“What is the BEST spaghetti sauce?” & other musings about growing in our relationship with God…

Over the next couple of weeks, our church is offering a series of “Marriage Refreshers” with the theme, “GROWING TOGETHER IN…” So far we’ve talked about GROWING TOGETHER IN communication & intimacy. Tonight, (10/13) we’re looking at GROWING TOGETHER IN our relationship with God. This past week at church, I promo-ed the topic; afterwards, someone asked me: “So, what is the best way that my spouse & I can grow together in our relationship with God?” I answered him, tongue-in-cheek: “That’s the wrong question.” And then I explained.


While I was going through my Masters program (the MASL at LIFE Pacific,) I was exposed to TED talks for the 1st time. What an incredible resource – delivered in 20 minutes or less every time. Here’s how it came about: during one of the lectures, our professor asked the question: “What is the BEST way to make a disciple of Jesus Christ?”

And then, he promptly answered himself, saying: “THAT is the wrong question. Find the RIGHT one.” As a part of our homework we were tasked with watching Malcolm Gladwell’s TED talk, with the idea that it would help us, in essence, to do exactly that. (That TED talk can be seen HERE. It’s definitely worth the watch.)

In it, Gladwell tells the story of how a spaghetti sauce manufacturer (it was Prego,)  hired a renowned researcher to answer the question: “What is the BEST spaghetti sauce?” After a couple of weeks, their researcher came back & told them: “You’re asking the wrong question… but I think I know the right one: It’s ‘What ARE the BEST spaghetti sauceS?'” The answers his question had garnered were numerous – & far from definitive in determining which 1 sauce reigned supreme. In fact, he found that the sauce 35% of America craved more than any other sauce wasn’t even on the market… (It was the thick & chunky spaghetti sauce, in case you’re wondering.) So Prego took their research & decided to develop several of the best, most craved spaghetti sauceS they could – & in response, their business boomed. When they stopped trying to find the ONE best sauce & instead brought forth SEVERAL of the best sauces, they found they could reach a much broader & more diverse cross-section of the population. (NOTE: Today, Prego has more than 35 sauces available…)


Which brings us back to the original question, albeit modified: “What ARE the best wayS that my spouse & I can grow together in our relationship with God?” And my answer (which is far from all-encompassing,) is, it depends. And, there are probably several ways you’ll find that are very helpful in growing together, in God. Some of the factors affecting how we (individually & as a couple,) learn, grow, & best experience God are:

  • Our personality type. Are you more introverted or extroverted? Sensing or intuitive? Thinking or feeling? Judging or perceiving? And what combinations of the above? (you can take a free, online “type” test HERE)
  • Our learning style. Are we visual (pictures & images)? Aural (sound/music)? Verbal (words/speech/writing)? Physical (hands on/kinesthetic/touch)? Logical (logic/reasoning/systems)? Social (in groups/with others)? Solitary (alone/self-study)? You can find out more about learning styles HERE.)
  • Our primary way(s) of experiencing connection with God. Are we:
    • Naturalists – moved by creation/time outdoors
    • Sensates – experiencers of God with the 5 senses, sights, sounds, smells
    • Traditionalists – find great meaning in ritual, symbols, sacraments, celebration of the ancient practices of our faith (e.g. the Daily Office, Lectio Divina, etc..)
    • Ascetics – don’t need ‘stuff’ – find meaning in solitude, simplicity, & a quiet internal world.
    • Activists – experiencers of God through confrontation of injustice (think Isaiah 58)
    • Caregivers – lovers of God displayed through caring for & loving others.
    • Enthusiasts – experiencers of the mystery & celebration of faith, (think: cheerleaders for Christ & Christ-following.)
    • Contemplatives – experiencers of God through adoration & “being” (think” Mary of Bethany sitting at Jesus’ feet.)
    • Intellectuals – experiencers of God through study, worshiping with the mind through exploring theology, the Bible, & faith concepts.

In a nutshell – for a couple to grow together, in God, both parties will be pursuing their own relationship with God, taking faith steps, spending time with Him in a variety of ways & places. And both parties will also be engaging in their lives together with God as the context in which they do so… relationships are built when we share time & space, with a common focus. So going to church together; having ‘spiritual’ conversations about each one’s own interactions, experiences, questions, & wonderings; participating in a “marriage refresher” & then intentionally taking time to talk through personal & “as a couple” applications, goals, & growth points; engaging with one another in our spouse’s preferred context for connecting with God; all of these are ways we can grow together, in Him. And that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of possibilities that await…

When both parties are pursuing God & each other – it’s a beautiful thing. And it never grows old.

