Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Yesterday I came into my office with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. I had a long to-do list, which doesn't bother me, but what did have me aching and moaning was that over half of my list involved calling people and asking them to do things. I hate asking people to do things. I hate the idea that I'm putting someone out or inconveniencing them. But, sometimes there's no more hiding behind other items on the list and it's time to make some calls. And so, I did. About mid-way thru one of the people I called, called me back and said, "Hey, can't I make some of these calls for you?" HALLELUJAH!!! My heart soared, my shoulders lifted - FREEDOM as William Wallace would say. And then, she said next, "Why didn't you ask me in the first place?" Oh, um, well...I guess that would have been easier and better and smarter and...

The mentality of not wanting to ask people to do things is not good - just read the Bible, pretty much any of it. And, it's particularly dangerous in ministry for two reasons:

1. It leads to the conclusion that I should just do everything myself, "for convenience sake." For starters, I am not capable or qualified to do everything myself. It's arrogance to presume that one person can do the work of the body of Christ. Paul said very specifically that each of us gets to be only one body part at a time, requiring us to work together. If I do everything, I'm under-serving God who deserves our best, I'm neglecting my family and my health, which is a big no-no (remember that whole idea about our bodies being God's temple?) and I'm under-valuing all of the people who are ready and willing to serve and offer their gifts.

2. God created all of us to be part of what He's doing in the world. If I don't ask people to do things, I'm denying them their role in God's creation. I'm making assumptions on their behalf instead of giving them the ability to make decisions for themselves.

In all ministry and in church planting especially, I'm learning that my job is enabling the body not being the body. And so, look out team, I'm going to be asking. You can always tell me no and you should tell me no if I ask you to do something God isn't calling you to do. But, I'm going to start opening the door for you and God to have that conversation.

Hmm, leading people into conversation with God, wonder if that's what a pastor is supposed to do?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Video from Matt

Prayers for Matt Chandler

This post is a call to prayer. Matt Chandler is a 35-year old pastor in Dallas, Texas (The Village Church). I have seen him speak a few times at Catalyst conferences and I regularly listen to his podcasts. He is a very gifted speaker and a faithful follower of God who both challenges and inspires me. He is married and he and his wife have 3 young children.

On Thanksgiving, Matt had a seizure and was taken to the hospital where they discovered a tumor in the frontal lobe of his brain. Two weeks ago, they did surgery to remove what they could and also biopsy the tumor. The family got the pathology report yesterday. The tumor is malignant and they were not able to remove all of it with the surgery.

Please pray for Matt, his family and their church. Even in the midst of this huge challenge, their faith is strong and they continue to be an example of what it looks like to live with complete hope in Jesus Christ. The video of Matt below was put together before his surgery and what he has to say will blow you away.


Video from Matt

Monday, December 14, 2009

Joshua and Ashley Ridge

Okay, so I've been on a Joshua kick for a month and a half in my reading and with devotions I've shared with the ARC launch team. Here's the summary and the wrap-up:

As Moses neared the end of his life, he turned the reins over to Joshua, who was not a young guy. Nevertheless, he was new to the role of commander-in-chief of God's people and with the new role, came fear and uncertainty about what he would face. Joshua's task: lead God's people into the Promised Land. God's word to him, "Be strong and courageous. And be obedient to my word."

Joshua took God at His word. They went into the Promised Land kicking butt and taking names. And when they were done, they divided the land between families and then settled down to worship and live as a people whose purpose was to give glory to God in their worship and in their day-to-day life.

So, where's the parallel? Well, Joshua begins with a J and so does Jenn - kidding!!! Here's the parallel - God has set before us a Promised Land and it's ours to claim and take hold of. There are times of preparation and times to charge forward. We'll know which is which when we stay tuned in to God's word. Our purpose - to serve the Lord. Joshua said, "Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house we will serve the Lord." In this world, there are always other places we can give our time and attention. But we have a chance to choose Jesus and serve Jesus and make glorifying Jesus the sole purpose and cornerstone of our lives - every day, not just Sunday.

There is a lot of ground in our world that is ready and needing to be re-claimed for Jesus. He has already won the victory and now the question sounds again, "How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?" (Joshua 18:3).

Now is our time. Our season of preparation is coming to a close and the charge is imminent.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

East Edisto

As I mentioned in my last entry, the master plan for East Edisto was unveiled last night at a town meeting held at Summerville High School. You can go to the website to see the maps and read all about it. It's incredible exciting. "Why?" you ask - THIS IS OUR MISSION FIELD!




In Scripture there are lots of times when God sends His people to existing areas of need, but there are also those rare occasions when God sends His people out ahead to prepare the way. John the Baptist knew all about that kind of ministry. He went to the wilderness and declared that Jesus was coming. How cool is it that we get to do the same thing!

We are in ongoing conversations with the land development team at MeadWestVaco that is responsible for this project. They see ARC as an asset to the kind of community they are trying to build. Please continue to pray for our relationship with MWV and our continued dialogue, but more importantly start pulling the maps of these communities up on your computer screen and start praying for the people who will come and the ways God will use us to point them to Jesus.





This is so exciting!!!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Random Thoughts

1. Bad acting and bad writing are requirements for made-for-tv Christmas movies. So, why do we love them? It's all about the feel-good effect. Eleven months of the year I avoid the Hallmark channel like the plague, but come December, bring it on.

2. On-line is by far the best way to do your Christmas shopping. No lines, no traffic, much less impulse buying, and, if you play your cards right, FREE SHIPPING!

3. Dieting makes me hungry.

4. Stress makes me hungry.

5. I'm hungry.

6. It's amazing how quickly babies learn. Jacob not only mimics Clark's and my movements, but he has mastered our dog's begging techniques at the age of 10 months.

7. I went to a community meeting tonight about the master plan for East Edisto. It amazes me how God is always 10 steps ahead of the plans we make. Check out eastedisto.com and notice that Ashley Ridge High School is in the middle of it all - God has big plans and it just so happens that we get to be part of it!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Yes, that's right, if you were in worship yesterday morning, this is the Christmas song we sang. It's my favorite. Coincidence? I think not. Call it selfish, call it pastoral privilege, call it leadership, call it what you like - here's the bottom line: I told Jamin I wanted to sing "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" on December 6 and he said, "which version would you like?"

Where am I going with this? No, I'm not on a power trip. However, one of the big lessons I'm learning as a church planter is that there are decisions I simply need to make - no questions, no consults, decisions made. It's necessary to stay on task. It's necessary to keep the ball rolling. It's necessary to maintain clarity about our vision and where we're headed. I was told many months ago that the job of a church planter is to "set, maintain and protect the vision." I'm starting to see that firsthand and understand that it means making decisions and also taking responsibility for all decisions (even those that weren't mine). As Truman said, "the buck stops here."

It's been a difficult lesson because the truth is I'm a big fan of team ministry and I work well in that environment. In truth, it's all I know and it's all I want to know. That said, even in team ministry, there are times when decisions need to be made with clarity and conviction so the whole team can then rally around and make progress in a shared direction.

Here's the caveat, and man is it a big one: all decisions, all vision, all purpose comes from God and God alone. The only way for me to stand up and lead is to start the day on my knees in complete and total submission to the One who is ultimately in control. What God says stands - no questions, no consults, no quibbles, no "but what ifs." When God says sing I shouldn't even take time to ask "how loud?" God says sing and it's mine to sing. God gave birth to Ashley Ridge Church long before I was around. The fact that we get to participate is a huge gift and an opportunity that can never be taken lightly, which means I need to be willing to act boldly on the vision God has set before me and before us.

The good news is that the vision for ARC is so much bigger than any one of us. I'm thankful for the opportunity to lead and I'm thankful for a team that has also seen and heard God's vision for our community. We move forward in faith and in the power of Jesus Christ who has already given us everything we need.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Leftovers

That's right, who doesn't love the turkey sandwiches following Thanksgiving? There's nothing better than turkey, light miracle whip, mustard and some bread and butter pickles on wheat bread. But really...

