Wednesday, April 30, 2008

May Term

I'm really excited about our May Term groups starting up. This year, we've got three: The Story, Bible Study Methods, and Set Apart: Exploring the Foundations of Social Justice.

The Story is one of our most popular NCC discipleship experiences. You will go through the entire chronological story of the Bible in 3 nights. You will learn who Obadiah was, when he lived, and why he wrote his book. You will untangle the missionary journeys of Paul and discover the link between Leviticus and Hebrews.

Bible Study Methods is designed to help empower you with tools to study God’s Word. The focus is on why we should study the Bible, methods we can use to study the Bible, and how we can apply biblical truth to our daily lives. Participants are encouraged, but not required, to purchase Bible Study Methods: Twelve Ways You Can Unlock God’s Word (Rick Warren).

Set Apart is our newest experience, and it's currently under curriculum development and leadership of John Hasler.

Discouraged Preachers, Eric Liddell, and The Message Translation

This year, I'm trying to focus on improving my preaching/communication. I've felt such a strong burden recently to be a better steward of the gifts God has given me and to be a better steward of the 30 minutes (at services, summits, and retreats) and the people God has entrusted to my care. It's a scary thing but also an exciting thing. So I'm reading lots of books, listening to lots of preachers, and soaking up as much as possible. Especially from folks who might have different communication styles than I do.

I really appreciate the Together For the Gospel guys- Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, Ligon Duncan, and Al Mohler. This video clip from the recent T4G08 conference cracked me up! Listen for R.C. Sproul's dig and Mohler's comment about the Message translation. And the rest of the content is really good, too. :)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mike Mathews

I've got to give a shout-out to one of my new favorite people on the blogger scene- Mike Mathews. Actually, this is one of my favorite people in the history of the world. Mike and Patti Mathews have been friends of my parents/family for years, and they have both made significant investments in my life. I can't think of a major life/career/spiritual decision that didn't involve Mike in some way. He's got tons of experience and wisdom, and encouragement flows out of his mouth constantly.

He's recently taken a new post as Director of Education at First Baptist Pearland in Texas, and he's building so many amazing discipleship opportunities there that it's making my head spin!

I started this post to introduce you to a new blogger, but as I keep writing, I feel like I just need to give honor to this incredible father in the faith in my life. He's definitely been a Paul in my life, and I'm so thankful that he's only a phone call or email away.

Take some time to think of the people who have invested in your life. Then send them a note of thanks for their influence.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Why I Love Alabama

I used to make these posts regularly, but I haven't done one in a while. I was inspired by a recent conversation with a fellow Southerner about the meat that some yankees try to pass off as BBQ. As I told her, it makes me so mad that it forces me to consider secession all over again.

So here we go with #6 and #7 reasons why I love Alabama:

#6- Sweet Tea (okay, so I don't drink it much, but I love the idea of it)

#7- BBQ (Yes...especially if it's Corky's)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My Strengths Have Changed

I just finished taking Gallup's Strengthfinders assessment for the second time, and I'm freaking out now for the very reason I was afraid to re-take it. My strengths have changed. :) I debated whether or not to take it because I had a fear my strength list would change and then I'd be all confused about what to concentrate on. So Bekah gave me some friendly advice to just turn it into my top 8.

Here are my strengths today:
  • Learner
  • Activator
  • Strategic
  • Self Assurance
  • Futuristic
My old strengths were:
  • Belief
  • