January 31, 2013

Where Relationships Begin

This is a post from Karen Walther, our Preschool Minister at The Brook. I hope it challenges & encourages you as it did me. Thanks Karen!

Yesterday I was driving to Atlanta. It’s always nice to be in the car by myself for a long drive because it gives me time to think. Most days I do my thinking in 5 minute increments, which isn’t long enough to finish one thought normally. On the drive I started thinking about the stress times in our home. We have most of our melt-downs and arguments in our mudroom as we try to either enter or leave home. Why is this? 

I think a big part of it is ME. I am a Type-A/task-oriented/organized/structured individual. Add that to three young children who are doing three different things, trying to have three different conversations with me and the outcome is not usually prettyBig realization on the drive today: I often put my to-do lists and my schedule before a relationship with my children (hanging my head with shame). 

When they get home from school, they have their routines of putting away lunches, book bags, and homework. I try to get this done before they start telling me about their day. WHY? My thinking was that if they get their stuff done, then we can have a nice conversation without anything we need to do pressuring us. In reality, I am squelching their enthusiasm – and our relationship – by not making the time for them and putting my desires first. And that time of uninterrupted, nice conversation…it rarely ends up happening.
My relationship with my children is a common reflection of my relationship with God. I wake up with things already piled on my plate and the race begins. It’s all about my schedule for the day or what I think I need to do. How many times do we ask God what He would like us to do that day? If we took the time to ask, I wonder how differently our days would look. By not looking for a relationship with our Father first thing in the morning, I am squelching our relationship and what He wants to tell me as well.  If we are to have loving, selfless relationships with others, we have to start with a dedicated, passionate, and selfless love for God. This is where relationships begin.

If we are desiring for our children to grow into a passionate relationship with their Father, we have to take our relationship withour Father very seriously. They are watching us. Listening to us. Looking for a difference in our lives. What are your children seeing when they look at you?

January 24, 2013

The Waiting

In conversation yesterday, a young lady I've known for awhile was sharing with me about some new direction in her life. Looking for a church home and searching for some friends that she could connect with as a Christian, she's felt quite a bit of conflict. While she feels like the Lord has answered some of what she's been asking him for guidance and direction over, in other areas she just seems to be waiting. And waiting some more. She told me, "I've told God, 'I'm listening. Whatever it is you want to tell me - wherever it is you want to lead me - I'm all ears!'." Have you been there before? Have you had this conversation with Him:

Hey God. I'm here. I'm listening. 

And the waiting begins.
And the waiting continues.
And the waiting just seems to go on and on and on.....

Why does the Lord work this way? Why does He choose to speak - or often remain silent - the way He does? If we're open, tuned in, ready and willing to listen and to hear, then why doesn't He crank out the answers or the message? I there's a couple of reasons He chooses to allow the silence to linger.

First off, I think there are times we THINK we're ready for the answer, and we're still miles - maybe even hemispheres - away from actually being willing to submit and follow the direction the Lord places in front of us. Think about it: How many directions and instructions has Christ already placed in front of us that we continually ignore, as if He must have been talking to someone else? Are we telling others about what He's done in our lives? Are we ever inconvenienced from going out of our way to feed the poor or take care of someone's basic needs? Have we done anything to actively and tangibly LOVE our neighbors? Are we faithfully giving to the Church and living generous lives? If no, then how is it we're perplexed when God doesn't deliver further instructions? Check out these verses for more on this subject:

Luke 12:48 (35-48)
If we're not faithful with what we've already been given, why are we struck dumbfounded when we're not given more?

Matthew 7:7-13 
If you're praying for God's will, what if what you're asking isn't actually His will. What if the answer is "No"?

Another possibility as to why God sometimes remains silent - why He doesn't send us the neon sign or the lighted arrow pointing in the direction we're looking for - is because He's aware that as soon as He speaks - as soon as He answers - we'll stop listening. I think there's a reason why God came to Elijah (1 Kings 19) not in the wind or an earthquake or a fire, but in a whisper. He wanted Elijah to listen. And while the instructions He was going to give Elijah - WHAT He was going to tell him to do - was important, God was much more concerned with WHO he was becoming. God speaks to instruct us...but He remains silent to refine us. When we're waiting, He is refining.

