Coming Soon: Bible Study at West Side

Next Thursday, September 13, the West Side UMC morning Bible study will begin a new study, “James: Putting Faith to Work.” Following our study time at the church at 10:00-11:00 a.m., I’ll post a summary and a question or two so that those who cannot be with us in person may connect with us and participate online.

I will monitor the posts and participate in the conversation. To participate, click on “Leave a comment” at the bottom of the post. The only requirement for commenting/participating is that you have a sincere spirit and hunger to learn. Let us encourage and support one another. See you here next week!

Discipleship Wanes When Christianity is Popular

I’m reading Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community by Elaine A. Heath and Scott T. Kisker. I was challenged by the authors’ description of discipleship when Christianity is popular.

In its earliest days, Christianity was at times “illegal and semi-covert” until the conversion of Constantine in A.D. 312. Constantine made Christianity legal in A.D. 313. This single act changed the character of the church. Rather than counting the cost of discipleship, it became “socially advantageous to be a Christian. Discipline lagged. The church began playing the world’s game.”

The authors contend …

The change in the character of Christianity brought about numerical growth, but not the healthy reproduction of disciples. Like the growth of mainline Christianity after World War II, and of evangelicalism in the 1980s, numerical growth masked the true condition of the church.

Reflection questions:

  1. In Matthew 28, we’re called to “make disciples of Jesus Christ.” Reflect on the similarities and difference of church attendance and discipleship.
  2. In what ways does the church “play the world’s game” today?

Sarah Goes to Preschool!

Two years ago, Ethan started preschool, and last week, he began kindergarten. But today, it was Sarah’s turn. Today was Sarah’s first day of preschool!

As soon as Ethan got on the school bus this morning, Sarah was ready to go to school herself. Here are some photos of her morning.

Maine Vacation 2012

It’s been a slow-blogging summer, but as summer comes to an end, I thought I’d post some photos from our summer vacation in York Beach, Maine.

Back in July, we returned to the same place as last year. Our time there was very relaxing, and the weather was great. It was hot the day we arrived and the day we left, but in between, we couldn’t have asked for better weather.

Ever since our trip to Maine last year, the kids occasionally talked about it and looked forward to returning again this year. In addition to the beach, the kids enjoyed climbing on the rocks at the cottage and along the rocky coast of Maine. Mommy and Daddy enjoyed eating seafood; the kids, not so much.

Ethan Goes to Kindergarten!

We have reached another big milestone in our family’s journey. Today, Ethan began Kindergarten!

Technically, tomorrow is the first day of school here, but Kindergartners went today for a half-day. They’ll be off tomorrow and then Ethan will go back Thursday for the whole day, and have Friday off (half of the Kindergartners will go Thursday and the other half on Friday). Next Tuesday, they’ll begin their regular, all-day routine!

In just the few years we’ve had Ethan, we’ve hit some important milestones. Today was a big one!

We all walked Ethan to his bus stop this morning. As Ethan boarded the bus, Sarah said, “Bye, best buddy!” As the three of us began walking home, Sarah added, “I’m gonna miss my best buddy!”

This will be an adjustment for all of us, of course, especially Sarah, who loses significant time with her playmate. But this is also a big year for Sarah as she goes to preschool next week!

Here are some photos from the morning …

Biblical Aspirations

Recently, I’ve read certain verses of scripture and thought, I want that to be a description of me. Here are a few statements I want to describe me …

Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” (Luke 5.16, NLT)

God’s description of David: “… a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.” (Acts 13.22, NLT)

He (Abraham) was fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised.” (Romans 4.21, CEB)

He (Abraham) went out without knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11.8, CEB)

He (Moses) chose to be mistreated with God’s people instead of having the temporary pleasures of sin.” (Hebrews 11.25, CEB)

People of faith who died in faith seeing the promises without having received them: “They confessed that they were strangers and immigrants on earth.” (Hebrews 11.13, CEB)

I’m sure there are many other great aspirations in the Bible. If there’s a particular one you’d like to add to the list, please leave a comment below.

Songs for the Valley

I love listening to music, especially worship music. Songs have always played an important role in my journey. See Songs for Leaders.

More recently, as I’ve been trying to manage stress better, some songs have been ministering to me.

The first song is “Steady My Heart” by Kari Jobe. Of course, the song has a practical application for me because I’ve had trouble over the last several weeks with an increased heart rate. But it’s certainly a great song, spiritually.

“Steady My Heart” begins …

Wish it could be easy. Why is life so messy. Why is pain a part of us? There are days I feel like nothing ever goes right. Sometimes it just hurts so much. But you’re here, you’re real. I know I can trust you, even when it hurts, even when it’s hard, even when it all just falls apart. I will run to you, cause I know that you are lover of my soul, healer of my scars. You steady my heart. You steady my heart.

The song ends …

I’m not gonna worry. I know that you got me right inside the palm of your hand.

It’s a great reminder!

Another song that’s been on my heart and mind lately is “This Is the Day” by Phil Wickham. The song speaks of a new beginning …

This is the day when the lost are found. This is the day for a new beginning. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. Oh, can you hear? All the angels are singing, this is the day, the day when life begins.

