Your Very Life

Living where Life is

Robin’s Letter

Before he died, Robin Wooten took the time to write what he wanted to say to friends and family after he was gone. He asked if I would read them at his memorial service. It was my privilege to do so yesterday.

He was diagnosed with ALS last summer. As he says in his letter, at that moment he truly began to live. For this past year, Robin & Elizabeth lived, really lived. They laughed, loved, forgave and prayed. They spent time with family and friends. And they adopted Henry the Golden Retriever!!

And in this God met them, carried them, and has brought life and hope to thousands.

Many have asked for a copy of his words. One friend of his said, “I want to put that letter in my night stand, and read it often to remind me what life is really about.” True that. Click the following to download them. Robin Wooten Letter

On a personal level, it has been an absolute privilege to walk with Robin and Elizabeth. We live just about 10 houses away from each other, and I’d pop over a good deal. My sons did some yard work here and there. We’d see Rockin Robin go by on his scooter (Elizabeth hoofing it to keep up), and later in his wheelchair (I think that thing was stick-shift!). As elders from Grace, we spent a moving evening together just last month. Neighbors, friends, fellow pilgrims on this journey.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Ps 116:15). These days are so precious to God – we are all so real about what’s important, so tender about life and loss, so willing to pitch in and help in any way we can, so quick to call out to him for help. No wonder these days are precious to our God and Father… it seems we are truly being the body of Christ!

Click here to see his service. Hit the “Archive tab” and play the service.  (I read the letter beginning at about 43:30.)

Eugene Peterson, Take 2

Eugene Peterson lectures at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Wash., in May 2009. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Today, Eugene Peterson retracted his support of gay marriage. This blog is not meant to be “all hot-button issues, all the time”. But, in light of the news, here’s what I put on my Facebook Status today:

“Thank the Lord for EP’s retraction. So sorry for the need for it. Reminds me of World Vision’s mis-step and change-back a few years ago. Caused damage to the witness of the church, left some people confused & others solidified in their suspicions (and engendered cynicism).
Couple of thoughts:
1. Those who wrote uncharitable things or in an uncharitable manner about this brother should also retract them. (don’t you think?)
2. Yet another reminder to think clearly before you speak so that you don’t need retractions.
3. You can’t put Humpty together again. This will affect how folks read EP. And it should.
4. The dynamics surrounding this one issue will continue to trip people up if they don’t think clearly. If you do think clearly and are out of step with culture, get ready for a pile-on.
5. We all need to go get some ice cream.”

[Of course, everything is better with Ice Cream]

Click here for Christianity Today’s article in which Peterson retracts yesterday.

Click here for my blog post yesterday helping Christians think through how to engage with Peterson.

Seriously, go get some ice cream.

Eugene Peterson and You

Eugene Peterson lectures at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Wash., in May 2009. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

By now you will likely have heard that Eugene Peterson has endorsed gay marriage.  And, if you are on Facebook, you will have seen the comments ranging from “it’s about time” to “we knew it was coming”; from “Can’t trust anything he writes” to “he’s the best thing ever.”

A few comments for thinking Christians.

1. In his comments to Jonathan Merritt of the Religious News Service, Peterson only references experiences he’s had and people he’s known, and not Scripture’s teaching. He does not say if he changed his mind, wrestled with the text, or sought the Church’s doctrine. He only says that he’s OK with it, and would perform a marriage ceremony for two same-sex people, and that the debate is pretty much over. This is not right. Scripture must be the starting point and finish line of our thinking & discipleship patterns. We have to begin where Scripture begins, and land where it takes us. Peterson–who translated & paraphrased all 66 books–should know better.

2. He is still a very good thinker, and has brought great pastoral help through his writings. They ought not all be set aside. Christians ought not cast him aside hastily or call his salvation into question. All of us are fallen, and the Fall affects every part of us (including our minds, and our changes in thinking over time). I read one FB comment, “I’ve been warning about Peterson for years.” Granted I don’t know what this person was warning, but the implication to me is “stay away from him.” I disagree. The fact that he’s wrong on this does not mean he’s wrong on everything. If it did, we should stop reading Martin Luther, whose anti-semitic comments make us blush! No one argues that we throw aside Luther, only that we read him judiciously.  We see this principle in play again with a contemporary pastor: read judiciously one who gets things right and wrong.

