November 17, 2014

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The Command We Refuse to Keep

We are pretty good at ignoring the commands of God. Sometimes it is passive ignorance and sometimes it is very active. If we are honest with ourselves most of us will readily admit that we don’t love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We are trying, but we know we are still growing in this area. Most of us feel good about not murdering anyone recently, although Jesus’ version of this command (where we can’t even hate people) is a bit tougher to keep. But, of all of the commandments God has given us, do we as Christians actively dismiss and ignore any of them more than the command to keep the Sabbath?

Our violation of this command can actually be a source of pride! We pride ourselves in working ourselves to death. We wear our weariness and exhaustion as badges of honor. This is especially true of pastors. So many studies have shown that pastors are some of the worst Sabbath violators. Burnouts and moral failures abound in the world of Sabbath breaking pastors. But this is a problem for most Western Christians, not just those who work on Sundays. We have no margin in our lives. We don’t take care of the first things first. We have a tendency to push soul care, body care, and time with God  to the margins of our lives instead of making them the foundation of abundant life.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been reminded, in my own life, just why Sabbath is so important. This has been an especially demanding season of my life. My job has me spinning a lot of plates. I go back and forth between discipling leaders, trying to push our church into new missional frontiers, connecting with people new to our community, trying to improve our facility, leading a staff of multiple part time people who function on very different schedules, preaching, shaping our worship services. pastoral care, seeking out those who have fallen away from our fellowship, trying to get people stuck in ruts unstuck, maintaining the technology necessary to run our church and about 15 other tasks. Oh, and I just trained for a year and ran over 700 miles so I could join in the great adventure of running the Chicago marathon with my people.

In addition to all of that I volunteer my time and energy as president of the board for Free The Girls, I volunteer as a Frontier Leader for 3D Movements discipling other pastors and leaders, and I am working with our district superintendent to help churches that need revitalization. At home I have been working hard to help Gretchen as she has taken on graduate school for the next three years to pursue a new career. This has me in charge of homework quite a bit of the time, running kids around to appointments, doing more laundry than I have ever ventured to do and in charge of feeding our family for the great majority of each of the 3 meals each of us eats each day.

Here is the thing, I read that list and it seems impossible and ridiculous, but honestly it doesn’t feel that way. I am a very high capacity person and of all the things I listed I consider it a great joy that almost all of them are part of my life because I am passionate about them. God has entrusted me with a tremendous amount of responsibility. I hope and pray that those responsibilities have continued to expand because I have proven faithful with the responsibilities that he has given me thus far. But, with all those responsibilities the primary focus of my life has to be Sabbath. I can only be responsible for my church and family if first I care for myself. Over the past couple of weeks I have had some extra Sabbath and It has shown me just how important Sabbath is. With proper rest lately, I have realized that I am actually pretty worn down right now. I have recognized struggles in my spirit that I didn’t know where there. I have gained quite a bit of perspective on where I am and what God is calling me to do. Most importantly, I have heard my Father say to me over and over how loved I am regardless of what I do or don’t do. My identity comes not from keeping plates spinning, feeding my children, or being an abolitionist. My identity is secure in my Father’s love for me.

That is what Sabbath does. It gives us space so that we can be reminded of God’s truth. Sabbath keeps us grounded. Sabbath gives us strength for the work God gives us. Without Sabbath we can’t possibly do the work of God the way God intends us to. Without Sabbath we are ignoring a basic rhythm of life with God so by definition we end up being out of step with God. So let me encourage you today to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Make time with God, care for your soul, care for your body, true and blessed rest, the first priority of your life. Without it we have no hope of discovering abundant life in Christ.

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November 10, 2014

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When In Doubt Pick Up Your Cross

From Luke 9 - Then he (Jesus) said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

Everyday there is an ad on Facebook, a tweet from someone I follow, or an email that arrives in my inbox promising me ministry breakthrough if I just get this book, attend this conference, start this coaching, or subscribe to this website. There is a magic bullet being peddled at all times to all pastors. I am so hungry for kingdom breakthrough that I fight the urge with these products, or as I think of them -magic bullets, to put my trust in them. I want to be effective in my ministry. I long to see the power of God manifest itself in our church family. But this morning i was reminded that whenever we are in doubt about which way to move forward, how to experience the power of God, or what strategy we should is best for our mission, we need only turn to one place. We need only ever turn back to the cross, pick it up, and follow Jesus.

