Count your blessings.

Count your blessings.

I still laugh at an old family story of a distant uncle living in Norway who already had 6 kids, including one-year old twins. With great excitement, he announced to his mom that they were pregnant again. His mom – in what might be the least grandmother moment in the history of grandma’s – looked at her son in disbelief saying, “Oh Son! Get ahold of yourself!!”

“But mom…I like children…”

To which she said, “Pffft! You have enough already."

Apparently, there are different ideas which blessings to count and which ones to not. A dear friend recently offered this quote,

“Spiritual people sometimes get the idea that we should be independent, totally whole, and completely fulfilled. That is a myth that burdens many good people. In reality, our lack of fulfillment is a precious gift. It is a source of our passion, creativity, and our search for God. All the best of life comes out of human yearning, not satisfaction.”

When God promised Abraham a generationally huge family, he and Sarah waited 25 years to see it fulfilled! How can waiting be a blessing!? How is life a precious gift without a family!? How does faith in a loving God become fulfilling!?

“All the best of life comes out of human yearning, not satisfaction”

We live in a world with so much potential. Yet, the greatest potential rests – not with human strength, wisdom, or effort– but with God’s covenant love. Covenant is about restoring the world as God intended. God’s love extends even to the undeserving because it also includes me.

God creates goodness then partners with us to help bring out more of that potential for goodness through things like compassion & generosity, renewal & hospitality…and most certainly community!

God’s blueprint for salvation was to set apart a family…who’d grow into a nation…who’d become a people that would bring God’s blessing to the entire world. Simply put, God wants to use your family. The one you came from. The one you’re creating. And especially the one that ISN’T necessarily related (ie our church family).

The Covenant with Abraham’s family was that they would be blessed in order to be a blessing to all people. As Mission Hills counts our blessings, we need to count on each other. Faith needs a community. And community needs your prayers, your help, your gifts, and your voice…so that we might count on God’s blessing to flow through us.

'Laying by'

'Laying by'

All of us, all the time are planting seeds. We seed our minds with ideas and our hearts with hope. We seed our kids with love, character, and common sense. We seed relationships with truth and grace. We seed our 401K so to sustain and enjoy retirement. Yet, for all the seeding we do, none it make us less impatient!!  Immediate results are always preferred!

An old farmer once told me they had a sayin’, “Laying by”. It was the time on a farm between busy seasons. It meant rest and waiting but NOT inactivity. It was a time when you made long-term improvements on the property like digging a new well or re-roofing the barn. If there were no big projects then you did maintenance on equipment in preparation for the coming season. 

Faith is often ignited when something overwhelming happens – a death, a health scare, job loss, or the birth of a child. But once we get familiar or acclimated, we lose a sense of urgency. It is so easy to put off faith and community and living with any sense of mission.  St. Peter wrote to Christians, under persecution and false teachers, about God’s timing…“But you must not forget this one thing: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” 2 Pet.3:8-9 

Your life is a harvest but any growth requires fertile soil. Renewal means tilling the soil of your heart and mind as each of us yield to God’s Spirit – either a nudge to turn from or turn toward something or someone. Simply put, a renewed heart is a sensitive heart. And, we can actually grow more familiar with God’s voice but only to the extend we respond! This IS the process of spiritual transformation. We might not even be aware of what the Spirit is doing. But we start with doing what we know to do THEN God begins to direct our lives in increasing ways.

“Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (Jas.5:7-8)

Pick & Choose.

Pick & Choose.

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States. Like others, he held a sincere faith BUT he didn’t actually believe God to be present in the daily life. Jefferson was so heavily influenced by the Age of Enlightenment that he couldn’t believe Jesus was divine or the Son of God. As a rationale and moral man Jefferson valued the teachings. So, late in his life, with a razor in hand, He re-worked the Gospels. Jefferson literally edited numerous sections removing all miracles and most mentions of the supernatural. The Jefferson Bible, or what he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, begins with an account of Jesus’ birth without references to angels, genealogy, or prophecy. Miracles, references to the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, and Jesus’ resurrection are also absent from his collection. 

Maybe if I helped found a nation and authored its laws, I might see myself able to tailor scripture to fit my worldview too. Being selective of God’s inspired Word might sound like a bold (if not, convenient) move, Yet I wonder...how much WE ‘pick-&-choose’ God’s revelation???  At first reading this, it seemed ridiculous to dismiss so much of Jesus’ life and ministry. But then it occurred to me…I do this All. The. Time…Ouch!

Christians follow Christ because they have presumably made Jesus their Lord. That means I have to work at following even when I doubt…when I’m afraid…when I’m bothered. It’s tempting to think there’s lots of things that the average Christian can’t do – like heal the sick, proclaim the Good News, respond to injustice, lead a person to Christ, or disciple them. Except, what if God intends this “Living Faith” to be the normal Christian life?

While many search for meaning, significance is found in saying ‘Yes’ to Christian community & the marginalized. It’s ‘Yes’ to new life & self-sacrifice. ‘Yes’ to giving & receiving mercy. We always get to pick-&-choose how we respond to God’s presence but learning to say, ‘Yes’ is our salvation. 

A Pregnant Pause.

A Pregnant Pause.

From the time her water broke to the time Annika arrived was 20 minutes. That sounds like a relatively easy labor. The problem was we lived a solid 15 minutes from the hospital. It was your classic 3:00am dash – running red lights, driving faster as the groans grew louder. Once inside, the staff was so intent on NOT delivering until the doctor arrived. At this point, Annika’s little head was crowning out of the birth canal. I hear nurses literally say to Laurel, ‘just relax…try not to push’. Fine! But gravity is an impossible negotiator!! As the doctor finally enters the room, she glares at the nursing staff and exclaims with a nervous smile, “Let that baby come out!!”

The doctor’s presence meant “salvation” had come. Delivery meant Deliverance – for Laurel, for Annika, and for this group of labor nurses. New Life had come!

On the day Jesus decided to visit the house of a Jewish tax collector named Zacchaeus, everyone cringed. He was a man who knew God’s moral law, justice and faithfulness yet lived with complete self-interest. He worked with the ruling elite in exploiting his own people (Luke 19). Yet, Jesus (who’s name means, ‘God saves’) publicly exclaims for all to hear, “Today salvation has come to this house!” Jesus didn’t say this because this man had right doctrine or recited a prayer but because of a confession and eagerness to make amends. Jesus’ presence in his home brought peace. His handling of him offered hope. A meal together meant an opportunity to turn.

This weekend, we’re gathering as Tribes to practice community and hospitality. It’s a chance to visit, pray, even plan to make faith and community accessible. Like Jesus, this is another chance to but the ‘divine of display’. You’re not just volunteering to host or bring a brunch items. You’re gathering in faith believing that God can revive even the most stressed hearts, stale marriages, and doubting minds! My prayer is that, like Zacchaeus, each of us would grow in a willingness to turn…turn toward being known, finding a contribution, compassion or obedience. And we’d increasingly turn away from doubt, fear, and temptation. Let it be said of Mission Hills, whether we gather for worship, for a meal, in service of needs, at a party, or among friends – ‘Today, salvation has come!’

Enjoy what you create.

Enjoy what you create.

We had a saying we used with our kids growing up. We wanted them to treat each other as friends and with respect, not combative siblings. We never wanted to dismiss sibling rivalry as "just how it is". So we reminded them, "You get to enjoy what you create". In their case, it was the difference between enjoying a friend at home versus having a foe, feeling safe or being guarded. It was same toward us as parents. If they wanted to enjoy our trust and confidence, they had a say. It was one of the boundaries we used to make it easier for a sleepover or play date work, to enjoy eating out, or be part of a crowd even if other kids acted differently. As a result, we ALL got to enjoy a lot more fun than discipline, a lot more conversation than screen time, a lot more outings and adventure than time outs.

When it comes to faith, community, and mission – WE (as in each one of us) get to enjoy what we create. Faith should be transformational, but it’s not automatic. Community NEEDS a ‘standing appointment’ for quality relationships. Faith requires we DO something with our belief (otherwise God is just a theory). And the mission we long for is what makes life most meaningful. For our church family, our mission is creating a living faith, together, that will ultimately impact others starting with those closest.

