Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Catalyst 18: Craig Groeschel

From 1/14/07

Craig Groeschel is pastor of the innovative, based our of Oklahoma but beamed to satellite locations worldwide. They are truly pioneers and on the cutting edge of the multi-site model. Groeschel is quick to mention, however, that this model works for them but is not by any means "the" way to do it. He laments churches who try to copy what is being done at Lifechurch out of fad, not need. Multi-site still needs to be authentic!

Online Church
Speaking of authentic, I was skeptical listening as he described "online church." It is what it sounds like, complete with online pastors, whose congregations live in cyberspace. It seems natural that if the church is going to meet people where they are, and considering that so many live socially online now, she would attempt something like this.

But can it work? According to Groeschel authentic community indeed takes place as through the chat lobby users arrive early and stick around longer than they would at live church. Users and online hosts pray for one another before, after, and even during the service. Oh, and you can even attend the worship style of your liking first before seeing the message. Folks who have met in the lobby have small group studies throughout the week with webcams and even organize and go on mission trips!

For Lifechurch, the target audience is those who would never come to church, as well as those who can't go because they are home with sick kids or other responsibilities. I can see that. But, it's hard to lay hands on someone without being there! It's hard to argue with this though; according to Groeschel, Online Church has more decisions for faith per capita than any of the live locations. I appreciate how the Gospel is being proclaimed innovatively through this medium, however I feel it should be intentionally acting as a temporary home for those who can't attend while encouraging all to get face to face.

Open Source Church
As Lifechurch grew rapidly, others noticed and inquired about their resources. The church had a choice, do we market our resources or make them freely available? To the benefit of thousands, they decided to post all their resources for sermon series, kids, youth, small groups, etc, on line with free access here

Craig Groeschel is a big advocate of pastors having accountability. He wrote a revealing book, "Confessions of a Pastor" that goes even into his struggle in the past with porn among other things. He in fact uses xxxchurch - it seems all these influential leaders use it!

"I will not sacrifice my family on the alter of ministry." Craig picked this quote up along the way and lives by it now. He is home @ 5:15 6 days a week and in family mode and promotes a church organizational culture that does the same. He mentioned Stanley's "choosing to cheat" as a big influence in this area.

Each year, in Jim Collins fashion, he adds to my "to don't" list. He's a huge advocate of leader development saying, "if you build others up there is no limit to what you can do." In other words, the American cultural model is to do as much as we can and receive praise for it. If we pour into others, and let the take credit, our mission will have no limit. After all, especially in the church, it is never "our" mission.

Finally, at home he praises his wife as his biggest asset in ministry. They homeschool their six kids and she sees her primary ministry as ministering the kids and supporting Craig. And she does this by challenging him often, affirming him, yes, but also asking point blank, "how's your time with God, I haven't seen you pray much?" and things like that.

A few years back Lifechurch did a series called "My Secret" that received national attention as thousands uploaded video confessions when invited through their online church. Incredible healing took place through this even that blew the leadership away. A cool example of the church leveraging technology and culture to promote reconciliation, to offer forgiveness, and to foster redemption.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Waiting on an Opportunity

Tough questions to ask yourself when waiting on that next step in life. I got this from a great Andy Stanley sermon that I highly recommend and can be found here. Honest answers should should be revealing and challenging...

The Questions:
Based on your current performance, would you trust you with a better opportunity?

Are you preparing for the next opportunity or just waiting for it?

What can you begin doing where you are now to prepare for the next opportunity?

Is there an opportunity where you are now that you are ignoring because the income doesn't match the workload?

The Meta-Application
Fully engage with your current opportunity while you wait, pray and actively look for the next one.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
~ Colossians 3:23-24

Monday, November 8, 2010

Catalyst 17: Dave Ferguson

From 1/2/07

Dave Ferguson is the lead pastor of Community Christian Church in Naperville where is well known for creating an sustainable healthy culture of leadership. They are one of the pioneers of the multi-site church model where they're attendance went from ~800 to upward of 5,000 within a short time of expanding to other satellite locations. He has a heart for facilitating not only church planting, but for creating whole networks of reproducing churches. Dave does this through the NewThing network that supports, resources, and catalyzes church planters and leaders of young churches.

DNA of Growth
When asked about what contributed to the growth of their church, which was planted in 1989, Ferguson cited Two Critical Decisions:

1. Identifying Apprentice Leaders. Specifically this happened within the context of their first small groups. From the start, groups had a leader and an apprentice who was being trained to eventually lead their own group. In this way, multiplication was built into the DNA of the church...sounds like 2 Timothy 2:2, eh?

2. Being Proactive about Growth. This is in contrast to waiting for growth to happen. Or, better said, "If you build it, they will come." Essentially, they didn't wait for the people, they waited for the leadership. When leaders were ready, they created space for a second service...and the people came! Proactive...

Ferguson offered an interesting and compelling reason to consider the multi-site model. With multi-site, the limiting factor is no longer real estate, rather it is the presence of leaders and artists. An entire new building and land need not be purchased, space needs to be rented to accommodate the technology. And, of course, the people, which are available because of intentional apprenticing and proactive growth.

I thought this was a perspective on confronting "change" in a church or organization. The context is of a young church planter creating a new experience from that of the sending church, that may have traditions that will not be incorporated. He notes that it's easy to rationalize the need for change by pointing out what is wrong with the current situation. Instead, perhaps a more tactful approach is to frame the new direction as "building on the positives of the past." Keeping this perspective in mind just might save a bridge from being burned while maintaining a healthy and productive relationship with an established partner in taking part in what Ferguson calls the Jesus Mission!

One Big Idea
CCC intentionally strives to broadcast a single unifying message each week. This is similar to Stanley's "one point sermon" in "Communicating for a Change." CCC integrates this theme from top to bottom, centering not only the sermon, but small group curricula and kid's church teaching around the One Big Idea as well. With families all on the same page, the gears for transformation have been well-oiled.

Moving Forward
If the 80's were the decade of the mega-church, Ferguson sees this generation as being one of the "reproducing" church. As distinctives, he sees a shift away from "territoialism" and a move toward networking across denominations, cultures, and generations to reach culture with the Jesus Movement.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Review of The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer to be a martyr and great theologian but not until reading his work did I come to truly appreciate him as a great hero of the faith. Born in Germany in 1906, he spent much time in the academy outside his homeland, only to return when it became evident that the Nazi party was successfully co-opting the church for its own ends. When others may have stayed abroad, Bonhoeffer went into the fire to lead an underground movement of evangelical churches in opposition to the state’s maneuvers. This was a subversive and thereby dangerous task, and indeed it cost him his life in a concentration camp just days before allied liberation in 1945. Why did he return? He knew God had called him there. Did he know it would be costly? Yes. And thus the theme of this book: a true disciple obeys his call understanding that it costs sacrificing our will to God’s, and that this may indeed cost us dearly, even our lives.

The book itself is divided into 4 main sections, Grace and Discipleship, The Sermon on the Mount, The Messengers, and The Church of Jesus Christ and the Life of Discipleship. Working primarily from the Gospels, The Cost of Discipleship reads more like a series of theological commentaries than a linear themed narrative that was meant to be read as a whole. Indeed, each section and really even each chapter, could stand alone as a commentary on an individual portion of scripture or doctrine. Each chapter is tied directly to a certain text or theme (eg baptism), often quoting text at the beginning, with the exegesis and commentary following. The handy scripture index at the back of the book makes referencing The Cost of Discipleship as a resource for study very easy.

Grace and Discipleship, the first section, is five chapters of commentary on primarily four texts: Levi’s call in Mark 2:14, those questioning to the call to be a disciple in Luke 9:57-62; The Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19:16-22; and the Lawyer in Luke 10:25-29. Throughout, a contrast is made between “cheap grace” and “costly grace”, a key idea for understanding the entire book. He takes great care to define each as the definition of “grace” would seem to say that it is free; to add a cost would be to add works to grace. In no way does Bonhoeffer support works based salvation!

According to Bonhoeffer, “cheap grace” is salvation offered as forgiveness without repentance and discipleship. In this way, “the justification of the sinner in the world degenerated into the justification of sin and the world” (p50). In other words, when we offer solace to sinners, simply offering forgiveness without repentance or a call to discipleship, we enable them to continue in sin because we don’t call their sin “sin”, we simply give comfort without calling for life change. We have not rooted out the source of evil without a call to follow Jesus...and that call will cost us something, thus “costly grace.” To Bonhoeffer, “cheap grace” is the “bitterest foe” of discipleship when in fact “grace simply means discipleship.”