The cross is for us not only a means for salvation but the very entry point for life in the kingdom of God. Here at the cross, when we pick it up and carry it, we are taking on the very lordship of Jesus over our life. We are submitting to Jesus as our king. We are declaring that we will do things Jesus’ way because he is our king and because we are living in his kingdom. The cross is our way of understanding life as servants to King Jesus.

So when in doubt about what is next we simply return to the cross, pick it up, and follow Jesus again. We surrender ourselves once again to Jesus as king. We surrender our egos, our fears, our burdens, our sin, and our control in order to live a Jesus life. As a community we come again to a place of obedient surrender in order to experience the power of Christ. It is through the cross that Jesus conquered the powers of the this world. It is through the cross that Jesus conquered death and sin. It is through the cross that God made Jesus king. So when in doubt we pick up our cross again and follow Jesus.

There is no magic bullet or strategy for becoming a powerful and effective church. There is no magic bullet for becoming holy. There is no strategy or sermon series or new program that will suddenly unlock kingdom breakthrough. There is always, only, ever, for us the cross. We come back to it each day, we pick it up, we declare Jesus king and us his followers. We step out in obedience to die to ourselves once again and to trust that in death we discover life. In weakness we are made strong. In humility we are glorified. In service of the king we are made free.

There is only way forward in service of the king and that is walking the path of Jesus. Our only way forward is the cross.

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November 3, 2014

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When the only answer I have is Jesus

There are a slew of jokes were the Sunday School teacher asks the students a question and there is some various form of response where the kid answers “It sounds like a _____ (squirrel, rock, Santa Claus, the President, etc.) but I am going to go ahead and say Jesus.” The default answer in Sunday School was always Jesus.

I think I have finally reached the point in my ministry when the only answer I have is Jesus. Yesterday marked 6 years as the pastor of Duneland Community Church. I offered my reflections on our time together in a State of the Church Address. The underlying theme of the message was essentially this: I have nothing more to offer my congregation other than Jesus.

It has taken 6 years for me to get to this point. Coming in as a 31 year old who was serving as a lead pastor for the first time I felt like I had a lot to offer DCC. I could see a church whose finances were in shambles, had little vision, wasn’t developing leaders, had little going in worship/children/discipleship/youth ministry, and just needed a shot in the arm. I knew what I could offer in those regards. Looking at the church I knew that an organizational overhaul would inject life. If we could just fix these issues we would begin to thrive.

I was partly right. We have worked hard over the last 6 years to fix those issues and we have had some great results because of it. But, the major results we are longing for, the God sized breakthrough that we are expecting and praying for, that hasn’t happened yet. It turns out that I am not clever enough, cool enough, or a big enough force of personality to accidentally or intentionally build God’s church. That is a good thing. From the get go I have worked to build a church around something other than myself. Well, we have been pretty successful in that regard. Six years into my hopefully very long tenure at DCC, however, we are still facing battles that I figured a bit of good leadership and hard effort would easily overcome. Turns out build a really amazing church focused on being a family on mission to the world is a long, slow, and exceptionally difficult process.

So as I begin this next segment of my pastoral ministry I am left with only one answer. Jesus promised to build his church. All the hope we have as a church rests in who our Father is and what he has promised us. I am not the answer to the biggest questions. This realization at first was a bit of a punch in the stomach because it felt like a failure. Increasingly, however, it feels freeing and wonderful. I am not the answer. I am not smart enough, cool enough, or gifted enough to do the work of growing the Kingdom. All I can do is be obedient, work hard, and trust in God for the results. Thanks be to God! That is good news for me, for our church, and for the world.

So when people ask me about the future of our church I will share with them our dreams, how we are trying to be obedient, and testimonies of God’s love at work. Most all, though, I will point them to my Father and his amazing power at work and I will give them a simple answer. All our hope for the future is in Jesus.

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September 15, 2014

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Be More, Not Do More

What is the most important thing God has said to you lately?

That questions begs another question. Have you heard God speak to you lately? If not, why? Are you listening? Are you quiet? How did you respond the last time God spoke to you? Did you do anything with that word yet?

This summer God had a new word for me. As usual, it wasn’t something entirely new. It regularly takes me several hearings of something before it sticks and I actually respond to it. But over the last 6 weeks God has spoken the same message to me repeatedly. God said, “Greg I need you to be more, not do more.”