Our home feels remarkably different this week as we moved our son into college. Ours will never be his address again. He will visit and stay but he’s not coming home each night. I’m in awe of the expansive quality God has created our hearts. My heart is SO FULL of joy and gratitude and at THE SAME TIME full of sadness and loss. It’s hard but so, so good. He was sad to leave as much as we were sad to see him go. YET, that’s a good thing!! AND, we are enjoying what we created – a son who’s ready and able to be on his own. A son who Lives what he Believes about Jesus. A son who longs for community and invests in others to make it happen.

Mission Hills seeks to exist as an extended family of faith more than simply a church service to attend. This fall, we have four Tribes – (1) South Austin, (2) Westlake/NW Hills, (3) Four Points/Lakeway, & (4) North Austin.

And here’s the thing: YOU Get To Enjoy What You Create!

When you’re IN community you see what people are capable of and work together to draw it out—Support for a Living Faith? ‘Current’ with friends? Experience with God? YES!  Each Tribe has capable leaders but, like any family, it takes each person seeing potential in others and finding their contribution. Sept.1&2 is Church-as-Tribe weekend. It’s a chance to pursue a faith that transforms our hearts, homes, neighborhoods, and city.

Test Drive.

Test Drive.

They say our sense of smell is our strongest memory.  One of the most distinct smells is that new car smell. (In fact, if dopamine & comfort had a smell, I’m sure it would smell like a new car :).  For me however, new car smell will always be associated with a difficult family memory and the obstacles with being IN community.

Finishing up a half-day kindergarten, I was picked up by family friends from church. They had a son my age who was one of my favorites. They were in the market for a new car so we stopped at a Cadillac dealership. As serious buyers they asked to test drive and, being a luxury car, it had that quintessential new car smell – a perfect mix of new carpet and fresh leather. While the ride was expectedly smooth, something was amiss. Picture this: two would-be buyers in the front seat, admiring all the bells & whistles, imagining themselves on road trips or drawing the gaze of others with this fine car. In the backseat are two young boys. Being 5, I didn’t know how to exactly to share that something wasn’t agreeing with me…and then it happened –

I. Threw. Up!!  Uhh…Test drive over.

Imagine pulling back into the lot saying how much you like the car…but just not this one. Truthfully, I didn’t even know the position I put them in. This story has haunted me over the years. I guess there’s nothing like your friend’s kids’ vomit to test the bounds of being in community.

The scent of community can be BOTH a fragrant offering AND a foul odor. But so can family. Sometimes we sniff differences in parenting, kids’ behavior, or general flakiness of friends. Other times, it smells like misunderstanding, the way we carry our stress, and emotional ‘triggers’ from the past. Yet, the fragrance of community is knowing and being known. It’s serving despite discomfort but doing it together. It’s the aroma of varied perspectives of from ages and life stages. It ‘smells’ like wisdom. It’s what happens when each person work to find a contribution rather than consume the goods. “Test driving” community is fraught with risk because it always involves relationship. It needs a standing appointment to stay current. It asks for sacrifice even when unnoticed. Yet, whether married or single, kids at home or gone, at the front end of a career, peak production, or winding down. We. Are. Always. Better. Together.

A Chunk of Change.

A Chunk of Change.

Luz Brown was a Mexican immigrant who came to the US at 19 after an arranged marriage to her father’s widowed friend (?!?!). They were able to homestead right on the US-Mexico border in 1930. Luz found a job at small sweet shop – Wisteria Candy Cottage – located an hour east of San Diego. Known for 17 different kinds of divinity, 13 flavors of truffles, homemade and hand-dipped chocolate crèmes, clusters and turtles. The candy cottage became her life’s work, literally. By the ‘50’s she became the owner, working 7 days-a-week and often sleeping in the back room. While remote, the shop was on the highway where generations of people visited traveling between San Diego and Arizona.

Fast-forward a lifetime. In her 80’s with declining health, her daughter explained it’s time to move out. But, Luz insisted she had to go collect a “few things”. She began rummaging through all her secret hiding places - the Bible, coffee can, back of drawers, potted plants, even in the mattress. When all was collected, she had $80,000 lying on her bed! “Okay, we can go now”, she said as a matter of fact.