This doesn't mean that the waiting and the praying will be any easier, but what an awesome thing to know that God's silence in no way implies God's absence. So don't grow weary from waiting. Don't grow impatient in praying. 
The waiting and praying are refining us.
So keep seeking, knocking, and asking. 
And be ready.

What are you praying for? What are you waiting on God to do?

January 18, 2013

Be Present.

This week has been heavy. It's funny how the Lord, right after you teach, preach, study, or have some revelation over something will plant it right in your path. As if life is a better teacher. We started the year off at The Brook looking at the story in Mark 4 of Jesus calming the storm and acknowledging the WHEN, not IF, about it in our lives. There's a storm on the horizon. Are we prepared for it? So like I said, this week's been heavy because several people in our church family sailed right into the squall. And what I think the Lord has struck me with is that more often than not we need to be prepared to grab someone else's sail with them - to bear the burden of another - than to walk through our own storm.

Some friends are living part-time in the NICU, praying for their daughter, born Christmas Eve at 25 weeks. (1 lb. 11 oz.) When she arrived it had to seem like Jesus was in the stern of the boat "asleep on the cushion". But He is calming the storm, as we are collectively praying that this little one will be a walking miracle, testifying to His glory and power. PLEASE pray with us for Varissa! Lord, nurture, raise up, and take this little life and use it to bring glory and honor to Your Name!

Another friend was taking her elderly father to an appointment early this week when he suddenly passed away. While he was not in good health, there are certain things you're just never fully prepared for. She was with her dad when he went home to be with the Lord. There's no description for the grief that's somehow wrapped in peace in those moments.

And even another young lady new to our church family found out yesterday that her dad passed away in St. Louis. Storms don't go away. They just subside for awhile. I think they just want to lull us to sleep to see if we'll be seduced by the imaginary horizon.

Here's why I'm writing this. In those moments, we very often are at a loss for words. We don't know what to say. You might think, "I guess this is what pastors are for." WRONG! We often don't know what to say either. None of us are sure if we should send flowers, go by and visit, take them a meal, tell a joke, or shed tears. We don't know how to dress, how to act, or what to say. Yes, Romans 12:15 tells us to "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." And so we do. But we're just not sure if we did it right. And often, our fear, apprehension, and uncertainty leads us to do the one thing that in those moments is simply unthinkable: NOTHING.

When someone you love - someone you care about - is hurting, grieving, mourning, or walking through the struggle, the most important thing you can do is also the most simple thing you can do: BE THERE. BE PRESENT.

Years later, they're not going to remember (or even care) what you wore to their mom's funeral or what it was you cooked for them and brought over. (Can you imagine. 5 years after your dad died. You're all sitting around and your cousin says, "Man! Do you guys remember that cream corn casserole that lady made? WOW!" I don't see it happening.) Most people are not going to remember what you said - as if in the midst of grieving we're all looking for that golden philosophical nugget. They will NOT remember what you said. But they WILL remember that you listened. That you were there - FULLY PRESENT - and available.

Don't misunderstand me; the Lord often gives us a word to heal, comfort, or soothe the aching, ravaged heart. But when the words aren't there, you still can be.

Has the Lord given you an opportunity to BE PRESENT?
Would love to hear about it.

