Monthly Archives: May 2012

Emily’s Famil

I was in Honduras on a mission trip last week. I was only gone for six days. But six days can seem like an eternity to a six-year-old. And my six-year-old was missing her Daddy something fierce.

self-portrait of a future world leader

To alleviate some of the tearfulness, my wife threw out a sure-win idea. At least usually it’s a sure-win. “Y’all get your jammies on and we can all snuggle on the couch and watch America’s Got Talent.” Don’t be a hater. Your family probably watches something just as bad. It’s one of our family shows. We record it, saving it for when we have the time to watch all together, turn off the lights, pop some popcorn and enjoy. We love us some Nick Cannon.

Even while the big kids cheered, Momma knew this was not going to go over well. Little Emily crossed her arms, pushed out her bottom lip and boldly stated, “NO.” Now, in our house we don’t call this impertinence. We call this strong leadership skills.

Being the consummate persuader she is (never lost an argument in 18 years, at least not to me), my wife sat her down to talk.

“Sweetie. I know you’re sad that Daddy’s not here. But we recorded the show and he can watch it when he comes home.”

“NO.” Not backtalk. Strong negotiation.

“Well then, when Daddy comes home we can all watch it again together.”

“NO.” Stands her ground in the face of opposition.

“Daddy would want us to have family time.”

At which point Emily burst into fresh buckets of tears. “It’s our family show. We can’t have family time without Daddy.” She re-states her position.

“Oh baby, we can still have family time. We’re still a family.”

“No, Mommy. Daddy’s not here. We’re not a family. We’re just a famil.”

How’s that for vision casting?

Just a famil.

And just like that our genius / entrepreneur / future TIME magazine Person of the Year changed the game*. Like any great leader, she changed the game by re-defining the terms. Which is exactly what we’re trying to do in our Grace community. Re-define. Re-think. Re-imagine. Create a new and different way of being the Church.

Then maybe “church” won’t mean “a place people go” or “something people do on Sunday morning”. Maybe “church” will no longer be synonymous with “boring” and “judgmental” and “greedy”. Maybe, just maybe, with the help of the Holy Spirit and six-year-olds we can begin to re-capture some of the original essence of the word. And Church will truly become a family, living out our faith together.

Instead of just a famil.

* Please note I said “changed the game” not “won the game”. The little one may be Speaker of the House, but Momma still holds veto power.


Should You be Committed?

Should you be committed to worship? Interesting question. And what is committed these days? What does it mean, really, in a country with a 50% divorce rate? I’ll tell you what. Commitment means half. Just half. If you attend worship half the Sundays of the year, then pat yourself on the back. Because half is the new regular. If you’re committed to your church home then you attend regularly. And regular attendance at worship is now about every other Sunday. Seriously.

Maybe this church planter I know, Kyle Sears, at Resonate Community near Austin (www.resonatecommunity.com) has it right. They only gather for worship twice-a-month. His attitude is he’d rather have all of them there half of the time than half of them there all of the time. But when did it come to this? Is this what it means to worship in a post-christian world? Not that the government might come and drag us off in chains, but that we simply can’t be bothered?

I think that’s what has happened. We grew up in modern Christendom America with blue laws and limited channels and nothing else to do on Sundays anyway. So we got lazy. Our spiritual commitment muscles atrophied. And now when we need them it’s too late. We’ve been run over by the non-Christians and we violate our own principles just to keep up. But how long can we keep living against the grain of what we say we believe before we stop believing it?

I know plenty of people who consider themselves members of a particular church or denomination who hardly ever attend worship at all. They’re just too busy. When you take a weekend getaway once-a-month and then have to work through the following weekend to make up the work you missed and the kids have sports and you need to use the beach condo or else what are you spending all that money for well, whew, you can’t go to church if you’re never home. No one every considers taking the weekend off from stuff in order to attend worship, but we all skip worship in order to do stuff.

We’ve got kids playing sports, one sport mind you, all year round. Three seasons of club soccer or select baseball or traveling basketball teams. Select softball, club volleyball, inter-state gymnastic meets. For ten-year-olds. Parents spending $500 a month on sports. For one child. Traveling two or three weekends a month. For what? The chance that Jenny will get a scholarship? Those odds ride at about 5%. Or how about Bobby playing pro? 1 out of 854 high school senior athletes will go pro; about 1000 a year. Because he likes it? Because she’s having fun?