Ready? Set? LISTEN…

At Hillside, we just finished up our most recent series, “Who am I REALLY?” (You can listen HERE & HERE if you’re interested.)  It was an exploration of WHO God says we are, in Him, & WHAT the ramifications of that are in our lives. I really enjoyed it, & got to hear lots of feedback from others on the things that they were learning & hearing from God as He did work in helping them grow in Him.


My process for deciding where we go next involves prayer, planning, looking at the calendar, & thinking… all of which usually happen (& are completed) in advance of needing to start another series. Not this time. Finished the series yesterday – no idea where we were going next… that is a bit of a feeling of desperation, exacerbated by the fact that theBean & I are starting a sabbatical June 22 at the strong ‘urging‘ of my district supervisor, Ron. In a nutshell, here’s how it went down:

Last Summer, theBean & I had a conversation with Ron, & he asked very specific questions about our lives & about our time in Reno. And when we affirmed that we were celebrating year 15 in our city, he said, “It’s time for you to take a sabbatical.” I knew what those were… And my mind raced. And he continued: “And it needs to be at least 6 weeks. Preferably more. Make it happen.”

And when one’s supervisor says such things, you does them.

BTW: Here’s a SUM UP of what a sabbatical is (it’s wikipedia – don’t sue me:)  – & here’s some INFO on why sabbaticals are helpful to pastors:  – & here’s MORE.  


I had to take a 2 hour drive this morning (1 hour each way.) Time in the car + a car with a broken antennae = lot’s of quiet time. My time was filled with prayer (open eyes… I didn’t ask Jesus to take the wheel) & pondering something deep in my gut. It was a couple of verses that I have a lot of history with:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me & you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me & work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me & you’ll learn to live freely & lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

And it hit me – a strong nudge from God – “I want to you come to Me & recover your life, & as you prepare for your sabbatical, bring Hillside along in the process.”


 

This might sound to you like a no-brainer – if the pastor’s going to be gone for several weeks, wouldn’t it be a good idea to talk quite a bit about it & to prepare the community for it as well? I would say, “Yes. Yes it does.” And, to be fair, I have talked about it. A little. And so I repented. Asked God for forgiveness for getting caught up in the speed & race of life. And for dis-remembering what it means to live life at God’s unforced rhythm of grace. Cause a sabbath (& a sabbatical) are not just meant to be a recovery time so that we can jump back, helter-skelter, into the out of control mess of life. Rather, they are to form a pattern for how life is lived the rest of the week/month/year, etc… a life lived at God’s pace, with His values, purposes, & goals directing every step. It’s counter-intuitive to the world-system (& even church-system) & requires both LEARNING to walk at God’s pace & REMAINING dependent upon Him for what comes next… Here we go!

 

Faith, expectation, the New Year, & other musings…

This Sunday at Hillside we are wrapping up our “Jesus REVOLUTION” series – it’s also our last Sunday gathering of 2014. The normally hectic pace of life has significantly increased in this Christmas season, & in some ways, I feel like I’ve had to be more & more intentional about stopping, reflecting, & evaluating life, its happenings, my priorities, & what I give my time to. Specifically, over the last couple of weeks, I have been trying to take time to reflect on the questions:

  • What could/would it look like if Jesus did a revolution in my life?
  • What am I expecting/hoping for Jesus to do in me?
  • What am I wiling to put on the table?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my life. The time spent with my family & friends. Watching my kids turn into great adults who love Jesus & are making strides forward in their own lives. The work I am privileged to do. The life & growth in Christ I’m seeing within our church family. And still…


 

I wonder what areas Jesus wants to cut away so that I can grow, develop, deepen. What thought patterns & meditations of my heart He wants to transform. What ways I interact with & respond to others. How I can better take care of myself (body, mind, & spirit.)

I guess what I am expecting is that He is doing something NEW in me. That He is in the process of awakening parts of my life, my soul, that have been dormant or stagnant. That He is going to be refining me – So can will continue to be growing more & more like Him.

So the answer to the last question, “What am I willing to put on the table?” is ME. It feels a little scary – which means that my prayer heading into 2015 & beyond is: “Increase my faith, Lord. Because “…we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” Hebrews 10:39

Blessings, grace, peace, & FAITH to you

O Holy Night #3 – Waiting…

It’s easy to forget that the great men & women of faith whose stories are recounted in Scripture were people just like us. It helps me to keep that in the forefront of my mind when I read about people like Joseph & Mary…  they were people going about their routine, normal, lives… looking to love, honor, & obey God to the best of their abilities. And then something miraculous happened.