January 17, 2013

Living Missionally [Part 2]

If you haven't called your mother lately, get on it. My Mom just got back from several weeks of visiting my brother and his family across the Pond, so we were catching up on the phone last week. On occasion, our conversations can be a bit "random". Out of the blue she hits me with, "So...what's all this missional community about? I've heard you talking about it - I've read it several places. How is it different from small groups?" And then she added this to the inquiry: "I know at our church they're always telling us they want us to 'Do life together'." Her last statement gave me the perfect opportunity to attempt to answer her question. Here's my response:

You can take a group of Christians - 6, 8, 10, 12 - men, women, couples - however you want to mix it up - and have them begin meeting together. They can come together weekly, study the Bible, pray with and for each other, be there when someone's struggling or hurting, provide meals when someone gets sick or loses a family member, and truly love each other. They can DO LIFE TOGETHER....and somehow, in the midst of all that, NEVER reach beyond that circle of people to share the Gospel with anyone. Because of this, we don't really want or encourage anyone to DO LIFE TOGETHER anymore; we want to lead people to LIVE ON MISSION TOGETHER. There's a huge difference.

As we began laying this issue on the table with our church family over the last several months, I believe we've had some confusion about missional community, living on mission, and how it all comes together. We will be working diligently over the next weeks and months to makes things as clear as possible. Allow me to begin that now by pinpointing a few things:

  • "Living on mission together" does NOT necessarily mean a group of people finding a common service project or "mission project" where they corporately focus passion and attention. Don't get me wrong; it may result in just that. A missional community may find that they all have a common interest in serving the poor, taking care of widows, working with Habitat for Humanity - the list could go on forever. But this is not the MISSION of Missional Community.
  • I was asked this question the other night: "If my husband has several people that he's investing in, building relationships with, and I have a different group of people that the Lord is giving me opportunity to invest in for the Kingdom, are we supposed to somehow bring ALL those people together for Missional Community?" Great question. And the answer is a resounding NO! Not that it would be a bad thing, but if you have a missional community made up of 8, 10, 12 people (couples, families, a widow, etc...) and you're able to reach 1-2 of those people who different members of your community are investing in, praise God! That said, you are probably not going to pull into your Missional Community ALL of the people you are investing in as YOU are living on mission. 
Here's the thing: If you're in a Missional Community of 10 people who are all living on mission in their daily lives (at work, at home, at the gym, on their kids ball team, serving on the HOA, etc...) and you, as a group, are living on mission TOGETHER, you are going to reach people. But not ALL people.

And the MISSION that brings us together, while it may (and most likely will) result in your community serving others in some way together, is much bigger than that. The MISSION is the Gospel! The MISSION is that you are a community bonded together by the fact that you have been saved, redeemed, and SENT by Jesus Christ into a world - a neighborhood, a workplace - filled with people who are not. Not saved. Not redeemed. Hopeless. Desperate to know the truth that the God that created them also loves them and longs to restore, renew, and redeem them. Let me put it in the plainest of terms: We are surrounded by people who are DEAD in their sin and we know the only hope they have for being made ALIVE: Jesus Christ. THAT is the MISSION!

"Doing life together" falls incredibly short of a Kingdom-sized view of the life that Jesus has planned for us as His people. It's like trying to achieve Acts 2 while removing the salvation of Christ and the power of the Spirit. What's the point?

"Living on mission together" is what happens when the people of God, pursuing the Son of God, filled by the Spirit of God, GO! When this happens, look out world!

Are you ready?
What's keeping you from living on mission?

January 10, 2013

Living Missionally [Part 1]

Living Missionally.
What does this mean?
What does this tangibly look like?
How do I put this into motion in my life?

As we are walking down a path of transition at our church from a small group mentality to encouraging, fostering, and leading missional communities, we do a lot of talking about "living missionally". What we mean by this is pretty simple, yet requires a complete change in the way we look at life. As Christ-followers, every day we wake up we are on mission. Our neighborhood, our workplace, our kids ball team or boy scout troop, our classroom or gym, they are all places where the Lord has given us opportunity to get to know, reach, and love people around us for the sake of the Gospel. People who are lost, hopeless, weary, and desperate to know that there is a God who not only created them, but loves them and has already redeemed them. ALL of this begins by simply looking around and getting to know people. Allow me to give you an example.

Several weeks ago before Christmas, Morgan and I wanted to do something to not only try to get to know our neighbors better, but to give many of them an opportunity to meet each other. We wanted to invite them into our home and essentially throw a party where they would all feel comfortable and welcome. So we planned a Dessert Drop. Here's what we did.