Bonhoeffer is ahead of his time, noting the ill effects of offering “cheap grace” in society, noting how just as in the time of Constantine, the nation of Germany “became the cost of true discipleship.” This is a prophetic reminder to us today, in a nation that many believers consider to be “Christian”, to examine our churches for the signs of true discipleship. This is an especially poignant call as he predicts the downfall of what constitutes the mainline denominations due to an offering of “cheap grace” at the expense of discipleship. Indeed, this is playing out even as we speak.

While the first section lays the theological foundation for “costly grace” and true discipleship, the following three sections of The Cost of Discipleship, expound on its implication for the believer and the church. Section two offers a 100 page, section by section commentary on the Sermon on the Mount with challenging ethical and societal implications of discipleship. Section three focuses on Jesus’ call and commission of the disciples to be workers for the harvest in Matthew 9:35-10:42. Here, many of the true costs of obeying the call as an individual are laid out. Finally, section four deals with implications for the church, as a visible community, living out costly discipleship, not as an isolated kingdom, but as a transformational body within the world as proclaimers and partakers in the Kingdom of God.

Instead of speaking of strengths and weaknesses, it is more helpful to speak of what audience would most benefit from this read. The Cost of Discipleship is dense philosophically and theologically! Especially having the first section in mind, I feel I need to re-read several chapters to get the full sense of Bonhoeffer’s thoughts. This, combined with the fact that much of the exegesis uses arguments based on the Greek, in fact printing the Greek words directly in the text, suggests that the expected reader be somewhat learned in hermeneutics. And so, as a whole, I would recommend this book to a mature leader as a tool and resource for discipleship. That being said, certain sections, taken individually, would provide great material for discussion within a new believer’s discipleship class. Further, well read and erudite outsiders might connect with Bonhoeffers excellent literary skill and thorough exegesis. Specifically, I would recommend the Sermon on the Mount section to my non-believing friends for its well articulated presentation of the Kingdom of God. Who knows, maybe this could be the doorway to encouraging conversations about the Gospel?

Overall, The Cost of Discipleship is an incredibly encouraging, though extremely challenging read. Knowing the story of the author further adds to its authenticity and persuasiveness. The Cost of Discipleship is not for those who knowingly ignore the tension between Ephesians and James; that we are justified by our works as they testify to the fact that we have first been truly saved by grace, through faith. Faith without works, what Bonhoeffer would call the effect of “cheap grace” is truly dead. However, though self-denying, it is only through “costly grace” that we find the true and joyful life as it was meant to be, in communion with our creator and savior, who paid a great cost for us.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Catalyst 16: Christmas Special Kevin Myers

from 12/20/06

Instead of the standard interview, the catalyst crew played a sermon by Kevin Myers of Crossroads Church (now 12 Stone Church) in Lawrenceville. A passionate delivery with a few nuggets to think about...

Two Themes...

1. Reduce!
Very fitting for the Christmas season. The reference was actually to observing real-estate signs all over town with "reduced" plastered on them. That sparked in Myers' mind the idea to "reduce" this reduce this season down to its essentials. For him, that meant taking four Sundays to talk about Redemption, Justification, Regeneration, and Adoption. It's way too easy to forget that Jesus' birth was for the purpose of bringing these gifts to mankind...

2. Obligation vs Invitation OR Got to vs Get to
This was the big idea of the sermon as it related to redemption - that it is not an obligation but an invitation. The point was that too often the life of faith is seen as an obligation; but this was never the intention! He came that we may have life to the full. How will we respond then? Is this something we have "got to" do, or something that we have the great privilege to "get to".

He said this another way...that religion is what we do to get God to respond to us. It's a "got to." Instead, the true life of faith is a "get to"; an invitation to live a full life as a participant, through grace, in the story of redemption.

The most powerful illustration, however, came for me when Myers spoke of Justification. He told the heart wrenching story of a teenager in his church who was responsible for the accidental death of a young woman in a traffic accident. In court were two weeping fathers: the father of the young man pleading for mercy and the father of the young woman pleading for justice. I can understand both sides. The father of the young man knows that his son is deeply remorseful for the accident for which he was responsible...a guilty plea would leave his son in prison till mid-life, loosing many years of his life. On the other hand, the father of the young woman can only plead for justice...could you imagine being him watching the young man walk free?! I couldn't bear it! Justice must be upheld. And this is when I first realized the need for us to be justified. If forgiveness only is offered, justice is not served. The penalty must be paid. And this is what is so incredible about Jesus. He meets both of these fathers in their tears. He fulfills the need for justice to the one, and in doing so provides mercy for the other. Now, this doesn't mean that the son doesn't have consequences in this life, but in a spiritual sense the metaphor is powerful. The divine need for justice is satisfied in Jesus, and mercy is granted to our souls, even the worst of sinners. Why Jesus would do this is the beautiful mystery of the incarnation.

final notes...he gives three definitions of certain terms:
Justification - deals with guilt
Regeneration - New Life
Adoption - New Stance

Catalyst 15: Rick McKinley

from 12/10/06

So I have had this in the edit box for over a month and meant to write it out but I'll just post what I've got because as I read it the notes gave me some good things to think about...

Not Building the Church...Being the Church
- the seed must die
- love the city
- months of prayer
- don't create programs, pray for folks with vision to be raised up...the church comes alongside
- shepherding environments (of the laity), not trying to keep programs from falling apart
- the church is about cultural renewal, not empire building
- what would the kingdom look like...for drug addicts (freedom)...for the homeless (no lonliness)...for...
- the gospel is more than the's that the kingdom is already but not yet. Most profoundly seen in redemption, with people at the pinnacle of that redemption, therefore their salvation is central
- choice to do church at a HS so they get the funds in the community

Crossroads church - extension ministries Norwood Davis

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Gospel is...

There is much undeniable beauty in this world seen both in the physical world and in the people and animals that fill it. Unfortunately, however, this not the fullness of human experience. There are breathtaking natural landscapes yet there are those ravaged by environmental degradation and disaster. There are nations at peace and there are nations at war. There are communities living in comfort and there are those living in extreme poverty. There are children loved by their parents and there are those sold into slavery. There are the well-fed and the hungry. There are healthy marriages and there are broken homes, divorces, and abuse. There is cross cultural community and there is hateful bigotry. There are those being saved by medical advancement and there are those dying of incurable disease. Our world is broken and in need of saving. It is sick and the Gospel is the remedy.

What if this is how the world is meant to be? What if there is no creator and ultimate reality is just the physical, observable universe? What if a survival of the fittest model is how the world should work? What if societal and physical entropy is our doom? What if there is no God? If there is no God then this experience of brokenness is simply a reality we need to live with. Is there hope in such a world? Human experience would tell us that generation after generation will continue to rise up against one another, that disease and disaster will continue to afflict mankind, and that the lowly and downcast will continue to remain with us and be exploited by those in power. But what if instead we were created by a loving God who desires to be in relationship with us - a God who grieves over the world’s suffering and desires to bring healing to all broken places? In contrast to the bleak god-less vision, the Gospel offers hope through the person Jesus.

Our world is broken and so are we. Who of us has not taken part in giving or receiving this sickness of a broken world? What is this sickness? The bible calls it “sin”. Sin is a word to encapsulate all the facets of brokenness seen in our world, whether it is disease and disaster, injustice and intolerance, or broken communities and broken hearts. We all have this “sin disease.” Man has recognized this and throughout history has sought salvation. Traditional “religions” offer means of seeking solace in this broken world through ritual and good works. Secular “religions” such as the pursuit of wealth, career, and power also seek these same ends. But all means of our own doing fall short and leave us unsatisfied and empty. The Gospel offends us by saying that it is not our striving for God or comfort that will save us, it is the work of Jesus, who came to us, that will cure the sin disease.

...Bad News
If God wants the best for the world He created, then why does this brokenness exist? The truth is, God loved us enough to give us choices that matter, including the choice to obey Him or not. When man chose the latter, sin infected the world. Because God is perfect, He cannot exist with imperfection, an idea the bible calls being “holy”. This may sound harsh but just like a glass of pure water into which the tiniest drop of poison is placed renders the water undrinkable, so God cannot be sullied by any amount of sin, lest He cease to be all good. And so we are separated from God because of our disease of sin. Thus, here is the “bad news” of the “good news”: if we continue in this state of brokenness with God, we will not only miss out on fullness of life now, but in death we will be separated from Him forever, never to experience that which is good in this world and ever to experience that which is evil. This is “spiritual death.” Worse, as just shown, there is nothing we can do of ourselves to heal this wound.