For the past 3-4 months my spirit has been struggling. Ministry is a fickle lover. Sometimes she is generous and affectionate and makes you float on top of the world from all of her loving. Other times she is cold, callous, and handles you with such perceived apathy that you wonder if you are just making up the memories of all that affection. 2014 has been a very fickle year in ministry. There have been long awaited answers to prayer that have caused my heart to rejoice. There have been circumstantial challenges that have thwarted my best laid plans. There have been breakthroughs and there have been breakdowns. Forward progress ground to a halt for a while and then started to slide backwards. The disease of distraction and apathy spread throughout our community decimating the ranks of the missionally present.

In the midst of this reality I wasn’t listening to God very well. Primarily I was whining to God. I was complaining about how my best laid plans weren’t working. I complained about all the distractions that were sapping away the missional energy of our people. I was complaining about my lack of power or influence to grow the church. After a couple of months of whining, however, I finally shut my mouth and started listening again. God, the ever patient parent who had been waiting all summer for me to stop throwing my hissy, seemed relieved when I was finally done and ready to listen. That is when he spoke. It was gentle, kind, and direct. “Greg, I need you to be more, not do more.”

My Father reminded me that my primary focus as a spiritual leader has to be my own character development. I cannot lead others where I have not gone. When I am stressed or disappointed I turn to competency rather than character to help turn the tide. But God reminded me that while my competency is helpful, he doesn’t actually need me to build his church. He has that covered. What he needs and desires of me is for me to be more like him. I can go deeper into God’s grace, I can surrender more of my life, I can be more. As that starts to happen things will change.

There is no guarantee that the struggles of circumstance or mission will change, but my reactions to them certainly will. My ability to lead others through struggles will grow substantially. The grace I have to offer others will increase. My life will be far more worthy of imitation and I will be a better mentor and discipler. When that happens it will be a measure of success far more important than Sunday morning attendance, giving, or upgrades to our building.

I need to be more, not do more. I am trying. I am surrendering. I am quietly listening.

What is God saying to you today? What are you going to do about it?

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August 25, 2014

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Reflections from The Missional Frontier

If there was a T.V. series made about a church living on the missional frontier I think it would be called Heaven on Wheels. The past couple of weeks I have been watching the AMC program Hell on Wheels, which tells that story of the building of the Pacific railroad. The town that accompanies the railroad, moving from place to place, is called Hell on Wheels. This image of the railroad going through new territory and facing tremendous internal and external challenges is helpful. Leading the process of changing a church culture and sending out missional leaders into a post Christendom culture is very difficult. Four years into this process as a church we have learned a lot. Here are some of my reflections. 

 

You Don’t Have to Be Qualified, You Just Have to Be Willing to Learn

None of us have ever done this before. I am leading a church that that I have always dreamed about, but never been a part of. I went to school for 7 years but wasn’t trained to do the work I am now doing. (Thankfully my character and ability to learn and adapt was shaped during my excellent schooling!) All of our leaders are unlearning the ways they have always done church and learning new ways to function. We feel like each new step is a mixture of hope, improvisation, research and guessing.

What we are discovering, however, is that each of us has something important to add to our mission. There are gifts that have remained dormant for many years in the comfort of the known. Beyond that God has empowered us to step into new roles with an expanded capacity. The number one requirement to make an impact is a willingness to go and learn.

 

The Laws are different on the Frontier

The gunslinging West is the scene in which Hells on Wheels takes place. There are less gunfights on our missional frontier, but rough towns with saloons and hardworking people are a familiar reality. You find unexpected partners and find yourself making decisions you never could have imagined before. The frontier changes you.

I found myself standing on the stage at the world famous Laugh Factory in Chicago asking a room full of women to give me their bras and help us fight human trafficking (not the ones they were wearing, just to be clear). We have invested increasing amounts of time and energy into people who have never stepped foot in our church. We hired staff we had never met in person to move across the globe for a part time position. We bought a building and then moved our youth ministry to someone else’s facility to have a different outpost.  We meet and pray regularly for God to open up doors for us to move into unexpected places such as trailer parks and strip clubs. Life, success, daily living, all of it changes on the frontier.

 

You better have some gumption

Progress is slow, often painfully so, on the frontier. Some ventures will fail outright. Some will start to succeed and then an external factor out of your control will end them. Some ventures are simply backbreaking and take huge amounts of effort before you see progress. Sometimes everything works perfectly and it flourishes from the beginning. Regardless, if you don’t have some serious Kingdom gumption in you, the frontier will defeat you.

