Monthly Archives: October 2016

Confessing Is…

Confessing Is...

In our world of pretending and hiding, of careful image construction and managing appearances, the practice of confessing is all too easy to neglect or dismiss. We’d rather not have to confront our own hard hearts or acknowledge our own unfaithfulness. The truth all too often seems too difficult for us to bear. But when we steer clear of the practice of confessing, what we find, over time, is that we are more and more compromised, less and less truthful. As a result it can become increasingly difficult to recognize any resemblance between the lives we claim to be living and the lives we’re actually living. The reality is that however scary the thought of confessing may be, the thought of what becomes of a life devoid of the practice of confessing is far more unsettling. Freedom, true freedom, only comes when we’re willing to dare to deal with the truth.

confessing is:

telling the whole truth about ourselves, trusting that the greater truth of God’s love for us can save us and set us free.

The following video visualizes confession and forgiveness in a powerful way, inspiring us to give the practice of confessing a chance.

This song by Andy Gullahorn uses words and music to paint an image of the kind of community that can emerge between people whose lives are characterized by the practice of confessing, of telling the truth about themselves.

Listen To Our Hearts

Here are a few simple ways to open your life to God this week through the practice of confessing:

1: When you pray this week, rather than asking God for forgiveness in general, take the step of naming the specific sins you’re struggling with. Try your best to trust that God is working to set you free from these specific struggles.
2: There is a deep healing that can be found by sharing all of your sin struggles with one other person, who after learning the whole truth about you, can pronounce God’s grace over you. Prayerfully identify who that person is for you and fully share with them your struggles with sin. If someone chooses to share their confession with you, listen with gentleness and patience, not correcting them or minimizing their confession, but responding to them with the love and grace of God.
3: Choose someone you’ve sinned against. Initiate setting up a time this week to speak with them, confess your sin, and ask them to forgive you, hoping that they will respond to your vulnerability with grace.

Confessing Playlist

This week’s playlist features songs that reflect on themes of sinfulness, confession, and grace.

Feasting Is…

Feasting Is...

So many of Jesus’s interactions with people occurred at tables over shared meals. These interactions became for Jesus an opportunity to build relationships that could not have been built any other way. They provided a chance to recognize the inherent dignity and worth of people who’d been treated by their society as though they had none. They created a venue for bridging seemingly unbridgeable racial/ethnic/religious/political divides. The truth is if you removed all the shared meal stories from the gospels, they’d be stripped of much of their power.

Today, many of us are discouraged by the division in our world. Moreover, we’re perplexed about how we are to respond to the conditions in which we live. A close look at the ministry of Jesus suggests that table fellowship holds a great deal of potential for helping us navigate our changing culture and bridging divides. The hard truth, however, is that most of us are either (1) too busy inhaling fast food on our way from one activity to the next on our overcrowded schedules or (2) too intimidated by the thought of sitting across from someone who is different than us, to actually share a meal with others the way Jesus did. Somehow, though, we’ve got to find a way to cultivate the vital practice of feasting in our lives so that, through it, God might continue to do the work of bringing people together and helping everyone have a sense of their inherent dignity and worth as children of God.

feasting is:

sharing in meals where everyone matters and everyone belongs, because Jesus is present at the table with us.

The following clip from Antwone Fisher, in which Antwone is welcomed to the table by the family he’s never known, offers a glimpse into the power of a welcoming feast.

Come Share The Lord

Through the power and the presence of God, tables can become a sacred doorway where Jesus steps through and right into our lives and helps us see what the world could be. God can transform us around tables and help us taste and see the way things should be.

So this week, take some time to plan a meaningful meal at your home where Jesus is present.
1: Identify someone to invite to your meal who would be especially blessed by sharing in it (someone who might not be able to cook for themselves, who lives alone, who doesn’t live close to any family, whom you’d like to get to know).
2: Think back on the meals that have meant the most to you and the dishes that remind you of feeling welcome and at home. Create a menu for your meal that includes these dishes.
3: Create and send a personal invitation to invite your honored guest to your meal. Begin praying for them to be able to join you and for Jesus to be present for your special meal together.
4: When the time for your shared meal arrives, focus on being welcoming and being emotionally and spiritually present. Do your best to treat your guest the way Jesus treated people around tables. Keep your eyes open to see how God blesses your time together.