We made invitations, personally delivered them to everyone on our street, and prayed that the Lord would stir many of their hearts to come and join us. Our friends Dan & Ellen (who are in our missional community) not only helped us make some of the desserts, they came that night as well. When 6:30 arrived, I'm not gonna lie; we were pretty scared that no one was going to show up. But then the doorbell rang. And people kept coming. Of the 15 homes on our street, we had 7 of them represented there that night. We met one couple that has lived on the street longer than we have, but we had never taken the time to reach out to. And Dan connected with him because they have very similar jobs. There were great connections and conversations going on in our kitchen, dining room, and living room. We have neighbors now waving at each other who didn't even know each other a month ago. And all we really did was throw a party. Now, we are praying the Lord continues to give us opportunities to love them, serve them, and ultimately share our story with them, that Jesus Christ has completely changed our lives!

I feel I need to fully disclose that I did not make the dessert shown above.
In fact, I didn't make any of the desserts. We wanted our neighbors to actually enjoy the food, not get sick over it.

This is one incredibly simple way to start living missionally.
Are there other ideas you've tried?
How could you start living missionally today?

January 8, 2013

The War is On

It's not the way any of us want to start off the new year, but we all need to be aware of the situation. There's a war going on. Shots are being fired. Barricades are being built up and broken down. Do you hear the shots? The explosions? Don't turn on CNN or FoxNews. They won't be covering it. They can't film it or manipulate it, so they won't be reporting it. It's invisible. And while unseen, it's massive. Kingdoms at war with one another. Angels and demons. Hearts and minds. And there are no bystanders; no spectators. We're ALL in! The ignorant, the oblivious, the wounded, the proud and certain, and the humbly grateful. Welcome to the war.

The Kingdom of God is at war with the kingdom of this world.
The Kingdom of God is at war with the kingdom of you.

Welcome to the war. I know...it's not how any of us would choose to ring in a new year, but it's on. But here's the thing you should know about those living in the Kingdom of God - the ONCE ignorant and oblivious, the wounded, the proud and certain, and NOW humble and grateful: you are NO LONGER PEASANTS! That's right. The King has made us princes. We are now "sons and daughters"! When we surrendered our "kingdom" (a facade, a mirage, a worthless imitation of the prize of life, a dead rotting grave) we were brought into the Kingdom of LIFE. In surrendering to the King we were actually given the very thing we thought we had to begin with; life! Yet, every day our flesh and corpse tries to lure us back to the cemetery. The war is still on.

And what's even more perplexing about this war is that those who think we're fighting AGAINST them don't realize that we are actually fighting FOR them. We aren't here to curse them, judge them, or condemn them; we're here to rescue them. To tell them that we once walked where they walk - that we wore those grave clothes disguised as a uniform - and that we carried those chains around our necks, burdened and hopeless - but now we walk with hope and joy and peace and confidence, not because of anything we've done, but because we know the King. And we've been given keys to the Kingdom. HIS Kingdom! 

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul." 1 Peter 2:9-11

The war is still on.
The Kingdom of God is at war with the kingdom of this world.

Are we fighting for the ones who are still "not a people"?
Are we fighting for the ones still desperate to be "called out of darkness into his marvelous light"?

Remember that war is messy. There are wounded and angered and battered and weary and misunderstood and blinded soldiers. Some have even forgotten who, what, or why they're fighting. But they've been at war so long - the burden has been so great - that they just keep on fighting. They may have stopped asking, "Why", if they ever did in the first place. But we know why they bear the burden and they'll never get free on their own.

Remember why you were called. Remember why He brought you into this Kingdom and made you "sons and daughters" and granted us to be a "royal priesthood" and a "holy nation": "that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." 

What war are you fighting? What battle are you engaged in?
Is it the one being fought for the sake of those who need to hear the Gospel?
Is it the war being waged for the sake of those who need Jesus Christ?

There's one resolution to made; one decision that leaves all others hanging in the balance: 

The war is still on.