You will have these difficult moments when nothing is thriving and the train heading back home will be ready to leave the station and you will have make a decision. Is this pursuit worth dedicating your life to or is it merely an idea you liked once upon a time. In those moments of decision you will discover whether or not you can make it on the frontier. Do you have the wherewithal to stick it out? Have you rooted your life deep enough in Christ to withstand the onslaught of struggles the frontier will throw at you?

 

Four years into changing everything we do and everything we know. It seems forever and but a breath at the same time. Four years into the rest of my life. The missional frontier has changed me. There is no going back. I feel like  I am building railroad tracks that only run one way because I can’t go back to the comfort of the life I knew before. The Kingdom of God is like a railroad being built across a vast frontier. Thanks be to God.

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August 11, 2014

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When God tells you it’s going to be Legen …..Wait for it, wait for it….

Dary, it’s going to be legendary….

One of the running gags on the show How I Met Your Mother was Barney Stinson (expertly played by Neil Patrick Harris) and his love of the term Legendary. Sometimes their shenanigans were so awesome that they were Legen…….. wait for it, wait some more, I hope you aren’t lactose intolerant because the rest of this word is …dary.

 

But what about when God pulls a Barney Stinson on you. (I don’t know if anyone has ever written that sentence before. I might have just been excommunicated.)  Several years ago God led our church through a process of dreaming together. We began to look at ourselves and the world around us with a different set of eyes. Our faith grew, our mission expanded, and our hearts began to beat a bit faster as we realized what God who God was calling us to be.

With a new vision filling our dreams we embarked upon a long and difficult journey. I am not sure what we expected, but I am beginning to think we were as naive as Bilbo Baggins setting off on a trip with a bunch of dwarves. We had no idea how long or how hard this journey would be. At first the breakthroughs came quickly. We were primed for a change and the reality of having a clear vision filled us with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm and activity brought about new ideas, renewed focus of formerly tired leaders, and additional help from others excited by our passion.

A little way down along the path, however, the monotony of traveling began to wear on us. This is not an express trip. This is a long and difficult journey to a place none of us have ever been before. We aren’t sure how long it will take, or all the difficulties we will face in getting there. We just feel compelled to keep going, chasing after this vision God has given us.

Feeling a bit weary from the journey and uncertain about my fortitude to continue going, I received a word from God. God promised me that the work he began in us would be completed. He promised me that a harvest was coming. God assured me that our work would not be in vain and that the pay off would be greater than we could hope for. Then he told me to wait for it.

So we are in the “wait for it” stage of a Legen………dary vision. We are on the journey we be don’t have any idea how long it will take. We trust in the vision given to us and celebrate all the breakthroughs that have already happened. We aren’t there yet, however, and the waiting is the hardest part. (Thanks for the lyrical help Tom Petty) The waiting is a big part of the breakthrough. I am learning more and more how essential this part of the journey is. Without the waiting there is no Legendary pay off. Without the daily grind of one foot in front of the other we never make it to our destination.

So, while we wait for it, God encourages us to keep going. In Romans 12 Paul says, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor,serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” This is the work of waiting. It is a zealous and fervent patience that maintains its joy. 

So if God is making you…..wait for it…… keep putting one foot in front of the other and trust that the journey will be legen…….

August 4, 2014

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Spiritual Lessons from Training for a Marathon

photoI am starting to get it. The Apostle Paul over and over again returns to imagery of running a race to talk about his spiritual life. As a preacher I have talked through this imagery in sermons. Whole talks have been based on running with abandon, a never ending pursuit of Christ, straining forward with everything you have, and enduring to the end of the race to win the prize. I love these images.

9 months into training for a marathon, however, these images mean something far different to me. Understanding a bit more the difficulties of Paul’s journey I can grasp why images of races and marathons mattered so much to Paul. Paul endured a great deal more than any of us can appreciate or understand. He was stoned and left for dead on multiple occasions! (Evidently death just didn’t take.) He was ship wrecked, twice. He was beaten, whipped, bitten by a poisonous snake and run out of town by so many angry mobs that he couldn’t even keep them straight in his mind.

With this in mind, I offer these spiritual reflections from my marathon training, thus far. I have not endured 1 percent of what the Apostle Paul was called to endure for Christ. But running has given me a much better perspective on some of Paul’s words.