The “bad news” of the “good news” does not reflect a God who takes pleasure in our misery, in fact God is grieved by His children who remain outside relationship with Him and wants for all to be restored. It is because of His justice that He does not mix with sin. Our conscience bears witness to our sense of a need for justice: when we hear of tyrants who oppress, of fathers who beat their families, of criminals who cheat the system, even of close friends who mistreat us, we desire to see justice brought about. If God did not carry out divine justice it would, again, sully His image as a pure and perfect being. And the payment for such sin, which we all carry to some degree, is death.

But the amazing truth of the gospel is that God, the perfect creator, in great love devised a plan to rescue His children from this punishment. The problem was that the punishment must be paid lest God’s justice be offended. And so in love He sent His only son, Jesus, to live a sinless life and to bear our punishment, unto death, the historically documented execution on a Roman cross two millennia ago. But the pinnacle of the good news is in another historical event: three days after his execution, Jesus, the remedy for salvation, conquered death and appeared resurrected before hundreds. Because he won this fight with death, we have hope to be restored to God, our creator and father.

When Jesus rose He didn’t begin another religion, rather He came to inaugurate His spiritual kingdom, a kingdom through which comes access to relationship with God and all its benefits. These benefits bless all mankind, however, access to God comes only through Jesus. And how is this access granted? It is not of our own work. Jesus has paid the penalty of death. There is no ritual and no striving that can bring about salvation from the sin disease...only an acknowledgment of our sinful state, and a trust in Jesus that He indeed paid the penalty, a trust we call “faith.” This is a radical idea, that we do not have to strive to get right with God and put on our best show of worthiness...only in the story of Jesus does God come down to us and meet us in our brokenness and mess, offering healing, not by our works but by his amazing grace.

...Good News for All
Before Jesus left Earth to dwell with God He commanded all those who follow Him to tell the world of this good news. It is God’s desire that the world be saved from eternal separation from Him, something we call hell, and to be restored to fullness of relationship with him eternally, something we call paradise. And all mankind means young and old, rich and poor, men and women, slave and free, and those from every cultural group the world over. This is the good news...will you receive it?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kinship Design

A sample of how I prepare for leading homegroup...

Hebrews 13:2 ~ Entertain Strangers
"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."

The Learner Will...
KNOW: We are commanded to practice hospitality.
REALIZE: ~ This is something we easily forget.
~ The Bible provides numerous examples.
RESPOND: ~ Thinking intentionally about hosting Sunday morning.
~ Thinking intentionally about being hospitable with neighbors.

Learning Plan...
HOOK: Question: When is a time you were shown great hospitality? Poor? From or toward strangers?

BOOK: Context: A persecuted Jewish-believer minority.
Two Points:
~ we easily forget to "entertain strangers"
~ Scripture illustrates...

Activity: In groups look up Genesis 18:1-8; 2 Kings 4:8-10; Mark 10:13-16. Mark down all observations and insights related to hospitality. Choose a leader and recorder. Each group will teach the kinship about what they found, with other groups being allowed to respond as they have also looked at the passages. Each insight should begin with, "entertaining strangers is..." and presentation can include other scriptures. As a large group, we will record observation on a large paper.

Connection: Discuss hosting and how this relates...
~ being "on duty"
~ seek out; leave old friends
~ pray during service for outsiders, for Jeff, for one another
~ walk people to Kid's church
~ invite people to join in a meal
~ be knowledgeable about other kinships. Bring people to kinship wall.

Action: Identify with one insight and pray for one another as it pertains to hosting...

TOOK: Challenge - pray for the service throughout the week. Practice hospitality at home!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

One Year Ago...

It's amazing to think that one year ago it was just the two of us going to bed, wondering when Hannah would come. That night we did all we could to encourage Hannah to come on her due date including two laps around the neighborhood complete with Virginia hopping up and down on the curb, all right right before bed!

We had no idea that we were hours from beginning the labor process...and we had no idea how much our lives would change! There have been challenges for sure but so far we are thankful that we can honestly say our experience has been more defined by joy and wonder in God's work of creation. Happy birthday our love!

Hannah waves hello to the world...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kinship Job Description: Hosting

This job is for the whole group! Too often we take a passive stance toward hosting. Really this is an opportunity for our group to be especially "on duty" in creating a welcoming environment. Whether performing an individual duty or not, all group members should be encouraged to participate as active hosts...

1Pet. 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

On Duty: Hosting is an awesome responsibility! When we host we are both representatives of VCC and of Christ. Aside from individual responsibilities, all have the chance to participate in the following...
⁃ Finding and greeting newcomers
⁃ praying for those in leadership (sermon/music/ kid's chruch)
⁃ praying during the service for God's working
⁃ helping newcomers find kid's church
⁃ being aware of other homegroups to direct newcomers accordingly

Individual Responsibilities
⁃ Snack (2-3 people. The majority of snacks should be healthy...we do not want to support gluttony!)
⁃ Coffee
⁃ Cleaning windows and doors
⁃ Communion (elements under table in foyer)
⁃ Candles
⁃ Greeting
⁃ Trash (after the service)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Finally Fall!

Highs in the low 70's in Augusta and we get to play outside! that means walking lessons for Miss Hannah. She's almost got some full words too...clearly she's saying da-da, right?

The Awesome Sovereign Mystery

A forum post from my Theology class. Below is the prompt. Thanks Alasdair for playing!

Interview the "other side". Interview a convinced Calvinist (if you lean towards Arminianism) or an ardent Arminian (if you lean towards Calvinism).

First I want to qualify this response by suggesting there there need not be "sides"; or at best there need not be only two views. Much like politically we are led to believe one is either republican or democrat, so it seems we can be led to similar theological conclusions regarding soteriology. While helpful for jump starting discussion, seeing only two possibilities, possibilities derived by Western minds nonetheless, could ultimately lead to arrested spiritual and church community development. Anyway...

I suppose if I were to place myself on a continuum, historically I've leaned Arminian. And so I called up my friend, Alasdair, who just graduated from Westminster Seminary in Philly to learn more about the reformed position...

Me: "How did you come to be be reformed? What does it mean to you"

Alasdair: "The one minute answer is...I truly believe with all my heart the God is in control of everything."

The scriptures he went to here were Job 1 when Satan asks God for permission to test Job, demonstrating God's ultimate authority over evil. Further, he went to the story of Joseph in Genesis and the "you meant it for evil, God meant it for good" declaration to show God's sovereignty in all things.

Me: "What's the biggest challenge to the reformed position?"

I expected him to address the problem of evil but instead...

Alasdair: "How to explain human choice and responsibility"

Not what I expected but certainly related to soteriology. Essentially he does not agree with the "middle knowledge" position held by traditional Arminianism. Instead, we came to the conclusion that there is a level of mystery that we must come to accept: God is omniscient and works all things for good, yet our choices still are meaningful. Of course behind this is accepting a strong "Sovereignty of God" position. In the face of mystery all we can do is bow before God and ask for humble and joyful acceptance as a child would accept a parent's explanation for that which they cannot understand.

The big takeaway for me in this discussion is the idea of mystery. We CAN'T know it all, at least not now! Salvation, election, predestination...mystery. Does God want all to come to repentance? Yes. Are there both wheat and tares, some bound for heaven and some for hell? Yes. Do our choices matter? Yes. And so we have a divine mystery... a mystery that I believe can be for our benefit...that none should boast. Lord, what can we do but praise you?

Is. 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
Is. 55:9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

New Backpack

Pictures from our recent family hike at Mistletoe state park near Augusta - Hannah's first in the hiking back pack! We picked it up at a baby consignment sale...originally $200 - we got it for $25. I mean Dang.

Notice the designer boots she's got! (Those are indeed Pedipeds for those who care)

Even getting carried around deserves a snack break...

And a water stop...don't forget to hydrate...and to use sun protection

We had an awesome time...

Soon you're gonna have to earn those boots, Hannah, and carry some of the weight around here. Good thing you're cute! I love my girls and look forward to more family hikes with our new pack...God thanks for a beautiful day in Your creation, and for an awesome family...(Psalm 19)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Almost Walking

Hannah is now walking when we hold her hand! A big credit goes to playmate Charlie, 6 weeks her elder who started walking circa 11 months, for showing her the ropes. Seriously, she's the most motivated around him...she wants to join the fast moving fun but her army crawl just ain't cuttin' it anymore!

Will she walk by her birthday on October 15th? If so, we gots to get moving on toddler proofing the house!

