Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Third Week in Advent - Joy

So, last week I said the topic for the week was 'waiting' when in actuality, it should have been 'joy'. Obviously, I needed to talk about waiting....

Anyway - I'll write about Joy this week and Love for next week.

Joy is very different from happiness. We always want to be 'happy' but happiness is a very fleeting emotion. It is dependent upon outside forces. We are 'happy' if our kids behave well or our spouse is generous to us. We are happy if our presentation at work goes well or if dinner turns out great. But what if none of these things happen? Are we doomed to go through life being unhappy because the people around us are not catering to us every moment of every day?

That would be a pretty horrible existence.

Joy, on the other hand has nothing to do with what is going on around us. Joy is not dependent on whether or not our kids behave or our spouse showers us with affection. Joy has to do with with God and how his love for us affects us. We can always have joy, no matter what our circumstances, because we know that God is with us. We can be joyful even in the midst of grief or terrible adversity because we know that God loves us with a fierce, strong love that we cannot even completely comprehend. We can be joyful even when it feels as if the entire world is against us because we know that God is for us.

Joy, comes from knowing that no matter what we go through in this life, we will have an eternity in heaven and that always tips the scale in our favor.

Have a wonderful, joy-filled Christmas.


"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." -Romans 5:13


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Third Week In Advent - Waiting

The topic for this week of Advent is sort of a bummer - after all no one likes waiting, right? We all like to get what we want when we want it. Unfortunately, much of life is about waiting. When we are kids we can't wait to grow up. When we are adults we can't wait to acheive our next goal - the bigger house, the better job, the corner office, etc... And then there all all those family things we are waiting for: waiting to have kids, waiting for those same kids to grow up and move out, waiting to retire and live the 'good' life.

We are waiting for so many things that often we miss out on much of what life has to offer to us. We get so focused on the future, that we forget to live in the present - and our lives are happening, now, in the present.

Somehow we have to figure out how to wait for what will come, while being present in this moment now. It is a hard thing to do. I know, because I am a checklist kind of gal. I zoom through this life checking things off of my list so I can get to the next thing. Unfortunately, I have noticed lately that while I am checking off laundry, cleaning, and cooking dinner, my son is waiting for me to play with him and I keep telling him "later". But by the time I do everything that has to be done, there is no "later" because it is time for him to go to bed.

I think the concept of "waiting" is very different for God than it is for us. God "waits" for the right moment to intercede in our lives. We sit around "waiting" for that moment. God's waiting has an active quality to it while ours feels mostly passive.

What if we could switch our idea of waiting to be an active one? What if instead of waiting for things to happen to us, we lived in the moment while we anticipated what God might do through us and through those around us?

The most anticipated even in the history of the world was the coming of the Messiah. While Israel waited for the messiah, however, they didn't stop living. They lived each day with anticipation. Now that Jesus has come, those of us who believe him to be the messiah don't stop living with anticpation either. We continue to live with anticipation because we know that God is actively waiting for the right moment to intervene in our lives.

Live life each day in the present - making sure you see what is right in front of you instead of looking too far down the road for too long. I believe that God acts in the present and if we focus too much on the future, we miss his intervention in our lives.
'o come o come Emanuel, and ransmom captive Israel'


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Second Week in Advent - Peace

Most of us need peace in our lives. It doesn't really matter what age or time of life you are in, we all could use a little more peace. We need respite from the frantic pace of life with young children, or the constant battling with our tweens and teens. We need a break from financial worries, job stress, the pressure to fit into the mold, the constant buzz in the back of our minds that something else has to be accomplished before we can rest.

We need some peace and we often have no idea how to get it. In Hebrew the word for peace is shalom and it means to be in a state that is free of disturbance - both inward disturbance (like anxiety or fear) and outward disturbance (like war).

I often think that the amount of peace someone has is in direct correlation to their ability to let things go. In other words, the more you feel responsible for the lives of everyone around you, the less peace you will have. Conversely, the more you can separate yourself from the failures and successes of the people in your life and hold your own successes and failures lightly, the more peace you will have.

I had an epiphany earlier this year when a friend of mine commented to me that "neither of us were the kind of people to hold things lightly." It was so simple but it was like I was hit by a lightening bolt. I immediately thought - "Oh yeah - that is my problem." I never feel at peace because I never let anything just be what it is. I always have to try to change it or make it better or worry about it. I never just let things 'be'.

That is not to say that we are never supposed to work towards goals, or help our family and friends. We are supposed to do those things. But we are also supposed to hold all things in this life loosely because they are not ours. They are God's. Our children and their mistakes (and our mistakes in parenting them), we can give to God. Our job stress, financial worries, marital troubles - all these things we can give to God because he is big enough to handle them.

Maybe even in the simple act of letting some control go, we will find a better and easier ways to get where we want to go. We will at least be able to have a better view of what is important and what is not.

Jesus came to give us peace - not peace that the world gives to us, but the peace of God which we cannot get any other way.

As we prepare to approach the new born Christ who brings peace to the world, maybe we should think about ways in which we will allow ourselves to accept that gift of Peace.


"Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." - John 14:27


Monday, November 29, 2010

First Week in Advent - Hope

Yeah! It's Christmas time. I LOVE Christmas. It is my absolute, favorite time of the year. My sister would tell you I love it because of the presents, and yes, that is part of it, but it is not all of it. I love the decorations. I love that everyone seems happier. I love that we get to sing and listen to Christmas carols whenever we want to for at least four weeks (more if you start the week before Thanksgiving like I do). I love the hustle and bustle and all the anticipation that is in the air as the countdown towards Christmas begins.

Anticipation is everywhere in the Christmas season. It is in the eyes of children as they wonder what Santa will bring them. It is in the laughter of the parents as they look forward to that first magical moment on Christmas morning. It is in the holy hush of the congregation on Christmas Eve after the last notes of "Silent Night" fade away in the stillness as the service ends.

Anticipation. Expectation. Hope.

In this first week of Advent, we look forward in hope to the coming of Christ. He is the reason we have this time of celebration. Christ is the reason we have any hope at all. The stockings on the mantle, the decorations, and the parties are all wonderful, but they are not central to the meaning of Christmas. On Christmas morning 2000 years ago, God gave us the best gift we will ever get - the gift of hope. Because Jesus Christ was born, we have hope of forgiveness. Because Jesus Christ was born, we have hope for reconciliation. Because Jesus Christ was born, we have hope for eternal life. And that, is a much better gift than anything anyone on earth can give to you that comes in a box or a bag.

God has given us this wonderful gift that we cannot match, but we can share. We can pass on this gift of hope to others. During this season of Advent where we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Messiah, we can share hope with people who do not have it.

Live Oak is doing its first Christmas project this year in the first Christmas of its existence. We are in the process of 'adopting' 18 kids for Christmas this year. They range in age from 1-17 and come from all walks of life with one thing in common - their families need a little hope. They need some help in order to celebrate Christmas this year and we are going to help them be able to do just that.

Christmas is about Christ: The greatest gift the world has ever received. Surely, when we so readily accept the gift of hope that came with Christ's birth, we can in turn be generous and share that gift of hope with others.

Chesney Szaniszlo

- "For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." - Isaiah 9:6


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving 2

This year I am being forced to get out of my holiday 'rut'. For the first time, all of our extended family are out of town and it will be just three of us for Thanksgiving dinner. I was a little depressed about this and told my husband, "I am not going to cook a full-on meal for the three of us and have no one eat it." (My husband and son are notoriously picky eaters). So my husband came up with a great idea - a feast of favorite foods! Each of us have picked 4 favorite foods that we want to eat for our Thanksgiving meal. Some items will overlap and others will not. My son's picks are 1) pepperoni pizza 2) crescent rolls 3) skittles 4) cupcakes. Quite the processed food fest, huh? Not quite what I usually envision when I think of Thanksgiving, but I am the one who said I wasn't cooking a traditional meal.....

As we get closer to the actual holiday I am warming up more and more to the idea of our 'untraditional' meal. I will have most of the day to spend with my family rather than spending most of it in the kitchen. When I sit down to eat this year, I suspect I will actually want to eat rather than being so stressed out and sick of cooking that I don't want to even look at a slice of turkey, let alone eat it. And best of all - I won't have all the china, stemware, and silver to wash after!

I think this might be the best Thanksgiving, yet...but I don't want to hype it up and then be disappointed.

This year, in spite of me, I am actually going to have a Thanksgiving where I might be able to take the advice I gave last week about the holidays - slow down, look at the why of the holiday instead of the how ('how can I make this the perfect day/meal/etc), and remind myself to be thankful for the wonderful family, friends, and life that God has given me.