Luz Brown was my wife, Laurel’s grandmother (The shop is still going & in the family). Grandma Brown lived through the depression and banking industry collapse. Married to a husband 30 years older, she was a widow longer than she was a wife. Together, they had 5 kids. She never took a vacation or a day off. Adventure was nonsense. Desire was a luxury not to afford. She learned to survive because she learned to provide. Her work ethic was her salvation.

I think it’s easy to live our whole lives with a ‘scarcity mindset’. That is, we believe the idea that we’re one step away from poverty. In some cases, it might be true. But, resourced or not, we often default to, ‘In ME I Trust’. I think hard work is incredibly noble. Yet the ‘shadow side’ of this strength is a self-sufficiency that keeps us from ever seeing or trusting God’s faithfulness, abundance, care, and provision.

Faith is learning to trust in God. That begins with surrender, which can also feel like failure. And yet – in the kingdom of God – it’s the only way we can experience Life to it’s fullest.

Ordinary Miracle.

Ordinary Miracle.

I heard that when you spook an Armadillo, they jump straight up. Since these critters are good at digging up our lawn, I thought I could have a lil' fun at one's expense on my next encounter. So, on an early morning run, still mostly dark and no streetlights, it had rained during the night. A mile into my run (which happened to be a steep hill aptly named, Hillbilly), I see my opportunity ahead in the middle of a road. THIS…was my chance.

Without breaking stride on my run, I come up on it and start clapping and whopping. Except, it wasn’t an armadillo. That dark mass in the middle of the hill was a SKUNK!!

The wet hill was slick as I tried to stop but all I could do is helplessly slide toward the creature I just scared. Skidding up within a few feet of it before I stop, I clearly see the white stripe. Trying to avoid the aim of a raised tail, I turn to sprint up the hill – my feet grasping for traction like a cartoon character - barely escaping its spray like my life depended on it!

Do feel like you’re in a downward slide and can’t stop?  Ever find yourself face-to-face with a problem that you created but didn’t intend?  Do you find yourself trying to move but can’t get traction?

Of course we do. We run our course but it’s only when we realize – we can’t live the life we were called to on our own – that we are saved. I can’t save myself. I have a predisposition to slide into struggle and stupidity. St. Paul tells a group of Christians to “…work out their salvation”. It implies there’s BOTH a beginning AND a process. God makes us alive in Christ with each day, each blessing and each struggle. Perhaps the “ordinary miracle” of our salvation is that over time – almost without notice – God re-shapes the desires of our hearts. What’s more, we can find ourselves in a community of faith SO THAT God’s wisdom and care, inspiration and strength become tangible.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  II Corinthians 3:18

"thoughts & prayers..."

"thoughts & prayers..."

I recently asked my friend Jonathan if his Burmese community appreciates the people from Mission Hills bringing groceries and donating clothes. 

He said, “Yes, they are very thankful. BUT…the thing they like most is when you pray with them and for their families.” 

I said, “Really?? They’d rather have our prayers than a meal on their table?!?”

“Pastor…meals are good but prayers are best!”

It occurs to me when you grow up with scarce education, food insecurity, under military rule, and a persecuted faith…dependence on God is your best Resource.  For a Christian who grows up in poverty and persecution, prayer isn’t something you do as a last resort. It’s a lifestyle. Prayer is a common as breath…inhaling the hope of God and exhaling praise and petitions to God.  

The idea of offering “thoughts and prayers” to people in need has been criticized as inaction and a lack of care. But we also live in a culture of advanced degrees and material wealth. We’re a society that places a premium on self-sufficiency. Of course, offering both prayers and tangible gifts are needed. However, learning to trust and rely on God can feel so un-natural, if not uncomfortable.

Here’s what I learned from ‘church’ last week when a couple of groups from Mission Hills had breakfast in Burmese apartments.  

We don’t help/serve/give to people in need in order to save them. We share our lives because we’re no different.

Practicing Compassion starts by spending time with people whose needs are different than our own. In the end, we need each other. Their dependence on faith and community continues to inspire. And, yes, we got to hear their concerns and enjoy a time of prayer together.  Felt like a lil’ heaven on earth.

 

Adopted.

Adopted.

Growing up, I always wanted to be older. But then, I ended up longing for the days of sleeping in, prepared food, and little-to-no responsibilities. Over time, I got to play with the “big kids”, sit at the “grown-ups table”, make plans, and earn money. The chance to participate, be trusted, helpful, independent, and contribute always signals our coming of age. We all know what it means to be a child. We know what it means to have to grow up, not want to grow up, maybe even not be allowed to grow up. I think it’s fair to say that learning to act our age is really a lifelong adjustment.

Growing up spiritually means we’re “adopted”, through Christ, as God’s sons and daughters. This spiritual adoption can offer a life-changing perspective in how we respond to grace and salvation.

Paul writes to a group of young Christians in Galatia about coming of age, spiritually. He contrasts an impulsive child with a strong young man who accepts responsibilities of adulthood. We tend to think of being a child of God as helpless or only able to receive. However, the word, ‘adoption’ in scripture actually means the “placement an adult son”. In other words, God ‘adopts’ or ‘saves’ us with the idea that we grow and mature into trusted contributors in God’s salvation on earth.

In his book, Becoming Who God Intended, David Eckmann highlights “a crucial difference between the ancient world and the modern world…they rarely adopted babies, but instead they adopted adults. When a childless couple was getting so old that any possibility of child-bearing was gone, if well-off, they would legally adopt a young man whom they loved and trusted to take over the family business and handle the family wealth. This was so the couple would be taken care of in their old age.”

Similarly, God has placed us in a family – with Christ – and wants us to live with a new identity. We are invited to come of age as a trusted heir! Friends, our Heavenly Father looks to adopt not as a helpless, consuming child. Rather, we’re invited to be valued contributors a part of the Father’s business. Mission Hills began with the hope of helping you “come of age” wherever you are in a journey of faith. We want to think differently in how we experience, teach, show, share, and leverage God’s love through a Living Faith…in Austin as it is in Heaven.

Mercy-full.

Mercy-full.

There was an odd game we used to play as kids called, “Mercy”. You might be familiar with this pain-inflicting game. Facing another person, you grab each other’s hands and begin applying pressure by “wrenching” on their hands or trying to bend them back. The goal is to inflict enough pain that the other person finally and reluctantly yells, “MERCY!!” At this point, you have a winner and, literally, a sore loser. Even without this game, it seems hard for most of us to ask for mercy. I wonder what is mercy and why do we struggle to ask for it…       

Mercy is a confession that rightfully says, “I need help.”  We cry out for it when we’re overwhelmed and in over our heads.  We cry for it when the pain is too great to bear alone.  We cry for mercy on behalf of another when it’s too much to bear.

We all value mercy. It’s just asking for it might feel like we lost. Or, it means admitting we can’t do it on our own. Other times, it reveals shortcomings that we have to own. All solid excuses for avoiding a request for mercy but, honestly, no good reason.

Here’s what makes asking so significant: Mercy reveals the Hope we have.

It's the Hope of Something Better. When it comes to salvation, mercy isn’t a loss nor does it mean we quit. It means we surrender to God’s compassion, forgiveness, and guidance. What’s more, the more we surrender to God’s mercy the more we become part of God’s healing and redemption on earth. That feels like hope for one and hope for all.

Weary travelers.

Weary travelers.

If you travel anywhere this summer (especially with kids), you’ll undoubtedly ask the question, "Are we there yet?”  I get it. I ask it all the time!  Maybe I don't ask it out loud and maybe not even during holiday travels.  But, I think we all have a restless, even impatient, desire to “arrive". When it comes to the journey God has me/us on, it's a real question:  Are we there YET???  Somehow, God's timing or my spiritual growth always feels slower than I want.

Faith is about the journey more than the destination. Paul says to “work out our salvation…” (Phil.2:12). The problem is…I don’t wanna work at what’s supposed to be a free gift?!?!  And yet, what we come to see is that our salvation is a relationship not a possession. Like any relationship, it grows with time, effort, care, and understanding. Paul goes on to say, “…for it is God who works IN YOU to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose."

“To will & to act” means not just being “saved” FROM something (i.e. Hell), but saved TO something more! Working out our salvation – over time & with others – means an active shift in our hearts. Salvation does involve outward fruit – the way we love, serve, speak, and act. But it’s supposed to go deeper in shaping our desires, motives, attitudes, and ability to trust.

Our current series, “Saved” is a deep dive into the growing need of our salvation…as Strength, as Acceptance, as Shelter, as Freedom, as Present & Daily, as Healing, Identity, and Direction. Jesus said "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mk.1:14). In other words, heaven is "here & now" not just "there & then". Not always but as we work out our salvation - becoming aware of God's presence & the Spirit's prompts - we're able to grow a little more heaven on earth. So, are we there yet? You decide.

Give it a Rest.

Give it a Rest.

When we hear about rest, we immediately think of sleep…summer vacation, or simply, less activity. BUT, what do we mean when we say, "Give it a rest!"?  Obviously, it’s more like, "Knock it off!”  God also invites us to "Give it a rest", not for HIS sake because he's had enough of us. God’s not exasperated with us like we might be with a barking dog, nagging parent, or overbearing supervisor. God calls us to "Give it a rest" for OUR sake because there's freedom when we learn to identify our fear, worry, anxiety, or impatience and actually TRUST Him.

In Genesis 12, God tells Abraham to "go to the Land that I will show you." The (Promised) Land is actually a symbolic picture of our calling to rest. God wanted to set a people group a part in order to reveal His strength, compassion, hope, and justice. And these people were to be a light to the world. Instead, they wandered for 40 years and, eventually, God swore to them that they would never enter - not the Land - but rest! They stayed in the wilderness because they were stuck in a cycle of complaining, rebellion and doubt. Even though they saw God deliver, protect, sustain, lead them and feed them. 

This is a lesson for all of us. We're called to rest...not just to slow down, but learn we don't have to always be right or in control. We're simply not fruitful without surrender. Once we find this kind of rest, God reveals himself through us. Like a cup, your life is a vessel to be filled with the living water. So that somebody else who's thirsty can find what they're thirsty for in you!

The Chase.

The Chase.

Like most dogs, our mutt Posey looses her mind when she sees a squirrel — “SQUIRREL!!” In three years, she’s never come close. Yet, she also seems entirely unfazed by her failure. Apparently for Posey, it’s all about the chase, not the scoreboard.  She’s constantly chasing an idea without actually attaining it. I’m amazed at her instinct and almost envious of her short-term memory for always coming up short.

It occurs to me that we all spend A LOT of time chasing ideas without experiencing a prize.

  • We chase friendship but are often too busy to let people close or too uncomfortable to receive. 
  • We chase personal growth but always seem to find someone farther ahead.
  • We chase recognition, promotion, and wealth but long for significance. 
  • We even might chase God but often miss the everyday, ordinary ways he provides, speaks, calls, and leads.

Community is something we all chase and need! We all want to be known, missed, mentored, and encouraged. This summer, I want Mission Hills to GROW IN COMMUNITY. It’s sharing faith & sharing birthdays. It’s eating & worshipping together. It’s praying, serving, baking, making room for kids, & growing friendship regardless of our life stage.

And here’s the thing – WE get to enjoy what WE create! Summer’s great for getaways and getting out. But, can we also put a premium on BEING a COMMUNITY OF FAITH?  Please…Don’t let your weekends or Sunday’s get so full that you miss our weekly gatherings. Truly, it’s not the same without you! Each week, we get to (& need to!) discover, nurture, grow, & celebrate Community IN CHRIST. It’s worth chasing after because it’s within reach!

Disguised as our life.

Disguised as our life.

LOVE. It has so much meaning yet it’s so hard to comprehend.

We desire & resist it. We seek & hide from it. We want & withhold it. 

Some suggest love is simple acceptance. But, real love also interrupts us! God is ‘abounding in love’ (Ex.34.6), and because of it, doesn’t leave us as we are.

The aim of Christian living is Divine union with God. That is, To know God’s love in such a way that it changes the way we love.

This isn’t something we can simply read about or hear a talk to understand. If we make the Christian life about knowledge, we miss out on the transformational impact of love. We need experience, which isn’t complete without failure and loss. We can Google instruction on filling out a tax form or installing a ceiling fan but most things are learned through actual involvement: A golf swing, a misunderstanding, baking, injustice, driving a car, dating, an interview, surgery. And so it is with Christian faith as we open our heart up to God.

Richard Rohr turned a phrase that’s been lingering about how God comes to us, “disguised as our life.” 

Hmm…It’s hard to imagine God as ordinary as our lives.