By the way, subject for discussion. When do babies stop being babies? Virginia suggests that babies crawl; toddlers "toddle". So is that the line? Sounds reasonable to me - so I guess we'll enjoy our baby for a few weeks before she graduates to Toddler U!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

An Opportunity: Hannah and Daddy Day 5

First a picture: not flattering (this was in the morning and it was still dark and the flash got to her). This her new trick, crawl around with the bottle clenched in the teeth. Talent.

Our daughter is amazing! First, she performed brilliantly at Kids Church, not fussing when I dropped her off and staying chill for the next hour and a half. After church we went to the Haynes and had lunch with them and the Edmondsons. Hannah was awesome getting passed around and playing with the 2 year olds and getting fed by not me.

Speaking of lunch it was pure, bacon greizz scrumpt. I made the famous Granddaddy King pancake batter before and brought it over. Then Matt cooked everything else in bacon greizz. How could that not be delicious?

So Hannah slept for two hours, then I got her up to watch the Falcons beat the Saints in OT. Till the Bills start winning she'll have to watch ATL.

Since it went to over time we didn't leave till 4:30. I had to be at church at 6:30 so instead going home and back again I stopped at a Andrew and Elsie's (who happen to have NFL Sunday Ticket) to chill while he watched Seattle. I had a banana and 1/4 avacado but no knife (well, I didn't feel like walking from the man cave to the kitchen to get one) so I just peeled the nanner and held it up. The girl ate the whole thing (well I helped with two bites)! It was hilarious watching her mush down the entire nanner. So we follow suit with the avacado. Who needs finger foods when they can just be mouth foods?

We got to church and I held her for the first 30 mins until putting her down at 7. To keep her entertained I let her empty my wallet...numerous times. She loves pulling out the credit cards...yikes.

Comment of the night (from good friend Jason Jacobs): "Your daughter is so calming to watch. Watching her is like watching an aquarium or something." I'll take that as a compliment?!

Her only fussy moment came when we finally got home in a substantial rain shower. (Actually, it's mercifully been raining all day here...our first rain in weeks. And tomorrow the high is the 70's! Funny, how I look to that as "cool weather". It hasn't been that cool since I lived in NH!)

So she got rained on and fussed. But this actually provided a neat moment as I got to rock her to sleep. We don't actually do this much because she's such a great sleeper and typically goes right down. But this was a nice cap to our five days together. There's something indescribably sublime about your little girl snuggling safe on your chest, finally closing her eyes and breathing deeply and calmly. Lord thanks for these days and what you've taught me. Bless Hannah and bring momma home safely...


Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Opportunity: Hannah and Daddy Day 4

Four days and I haven't come to meltdown! In fact I've been holding up great. In fact I wouldn't even say "holding up" - things are great and I have nothing to complain about. I heard it said that while you can't control circumstances, one thing you can choose is attitude. It's amazing what a decision for a new perspective can do, in my case a decision to stop the self-pity and to find the opportunity. So Lord, thanks for the opportunity and thanks for giving the strength to choose a good attitude.

Notable events from the day:
  • Early run
  • New Trick: dive bomb out the front of the stroller on walks! We've been saying for a few weeks that we need to actually start using the seatbelt on the stroller as Hannah has found it it fun to stand up and even climb the sun shade while on a walk. I'm torn because usually she's not this adventurous. What's the deal? In the house she give a pathetic pout when I try to help her walk by only offering one hand, but on walk she'll stand just about straight up in a moving stroller! Go figure. So today she decided to peak over the front bar and twice I had to grab her by the booty and yank her back. So maybe it's time to stop this? At least I have some "daddy saved you life now you have to listen to my life advice" ammunition for the teenage years. Use it wisely...
  • Made myself a pizza for lunch while feeding Hannah. I even impressed myself, rolling out the dough, dumping some sweet tater on her tray, back to the dough, now back to me. It was scrumpt and I ate half of it then and holstered just shy of finishing the rest for dinner.
  • Got some actual school work in, reading a chapter and doing a 'little' writing...while watching Georgia Tech get hosed by NC State. - dangerous.
  • She got clingy! We say lots of different folks on our walks today and while visiting friends. Upon first greeting she'd cry till I held her. At first it feels nice to be needed...but after 20 minutes it's like, "girl please, am I leftovers and you're saran wrap"? just made that up
  • Got to watch some football with Charles and Rikki and Charlie who is 6 weeks ahead of Hannah and walking. Even here Hannah was a little klingon. But she did settle in eventually for some pics...
  • John Pylant and Sioarse stopped by as he's home with her for the weekend. She was clingy us two dads sat on the floor while our daughters would exchange glances and then sheepishly burrow into us. It fascinating to witness shame of sorts at such a young age...
  • She stuffed her face at dinner getting some egg yolk, sweet taters, nanners, black beans, mixed veggies and 8 oz of vintage June frozen mommy milk.
  • I cleaned and laundried and watched football...not bad...the house is actually feeling sustainable and I got to rest the ol' brain.
  • Oh ya - we skyped with Denton and Virginia. Hilarious - Hannah was real confused, sitting with a stunned look on her face trying to figure out mommy in 2d. Come home to us mommy! We love you and miss you!

An Opportunity: Hannah and Daddy Day 3

Today was one of those days that got filled up by all the little things. We ran in the morning and then I dropped Hannah at "daddy's day out." (Usually that's when I get my brain time - 4 hours to myself! I get this twice a week now, it's wild how I never appreciated my own personal brain time until Hannah. I don't know how single mom's do it...). Anyway I had to take my car to get the trunk latch fixed and then checked in with a friend who has been trying to get a hole of us to raise support for his job. All this driving, waiting for cars, and chatting just eats up a day so by the end of 4 hours I had read ten pages for class.

A fun day with Hannah though. One, she finally pooped! She hadn't laid an egg since momma left...and the one she left was one of those rock hard, clean break, numbers that just plop off into the toilet. Didn't see myself writing that sentence one year ago! Ya. So. After that I felt the need for social interaction and the exchange of complete sentences with peers. This proved beneficial to Hannah's walking of all things...

So Hannah is real cautious. She'll walk all over the house when we hold her hands but as soon as we take one off to try and "wean" her to walking, she sits right down. She's actually digressed in the ability to stand. She somehow learned to stand be learn to sit down. So we'd let go of her hands and she'd have to just sway there until we caught her because she didn't realize that knees could bend! Now that she's figured it out, she just sits down when we let go.

Anyway, I visited neighborhood friends Charles and Rikki and their son Charlie who is 6 weeks older than Hannah and walking. Over their she got walking envy and tried chasing him with me only holding one hand! She's never done this before so I encouraged it. She especially loves his cozy coup...hipe that's not indicative of her running after studs with flashy cars...

so that was fun. Nothing specially to report on food...she continues to play the tease-daddy game with the good food while giving me the beans! And tonight she went down well without the screaming...awesome!

Today's picture comes from daddy's day out. I left the camera with Miss Madeline to document her day. This is a nice artful shot of Hannah with her "magic blankie" courtesy of Mary Gosset.

Ok - g'night!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

An Opportunity: Hannah and Daddy Day 2

Our first full day together without mommy. She did great this morning, and I did great because my alarm was off! so instead of making up at 6, I woke to her "hungry fusses" at 7. I was super confused though because I was waiting for the alarm thinking, "girl, why you cryin' at 5 in the mornin?" Then I saw the time and got her fed...

So we played until our walk which took us to the park:
After swingin' she got her snack and a nap. We got in our run after the nap before eating a scrumpt lunch of peaches, avocado, and sweet tater. I even snuck in a little tofurkey.

After the nap she had a fairly fussy afternoon so we headed to church early for kinship where we resumed our new eating game. She feeds me! But often, at the last second, she'll pull the food out of my mouth and eat it herself. I mean dang. So she's gotten even cleverer - she'll feed me the black beans, but with the peaches and cheese? Nuh uh, she pulls those out of my mouth and horfs em down herself.

Kinship was great - she went down well and transitioned well to the carseat. At home though she wouldn't sleep and stood SCREAMING in the crib. I held her, I changed her, I gave her hot water, I sang! Nothing, only pathetic screams when I put her back. So I committed a cardinal sin of baby books, I gave her the bottle and left the room...she's been quiet for over an hour!

The attitude has been great so if you've been praying for me, thanks so much. I'm getting a lot done for school and even had time to make zucchini bread last night...
I am officially domesticated. And yes, it was delish.