When was the last time you skipped something in order to attend worship? Have you ever? Think about all the things you are committed to. Now think about all the things that could happen to make you skip on a commitment. Accidents. Illness. Family emergency. Work requirement. Something higher up the food chain of your priorities. Spend some time with this. Chew on it. Make a list. And then ask yourself, “would I skip this, for that?”

Would I miss date night with my wife for little league game?

Would I miss little league for a work emergency?

Would I miss date night for a work emergency?

Would I miss work for a family emergency?

What would I miss for worship?

What if you did?

What if you said no to something in order to attend to worship? What if you said no to something in order to say yes to God? What would that say to our kids about commitment? It’s not that I think we should go back to the Christendom model where we all pretended to be Christian for an hour each Sunday. It’s that I think worship and spiritual practices shouldn’t be in the lowest place on our list of priorities. That’s all. I just think we should all be committed.


Eating the Will of God

            “Meat is to sustain the body. To do the Will of God is the very strength and support of Life.  Feed on that Food. Soul-starvation comes from the failing to do,  and to delight in doing, My Will.  How busy the world is in talking of  bodies that  are undernourished? What of the souls that are  undernourished?  Make it indeed your meat to do My Will.   Strength and Power will indeed come to you from that.” [1]           

To do God’s will. This is the meat that feeds the soul. Living out God’s will in our lives, or as Paul puts it, working out our salvation (Phil 2:12). This is what gives us life and meaning and purpose.

What a switch from my normal way of thinking about it. I have always thought we feed our souls in order to do God’s will. I tend to think “pray, read, write, study, worship” to strengthen and nourish my soul that God might “send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” [2]

The change here is two-fold. The subtle shift of perspective to see that when I feed my soul I am doing the will of God, and it is the doing of God’s will, not the various practices I undertake in the doing of God’s will, that actually feeds my soul. Yes, prayer feeds me. As does reading my Bible. But it is not the act of praying or reading that is food any more than the act of eating nourishes our bodies. It’s not the eating that packs on the pounds, it’s the food. Likewise, it’s not the words I say or the Word I read, but the will of God that gives my soul the calories it needs to flourish. It’s a subtle shift, but significant because the other change is even bigger and related to the first.

The second change lies in realizing that I don’t need to be nourished that I might do God’s will, but that the very act of doing God’s will nourishes me. Relating to the shift of perspective mentioned above, this comes as the realization that God’s will is not the act of eating, but the very food our souls need. This is what feeds and fills me, doing God’s will. This is where I find meaning and purpose. This doing of God’s will is the difference in my days, the meaning in my moments.

This is where my soul finds satisfaction and joy. This is when my soul smiles and smacks its lips in satisfaction. This doing of God’s will. This is my purpose, my passion, the profound grace of my life.

To do God’s will involves and includes those things I so often think of as feeding my soul. But those things are the process of eating, not the food itself. Imagine if we believed it was the act of eating and not the food that fed our bodies. By merely raising an empty fork to our mouths we would expect our stomachs to be filled! Foolishness. But that is too often what we do when we feed our souls.

We go through the practice of eating – prayer, and reading, and study and what not – and wonder why we  are not filled, not sustained, not satisfied. Our souls sit shriveled with hunger because we feed them on empty forks from empty plates of our own devising.

Or worse, and more dangerous, we pick one small piece of food and eat it again and again and again, week in and week out, expecting our souls to be strengthened. Perhaps our biggest danger is not spiritual apathy, but soul-scurvy! We take three bites of worship each week and wonder what’s wrong. We mistake the eating for the food and can’t imagine why the process leaves our souls’ empty and rumbling to be filled.

We feed our souls and find ourselves hungry again two hours later. Turns out we are surviving on appetizers and salad. Not that appetizers and salad aren’t good. But they are no substitute for meat. (Fill in the imagery with the meat of your choice.)

Our souls starve in the midst of plenty because we cannot see the soul food all around us. We do not recognize it as food and so think it inedible. When the meat of God’s will sits steaming on the table in front of us. But what is this meat, this will of God? How will I know it when I see it? Jesus tells us God’s will is that we love God with all of our beings and that we love our neighbors (Mt 22:37-40).