How fortunate and blessed are we that we not only spend the week of Thanksgiving feasting, but we have leftovers to boot? It reminds me of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with 2 fish and 3 loaves of bread and then having the disciples collect the leftovers. Our God is a God of leftovers - how sweet is that?! Paul says, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Two things:

1. Jesus does "immeasurably more than all", that means leftovers to share

2. Jesus does it - to him be the glory. I heard countless people, including myself, make statements last week starting with "I'm thankful for...," but I wonder if we say that casually and forget to whom we're directing our thanks. The very idea of thankfulness implies a giver.

In the weeks to come, let me encourage you to take some time to think back over this year and remember all you've been given. And at the risk of being corny, maybe even write a thank you note to God. And if you really get rolling, take time to write a thank you note to the person(s) who led you to Christ.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Favorite Part....the Stuffing

Yesterday I talked about the not-so-obvious things I'm thankful for, so today as I'm preparing to head north for Thanksgiving I thought I would quickly mention the obvious:

1. Jacob. I know, you're shocked, but I did tell you these were the obvious. This year, Clark and I became parents of the most beautiful baby boy. Jacob has brought joy to our lives that we never imagined possible. I'm thankful everyday for his health, his smile, and his innocent love of life. He reaches for people he's never met without question and he loves without reserve.

2. Clark. I'm not perfect and neither is Clark, but somehow in the midst of our imperfection, God has made us perfect for each other. I'm thankful to have Clark beside me when I go to bed at night and there in the morning when I wake up. I'm thankful that Clark loves our baby boy and there's nothing better than coming home and seeing Jacob in Clark's lap reading Dr. Seuss.

3. Family. My parents rock! My sister is a rock star w/ world-class dad for a husband and the three cutest kids you've ever seen (except Jacob, of course, but they are related after all :). I've been blessed mightily in the in-law department, including a new sister-in-law in October who's fabulous. It makes a big difference to walk through life from distances far and wide with people who love you and are looking out for you.

4. Friends. New and old, I'm so thankful for top-notch friends. For some reason, I didn't make many lifelong friends in high school, college or seminary, but I can name at least one from each who know me and love me despite my many failings. However, God's timing is always extraordinary and now, for perhaps the first time, I have a strong handful of incredible friends who fill my life with joy, laughter and excitement for what's going on around us every day.

5. Jamin - that's right, buddy, you get your own shout-out. Jamin and I make-up the staff for ARC (along w/ our honorary staff members who don't like titles and therefore prefer to remain un-named :). Perhaps the most encouraging step forward so far with Ashley Ridge has been God's gift to us in Jamin. I'm thankful for his heart, his gifts, his friendship and his commitment. I've always been big on team ministry, so thanks to Jamin for putting up with me and allowing ARC to hit the ground running as a team.

6. ARC and the most amazing launch team every composed!!! I've said it and I'll say it again- God is about to blow our minds with what He will do in us, through us and in our midst. Your faith and your pioneer spirit and your passion to serve God by serving others encourages me every day!

Check back tomorrow as you prepare for the feasting...to whom do we give thanks and how do we say it and show it?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Let There Be Turkey

There are other blogs out there in South Carolina land focusing their attention all week to a certain football game happening on Saturday, but I thought I might be a little more "on the nose" and focus this week on being thankful.

Paul said to "give thanks in all circumstances," which means we need to be thankful for the tough stuff as well as the good stuff. Check back later this week for some of my reflections on the "good" stuff I'm thankful for. Today, let me throw a bit of the not-so-obvious out there:

1. I'm thankful for the current recession. No, I'm not thankful that people don't have jobs and I have a great deal of compassion for the many families who are in difficult circumstances. However, I think most of us needed a reality check on what we consider needs and what we consider wants. Yea, we can't go out to dinner as often, but I know I haven't gone without any meals, good ones at that. Sure, Christmas will be more conservative this year, but, well, it should be. If you're like me you have boxes of "stuff" sitting in attics and closets. I have an embarrassingly big clothes closet and jewelry that won't fit in the beautiful wooden jewelry box Clark made for me two years ago. I'll not continue on this tangent, but please take time to check out the Advent Conspiracy. And just a reminder, if your family (not just you personally), but if your family has an income higher than $40,000/yr you are wealthier than almost 99% of people on the planet.

2. I'm thankful that some things in my life have not gone well lately. Have you noticed how we can get so busy that we get lazy with the relationships in our life that matter most? For me, that amounts to not taking the time to share with others how I'm really feeling and what I'm thinking. And then, somethings happens and WHAMO, the world explodes. In my life, it often takes God's 2x4 approach to force me to deal with things and not simply brush them aside. And so, I'm thankful for the tough stuff that has forced me to look in the mirror and be honest with myself and, ultimately honest with God and others.

3. I'm thankful for my dog who hasn't stopped barking and demanding attention since we brought Jacob home from the hospital. Most nights, I want to wring Auburn's neck, but then God uses him as a basic reminder that life isn't all about me and I need to expend my energy caring for others. Often people aren't as vocal and so it's easy to sweep them aside and focus on me, myself and I. My dog, on the other hand, won't stand for it. Should he bark incessantly? No. But is he really wrong for speaking up about his need to be noticed? No.

4. I'm thankful I lost brain cells when I became a mom. I used to fancy myself extremely reliable, self-sufficient and 100% capable of handling everything on my own w/o writing a single reminder note. Not anymore (any mom's or dad's want to add an amen?). Jacob has added a dimension to my life that keeps me from remembering everything I hear and getting everything done right in the moment. I've learned some hard lessons since February and I've let some people down, forgetting details and not following through on what I said I would do. It's been humbling, but oh so good to truly realize I'm only part of the body and not the whole enchilada.

I could go on. What are the not-so-obvious things in your life you need to be thankful for?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What I'm Reading

I would like to thank all of you who take the time to read my blog. I hope it is helpful/useful in some way; and, if not, thanks for just reading it (Mom). I've always been a reader and I continue to be amazed at how much I learn and grow from books and just how much they expand my worldview. As they say, "leaders are readers." I also realize how much I am influenced by the things I read, so I try to keep a diverse reading list. And so, for those of you who read what I write, I thought you might like to know what I've read lately and what I'm currently reading:

Books I've Read Recently:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows - this is a book about the occupation of the British isles during WWII written from the perspective of an endearing collection of characters from the island of Guernsey and a quirky London author, easily one of the best books I've read this year

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield - a book for book-lovers, you'll also enjoy it if you like well-told stories full of suspense

Church Unique by Will Mancini - great book for church leaders, a new spin on generating vision and finding your own church unique, i.e. what kind of church is God uniquely calling you to plant/lead?

Crazy Love by Francis Chan - a must-read when it comes to discipleship and moving from being lukewarm to being obsessed with Jesus in a way that changes your life, your family, your community and the world

Books I'm Currently Reading:

World Without End by Ken Follett - a follow-up to his incredible book Pillars of the Earth, I'm not big on reading things from medieval times (gross and crude lifestyle) but these books are amazing, definitely read with a friend so you can discuss (or call me to discuss!)

Going Rogue by Sarah Palin - my copy came today and I can't wait to get started (in fact, I'm going to do that as soon as I finish this post). I know she's a controversial character so I won't say more other than to say that I'm fascinated by Sarah Palin and the role she has taken on in American politics

And, in case you're wondering, I started a year-long trek through the Bible in August with a group of friends that has us reading a couple of chapters a day. We are currently finishing the book of Joshua. I'm blown away by the grace of God and also the passion of God sometimes expressed in uncomfortable ways. God was determined to have a holy people through whom He could bless the world, which meant serious laws and consequences, but underneath those things we can't lose sight of God's desperation to know us and reclaim us.

That's it for now. Go read something better than my ramblings...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Life, Lemons and What-Not

So, the expression goes, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade." What happens when life doesn't give you lemons but a swift kick in the gut? What do you make/do then?

I'm not an expert on this, but I do have a few thoughts about what to do and what not to do...