 

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.

The biggest obstacle in running is in your mind. As much as you are training your muscles to run and endure you are also training your spirit. Early in the process this is very true. Each mile seems and impossibility. There is nothing more defeating then signing up for a marathon, beginning training, and realizing that 3 miles is more than you can run. The will to continue and to endure has nothing to do with muscles, it is your spirit that needs strengthening. Continuing on requires courage.

This is the spiritual struggle so many people are defeated by. They come to Christ with joy and wonder and walk away sad because following Christ isn’t easy. It is difficult, the most difficult daily choice you can make. It is the decision to submit your life to the will of God each day. That seems like a great idea at first, but when it starts to cost you it suddenly seems like a terrible mistake. With both running and spiritual growth you must first develop the strength of will. The results don’t even matter when you begin it is the effort to continue pursuing your goal that matters.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Team World Vision runs marathons to save lives. It is a simple idea really. We run to inspire people to give. There is something about the sacrifice of running a marathon that motivates others to listen to the true need of clean water in Africa. We could all just sign up to be fundraisers without running, but it wouldn’t work. We wouldn’t be as committed to it and people wouldn’t be as responsive. The sacrifice is inherent to communicating the need.

About once or twice a week there is a moment when I have to remind myself of why I am doing this. Sometimes I get lost in my own journey of trying to run a marathon and I forget what this is really about. I am part of something bigger than myself. There is benefit and joy for me, but there will be life for others! Running the race for Christ is at the same time about you and not about you. It is about you and I becoming more like Christ, but the purpose of God working in us is for us to be used according to God’s purposes. We are saved by grace for good works. This call to serve others and to be good news for them is vital to spiritual growth. When your relationship with God is not primarily about you and what you need it changes how live each day.

I run when I am tired because of women and children in Ethiopia who are spending 3-4 hours each day walking back and forth from their homes to a watering hole to carry dirty water back with them. I pursue Christ each day because God has called me to serve his church, to shepherd his flock, and to be the father and husband my family needs. This is the goal I press on towards.

And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 

Here is the thing I have come to grips with; I might fail. I might not finish the marathon. I could get hurt this week on a training run. Like my teammates who ran last year my knee could give out half way through the race. We could have record setting heat that day that prevents me from finishing. Regardless of what happens with the race I have not run this race in vain. The process of submitting to the identity of being a runner has changed me. The dedication of training thus far has changed me. Being part of a great team with a beautiful mission has changed me. I have already helped raise enough money for 20 people to have clean water for life. That is nothing but a success.

I don’t know what the future holds for my life and ministry. Sometimes, in moments of struggle and doubt I am gripped by intense fear of failure. What if our church doesn’t see the breakthrough it should? What if I fail my family somehow? What if? I do not labor in vain. My life is not about a destination. My success or failure is not based upon any definition the world gives me. If I boast of anything it will be not of what I have accomplished but of what Christ has accomplished in me. God has saved me from myself. He has filled my heart with love and somehow used me to share that love with the world. That is enough. It is more than enough. That is everything. I do not run in vain, I do not labor in vain, Christ is in me, with me, and before me. He is all. Thanks be to God.

 

If you are interested in supporting our work with Team World Vision you can find out more or donate here. 

June 16, 2014

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Remembering Mawmaw

Almost two weeks ago we lost our Mawmaw. Gretchen’s grandmother passed away peacefully at age 88. She was a remarkable woman full of life, full of faith. I had the great privilege of leading her burial and memorial service. Years before Mawmaw had asked me to do the service and I had considered what to say for many years. Here is the manuscript of the sermon I shared. This is my celebration of a wonderful woman.

 

So much of who we are is defined by those we call family. Our family gives us our genetics, our culture, our heritage, our name, and our identity. We identify certain traits or characteristics that mark being a part of our particular family. When my wife Gretchen and I got married it was the joining together of two families with very common values and beliefs but different cultures. This led to many interesting and humorous exchanges between the McKenzies and the Arthurs. We often came to speak of these differences and we ask ourselves are we going to do this the Arthur way or the McKenzie way. Arthurs are Yankees who speak their minds. McKenzies are wonderful Southerners who smile and politely hold their tongues.

