to be and not who I actually was; but if I held my tongue, the scene would play better, and I always felt better when it was done. I started feeling like a better character and when you are a better character, our story gets better too. At first the feeling was only about holding my tongue. And when I learned to hold my tongue a bit, the Voice guided me from the defensive to the intentional.
     God wanted me to do things, to help people, to volunteer or write a letter or talk to my neighbor. Sometimes I'd do the thing God wanted and the story always went well, of course; and sometimes I'd ignore it and watch television. But by the time I really came to believe the Voice was God and God was trying to write a better story. And besides, nothing God wanted me to was difficult.         
     It's a great book, I don't want to call it a must read, that seems presumptuous but it is wonderfully written and has an truly original perspective.  If you love to read or write this is as must read as it gets.
     That said, back to the excerpt.  Obedience.  People equate faithfulness with obedience and I hesitate a bit, I think that a faith which lives itself out by following rules leads to legalism and self righteousness and then failure. 
     It is a New Year's Resolution or I am Willing Myself to be better religion.
     Miller points to two interesting parts of obedience:  first, listening to God and following that, when the character does that (obeys),  the story gets better.  
     It hit me:  legalism is not obedience--willing oneself is not obeying anyone but self.  Obedience is hearing, attending to and then following what Miller calls the Voice.  The story would not get better if I take a legalistic or self will approach, but if I listen to God, discern His will from prayer, scripture, worship and I have a posture ready to give then not only will I be obedient, my story gets better (note, not easier--Miller has great thoughts on our pursuit of comfort). 
     I love the line, "sometimes I'd ignore the voice and watch television" again, what I am listening to and what am I paying attention to.?
     I just listened to a podcast of a sermon from Andy Stanley of Northpoint Community Church.  He asked, "when was the last time you saw a love scene in a movie between two married people?  I know it's almost ewww, yuck like watching your parents."  
     Stanley's conclusion:  we pay lots attention to and then fantasize about the love scene between unmarried people we find attractive but then are shocked, outraged that someone acts out in real life, that which we seek for entertainment.  
     We are shocked at the real world destruction that comes from listening then acting on a voice that is not God, because in the movies such behavior is fun with a cool soundtrack and hair/make up artists and costume designers.  It has the illusion of being worthy of watching, but somehow we are supposed to know not do what we pay to watch.
      Putting the two points together, if I follow what I focus on, then first I need to focus on that which is true and worthy.  Then, I need to follow it.  That is obedience, it's not complicated, but its not always entertaining.   Good stories are not amusements--but they are rich and interesting and have a lasting quality that I want.
     Monday morning coffee and comfort with obedience.  I think it's going to be an interesting week.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Looking Up and Pressing On

Not that I have already obtained all this or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." Philippians 3:12

It's one of my favorites, in that even surrounded by people and circumstances that are gifts, I have an excitement about the next step.   I don't really dream big, I am afraid, but I do look forward with enthusiasm.

Last night John and I took inventory of where we have been recently and where we want to go--with kids, money, each other, the house.  We talked about what was the wisest, most faithful option, opportunity and direction.   Frankly, it was fun. 

God really knows what the actual next steps will be, and I suspect a combination of joy and some sorrow, of sure steps and slip ups--but it's movement and that brings a wee bit of adrenaline and some focus.

To be sure, we are no one's definition of adventure seekers or bold risk takers but we are looking up and pressing on--confident of some good laughter and some good learning.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cast of Characters, An Excellent Work!

Cast of Characters:  Common People in the Hands of an Uncommon God is excellent--a worthy read for anyone who values The Bible as relevant and transforming. 

What makes Max Lucado's work so special?   He captures the lives of men and women from the Bible and tells their story in contemporary terms without taking any liberties to change or adjust the account. 

It is clever and thoughtful, but most of all it stirs up a response within, so that as I read, I was not just considering the lives of others, but my life and what does faith and failure really look like and really leave as a legacy.   The questions which follow each chapter are excellent for personal study or small group study. 