Chesney Szaniszlo

"I thank my God every time I remember you." Phillipians 1:3


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thanksgiving 1

As we enter into the opening acts of the "Holiday Slide", I thought I would take a few blogs to discuss being thankful.

What does it really mean in this holiday season to really be thankful in our daily lives? For me, it means consciously slowing down when I am speeding up. I know so many people who love the holidays but also say they are the most stressful time of the year. As I have gotten older it has stopped surprising me that many women actually get so stressed out by the holiday season that they need to take medication to get them through to January. We want everything to be picture perfect for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We spend enormous amounts of money to deck our halls but does any of it bring us closer to God? Does it make us more thankful for what we have? Do we appreciate the time we spend with our families during the holidays more because of what we are wrapping? Does all the hullabaloo make us more mindful of what the season represents?

All of this makes we wonder what we are doing to ourselves as we try to celebrate the 'most wonderful time of the year'.

What would happen if we stopped trying so hard to make our holiday celebrations picture perfect and focused on God's perfect son who was born in a stable for us?

As we get ready for Thanksgiving next week, what if we chose to take a moment every day to breathe deeply, pray to God and list all the things that we are truly thankful for? Do you think it would slow us down enough to enjoy the actual holiday rather than just run through it?

Maybe we should all try it and see.....

"Come let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with Thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great king above all gods." Psalm 95:1-3


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Conclusion of a "prodigal church"

I have been writing for the past month about Tim Keller's book, "The Prodigal God". I hope that I have highlighted that all of us need God for the same basic reason - forgiveness. Whether we have been faithful members of a church for our entire life or whether we have avoided that building at all cost - we all need God because we are sinners and we cannot live apart from his grace. God's love for us knows no bounds and yet most of us 'churched' folk forget that and try to create boundaries around our church property, our homes, and our families that keep 'us' in and 'them' out. God does not want us to do that. God wants us, with wisdom, to be boundless in our faith. He wants us to allow his love to work through us and encompass the entire globe, not just those folks who think, look and act like we do.

Let's pray for a change within our own hearts that we are able to do this.


"My commandment is this: Love each other as I have loved you." John 15:12


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Prodigal Church? Part 4

Today I am going to look at how our God is a "prodigal" God. In my first blog on this topic I wrote that Keller, the author of The Prodigal God, defines prodigal as meaning 'recklessly extravagant'. While our initial reaction to someone or something being 'prodigal' might be a negative one, in the context of God's gift of salvation (and the Church's desire to share this gift with the world), prodigal is in fact a positive term.

It is true that the way we view a gift makes it's 'reckless extravagance' good or bad. Recklessness is never, at least in our human world, something that should be overlooked.

If you receive a recklessly extravagant gift that you truly cannot live without, the repurcussions for the giver can be overlooked and the gift received freely. If, however, you receive a recklessly extravagant gift that simply makes you happy, it could be argued that the repercussions for the giver are too great and the gift is not appropriate.

God's gift of salvation to all of humankind through the death of his son was an act of reckless extravagance that was and is necessary to human life. Without the death of Christ upon the cross we would not be able to gain eternal life. It is only through Jesus' atonement (making up for/paying the cost of) for our sins that we are able to recieve mercy and forgiveness.

The reckless extravagance of God in this act of mercy should cause all of us to pause.


"You see, at the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for an unrighteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: That while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5:6-8


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Prodigal Church? Part 3

Today we are going to look at how we can make the church a more welcoming place for both those represented by the 'younger' and 'elder' sons in Jesus' "Parable of the Prodigal Son." The church as it is isn't usually a very comfortable place for either party. We are either constantly trying to prove how good we are or constantly being told how bad we are and neither situtation makes us long to be in the church because it is not a place where we can find rest. But the church, in its true form, is a place we should long to be because it should be a place where all people can find rest.

If we could move our churches towards a state of repentance in which we would all acknowledge that we consistently sin and consistently need the grace and forgiveness of God, I think the tone and feel of our churches would shift dramatically. If we consistently realign ourselves to acknowledge our lowliness in the face of God's majesty, then it would be very difficult for us to both jockey for favor, point fingers, and brashly believe that we deserve everything good that the world has to offer.

Last week, I wrote about how the elder son and the younger son are really more alike than we would think. They are both trying to manipulate God into giving them what they want. The older son uses morality in a "magical thinking" sort of way: if I do everything right and make no mistakes, God will have to give me what I want and believe I need. The younger son uses brashness: boldy (and disrespectfully) demanding that he be given what he wants. Neither son is valuing the father for who he is and what he has done for them - they are simply using him as a means to their ends.

As Christians, we all need to take a good, hard look at ourselves and ask if we really value what God has done for us: From the first act of Creation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins, to his constant pursuit of our hearts. We can't ever be good enough to earn God's forgiveness and grace but God loves us enough to freely give it to us. We, as sinners, have no right to ask God for anything, yet God has given us that opportunity through his desire to be in relationship with us. If we can take an honest inventory of ourselves and see how small and undeserving we truly are, then maybe we can finally begin to glimpse the value of God's sacrifice in Jesus Christ for us and slowly begin to reflect the love and mercy he gives us to those around us.

If the church could become a place that is made up of "prodigals" - people who spend recklessly all that they have and are for God and his kingdom, rather than for themselves , how would that change the world?



Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Prodigal Church? Part 2

So today we are going to look at how the "Church" actually hinders people from coming to Christ through its "religiousness" and its hypermorality about people not living a "Christian" lifestyle.

Timothy Keller writes about the irony of how the first Christians were actually called 'atheists' by the Romans "...because what they Christians were saying about spiritual reality was unique and could not be classified with other religions of the world." (Pg. 14, The Prodigal God) In our modern culture today, most people see Christianity as what "is religion and moralism". (Pg. 14, The Prodigal God)

How did we get so far away from the point Jesus was making in the days he walked the earth? When Jesus was on the earth, he went out of his way to invite everyone to be near to him. Unfortunately, it was only those who were 'immoral' or 'unreligious' who usually chose to be near to him. He was incredibly attractive to those who were outcasts from the religious establishment of his day because he welcomed them as they were and showed them, gently, who they could be. Those who belonged to the religious establishment usually had too much pride in their own religious accomplishments to take Jesus up on his offer of grace and forgiveness. They didn't think that they needed it.

Jesus never told anyone to keep doing what they were doing. He challenged everyone to accept forgiveness, to not judge others, and to 'sin no more. For the 'elder' son's of Jesus' day, just as in ours, this is offensive, because all of us who fill the role of the elder son (and we know who we are) believe we have it all figured out and are justified in feeling that we are above others who don't follow the same strict moral code as we do.

The religious establishment of Jesus' day and of ours usually isn't gentle. It is more often cutting and judgemental, two of the main things Jesus told us NOT to be. We live in an era where church attendance is dropping steadily, the cultural norms are more often influencing Christian norms instead of the reverse (despite our judgemental attitudes, or maybe because of them), and yet we continue to dig in and do the same kinds of things that Jesus is telling us not to do in the parable we are studying.

Keller points out that despite the younger and elder sons very different paths (one of self-discovery and one of rigid moralism) the two are much closer than we would think. Both sons wanted what their father had and chose different paths to recieve it - the older by doing what he could to 'earn' it and the younger by disrespectfully asking for it. Keller states that the real goal behind each brother's desire is to have authority over the Father: to have what is the Father's and be able to tell the Father what to do. (Pg. 36, The Prodigal God) Keller goes on to say that neither son loved the Father for himself and that we can rebel against God by both 'breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently." (pg. 37, The Prodigal God)

If we are 'super Christians' and can find (incorrectly, of course) no sin in ourselves, then we believe we have the right to look down upon others. If we take the elder son's course, we may think we are a Christian, but we have not truly allowed Jesus to be our own savior - we are trying to save ourselves. (pg. 38, The Prodigal Son)

What would our modern Christian Church look like if we could all repent of our desire to control God? Would we be more loving, more graceful, if we could accept that we are failures ourselves? Maybe we should try it...


"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me.....Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51: 1-3; 10


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Prodigal Church? Part 1

Today I am going to start blogging on The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller.

His book is based on the parable told by Jesus in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. In case you don't remember this story, I'll give a quick synopsis. Tax collectors and "sinners" have gathered to hear Jesus speak. The Pharisees and scribes (very upright, religious folks) have also gathered to hear Jesus speak. The religious folks start to grumble about the fact that Jesus welcomes these 'others' to be near him and that he actually spends time in their homes and eats with them! In response Jesus tells the "parable of the prodigal son."
This parable begins with a younger son who rudely asks for his inheritence before his father's death (the equivalent of wishing your father dead) and then squanders it on women, wine, and song only to come home in shame when the money runs out. The father sees the son approaching and is overjoyed to have him return. He throws a great feast to show how happy he is that his son has returned to him. The older brother, however, who has dutifully remained home and suppressed his own desires in order to be the 'good' son, is furious at his younger siblings reception. He doesn't understand why he has never received a party for his good and dutiful behavior and yet this wastrel brother has taken half of his father's wealth, lost it, and is being offered the chance to regain his standing in the home and community (and possibly receive more inheritance).