What not to do:
1. confide only in the people who will tell you what you want to hear
2. confide in no one, keep everything deep inside and enjoy the resulting isolation and ulcer
3. quit exercising and eat a lot of comfort food (notice I said "a lot," I highly encourage a little dark chocolate at life's toughest moments)

What to do:
1. get on your knees and tell God everything, ask for help, ask for grace, ask for wisdom
2. find a few of your closest friends and let them know how you're feeling, make sure your friends include those who will tell you the truth and not just what you want to hear
3. be honest with yourself
4. don't react hastily or in anger

The truth is if you have a pulse then you're going to get kicked in the gut every now and then. A cheery disposition and a lemon strainer won't make everything okay, but how you deal with it will say a lot about your faith and integrity.

And a personal note: thank you to the people in my life who refuse to let me brush things under the table and lie to myself about how I'm feeling. And most especially, thank you for pointing me to my knees - only God can truly heal our deepest hurts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Brothers and Sisters

With some degree of embarrassment, I admit to the blogosphere that I am a regular watcher of the tv show Brothers and Sisters. I say this with some trepidation because I do not recommend and stand by many of the morals, decisions and lifestyle choices lifted up in the show. So, you ask, why then do you watch it? It's simple, I watch it and it reminds me how much we need each other.

The show makes me thankful for my family, and not just my biological family. It also reminds me that I have a fierce independent streak that rarely serves me well. Fact: God created us as relational beings - we need God and we need each other. We were never meant to live life alone, and none of us was made with super human strength that exempts us from needing to lean on our friends from time to time.

I am the biggest hypocrite around when it comes to this topic and I acknowledge that. So, I'm stepping up to the plate and taking the lead. I am intentionally cultivating deeper friendships with some of my girlfriends. I'm 28 years old and for the first time since elementary school I'm opening doors with my parents to admit I need to do some leaning. And so now, I get to ask all of you, who are you leaning on? Are you leaning on Jesus every day for your life's breath and move? Are you leaning on some friends who can give you a hand and also a push when you need it? If your answers are no, don't waste any time remedying the situation. We all need a little help from our brothers and sisters.

Monday, November 02, 2009

On Halloween, Santa Claus and Harry Potter

I think the Harry Potter books are the greatest literary achievement of our time. I believe in Santa Claus (that is, the spirit of giving and care for others that was exemplified in Saint Nicholas as he went around collecting and distributing gifts to children). And, I think Halloween is a fun day that allows us to laugh squarely in the face of evil and at all the things that scare us because our hope and faith is grounded firmly in Jesus Christ. But that's just me...

I wonder if perhaps we wouldn't be so afraid of things as harmless as Harry Potter and the Santa Claus tradition if we knew we were doing everything possible to teach our kids about Jesus in what we say and what we do. I wonder if we would have to spend less time opposing culture if we were spending more time creating culture. I wonder if people would be more willing to give church a try if "church-people" weren't constantly confusing what church is all about. But that's just me...

It's time to be bold. It's time to be vocal- not about what we oppose, but what we believe - Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, our hope forever, and the reason we step completely out of our comfort zones to share the crazy, relentless love of God to friends, co-workers, family, and strangers. Today, don't waste your breath on what you don't believe, share what you do believe.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wanting to Want

Have you ever heard someone say they are praying for "the want to want to _____?" No, that's not a typo. To help clarify, the person praying is essentially saying, "God, I don't want to ____, but I want to want to _______. Please give me the desire to ______." Some examples for filling in the blanks could be "read my Bible," "pray more," "give my time," "be responsible with my money," and the list goes on and on.

Here's what I like about this prayer: it's honest. Too many of us say we want to read our Bibles more, pray more, do more, lose weight, etc. when the truth is we know we should want to do those things, but what we really want to do is watch another episode of our favorite show, buy that cute new outfit or make a batch of cookies so we can eat a bunch of dough in the process (not that I'm speaking personally here or anything). I respect the person who is being honest enough with themselves and with God to know their wants are so out of whack that before God can work with them on changing behavior, they need to start with an attitude adjustment.

Here's what I don't like about this prayer: it's weak and, at times, it's a cop out. We can spend years praying that we wake up one morning with nothing in mind to do but read our Bibles and then never get around to doing it because the magical transformation didn't take place. At some point, we have to acknowledge that our will is weak and our sinful nature consistently keeps us from wanting to do the right thing instead we have to choose to do the right thing. Usually once we begin choosing to do the right thing, we begin to reap the benefits of doing the right thing, we build a healthy habit and one day, without even realizing it we discover that we actually want to do the thing we're doing.

Case in point, exercise. No one goes from a long period with no exercise to a place of "I really want to sweat, get sore and change my eating habits." However, if we can choose to pursue the path toward physical health, eventually it gets easier and even enjoyable as we discover that along w/ exercise comes increased energy, a healthy glow and the ability to wear those cute pants that we thought we would never introduce into our wardrobe again.

And so, stop lying to yourself about what you want to do and start choosing to do the right things that you're convinced a better version of yourself would want to do.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Confession...

Eight months ago I would have confessed that I am a very selfish person. I spent more time in any given day thinking about my agenda than that of others. Now, not to simply make myself feel better, but I should add that I think that's true of just about everyone. From the time Adam and Eve took the apple and ate it, the selfish nature of humanity took hold and leaves us today standing in the need of God's grace and salvation in Jesus Christ.

However, eight months ago I had a baby and I can now honestly say that the majority of my thoughts in any given day regard his welfare, his needs and his well-being. If I'm hungry and he's hungry, guess who eats first? If I'm hot and he's cold, guess which way the thermostat gets turned? I'm not bragging about this because this realization actually leads me to today's confession...

I spend more time caring for/praying for/thinking about/adoring Jacob than I do Clark, and lately I've been very convicted on this point. Don't misread me - I shouldn't be spending any less time caring for Jacob, simply a lot more time caring for Clark.

The love of a parent for a child is unmatched in this world (and yet it only scratches the surface of God's love for us - another post for another day), yet Scripture teaches us that husbands and wives should love and honor each other as Christ loved the church and gave His life for it. And not only that, we're taught and I think society consistently proves that we are the best parents to our children when we are loving our spouses well and constantly strengthening our marriages. In other words, I am a better mother to Jacob when I am a good wife to Clark. Why? I'm teaching him to consciously put the wants and needs of someone else ahead of my own. I'm demonstrating for him the kind of Godly wife I hope he one day looks for and marries. I'm showing him what it means to serve and be selfless. I'm living out obedience to God's commands.

I have work to do to be the best wife God wants me to be for Clark - the key word being work. But it's work that I want to do for Clark, for me, for Jacob and for the One who is love and has given me love that I might share it with others.

God, please forgive my selfish heart. Give me eyes to see the people you've graciously placed in my life, and please give me a heart to love them as you do.

Husband and Wives - are you praying for your spouse? Are you giving your spouse the best of you or what's left over after you get home from work and put the kids to bed? Wives, are you admiring the man who has captivated your heart or neglecting him and rationalizing your neglect as care for your kids?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Let's Talk About Sex...

See, that got your attention. Ya'll thought I had disappeared from the blogosphere so I thought I needed to come back with a splash.

Actually, I'm not all that comfortable talking about sex. I'm not even all that comfortable talking with people who are comfortable talking about sex, but this is no excuse. It's important. The Bible talks about it - a lot. And it's incredibly relevant to our walk with God. And so, while I continue to muster the courage, I want to point everyone to someone who I believe God has uniquely gifted to speak with utter honesty and forwardness about everything - Perry Noble. I'll warn you that Perry holds nothing back and he can be offensive, but like I said, I think he's sincerely living the call and the role God has given him for the Church today. And let's face it, sometimes the gospel is offensive to those of us living with sin in our lives.

This morning I listened to Perry's sermon "Five Lies of the Devil, Part 5 - It's Just Sex". It's an incredible message and an important message, especially for married and soon-to-be married couples. You can find the message under the Newspring podcast on iTunes or at the Newspring website. I encourage you to listen to this message with your spouse and then take the time to ask each other the questions Perry gives as conversation starters.

Bottom line - marriage is hard. God wants your marriage to be beautiful. It takes work and it takes including God in your marriage. We can't keep avoiding the difficult conversations. Let's talk about it.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Crazy Love

I started reading the book "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan this week (it's incredible - I'm only one chapter in and I'm going to go ahead and highly recommend it - this is one of those books you do not want to miss).

Anyway, among the many convicting things he wrote in the first chapter, Chan pointed out that we were created for God and not the other way around. It seems obvious. It's something we could all agree to, but it's almost never how we live and how we approach God. Instead, we have this mentality that says God was created to meet our needs, give us life, heal our family members, bless us, listen to us, etc., etc.

Chan reminds us of Psalm 115:3 where it says, "Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him." And then he says, "Yet we keep on questioning Him: 'Why did You make me with this body, instead of that one?' 'Why are so many people dying of starvation?' 'Why are there so many planets with nothing living on them?' 'Why is my family so messed up?' Why don't You make Yourself more obvious to the people who need You?' The answer to each of these questions is simply this: because He's God. He has more of a right to ask us why so many people are starving. As much as we want God to explain himself to us, His creation, we are in no place to demand that He give an account to us."

How true this is? It hit me hard. I spend a lot more time asking God to bend himself to my needs and circumstances than I do inclining myself toward God. I want God to give an account for human suffering instead of doing my part to alleviate it.

God is God. Period. End of story. We belong to God. We live and move and have our being for the glory of God. It's arrogant to think we matter more than God, and yet God goes out of his way to move time and space on our behalf.

I used to think it was strange for God to ask us to worship Him. It seemed arrogant and presumptuous to be the one in charge and then ask everyone else to bow down. But the reverse is actually true. It's arrogant to think we matter more than God, and yet God goes out of His way to move time and space on our behalf.

God is worthy of all the worship we can give. He's worthy of our loyalty, our admiration, our adoration, our thanks, our time, our money, our attention - you name it, God deserves it.

Come join us for worship at Ashley Ridge High School this Sunday at 10am. And, if you can't make it to ARC, worship wherever you happen to be. Nothing else you have going on is more important than worshiping God.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I'm sure I'm not the first pastor that's thought about this, but it's Saturday morning and I'm watching College GameDay on ESPN and it occurs to me again - how do our college football teams inspire the passion, loyalty, energy and time commitment we give them; and why can't churches do the same?

Think about it - we go crazy for our college football teams. We set aside an entire day every Saturday (not just an hour) to travel (often more than an hour or two), tailgate, watch the game and hopefully celebrate our victory. And even if we're not traveling to our team's game, we're camped in front of our televisions with friends and family and lots of good food, wearing our colors and screaming as if the coaches and players can hear us from our living rooms. I know lots of homes where entire rooms are decorated in their team colors year round (and, come on, Clemson fans: purple and orange are not in anyone's design guides as good choices - you do it purely for the love of your team).

Now, I'm not criticizing. I get up on Saturday's and put on my Richmond gear, Auburn gear or Duke gear depending on who has the biggest game. Our dog's name is Auburn (my childhood dog was Duke), I've been known to jump on top of the ottoman at critical moments and I do in fact own a cake pan in the shape of a football field.

But why is it that we're willing to spend tons of money on the football experience, spend hours in conversation with friends and even strangers talking up our team, and do everything we can to make it obvious to the world which team we support, but we won't do the same for Jesus?

I don't know about you, but my team never died for me. My team doesn't give me life forever. My team makes me happy (and mad and anxious and...), but my team doesn't give me joy in all circumstances.

I love college football. I love the atmosphere, I love my teams and I love the time spent with family and friends enjoying it together. But, I want to love Jesus more. I want to be so pumped about what Jesus has done and continues to do that I can't stop talking about it. I want to "wave my flag" proudly that I belong to Jesus. I want to give my time, my money and my energy to the One who died for me. Don't you?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How's everyone enjoying tv premiere week? Come on, be honest, ya'll have watched a lot of television this week, checking out the new shows and dvr-ing all of the 2-hour premieres of your favorites. I'm a little embarrassed to admit how much tv I've watched in the last few days - everything from House to Biggest Loser, The Office, NCIS and hours of college football. I know ya'll thought I spend all my free time in prayer (haha).

I didn't think it was possible anymore, but I have to admit that I have been shocked at what I've seen this week. Just by watching previews of shows, I'm thinking there weren't any shows on where an inappropriate sexual encounter did not take place. That's to say nothing of the language and substance abuse. It seems that we're no longer content to simply condone immoral behavior, we're now in the business of promoting it and making it seem normal and even justified. For example, it seems that between Cougar Town, Mercy and Accidentally On Purpose (just to name three that I didn't even watch), we're telling women that if you're a single or divorced woman of a certain age you're entitled to certain happiness that makes sleeping around and playing with other people's lives and emotions acceptable. In other words, you deserve "happiness" no matter the cost.

Now, I know, you're all thinking, "uh-oh, is this one of those posts where prudish-Jenn takes center stage and gets on her high horse about spending our time in better ways...reading the Bible, listening to Andy Stanley, blah, blah, blah." Well, maybe it is, but hang in there with me for a few moments...

I want to be happy as much as anyone else. I want to enjoy life and I want to do things and be part of things that lead to that end. But if happiness becomes my sole focus, priority and aim, I'm pretty sure I've gotten off track and I'm equally certain that I'll end up lots of places other than the land of eternal happiness. Let me try explaining this with an example:

I've worked hard today. I've accomplished many of the things on my to-do list. I've even gone to a meeting I really didn't want to go to, but I went, I even smiled and made the best of it. I "deserve" to take it easy tonight. I "deserve" time to put my feet up and relax. I "deserve" to be happy. Well, it would make me happy to spend the rest of my day watching tv, eating ice cream, reading a novel and getting a massage. However, if I do that - how will my laundry get done? who will feed my child his dinner? how loved and appreciated will my husband feel if I ignore him when he gets home from work and neglect to ask about his day? I "deserve" to be happy and I could do the things that would make me immediately happy, but I have a feeling I'd end up with a hungry, fussy child, a barking dog, an annoyed husband, no groceries and no clean underwear for the rest of the week - not a happy scenario.

You see, I'm convinced that happiness is not meant to be an end goal, but rather a by-product of faithful living that centers on Jesus Christ. And even then, we're not promised to always be happy, we're promised to be filled with joy, which is a peace of mind not dependent on circumstances. The idea of getting what we deserve is a selfish mentality fed by a culture that says "it's all about you, you, you."

Scripture says we deserve death, but Jesus gives us life. I'm thinking I'd rather not get what I deserve. Instead, my time would be well spent pursuing the One who has given me life and all that I have and being thankful for the opportunities each day to live, love and serve.

It's okay to watch tv. It's okay to take time-off (pretty sure God commanded it). But don't buy into the world's attitude that we deserve happiness no matter what the cost and who gets hurt. Life's not about you. It's not about me. "It's all because of Jesus we're alive!"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Yesterday started out great. I had time to hang out with Jacob in the morning before leaving the house. I ran for 35 minutes, which is something I haven't done since before I got pregnant with Jacob. Jamin and I had a productive staff meeting with some solid prayer time together for Ashley Ridge. I put together a group of young, ministry leaders at Bethany and ARC who are going to start meeting weekly to go deeper in our faith and also spend time praying for each other and for our ministries (totally pumped about this, we're going to the next level and it's going to revolutionize everything we're doing!). And, of course, I went to Moe's (it was Tuesday, hello).

But then, my day crashed. What happened doesn't really matter, what matters is that I got hurt, really hurt, which led to being mad, which led to being so furious I wanted to spit or throw up or beat a punching bag to a pulp, or maybe all of the above.

It's okay to get angry, especially when our anger and hurt is justified, but how we deal with our anger can make or break us and it says a lot about our relationship with God. The old Jenn (you know, a year or so ago, or maybe last week), would have gotten angry, stayed angry for days and maybe weeks, let her anger cause frustration in the day to day and ultimately break down with stress. Let's just say it always ended in tears, profound exhaustion and taking it out on my family who had nothing to do with it. Fortunately, God has put some incredible mentors in my life who have helped me find a better way to deal with these things.