 

Clyda Vern, who I shall for the rest of this time call Mawmaw the only name I ever called her, and I spoke about some of these traits last week. We spoke about some of the family traits passed down through her into her great grandchildren. My son Logan can be a bit tough minded and stubborn. Mawmaw decided that was because he has some Waddle and Snellgrove in him. She took full responsibility for whatever stubbornness my children have inherited. My daughter Sophie can worry about unnecessary things, well Mawmaw was the queen of worry. I have heard her say numerous times that her beloved grandson Briant David reminded her so much of her first husband David Briant Waddle. She always thought that he had plenty of Waddle in him.

That is just the way that families work. We shape and form each other. Through shared holidays, share faith, tragedies, blessings, and our daily interactions, we created a culture that defines us. It shapes us and forms us regardless of whether we want it to or not. We may rebel against it or try to be something different, but it becomes a part of us and shapes our identity.

As we gather together today to celebrate Mawmaw’s life I can only think about all the way she has shaped our family. Mawmaw was a tough and hardworking woman. Growing up as she did she learned about work and sacrifice early on in her life and those lessons stayed with her throughout her life. She didn’t have much tolerance for laziness, she figured everyone had work to do and it needed to be done. Now of course this offset entirely if you happened to be a grandchild or greatgrandchild of Mawmaw. Even as a grandchild  she would tell you when you did something she thought was wrong, she wasn’t afraid to voice her opinion. No matter what you did however you needed to be spoiled and loved upon.

Oh to be Mawmaw’s grandchild! What a glorious thing to be loved by Mawmaw in that way. My wife always talked about how awful it was to visit Mawmaw and have her parents be there too! They got in the way of her time with Mawmaw. If you stayed at Mawmaws and you didn’t want to brush your teeth, well then you didn’t have to. If you wanted to go to the movies, or stay up late eating popcorn, or go shopping, well any of those things were yours to do.

Mawmaw expressed her great love for her family through her actions. She would tell you that she loved you, but it was her actions that always proved it. If Briant was visiting her she got up early to make her biscuits and her gravy just like he liked them. It didn’t matter if he was 10 or if he was 30 and he had to get up at 5 am to go to the airport, those biscuits and gravy would be there. Many of Mawmaw’s actions of love involved her good cooking. She would tell us stories of making David Briant fried chicken for lunch every Sunday with fresh made fudge for desert. That is a lot of work, and a lot of love. No holiday in our family is complete without her cornbread dressing and a chocolate pie for desert. After I entered the family each of our gatherings together would find Mawmaw and I in the kitchen cooking breakfast together for the whole clan. It gave her such joy to love on her family that way.

This extended far beyond her immediate family though. She was an active part of loving people through her hospitality here at the church as well. Who knows how many funeral dinners she helped to prepare or how many meals she made for those in need. Mawmaw knew what it was to grieve and to suffer and she had a big heart for those who found themselves in hard times. She talked with great compassion about people who were out of work, ill, or grieving. She knew she was blessed and loved to share out of those blessing to others.

Mawmaw was also extremely generous. She put her money where her heart was. She supported her church faithfully, helped out those in need, and gave far too generously to her family. Even now at 88 she complained that we didn’t spend enough of her money buying presents for her great grandchildren. She made a very generous donation recently to my fundraising efforts for clean water through World Vision. She was happy to help people she would never meet, it gave her pleasure. Of course she was worried as to whether or not she had donated enough money to support me. She wanted me to know I was loved.

Mawmaw often repeated a phrase that I am sure has roots here in Arkansas. She would say, “Everyone thinks their crow is the blackest.” I must say I hadn’t hear that one before Mawmaw said it. But it is true, and it was so true for Mawmaw, all her crows were the blackest. Starting with her children, she had such pride and joy in all her family. David and Margie and all there success professionally and as parents were topics she loved to discuss. Each of their successes was her own. It is impossible to look at David or Margie and their families and not see Mawmaw’s legacy in them.

In addition to her great hospitality, acts of service, generosity, and joy over her family Mawmaw passed on a legacy of faith. Mawmaw loved Jesus. Her faith was vital to her own identity. She was a member of this church for over 60 years. She loved to serve her church, she had deep and lasting relationships with so many brothers and sisters in Christ over the years, and her faith was active and vital. While uneasy and anxious at times during these last few months even the last two weeks as her body failed her, her faith never waivered and she looked forward with great hope to being made whole in the presence of her savior. When she and I would talk inevitably the conversation would turn to our churches, sermons, the future of the church, the role of pastors and the Bible. Mawmaw had a deep faith that has seen her through to glory.