The father's responds by saying, "My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is now found." (Luke 15:31-32)

Keller defines 'prodigal' as an adjective that means 1) recklessly extravagant and 2) having spent everything. After reading that definition, you might be wondering why I titled this blog series "A Prodigal Church?". Do we want a church that acts prodigiously? Maybe so, if we are looking at extravagance through God's eyes. In other words, I am wondering if we want to be a church that acts in amazing, astonishing, eye-opening ways.

If you grew up going to church you would most likely have been taught that the parable of the prodigal son was all about God's grace and sinners being forgiven. Keller's premise, with which I happen to agree, is that this is a very one-sided lesson from this expansive parable. In fact, I almost think that Jesus told the parable not so that the 'religious folks' would learn to have some grace for those who 'sin' but in order for the 'religious folks' to realize that they needed grace just as much as anyone else. However, this part of the teaching is not traditionally stressed - it upsets folks in the pew to think that their 'religiousness' is causing them to sin.

It is, however, those of us in the pew that need to hear the message of the prodigal son. How are we going to fulfill our call to spread the gospel if we look down upon those who haven't heard it? How are we supposed to share the love of Christ if we think ourselves better than those we are sharing it with?

In the next few weeks we will look at the following:
1) how the church actually hinders people coming to Christ through its 'religiousness' and critical views of those not living a "Christian" lifestyle.
2) how the church can make itself a more welcoming place for those in need of grace (which is all of us - those already in the church as well as those outside it)
3) how God himself, is a prodigal God, willing to 'spend' extravagantly to bring us back home to him.



Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Since so many Christians ask themselves this question, "What would Jesus do?", maybe we should start thinking about it in a different way. Caspar keeps asking Jim after every church service they attend, "Jim, is this what Jesus told you guys to do?

What Caspar is asking about is the immense amount of work and money that go into a single hour on Sunday morning. Did Jesus really want us to focus so much of our time and energy on one hour of the week?

No, he didn't. So, as Christians who want to live a Christian life all 7 days of the week, what do we do about it?

Instead of getting my thoughts on this today, since this is the last blog on Jim and Caspar go to Church, I am going to give you some of Jim's closing thoughts.

"Unless we're willing to remove the handles from the front doors of our churches and publicly say to outsiders, 'We don't care what you think,' the church must become more reflective and repentant about how outsiders perceive us...as long as we put "Everybody Welcome" on our church signs, we are the ones who need to change - not our guests.

Jesus gave us a mission. I don't remember reading anything in the Bible written to missing people telling them to 'go into all the church.' They don't have a mission to adjust to us; we have to adapt for them. It's called the Incarnation." (pg. 149)

So, maybe what we need to think about is not so much how to get people into our churches as how to get our people out of our churches and into the world.



Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Are we really all in this together?

After going to churches for over a month together Caspar comments to Jim:
"If every church is of the same body...then why is this megachurch [The Potter's House, Dallas, TX] all black and megas like Willow and Saddleback all white? The leading roles are reversed - with blacks in the majority here and whites making token strategic appearancs. But why don't they worship together? If you follow Paul's metaphor, the church should be the most integrated place in Amercia, but even I've heard the line about eleven o'clock Sunday morning being the most segregated hour in America. Why the segregation? Aren't you guys in the 'love your neighbor as you love yourself' business? I mean it. No other group out there preaches togetherness more than the church, and no other group out there is as obviously segregated." (pg. 134)

What do we think about that? When we look around our workplace, our church, our grocery stores, our children's classrooms do we see more than one color? Or are we completely segregating ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ who do not look like we do, whatever color our skin and whatever our socio-economic status?

Is it an issue of socio-economic status? Is it an issue of culture? It is an issue of unackknowledged racism that is driven by a fear of differences? The cultural and fear issues don't hold much weight - get over those. Didn't God create all of us in his image? At the core, we are all the same - children created by one God. That fact should overwhelm any other objections we have about being in relationship with people who from outward appearances seem different than ourselves.

As far as socio-economic status being a dividing wall - that is also something that we should actively be working to tear down. Aren't we called by Jesus to help those who have less than we do? Did Jesus just go and deliver food/services and then walk away or did he befriend and eat and live with those who were different and had less?

I know that getting from where we are to where we should be is too overwhelming for any of us to handle on our own. But if we each take one small step at a time, we can do it together.

What first step will you take?


"Then God said, 'Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.' " Genesis 1:26


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cross cultural misunderstanding

Just a quick blog today. Caspar talks to Jim about the prevalence of 'blood' in the Christian church.

When you think about it, it is true. There is talk of blood at the Lord's supper. There is talk of blood when we speak of salvation. There is blood when we talk of how are sins get washed away. Heck, if we want to give an exact physical description of the crucifixion we need to say that we believe in a savior who actually had to be beaten, nailed to a cross, and die from asphyxiation in order to save us from our sins. It is impossible for us as humans to completely appreciate that gift, but as far as I can appreciate it, I do. But from an outsiders point of view, it must seem strange....

Caspar begins talking about hymns and states, " 'What baffles me as always, though, are the words. 'What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus....No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.' 'Blood, blood, blood. Imagine if Christians heard a Muslim singing about blood all the time. I bet they'd get kind of freaked out.' " (pg. 92)

Just a thought - but with all the anti-Islamic sentiment going around right now, might it not behoove us to be a little more critical in our thinking about other religions? Maybe we should take time to learn what other religions actually believe and teach and not just what others say they believe or what fringe groups say they believe. I mean, do we want certain Christian factions speaking for all of us as far as what we believe as Christians?

Remember that in the Early Christian church, Christians were labeled 'cannibals' because of misunderstandings surrounding the meaning of the Lord's Supper.

I'm not saying that there are other ways to Salvation apart from Christ. What I am saying is that we shouldn't let fear dictate how we think about and treat people who have a different belief system from us.

If we truly want to spread the gospel to the whole world what will make it easier: Going in with guns blazing to discredit someone's entire belief system? Or approaching someone with love and respect for who they are and where they have come from?

When I look at Jesus examples in Scripture of how he approached different people in the Bible: The Samaritan woman (John 4:7), the centurion (Luke 7:3), I suspect that I know the answer.

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye', when you, yourself, fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Luke 6:41-42)


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An outward focused fellowship

This is my third blog about my thoughts on the book, "Jim and Caspar go to Church". One of the themes that keeps coming up for Caspar is the idea that I will call 'fellowship'. There is a Greek word used often in the New Testament to express the relationship of people within the early church. It is called "koinonia" Koinonia means, "communion by intimate participation." It is a word that describes a community in which people are fully bonded together through their mutual love for and faith in Jesus Christ.

I think it is this idea of koinonia that is missing from many of our churches today and Caspar easily recognizes its absence when he is visiting churches with Jim. Caspar explains it by saying that people don't seem to be engaged in church (I talked about this two blogs ago) or he seems to constantly say that the people don't seem connected. Or that church just seems to be something that people are checking off of their list. I think he is probably right in all three descriptions. If Christians don't feel a sense of communion with the others they are worshiping with, then they are most likely not engaged, not connected, and just checking off their list.

Caspar senses something different however, when he visits his friend Jason's house church. Jason holds worship in his home with a small group of people, most of whom Caspar knows from different activities and events. They eat together, they pray together, they sing together, and they sit silently together. While the small numbers make Caspar feel a little uncomfortable, he says the following about the service: "And then, just like everywhere else, the call to worship was followed by prayer. And - maybe because I knew everyone, or maybe because of the intimate setting - it took on an intensity I haven't seen or felt anywhere else we've been, Jim...I could really see how deeply they felt what they were doing - these people whom I've seen in so many other settings - it was as if they'd just gotten naked in front of me." (pg. 81)

Caspar has finally witnessed a true Christian community in action, in communion with each other. He isn't quite sure what to make of it. He doesn't know if the people were "...communing more with each other or with God..." (pg. 82)but he does know that he has seen something different.

At Live Oak we want to encourage koinonia - to encourage communion within our community. We want folks to stay and talk to each other (while tearing down and loading up the trailer :) ), to begin forming friendships and relationships with everyone who comes on Sunday morning. But we also need to remember that when we have our 'group' of folks with whom we do have true communion and fellowship, we can't stop meeting other people. It is our job as Christians to continue to reach out and create new relationships with new people. Otherwise, a community that enjoys true koinonia, simply slips into disengagement and becomes a church where people go on Sunday mornings to check off their 'to do' list.