My high school track coach was one such mentor. On meet days, if something went wrong in one of our events, she would give us about 10 minutes to pout and be furious and then we had to move on and get ready for the next race. Triple jump was my biggest event senior year. I rarely lost and I came dangerously close to setting a new school record, but then I got to the district meet and I crashed and burned. I actually foot faulted on all three attempts. I was furious - furious at myself, furious at the line for moving, furious at the unfairness of life. Because it was an all-day meet and I had more time between events, my coach told me I had 30 minutes to get away from everyone else and be mad, but then I had to move on and get ready for the 4x800. Not only did my coach put a limit to my anger, but she also sent me off alone to deal with it so I didn't bring anyone else down with me. Smart, really smart.

How often do we get so angry that we're determined to make everyone around us angry as well? We want them to feel as rotten as we do and hurt as much as we do, but the truth is that never helps anyone because not only does it fuel our anger longer, but then there's the "I'm sorry" clean-up work when it all blows over.

Long story short...I was really upset yesterday, and I think rightfully so. I vented to a few confidants who know me well enough to love me through my rants (a.k.a. my husband and parents). Then, I took some time alone to pray and ask God to put things back in perspective. I gave myself the rest of the night to feel the hurt and anger and promised myself I would put it all behind me when I went to bed.

This morning God woke me up with a new song in my heart. I went to Bible study and we talked about Moses dealing with the complaining Israelites with unbelievable patience and compassion because he was so intimately connected to God. I went to cardio chisel and left feeling very sore, but also energized and healthy. I had lunch with some friends who make me laugh - both at the world around us and at myself, which is always a good thing. I have a lot of work to do this afternoon, but I'm excited about what I'm doing and what God is using me to do. And tonight, I get time with Jacob.

"I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me!" ~Psalm 13:6

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I need to start this post by saying that I can't take any credit for what I'm about to share. I just had lunch w/ a group of pastors and one of them (also a church planter) had some great thoughts on managing people. And while I don't consider myself replete with wisdom, I hope I am wise enough to pass on good insights when I hear them. So, thank you Joe Cate for your thoughts and here they are:

It's important when you work with people (and everyone does) to be able to manage your expectations. There is a difference between judging and managing expectations. The first implies a value judgment, the second implies a recognition that people are different and therefore we should expect different things from them. As a means of helping to understand people and therefore manage expectations, Joe places everyone he meets into one of four categories:

Friendly Dog - you know that dog who is super excited to see you and up in your face and licking all over you and then he sees a squirrel out of the corner of his eye and takes off in the opposite direction? The friendly dog is the person who is excited and supportive and right beside you as long as you can keep their attention. (Joe mentioned the dog in the movie "Up" as a good illustration)

Quiet Dog
- the quiet dog is equally excited and eager to be your friend, but will want some time alone to rest.

Friendly Cat
- cats tend to enjoy things more on their own terms. The friendly cat will want you to meet them at a point, but if you can do that they're on board and eager to sit with you in the place they've selected.

Quiet Cat
- the quiet cat is the person you don't typically notice in the room. If you approach them calmly, they may eventually join in, but if you let the friendly dog go after them they're going to hide forever and maybe even disappear.

If you can recognize which of these someone is, it's easier to put them in the right position and expect the appropriate things from them. If you have the same expectations of everyone with no allowance for temperament, you are destined for constant annoyance and frustration.

Which animal are you?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I don't remember if it was my political theory class or English lit, but I do remember being forced to read Rousseau's "Social Contract". And while I've pushed most of my education out of my brain to make room for quotes from "The Office" and "Gilmore Girls" (just kidding...sort of), I recall Rousseau arguing that the basis for a civilized society is the realization that we need one another for survival and as such, we make rules to keep us from killing each other. And so, for cavemen that meant putting the clubs down in order to share a cave. Today, that means thousands of years worth of rules, acknowledged and unacknowledged, that societies agree on to create an environment of civility that is supposed to enhance survival and decrease violence.

Now, let's be honest, some of the rules for a civilized society we've adopted are ridiculous. I mean, who decided it's tacky and offensive for me to wear my white pants now that Labor Day has come and gone? And, who decided that we need to track down the first, middle and last names of every known relative in order to send invitations and get married?

On the flip side, some of the rules are greatly appreciated. "No shoes, no shirt, no service" seems highly appropriate in public establishments where food is being served. I also appreciate that there are rules in place so that when someone in my neighborhood decides to shoot fireworks in the middle of May on a Tuesday night at 10pm, leading my dog to bark and my baby to cry, the police come at the request of the 20 phone calls they receive from others in the neighborhood to put an end to it (talking hypothetically, of course).

Rules of civility encourage us to be better than our selfish mindsets often push us to be. Rules of civility create expectations for how we treat each other and how we can rightfully expect to be treated.

So, what is happening all around us as these rules are seemingly breaking down in the most unlikely places - i.e. center court at the U.S. Open, on stage in million dollar outfits for music awards and the halls of the U.S. Congress (okay, maybe Congress isn't such an unlikely place). Now, I'm not going to add to the multitudes discussing these specific events - all were unbelievable and all parties have apologized, but I am wondering if it was just a bizarre week or has the contract been dropped? Have we decided it's no longer worth the effort or in our best interest to have rules demanding unselfish behavior?

Now, I would be the last person to argue for larger law books and more extensive litigation, but I am with my girl Aretha when she says R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I'm also with Jesus when he says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself." Come to think of it, Jesus also said, "There is no greater love than this, that He lay down his life for his friends."

Every instinct in our being says self-preservation, but God created this world (and all the important rules) and Jesus basically says the best way to self-preservation is to give up ourselves, put Him first and others next. So, maybe a little decency is selfish after all, but I'm for that brand.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In the words of Bob (as in the movie "What About Bob?"), "Gimme, gimme, gimme, I need, I need!"

Do you have a list of "gimme, I need's" in your world? I do. I want a few more bookshelves, an endless list of books to put on the shelves (after reading them, of course), new kitchen countertops, a cleaning lady, an iPhone, more hours in a day, a live website, an obedient dog...I could go on and on. And, for all of my wants I could make a convincing argument for why they're needs, but that's only because I'm terribly good at argumentation (not something to brag about).

So why do we have these endless lists of "needs"? Why are we never satisfied? For starters, we live in an advertising world that spends billions of dollars to tell us several times a minute that there are things we need. But, let's not blame the world - it's too easy. After all, advertising wouldn't be so prolific if it weren't effective and easy. In other words, we're weak and pliable and easily convinced that everyone else's life must be easier than our own and if we just had one more, or two more, or three more, or four more things our life would be easy too.

News flash --- nobody's life is easy. Everyone has a story and a challenge. Others challenges may seem easier than our own, but that's only because they're not ours. People with kids look at people without kids and think, "Gosh, what I could do if I had their time." People without kids look at people with kids and think, "Wouldn't it be great to have more hands in the house to get things done?" People without money look at people with money and think, "Wow, that must be great." People with money look at people without money and think, "Wasn't life so much easier when it was simpler?"

The grass is greener, the joneses, blah, blah, blah. We've heard it all before. But still, wouldn't it be nice to have our gimme list?

I don't have anything profound, but I do have a suggestion...if we put Jesus first on our gimme list and desire Him with as much passion as we often desire the other things on our gimme list, I think things will not only work themselves out, but we'll receive more than we ever imagined.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dig Deep

I went to my first spin class today at the Y. Turns out it was an advanced class and today's course was a strength workout of hills, hills and more hills. At about the 30-minute mark when I didn't think I could go any longer and the Life cereal I had eaten an hour earlier rose dangerously close to the surface, I began to think this was all a big mistake and physical fitness was way overrated (the expression "fat and happy" came from somewhere, right?).

Right then, the instructor began telling us to "Persevere," "Dig deep." I decided she was on a personal mission to destroy me and then I had a flashback to my college years when I would do advanced Tae Bo with a group of friends and Billy Blanks would tell us to "dig deep" and we would get so angry at Billy we would begin throwing towels, mats, water bottles, you name it, at the television. But, before we knew it, our rage against Billy pulled us through to the end of the workout and we felt immensely proud of ourselves, running the rest of the day on that "work-out high."