Well, gots to sleep. She'll be dropped of at "daddy's day out" tomorrow so I'll get 4 straight hours of having my brain to myself! Whooo!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

An Opportunity: Hannah and Daddy Day 1

So it seemed terrifying at first: 5 days on my own with my 11 month old daughter! Today Virginia left for an Ortho conference in Colorado Springs and will be there Wednesday (today) through Sunday night late. Yikes! I admit I haven't had the best attitude about the prospect of these five days leading up to it. Reasons to complain: I'm solely in charge - Virginia usually wakes her up and also cares for after five till bed time; Virginia usually makes food for her, now that's me; when I go outside to change up the scenery it crazy hot because this is Augusta, GA - a place so far behind the times that it hasn't discovered seasons yet; blah blah blah.

So I realized that this pity party was both getting me down and stressing Virginia out and making her feel guilty. So by God's grace I'd like to take the opportunity to declare this an opportunity! Five days with my daughter alone - there are many out there who would love this chance. It hit home for me when I had lunch with a friend yesterday who lost his daughter to a stillborn birth. Have I become so ungrateful? So God, feel me with an attitude of gratitude. (wow, that flow was not intended!)

Here were today's activities...

11-12 Lunch: black beans, string cheese, green beans (1/3 jar), pears (1/2 jar) formula. Ate it all!

12:30 -2 Nap: woke up a little early so we played.

Snack: chugged 6 oz

2:30 - 4:30 Playtime: stayed in Hannah's room and played with blocks and daddy's phone. Self entertained while daddy read theology!

4:30-5:15 Nap!

5:30-6 Run! she's trying to make a call...
6-6:30 Dinner: hard boiled egg yoke, tofurkey, green beans (1/3 jar), black beans, banana, cheese, 5 oz., mixed veggies.

We also discovered a new game. Originally Hannah started holding out pieces of corn, ostensibly for me to eat! So I swooped in, ate it from her hand, and she laughed. Then she changed it up on me and gave a glimpse of the future perhaps...she held out the corn like before, had it all the way in my mouth, then pulled it back at the last second and ate it herself! Clever girl.

6:30~7 Wind down: check out this multitasker! just like her momma...

So now it's time to get working on those papers. I was blessed to have this day...thanks Hannah!


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cozy Coup!

She looks such a natural behind the wheel doesn't she? I mean, one hand?! What a cutie eh? She's gonna be expensive...and totally worth it!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Redemption Catalyst

I was greatly encouraged recently by a friend involved with a campus ministry at MCG. He related the stories of two young men who came to faith through their bible study and are living radically transformed lives. I love these redemption be part of this sort of thing brings so much's what I love about the Christian faith! And one need not be a vocational minister to experience this...

The phrase that kept coming to mind was "Redemption Catalyst." This should be the job description of every Christian! We are not the source of this redemption, but we are often privileged to be used in such a role. Are we making ourselves available? Here are some verses that help me think about this...

Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.
~ Deut. 15:14 - 15

This passage refers to the Israelites setting their slaves free on a regular basis. Notice that it is a practice of passing on redemption. Romans shows just how we have been redeemed...

...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
~ Rom. 3:24

Since all who believe have this redemption freely and liberally given, so we should freely and liberally give. In doing so we multiply the redemption given to us, in a sense. Let us not forget that before Christ we have all been slaves to sin, in need of a redeemer. And with that redemption came something incredible...

He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live to enjoy the light.’
~ Job 33:28

Having freely received the joy of living in the "light", how can we help but want other to experience this as well? Lord, help us identify what is "the best of our flock and winepress." Help us make the time to do this, and the courage to share of it. Let us be redemption catalysts and share in Your joy as more are brought into the light.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Kinship Job Description: Worship Leader

• Practice Biblical Self-Leadership
⁃ Abides daily in praise, prayer, and scripture
⁃ Leads family first
⁃ Be continuing student of guitar and worship music

• Preparation
⁃ Get theme from Group or Worship Shepherd at least one week before kinship
⁃ Be wise about song selection. New songs should be easy to follow and learn. A good idea is to discuss trying a new song with the Worship shepherd and other leaders.
⁃ Pray and play through the set for the week leading up to kinship
⁃ consider involving others as helpers in leading song or in percussion
⁃ Ideally, have overheads and copies ready hours before kinship
⁃ Arrive at kinship at least 10 minutes early to organize music and instruments
⁃ Communicate with Group Facilitator concerning who will open and close in prayer
⁃ Inform Worship Shepherd ASAP if an issue arises

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kinship Job Description: Hospitality Coordinator

• Dinners
⁃ Create a schedule for meals rotation
⁃ Create and maintain a "dinner supplies" box (plates etc...) at the church

• Childcare
⁃ Communicate directly with providers
⁃ Collect monies from group members and pay providers
⁃ communicate with Jeff for check for providers

• Meals Ministry
⁃ In the event of babies / hospitalization / tough times etc...
⁃ Create schedule for meals. Can include those outside group...

• Communication
⁃ Jeff: checks for childcare
⁃ Childcare providers report to you in the event of schedule changes
⁃ Group: let the group know when folks are in need of home or hospital visits. Also, communicate with those in these situations to find good times.
⁃ Group Leader: inform of any needs, especially if responsibilities can't be covered for the night

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kinship Job Description: Worship Shepherd

• Practice Biblical Self-Leadership
⁃ Abides daily in praise, prayer, and scripture
⁃ Leads family first

• Administration
⁃ Scheduling leaders for each night, ideally one cycle in advance
⁃ Providing overheads or handouts when necessary
⁃ Keep and grow a digital library

• Delegate and Empower
⁃ Identifies new leaders
⁃ Trains and encourages new leaders

• Communication
⁃ With worship leaders, coordinating, encouraging and training
⁃ With group leader, coordinating worship with the night's cycle

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kinship Job Description: Celebration Coordinator

• Practice Biblical Self-Leaderhsip
⁃ Abides daily in praise, prayer, and scripture
⁃ Leads family first

• Cast Vision and Plan Fun Night
⁃ Fun night is a built in evangelistic opportunity!
⁃ Creates structure and appropriate programming for fun night to be welcoming to outsiders and uplifting to the community

• Birthdays & Anniversaries
⁃ Gets all member's birthdays and anniversaries on a calendar.
⁃ Coordinates celebrating these milestones at each month's fun night

• Delegate and Empower
⁃ Asks others to lead fun night
⁃ Involves others in activities; e.g. baking cakes, bringing games

• Communication
⁃ reports to group leader
⁃ communicates with group as necessary to get info and give dates for upcoming events
⁃ keep up with outreach coordinator for helping with evangelistic events

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kinship Job Description: Group Shepherd

• Practice Biblical Self-Leadership
⁃ Abides daily in praise, prayer, and scripture
⁃ Leads family first

• Cast Vision
⁃ Plans each cycle
⁃ Ensures the incorporation of the "five smooth stones" (corporate worship, member care, discipleship, compassion ministry, evangelism)
⁃ Anticipates growth and plans for multiplication

• Delegate and Empower
⁃ Identify apprentice leaders who will share in teaching and meet with them for training
⁃ Appoint leaders of all other areas of ministry
⁃ Communicate with all leaders on a regular basis offering spiritual guidance and encouragement

• Teach
⁃ Finally, the group leader will facilitate and lead discussion

Friday, September 10, 2010

Jesus' Leadership: Mark 16

The Resurrection
vv 1-20. Jesus appears to Women first! This is incredibly counter-cultural for the day as their testimony was not even allowed in court. It's no wonder then that their story was not at first believed by the disciples. How empowering, then, of Jesus toward a group with limited rights.

On a related note, He rebukes the disciples for not believing the women. God is wont to work by unexpected means. Will we recognize the truth? Or will prejudice blind us?

Finally, His final instructions are clear, "Go and preach in the whole world." His mentorship of the disciples was now complete, at least in its physical presence form. He had passed on His power as they now performed signs. Among other things, His resurrection provided the catalyst they needed to go out and preach and minister. And preach they fact due to Jesus' multiplicative leadership, the church eventually spread throughout the world...and I am now writing this blog today because Jesus led and empowered 12 uneducated, minority, laborers. Is there any reason to underestimate the power of God?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Jesus' Leadership: Mark 15

Before Pilate
vv 1-15. Still Jesus is shown injustice and still He remains silent. He is not pleading for His life nor trying to reason with the officials. He is resolute and Pilate is dumbfounded.

The Soldiers Mock
vv 16-20. These passages are reminders that following after Jesus involves "picking up our cross." Picking up a cross is an exhausting, painful, and gruesome task. I forget this. But Jesus went through it, trusting God that there was glory on the other side. Perhaps someday I or we will be in this very situation with our very lives on the line. Almost assuredly we will face lesser trials that we know we must endure for a good on the other end. LORD give us you strength to do so faithfully and obediently as you did.

The Crucifixion
vv 21-32. Even Jesus needed someone to help carry His burden. I know I would feel humiliated in this case. But if God incarnate can become weak and require an outsider to help for bit, then so should I accept such help.

The Death of Jesus
vv 33-41. Jesus questions God. "Why have you forsaken me?" But even in this question JEsus is quoting scripture. In a sense this is a prayer. And to the end Jesus is in tune with His father, even under the excruciating of circumstances.

The Burial of Jesus
vv 42-47. The story of Joseph or Arimathea is a great encouragement that there are those we don't expect who have been touched by the message we preach. So often I get consumed by what is right in front of me, but God could be working on people's hearts anywhere. The work of God is not limited to me!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Jesus' Leadership: Mark 14

Jesus Anointed
vv 1-11. Here Jesus is in the last days of His life, a truth this woman has recognized, yet those closest to Him have missed. Sometimes those we lead might be oblivious to the reality of the situation and we may need to rebuke accordingly.

Also, some of the disciples are unaware of the season of ministry. They are having a "good" thought at the "wrong" time. Ministry isn't all about being efficient all the time, though there is an appropriate time to do so and to ask tough questions about how our money and resources are spent. This is GOOD thought for such a season, but this is a season of celebration in a sense...and celebration appears wasteful to the efficient eye. This woman is celebrating Jesus. And Jesus makes a huge value statement to all who would follow Him and to all who would lead in His name: WORSHIP IS THE FIRST PRIORITY! If we are not first plugged in to worship, our service to the poor and others will leave us totally depleted and aimless in purpose. This is almost like tithing: bring first to me, then live on the rest.

The Last/Lord's Supper
vv 12-26. Jesus is doing the difficult work of both saying goodbye and of preparing for His succession. He has to deal with both betrayal and misunderstanding from within. Leaders should be prepared for these potential situations.

Prediction of Denial

vv 27-31. In observing the life of our pastor Jeff, dozens have "fallen away" from his leadership. Some have left and returned, others have simply left in unhealthy fashion, never to return. In watching him it is amazing to see how confident he is in the direction of the church in the face of these difficulties. If we are not prepared for this and take it all personally, how debilitating indeed would it be?! If we are not confident in our direction how will we not capitulate to those who would try and manipulate us?

In Gethsemane

vv 32-42. Leadership can be a lonely venture. At His darkest hour, Jesus was abandoned by His inner circle! Yikes. Yet also at His darkest hour, He was connected to the source, speaking with the Father. Further, He displays great honesty, telling the Father His fears about the upcoming task. He is certainly not in denial about the importance, the gravity, and the heart wrenching challenge of what is to come.

Jesus Arrested
vv 43-52. In this chapter Jesus has already been betrayed from within. Now He is experiencing underhanded actions from without. Despite all of this, Jesus demonstrates extreme composure under the most challenging of circumstances.

Before the Sanhedrin
vv 53-65. Observe the patience and endurance of Jesus in the face of false accusations: "But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer." I know if I were being spat on and falsely accused, I would have a hard time not snapping on someone.

Peter's Denial
vv 66-72. Contrast Peter and Jesus. Peter, when minimally threatened, denies Him who has has sworn to die for, acting defensive and telling lies. Jesus, on the other hand, when threatened with His life, remains composed and silent among accusations. When finally asked the question of His identity, He gives the loaded and short response, "I Am", enough to condemn Him.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Jesus' Leadership: Mark 13

Signs of the End
vv 1-31. Jesus gives commands and warnings about coming events, some seeming to have been fulfilled in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and some which seem to point toward future fulfillment at the second coming.
  • v3. Watch Out! There will be deceivers out there. Keep a vigilant mind to discern the truth and the light.
  • v7-8. Be ready! I wonder if the disciples heard of these signs and were like, "ok...duh...could you be a little more specific please?" I wonder if Jesus was even being sarcastic with them! Wars and famines and earthquakes happen all the time. It's funny how each generation interprets these verses as applying to them. So either everyone's wrong...or, maybe this is a brilliant play of Jesus! By describing signs that are common to each generation, each will constantly be looking, therefore maintaining vigilance against deception while keeping an expectation for Jesus' return. This reminder should fuel evangelism and mission and compassion in every generation. Brilliant!
  • v12-13. Again Jesus reminds that leadership in the church will lead to relational tension both in and outside the family.
  • v28. Figs. Jesus again uses an incredibly relevant and powerful example in context.
  • v31. Authority. A reminder that the Words of scripture are eternal, and eternally valuable.
Day and Hour Unknown
vv 32-37. Similar to vv 7-8 above, these verses are a great call to be consistent in our daily walk. Like the health inspector showing up at the restaurant, or the auditor to the business, or the safety official to the jobsite, we don't know when Christ will return. If we did we could sure act differently. But not knowing leads us to live lives of purity, of mission, or compassion, of love in community, and of peace with all. A great thought is, "would I be proud of Jesus showing up right now?" That's sobering, eh?

As leaders we can also learn from this. Not that we should never communicate when we will check in, but I wonder if making a habit of checking in at unexpected times would maintain a level of excellence in the work of the group.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Jesus' Leadership: Mark 12

The Tenants
vv 1-12. Jesus displays incredible courage, knowing that He represents the son who is killed. What self-less resolve in knowingly going toward this end.

vv 13-17. Jesus' reputation as one of integrity proceeds Him. And again He shows His incredible wisdom in not being trapped by the Jewish leaders' questions. To them, if He answers "yes" then He would lose the support of the people. If "no" then He is guilty under Roman law and they can bring a charge against Him. Instead Jesus answers them with a question that pierces their souls. Brilliant!

vv 18-27. Jesus' question "are you not in error because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God" was surely quite an affront to these leaders! As He did earlier, Jesus uses an argument based on what His opponents find to be authoritative, in this case scripture, to both debunk their facade question and then to address their true issue.

The Greatest Commandment
vv 28-34. Jesus affirms the man who is seeking the Kingdom. I wonder what the disciples were thinking as they watched Jesus debate?

Jesus' Identity
vv 35-40. As the crowds are delighted and the disciples look on, two things are clear to me. For one, Jesus knows Scripture through and through and bases His arguments off of this authority. This is a great encouragement for me to follow - to know the Word and to trust it as having value and authority among men. Second, Jesus is certainly not afraid of challenging the establishment. And again what is interesting, Jesus does not attack Rome, but the Jewish leadership. Again, this would be today like not blaming the government but calling the church leadership to account.

The Widow's Offering
vv 41-44. Jesus makes a great teachable moment out of a seemingly insignificant event. This surely wold have left a deep impressing on the disciples, especially as they remembered this final week of Jesus' life in Jerusalem. Jesus reminds them that it's not about the act. it's about the heart. For us practically, giving isn't about a discrete amount, it's amount percentage.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Jesus' Leadership: Mark 11

A Triumphal Entry
vv 1-11. Jesus delegates and entrusts two disciples with an important task. He gives them specific instructions that they must rust in completely. It must have been unnerving to carry out this task, essentially commandeering a colt, yet they were faithful and his instructions proved vital.

Clearing the Temple
vv 12-19. Jesus gives us an example of when it is right to act on zeal. While Jesus has confronted opponents verbally, up until now he has not used physical force. So there is a time and a place for it. Also interesting that the equivalent of the temple today would be a church...He is not using this violence against outsiders, but against those who should know better.

A Withered Fig Tree
vv 20-26. Jesus teaches against holding bitterness - a great key to leading well. As shown in Jesus' life, the leader will face opposition, both from outsiders and from close relatives and acquaintances. A call to forgive, that we may be forgiven, is also a great reminder of our true identity, not of a great self-made leader, but of a redeemed sinner.

Authority Challenged
vv 27-33. Jesus demonstrates incredible self-control and wisdom in this interaction with the teachers of the law and priests. Instead of answering their question or lashing out at them, he asks a clever question in response to their question. His ability to respond to critics in such a shrewd and intelligent way is one His leadership trademarks.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Jesus' Leadership: Mark 10

vv 1-12. This event begins with crowds coming Jesus. v1 Says that, as was His custom, He taught them. This demonstrates Jesus' readiness to teach whenever the opportunity might arise.