3. Read him judiciously I will. There’s no denying that it makes me read with a little less “Ahh, I’m at home with an old friend”, and a little more “this is good… hmmm, is this good?” I will likely recommend his writings more carefully, and will have to add a preface any recommendation.  I will still be blessed by the pastoral insights (Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work) and exegetical nuggets (Run with the Horses). But I will also grieve some as I read.

4. We can’t get through life only reading Christian authors who get everything right, or with whom we agree 100%. For two reasons: a) No author gets it 100% right. Each of them is wrong on one or more things they’ve written. Again, start and end in Scripture; and the Fall affects all of us.

b) It’s not about becoming “fans” of this author or that thinker, scholar or preacher. When you begin to think someone is totally trustworthy, you are putting more freight on them than they can bear. There are no perfect thinkers, preachers or writers outside of Scripture. (Plus, even the human authors of Scripture demonstrate that we cannot trust the person… only the Spirit’s sanctifying work of inspiration!).

Be ready in life to read people with whom you disagree. Indeed, expect that everyone you read will have gotten something wrong, and watch for it.

5. Do your homework and learn from those who are faithful to the Gospel. Ask your believing friends, your Church leaders or Pastor what they think about author X; listen to their counsel. Moreover, with any author, when you find you disagree, the Lord will tell you when you should “hold-your-nose and keep reading for the good insights” or when you should set them aside. I’ve done both with various authors. You have to seek the Lord and the wisdom of the Body of Christ as you read.

God may lead you to set aside your reading of Peterson. Don’t do it because of knee-jerk Facebook blow ups. Do it because of a grief over his departure from orthodoxy over marriage, and his leading of others to do the same. Or, God may lead you to the “hold your nose” side. But you’ll do so with a new level of guard in light of this article.

It’s sad and it’s messy. But that’s what being alive in the world means. Christ is changing lives for God’s glory. I’m disappointed (though not really surprised). I’ve been blessed by The Message and many of Peterson’s writings.  He’s walking away from God’s view of reality, and I’m grieved. But I also know that, ultimately, the Lord will bring all things to his greatest glory, and I can’t wait to reflect back on that in this case.

Keep thinking and never lose hope!

(You can click here to read what Peterson said to the RNS).

Why Plant Churches?

Should churches plant new churches? In addition to the fact that it’s how the gospel grew in the NT and all through history, here are 7 key reasons why churches should aim to plant new ones, and why Grace is starting to do so:

1) New Churches reach new people. Studies have shown that churches younger than 3 years old reach 300% more non-believers than churches older than 15 years. Plus, surveys showing the “rise of the nones” (i.e., upwards of 25% of Americans not affiliated with any religion) demonstrate a whole bunch of people who are not coming to current churches. New churches reach new people.

2) People Need People in all of life. It’s cliche that “life is a team sport”, but it’s true. First, New converts to Christ need a family, a hospital, a nursery… just as assuredly as a newborn baby does. A church is that family, nursery, hospital. Second, Ongoing disciples need each other to grow as God intends. “Churchless Christianity” is not part of the Scriptural vision of following Christ. Believers in real relationship is where grace grows. Third, the Lost are hungry for community, and the church is filled with it. “People need people in all of life”… so let’s plant more local bodies.

3) Exponential Potential. A church that grows from 300 to 1000 in ten years is a great thing.  But, if over those same ten years, that church planted every 18 months, and each of the plants did to, you’d have 64 churches in 6 cycles… each with several hundred. If you run it out to ten planting cycles, you find 1,000 churches (not just 1,000 people in our church). Growth at one location is straight-line growth. Growth that establishes new locations is exponential!

4) It “forces” God to raise up leaders.  If it takes 100 leaders to keep Grace Fellowship moving, then it would take 100,000 leaders to keep those 1,000 churches moving! Same exponential potential. Moreover, the more leaders the more people are relying on God’s Spirit and power to work in their lives. As you step out to lead for Christ, he pours himself into you more and more.

5) More people grow more in lean/young churches. As there are new church plants, new people (not even leaders, necessarily) step up to pitch in, help out, and jump on a team. They take a chance on new things because there’s a ‘pioneer’ spirit that says, just try it! In established or larger churches, there seem to be more people who are timid to jump in or would rather simply stay in the ‘back row’ and receive. That’s not a knock on the larger church; it’s an observation of human nature. Instead of 20% of the people doing 80% of the work, a new or small church has a “pitch in and let’s see waht happens” atmosphere. More people grow more in lean/young churches.