I gritted my teeth, focused straight ahead and determined to make it through.

We have a bad habit of thinking that God is our one-stop shop for an easier life, when the truth is that more often God is the training instructor, putting us on the right path, asking us to dig deep through the rough patches and encouraging us the whole way knowing that making it through is the very best thing for us (even if our limited perspective greatly disagrees along the way).

Life isn't always easy. God never said it would be. Dig deep, God is with you and He will pull you through.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

My apologies for the dearth of blog postings recently - you could say that life got away from me a bit. I've been reminded once again that all the planning and scheduling in the world doesn't put us in the driver seat. Life happens and God is in control. Planning is good, but most of the time we're simply along for the ride.

So, I thought I might get back on board today by sharing some of the recent scenery I'm thankful for...

- I'm thankful for my husband and the prayers he prays for me everyday. I'm thankful that God uses him to encourage me when I need it and humble me when I need it (which is a lot!)
- I'm thankful for Jacob whose smile lights up my world and puts everything back in perspective
- I'm thankful for Jamin, our new worship leader, who has a heart for God, a passion for God's people, and sweeeet music skills!
- I'm thankful for all of the volunteers who helped our first worship service happen on Sunday - seriously, blown away by all of the support!
- I'm thankful for the opportunity to spend my time doing things I love and being surrounded by incredible people who challenge me and love me despite all of my imperfections
- I'm thankful for friends who call me out on my weaknesses, but always do so while rooting for me to succeed
- most of all, I'm thankful for Jesus Christ because He gives me life and calls me precious and invites me to be part of the most exciting journey anyone could ever be on!!!!!

What are you thankful for? Tonight, don't focus on all of the things that make you anxious and add stress to your life. Give thanks that God is in the driver's seat of your life and take a minute to enjoy the view.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Read It, Listen to It

Andy Stanley's new book "The Principle of the Path" is now out on bookshelves. I haven't read it yet, but last night I listened to the first two sermons in his "Destinations" series, which is based on the book and now I can't wait to get my hands on it.

The short version...the path you're on determines where you end up. Simple, right? And yet, how many times do all of us realize we're on a destructive path and continue to go, hoping we'll somehow end up okay. For example, we find ourselves spending more than we make every month, or we find ourselves with nothing to put in savings at the end of the month, but instead of making changes we keep doing the same thing while talking about retiring early and achieving financial freedom - not going to happen! As Andy Stanley says, "No matter how much praying you do, if you get on I85 going north, you'll never get to Florida."

All of us are on paths in our life that may or may not lead to where we hope to end up. Now is the time to make the course correction. We hesitate because it requires action, sacrifice and often embarrassment, but the bottom line is, where do you want to end up? Proverbs 27:12 says "The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it."

Don't take it from me - I'm off to make some necessary course corrections in my own life. Read the book and/or listen to the sermon series.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

.People are great. I love people.

Tonight I did an acolyte training at Bethany to help out, and since it was the first night of Bethany Bash that means I saw A LOT of people. It was great! I had forgotten how much I love people. I do, I love people. I'm energized by people. I'm that person that comes home from Sunday morning knowing I should be exhausted and instead talking 30 miles an hour because I'm working my way down from a people high. I can't wait for tomorrow night's ARC gathering because it means more people time!

All this people loving, and yet I find myself challenged by someone who loved people much more than me. You see, Jesus loved people so much that He gave His life for people, namely you and me...and everyone. Unfortunately, we pass by so many of the people Jesus loves every day without giving them a second glance.

Church planting is about one thing - people, people, people. We need to get down on our knees and pray for God to give us a heart for people, more specifically, His heart for people, and even more specifically, His heart for the people in our mission field.

Are you still thinking and praying about the people in your life God is asking you to invite?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

When Too Much is Too Much

I'm sure I'm the only person in the world who does this, but I regularly try to do too much with too little (no one else does this, right?). It's a bad habit that unabated will lead to an ulcer, and to top it off, never once have I managed to do the too much I've planned in the too little time I've planned to do it. Instead I succeed in frustrating myself, annoying the hooey out of my husband and diminishing my role as a leader.

Now, some of you over-achievers may be asking, "How do we know when too much is too much?" The answer is simple - too much is too much when you lay awake at night unable to shut off the to do list train chugging around in your mind, too much is too much when you go to bed with a list on your night stand to add the things to your list that come to you in your dreams, too much is too much when you don't have time in your life for the most important people in your life (i.e. God, your spouse, your children, your friends), too much is too much when the time you do carve out for the important people in your life is spent thinking about other things, too much is too much when you consistently don't have time to exercise and eat non-take-out food, too much is too much when you find yourself regularly praying for 28 hours in a day.

You see, God doesn't make mistakes and when He created everything He established night and day and a constant rotation of only 24 hours. He also created time to rest. Jesus commanded us to eat with one another and care for each other. Jesus also told us we should love our neighbors, which means being home long enough to know our neighbors. Jesus said to treat our bodies as God's temple. Too much is too much when we've convinced ourselves that we can do 40 million things that keep us from doing the things God commanded us to do from the beginning.

I am the last person that should be teaching this concept, unless you consider that the best teachers are often the ones who have been there and done that themselves. I am learning and getting better everyday with the help of good friends. Ya'll know I'm pumped about this church plant and God did give me the energizer bunny gene when He created me, but for the rest of you out there with that gene, too much is still too much and it's time we learned to spread the wealth and share the joy - in other words, ask people for help and start shortening the to-do list. Or, if that's too painful, make another list called your "to-don't" list and make sure you follow it to the letter.

Enough said, I'm off to join the Y and spend the evening with my baby - and if that's all I do, it's more than okay.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Whirlwind Week

Last Thursday I found out I had strep throat. I promptly went home and began pumping my system with penicillin. I recovered from strep and two days later my family drove to Richmond, VA. The next day we got up and drove to York, PA, and the next day Clark and I boarded a plane to Dallas, TX where we've spent the last 2 1/2 days getting our brains pumped full of good information at church planting boot camp. Now, I'm sitting in a terminal at DFW waiting to fly back to PA and I'm taking a moment to catch my breath and reflect - what a week!

There's no way I can download everything in my brain in one blog post, but I'll start by reporting that God is doing AMAZING, KICK-BUTT, TAKE-BACK-THE-TERRITORY stuff all over the United States. We met people from everywhere with hearts to win the lost in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ. We met people who are preaching Jesus boldly and finding ways to do church that have never been done before. Being around these people has increased the urgency I feel to reach out to our mission field in Summerville, South Carolina. We all have neighbors and friends who are living everyday with stress, burden, anxiety and fear (let's be honest, half the time that's us) - some seen and much unseen. We have what they need and His name is Jesus! We've spent far too long being comfortable as church-insiders and it's past time to get out into the world with a faith that is relevant and lived everyday.

One of the biggest takeaways for me from the conference is the idea that we need to "put an elbow" on people, meaning we need to get over the old model of attracting people and start getting serious about inviting. 90-92% of unchurched people come to church for the first time on the elbow, so to speak, of a trusted friend. We live in a post-Christian culture where people outside of the church are highly skeptical of our motives and methods. They're not going to come unless we bring them. This means starting to see your friends with new lenses - start seeing the people you live with, work with and play with as people who are only one invitation away from a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I want to throw down the gauntlet now and challenge everyone to make a commitment to start bringing people with you. In the coming months we're going to have lots of events from preview worship services to service projects at the high school to the Fall Festival - plan now to bring people with you to all of these events. I'll warn you now that some of our events will be "member-guest" events where your only ticket in will be the person you bring with you. Start praying about who God has placed in your life that you can invite. And once God has shown you who those people are, start praying for them everyday.

(As a side-note, if you're already thinking "I don't have any friends who don't go to church" then start doing things with new people - in the coming weeks I'll be joining a spinning class at the Y, starting a running group, joining the Chamber of Commerce and much more to get connected to the community and in touch w/ a wider circle of people - what can you do?)