This book would work very well for both teens, adults.  It would bless those who are mature in faith with a fresh word and it would encourage those new to faith--introducing a large body of Biblical work in very manageable segments.

I looked forward to reading more each day, and have revisited several chapters, including the Lucado's take on Abigail, Mephibosheth and John.  Lucado moves through the Old and New Testament stories with energy and always seeks to show the reader how this makes a difference in the everyday, ordinary circumstances and relationships.

I strongly encourage anyone to read Cast of Characters, it delivers much.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Do More

Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness."  Hebrews 3:13

"Correction does much, but encouragement does more."  Johann Wolfgang Van Goethe

To encourage: parakaleo:  to call to one's side, to comfort, beg, console, instruct or teach.  An exhortation (to urge or persuade). 

My study this morning pointed in two directions:  we don't encourage because of envy or we fail to recognize the power of encouragement. 

I default to criticism, dressed up as correction, as if God purposed me to edit/proofread the lives and words around me.  I need to shift gears in my heart, my mind and finally to my active mouth, my gift is not filling in another's blanks out of envy or ignorance.

Why do I see my lack of encouragment as valuable contributions when I all I am doing is pointing to what is wrong, or missing or how something can be improved?   Why do I miss the tremendous value of walking alongside someone and considering, noting and commenting on what is working, what is right, what is helpful?

I applied for a job this week and listed two people as references before I asked permission from them to do so.  I was eager to accomplish my goal of submitting the application, and I made the mistake of listing those folks before asking. 

Then, I asked for their willingness to be a reference.   Both said the same, exact same thing to me:  "honored to be in that position, I hope they call."  The exact same encouragement--either they did not notice my error, or they did not care and instead encouraged my pursuit, hoping for the best outcome.

It was a powerful reminder of encouragement's real power.  The freedom from seeing what is wrong and the freedom to bless is tremendous.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Living Well, Loving Much

There is a time for everthing and a seaon for every activity under heaven:  a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant an a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep an a time to  laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.  Ecclesates 3:1-8

The family returned from a week in Michigan, full of beautiful lake bound activity--rushing, rushing, rushing through airports and Atlanta rush hour to gather up the dog and take one girl to a softball tourney and the other to camp.

In the midst of the rushing to and from the not so important,  I paused to share in a funeral honoring a neighbor's life.  In the midst of appreciating her life, the grief of her passing, the questions about her suffering--there is the moment of considering time and I use it.  Am I living well?  Am I caring about what is worthy of caring about?  Am I learning, and loving--the activity that fills purpose?

It was her time to die, and it hurt--as she loved much and loved well. 

It is my time to live well, time passes quickly.

Friday, July 2, 2010

That's not fair!

Matthew 20: Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.  You know the story, the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work.  He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sen them into his vineyard.  ...The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour cam and earth received a denarius.  So when those came who were hired firs the expected to receive more.  But each one of them also received a denarius.  When they received it,they began to grumble against the landowner....But he answer them, Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money?   Or are you envious because I am generous.  So the last will be first and the first will be last.

Two wonderful friends of mine just received a big gift for a job I did years ago.  Upon completion of my work, I received essentially nothing.   My first reaction was rationalized resentment, yes they did great, but must we be so extravagant?  My next reaction was self pity--I worked hard too and all I got was a cute coffee mug.  

This morning I considered my pride and envy for what it actually is--self centered and small.   I read the parable in Matthew 20 a couple of times.   I always "related" to the workers who arrived early, worked their tails off and felt unfairly compensated for their effort.  What if I am the guy that shows up as the sun is setting and collects a full day's wage?  What if I am really blessed not only more than I deserve, but actually I have not put much effort into the work of the day but am receiving full wages?  It never occurred to me that based on the kingdom work of others, I am late to the game and overpaid in contrast to their effort.

Perspective is a simple remedy for petty envy, next step--celebrating the bounty others receive, not just dodging my one jealously.


About Me

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Roswell, GA
Loves to find the answers to three questions of a sound Bible study: what does it say, what does it mean, what difference does it make?