God’s plan to reconcile ALL who would believe in Him through the Christ was revealed through the simple, humble obedience of this couple, Joseph & Mary, who probably didn’t fully grasp or understand the enormous impact on eternity which stemmed from their lived out faith responses to what God revealed to them.

They didn’t have to understand it fully. They didn’t ask “WHY?” They didn’t argue with Him, or look to disqualify themselves as being insignificant Instead, they chose, individually & as a couple, to trust the One who was asking them to believe what He said. Their faith response was the means by which God forever changed the world & remade, transformed, & restored humanity’s destiny.

That we, far from God, lost in our sins & wrongs, could be brought close to God through Christ, our Immanu’El, “God with us.” That our sins could be forgiven. And we could live life in all of its fullness.  This Christmas season, I am asking God to increase our faith… so that when He speaks to us, our response will be to BELIEVE. To TRUST. To put our HOPE in him. Not to argue. Attempt to disqualify ourselves, or try to figure out “WHY?” Our faith response will have an affect on our lives… & will also have a great impact on people downstream from us!

O Holy Night #2 – A New Hope…

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas story is the account of the birth of John the Baptist. His parents, Zechariah & Elizabeth, were childless; they’d been unable to have kids their entire married life together, & now they both were way, way beyond childbearing years (Luke 1:7). At this point in their lives, the dream of having a child, an heir, had moved off of their collective radar, & now most likely just existed as one of life’s greatest disappointments & unfulfilled dreams. And then God intervenes, declaring a new hope, not only for their lives, but for the whole world.

God sent Gabriel the angel to proclaim to Zechariah that he & Elizabeth would conceive, & she would give birth to a son. And the best part was that he wouldn’t just be a ‘miracle’ child… no, their son John was to be the one promised by the Scriptures who would “prepare the way” for the Messiah, the Christ, God’s promised Anointed One. (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; Matthew 3:3).

You’d think such a jubilant angelic declaration would be received with shouts of joy… but instead, Zechariah’s response was one of skepticism, negativity, & doubt. This is one of the reasons I love this story – not because I like Zechariah’s displayed lack of faith, but rather because I GET it. After years of hoping for a child, years of disappointment, & years of attempting to comfort his wife in the midst of her/their grief, the message of HOPE hit Zechariah’s ears (& heart) in such a way that revealed that he was “done,” & couldn’t grasp, let alone believe that God was on the verge of a miracle in their lives.

I love the angel’s response to Zechariah’s unbelief: “I am Gabriel, & I stand in the presence of God, & I was sent to speak to you & to bring you this good news. Now, you will be silent & unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which WILL BE fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:19,20 ESV). He basically tells him – “C’mon, man! This is good news! What I told you came direct from the throne of God – so because of your lack of belief, I’m going to shut you up so you can’t spread the doubt to your wife & others.”


Every time I revisit this story, I feel the Holy Spirit doing a heart-check on me – & I find myself examining where I am… am I open to God’s new hope for my life? Am I open to it even if it is in an area I have given up on? Do I really believe all things are possible for God, if I believe?

During this Christmas season, I’m praying that my heart will be prepped for God’s miraculous new hope for me & those my life connects with.

Don’t be afraid…

Over the last several weeks, the phrases “Fear not” & “Don’t be afraid,” have really jumped out at me during my Bible reading. Most of the time, God is speaking them as a command to a person/people to whom He has promised a blessing, redemption, &/or a assurance of His favor.

God says it to Abraham in the context of His promise to give him not only a son, but as many descendants as there are stars in the sky (Genesis 15:1). He says it to Jacob when He tells him to go to Egypt so God can make Israel a great nation (Genesis 46:3). God says it to the nation of Israel when they were under attack from Egyptians who were trying to re-enslave them (Exodus 14:13). He says it to Joshua when He challenges him to be strong & courageous as he leads the nation of Israel to the Promised Land (Joshua 11:6).  In the New Testament, Jesus tells the parents of a 12 year old girl that had just died, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.” (Mark 5:35-43). I could go on, because this command about not fearing is EVERYWHERE in Scripture.

Why do you think that is?


My take is this: Upon hearing of God’s promises, His goodness, His blessings, & His care for us, our first inclination is to look around at our circumstances, our challenges, our own resources (or lack thereof.) & the enemies we’re facing… & when we just can’t see it in, we fall into fear.

Abraham was 100, but God promised him He would give him a son. Don’t be afraid.

Jacob & his family were only 80 people in total, & God was sending them to live in the most powerful nation on earth… & that in this place He would grow Israel into a mighty nation. Don’t be afraid.