Fine. Sure. Right. Love God. Love each other. But what does that look like? What does that mean for me, in my life, right here, right now?

And that’s the hard part. That’s why we accept soul-hunger as standard. Because doing God’s will is the same for all of us. Love. But it looks different for each of us because it is particular to who we are, and where we are and when we are in our lives and spiritual journeys.

For me, doing God’s will looks like this:

Stay connected to God, abide in Him, through prayer, reading, music and writing.

Create a space of love and laughter wherein we can experience joy.

Accept those who come into my life as sent by God and love them accordingly.

Help others connect with God, themselves and each other.

Be open to every moment, each encounter, as an opportunity for God to use me.

Funny, but when I do these things. When I live my life in this manner, I smile from the inside out. My days, even the dark and dreary days,  are characterized by joy. I live at peace within myself. My stress level drops, even though the various stress-inducing aspects of my life are in no way diminished. I laugh more. I find myself deeply satisfied with my days as I lay down to sleep. And I look forward to each tomorrow.

My soul is fed. My soul is filled with the meat of the will of God. I am deeply and abundantly full (Jn 10:10).

When we don’t eat the meat of God’s will (If you don’t eat yer meat, how can you have any pudding? How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat?) we wander through our lives always hungry, never satisfied, seeking simply one more morsel to scarf down, starving, literally soul-starving to death.

Come, my friends. Sit. Be fed. Eat the will of God.


[1] Dec. 7, From God Calling, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

[2] Book of Common Prayer. p366.


Muscles Sing

  I am not a runner. About three years ago when we moved back to SA to plant Grace, I joined a gym and started working out for the first time since high school. During that two year process I reached a point where I ran a mini-triathlon with a buddy from church. We finished it. He killed me. And apparently my sub-conscious decided that was enough of the working out foolishness. ‘Cause I fell off the exercise wagon and landed on the couch with a thud. That was May 2010. Haven’t worked out since. Until the other day.

My wife convinced me to download this App so we could run together. C25k. (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/c25k-5k-trainer-free/id485971733?mt=8) For those of you who don’t have 13-yr-old or a working knowledge of text lingo, C25k means Couch to 5k. The app provides a workout plan to take you from couch-sitting to race-running in eight weeks. It literally starts at level zero. Which is just about perfect.  See, I’m not built for running. Not built for speed. Not built for distance. I’m built for reading. And even as slow as C25k starts you off, my legs have been killing me after these first two workouts.

So imagine my surprise this morning when I heard my muscles sing.

I had reached the point in my run where everything was working exactly right. You see, the app has you run for 60 seconds, then walk for 90. Back and forth. I had just finished walking down the big hill. The gentle female voice glided over my Derek Webb tune, instructing me to, “Begin running now.” So I did. And it just kind of flowed. I was far enough into the run that I had worked out all the lactic acid pain and soreness. I was not so far into it that I was dying yet. The ground was level and the sun was out but not roasting me alive. I didn’t run fast. I didn’t run slow. I was right in the middle of the zone. And my leg muscles reveled in the exercise. All of a sudden, they were perfectly happy. Because they were doing what God designed them to do. They had enough fuel, they had enough oxygen. They were not lifting too much or running too far. Like baby bear’s porridge, they were just right.

And they sang.

It was interesting to feel my body glorify the Lord. And it makes me think this must be how our souls are designed. Perhaps when we exercise our spirits we glorify the Lord. When we reach that perfect balance of doing what we were created to do, and not doing what we were not created to do… When we’re not pushing too hard, not lagging back too far, not forcing it, just letting life come to us… When we allow God to fuel our spirits and His Spirit to flood our souls with oxygen… When we act out of who God made us to be instead of who we want others to think we are… Then, and there, as our whole being vibrates like a perfectly strummed guitar string, that is when we glorify the Lord.

Jesus tells us over and over again the reason he does things is to glorify God. And I’ve always wondered about that. What does that mean, exactly? I mean, to give God the credit, I understand. To say “this is on Him”, well, I get that. But to say He is exalted by us doing something has never really clicked. Until this morning.

O that my soul would glorify the Lord.

“I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore.” (Ps 86:12, KJV)


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