6) The US church is no longer a chaplain, it’s a mission force. If there was a time when the US was a “Christian” culture, then the church’s role was often to hold culture’s hand, and help it along. They would look to foreign fields to do missions… among the pagans who don’t know of Jesus. Well, increasingly the pagans who don’t know of Jesus are our neighbors and people in this country! The “missions” calling now includes our own communities. We are no longer chaplains, but missionaries at home. Let’s start reaching out like missionaries.

7) Grace Fellowship’s DNA is primed to plant churches. We prize authenticity in relationships centered on Christ. Our HouseChurch model means we have ten leadership laboratories  and a decentralized, agile structure. We are a body that practices sacrificial discipleship, consistently giving and serving and pouring out for others. We have a leadership culture at Grace–so many gifted leaders in the community, in business, in the professions, in academics, and in ministry. And, we have a missions heart, given to us by God. Why do you think? so we would be burdened wherever we’d find a mission field.

God is on the move… in Grace, in the world, in this country, and in our own mission strategy and ministry vision. I can’t wait to watch God raise up, train up and send out church planters over the next decade. To reach countless thousands for the gospel.

Finding Your Sweet Spot

Max Lucado writes about finding your sweet spot in his book “Cure for the Common Life”. Where is it that you thrive? What were you created for? He uses a framework called “STORY” to help us think through these things.

What are your Strengths?

What is it that you like to do?  Fixing things. Organizing events. Listening to those in need. Helping teams. Loving children.

Look for the verbs that arise: fixing, organizing, listening, helping, loving, etc. These point to your strengths… the things that come naturally to you, or that don’t seem like work.

 

What is your Topic?

If strengths are Verbs… your Topic comes from the nouns: the things you like to work with.  Children. Animals. Marketing campaigns. Numbers. Concepts. Arts and Crafts. Sales calls. Urinary Tracts.

What fascinates you? Where are you at home? What do you love to be near, with, around? What are the things you like to work with.

For me, I love People, Scripture & Numbers. I love to work with each of these. That’s one reason why teaching is so fun: it’s Scripture and people together!

What ‘topics’ are yours?

What are your Optimal Conditions?

How do you like to work?

Some love to respond to a need; they jump into action when someone is in need, and they seem to meet it every time. Others, like to improve a process: put them on a team or a project, and they are always finding ways to make things better, friendlier, more efficient.

Some love the same thing every day (high value of routine and predictability), others love the unknown that comes in their job (spontaneity). One likes to blue-sky ideas… another likes to put the nuts-and-bolts in place. Achieve goals or solve problems.

Design or develop or stabilize. This is a great framework from Bobb Biehl: Every concept, idea or project is either in the Design phase, the develop phase or the stabilize phase. It’s an idea on paper/in someone’s head (design), it’s a working model or beta form & getting streamlined/improved (develop), or it’s working well and needs to have some one work it well (stabilize).

My first full-time ministry job was all stabilize. I directed hockey camps that were established and the system was running well. I oversaw the process for 2,000 young hockey players to encounter Christ in week-long camps. It was all stabilize. My personal wiring is a hybrid between design & develop. I didn’t really love my job, but couldn’t figure out why.

UNTIL… I learned this Bobb Biehl framework. My optimal conditions for my Sweet Spot are in design-develop. My then-current posting was in stabilizing. I knew I wasn’t in my sweet spot. And, along with my boss, I moved jobs.

What are your Relationships

How do people factor in to your sweet spot? Think to when you have thrived or known you were most engaged, productive, fruitful, effective. Were you a lone-ranger? In a close-knit duo or trio? On a larger team? In a giant army?

Do you want to be the primary leader or the 2nd in command? Or, a strong member of the team? Perhaps you are wried to be the devil’s advocate on things?

“YES!”

This is that intangible factor in your S.T.O.R.Y.  Times when you’ve had the thought: “I was made to do this” or “I could do this again and again” or “They pay me for this?” It’s the Eric Liddel quote: Olympic gold-medalist in the 20s who wouldn’t run on Sundays. “God made me fast. He made me fast for a purpose. When I run, I feel his pleasure.”

What is that, when you do ti, you feel God’s pleasure? Find that. It’s in or near your sweet spot!

Strengths / Topic / Optimal Conditions / Relationships / YES!  Use these to discover the story of your Sweet Spot!

When “Doing Hard Time” = God’s Special Time

Many of us reading this just cannot grasp how hard it is for prisoners serving time. I’ve never done it. I’ve never known what it’s like to have my life fully regulated by others with no personal freedom. I’ve never known what it’s like to long for my family’s touch. I’ve never known what it’s like to re-live an act and hate myself for what I did; or to relive a conviction for something I didn’t do.