The people of Israel stood defenseless, the Red Sea on one side, a fierce army of Egyptians on the other. God promised to fight for them. Don’t be afraid. God tasked Joshua & the Israelites with claiming the Promised Land, the land of 10 foot tall (& bigger) giants… saying He would be their fortress & deliverer. Don’t be afraid.

The little girl’s parents had just watched their child die. Jesus promised they would see her alive again. Don’t be afraid.

What I’m dwelling on is this: when God gives me a promise, my response will be to receive it, by faith. It’s not to look around at how IMPOSSIBLE it would be for God’s promise to come about. It’s not to revisit how inadequate I am in my own strength. It’s not to quiver in fear at what could be my impending doom. It is to believe. To declare in faith, “Yes, I’ll take it.” To resist the temptation to fear & to doubt God at His word.

Fear not. Don’t be afraid. The LORD God is with you!

Embracing grace, a couple good books, & other musings…

I’ve been slowly reading a newly published book I was gifted with called “Embracing Grace” by Daniel Brown. I say I’ve been reading it slowly because I have intentionally avoided trying to power through it, in that I don’t just want to “get ‘er done,” I want to “get it.”

Grace is a hard topic for me – not because I don’t like it/want it/need it – but because I don’t easily receive grace for myself. Grasp it mentally? Yes. Process through it as it relates to others? Sure. But do I truly embrace grace in my inner being? Nope. Not so much. The first time I became painfully aware of this ‘grace struggle’ was when I read through Brennan Manning’s “The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-up, & Burnt Out.” Ended up going through that a few pages at a time, weeping with joy at the thought that this amazing grace was mine & there was no sin I had ever committed, was committing, or would ever commit that could separate me from the infinite grace of God, poured out on me.

I have wrestled for most of my life with a nagging feeling of a need to perform well, to do things right, & to avoid the things that are bad so I can be a “good” Christian. In my head, I know that my standing before God isn’t based upon any of my own actions – and I can quote “grace scriptures” with the best of ‘em, like:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8,9 English Standard Version

And yet there was still that sense of God’s displeasure with my performance, that somehow I hadn’t measured up; that my myriad sins, wrongs, & stumbles had marked me in an indelible way, a way that was unfixable. It sounds silly when I write it out. And to read it out loud.

And in the face of the rich mercy shown to humanity (& Louie!) by God in the gift of His grace, the grace that brought us (me!) from death to life, this sense of God’s displeasure with my performance as a Christian is an affront, a mockery, a bold-faced lie challenging God’s character… it’s a lie of the same variety which has been whispered to humanity for all time by our enemy, beginning with “Did God really say…?” Part of the battle to embrace grace comes from my ‘flesh’ (a.k.a. the part of me that opposes the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.) Part of it is being an unwitting yet involved participant in the accusations, manipulations, negative thoughts, lies, & shame lobbed at me (all of us) by the enemy of our souls.

And part of it is needing to exercise faith – the kind of faith that pushes through, perseveres, & overcomes to tenaciously embrace grace, while refusing to give time, energy, or brain power to anything that stands in opposition to the truth of God’s Word & what it (& He) says who I am, in Christ, because of Christ. It’s living in grace, thinking in grace, & walking out in grace towards others (& myself) because that is what God does with us.

Through The Gospels – Matthew 2

SOAP – Through the Gospels
Matthew 2

S – SCRIPTURE
Matthew 2:19-23 – But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the LORD appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child & His mother & go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose & took the child & His moth & went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, & being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went & lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

O –OBSERVATION
It jumps out at me that Matthew 2 has at least 4 fulfillments of prophecy:

    • 2:6 – Christ, the Anointed One, Son of God would come from Bethlehem of Judah – Micah 5:2
    • 2:15 – Christ, Son of God, would come out of Egypt – Hosea 11:1
    • 2:16-18 – All the male children in the region of Bethlehem would be killed – Jeremiah 31:15
    • 2:23 – Christ would be called a Nazarene –

It seems a little surreal to see that the miraculous, tragic, & even everyday events recorded in Matthew 2 can be directly tied to the fulfillment of a prophetic foretelling, each of which played a part in identifying Jesus as the Christ, & the accomplishment of the God’s plan for the redemption of humanity. For example, Joseph had a dream warning him to head to Egypt, & no sooner does the new family hit the road than the executioner’s sword falls on the region where they lived. Then, in another dream, the family gets the ok to go back to Judea; however, out of fear, Joseph decides to avoid Bethlehem (prophesied birthplace of the Christ) & head to one of the most despised cities in the region: Nazareth (check out John 1:43-51.) God’s plan revealed & fulfilled in human choices, guided by emotion, reason, & an instinct for survival.