I am so excited for all that lies ahead. We started a new phase in the Ashley Ridge journey this week. If we're going to launch in January then we need to have 150 fully-committed people by the end of December, only half of whom come from Bethany. I'm thinking it's time to get our hands dirty and get to work. I've been challenged to personally connect with 10,000 new people in the next two years - who's with me?!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

It's raining, my throat hurts and I'm reminded of the song "nobody likes me, everybody hates me, might as well go eat worms..." Am I the only one that learned this song as a child?

It's amazing how quickly we can fall into a bad mood and convince ourselves that everything around us is bad, especially when the reality is quite the contrary. The truth is I like rain, I can take some medicine for the sore throat, I have a husband who loves me and a healthy, happy child, I have great friends, God is doing incredible things everyday as we prepare for ARC, people are coming out of the woodwork to be involved and offer their gifts - life isn't good, it's great!

So why do we choose the doldrums instead of joy? Sometimes we do it for the attention and other times we do it because it gives us a good excuse to hide from the world, but never do we do it because it feels good or leads to anything positive or productive.

Things don't always go our way, sometimes terrible things do happen, but because of our faith in Jesus we can choose joy even in those times.

And so, I'm headed home to take some medicine and on the way I just might take some time to thank God for all He has provided for me today.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

So, everyone who knows me knows that I love Moe's and can be found there every Tuesday for lunch. No shame here - I'm all about a Joey (Joey Jr. these days - cheaper and not as many calories, plus it leaves more room in your tray for additional chips, which throws out the calories theory, but I digress...).

Today I walked into Moe's and had my worldview shifted by a little thing they've introduced called mango salsa - it's AMAZING! It's an instant fiesta in your mouth, you've got to try it!

"What's the point?" you're asking.

The point is that in order to keep things interesting, engaging and worth returning you've got to keep the main thing the main thing and then change the dressing from time to time. In "Built to Last" Jim Collins talks about this using the yin-yang symbol, saying that "enduring organizations have two dominant characteristics that are complementary opposites. The first is a strong conviction about core ideals that never change; these are purpose and values. The second is a clear understanding that everything else must change in order to preserve the core." (as described in Church Unique by Will Mancini, p. 46). Moe's will never stop serving burritos, but changing the salsa allows you to experience the burrito in a fresh way with new perspective from time to time.

So it is with church. Churches are meant to point people toward Christ and help people grow in a life-saving, life-giving relationship with Him that changes everything about their day-to-day life. To do this, we must continually change our methods and our approach. The same is true in our personal relationship with Christ. Sometimes it helps to jump around in Scripture and use a concordance to point us toward applicable passages based on our life situation. Other times we need to let God help us see Scripture in a new light by reading all of the Bible chronologically (as best as possible) over the course of a year. The approach changes, but the core idea of growing in our love and knowledge of God through the study of His Word does not.

Are you feeling stale? Find a new vantage point and try a fresh approach. Maybe you need to start praying the Psalms or standing on your head when you talk to God (maybe start by shifting to your knees before attempting the headstand) - either way, God's Word is always new and always fresh and always applicable - don't miss out by refusing to change your approach and challenge your assumptions.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

"'Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.' After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." (Acts 4:30-31)

Do you start every day expecting God to do something incredible? Do you come to worship expecting to encounter God? When was the last time you prayed a prayer like John and Peter prayed above?

Ours is not a passive faith. Ours is not a God who is operating under the radar. God is all over the place doing incredible, blow-your-mind things and too often we miss seeing it because we're not looking because we're not expecting it. The old cliche says that if you expect nothing you'll probably get it, but that's not what our faith it all about. Jesus said that those who followed him would do and see even greater things than he had already revealed to them.

I've driven to work the last two mornings listening to Lincoln Brewster's "Today is the Day" and it has me pumped up - every day is a day that God is working, every day is a day God has made and God doesn't do anything halfway.

Expect more from God - I guarantee you won't be let down.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Who Leads You? Who Influences You?
What are you Reading? What are you Listening to?


I had the news on this morning as I was getting ready and typically I turn it off after the first 10 minutes of headlines, but today I left it on longer because of the teaser that perhaps there was trouble in paradise with the most recent bachelorette (turns out, there's not - and as an aside, I think it's important as we interact with our culture to always be cheerleaders for positive relationships and marriages instead of naysayers getting sucked into the tabloid drama). Anyway...I'm a bit embarrassed that I left the news on for that reason. It made me reflect on how much time I spend filling my life with positive influences and how much time I fill with the inconsequential.

Don't misread me here - I'm not saying that we should avoid the entertainment world. I'm as excited as most in SEC country that the college football season starts soon. I practically skipped into the theater (that's right, I said skipped) to see the new Harry Potter movie on Saturday because I couldn't wait to see how they would bring an incredible book to the big screen.

But, the question remains, how much time do we spend filling our lives with positive influences in terms of what we watch, read and hear? It does matter. It does make a difference in how we live our life. For example, if your understanding of relationships is informed primarily by shows like The Bachelorette or Dating in the Dark, you could be missing out on the relationship God intends for you (which, for the record, is much better than anything tv can portray). I'm reminded of the quote from Sleepless in Seattle - "You don't want to be in love, you want to be in love in a movie." There is a difference. Real life may lack the helicopter rides and limo rides, but finding someone to love who loves you in return and is willing to put you ahead of all their own needs, wants and desires is much more fulfilling and ultimately gives us a glimpse of Christ's love for His church.

Let me make some suggestions...instead of following a bunch of celebrities on Twitter, try following people like Rick Warren, Rob Bell, Andy Stanley or Perry Noble. Instead of reading TMZ online, maybe set your homepage to Mark Batterson's blog or a site that will give you daily Bible readings set up so you can read the whole Bible in the course of the year. Try mixing up the playlists on your iPod by downloading some stuff like Hillsong's newest album (Faith+Hope+Love). Pick up a copy of Francis Chan's new book "Crazy Love" or Tony Dungy's book "Uncommon" and add it to your reading list.

Who influences you? Are you reading and watching and listening to things that point you to Jesus? It matters.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Overcoming JDD (Jesus Deficit Disorder)

This morning I read "A Jesus Manifesto" written by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. In it, they argue that "the major disease of the church today is JDD: Jesus Deficit Disorder." It's very well written and I definitely encourage you to check it out.

I don't know about you, but I can always tell when my life is running with a Jesus deficit. I get crabby, anxious, high-strung, bossy, selfish and an all-together lousy person to be around - just ask my husband. My Jesus meter starts to run low when I think I'm too busy to spend time with Him, too busy to sit with my Bible, too busy to pray because I'm wasting time figuring things out on my own.

If this happens over a prolonged period, we can start to forget what we're missing. We get so used to living life on our terms and by our rules that we accept the anxiety and worry as part of life. It's not good. It's not right. It's not how God created us. We were designed with a need for Jesus and Jesus has gone above and beyond to make it possible for us to know Him.

If you're running with a Jesus deficit and wondering why you're constantly out of steam, let me encourage you to get back in touch with Jesus. You don't even have to dial a phone and I promise you the requisite guilt trip for not calling won't be there. Get back in the Word, get back on your knees, leave the radio off the next time you get in your car and talk to Jesus instead - He's waiting.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

ARC VISION


We are a community of people passionately pursuing God and participating in God's passion for reaching people with the love of Jesus Christ.


Read it, memorize it, live it.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"It is important people perceive our church to be..."

Yesterday I filled out an online questionnaire for our web designer in preparation for tomorrow's design meeting. One of the things they asked was for me to complete the sentence, "It is important people perceive our church to be" The first word that came to my mind was genuine. I want people to have no doubt that we are genuine in our faith, our passion and our commitment to live for Jesus every day and in every way.

Now I'm not a web designer, but my guess is that it's hard for a website to communicate "genuine." That's almost like asking an ATM to communicate a bank is friendly. Church's can have the best website in the world and that website can do an incredible job of connecting people to your church and encouraging them to check it out, but if they show up and realize it was just a fancy design, it loses all meaning.