This coming Sunday, I would like to challenge all of us to meet someone new and learn one thing about them that we can remember. Let's start to create and environment that will make Live Oak into more than a church - it will make it into a community.



Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"If you died tonight...."

This blog is going to continue through some ideas I found interesting in "Jim and Caspar go to Church", the story of a Christian pastor who hires an atheist to give him honest feedback about churches they go to visit. Today, I am discussing a tactic used by many Evangelical Christians to get folks to 'convert'. In the chapter, "Mega in the Midwest", Jim and Caspar go to Willow Creek - a mega church in Chicago and discover at the beginning of the service that a mass baptism of 300 people is to happen the next day. One of the pastors, Gene Appel, urges anyone who hasn't been baptized to come the next day because "...you never know 'what happens five minutes after you die.'" (pg. 44)

(Aside from the Presbyterian belief that I subscribe to fully - that baptism doesn't save you, faith in Jesus does - there are multiple issues with this kind of tactic.)

Caspar comments that the VP of marketing at his job at Outreach Marketing had tried to 'save' him with this approach once and he did not like it at all. Basically, Caspar conveys the concept that if you don't believe in God, you don't worry about what hapens after you die - you simply die. He sees this conversion method as a lazy way to try to get people to have faith in God.

I would tend to agree. When I was in high school, my sister was dating a real holy roller who engaged me in a theological discussion. Well, back then I didn't have trouble disagreeing with people either, and the end result was that he told me I was going to Hell for disagreeing with him. How rude! I can guarentee you that this did not make me change my viewpoint. Telling someone that they must convert because otherwise they won't go to Heaven is not a good way to win them to your belief system.

After Caspar shares his story about the marketing VP with Jim, Jim and he have a conversation about death. Jim states that we are all going to die so shouldn't we be concerned with what comes after? Caspar gets a little frustrated that Jim is going to take this postition also and asks him if he has any proof about what happens after death. Jim says, " 'No, Caspar, all I have is faith - that's it - no proof. The fact is I can't prove one thing about what I believe to you. All I have is a hope, and the reality is neither of us will know who is right until we actually die.' " (pg. 45) Caspar is shocked into silence by this admission and then replies, " 'Wow Jim. I have never...heard anyone admit that it's all based on faith. So often people precede an attempt to get me to join up with Jesus with a threat and an unprovable claim: Choose Christ, because you're going to die.' " (pg 45-46)

When Jesus walked the earth, people loved him. They would do whatever they could to be near him and hear him speak. As a Christian, yes, I believe there is an afterlife and I want everyone to be there, but why would I want to scare people into believing. How is that helping someone to discover faith in a God who loves them?


" 'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.' " - Matthew 11:28


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Getting engaged

I am going to be writing a few blogs on a book I have been reading called, Jim and Caspar Go to Church. It is a book written by Jim Henderson (not the one of Muppet fame) and Matt Caspar. I would love to get a dialogue going on these blogs because I want to know what you think - whether you consider yourself a Christian or not. Before I can tell you much about the book, I need to give some background.

Jim Henderson spent 25 years as a pastor in the Pentecostal church, moved to being a director of evangelism, and then started Off the Map (http://www.offthemap.com/). Off the Map is an organization that wants to make evangelism doable for everyday, normal, non-church staff Christians.

Matt Caspar is an atheist hired by Jim to go to churches and give his unvarnished viewpoint of the experience to Jim. The whole point of this exercise was for Jim to figure out what Christians can do to share the Gospel with non-Christians without being offensive. What is attractive about church (if anything) and what isn't.

For your information, Matt Caspar is a copywriter for a large Christian publication firm and happens to write many of the pre-made postcards that churches send out in the mail. He is also a musician. This means two things to me, 1) he is pretty familiar with evangelistic church jargon and the way we try to woo people to church and 2) he has professional knowledge of one of the main ways modern evangelical churches reach out to people in worship - through contemporary music.

It has been interesting for me to read and hear Caspar's opinions about the churches that they visited. For example, when they visited Saddleback church (a mega church in California), Caspar comments that while the people sitting in the congregation seem interested in the service, it also seems to him as if they are there because it is "...something simply on most folks' schedules - Saturday: cookout, Sunday: church...it feels like most of them are just watching TV...not really engaged in the spirit of it all." (pg. 5)

Today I want to talk about this issue of engagement, or the lack thereof. Are you engaged in worship? Is it something that renews you and gets you ready to go back to the world for more? Or is it something that you simply check off your 'to do' list and move on to the next thing?

I suspect I know the answer, but I also tend towards pessimism so maybe I am wrong. I would love to know if I am.

But for the moment let's assume I am correct and ask the question, "Why aren't we engaged in worship?"
1)Is it because we don't have relationships with others in the worship service?
- Are our lives are too filled with other things (sports, birthday parties, grocery shopping, the kid's homework, work that we have to finish before Monday) so church becomes just another thing to check off our list and we don't have the time to form relationships with the people we see on Sunday morning.
- Have Christians accepted the cultural belief that "bigger is better" and "we can never have too much". Often our churches are not considered 'successful' unless they are on their way to becoming or have become 'mega' churches with thousands of people in attendance each week.

2) Is it because we have too much ownership in church and have given God too little? (As a little side note here, when I mentioned Saddleback Church earlier, I wrote after it in parenthesis that it was Rick Warren's church. It struck me immediately how ironic that was because it is not Rick Warren's church at all, it is God's church - but I think we often forget that the church isn't 'ours'.)
- Can we be engaged in a service that is driven and focused on us and what we can do rather than on who God is and what God can do?

3) anyone else have an idea why we might not be engaged as whole-heartedly and whole -soully as we could be?
Please tell me. You don't have to have a solution. Maybe together we can help free ourselves to more closely engage or re-engage with God on Sunday mornings in worship because the one thing I do know for sure is that God longs to engage with us.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." -John 3:16


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Join the Story - Live Oak Value #9

Today is the end of my blog series on Live Oak's values. We've gone through 8 of them prior to this. They are:
1. Jesus Changes Everything
2. Everybody has a 'calling'
3. Authentic living in the 'burbs
4. It's about who, not what
5. Everyday Justice
6. Church happens in your neighborhood
7. All truth is God's truth
8. The story matters

and today is #9 - 'join the story'.

All of the values are important (that's why we have nine of them), but today's might be the one that is the most action oriented. "Join the story" means that we want everyone who comes to Live Oak to feel welcomed and loved. That means all of our members and long time visitors need to be welcoming and loving towards everyone who walks through our doors. We want everyone at Live Oak to be actively reaching out to people who don't have a church home or who don't know Jesus. That means all of our members and long term visitors need to be working on building relationships with people who are 'dechurched' (used to go but don't anymore) or those who run the spectrum from not knowing Jesus at all to the person thinking there might be "something to that story...". We want everyone and anyone to feel that Live Oak is a safe place to come to experience the love of God in Jesus Christ.

I feel pretty confident in saying that Christians have a reputation for being closed off and hypocritical. (Did I hear some shocked gasps of surprise at that statement?)
Most people who are not Christian feel that we are happiest when we can deal with other Christians, particularly those of our same denominational leanings.

This isn't necessarily an incorrect thought. If you are a Christian reading this, take a minute to think about who your friends are, what you do for entertainment, where you send your kids to pre-school, school, or for after school activities. We can't completely isolate ourselves from non-believers unless we go live in a commune, but often, we come fairly close to doing just that in the decisions we make on a daily basis.

Jesus lived in the world but was not of it and he prays that his disciples would be in the world but not of it in the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John. This doesn't mean that we withdraw from hanging out or being around people who do not follow Jesus. This means that we hang on to our values that are based on the Bible and Jesus' teaching while we are out in the world around the millions of people who do not know him. We don't use our values to hit people over the head with an imaginary 'sin' stick because we know we are just as sinful as anyone else. The difference is that as Christians, we know that we are forgiven and that with God's help we can do better in the future.

At Live Oak, we want to cultivate an environment where anyone can come be a part of our community, no matter where they are on their spiritual journey. We want to be a place where it doesn't matter who you are, where you have been, or how far you are from who you want to be. We are all at different points on our own journies and we want to help everyone move a little farther along theirs.

Come and join the story with us.


"I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" - Luke 5:32


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Story Matters - Live Oak Value #8

The "Story" is the story of God's love for us. It is a story complete with longing, adventure, shattered hopes, redemption, and romance. It is a story of how completely and wonderfully God loves us and how much he wants to be in a relationship with us.