We often ask, “God who?”, God, when…?”, or “God, why…?” Yet, it’s through constant trials and temptations, God leads us forward through family, failure, friendship, marriage, loss, abuse, and success. There are no dead ends, no wasted time, no useless characters or meaningless happenings. All has meaning, and God is in all things waiting to speak and to bless. God not only redeems, he is “abounding in love”. 

It’s what we’re supposed to experience. And when we do, it’s transformational.

What remains.

What remains.

As a young leader learning to deal with difficult people, I found the sage wisdom of an elderly mentor. Bick Moore was a retired Army colonel. He was full of stories and insights. In fact, after listening to me want to distance myself of a few hard-to-love personalities, he challenged me to “Drain the swamp”. I said, “Huh?…I don’t even know what that means.”  

Bick said, “The most fear on the battlefield was when you didn’t know where your enemy was hiding. David, we weren’t afraid of a sniper, when we knew where he was.” He said, “Drain the swamp” to know remove the doubt of where danger exists.

Life has a way of exposing us – bankruptcy, addiction, success, prodigal children, cancer, abundance, power, responsibilities, aging, divorce…all leave us vulnerable! It also reveals what we believe about God. 

When we’re drained by work, politics, human tragedy, family needs, and difficult people, what are the remnants of faith that surface? It’s so easy to let circumstances define faith INSTEAD of faith grounding us in an unchanging and present God! 

The basis for God’s intervention in our lives is because He is compassionate and gracious. Compassion means, “to suffer with”. God suffers with us in sickness, loss, fear AND selfishness and pride. That’s solidarity! And solidarity is compassion. God looks at our broken world—injustice, oppression, poor, marginalized and seeks to come alongside. So can we.

All of us possess a picture of God. Some accurate, some skewed. Exodus 34 is the only place in the entire Bible where God self-describes and, because of that, is epicenter to build (or heal) a theology of God. Join us on Sunday as we explore “God Who?” and grow a Living Faith.

God Who?

God Who?

Letters from a Skeptic, chronicles three years of correspondence between an agnostic father and a Christian son. The questions were brutally honest and the responses were gentle and articulate. I found myself asking many of the same questions as well as believing in the same truths. Ultimately, the father came to share his son’s belief in Christ.

Inspired by their conversation, this became the genesis of a group I began on the University of Alabama campus called, “God Who?—An open discussion on the purpose &/or existence of God”. Despite the innumerable churches populating the Deep South, many people left with bad experiences and gnawing doubts.  Our weekly group maintained an assumption that all of us are spiritually curious. Our time wasn’t about persuasive arguments. Rather, it was a safe place to raise questions, struggle with belief, and not all have to agree. And Christ was made known.

All of us possess a picture of God. Some accurate, at times skewed. However, Exodus 34 is the only place in the entire Bible where God self-describes and, because of that, is epicenter to build (or heal) a theology of God. This passage captures Moses' request for God’s presence, guidance and wisdom to lead. 

 What we learn is this…Faith doesn’t prevent us from struggle or doubt but it can help us see God in the midst of it.

What we find is that faith begins by knowing the nature of God. Like an expanding Thesaurus, the more we know about God’s character, the more we can know God’s heart. This new series, “God Who?” is a chance to grow or restore our belief, see our lives as an offering, SO THAT we can give away a Living Faith!

Under the Influence

Under the Influence

We’ve all seen, cringed, &/or probably laughed at alcohol’s effects. In a social experiment called 3 Glasses Project, a photographer captured the curious results after 1, 2 & 3 glasses of wine. We even have language to describe its influence: “liquid courage”, “take the edge off”, or “drown my sorrows”. And, of course, people under the influence are also prone to being louder, laughter, and affectionate.

Maybe, the way we relate to alcohol can offer us an idea of how we’re supposed to relate to the influence of Holy Spirit. We find clarifying moments in scripture apart from alcohol’s effects.

When it comes to being “under the influence” in the Christian life, it means we receive the Spirit’s guidance and strength. Not unlike alcohol, the infilling work of the Spirit provides the ability to step out in faith to do what doesn’t always come naturally.