Feasting Playlist

This week’s playlist features songs that center on themes of welcome and table.

Celebrating Is…

Celebrating Is...

Some Christians function as though God is basically withdrawn from the world. They live as though the old Deist view of God is accurate: that God relates to creation like a watchmaker to a watch, creating it and winding it up, but then paying the watch no mind as it runs on its own. For many of us, however, this simply doesn’t add up; we have a sense that God is truly present and attentive to creation. Yet the reality is that while many of us assume this to be true, we sometimes have a hard time recognizing the evidence of God’s presence, much less articulating our experiences of God’s presence. This difficulty is compounded by our society’s overwhelming reliance upon narratives of earning and achievement. That is, our lives are what we make them; we have what we have earned.

But the Christian claim is that at the heart of our lives there is something at work beyond our own ambition, there is someone at work more powerful than ourselves. God, according to our faith, is present and at work in our lives. If we have eyes to see, we will find the evidence of God’s presence all over the place. The more we train our eyes to recognize this evidence within us and around us, the more we are prepared to live lives characterized by the practice of celebrating.

celebrating is:

finding ways, in a self-centered world, to tell God-centered stories about our lives and the lives of others.

Even when we know there is much to celebrate, the practice of celebrating can be difficult for us. Sometimes it’s difficult because of the struggle to shift ourselves to the margin of our stories so that God can be at the center. Other times it’s difficult because we’ve heard things attributed to God that make us shudder. Sometimes what we need are guides or prompts that show us how to go about celebrating, how to tell God stories. In the first of the following videos we find someone who is celebrating the specifics of God’s work. In the second, we find general reminders of some of the ways in which God works, which can serve as prompts for us to think about how God has worked in those ways in our own lives. I hope these videos will help us to embrace the practice of celebrating, that we might be able to honor God through the sharing of our God-stories!

What the Lord Has Done in Me

Here are a few simple ways to open your life to God this week through the practice of celebrating:

1: The next time someone thanks or praises you for something good you’ve done, find a way to give the credit to God.
2: Find a time each evening over the next week to ask yourself the question, “Where have I seen God at work today?” See how this helps improve your ability to notice God working in ways you might not otherwise have recognized. At the end of the week, find someone to share a couple of these stories with.
3: Reflect back over the story of your life. Identify a time when you felt especially close to God. What was the experience of God’s presence like? How did this encounter change you? Take some time to pray, asking God for more of these experiences.
4: Read these two passages from the story of Joseph: Genesis 37:12-36 and Genesis 50:15-20. Near the end of the story, Joseph says to his brothers, “You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it…” How have you experienced this in your own life? Share the story of what God did in your life with someone you think it would encourage.

Remember to make God the main character of the stories you tell.

Celebrating Playlist

This week’s playlist features songs that celebrate the God’s faithfulness–past, present, and future.

Blessing Is…

Blessing Is...

There are moments when it seems as though much of our world has lost interest in kindness, moments when it seems as though all we can see and hear and feel is what is wrong in the people and places around us. Sometimes in these moments we find our hearts and our speech affected by these realities. Our attitudes toward others, our words about others, and our feelings concerning others so easily become dismissive, uncaring, and judgmental. When this happens, it becomes very difficult for us to retain hope for the future of these others, to recognize the inherent worth of every one of these others, and to treat them as deeply loved children of God.

All of this can be true of us in relation to others who are very different than us, but it can also be true of us in relation to those we are close to. Many of us have seen this, haven’t we? A husband or wife who has nursed a frustration or grudge that grows into treating their spouse as if they are bitter opponents in a cold war. A person who has allowed a political disagreement to become the grounds for vicious attacks on a friend in the name of principles. A church member who has fed a critical spirit for so long that he or she tears down fellow followers of Jesus in the name of “truth.”

The reality is so much of the speech in our world today amounts to cursing. You see, the use of four-letter words isn’t necessarily the primary indicator that someone is cursing in conversation. Neither is the need to “bleep” words the main signal that someone is cursing on television. At its core, cursing consists of language that closes off instead of opening up the future, that tears down instead of building up, that is destructive instead of nurturing.