Concerning divorce, Jesus points the Pharisees away from legality and toward the heart. This is a great principle: just because something is legal doesn't mean it's good to do. Gambling is legal, drunkenness is legal, strip clubs are legal, abortion is legal, and yes, divorce is legal. This is a reminder to seek first His Kingdom and the associated values. It is dangerous to accept as authoritative for our live that which the state calls legal, especially if the culture is regularly indulging in it.

The Little Children
vv 13-16. Children were not socially valued in this culture. To become like a child would be to become weak and dependent. And in a sense, this is what we admit when we come to Christ! In His upside down Kingdom, the values are reversed. So what does a child do well? They have unquestioned trust in their parents. This is huge to recognize for leaders. We do not become great by figuring it all our independently, but rather, by depending on our Father and trusting Him with that which we cannot explain.

The Rich Young Ruler
vv 17-31. Jesus cuts to the chase - what do we value most? We should be willing to sacrifice for that which we value most. This is indeed a difficult teaching.

vv 32-34. Jesus does not leave any surprises for the disciples, though they might not have understood all He said. I appreciate that He let them know how the passion week would proceed to give them hope through the dark periods.

James and John
vv 35-45. Jesus lays out the leadership paradigm for those in His Kingdom. Worldly leaders lord their authority over their followers, leveraging their influence for personal gain. But leaders in the Kingdom leverage their influence for the benefit of their followers, serving with their very lives as Christ did for the church.

Blind Bartimaeus
vv 46-52. Right after teaching on servant leadership, Jesus demonstrates it. While the disciples wanted to quiet this blind man, Jesus asks him, "what do you want me to do for you?" Wow, imagine a high powered CEO leading like that! And this was God! Wow!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Jesus' Leadership: Mark 9

vv 2-13. Of late, the disciples had been misunderstanding what Jesus was all about. Peter had confessed the Christ, but immediately rebuked His for foretelling His death. After allowing this confusion to simmer for a week, Jesus decided to give the inner circle an undeniable experience of who He was. This was clearly strategic. Peter was probably the eldest and was the leader of the apostles and their spokesman (Acts 2). It seems that this experience sustained Him throughout His lifetime as He references this in His final letter (2 Pt 1:16-18). John was the youngest and would go on to be the longest lived. Perhaps having witnessed the Deity of Christ first hand allowed Him to genuinely write the beautiful prologue his gospel decades later. I am not as sure about Jame's role. He was the first martyr (Acts 12:2) among the apostles, so perhaps this vision gave Him strength in trial. He was also John's brother, one of the "Sons of Thunder." With such a name they likely had influence among the apostles. As a witness to the transfiguration, James' influence from that point on was surely shaped in a powerful way by this event. Or maybe Jesus was being wise about sibling relations, knowing the jealousy that could arise from sharing with one brother but not the other!

Spiritual Healing
vv 14-29. Jesus is not present at the beginning of this episode indicating that the disciples were ministering on their own...indicating that Jesus was in the process of multiplying Himself. Where then was Jesus? Though we can't know, it would not be surprising if He was praying in a lonely place.

As a leader, sometimes it's necessary to get the job done yourself. This brought to mind memories of working construction. We'd be trying to accomplish a task with framing, for example, when the boss would show up. Without rebuking us, he'd step in and bang out the job in no time. We'd sit back in awe of how he seemed to so easily handle what was frustrating to us. We'd be inspired to continue with like tasks and our admiration for the boss grew. It seems this is a similar situation. Though the disciples were being empowered to minister, there still comes a point when the boss needs to handle the job.

A Retreat
vv 30-32. Jesus did not want anyone to know where the were, because He was teaching His disciples. Man, to have been there! Why have such verses not registered in my brain in the past? At least from a leadership perspective, there is a vital principle at work here. It seems Jesus has established a rhythm to the ministry, interspersing time of work with times of solitary rest and group retreat. Perhaps He recognized that the disciples still had much to learn following the previous incident. Perhaps they were simply worn out. Regardless, it seems that Jesus jealously guarded this time of being with only the 12. These, apart from Judas, would be the leaders of the church upon His death. It was imperative to intentionally train them, both in hands on experience, and in intimate retreat.

Who's the Greatest?
vv 33-37. Despite the retreat, it's clear the disciples still had much to learn! In response to their arguing about who is the greatest, Jesus introduces a powerful and counter-cultural lesson about leadership: It's not about being the best and receiving the highest honor as they knew it and imagined it, it's about sacrificially serving. Later Jesus would act this out by washing their feet. Here He shames them by directing their ministry toward a child. In this cultural, children were not valued as ones to be ministered to. To serve children first, the least of these in a sense, would demonstrate a truly great servant heart.

If You're not against Us, You're for Us
vv 38-41. This is great little snapshot that points toward future denominational squabbles. The context of this argument is confined to those already within the church. This is important because later Jesus will say "If you're not with us you're against us." There He is talking about those outside the church. Today denominations may squabble about who has the best youth group, who has the best missions, who does worship right or preaching right. Some may emphasize teaching while some emphasize service. It is so easy to thing we have the best way of doing it. Jesus calls us to remember that we are part of a worldwide and multi-cultural body. Truth is, is the work is authentically being done in Jesus' name, we need to remember that we are all on the same team! Satan would love to drive wedges between us by inciting ministry "turf wars." I really appreciate Jesus' foresight in gifting us with this bit of wisdom.

Causing Other to Sin: Bad Move
vv 42-50. Our actions affect more than just ourselves. When we sin it is evident to others, especially when we a re in a position of influence. As leaders, this is a great call to responsibility!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jesus' Leadership: Mark 8

Four Thousand Fed
vv 1-13.
  • v2. Jesus has compassion on the crowd. He recognizes they will suffer from hunger if sent home without food. First of all, this shows how charismatic a teacher he was, that people would neglect their well being to listen to Him for three days! Further, it shows Jesus' empathy and awareness of the condition of His followers. He does not lead them to a place where their needs will be unmet. Through this empathy Jesus sustains them while they pursue Him.
  • v4. The disciples seem to have forgotten feeding the 5000. This has got to be frustrating for Jesus! This is a reminder that often it takes a while for those we are leading to really understand our vision.
  • v6-7. Again, Jesus empowers the disciples to be the ones to distribute the food. Perhaps this grew their compassion as well.
  • v12. Jesus sighs deeply! I imagine it like this...Mmmmmphhhhhhh. Is this His way of not lashing out immediately in anger at the Pharisees? Regardless, Jesus demonstrates extreme self-control by not granting the request of His opponents.
Yeast of the Pharisees
vv 14-21. Following from v4, Jesus addresses the fact that the disciples still don't understand who He is. As leaders we need to prepare ourselves for this reality; that often what we understand so well, what we have been thinking about for some time, what seems so real for us, is potentially going to take a while to sink in fully for our followers. We need patience. What's humbling as well is to remember that we are in a constant state akin to that of the disciples; of not understanding Jesus fully. Therefore, our experience as followers should give us empathy for the times when our leadership is not fully understood.

Blind Man in Bethsaida
vv 22-26. This story has always raised questions for me...why wasn't the man healed the first time? Maybe Jesus did this as a gift to us imperfect leaders as a reminder that change is a process. In healing this man Jesus stopped to check in on this process. He then continued with the healing. This could apply to several contexts but it is acutely applicable to ministry. When I disciple it is often difficult when results are not immediate. Simple idea but certainly worth learning from, especially in a day and age when there is an expectation for the instant.

Peter's Confession
vv 27-30. In a sense, this is the original "Come to Jesus" meeting! Following their recent misunderstandings, Jesus tests the disciples again to see where they stand. In a sense, He's getting the team all on the same page. What joy there must have been in Peter's recognition. It's these aha! moments that leaders in ministry, or leaders at work, or parents at home with kids live for.

A Prediction of Death
vv 31-9:1. Just when the disciples had come to a new level of understanding, Jesus stretched them again, giving them a challenging vision. Then in v34 He declares the cost of following Him. Peter's rebuke shows that though he had just come to a new level of understanding, thee was still a long way to go. I am reminded that understanding does not happen all at would be wise for us to celebrate the mile markers then, and not just the finish line.