 

From 1 John 3

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

That faith is ultimately why the traits that Mawmaw passed on to her family came not just from Snellgroves or Waddles, but from her Heavenly Father. John reminds us that it is the love of God that allows us to be called the Children of God. We have a Heavenly Father that through his great love has lavished on us the privilege of being his children. We, as the children of God, take on the family traits of our Father. John reminds us that the family traits of the family of God are sacrificial love, generosity, compassion, and actions that communicate to the world who we are.

Mawmaw showed the world whose daughter she is. She is the daughter of the one true God. Through her continual actions of sacrificial love for her husbands, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, friends and family, Mawmaw showed the world who she was and who she belonged to. Mawmaw was an example to us all of what it looks like to be a child of God. To be loved by Mawmaw was to be loved by God himself. Her love was complete and unconditional. What greater celebration of a life can there be than to say that Mawmaw showed the world the love of her her Father. She loved as Jesus loves.

So today we gather in our grief and loss to rejoice! Clyda Vern Snellgrove Waddle Steed lived a life that any of us would be blessed to call our own. She gave her self to a life of generous actions rooted in the love of Christ. Thanks be to God! We give God thanks for Mawmaw and how her life filled us all with such blessing and love.

May 28, 2014

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The Blessings of Disunity

Our culture is changing rapidly. One significant part of this change is the end of Christendom. Christendom, in our modern sense,  is understood as anywhere the church enjoys a majority influence on a culture. For a long time now the Western Hemisphere has been under the political, economic, moral and dominantly religious influence of Christianity. That has changed.

There are lots of studies showing just how significant that change is across Europe and North America. I won’t bother rehashing those for you now. Instead just ask yourself this question. Do the majority of people in our country identify themselves as active members of the church? That answer is easy. It is clearly no. Most people in our country believe in God. A good portion still identify themselves as Christian. But within those groups the percentage of people who are active in their faith, are involved in a church community, or whose lives show a clear influence of Christ is dwindling. It is dwindling rapidly.

So what do we make of this new reality for the church? It might just be the best thing that could happen to us. Lately I have been reading Rodney Stark’s fascinating book How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity. Stark, a masterful historian, looks at the rise of Western Civilization and the factors that allowed the West to thrive. He confronts many widely accepted historical views of the West in an in-depth and engaging way. One part in particular that grabbed my attention is his chapter called The Blessings of Disunity. Here is an excerpt.

The fall of Rome was, in fact, the most beneficial event in the rise of Western Civilization, precisely because it unleashed so many substantial and progressive changes.

This chapter will examine the dramatic progress that began after Roman unity fell apart. Europe in this era was blessed with lasting disunity; periodic efforts to reestablish empires failed. Disunity enabled extensive, small-scale social experimentation and unleashed creative competition among hundreds of independent political units, which, in turn, resulted in rapid and profound progress.

Many historians have bemoaned the fall of the Western Roman Empire as the beginning of the Dark Ages and the collapse of Western Civilization. Stark challenges that notion entirely. He puts forth, with numerous examples, how empires actually impede progress and change. They unify great numbers of people, but this unity actually hinders progress and creativity.

What we are seeing right now across the Western Hemisphere is a similar phenomenon. The Christian Empire is collapsing and with it there is a rebirth of creativity and progress that the church hasn’t seen in hundreds of years. Christendom hasn’t been a singular empire, like the the Roman Empire for example, but it has been a dominant force that has held back progress. Throughout the last 2-3 centuries we have seen bursts of kingdom creativity that have lead to rapid growth within the church. But these bursts have happened outside of the dominant sphere of the church. They have been on the edge, they have started in unexpected places and grown in unexpected ways.

The collapse of Christianity’s influence in the west is now forcing more and more of the church into a place of necessary adaptation. We can no longer just set up shop, put up a sign and expect people to show up. We have to find creative ways of expressing the Good News of Christ to the world. With the collapse of Christendom we are losing large numbers of church attenders. We are losing money. We are losing influence. We may be gaining, however, the blessing of disunity. This might be exactly what the church in the West needs to birth new movements and bring about radical change.