Click on this link to read an article from the Greenville Daily Reflector on the Kairos Ministry next week at Maury Correctional Institution in Maury. “Kairos” is the greek word for “appointed season” or “special time” and is used for the moment when God does something amazing.

We are trusting God to use the team from Grace and other churches to bring a Kairos Moment for the men of ECI.  Pray for them May 18-21.  …and read the article above – you’ll be glad you did.

(Then pass this along to others!)

Lost in a good story

Could you imagine trying to read a great novel 3 paragraphs a day? Or, even 3 pages per day? You’d die a thousand deaths of boredom. You’d never understand the characters or plot. And you’d put the thing down within two weeks (or in the first 30 pages!). Forget it. Novels are stories and we read them as such: devouring it, hooked by the plot’s unfolding.

When you think about reading the Bible, don’t you try to squeeze in a few verses today (rushed!), and quickly think about them, pray and move on with your day? At least God has to bless you – you’ve spent time in Scripture. But, truth be told, it’s not that compelling, is it?

The bible might seem kinda boring or confusing, and you never really get to know the plot or characters. It’s like trying to read a John Grisham ten lines at a time. Or, it’s like trying to watch Rogue One in ten minute increments. A horrible way to get lost in the story!

What if you read Scripture and let the stories draw you in. Joseph’s story is Genesis 37-50. Read it over 2 days instead of 20. You’ll see Joe’s life and trials and triumphs with crystal clarity.

Or, Daniel’s story. Daniel 1-6 is the action in that book (7-12 are the visions). Read 1-6 in one sitting and you’ll discover God’s message of why his life matters for us.  Abraham – Genesis 12-25.  The book of Acts. Each of the Gospels. Stories, all of them.

Or, take 1-2 Samuel. There are 56 chapters that you could spend 2-3 months reading bit by bit. But, it’s the single story of David’s life. Why not spend a good week or two motoring through it? Watch as God unfolds big themes and grand plot-lines.

You get the idea. Yes, there is a place for slow, methodical study line-by-line and verse-by-verse, and pondering. But there is also a needed place for simply getting lost in the story. Changing your scenery from your life and burdens and worries, into the life and times of Peter, Ruth, Isaiah, etc. And, you discover by entering their story that God meets them… and will meet you too.

One of the great things about a novel or movie is that we can escape our lives for a time. Do that in Scripture. Let its stories be your escape, and the change of scenery that is so helpful to living life.

 

 

If you can talk to God, he can talk to you

“Prayer,” as a word, doesn’t communicate great things.  It’s tragic. The fact is, you and I hear that word, and we think (1) I don’t do it enough; (2) dull prayer meetings; (3) does it even work?  Prayer as a concept engenders guilt, boredom or failure.

How tragic.

Today is the National Day of Prayer.  Prayer, in reality, is THE strongest weapon in our arsenal in spiritual warfare (Eph 6).  It is THE doorway to a life of fulfillment, meaning and purpose. And it is THE vehicle by which God gives us peace in all things (Phil 4).

Moreover, think about this: If you can talk to God, he can talk to you. Prayer is THE conversation between you and the Living, Eternal, Gracious, Majestic, Holy & Kind God. It’s the two conversation. Your heart to his heart. Your mind to his mind. Your will to his will. Your mouth to his ear, and his mouth to your ear.

At this morning’s Prayer Breakfast, Pastor Anthony Lawson noted three things about prayer:

It is Talking to God. Think about the person in history you’d most like to talk to, or have a conversation with. I’m fascinated with John F Kennedy. I think it would be a blast to spend the afternoon with him. Or, Henry VIII. Or, Mother Teresa. Or, Martin Luther. Why? Because these people are historical figures, they have mattered, and have accomplished things or witnessed things. How much more so is God. Prayer is that ‘afternoon spent with the famous person’. Do you think of prayer like that?

It is Getting God’s Wisdom. How many times in life would you have made a different decision, taken a different course, said a different word… if you had just that one more piece of information? We see it in hindsight, but we didn’t see it in the moment. Prayer is getting that piece of information, that God-originated wisdom for our moment. “In all your ways acknowledge him (ie., look to him, seek him, pray!), and he will direct your paths.” (Prov 3:6). You can hardly find a clearer promise in Scripture for our daily lives. And yet, so many of us go from Sunday to Sunday without really praying.