Jesus is upfront, not hiding anything about the cost of being part of His mission. Many may fall away in these times, but those left will be of good character.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Jesus' Leadership: Mark 7

Clean and Unclean:
vv 1-23. Ironically, the very traditions of the Pharisees that were created to allow for holiness, kept them from obeying the commands of God! Said otherwise, their "established bureaucracy" kept them from actually achieving the "company mission." And so Jesus appropriately challenges the system. What He wisely recognizes is the need for men and women of sound character. The Pharisees were indeed talented, however, their hearts were empty, focused on fulfilling a law they had made up rather than abiding in the love of the Father. As a leader then we must ask for discernment. Why do we do what we do? What truth is it based on? Are we awed by talent, i.e. those who say the right things, or by character, i.e. those whose hearts are in the right place? As we lead ourselves, I am reminded that lip service is offensive to God, He wants my heart. Lord take it and mold it and shape it and fill it, letting it overflow to bless your people.

The Syrophoenician Woman
vv 24-30. Here Jesus does a difficult thing in staying the course of His mission. He was called to preach the Kingdom and repentance to the Jewish people and here was a Gentile begging for His help. It seems harsh the way He rebuffs her, but it was necessary for Him to stay focused and keep priorities...others would take up the mission to minister to the Gentiles. In leadership, this is not allowance to be harsh with people, but rather, to expect that there will be times when we let people down because of our priorities.

Good is the enemy of the Best. Would it be "good" to help this woman? Of course. But would it be the "best?" Not in this case. For example, Virginia and I were invited to over a dozen weddings in a 6 month time span. If we said yes to them all, they would be our entire life (and life's savings!). I wouldn't say anyone "begged" but we were strongly persuaded to come to the events by many. Our top priorities though are maintaining our family cohesion, to finishing school well, to being with our church family on Sundays, and being wise steward of our money. We couldn't go to all of these weddings and do this. And so we had to say no to most, dissappointing many friends and family along the way. In leadership we must be aware of the reality that being focused on a mission means we will eventually let people, often those close to us, down. Hopefully they will be as understanding as the Syrophoenician woman!

Healing a Deaf and Mute Man
vv 31-37. Jesus uses quite unusual methods to heal this man, sticking his finger in orifices and spiting on his eyes. Sometimes "the right tool for the job" might seem a bit strange. And it might look strange to others! Often following God''s design for our lives will look strange, but the results are powerful! Are we willing to act outside the box in following the will of God?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jesus' Leadership: Mark 6

vv 1-6. Jesus gets a cold and skeptical reception in Nazareth, even from relatives. This is a reminder that not everyone is going to appreciate our ministry. In fact, some very close to us may be antagonistic. If they were opposed to Jesus, God Himself, can we expect much better?! This is a reminder to prepare ourselves to be disagreed with, especially with close friends and family.

Field Training
vv 7-13. Jesus exhibits wise leadership by empowering his followers to carry out His work. The words used are "he gave them authority" to do what He had been doing. It takes great trust, and great humility to let others try, and probably fail on occasion, but look at the result! I am able to write about this today because Jesus multiplied His influence early in His ministry, preparing the apostles for the challenge of building the church.

John the Baptizer Martyred
vv 14-29. John's death reminds us that if we are revolutionary, there will be opposition. And where there is opposition, often we, or those we lead will suffer for the cause. John died on account of Jesus. A leader must be prepared for this sort of thing, though hopefully on a lesser scale. If Jesus didn't believe in what He was doing to the utmost, this would be a good reason to back out. So how important is our mission? Is there the possibility of other suffering on account of our leadership? Are we prepared for this tough reality?

Food for 5000
vv 30-44. Several points in this story:
  • v31. Jesus takes His followers on a retreat following their mission. He wants them to decompress with rest and quiet. This is important to recognize rhythms of work and rest in ministry. If the founders of the church needed rest, then so do we!
  • v37. The disciples have just come back from practicing ministry so He challenges them, "you give them something to eat." A good teacher challenges his students.
  • v41. Though it is Jesus who breaks the bread, He gives it to the disciples to pass out, again, empowering them to take part in the work.
Walking on Water
vv 45-56. First, in v46 Jesus has a time of personal retreat. Earlier He took the disciples but here demonstrates the importance of filling Himself personally. In walking on the water and calming the sea, the disciples are reminded of His identity. It is important for those we lead to remember who we are, and our passion for the mission.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Jesus' Leadership: Mark 5

The Demon Possessed Man in the Garasenes
vv 1-20. After calming the storm the disciples and Jesus arrive on the Southeast shore of Galilee, a Gentile area. Jesus sends the demons possessing a crazy man into a herd of pigs. The pigs stampede down the hillside into the water and are drowned. The healed man begs to go with Jesus but Jesus instead commissions him to be a missionary with his own family and town.

The Pigs. Jesus allows the pigs to be possessed and drowned. Though this seems cruel both to the pigs and to their herders, it demonstrates His priorities: humans are a distinct species, set aside as special among all living things. No price is too high to pay for the salvation of even one soul.

Great leaders leave tangible reminders of the mission to inspire their followers. This no doubt sent a strong message to the disciples with regard to the value of seeing the Kingdom radically transform a life. For the disciples also, this scene came directly after the calming of the storm where Jesus demonstrated His power over the physical world. Now He has vividly shown His power over the Spiritual realm.

The Man's Request. It might seem cruel of Jesus to not allow this man to accompany Him. After all, this man has been estranged from his people, and now is linked to the destruction of valuable property! Jesus, however, demonstrates incredible wisdom in leadership by instead commissioning this man.
  • Jesus' personal mission is to the Jews and these are Gentiles. God's full mission is to all people, however. And so Jesus takes the opportunity to multiply His leadership into an area where He is not personally called by partnering with this man. If this man came with Jesus how would those in his village ever hear? What amazement it surely was to see this man in his right mind and to hear his story!
  • Discerning the "good" from the "best" in priorities. As a general leadership observation, Jesus does not give in to every request of His followers. It can be so easy for leaders, especially those in the church, to bend until breaking trying to be available for everyone. Pastors burn out from being unable to say "no". It is especially hard when all the requests coming their way are "good" things, like helping people! How flattering to have someone want to follow after you? But Jesus is able to tell the "good" from the "best," and this is key to staying on mission. To do this first means clearly knowing our mission, and Jesus surely did. With this confidence He is able to in the moment know what to do with this man's request. This is a great challenge to me know my mission from God, because there's a lot of good out there, but there's only a little "best" that is God ordained for my ministry.
A Sick Woman and Jairus' Daughter
vv 21-43. After returning from the Gerasenes, Jesus is again teaching by the lake when a synagogue ruler petitions Jesus to lay hands on his ailing 12 year old daughter. Jesus immediately goes with him and on the way is approached by sick woman in the crowd. As He is walking, she grabs His robe and is healed. Jesus somehow notices and calls her out, praising her faith. Continuing on, the little girl has died, but Jesus assures all that she is just asleep. After being laughed at, Jesus raises her from the dead and warns the people not to spread this story.

The Woman. Jesus, in one sense, is always "on mission." He was on His way to heal the little girl when approached by this woman, showing that He is not too busy to discern opportunities for ministry in any surrounding. For me this means making every interaction count. If I'm buying groceries I can encourage the checkout clerks. When walking around the neighborhood I can engage with my neighbors in discussion. When running in the park I can look for the lonely people. Of course there are numerous possibilities for unforeseen ministry opportunities. Will I be aware of them?

Jairus' Daughter. Clearly Jesus had to have said "no" to many requests for ministry, judging by the crowds that continually pressed Him. Why did He agree to drop everything and go with this man? It doesn't seem fair to everyone else does it? Maybe this is what good leaders do...they do for one what they can't do for all, aka "symbolic leadership"*. It would be a mistake to fulfill every request as a leader would burn out. At the same time, it would be wrong to never help, saying, "well I can't do it for all so it wouldn't be fair to do it for this one." Fairness shouldn't have much to do with it. This is a huge challenge, though, that takes great confidence and awareness of the leader to know their limits. I also wonder if Jesus strategically chose this opportunity because of the impact resultant from helping a synagogue ruler. Who knows? My "fairness" alarm is going off if this the case, "what about all the poor then?" But maybe helping this man, a man of influence, would result in the poor being served.

Jesus' confidence in the whole matter is also to be commended. In v36 Jesus "ignores" those who brought the bad news of the girl's death, instead encouraging them to "believe, and fear not." Even in the face of their laughter he questions their mourning. This shows His great trust in the authority given to Him by the Father. We have also been commissioned to ministry; do we trust God to show up in unlikely circumstances?

Finally, Jesus allows only Peter, James, and John to accompany Him to the healing room. Even within His core of 12, Jesus has chosen 3 to more deeply invest in. Three seems manageable! I am encouraged to look for opportunities to bring others along, sharing in the experience of ministry and encouraging others to lead.

*Thanks to Andy Stanley for this term
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