Of all people, God’s people should be blazing a different trail in the world. As followers of Jesus, we should be known as people who are interested in opening up the future for others, for building up those around us, for nurturing each and every child of God. This is where the practice of blessing emerges as one of the timeliest practices we can possibly cultivate in our lives for the sake of the world.

blessing is:

using the power of carefully chosen words to describe and impart a God-shaped, hope-filled future for another person.

When it comes to learning how to become fluent in the language of blessing and to cultivate the practice of blessing in our lives, we need good examples. The videos below offer two different glimpses into the practice of blessing. The first video is a feature from Good Morning America that captures teachers offering words of blessing to their students. The second video is a song by Andrew Peterson, sung alongside his daughter, for whom he wrote the song.

The Lord Bless You and Keep You

Words don’t only describe things, words can actually do things, and with God’s help, our words can do amazing things in one another’s lives. While it’s true that we don’t have the power to bless people apart from God’s power working with us, God loves blessing people through us. All we have to do is try. To try to speak God’s honest truth about what we see in someone and in their future. To intentionally, verbally share the hope we have for them.

So this week, choose someone you would like to bless and then create a blessing for them by:
1: Stating your love and respect for them. (Help them understand what they mean to you.)
2: Honoring who they are. (Describe their natural God-given gifts and passions.)
3: Painting the picture of a good future they can have by partnering with God. (The best blessings ask great things of us, because the person blessing us can see God’s greatness in us.)

Once you’ve written this blessing, find a way to share it with the person you’ve chosen by giving them a handwritten letter or by speaking the blessing to them.

Blessing Playlist

This week’s playlist includes songs that model well the language of blessing.

Serving Is…

Serving Is...

In this seventh message in our Open series, Jarrod offered us a timely reminder that as followers of Jesus we are called to serve others secretly, without any desire for or interest in recognition or reward, just as Jesus did. Most of us who are followers of Jesus are aware enough of his call to serve in secret that we rarely announce our service with a press release. If we’re honest, though, there are plenty of us, maybe most of us, who struggle to truly keep our service secret. And my suspicion is the struggle to keep our service secret is really a struggle to come to grips with service that doesn’t result in recognition or reward.

The reality in our world is that service is very often viewed as a means to an end, not an end in itself. A search of Google for the words “service” and “secret” reveals that service is seen as a means to gaining influence, staying sober, growing your business, becoming a leader, attaining happiness, feeling better about yourself, improving your health, and so much more. No wonder it’s hard for us to cultivate the habit of serving in secret, without any desire or interest in recognition or reward! To aim for nothing in return for our service goes against everything our society believes about efficiency, about getting a good return on an investment.

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun observes that “we come up with subtle and socially approved ways of promoting ourselves and our image. We give money to causes where our name gets out. We name drop about who we know. We let slip how and where we volunteer. Every good deed we do sees the light of day. And every juicy secret we know comes out in our next conversation.” Calhoun’s assessment is hauntingly accurate. How many times have I become restless waiting for someone to notice something I’ve done for them? How many times have you experienced disappointment when you received nothing in return for serving someone else?

serving is:

doing whatever it takes to help someone, not to get credit, but to get closer to Christ and his selfless way of life.

In the video below, Matt Russell explores this idea of serving.

If we’re going to be able to fulfill Jesus’s calling to develop the practice of serving in secret, perhaps the best place to start is by making this song our daily prayer.

Take My Life and Let It Be

Here are a few simple ways to open your life to God this week through the practice of serving:

1: Set aside specific times to faithfully pray for someone without telling them (or anyone else) that you’re doing so.
2: Write an anonymous note of encouragement to someone who you know could really use it. Make sure it doesn’t get traced back to you.
3: Make a baked good. Drive over to someone’s house to deliver it. Leave the car running. Place your gift on the doormat. Ring the doorbell. RUN!!!
4: Do a simple task that someone else needs done. Make sure no one else finds out that you were the one who did it for them.
5: Next time you are in a drive-thru, don’t just pay for your own coffee or food. Pay for the people in the car behind you as well. Be sure to drive away before the people behind you realize what’s happening.

If you are like most people, you may discover the practice of secret service to be somewhat dissatisfying. More than we realize, we tend to do nice things for people in order to get credit or recognition. Ask God to help you have more selfless motives when it comes to serving others.

Serving Playlist

This week’s playlist includes songs that touch on themes of brokenness in the world and the chance we have to serve the world on God’s behalf.