The church isn’t supposed to be an empire. It was birthed as the empire killer. It was injected into the Roman Empire as a virus to undermine its idolatry, ideology, ethics, and power. When the church functions as an empire it has to set aside a large part of what it was created to be. The Kingdom of God spreads like a weed, it goes viral, it is highly communicable. (Choose whatever analogy you like best) It doesn’t rule by political power and heavy handed influence. With the collapse of the Christian empire the church is being forced to rediscover its true DNA. We are being blessed with disunity, while at the same time discovering what truly unifies us. Structures, power and influence are not what unifies the movement of the Kingdom of God. Our unity comes in, through, by, and from Christ our Lord. In this reality we can function together as one movement of God without a centralized headquarters or emperor.

These are exciting days to be part of the Church in the West.

May 19, 2014

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Mondays are for Post Traumatic Winter Disorder Ramblings…..

There is a sever disorder effect the lives of thousands, maybe even millions of people. If not treated properly it could have serious consequences for us all. Please read further to see if you are suffering from this disorder.

It is Monday morning and it looks to be a beautiful spring day. I will begin my work week with a lengthy run, enjoying the signs of new life that accompany the arrival of Spring. The birds have returned in large numbers and on my run I will see cardinals, blue birds, orioles, robins, and plenty of others that I can’t name. The trees are starting to bloom. There is greenery all around. With all these encouraging signs of spring, however, there are still lingering effects from the Winter of Doom to be found.

This spring has continually alternated between warmth and cold. One Thursday it was 92 degrees and the next Thursday it was 42 degrees. (I enjoyed running on the 42 degree day much more) It has been wet and rainy. The ground is already so saturated from our record snow fall hat all the storms have caused extensive flooding. In fact they are predicting that the massive ice coverage of the Great Lakes this winter will lead to a cool and wet spring and summer for the whole Great Lakes region. Winter is gone, but its effects are still being felt.

What has amazed me, though, has been the long term effects this winter has had on the psyche and spirit of our people. People are cranky, distracted, backing away from commitments, distracted again, unmotivated, and of fragile spirits. At first I couldn’t identify the source of communal discontent, but I am pretty sure now it is a longterm effect of winter. In fact I am diagnosing all of us as suffering from PTWD – Post Traumatic Winter Disorder. Having studied it for a while now I am confident in my diagnosis. Here are the signs. If you aren’t sure if you have it, talk to a loved one and see if they can diagnose you.

 

Signs of PTWD

Crankiness – Not just being your normal cranky self, but being unreasonably cranky for reasons that are unapparent. Signs include finding yourself being cranky because of minor life inconveniences, such as running out of napkins or the fact it is Monday.

Reduced Capacity to Problem Solve – If you are easily defeated by life’s challenges such as ironing, laundry, a raccoon in the ceiling of your church, or having to change your underwear, you may be suffering from PTWD

Extreme reactions to weather – If you heard it snowed on Friday in Chicago and you cursed, ranted on Facebook, checked the radar every ten minutes to make sure it wasn’t going to snow at your house or went out and took a baseball bat to your snowblower you may have PTWD

The Universe Slows Down – If the laws of physics no longer work in your life and the time until school is getting out, you are going on summer vacation, or you at least make it to Memorial Day is dragging on at an insufferable rate, you most definitely have PTWD.

I don’t wanna and you can’t make me – If that is your general reaction to things that normally don’t defeat you such as making dinner, getting up on a Sunday morning and going to church, mowing the lawn, dressing your children, reading a book, or getting your haircut, you have PTWD.

 

Treatment Plans

Sunlight – Being outside in the sun is life giving for sufferers of PTWD. Of course that would require the sun to actually be shining, but when possible get out in the sun.

Grill Power – Food cooked over an outdoor fire or any sort achieves chemical properties that alter the mind and restore the soul. It is true, that is science, you can’t argue with it.

Remember Jesus – One of the truly difficult parts of PTWD seems to be sagging church attendance and a general inattentiveness towards spiritual matters. This seriously compounds PTWD. Worship, sing music throughout your day, gather with others for prayer, reorient your life around Christ and you will be amazed as to how it effects your soul

Thrice Daily Doses of Thankfulness – Above all you can combat the effects of PTWD by giving thanks multiple times a day. Do you have a home? Do you have loved ones? Are you safe? Is another country threatening to attack you? Do you have a job? Are you loved? Are you forgiven? Take time throughout your day to give thanks for all the blessings of your life. This directly counteracts the longterm effects of that last heavy snow we got in March.

 

PTWD effects us all. May we overcome its power over us by filling our lives with joy, rest, sunshine, times with loved ones and most of all thankful hearts.

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