In other words, genuine is not a perception you can fake. People will know we are genuine as we take our faith and our relationship with Jesus and let it truly transform the way we live and care for our family at home, the integrity we exhibit at work, the patience we show in line at the grocery store, the calm and reassurance we provide in crisis...you get the idea.

In my Bible study right now we're talking about friendships and one of the things we've talked about is the difference between a fake friendship and the real deal. We all know the difference and we can all tell immediately the people who are interested in the real thing. As a church (you and me), people can tell when we're genuinely interested in them just like they can tell when we're genuine about our relationship with Jesus.

Let's get real in our walk with God and let's get real in our current relationships so we have the kind of support and accountability that will keep us genuine as a community of faith.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Irresistible Environments

Clark and Jake and I just spent a week of vacation with my parents and my sister's family - it was a great week filled with all of the energy, joy and busyness that a 5-year old, a 2-year old, a 1-year old and a 5-month old bring to the table!

I don't know if Andy Stanley coined the phrase, but on more than one occasion I've heard him talk about creating "irresistible environments." I've always bought into the theory, but I had a chance to observe it in action with the kids one morning. We had been running like crazy keeping up with all four of them out at the beach as they went in different directions to play (one to the water, another to dig in the sand, another chasing a sea gull - you get the idea), so I decided to venture out on my own and see who would follow. I went down to the water's edge and begin to dig an enormous hole that would fill with water. On the edge of the hole I began piling my sand to be the base for a huge drip castle. As I worked, sure enough the kids found their way to me - first the 5-year old (Liza Jane) who wanted the hole to be big enough for a whale and immediately began to assist my digging efforts, then the 2-year old (Max) who wanted to use the shells he found as kayaks and motor boats to speed around the "lake", and then the 1-year old (Ruthie) who was curious to see what her big brother and sister were up to. The 1-year old is afraid of water and when she noticed the hole filling with water, she kept a safe distance, but didn't want to walk away so she stood by, continuing to observe, building up her nerve to be part of whatever this excitement was that had so engaged the big kids. Not long after, some of the kids from families nearby came over to see what was going on and before long the kids had made some new friends and had help building the "lake" and the drip castle.

The theory isn't profound, but it's absolutely true. With ARC, we are trying to create an irresistible environment where people not only want to come and see what's going on, but also a place where people want to bring everyone they know. Some may be hesitant at first (like Ruthie), but if we continue to be faithful and passionate about what we're doing, they won't be able to resist joining in, which means coming to know Jesus Christ as part of their life and worshiping God together.

Jesus said, "let the little children come to me" - what an opportunity to create that environment!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

continuing thoughts on the last post...

On Thursday nights through the summer we've been meeting with the college students at Bethany and talking about relationships. Our pastor for student ministry has led great conversations on covenants and Christian marriage and tonight we made it to a discussion on homosexuality. I've been part of several conversations on this topic, but I was incredibly impressed with the direction these students went with it. We spent much more time talking about what it means to be judgmental than we did on our aversion to homosexual practice. There were great questions asked about how we interpret Scripture and what does it mean to live in a fallen world and what does reconciliation to Christ look like for all of us.

Homosexuality is an incredibly divisive issue in the body of Christ and I will be the first to say that I have definite thoughts about what I think Scripture has to say about it and how we should respond in the church, but I also think it's a shame that we have given the world the impression that the most important thing on the church's agenda is a stance on homosexuality. I think it's time we get back to showing the world that the most important thing on our agenda is proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ - no sidetracks, no exceptions.
What Unifies is More Important than that which Divides

Rick Warren had a great tweet this morning, saying "I believe in the absolute inerrancy of Scripture, I do not believe in the inerrancy of my interpretation - or yours either." Jesus prayed for all of the believers in John 17:22-23, saying, "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

Jesus' desire was for all of those who follow Him to be one - one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Too often we waste time at odds with one another trying to clarify our definition of inerrancy when the truth is we should all believe the Bible is God's Word, given to us without error. The problem is we are imperfect people who have trouble receiving without error. Paul said in I Corinthians 13 that on this side of heaven we know in part, see in part and prophesy in part. In other words, we do our best to understand the perfect Word of God, but we still acknowledge that we aren't perfect and we don't always get it right.

Instead of engaging or dismissing parts of the body of Christ based on different interpretations of Scripture, I like to ask the question, "Are we all pursuing God to the best of our ability and trying our best to be faithful to Him?" If the answer is yes, than we need to be willing to put our differences aside, or at least be open to good discussion, prayer and ongoing discernment instead of putting each other down and encouraging division in the body.

I've been asked recently why the new church is called Ashley Ridge Church instead of Ashley Ridge United Methodist Church, and the answer is that, bottom line, we are a Church that believes Jesus is Lord, and that's what we're all about. That's why there is a large cross right in the middle of our logo beside the word "church." Paul also said, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

My church history professor always told us, "agreement on the essentials makes us free to disagree on the non-essentials."

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Importance of an Excellent Worship Leader

So, the current priority numero uno for Ashley Ridge is finding the right worship leader. Easy? Afraid not. Worship leaders are difficult to find for several reasons, the first of which is that it is a very specific and highly specialized field. Worship leaders need excellent musical ability, communication skills, organizational skills, creativity, and more. They need to be relational and genuine, flexible and structured, passionate and disciplined, confident and humble - are you starting to see why they're so hard to find? And to top it all off, they need to be 100% sold-out, on-fire, and crazy passionate about living for Jesus and leading others into the presence of God. Speaking of which, check out this blogpost on Seven Keys to Being an Effective Worship Leader.

With all of these expectations, you might be asking, aren't our expectations a little too high? The answer - absolutely, but don't think for a second that we should be willing to compromise. We were made to worship God and it is the most important thing we do day in and day out. God deserves our very best, which is why we are begging God (my thanks to Perry Noble for asking the question, "What big things are you begging God to do in your church this fall?) for an amazing worship leader to guide us and direct us toward God on Sunday mornings at Ashley Ridge.

God, we pray for the person you are preparing right now to be the worship leader at Ashley Ridge Church. Please give us the wisdom to look in the right places and ask the right questions. And while we search, please work within us that we might be 100% sold-out, on-fire, and crazy passionate about living for Jesus always and everywhere.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Recommended Reading

I noticed as I've read more blogs recently that often people will post links to posts and articles from other people that they found interesting. I've learned a lot as I've followed some of these links so I may follow suit from time to time. For now, let me simply point you to some of the blogs I frequent as well as a few websites worth exploring:

www.perrynoble.com
www.stevenfurtick.com
evotional.com (Mark Batterson's blog)
www.new-song.org (a church plant in New Bern, NC)
www.flowing-grace.com (a church plant in Chicagoland, Batavia UMC is the mother church)
www.communitychristian.org (a church plant committed to planting churches, led by Dave Ferguson, a guy who is huge in the church planting world)

And, as always, I highly recommend a little book called the Bible - some crazy relevant stuff in there, don't miss it!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

speaking the truth in love does not equal being nice all the time

Have you ever found that the quest to be nice can get in the way of being honest? Don't misunderstand me, I'm not advocating being a jerk. I'm sure as Jake gets older I'll find myself often saying "Be nice." It's a good rule to live by, but if there is a rule that trumps it (like paper beating rock in rock-paper-scissors) then that rule is "Be honest."

I suppose there wouldn't be a need for these two rules to conflict if we didn't translate being nice in our minds and lives as a means to making sure people like us. I find myself using the "be nice" rule as an excuse to say things that will make people happy, but aren't 100% truthful.

Think how much simpler our lives would be at home and at work and at school if everyone one was completely honest. Little things like "where do you want to go eat?" would not turn into monumental decisions because people would say where they wanted to eat first and then be nice second by choosing to eat where someone else wanted to go as a gesture of hospitality. It's amazing how being honest first can open the door to opportunities for being genuinely nice.

When Jesus threw the people out of the Temple for turning it into "a den of thieves" he actually made a whip to drive them out. That wasn't very nice. However, Jesus was completely honest about what was going on and how he felt about it. In turn, Jesus gave his life so that everyone could come to the "temple" and know Him and receive eternal life without having to wade through a bunch of junk. What a nice thing to do!