A – APPLICATION
I bet the fulfillment of prophecy was the last thing on Joseph & Mary’s minds as they ran for their lives, lived as refugees, & attempted to dodge assassins – they were just making heaven-informed choices on a day-to-day basis, looking to stay alive & keep the family together & whole. And in the middle of it, God’s purposes were worked out. Herod’s megalomania, striving for power, and paranoia all played into creating the panorama in which Matthew 2 unfolds. The absolute craziness of the scenes in this chapter give me great encouragement that God is Sovereign & in control, even in the chaos & craziness of my own life. He has, is, & will continue to “work all things together for good for those who are called according to His purpose” for those that love Him (Romans 8:26-30, ESV).

P – PRAYER
LORD – let my life be an offering to You. May my ears be open & my heart soft & able to be directed. Guide me in Your paths of righteousness; & when I’m walking through the valley of the shadow of death, I thank You in advance for being with me. Increase my faith, LORD, that I would not just walk & live by what I see, but by faith in the Sure Thing that is You.

Death & life; prayer, perspective & other musings…

The violent and deadly opposition to the church that had begun with the death of Stephen had spread throughout the Roman world until finally it reached to the apostles themselves. James, one of the 3 disciples closest to Jesus, (along with Peter & John,) was martyred by King Herod. Peter was in prison, awaiting the fulfillment of his own death sentence.

And the Church was praying.

In the book of Acts, the consistent response of the Church to opposition, persecution, & threats from the government & religious leaders was prayer. And when they prayed, it wasn’t for deliverance from the difficult and even life-threatening circumstances they were in. Instead, they asked for strength & boldness in declaring the gospel. For the glory of God to be revealed in & through them with signs & wonders. For God to draw people to Himself. That they would be able to be faithful servants, even unto death.

The disciples lived with missional perspective – their primary purposes in life were to love God with their whole hearts; to declare the Good News; make disciples; love one another deeply; and to follow Christ.

So, when they experienced the traumatic events of James’ death, & Peter’s imprisonment, Jesus’ prophetic words rang in their ears:

“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” & “A servant isn’t greater than his master. If they persecute Me, you can be sure they’ll persecute you as well.” Matthew 16:24,25; John 15:20.

So they prayed. And instead of living fearfully, trying to avoid any potential troubles, they committed themselves into God’s hands, so that, live or die, they would bring glory & honor to Him.

This challenges me. Rather than be focused on temporary, circumstantial discomforts, I want to have God’s perspective on life & priorities. I want to be concerned with things of eternal significance, & to live today with purpose & strength. I want to be bold, faithful, persevering, & tenacious.

So I’m praying.

fear, faith, & other musings…

Fear paralyzes us. It stirs up doubts. It rises up in opposition to faith. It crowds out every other thought, dominating the mind. It is a primary weapon used by our enemy, the devil to attempt to manipulate & control us by taking our eyes off of Christ, & putting them onto our circumstances. Fear promises us an alternate future, one void of the good & faithful promises of God.

In Acts 9, one particular disciple, Ananias, had to confront fear & make a choice: would he let fear or faith direct his life?

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” Acts 9:10-12

Saul.

Ananias knew who he was. Everyone knew Saul of Tarsus. The stories of his zealous persecution of the Way had spread like wildfire. The believers he’d personally thrown into prison, the families he’d destroyed, & the stonings he’d been party to were numerous.

While every other believer in Damascus was looking to hide FROM Saul, God purposely was sending Ananias to FOR Saul. To pray for him. It didn’t make sense. Ananias wrestled with it. He discussed it further with the LORD.

And then he boldly went, found Saul, & healed him in Jesus Name.

One of the main purposes that Jesus gives His followers the Holy Spirit is so that, in the face & threat of fear, we would be filled instead with boldness. And in those moments when we’re wrestling, where fear is attempting to ensnare us, we can have the Divinely provided fuel to reject the temptations to fear, & to purposefully & boldly give ourselves to obedience to God’s purposes & plans.

Living with bold obedience to Christ affects not only my life, but those that I come in contact with. And because Ananias chose faith over fear, God used him to help Saul the leading opponent &persecutor of the Way, to become Paul, God’s chosen instrument to spread the gospel over the known world.

LORD, fill me with Your Holy Spirit today – that I would recognize (& reject) the temptation to fear, & choose faith instead. May I be boldly given to Your purposes & plans.