September 2010

I’m no expert, but I’d say the average Christian anticipates (and would be content with) their life events landing somewhere in the middle of the spectrum—nothing too extreme in either direction. Logical people that we are (ahem), we realize we’ll face trials, but we believe God will keep us from the really bad stuff. After all, He is a God of love, and having accepted Him, we do deserve His protection and a few blessings … right?

So how do we reconcile the fact that some of us, the children of this loving God, will face divorce or lose a child or wander around in desperate search of the joy and peace promised in the Bible? What are we supposed to do when God allows our plans to shatter and fall in on us, leaving us cut up, exposed, and completely unprepared?

If you never have, take 10 minutes to read the Book of Ruth. In the first two verses, we’re introduced to a woman named Naomi, along with her husband and their two sons. By verse 3 Naomi is a widow. By verse 5 she is childless, save her two daughters-in-law. Shocked? I bet she was too. We can probably add depressed, angry, terrified, and hopeless to that list as well. And definitely bitter.

When our plans shatter and fall to the ground, we beg God to reveal Himself, and if we’re bold, we demand that He explain Himself. In the midst of all the talking we’re doing, we sometimes miss His reminder that it was our plans that shattered—not His.

God didn’t write Naomi off when she lost it all and became bitter. Instead, He restored what she had lost in a great and unexpected way.

Maybe your plans haven’t been shattered. But I bet you know someone whose plans have been. How can you impact their life? How can you be a mouthpiece for God?

Maybe you’re in the middle of terrible struggle or loss. Will you allow yourself to trust in God’s plans? Will you believe that He is sovereign?

Learning to trust in the perfection of God’s plans,


P.S. If you need a reminder of your worth in God’s eyes, listen to this.

So I don’t watch television’s Dancing With The Stars—or at least I try not to. Yes, it’s cheesy. The judges are cheesy. The set comes off as some kind of overhauled soap opera court room or “upscale” restaurant set. There’s something about the lighting that reminds me of a bad day in a mall. It doesn’t help that all but a handful of the dancing celebrities conjure the most embarrassing and awkward moments of my own life—a very disconcerting parade of events. And then there’s the last judge on the right that’s just a little creepy. And so even though I try not to watch DWTS it still manages to get recorded and I still manage to see at least some of the “highlights” during the most mindless moments of the day.

But then something like Jennifer Grey happens. Like many of us, I grew up for the most part with Jennifer Grey. She played leading roles in some of the great 1980s “coming of age” films. Movies like Dirty Dancing, Red Dawn, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off have become standards. (Really, what adolescent boy could go unaffected by Red Dawn in 1984?) And Jennifer Grey was actually standing (or sitting I guess) right there on the set when Patrick Swayze said, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” Grey is one of those people that has always seemed so genuine, honest, and vulnerable to me. So hold that thought.

In the world of dancing that we’ve seen played on the small screen in recent programming like DWTS and So You Think You Can Dance I’ve come to expect praise for the male dancer not for his art as much as his strength. It’s common for judges to affirm a male dancer with things like “You were there for her”, “You were strong for her,” and “She knew she could trust you.” When the partners are at their best, working together, and putting on display the most beautiful expression of the dance … it is an absolute art form that calls to mind so much of what is good about being human and in intimate relationship. And this has never been more evident than in Jennifer’s recent Viennese Waltz on Dancing With The Stars. Apparently the song this waltz was choreographed for is a number from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack and Jennifer reveals to us during the introduction that her friendship with Swayze and his recent death were very much on her mind. And so when she takes the floor in front of millions, making her heart and most intimate internal dialog a matter of public record, what she needed most was a partner who could “be there for her”. And the result was beautiful in the rarest sense.

So what does this have to do with small groups and small group community. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with it, I don’t guess. It’s OK for beautiful things to have their own address and stand on their own merit. But I would say that if we’re serious about small-group community we could stand to learn a lot from a less-than-perfect Viennese Waltz during which one partner provides strength and another is allowed to be transparent, vulnerable, and beautifully broken. So the lesson is that we don’t always have to have all the steps right, but we must work toward mastering the art of being present.

Yes, learning what the Bible reveals to us about life and our reaction to circumstances is crucial. And for sure we should be in Bible study and memorizing Scripture. But there’s also the spiritual discipline of community to be considered. This sort of community goes beyond “being friends”. The spiritual discipline of community is much closer to the sort of relationship put on display by Derrick Hough and Jennifer Grey than the sort of relationships most of us find ourselves in. True authentic and redemptive community moves us from the would-be mathematical formulas for life, getting the right steps into a fluid and elegant dance—together. Thus it only stands to reason that when you’ve got a bunch of people trying to dance, there’s always potential for something magical to happen. So here it is. Now this is dancin’.

‘‘What are you doing tonight?” is a phrase I’ve heard my friend Lynnette say more times than I can count. We met our senior year in high school but didn’t really get to know each other until college, where we became best friends. Lynnette and I have been through a lot of junk together. She’s the absolute only human who knows all my secrets. And she’s always had an uncanny knack for knowing when I need company—whether I say so or not.

All grown up and years beyond college, Lynnette’s a married mother of three. Several years ago she and her family moved out of state, but until that time we were together more often than not. I’m not talking about the two of us doing girl stuff. We did some of that, but mostly Lynnette embraced me as a part of her family. She would invite me over even after her craziest days of driving the mom taxi and cooking dinner and doing laundry and running errands. It didn’t matter what was going on in her life; she still took time for mine.

None of my evenings at Lynnette’s house ever looked the same. Sometimes she cooked and sometimes we just ordered pizza. I remember nights of homework, playing with the kids, watching movies, or helping with baths. It never really mattered to me. I just loved being in the midst of a family.

Although I would guess it was the farthest thing from her mind, Lynnette is the one who first taught me about true, authentic community. About what doing life together really looks like. I don’t remember lots of other details of what we did through all those years, but what I do remember is how Lynnette made me feel. And that is what challenges me to want to do the same for others.

It wasn’t about a spotless house and a perfect meal and keeping me entertained. It was about loving me.

You may have sensed God nudging you to open your heart—and maybe even your home—to someone. The perfect time may not be when everything is just right. The perfect time may be right now.

By inviting others in to do life together, you could change your little corner of the world. Lynnette inspired me to look beyond waiting until my house is perfect and the menu is just right. I really don’t have to be Martha Stewart. It’s about relationships. It’s about loving others. It’s about accepting and being accepted. It’s what we’re made for.

Until next time,

Books won’t stay banned.  They won’t burn.  Ideas won’t go to jail.  In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost.  The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.

~Alfred Whitney Griswold, New York Times, 24 February 1959

I found this quote interesting in light of the recent threat by a Florida pastor to burn some copies of the Koran. While my initial concerns with this plan involved the safety of my son who is soon to depart for Afghanistan and my former teammates who continue to labor in Muslim areas of Asia, my greater concerns are for the souls of men and women, boys and girls, who would be spiritually damaged by such an act of aggression. Not many people have ever been won to Christ by insulting them from a distance and with that which they hold so dear.  Far more important than our safety and national security anyway (even if this burning threat would somehow help with that) are the souls of those cut off from Christ.

As followers of Jesus (Asa/Isa/Yeshua) we have a Book that contains not only the best ideas but one that reflects the very heart of God.  Rather than trying to destroy some other book, let’s focus our attention on putting God’s Book into the language and the hands of every people, tongue, tribe, and nation so that God might receive the glory and His fame spread to every dark corner of this world.  After all, it is the Gospel that is “God’s power for salvation” (Romans 1:16).  Shouldn’t we focus our attention on what Griswold called “better ideas”?