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It’s Just What We Do in This Family

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Parenting has given me such concrete examples of deeper spiritual truths.

Like this one:  Knowing what family we belong to helps us understand what it looks like to represent that family in the world.  

The conversation in our house has gone something like this:

Daughter:  “But mom, my friends get to…”

Mom:  “Well, sweetheart, in this family we…”

There are certain things we do as Mueller’s. There are certain ways we act or behave.  So, if you are a Mueller and you belong to our family, you need to know we aim to forgive generously.  Because you’re a Mueller, you should be aware we expect you to respond a certain way—we think about others’ feelings, we look for ways to serve them and we do our best to love people well.  As a Mueller, you will have certain rhythms— Friday night is family night.  You’ll find us making pizzas and watching a movie or playing board games.  Because you’re a Mueller, you need to recognize that we dress a certain way.  (I can see this conversation getting more real as she gets older!)

There are certain things we do, certain things we are because we are Muellers.  Being a part of this family hopefully helps our kids have a framework to know how to live, how to act, how to treat people.  They certainly won’t get it right every time, just as they see us not get it right every time.  But we hope that, over time, knowing they are a Mueller becomes a launching pad that helps them live into the fullness of their potential.

What’s true in the natural is often true in the spiritual.

If we don’t understand who we are, how can we possibly represent the Father accurately in the world around us?  

Understanding our Covenant relationship with the Father is the starting place for living a fruitful and impactful life on mission.

Covenant is how God wants to relate to us.  He’s our Dad.  He’s the Father of our family.  He calls us His own, give us His name and access to all His resources.  We are His.  We get to know Him and be known by Him.  He created us in His image to look like Him, to be a reflection of our Dad in heaven.

Part of looking like Him is to live as sent ones—just as Jesus was the first Sent One, sent from God the Father to be a representation of the Kingdom of God on earth.  Just as God the Father sent Jesus, He is sending us to represent Him in the world around us and to look like Him to the world around us.

When we truly understand WHO we are, living a naturally missional life and being a part of expanding the Kingdom of God in the world around us is simply a response to our truest identity.

When we realize who the Father says we are—son or daughter of the Most High, child of God, heir to the throne, one who is protected, defended, redeemed and restored—being a living representation of God to the world around us is not just what we do in this family.  It’s who we are.

You have a Covenant identity.  The Father gives it to you.  Living missionally in your everyday life: loving your neighbors in the name of Jesus, laying your hands on the sick and praying for them to be well, having a deep desire that God would show up in your normal everyday interactions—well, that’s just what we do in this family.

It’s simply a response to who you really are.

It is who are.  It’s how you’re made.  His imprint is on you.

What does it look like for you today to live into a more complete picture of your Covenant identity in your neighborhood, in your workplace and in your everyday life?

The Best is Yet to Come

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“The best is yet to come” is a phrase I have heard many times in my life but over the last couple of years I have found it hard to believe through certain seasons of challenge and difficulty.   As I sat holding my sleeping toddler on Christmas Day evening the tears started rolling down my face as I remembered the last two Christmases and how they had both been tinged with grief and sadness.

Christmas 2013 was just eight weeks after we lost our infant son.  On Christmas 2014 we had lost my grandma just a few days before.  I had come to the end of both those years exhausted and heartbroken.  I honestly couldn’t see past my grief some days.  But as I held my little boy this Christmas I realized how much hope I had this year.  It wasn’t because everything had been perfect—2015 has had its own struggles and challenges.  Yet it has also been a year where I have begun to see the answer to many prayers, some of which I had never even spoken out loud.

As I started to reflect and pray about the New Year ahead for 2016 I felt a new level of resilience and strength that I haven’t felt in a long time.  2015 has not only been a year of answered prayers but has also been a significant year in the healing of my heart and body.  Until you experience grief, you never realize how long it takes to heal and what an effect it has on you physically, emotionally and spiritually.

After experiencing years of infertility and miscarriage and then losing our newborn son I was bruised and battered from the battle and was almost “waiting for the next shoe to drop.”  When many things go badly in a short period of time that feeling is a natural human reaction.  Every part of me was exhausted and there were many days it took all my energy just to get out of bed and face the day.  But slowly over time I began to heal physically, emotionally and spiritually.

As 2015 began I felt like it would be a significant year but I couldn’t say how or why.  Then in the early summer of last year it became very clear why this year would be significant in more ways than one.  In May God called us to a new city and a new job. He called us to continue to trust him on the journey on which he was taking us.  When we said yes he began to show how much he loved us and reminded us how faithful he really is.  I’d like to say that I didn’t need him to prove to me that he was trustworthy but in my frail human nature there were many times over the past few years that I felt he had let me down.  Even though he had shown his faithfulness a thousand times before he also knew what my heart needed.

That’s the incredible thing about God, he doesn’t just love me, he loves me extravagantly.  He doesn’t just provide for my needs, he exceeds my expectations and gives me more than I could have ever asked for. He provided for every detail of our move—from the jobs we got to the house we live in to the wonderful family who helps look after Jackson.

I think the biggest thing I will take from 2015 is that the Father loves us in our brokenness and continues to lavish his generosity on us even when we are unsure and find it hard to trust him.  He builds us up piece by piece and makes us stronger than we were before.  People sometimes tell me I’m strong and brave because of all that I’ve been through but honestly it’s just my Heavenly Father in me that makes me strong.  Without him I am frail and broken but in him I am whole, brave and strong.

So as I step in 2016 I step with new strength.  I feel like he is calling me to be decisive and determined this year, to take on new ground.  The word he gave me for this year is “resolute.”  Resolute means determined, faithful, and unwavering.

As I dug more deeply into what that word meant I found that the synonyms of it are faithfulloyalconstantstaunch and steadfast.  As I read each of those definitions the Lord began to highlight all the areas in my life that he wanted me to be resolute.

He has also given me the verse 1 Corinthians 15: 58 as a theme for this year.

The NIV translation says:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

The Message says:

 With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground.  And don’t hold back.  Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.”

As I read that verse I felt the Lord calling me to look at the areas of my life where I do things out of obligation or guilt or out of misplaced responsibility.  He revealed to me that if those are my reasons then it will always feel like a waste of time but if I am doing them for him with determination then I will have a whole new perspective.  If they are things that he has called me to do then this is the attitude I should do them with.  But if they are not what he has called me to do then I should let someone else do them or maybe just let them go.

I don’t know how the last year has been for you.  Maybe it has been filled with heartache.  Maybe it has been filled with joy.  Or maybe it has been almost an even mixture of both.  Whatever it has been, I urge you to reflect on the last year and all that it has taught you and then ask God to show you what he has for you in 2016. Maybe this new year will be about healing for you or maybe it will be about breakthrough.  Maybe God will speak to you about strength or maybe persistence.  Just allow the Lord to show you and then dig deep into what he is calling you into this year…. the best is yet to come!

 

Ornaments of Gratitude

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It was dark. We spoke softly, careful not to wake our son. After hours of screaming in pain, our one-year-old was finally asleep in the hospital metal crib next to us.

My husband was telling me of an experience that he had while traveling. He had heard  someone explain a special tradition they had. Each year they would hang an ornament on the Christmas tree that would symbolize something they were grateful for that particular year.

His whispering enthusiasm touched my heart and we agreed to incorporate this into our own lives. We would look out for reasons to be thankful and be grateful for everything good that we were entrusted with.

It was a game changer. Sometimes you make a decision without realizing the impact it will have on your life. This time, we sensed that it was important, that it might actually change our lives.

The tingling, expectant sensation. The sweet fragrance lingering in the room. The taste of hope on our lips as we offered our thanksgivings. The heavy presence of a gentle, Holy Spirit resting upon us.

Something radically shifted. And still, everything appeared to be exactly the same.

We still did the same things. Our daily lives were wrapped up in the intensive medical care that our son needed. We were just as exhausted as we had been. But we held on to our decision of being grateful.

Little by little small sprinkles of light began to work their way into our darkness. We treasured the unexpected phone call, the friendly smile from a stranger, the encouraging words from a friend. We journaled every good experience in a diary to our son. Some of the pages were smudged by happy tears. We celebrated each and every day that was not spent in a hospital. We gave thanks to the giver of all good gifts. Tiny sprinkles of light turned into sparks of glory.

Each year we would hang our special ornament on the Christmas tree, celebrating God’s faithfulness toward us. Our circumstances had not changed. Adrian was still in a wheelchair, he was still very ill and his prognosis was just as bleak as before. But then again, God had not changed either. He was still the same All-mighty, all-loving, always present Papa that we knew and loved.

Over the years, the ornaments of gratitude would gradually dominate our Christmas tree. A jet plane for the year we were picked up by an air ambulance and taken from one country to another for an emergency surgery. A nest for the year our family was blessed with three more children. An angel for the year all our kids were able to participate in a Christmas play, including Adrian who would be resting in a beanbag on stage during the entire performance. He was actually able to be a part of something!

Each year we would go through every single ornament and talk about what we experienced through the years, as we raised an altar for our God, bragging about His goodness toward us. He was so present. The branches would bow under the weight of the ornaments, and our hearts would bow under the weight of our gratitude and His glory.

We all carry the weight of something. What do you carry? What weighs down the branches of your tree? You are invited to turn the weight of your heart into praise. Not denying your circumstances, but embracing the One who is present. Always present. Always faithful.

Religious Co-Dependency in a Church-Shopping Culture

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(An Excerpt from Empowering Missional Disciples) 

By Bob Rognlien

How Did We Get Here?

Do you ever read the New Testament and wonder why the church of our day seems so different from the very first church? Two thousand years ago Jesus sparked a missional movement which grew from a houseful of disciples in Capernaum and a Spirit-filled room in Jerusalem into a worldwide movement that overcame the most powerful temporal forces on earth. When we look at churches struggling in much of the world today we have to admit something critical has been lost. What happened to this contagious viral movement which transformed the greatest authorities and powers of its day?

In 3DMovements we describe the root cause of this radical decline as “spiritual feudalism.” In the summer of the year AD 313 the leaders of the Roman Empire issued the Edict of Milan which proclaimed freedom of worship for Christians so that “any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule.” The strategy of a modern pragmatist comes to mind, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” Emperor Constantine effectively managed to pour the dynamic, transforming movement of Jesus into the mold of Roman patronage, resulting in the institutional forms of church that have endured until our own day.

From that point on the church began to reflect the shape of this patron-client culture, rather than the other way around. Almost imperceptibly the clergy began to adopt a posture of patronage toward the laity, taking on the responsibility for spiritual leadership and oversight, while expecting from their clientele obligatory obedience, financial support, and attendance at public services. Even as the Roman Empire melted into medieval Europe, this system of patronage continued in the feudal system of lords and serfs.

Now the die was cast that would shape the forms of Christianity for the coming millennium. A kind of spiritual amnesia regarding the pattern of life set by Jesus and his first followers was institutionalized. Patronage came to define the roles of clergy and laity in the church. Somewhere along the way, following Jesus and living as part of an extended family on mission was replaced by church attendance and sacramental observance. Followers of the Way, the Truth, and the Life were co-opted by the ways of this world rather than the Kingdom Jesus established. But there was a still deeper kind of amnesia yet to come …

From Client to Consumer

We can see the dynamics of spiritual feudalism at work today in all the denominations that trace their historical roots back to European soil. One sign of this culture of dependency is how often members of these churches feel interpreting the Bible is beyond them and so they rely on their pastors to “feed them” spiritually. In this we see the continuation of the patron-client relationship that stretches back some 1700 years. But the movement of Jesus was poured into yet another cultural mold.

The colonization of North America provided fresh soil into which a new society and culture could be planted. Unfettered from the feudal system of their homeland, these pioneers began to establish a cultural system valuing individual responsibility and initiative over status and privilege. Informed by thinkers like John Locke and Adam Smith, they began the great experiment of a democratic nation based on a free market economy.

Not only did this New World provide greater opportunities for geographical, political, and economic exploration, but for spiritual innovation as well. Multiple waves of revival, from the so-called “Burned-Over District” in upstate New York to a tiny church on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, give testimony to the entrepreneurial climate of this new world. It is these kinds of innovative movements in America over the past century that have given rise to new networks, movements, and denominations that don’t trace their heritage back to Europe or Rome.

Those churches that sprang from American soil have avoided certain aspects of the feudal model, but unfortunately many have been co-opted by another system. Whereas Constantine poured the early Christian movement into the mold of Roman patronage, many American churches have been profoundly shaped by the mold of democratic capitalism. Ours is a free market system where “church shopping” makes complete sense to most people because the focus is on meeting the perceived needs of individuals. Over the past fifty years churches in America have continued this pattern by placing an ever-greater emphasis on attracting new members by providing staff-led programs tailored to the specific interests of various constituencies.

In the middle of the last century American churches began offering specialized programs targeted at the heart of the family: children’s and youth ministry. Eventually they began hiring specially trained staff members to provide professional quality programming for literally every stage of life. The “seeker targeted” churches of the last few decades took this free market approach to a new level as they began to aggressively market their services and programs to those who had little or no background or interest in the Christian faith or church.

Eventually, many mainline and even European churches also sought to implement this kind of client-driven methodology to reverse their catastrophic declines in church participation and faith. Even now most church-planting strategies still focus on how to attract new people to the various services they can provide. Those churches in America that were able to attract large numbers of people to their services and programs gave hope that this approach was the silver bullet to renew the Christian movement at the end of the twentieth century. But aside from a handful of celebrity-level exceptions, this is proving to be a short-lived hope.

With about 4% of the Millennial generation in America currently attending church services on a regular basis and every other demographic category declining significantly as well, it is clear this attractional model is falling woefully short. Apparently we need more than a better marketing plan or a new program to solve this crisis. What began as a dynamic grass-roots movement in Palestine that nearly conquered the Roman Empire gradually became a theology in Greece, an institution in Rome, a state church in Europe, and now a non-profit service provider in America. The question is: what will the next chapter of our story be?

Consumeristic Feudalism

On a recent trip to England my wife Pam and I spent a day touring the massive estate of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, called Chatsworth House. Built in 1549 by Sir William Cavendish, the thirty breathtaking rooms of this three-story manor are lavishly adorned with sculpted marble, fitted with countless gilt-carvings, and stuffed with classical art. Surrounded by a thousand acres of fantastically sculpted gardens and five miles of walking paths, a day is hardly enough to take in the spectacle of this monument to the feudal upper class.

After seven straight hours of marveling at the lavish lifestyle that produced such a place, the irony was inescapable when the tour ended in a typical tourist gift shop, filled with postcards, t-shirts, beach towels, and mugs, each bearing the crest of the esteemed Cavendish family. I felt like I was exiting a ride at Disneyland! Combined with the steep admission price and various options for audio tours and added attractions, this naked display of capitalism in a shrine to aristocratic privilege made me laugh out loud.

It is natural for the Duke and Duchess to employ the business strategies of a free-market economy to keep their lavish estate operating, because the days of feudalism are long gone. This is the only way such a relic from the past can be preserved and even that may not be enough to keep pace with the steady decay of such an unwieldy monument. The day may well come when the Chatsworth House has to be converted into swanky condos if public fascination with the luxuries of the past begins to wane.

And this is exactly the predicament that my church and many like it face today. We have inherited a long-extinct feudal system in which the established members function much like religious serfs, offering their attendance and tithes, while clergy like me are expected to offer spiritual provision and protection. But, along with the Cavendish family, we find ourselves living in a time when feudalism no longer operates, and a free-market economy rules the day. As a result, we search endlessly for ways to market ourselves to a population that sees us as a quaint throwback from an irrelevant past—a far cry from those first followers of Jesus who converted and transformed a violent pagan empire!

Those churches and leaders that sprang from American soil and managed to avoid inheriting a primarily feudal culture are faced with a different, though similar predicament. By proclaiming the message of Jesus in an individualistic framework with a pioneering spirit, these newer churches were able to establish themselves and made significant inroads in the second half of the last century. At one time simply worshiping in non-religious buildings with rock bands and casually dressed preachers who proclaimed a clearly applicable and empowering message was enough to attract increasing numbers of attendees, but not anymore.

Growing postmodern skepticism and resistance to any kind of organized religion are rapidly overtaking the gains of culturally relevant expressions of Christian faith. A deeper cultural shift is taking place that is leading down the path towards a thoroughly secular and ultimately pagan society. The Christian movement has come to a crucial crossroads; what the New Testament calls a “kairos.” We must come to terms with the fact that much of our current way of doing church is not rooted in the pattern set for us by Jesus and his first followers. This is the core problem threatening the viability of the church today.

Beyond Feudalism and Consumerism

Many people who are fascinated with Jesus are no longer willing to engage with his church because we have strayed so far from the life Jesus modeled for us. The time has passed where we can fall back on simply trying to make our current ecclesial forms more culturally relevant. There is no hipper, cooler, more tech-saavy way of reaching the newer generations—or their parents for that matter. Nor is going “old-school” and reverting back to comfortable or curious traditions the answer. We are not going to market or incentivize our way out of this dilemma. The only answer is radical—we must go back to the beginning of our story to recover the roots of Jesus’ movement.

Every student of postmodernity knows that in many ways the 21st century is more like the 1st century than the 20th century was. Will this next era of church history be looked back on as another “dark ages” for the church or an era of Christian reformation and renaissance? It all depends on how we respond to the challenge. Will we cling to a long-lost feudal system by focusing on the number of our members and the amounts of their tithes? Will we be co-opted by a consumer culture through one more marketing campaign or the latest “relevant” program to boost attendance and offerings? Or will we reclaim the three key elements of the movement Jesus began: living in the authority and power Jesus passed on to his followers, multiplying disciples as Jesus did, and learning to live by that power as families on mission?

Jesus’ call is simple and clear: “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people” (Mark 1:17). Simply put, Jesus was about empowering missional disciples and those who follow him today will do the same. If we are willing to go back and relearn how to follow the pattern Jesus set for us, we will discover what it means to be part of that powerful movement by which God is redeeming the whole world. Come join us on this great adventure!

How do you know if you are discipling someone? 

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“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Those were the words uttered by the great philosopher Confucius in around 500 BC and yet they ring ever more true today. If you are unsure about that, just take a look around at the amount of books, blog posts or phone apps available to you that are designed to “streamline” or “simplify” our everyday living. They are expressions of this desire in us to recapture something that’s been lost.

Quite often, my observation is that discipleship is in danger of becoming very complicated as well. Perhaps that’s why so many of us have struggled at points with feeling confident that we are actually being discipled or discipling someone else. Maybe instead of being simple and repeatable, it’s sometimes felt complex and elusive.

So what are some simple ways to know if you are discipling someone? Well here are a few ideas based on trying to copy what I see Jesus doing:

If I you’re discipling someone….

  • You are offering them invitation and challenge

Invitation is about welcoming someone further into relationship with you and opening up your everyday life to them.  Leah shared some great thoughts on this topic a few weeks ago.  In this way, they are also able open up their lives to you, to receive your encouragement and wisdom. As the saying goes, often people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. If discipleship happens through relationship, are you growing relationship with that person?

Challenge involves helping someone see where they have the opportunity to grow and often the barriers that are stopping that happening. It’s also about walking the sometimes wobbly, tough, or scary journey with them to help them see breakthrough and live in to that opportunity so that it becomes reality. Part of discipling someone is challenging them to become all they are called to be and keeping them accountable to what they have decided to do.

Invitation and challenge work together to bring someone into a healthy discipling relationship.

Are you offering both invitation and challenge?

  • They are growing in both character and competency

Disciples are people who are becoming like Jesus (character) and learning to do the things Jesus could do (competency).  Both internal and external expressions are really important. So if we are looking to disciple someone, we should be helping them to process their personal spiritual journey and walk with God as well as their everyday family, workplace, community life.  Another way to express that might be to say growing in both Covenant identity and Kingdom purpose. Jesus calls us to embrace both. So our discipleship should reflect that balance.

Are you processing character and competency issues?

  • They are learning what you have learned

When Jesus commissioned his disciples in Matthew 28, he told them to “teach everything I have commanded you”. All the believers had to pass on was what they knew themselves. They couldn’t teach stuff they didn’t know! If we are discipling someone, we should be seeing them experience the same truths, lessons, wisdom and practices that we have learned. It doesn’t mean their life is a carbon copy of ours, rather it means that they are able to inherit things that we have learned, stand on our shoulders, and go even further in living those things out.

Are you sharing your own learning?

  • They know what God is saying to them at the moment and what they are going to do about it

Where discipleship can get a bit vague and messy is if we don’t stick to the simple principle of asking the same two questions:

  • What’s God saying to you in this?
  • What are you going to do about it?

The danger could be that on the one hand, we talk in endless circles about a situation and the deep reflections we are having on scriptural truths that apply in this instance, but never actually put them in to practice. Conversely, we could just rush to identify an issue and try to offer a “solution” or quick fix without really allowing God to speak into the process or for the person we are discipling to take ownership of what they think they need to do. Disciples are people who are learning to answer these two questions in simple but deep relationship with God and others.

Are you keeping it simple and asking the same two questions?

Drowning in a Sea of Extroverts?

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Pam Rognlien serves with her husband, Bob, as leaders of 3DM West, and in the Footsteps of Jesus and Footsteps of Paul Experiences.

Drowning in a Sea of Extroverts?

I just love how God has made us each with unique quirks, preferences, and styles of expression!  I love being around people who are not like me—I need their perspectives to help stretch my viewpoints, solve problems in ways I wouldn’t consider and just plain live out life in ways that inspire me!

But have you ever noticed how those inspirational differences can sometimes turn into the bane of your existence?  Let’s consider just one of those differences—introverts and extroverts, and how they either swim with ease or gasp for air in the sea of Christian community.

God’s pronouncement in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone” rings true to me as I have experienced life.  I grew up in a family of mostly quiet, introverted people.  I gave my life to Christ at age 16.  My new life in Christ was first lived out in a Christian community in upstate New York, and then with a Christian mission organization overseas.

Compared to my relatively quiet family, I enjoyed the excitement of community living, experiencing a variety of personalities and opportunities to grow in my Christian faith.  We would sing, evangelize, work, create and worship together which formed very strong bonds of love between us.  We were mostly single adults, and had the freedom to choose to be together, or alone, as we wished.  I knew I enjoyed quiet time by myself, but I also enjoyed the joy of gathering in groups.

 “God places the solitary in families and gives the desolate a home in which to dwell”

Psalm 68:6

Soon the blessing of marriage and children came along—the deepest longings of my heart were suddenly fulfilled!  But, as an introvert, I am energized by time alone and my husband, Bob, is energized by being around lots of people.  I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say he is an uber-extrovert!  We also have two sons; one is extroverted, the other is not.

I first noticed my need for “personal space” boundaries had come to a head when our sons were young, around 7 and 9 years old.  One day I found myself walking out the front door after Bob’s return from work, heading to the car, leaving their seemingly incessant questions and requests ringing in my ears and muttering to myself “NOT AVAILABLE!  NOT AVAILABLE!”  I don’t recall if I actually drove somewhere or just sat in the car; all I knew was I needed time to myself, right away!

I always knew Bob and I had very different personalities, which I viewed as the charm that attracted us to each other.  Somehow I failed to register the impact of our premarital personality analysis results, or hear the kind suggestion from our pastor who said we might face challenges ahead given the fact that we were exact opposites on all accounts.  I had stars in my eyes and wedding dresses on my mind, never imagining our differences could be anything but a bonus, and adorable!

These differences popped up when planning vacations.  My ideal was a book on a quiet beach.  His was being surrounded by family and friends all the time, the more, the merrier!  I saw it as a sign he didn’t love me anymore, and he must have thought I hated him, his friends and his family. None of that was true, of course.

Trying to put a social calendar together between us was also a very delicate balancing act.  My preference would be getting together with friends two times a month; his preference was five nights a week!  Early in our marriage, I must admit, I won the tug of war over that issue.  Our compromise evolved to the point that if he wanted more entertaining dates than I did, he would have to handle the details, and I would join as desired.  It seemed OK, but still made me uncomfortable to have people in my home without being “in charge.”

About eight years ago my husband and I began journeying with some Christian brothers and sisters from 3DM, going deeper into what it means to live out lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.  It meant offering my home as a place for hospitality.  It meant there would be groups of people in my home, even two nights in a row!  We ended up renovating our home to create space to accommodate larger groups of people for Missional Community.  I was caving in to the reality that this wasn’t going to change, and it was the right thing, but how could I do this without being overwhelmed?

Our friends from 3DM reminded us of the instructions Jesus gave to His disciples on this very point—abiding and bearing fruit.  To teach the concept that Jesus spoke about in John 15 they used a semi-circle, a line etched out by a pendulum swinging between times of bearing fruit and abiding.  We start with rest, causing us to grow, which produces fruit.  We enjoy the time of fruitfulness until that season is over, when pruning occurs, directing us back to a time of rest once again.  And so the pendulum swings.  I like to say the semi-circle transformed my marriage.  It brings health to both me, as an introvert and Bob, as an extrovert, pushing us out of our fleshly preferences, into a rhythm that gives life all around—a life worth imitating.

Our culture is bent towards the belief that the more friends you have and interact with, the more successful you are.  A job interviewer will always consider a prospective employee’s “people skills.” It seems equally a banner of success if one can easily float among groups of people, able to talk on any topic at the drop of a hat, and keep smiling.  In the book The Introvert Advantage Marti Olsen writes, “We live in a culture that caters to and extols extroverts.  We definitely learn that extroversion is the way we should be” (p. 54).  

Now, looking back over the past 29 years of marriage, 25 of them as a pastor’s wife, and the launching of two awesome human males that are adding value to our world order, I can say there are skills, tools, and wisdom needed for introverts to navigate the waters of Christian community without sinking into despair.  Yes, extroverts, you CAN get too much of a good thing!  (Because hanging out with people IS a good thing, introverts!)  Some “water wings” that have helped me navigate these waters have been:

  • Choose time with people in small groups, as well as large.  I find I really enjoy time with 5-8 people, and can have very meaningful interaction with them for quite a while without pulling my hair out.  Be intentional about choosing to spend your social energy allotment here.
  • I rely on Bob’s ability for marathon time with people (large groups or small) so I can pull out of the crowd if I find my well of “people reserves” running dry.  I’ll just quietly slip out for a while, take some deep breaths, read a book, check in on Words with Friends, and then return when I can honestly enjoy the group again.  He’s still at it—and the group never missed me!  If you’re single, go with an extroverted friend who can spell you in large social settings.
  • Find one person or a small group within a large group with whom you can have deeper conversation.  You’re not the only introvert in the room!  You may find someone else, like yourself, who would prefer a one-on-one visit, making the large-group gathering a win for both of you.
  • Release yourself from guilt!  Celebrate the handprint of God on you and others!  I recommend a great book by Adam S. McHugh called Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture.

I have been amazed by the thanks I receive after speaking at Family on Mission Workshops with honestly about these struggles.  I know the idea of gathering groups of people together on mission for God can produce hives for some (quite literally), and not because they don’t love the idea!  They just can’t imagine how they could function amidst a group, enjoy it and be used by God in that context.  Fear not; you have a place, and God wants to use you.  But don’t use the term “introvert” as an excuse to tell God what you can and cannot do.  God wants you to live in healthy rhythms, and that means being part of a family that loves you and one that you can love.  It may look different than your extroverted best friend’s way of doing it, but there is a way that fits you—so dive in!

Making the Most of the Holidays with Kids

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It’s not always easy to make the holidays meaningful for our kids.  Take it from me.  I learned the hard way.

A few years ago my daughter’s birthday fell on Thanksgiving.  We had cake and presents first thing in the morning, then shifted gears to prepare for a traditional dinner with family.  Before we knew it, the house was flooded with relatives we hadn’t seen in ages, and we spent the whole afternoon playing games, watching football and catching up.

Later that night, when I tucked my daughter into bed, I asked her if she’d had a good Thanksgiving.  She gave me a confused look and said, “It was Thanksgiving?”

She thought the whole day had been about her–her birthday, her presents, her celebration.  I couldn’t blame her.  It was an epic parenting failure.  In the busyness of preparing for the holiday, we had never talked about what we were celebrating and why.

Even without a birthday thrown into the mix, the busyness of the holidays can make it tough for parents to keep family discipleship on the front burner.  We want the holidays to be spiritually significant, but how can we do it in a way that’s light and easy?

We find a clue in Deuteronomy 6.  That’s the verse where God tells His people to impress His commands on their kids.  However, the liberating part about this verse is how God says to do it.

“Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7 NIV)

In other words, just keep doing what you’re doing, but use it all as an opportunity to pass on your faith to your kids.  If we want to build God’s word and God’s ways into the hearts of our children, we have to weave them into the fabric of everyday family life. It has to be integrated into our daily rhythm.  It has to become who we are.

Despite the hectic nature of the holidays, it’s a prime opportunity to put this into action.  Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Eve, these special days come packed with spiritual significance and fun traditions that kids naturally enjoy.   With a little intentionality, even the busiest of families can use the holidays to make discipleship a normal part of everyday life.

So how do we do that?  We simply use the same tools we are already using to grow in our faith.  The Triangle, for example, gives us a helpful lens to rethink our holiday celebrations.   Here are a few ideas how you can use it to inject a healthy dose of discipleship into your family celebrations.

Up, In and Out Thanksgiving

Instead of just going around the table giving thanks for one thing this Thanksgiving, go around the table and give thanks for three things – an Up, an In and an Out.   Start with Up. Have everyone choose something they’re thankful for about God.  Next, move onto In.  Let everyone share someone they’re thankful for who has helped them to follow Jesus.  Finally, end with an Out.  Have everyone give thanks for the missional opportunities God has given to serve others or give thanks for the People of Peace He has brought into our lives to love and bless.

If you want to take it to the next level use this Triangle craft idea to make an Up, In and Out centerpiece with your kids.

Exploring the Christmas Story

As we move into December, spend some time with your children looking at the Christmas story through the lens of Up, In and Out.  If you’d like some help, I’ve written a free advent guide called God’s Big Christmas Adventure with five new family devotions.  The devotions feature questions and suggestions to apply the story through each corner of the Triangle.

I’ve even included a fun activity our family does for New Year’s Eve that will give you and your kids an excuse to reflect on God’s faithfulness over the past year and look forward to what He will do in the future.

Triangle Prayer Activity

Finally, here is a link to a prayer activity I’ve written that your family can do as you count down the days until Christmas.   Use the printable sheet to create 24 slips of paper with Up, In and Out prayer prompts your kids can draw out from a gift bag each night at the dinner table.   It’s just a simple, practical tool to get us praying and thinking like Jesus in the Christmas season and beyond.

The ideas I shared aren’t rocket science, and you shouldn’t feel the pressure to do all of them.   Just pray through what makes sense for your family or come up with ideas of your own.  Any of us can take the Triangle and other LifeShapes and use them to make the most of the holidays with our kids.

This year my daughter’s birthday happens to fall on Thanksgiving once again.  Hopefully, this time around she’ll actually know what we’re celebrating and why.

The 3DM Way of Life and Ministry

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I have spent some time reflecting on how our 3DM movement is different from various fads and trends that spread in the church, particularly the North American church, from time to time.   We all know they happen—seeker-sensitivity as a fad, spiritual formation as a core focus and even missionality as a brand.  Our culture loves novelty—new is always better than old and nothing is better than brand new—ever.

To be fair, some folks do interact with our movement at this level—another stop on a carousel of the latest and greatest magic bullets that will solve their congregation’s “underperformance” and take their ministry to the next level—whatever that is.  Those leaders and churches often turn out to be passing and not permanent relationships on our journey as a movement.  For some of us, however, this calling of discipleship-driven missionality resonates at a deep personal level—a level of calling and conviction.

Early in my personal 3DM journey I saw this and knew I had found a life calling that I had been groomed for from the moment of my spiritual birth—maybe even my physical birth as well.   I am not saying that I “got it” right away or that I even fully comprehend it now—our movement is a dynamic community on a journey of listening to God and doing what he says to do.  All of us are playing catch up to God and our movement pioneers as we listen to him and learn the new things he has for our lives, ministries and movement.  That is a good thing, actually.

In my first months of movement participation I found myself retranslating the paradigm breaking language, structure and strategy that I was being taught into the old wineskins of how I had always done life and ministry.  That is only natural, I think.  Sometimes that is all the farther some people get—a hybrid 3DM experience that doesn’t require them or their congregation to change too much.  I am skeptical about how long that lasts, but the jury is out and I am OK with that for those it helps.

But I, like many others, went “all in” with every expectation of doing this way of life and ministry the rest of my earthly sojourn.   I think it is that phrase that is key to our movement—a way of life and ministry.  We often teach that 3DM begins with discipleship and results in mission, but that is not actually the case.  It is too easy to take for granted that the first step in discipleship is having “a life worth imitating” as a foundation.   Without living what we teach, our whole strategy breaks down.   In other words, without adopting a healthy lifestyle, there is no healthy ministry from a 3DM standpoint.

That is why I adopted this phrase, the 3DM way of life and ministry.  I want to teach others from the start that this is not some burnout ministry method to which I want them to sell out.  This is principally a way of living with Christ and each other that leads to ministry and missional fruitfulness.  We aren’t part of this movement because we do ministry the 3DM way.  We are a real part of this movement if we do life in a biblical way so that ministry and mission are the results.  Sounds a lot like, Jesus, doesn’t it?  From my point of view it is the heart of 3DM.  Is it a way of life as well as a way of ministry for you?  That is a great question for us all.

Embracing Winter

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Embracing Winter

Living in the south these past six years has taught me to appreciate the different seasons.   Sure, we don’t experience the extremes our more northerly friends do (there seems to be a line of latitude we haven’t been able to break in all our moves), but each season is distinct here and brings with it a reminder that God has created everything to operate with particular rhythms.   These rhythms promote life, growth, expansion but are signaled by changes that sometimes bring pruning, loss and death.   Jesus affirmed this when he said unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24.)  Do we know how to identify what spiritual season we’re in?  The Lord has been encouraging me lately with this promise — spring is always on the other side of winter.

Winter is God’s gift to the world, right?  Maybe that applies to the look of a wintery wonderland after a nice snowfall, but otherwise everything looks dead in winter to most of us.  Trees are bare, animals have disappeared and long runs outdoors are made impossible without thermal outfitting!   How can winter possibly be part of God’s plan?  What we aren’t seeing is all that is happening beneath the surface.

Here are a few reasons to embrace winter:

1) Some things weren’t meant to live forever

Winter kills many unwanted weeds, pests and bacteria.  Every September living in South Carolina reminds me the first question I want to ask God –why did he create mosquitos?  They’re unbearably present and aggressive until the first big chill wipes them all out and suddenly it’s safe to venture outdoors again.  Let’s be honest, we often need seasons that force pruning in our lives otherwise we’d often seek to preserve that which sucks life out of us.

2) Good fruit requires good roots

Winter forces many seeds, plants and trees into necessary dormancy in preparation for future germination.  It is a critical time of storing up energy for new growth.  Fruit trees depend on these “chilling hours” to promote greater fruiting in the next season.  Another way of saying this is trees rest before they work.  And we’re wired the same way!  We were created to work from rest.  Winter seasons give us an opportunity to slow down, take stock and reflect.  These are the times we hear from God most deeply and clearly; where our faith expands; where we receive what we need for greater fruitfulness.

3) Life is preparation

Winter is preparation for spring!  Of course the experience of winter may be different in various locations, but you cannot get to spring without passing through winter.  If you’re like me then you want to know things without having to learn them; be good at things without having to practice; eat dinner without having to prepare it.  Here is a simple kingdom principle–today God is preparing you for tomorrow; this week for next, this month for next; and so on.  Life is not like Monopoly; you won’t get a card that allows you to pass over the cost of skipping to GO and collecting your $200.  Remember, each winter is doing in you what he intends in the next season to do through you.

Paul reminds us that we rejoice in our sufferings because they produce perseverance, which in turn produces character, and character produces hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:1-5).  The wintery seasons of our lives promote an unseen growth, the deepening of our character that promotes greater strength and stability of heart.  Do we rejoice in these sufferings?  Do we believe in the deep, unseen work of the Spirit in our hearts to increase character and capacity?  Do we embrace these winters for what they are?  Do we know how to lead our families, teams and communities through these seasons to get the most out of them?

As difficult as this may be, you can trust spring is always on the other side of winter.  It’s been this way since the world was created.

As I reflect on the journey of our family, our team and my work in the kingdom, I feel like we are in a season of winter.   Events and opportunities are slowing.  Our focus has turned more inward.  We are shifting from an emphasis on kingdom structures to covenant ones.  Drawn into greater abiding we are hearing afresh from the Lord and learning to rest in his words.  This can be unnerving for an apostolic leader, but in all this I choose to rejoice knowing spring is on the other side!

Embrace your winter!

What a difference a year makes!

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What a difference a day, a week, and especially a year makes! It’s hard to believe this time last year I was standing in a hospital room looking at this precious baby who was our son! Across the hall was the amazing incredible selfless woman who had carried him for 9 months, loved him and labored for him and then handed him to me. As soon as I held him and looked at his precious little face I knew he was mine. You never know how you are going to feel until that moment and I can promise you that I felt exactly the same way that I did when I had given birth to our son just a year prior.  From that moment I knew I would give up anything and everything for this tiny little person. In a moment everything changed and I knew I would never be the same.

There are many moments in our life where everything changes and we know we will never be the same. It might be the moment we say I do on our wedding day or the moment our child is born.  Sometimes these moments are split second decisions like the choice to say hello to someone who ends up becoming a lifelong friend. Sometimes these moments are difficult and painful like when we have to say goodbye to a loved one who is going home to be with Jesus.

 

In the 31 years that I have been alive there have been many of these moments and many of them I have probably missed but this year I have become so very aware of how significant they are. I recently reflected on the last 12 months and all that has happened—to say a lot has changed would be an understatement.

12 months ago my husband and are were sitting in our house in Pawleys Island and I can guarantee you I was saying, “When is Jackson going to be born? I just need him to get here” Then on Monday October 6 at 10pm we were settling in for the evening when we got the call. Our adoption agent, Carri told us that Jackson’s birth mother was in labor and that we should get in our car and drive to Greenwood.

Since then I have changed jobs three times and we have moved to a new city. We have said goodbye to loved ones and welcomed new ones into our lives but when I look back I can see the Father’s hand in it all.  There are incredible testimonies from the last 12 months and the Father has made it very apparent that he has worked in it all. Sometimes I think we can be going so fast and our lives can be so busy that we miss the Father’s work and his incredible gifts to us. God has moved in every area of our lives and he has overwhelmed me with His extravagant love for me. He has given us things we didn’t even know that we wanted or needed. Even in the times when I wondered how it was all going to work out, he came through every time.

When you have suffered great loss and have had to walk through grief it’s easy to feel like God let you down. I have certainly had my moments when I wondered if he was really going to come through this time but what I have learned through the past 12 months is that God not only redeems and restores what we have lost, he gives us so much more! I am eternally thankful for the sacrificial and selfless love of Jackson’s birthmother who chose us to be his parents. I am overwhelmed that he would give me such an incredible gift and chose me to be the mother of this wonderful little boy. When I look into the eyes of my son I am constantly reminded of the Father’s extravagant love for me and how he gave up everything for me even though I don’t deserve it. I hope I never lose sight of the blessing that Jackson is or how deep the Father’s love is for me!

Which way has this past year gone for you?  Has it been a dizzying climb upward or a dramatic descent?  Or has it been an up and down rollercoaster?  Perhaps it has been a long, level and boring flatland where the scenery hasn’t changed at all and you despair it ever will.  Whatever the topography has been, the Father has been there with you.  Try to remember that God not only redeems and restores what we have lost, in his faithfulness, he eventually gives us so much more!