This story starts with God creating the universe and then creating us in his image so that we would have the ability to be in relationship with him. God wanted us to know him from the very beginning of time - just as a mother desires to know the child she is carrying long before the baby is born. Once created, God pursues us, just as a parent chases after a child that is not yet capable of understanding the strength of the love that binds him/her to his parent.

The story of human interaction with God as told in the Bible matters because it teaches us that we are never too horrible and never too far away from God that he cannot love and find us. In fact, when we do terrible things and run away from God, the Bible tells us that God actively searches for us and desires to win us back to him. This story is the model for our lives as parents, friends, children, spouses, and workers. It tells us that there is always room for love and forgiveness in the midst of a life and world full of pain and transgressions.

I realized this morning in a conversation with my son that he didn't quite understand this idea. He was telling me that good people who don't do bad things get to go to heaven and people who do bad things don't. (A very just and rational line of human thought that many of us believe to be true by the way.) It was hard for him to understand when I told him that everyone does bad things and God still loves all of us. We don't win God's love, it is freely given to us along with forgiveness because of God's love for us. There is no perfect human in "the" story except for Jesus Christ. The rest of us have to be reminded that the Bible is important because it tells us the truth: not one of us will get it right, but God loves us and wants to be with us, anyway.


"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me.... It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them....My people are determined to turn from me...."How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?...My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused." - Hosea 11: 1-8 (selected)


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

All Truth is God's Truth - Live Oak Value #7

It is hard sometimes to know what is the truth. The media spins the truth to suit their political point of view. We, as individuals, finesse the truth at times to protect our own self interests. It is a very natural part of the sinful human condition to bend the truth to present ourselves in the best possible light - it has been happening since the apple incident in the Garden of Eden.

However deceptive we might be, our God, the one who created everything, is a God of Truth. There is nothing in him or of him that is deceiving or a lie. Because of this, we can trust him and know that the things in this world that are truthful, are of God.

We can trust in the truth that God loves us. When deciphering the big "T" truths in this world, this is a good litmus test.
Does God, out of his love for us, want us to be hateful and dismissive of the world or the people who live on it?
Does God, out of his love for us, want us to step on the backs of others to get what we desire?
Does God, out of his love for us, want us to give ourselves up to addictions, abuse, or any other harmful act perpetrated upon us by ourselves or others?
Does God, out of his love for us, want us to respect ourselves and others as children of his creation?

God is a God of Truth. Therefore anything in this world that is true is true because of him. God has revealed himself through creation and through his word - the Bible. Even if the truth comes from an unlikely source, if it is really Truth, it is of God. We know when we hear truth, just as we know when we hear falsehood, even if we deny it. Our job is to hear and accept truth, even when it is difficult, as well as to tell the truth, when a lie would be easier.


"But you have an annointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth." - 1 John 2: 20-21


Monday, August 2, 2010

Church happens in your neighborhood - Live Oak Value #6

You might think that the only time "church happens" is when people gather on Sunday morning to sing songs and hear the preacher preach - but you would be wrong. That's just the Sunday morning church service. The "church" is not a place, it is a people. The "church" is a community of people who believe that they are forgiven sinners because of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

If, as Christians, we believe that we have to go to a specific place to be the church, then we are in trouble. Jesus wants us to follow him at all times and act the same way Monday through Saturday as we do when we are in a specific place to worship Him on Sunday. This means that to be the church everywhere, at all times, we need to work on two things:
1) being the best person we can be all week long, not just on Sunday when we know other Christians are watching us, and
2) acknowledging that we are all messed up in some way and allow ourselves to be as real with folks on Sunday as we are with our friends during the week.

If we can meld these two modes of being into one, then we will be living out our faith in our daily lives and doing 'church' everyday, everywhere.

Many of you might not recognize the hymn, "We are the Church" but I remember it quite well from childhood. The first line states: "I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, 'yes' we're the church together." It goes on to say, "The church is not a building, The church is not a steeple, The church is not a resting place, the church is a people!"

The church isn't a place or a thing - the church is a group of people who are actively trying to follow the teachings of Jesus all day, everyday. Yes, that is impossible for us to do well most of the time but if we believe, then we have to try our best.

Church happens all around us. It happens when we offer to water our neighbor's plants while they are out of town. It happens we see someone needing help with the cart or bags at the grocery store and we do something instead of pretending we don't see their dilemma. Church happens whenever we enage with others while living out our Christian faith and principles. Church is a verb not a noun and it needs us to make it happen.


"The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence." Ephesians 1:22-23, translation The Message


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Love and Respect: C-H-A-I-R-S

When, I first started talking about "Love and Respect", by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, I was very deliberate in discussing the ways that men can show love to their wives FIRST. I love our couch but not that much, if you know what I mean.

Now lets explore how wives can show respect to their husbands. Eggerichs does not take his foot off of the gas as he takes us into the C-H-A-I-R-S chapters for wives. This clever acronym is a roadmap that all wives can use to understand how to give "unconditional" respect to their husbands. Much like the C-O-U-P-L-E chapters, C-H-A-I-R-S empowers wives while recognizing their responsibility to be accountable partners.

Tucked amongst a myriad of poignant stories and testimonies, Eggerichs has also planted the "Respect Test." When I first read the following statement, I thought to myself "This rubbish does not work", but then I realized that Janelle has said some form of this statement to me many times. The statement is as follows: "I was thinking about you today and there are several things that I respect about you, and I just want you to know that I respect you." WOW.... I yearn to be respected by my wife and it is amazing how much closer I am to her after hearing these words! Wives, if you don't believe me, try it (with the utmost sincerity, of course) and let me know the result.

As a husband reading these chapters, my heartstrings were pulled with the turning of every page. I like the fact that I can be understood, validated, and appreciated. So, again, just in case you are wondering, C-H-A-I-R-S stands for the following:

C-Conquest- Your husband feels respected when you tell him verbally or in writing that you value his work efforts.

H-Hierarchy- Your husband feels respected when you praise his commitment to provide for and protect you and the family.

A-Authority- Your husband feels respected when you praise his good decisions and are gracious when he make bad decisions.

I-Insight- Your husband feels respected when you tell him upfront that you just need him to listen and don't complain later when he tries to fix you.

R-Relationships- Your husband feels respected when you tell him that you like him and then SHOW IT.

S-Sexuality- Your husband feels respected when you understand that he needs sexual release just as you need emotional release.




Everyday Justice - Live Oak Value #5

Justice is a big word with big meaning in our country. It goes right along with the other big ideals in American life such as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." I used to think of "justice" as something the legal arm of our government took care of - not something that I was necessarily responsible for taking part in also. Justice, however, doesn't only happen when people in positions of power take action. Justice can happen everyday by each of us simply making simple, thoughtful decisions.

All it takes for this world to become more just is for each of us to open our eyes and be willing to see the world around us. Instead of ignoring that woman on the street corner and assuming she is lazy or an addict, why don't you picture yourself in her place? Perhaps she left an abusive situation and has no family to fall back on for help. Perhas she is an addict - but even if she is, God does not want us to ignore her and pretend she isn't there.

Everyday justice can become a part of your whole day when you begin to open your heart and eyes to the world. When you go shopping do you think about how the goods you are buying have come to be available to you? Has the manufacturer paid a living wage to those who have produced that cute shirt or that particular brand of coffee? Has another section of forest been clear cut and burned to mass produce cheap meat or produce crops that cannot be grown there for more than a few seasons?

I believe that the little bit extra I spend to buy goods that have been produced in a way that won't harm the world God gave us stewardship over and enables a farmer to feed his family, send a sick child to the doctor, or give his children a chance at an education is worth it. The hassle of bringing all my own reusable bags to the store is worth it. Paying $2 more per pound of coffee is worth it. To me, being aware of how my actions and consumerism affect others is worth the extra effort and money because in some small way, it might make the world a better place.

Obviously, everyday justice is not just about how we shop. We need to be aware of how the issues of justice affect those who live arounds us as well. We don't have to look far to see need close to home. According to the Basic Needs Coalition of Central Texas, 40% of families in the Austin/Round Rock Major Metropolitan Area are living below the Central Texas Security Index. In regular language that means that 40% of the people living in our area (possibly including you) are living on the edge of economic catastrophe because they earn just enough (with a combined income of two working adults) to pay the bills.

Everyday justice is about taking off our blinders and looking carefully around us. We can reach out to the mom next door who is stressed out and needs a break from the kids for a few hours. We can step in when we see abuse. We can take over meals to folks who need them. We can teach our children by example to not fear those who are different from us whether that difference is based on skin color or socio-economic level. We can all donate regularly to social service providers close to us - such as food banks, shelters for the homeless or women and children.