Take compassion. It’s hard to be too concerned for homeless, cancer, unemployment, war, immigrants, mental illness, violence, abuse… UNLESS it personally affects us. Yet, when we sense the Holy Spirit at work in us (despite fear, discomfort, or convenience) the fruit of compassion always grows.

LENT / TGIF for FRI, Mar.30th: Practice Compassion. Find simple ways to express empathy.

  1. ray about what limits your empathy & compassion…fear, time, interest? Pray for eyes to see & meet a need that’s different than your own.
  2. Make a care package and give to someone you love or needs it.
  3. Do something for someone that they hate doing themselves.
  4. Let someone go in front of you in line or traffic.

 

New wealth

New wealth

In his book, Last Hour of Ancient Sunlight, Thom Hartmann meets with a Native American who lives in a mobile home a desert reservation pitifully lacking in anything but scrub brush, cactus, and dust. It’s what you might imagine – in a beat up old trailer, drives a 1970s Chevy with major body parts missing. He lived in middle of nowhere and got by bartering with neighbors for food, gasoline and clothes. His IRS tax form listed $500 last year. By any American standard, it’s poverty. But this is what he said… “I’m a rich man” while motioning his hand and finger round the reservation. If I get sick, there’s people that care for me. If I need food, my neighbors give me food. It always materializes from someone’s home. I know that I will not die alone. And when I get old, I’ll move in with someone because I’ll be a village elder. And they’ll revere me and want my wisdom and they’ll take care of me.

The author then asks his upwardly mobile friend, “What would you do if you lost your job?” “Probably find another”, he says. “Yeah, but what if there was a recession and you couldn’t?” “Well, I’ll probably lose my house shortly after.” He presses further, “What about if you got sick?” “No insurance! I couldn’t pay for healthcare without insurance!” He concludes: You can be wealthy but not secure. In the end, wealth is relational.

Friends, our budget is modest but we are RICH in faith, community, and mission! Biblical Community is where we discover our potential AND find our contribution. As Americans, I think takes practice to not simply approach as spiritual consumers of religious goods and services. Christian community is like a family that shares in the chores. It’s how we invest in each other, demonstrate care, and serve God.

Lent/“T.G.I.F” For Friday, Mar. 23rd…Practice Community. Discover the image of God in another. Be attentive. Share hope.

  1. Give undivided attention-Have a meal or extended conversation w/o checking your phone or watch once.
  2. Pick up a friend or neighbor’s kid(s) after school so they can enjoy a couple extra hours.
  3. Identify the difference Christ is making in you. Share it with one person. Invite someone to join you for Easter.

 

All in!

All in!

There’s a video making it’s rounds on social media What does it mean to be a child? So Good! It captures the imagination and adventure in children. It wasn't until I saw the video that I had an answer: Being a child means living as if consequences weren’t real.

Ever surprised by a child jumping into your arms? You weren’t expecting but caught ‘em. Barely. Jesus welcomes a ‘childlike’ faith SO THAT we can trust him with our lives without reservation. No matter how hard we’ve worked or overcome, everything is a gift from God – education, health, friendship, shelter, gifts, and the ability to generate an income. In other words, being a Christian is learning to see God as the Source and our lives as an offering.

When we talk about generosity, giving comes from 2 perspectives: Either, I give from my own resources - my earnings - my stuff… OR, I give from God’s provision – blessings - resources, which I’ve been entrusted to steward.

Unlike children, we often want to trust and then learn to GIVE. But, it’s only in giving that FAITH GROWS. We tend to think of giving as a trade off (this-for-that) but giving our entire life is the only way to new life!

God Cares for us as his own – Not indifference but intimately & personally. Spiritually, it’s means we learn to see – at every stage and every age – Christ at the center. This isn’t automatic! It requires a practice and a regular discipline to remind us who we are in light of who Christ is. We're invited to follow without reservation, to give our lives by going 'All in'!

Welcome to Lent because Easter is coming. New Life is within reach. Our Lent initiative to make each Friday good for another. With child-like faith, make a plan to practice generosity... 

  1. Make a charitable contribution as an act of faith.
  2. Put $$ in an expired parking meter or buy a 2 hr parking sticker & leave it stuck to machine for someone.
  3. Leave an exceptional tip (whether they deserve it or not). Decide to be generous as God is with you.
  4. Buy a strangers’ coffee anonymously, if possible.