I’ve long said every follower of Jesus needs to know “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman. All of the words are good, but this part has been on my mind most of late …

Every blessing you pour out, I’ll turn back to praise. When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say, Blessed be the name of the Lord. Blessed be your name. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Blessed be your glorious name.

The song also asserts …

You give and take away. You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be your name.

One other song I’ve been listening to a lot lately is “All I Am” by Phil Wickham. It’s a song of surrender, and surrender in especially important in dark valleys. Again, all of the words are good, but I especially love the opening lines …

Take these hands, I know they’re empty, but with you they can be used for beauty in your perfect plan. All I am is yours. Take these feet, I know they stumble, but you use the weak. You use the humble, so please use me. All I am is Yours.

The chorus adds …

I give you all my life, I’m letting it go. A living sacrifice, no longer my own. All I am is yours. All I am is yours.

Thank God for music that inspires and encourages!

What songs encourage and challenge you in your walk with God?

Engage & Disengage

The phrase, “Engage and disengage,” has been part of my vocabulary since I first heard it during orientation weekend for Asbury Theological Seminary’s D.Min. program back in January 2004. The phrase came from Dr. Anthony Headley.

The idea is, our lives must include rest, as well as work. We must not only engage (work), but also disengage (rest).

In recent weeks, particularly during vacation a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been reflecting on this idea. There’s a rhythm to engaging and disengaging. It’s the rhythm God instituted in creation — work six days, then rest. Sabbath provides opportunity to disengage.

It’s also a rhythm Jesus modeled. The gospels are full of stories showing Jesus engaging, but they also reveal examples of Jesus disengaging. I’ve always loved Luke 5.16 …

But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.

Jesus modeled both engaging and disengaging.

So, I’ve known this phrase for the past eight years, and I’ve known the importance of disengaging, but I’m learning that disengaging is something I need to do better. I’ve realized recently that typically, even when I disengage, I’m often still engaging. For example, if I take a break, I might take a break with a book or my iPad. Basically, even though I’m taking a “break,” I’m still engaging. This is what led to the first two items in my post, 3 Steps I’m Taking to Manage Stress Better, to rest more and to play more (especially with my kids).

So, these days, I’m working on developing the practice of disengaging. The funny thing is, disengaging (i.e., living according to God’s rhythm) makes us more effective when we are engaging!

God, Give Me a Heart Like Yours! 2.0

Recently, I’ve been writing about my need to manage stress more effectively (see 3 Steps I’m Taking to Manage Stress Better and God’s Crushings).

While journaling the other day, I reflected on a prayer I’ve been praying for at least the few months: “God, give me a heart like yours!”

The prayer is based on a line that repeats in a children’s book by Max Lucado, Hermie: A Common Caterpillar. In the story, God keeps assuring Hermie, and his friend, Wormie, the common caterpillars, that he’s giving them a heart like his. This phrase has made its way into our family’s prayers.

In the last couple of days, it struck me that, like most prayers really, this is a dangerous prayer. Asking God to do serious transformational work in our hearts, bringing our hearts and lives in line with his, is always a risky prayer. But it’s also a necessary prayer for faithful disciples of Jesus Christ!

But, I also thought about the full statement in the story. “Don’t worry, Hermie and Wormie. I’m not finished with you yet. I’m giving you a heart like mine.”

God’s work of giving us hearts like his can be difficult and challenging, but the good news is, God is faithful to continue his work in us, until the work is complete.

It reminds me of Paul’s encouragement in Philippians 1.6 …

I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. (CEB)

By all means, ask God to give you a heart like his. But hold on. And remember that God isn’t finished you yet!

God’s Crushings

Last month, I wrote 3 Steps I’m Taking to Manage Stress Better (one additional step was the vacation that ended yesterday). In the days ahead, I will be writing more about my experiences and learnings over the last five weeks, starting with this one.

This morning, while praying, I remembered listening to Chuck Swindoll’s talk at Catalyst 2009 (via DVD) sometime last year. I listened to it again today, and took the following notes.

Swindoll spoke at Catalyst, a leadership conference for young leaders. Every year, they honor a seasoned leader. In 2009, they honored Chuck Swindoll. In his talk, Swindoll offered wisdom from his fifty years in ministry and leadership.

Swindoll talked about listening to a preacher (Allan Redpath) in chapel when he was student at Dallas Theological Seminary around fifty years ago. One statement has stuck with Swindoll through the years …

When God wants to do an impossible task, he takes an impossible person, and crushes him (or her).

In reflecting on God’s crushings, Swindoll challenged young leaders …

Leave room in your life for the crushings, because that’s part of the curriculum that very few people will tell you about. That’s part of the plan of God that will equip you to do what he will have you to do as you carry out his work, his way.

Further, Swindoll noted …

Rarely does God bring a person out of youth and immediately trust that individual with a vast sense of leadership. It takes crushing. It takes time. It takes disappointments. It takes failure.

Later in the message, Swindoll stated that “brokenness and failure are necessary” in our formation as leaders.

Well, Swindoll is right. This is part of the leadership journey few talk about. And for good reason. It’s not the most enjoyable part of the journey!

For more on this idea, see my post, It Takes 20 Years to Make a Sermon.