It’s Accessing God’s Power. When a 2 year old cries out for help to her dad, that dad jumps into action. That dad brings his 200 pounds of muscles and strength to protect that little 35 pounds of weakness. That dad puts his life experience, his financial resources, his authority and his loving heart into action on behalf of his daughter. Don’t you see? That 2 year old ‘prayed’ to her dad – called out to him. And the did responded.  “Call on me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you will glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). It just doesn’t get any clearer than this.

This National Day of Prayer, may God’s gracious gift to us of calling out to him, and talking to him, and learning from him be our theme all day long.

Lord, we love you, and rejoice that you invite us to talk to you, praise you, ask of you, give thanks to you, and give ourselves to you. Help us to pray. Teach us to love talking to you, and banish all thoughts of guilty, boredom or failure. You are worth it! Find us on our knees often today and every day, we ask in Christ’s Name. 

 

“Can you earn love? Can you exhaust grace?”

We will never be good enough to earn God’s love. And we will never be bad enough to exhaust God’s grace.

Think about that. Read it again. We need this message because people relate to God all wrong. You might be one of them. (I don’t mean to offend you! Just startle you.)

Some relate to God as if they are trying out for a baseball team: Going above and beyond. Fielding every ball. Swinging hard in practice. Running the bases with abandon. All because you have to secure a spot on the team. You gotta prove you are worth it.

Here’s the thing: baseball tryouts and the Gospel are totally at odds. The Great and Good News of the Gospel is this: we will never be good enough to earn God’s love. You can stop ‘trying out’ now. If God loves you, it’s not because of your performance or accomplishments. It’s because he has set his love on you, even when you are unlovable. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) That is great news.

Even with all our good works, our regular church attendance, faithful service in the Nursery, giving money, time or anything else, we are still filled with selfishness, pride, pettiness, and inner-heart-ugliness. (Again, I don’t mean to offend you!) But God loves you anyway. God sent his son to rescue you, in spite of your sinfulness.

We will never be good enough to earn God’s love. The pressure’s off. Coming to God is not at all like going to a baseball tryout. The coach wants you to make the team; all you have to do is ask from the bottom of your heart!

Similarly, you can never do enough to exhaust God’s grace. This astounds us for two reasons. First, we can’t fathom limitless grace. We get frustrated with someone (our kids, an employee or co-worker) who falls short repeatedly, and still asks for another chance. Why? Because our ‘grace’ is not limitless; it has an end point. God’s doesn’t. Everything about God is infinite. And, that includes his grace and love.

In fact, the enemy of our souls does not want us to believe this: he’d rather we hide from God when we sin. He wants to keep us isolated from the source of infinite grace. So, he speaks lies into our heads: “God won’t forgive you.” “Again? You did that again? For the 500th time? Don’t you think God is sick of you?” Lies like that.

Just remember God’s grace is infinite – for the humble heart who comes to God in humble confession and repentance, there is nothing from God but grace!

Second, we can think: “but someone will take advantage of it?” Well, yes. That’s the risk of grace. If God didn’t want that risk, he would have structured reality differently. Grace means you risk of being taken advantage of. I think this is why we don’t love to extend grace in our lives—we don’t want to be ripped off. But, that’s the vulnerability of grace.

We will never be good enough to earn God’s love. The pressure is off! Live in response to that love. We will never be bad enough to exhaust God’s grace. The pressure is off! Live in willing confession and his increasing power to live for him, and risk extending grace to others. In this way, we’ll watch our community be transformed.

Good Friday Devo April 14

Read Lamentations 1:12, and consider that Jesus could say this from the cross.

  1. Now, read Matthew 27:26-46 and replay the many sorrows of Jesus. It hardly seems possible to endure so much.
  1. Truly, in the Last Supper, Jesus was right: “this is my body broken for you… this is my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Give thanks for his body and blood.

Pause to worship Christ Jesus for the cross! Use this simple communion prayer, by Horatius Bonar:

 

Here O My Lord, I see thee face to face,

Here would I touch and handle things unseen,

Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,

And all my weariness upon thee lean.

 

Here would I feed upon the bread of God,

Here drink with thee the royal wine of heaven,

Here would I lay aside each earthly load,

Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.

 

I have no help but thine, nor do I need

Another arm save thin to lean upon;

It is enough, my Lord, enough indeed—

My strength is in they might, thy might alone.

 

Mine is the sin, but thine the righteousness,

Mine is the guilt by thine the cleansing blood;

Here is my robe, my refuge and my peace,

Thy blood, they righteousness, O Lord, My God.

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