We can do justice everyday if we see justice as something that can be accomplished in small, baby steps.

"...let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" - Amos 5:24


Monday, July 19, 2010

It's about who, not what - Live Oak Value #4

We live in a divided society where if you think differently from me or if I have different views than you, we tend to avoid each other and not develop friendships. It is interesting to me to watch how we have begun to assemble ourselves into smaller and smaller subgroups based on political and religious viewpoints or the absence of such views. Even on Facebook we classify ourselves as 'fans' of different things. Many of us feel enormous pressure to belong to a specific subtype.

I have always had a hard time giving myself completely over to one way of thinking and because of that I tend to straddle many different groups. I am a "stay at home Mom" and yet I also volunteer/work as an ordained minister. I am pretty liberal socially but very conservative theologically. I buy local and organic foods and recycle, but I will also buy paper plates when serving a crowd and spend way too much time driving all over Austin in my minivan.

The one belief that I do hold to and will not stray from is that my relationship with God is more important than anything else in this world. Because I believe that, it follows that my relationships with others are also more important than whether or not we agree on abortion rights, gun laws, or health care reform. We are meant to be relational people just as God, in whose image we are made, is relational. The mystery of the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - three and yet one, shows that the very nature of God is relational.

What we share above everything is our humanness: Our need to be in community with others. Yes, it might be easier to only be in community with people who think exactly like us, but where are the open arms of Christ in that?

The Old Testament book of Numbers speaks of community rules being the same for both the Israelite and the foreigner because they are "the same before God" (Numbers 15:13). In fact, throughout the Old Testament, we are continually reminded that we are all in this together - we live and die together as a community. We are convicted and forgiven of our sins as a community. (Meaning we can't stand by and watch harmful things happen and claim innocence because we didn't participate.) We are all here to work out our lives together, whatever our beliefs or actions. Separating ourselves into cliques does nothing other than encourage us to be prideful and vain because it encourages us to believe that we are better than someone else. Underneath everything, we are all the same - broken people longing to be accepted and loved. At Live Oak, we believe it is important to love everyone and develop relationships with everyone even if it is uncomfortable and difficult.


"If you have gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care - then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep spirited friends."
- Philippians 2:1


Monday, July 12, 2010

Authentic Living in the 'Burbs - Live Oak Value #3

It is pretty easy in our suburban culture to think that you are the only one who doesn't have it all together, but believe me - everyone has their own stuff to deal with that doesn't smell like roses.

It doesn't matter that the Smith's next door have children who are always clean and well behaved, a lawn that is free of weeds and an immaculate house - Mr. and Mrs. Smith have stuff that is just as troubling to them as your stuff is troubling to you. They just hide it - just like you hide yours.

No one is perfect. No one has it all together. Most of us have deep griefs as well as deep joys that we long to share with one another instead of mindlessly chatting about the weather or our kid's latest soccer game.

It seems socially unacceptable, however, to speak of anything that might imply you are anything less than 'great' publicly. It has somehow become a personal failure or a character flaw for someone to be having a difficult time with their job, their kids, their marriage, whatever. Even people who have recently been bereaved are expected to answer that they are doing 'fine' within a week of the funeral.

When we encounter people who are not hiding their 'issues' we tend to not want to be with them. I sometimes wonder if it is because we worry that it is catching: if we hang around people who are not holding it together, we might fall apart, too. Is it any wonder that the number of Americans who take antidepressants has doubled in the past decade?

Jesus, however, does not want us to live this way. Jesus wants us to share our burdens and troubles with each other because we are called by Him to help each other. We are not to be people living isolated within a community. We are to be people who live together in true community.

Live Oak church wants to be a place where people can form this kind of community. A community where each one of us is allowed to be authentic and still feel lovable and loved.

Being authentic is not any easier than being unauthentic. Just as it takes a tremendous amount of effort to create a facade that shows everything is great, it also take effort to be authentic. The pay-off for being authentic however, is being known and loved for who you truly are, not for who you pretend to be. Personally, I think that pay-off is worth the effort.

Authenticity allows for emotions and brokeness to be seen and shared by others. It pushes us to respect how others differ from us because we can't simply pretend we don't see those differences. It moves us out of our comfort zone to engage with our own and other's struggles involving things like grief, broken relationships, illness, or addiction.

We are all broken people living in a broken world. Pretending anything else is exhausting and depressing. There is a freedom that comes when we are able to admit that we all have problems and flaws and that it is okay to not be perfect. We should all have a place where we can be authentic, truly known, and accepted by others. A place where when someone asks, "How are you?", they really want to know and you really want to tell them.

I hope that Live Oak will be that place for you.


"They were continually devoting themselves to the apostle's teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer." - Acts 2:42


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

You are called - Live Oak Church Value #2

Did you know that every single one of us is called by God to do something? And, no, before you can even wonder what that means for you personally, it doesn't mean that you have to give everything you own away and jump on a plane to Africa. Most of us are not called to do something that will change the world as we know it: we are simply called to have positive impact on our own little corner of it. This is not something you have to stress about because God has already made the big impact by giving us Jesus.

When I was at the University of Texas I had no idea what I was going to do with my life but I knew I wanted it to be something big and impactful. I did want to go out and change the world for the better. I thought I would do great and important things to help and save people. When I ended up at Princeton Seminary to get a degree to allow me to be a minister I wasn't quite sure what I was doing there. I told my sister once that I thought I had accidentally gotten my neighbor's "call" and I wasn't supposed to be there at all. I did, however, persevere and ended up an ordained minister. I decided that it was through this venue that I would change the world but of course that hasn't happened yet, either. (what was that I said before about NOT needing to go to Africa?)

Over the past decade I have come to realize that I will neither save the world nor is it my job to do so. God is the only one who can and will save us. My job is to live the best life I can according to who I believe Jesus created me to be. For me that means being a wife and mom. For you, this could mean being a teacher, a stockbroker, a carpenter, or a data entry clerk. God has given each of us gifts and talents and utilizing these gifts with integrity and character is not easy - it is a real "calling". It means not turning away when someone needs something and it is not convenient monetarily or time-wise. It means having integrity in your dealings at work in all things, including office gossip, business deals, etc. For me, personally, it means being patient with my son when I am exhausted from mothering and giving my husband my full attention and time at the end of the day when I might rather be alone with a book. It also means committing to pray for them and how I treat them throughout the day.

Whatever job you do, you are called to do it in a godly manner with the gifts and talents that God has given you because God has called all of us to live this life for Him.


"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work." - 1 Corinthians 12: 4-6


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Love and Respect

I can honestly say that my wife and I have moved from being married and just roommates to being married and engaging in a blessed partnership. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we arrived at this point only after experiencing our share of peaks and valleys (probably more valleys than peaks). After extensive reading and talking and then more talking and reading...and praying, we decided that we wanted to compile some helpful resources that could be incorporated into a group format for married couples (more on that to come).

One of the sources that we are utilizing is Dr. Emerson Eggerichs' book "Love & Respect." Its a really cool book with its length mitigated by its ease to read and humorous stories. As you delve deeper into the book, you will realize that the contents is not rocket science and you will probably either find yourself saying "DUH!!!" or "This nonsense does not work because I have already tried it!!!!" Please be patient. The strength of this book lies in its ability to encourage couples to navigate its pages TOGETHER.

The author divides the book into sections that pertain to the couple, sections that pertain to only the husband, and sections that pertain only to the wife. The author's suggestion (and I agree) is that you and your partner should read everything.
So now that you have had a brief introduction, let me give you a small taste. Dr. Emeson uses the acronym C-O-U-P-L-E to illustrate how a husband can demonstrate love to his wife.

"Your wife will feel loved when you move toward her and let her know that you want to be close with a look touch, or smile."

"She wants to talk about things. She wants to have her problems out in the open for discussion in order to solve them."

"Your wife is vulnerable to you in at least two areas: (1) when you say things such as 'I just don't understand you...I wonder if it's worth it to try?' and (2) when you dishonor her by treating her less than an equal..."
"Without peace in you relationship, she [your wife] doesn't feel close, she doesn't feel you're open, and she certainly does not think that you are understanding."

"A woman always likes to hear her husband exclaim 'You alone are my love'."

"God has made women so that they want to be esteemed, honored, and respected. The way to honor your wife, as well as to honor you covenant with God, is to treasure her."

Take care and God bless



Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Live Oak Values 1 - Jesus Changes Everything

Today I am going to start a series about what Live Oak Church believes to be important and places great value on in our lives. All of Live Oak's values can be found with a short explanation on our website:

We believe "Jesus changes everything". When God became a human man named Jesus who would sacrifice himself to save every one of us, a life changing event took place for us all.

How many of you would die for someone? I know that I would give my life for my son or my husband but if you put me in a position to save a serial killer or even just someone I didn't like very much, my answer would most likely change.

Most of us operate based on a system of credits and debits. We have to earn each other's trust. We have to earn our position in society. We have to earn our position at our workplace. Even within our own families we jockey for position based on what we have or have not done. Most families, whether you want to admit it or not, have the "good child" and the "troubled or difficult child". When we are so used to having to earn our way through life it is hard to understand that Jesus simply offers us grace and forgiveness for free.

Jesus doesn't care what we have done, who we have hurt, or what we are ashamed of - at least not in a way that ranks us or compares us to others. To Jesus, we are all His children and we have all so totally screwed up there is no way back unless He makes that way for us. Jesus gave us that way back by dying for us on the cross. When Jesus died the agonizing death of the crucifixion, He took all of our shortcomings, mistakes, failings, sins - whatever you want to call them - upon himself so that in the eyes of God, we are perfect. We do not have to do anything to earn God's love and mercy, we simply have to believe.

When we can stand in the position of understanding that we are truly forgiven and made new, we can be transformed. We can drop all the baggage from our past that weighs us down and keeps us from making better choices in our future. We can love others without needing them to love us back because God gives us more love than we can comprehend. When we believe that Jesus truly cares for us and took all of our sins upon Himself that we might have eternal life, everything changes.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

I was talking to my sister on the phone tonight and she told me that she had heard on the radio this morning that according to Nasa, the world was going to end in 2012 because of solar flares. (Shades of the creepy movie Knowing or 2012 anyone?)

Now, that sentence had a way of freaking me out a little so I immediately started googling the words "NASA and end of world". The first hit was a headline that said exactly what my sister had told me she heard on the radio. Lucky for me, before I could really get myself all worked up, I noticed that the newspaper it came from was the Weekly World Inquistor. Not exactly the New York Times, folks.

Just below the link to the Weekly World Inquisitor was one to NASA which assures the public that the world is not going to end in 2012. In fact, NASA scientist David Morrison (Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, CA) has been pretty outspoken about all the 2012 end of the world fears. He says that many people tell him how scared their families are (adults and children) and that some people tell him they are thinking about committing suicide to avoid experiencing a catclysmic event. He goes on to say that "It is a sad testimonial that you need NASA to tell you that the world is not going to end." Now just in case you need to read these articles for yourself, here are the links: www.trendsupdates.com/tag/solar-flare-to-burn-earth ; www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2012.html ; (and if you need a good laugh) www.weeklyworldinquisitor.com/NASA-predicts-end-of-world.html .

As I was thinking about how quickly I, too, had started to panic at the news that NASA might have actually predicted the end of the world, I started to feel a little ashamed. Our desire to continue to live on earth and enjoy the "good life" is really just a symptom of our brokenness. Even if solar flares wiped out the earth in a blaze of tremendous size, we have nothing to be afraid of because we belong to Jesus and we are going to a much better place when we die. Whatever pain or suffering we experience here on earth, is nothing compared to the JOY we will have upon arriving at our eternal home.

The first 3 verses of Psalm 46 states, "God is our refuge and strength, and ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging."

I think there is a reason that is read often at funerals. We need to be reminded that this earth is God's earth. That we are God's children. God may not give us a happy ending in the short term but He will give us one in the long term if we are willing to call upon His name in faith.

" ' Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.' The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress." - Psalm 46: 10-11.



Monday, May 17, 2010

What are you praying for?

Much to the dismay of my husband (who loves me anyway), I am loud. I am the type of person whose laugh you can hear on the other side of a crowded restaurant and whose whisper does not communicate a secret. In fact, my whole family of origin is loud. When we get together it is one wild, crazy, overlapping sentances kind of time.

So, it is not going to be much of a surprise that I also yell when I lose my patience. By the time I have repeated myself to my son three times, I am at a pretty high volume. My wonderful husband pulled me aside a few weeks ago and told me that I needed to get the yelling under control because our 5 year old was turning into a yeller and that was not acceptable - particularly for a boy.

This was a very hard conversation for me because I am very sensitive to criticism as to how well I am parenting. I know I lose my patience and yell too quickly and I hate that about myself, but so far I have not been able to do much about it. Knowing this, Chris asked me specifically what actions I planned to take to fix this issue. The only thing I could come up with was saying that I would start praying about it several times a day. (Which after I said it made me feel the following: "DUH! Hello Ms. ordained minister - you think you could have come up with that a few years ago?")

So, for the past month I have been working really hard at praying several times during the day for God to help me have patience and to modulate my voice. Imagine my surprise (and horror) when one day last week after a particularly hectic morning my son asked, "Mom, why are you being so nice?" (Yes, I thanked God for the moment of conviction) I told him that I had been praying for God to help me be more patient and that I had been working really hard not to yell. Lee was quiet for a minute and then said, "Mom, when you pray to God tonight can you ask him to help you say "yes" whenever I ask for a new toy?"

My first impulse, which I swallowed, was to laugh. I saw, however, that God was giving me a teachable moment that I should take advantage of immediately. I very seriously said to Lee that if I prayed for that and God chose to help me do that, then we wouldn't have money to buy our food and clothing, pay for the house, the car, and help others who needed stuff more than we did. Lee responded, "Oh, I had forgotten about all that stuff."

It is a funny story, but it also made me think about what I pray for and what I should pray for....

God wants to help us become better at everything we do in our lives but in order to ask for help, we first have to admit there is a problem. When you pray, what are you praying for? Is there something you are leaving off of your prayer list because it is too close to your heart or because praying for something about yourself to change hits that pride button that we all have? God already knows our weaknesses and wants to help us through his strength. If we let Him do this for us, it not only makes us better people and better Christians, but it makes us better witnesses for God's grace and power.

"But he [the Lord] said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." - 2 Corinthians 12:9


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The eye of the needle

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Matthew 19:23-24

According to figures for 2009, the average American household income is $46,326.00 per year. I don't know if that seems like a lot or a little to you. (Just for clarity, the poverty line is currently set at $22,000 per year). If you make $100,000 a year, your family is in the top 15% of the nation. If you make $200,000 a year, you are in the top 3%. Now, I know those numbers seem really high - that is a lot of money, but compared to other countries, around the world, even those families firmly in the middle at just over $46,000 a year are sitting pretty.

According to the World Bank, in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, over 70% of the population lives on $2 or less per day. The vast majority of families in the world earn less than $10,000 a year.

The richest 25% of the world receives 75% of its goods and services. As you might expect the, the poorest 75% of the world receives the remaining %25 percent of goods and services. (http://ucatlas.ucsc.edu/income.php)

In addition to these saddening statistics, a recent study has clearly shown that the wealthier you are, the less likely you are to be generous (proportionately speaking) with your income. In other words, even though the amount the 'rich person' is giving away might be technically more than the actual amount the 'poor person' is giving, people with less money tend to give a higher percentage of their income away to help others.

Now that you have read through all the statistical soup I have thrown at you, I want to remind us that Jesus constantly tells us how wealth is an obstacle not only to our relationship with God, but to our task to bring God's Kingdom to fruition here on earth: The more we have, the more we want.

Taking that first step to rid ourselves of the shackles that tie us to our material goods is very difficult - we want the best for our children and we want to be 'normal' - even if that means we spend more than we should to make ourselves blend in with the rest of our neighbors.

Freeing ourselves from an attachment to materialism doesn't just happen - you have to plan it and stick with it even when gets painful. And it will get painful. If you are struggling with these issues here are some suggestions:
1) take the amount you have prayerfully decided to give to the church out of your budge at the 1st of the month and turn it in. That way you can't spend it - it's already gone.
2) walk around the store a few extra times just thinking about whether or not you really need that extra stuff - if not, put it back.
3) put some padding in your shopping budget - just $10 or $15 will make you feel like you can splurge every once in a while
4)ask God everyday what He wants you to do with HIS money.

We might not see it in our everyday life but we live in a hurting world. God is calling each of us to do something about it - and action is never cheap in time or money.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Do you want what you have or do you have what you want?

I recently read a line in a fictional book that stated, "It is better to want what you have than to have what you want."

Hmmmmm.... It is sort of a wierd statement but it makes a lot of sense. I was explaining this morning why Rome invaded Egypt to my 5 year old son (who is VERY into the Eyptian Playmobil playset right now and wanted to know why on the advertisment it had Roman centurions marching towards the pyramids). He didn't quite get it when I gave him the historical answer so we had the following conversation:
I asked him, "Do you pretty much always want new toys?" He said "yes." I then responded, "And do you want to give up your old toys in order to get the new ones?" "No." "And when you get the new ones do you stop wanting other new ones?" "No." (Ahhh...isn't it nice when your child plays right into your hands!)

I then went on to explain that all of us always want more than what we have because we are all sinful. We crave what we see if we do not have it. As you get older the toys just change and become bigger or emphemeral substances like power, acclaim, or beauty. There is a reason why the sin of coveting is included in the Ten Commandments!

How many of us constantly want something other than what we have but when we get it, we are not satisfied the way we thought we would be? I would be pretty surprised if someone can tell me they are 100% content in their life.

While this tendency to see the grass in someone else's yard as greener can lead us away from God, it can also lead us to Him. We are all longing for the empty space within us to be filled. We look to relationships, money, power, youth, beauty and all the other wonderful things that God created for us to fill that hole...but they don't. God created those things for us to delight in, but not to fill us. God is the only one who can fill those empty spaces and places within us AND He longs to do just that. God longs for us to call upon Him for peace and contentment rather than to look for it in His creation.

Before you log off today, scroll down and read Psalm 23. The next time you begin to want something that you don't have, look at what you do have and ask God to help you be satisfied.


Psalm 23
A psalm of David.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, [a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD


Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Light in the darkness

"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:5

In the days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we are called to think about Jesus' sacrifical death on the cross. It is a strange liturgical place to be - we mourn the death of Jesus and yet at the same time we also know that soon we will be celebrating his resurrection.

In the darkness of the night before Easter as I write this, I remember the first time I really experienced Lent the way I wish I always could. When I was in seminary I would visit a Greek Orthodox church for vespers on a regular basis. It was nice to just be someone in the worship service instead of the person leading (or learning to lead) the worship service. One year, along with some friends, I took part in most of the Holy week services.

I remember standing for hours during the very long Holy week services. I remember the heart wrenching sadness I felt on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday when Jesus was betrayed, beaten, humiliated, and then crucified - a terrible, tortuously long death by suffocation. I remember the priest draping all the icons and the altar in black cloth and the lights going out. On Holy Saturday, we stood vigil - waiting for midnight to come so that we could celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. It was a full sensory experience of Lent - the dark chapel, the procession led by the priest and altar boys with the congregation following the Holy Cross (or the Tree of Life as the Orthodox call it). We processed around the chapel three times just before midnight. As the clock struck twelve, the priest led us back to the front door and knocked upon it. When the door opened, the lights came on and all the black draping had been taken down. The joy that I felt at that moment was physical. Jesus was alive again! He had died for me and yet somehow, he had come back to life and would never leave me alone again.

Tonight, most churches are dark because we want to remember the great sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Tomorrow, however, the lights come on, the black comes down and the lilies of Easter will be seen and smelled everywhere.

I know (and Jesus knows) that Easter Sunday is not going to necessarily fix whatever is wrong in your life right now. Your loved ones might be ill and dying. Your marriage might be in a horribly difficult place. You might feel like a complete failure. But hang in there. Because "It's Friday but Sunday is coming" is not just for Easter. It is for the entirety of the Christian journey.

We live much of our lives in the shadow between dark and light, but we know that we will end our journey in the light. I know that God has given each of us hope to hold onto until we get there. Whether it is the joyful moment when the lights come back on in the church at midnight on Easter Sunday, a kind word of a friend or even a stranger, or the song that comes on the radio at just the right moment to give you a second wind - I know that God's light is trying to find a way to shine in your life.

In the happiness of Easter Sunday when we all get dressed up and have egg hunts and have the best meal since Christmas, I hope that we can also remember the joy of God's light that shines in whatever darkness this world might give us.



Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Who moved my cheese?

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of reading, "Who moved my cheese?" by Dr. Spencer Johnson. For those of you who haven't read the book, the plot is as follows:

Two little people (Hem and Haw) and two mice (Sniff and Scurry) live in a maze. Everyday at a certain time, the mice and little people go to a certain place in the maze (Cheese Station C) to get cheese. Over time, the little people develop a routine around getting the cheese, including taking their friends to see the cheese and even making future plans that involve the cheese. The mice, on the other hand , recognize that the situation is not permanent and prepare themselves.

One day the mice and the little people arrive at Cheese Station C to discover that all of the cheese is gone. The mice, having forecasted this event, set into the rest of the maze to find more cheese. The little people, on the other hand, are devastated and stay in Cheese Station C, hoping that more cheese will miraculously appear. What follows is a wonderful analogy of how people plan and react to change in their lives. Some, like the mice, prepare for it, embrace it, and thus can enjoy it. Others, like Hem and Haw, can be crippled by it.

We all acknowledge that change is inevitable in our lives, regardless of whether it is desired or not. How does the idea of change, however, present itself in our walk with God and His Son? Do we embrace it or do we accept it with conditions? I think that we, as Christians, either consciously or subconsciously, use God's consistency and unconditional love for us as a reason not to embrace the change that he is catalysing in us. Let me put it another way. God's plan for us requires that we experience an evolution. Sometimes, we resist that change or evolution because we have grown too comfortable with where we are spiritually. In order for us to carry the cross or even receive certain blessings, we have to change.

The crappy part of it all (Caz, can I say crappy?) is that most of the catalysts that God uses to promote change in us are uncomfortable. He uses things that stretch us; things that force us to recognize that we cannot conquer the deeds of the adversary without being in the spirit. So we must embrace change.

The spectacular part is that God is changing us. Each and every day, He is shaping us more and more into the image of his Son, so that when people look at us, they see Him. Just knowing that plan gives me the strength to, not only endure change, but also to understand it, embrace it, and yearn for it.

Thank you God for continuously moving my cheese.



Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Is waiting enough?

When I was younger, I had far less patience than I do now (No comments from my mom or my wife please). In fact, my mom told me that "I can't wait" were the three most used words in my young, impatient vocabulary. "I can't wait until I get a bike" or "I can't wait until I graduate from elementary school" or "I can't wait until I have a have a mustache". The list of "I can't waits" was endless. Without a suitable intervention, this three-word mantra evolved into an ingrained philosophy of impatience. "I can't wait to graduate from college" or "I can't wait go to grad school or "I can't wait to have a job." I was living a life that had become a slave to benchmarks.

In looking back on this period, I came to several humbling revelations. First, life does not need my help to fly by. Life is perfectly fine with taking all of my unused and unappreciated measurements of time, balling them up into unusable currencies, and letting them roam the recesses of my brain, to be retrieved only by guilt and angst.

Second, we must truly appreciate the instances when the Lord has asked us to wait on Him. I know that I deeply struggle with waiting on the Lord. I struggle with listening to Him telling me to wait. I also struggle with asking for the grace and patience to be able to wait. I am sure that we would all agree that a good Christian is able to wait on the Lord when they are asked to.

Finally and most importantly, if we are to truly understand the wonderful relationship that the Lord, our father, wants with us... we have to do more than just wait. We also need to APPRECIATE the period in which we have been called to wait. Let me put it another way... I would be so insanely upset if the Lord asked me to wait on Him and I was too impatient to see how he was growing and blessing me during this time.

Waiting on the Lord should not be considered something that stretches our faith but rather appreciated as an opportunity to receive a wonderful gift from our Father.



Saturday, March 13, 2010

Perfectionism 101

"He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." -Psalm 103:10-12

I don't know about you, but I have a real problem with being a sinner. Basically, I want to be perfect - AND I want everything I am responsible for to be perfect (including my work, marriage and child). Yes - I know what you are thinking..."Gosh, her poor family!" Yes, I put a lot of pressure on them. But I also put an enormous amount of pressure on myself.

I was on the elliptical machine this morning (striving for the perfect figure), trying to figure out how to help my son be more attentive at school (to make him the perfect student) when I started praying to God for help to perfect my life and the lives of those for whom I am 'responsible'.

Just about then God interrupted me to tell me to back off of trying to do His job. A song came over my ipod and reminded me that I am not perfect - only God is perfect. It also reminded me that I am forgiven and it doesn't matter where I have been, what I have done, and what the world thinks of me (or my work, or my marriage, or my son) because God loves me even when no one else does. He even loves me when I am a complete failure.

In fact, God loves me so much that he became that perfect parent that I keep trying and failing to become. My Father God took responsibility for all my imperfections and sins upon himself; dying on a cross in order to do so. AND YOUR Father God did this for you, also.

So, if you are not a perfectionist and have no trouble acknowledging that you are a total sinner and fail everyday - than I give thanks to God for that attitude. BUT if you are like me and hate those facts, then I encourage you to read Psalm 103 on a regular basis. As the Sanctus Real song Forgiven states: "When I don't measure up to much in this life I am a treasure in the arms of Christ because I am forgiven."

Give yourself some grace. Be a beloved child of God rather than trying to be a god.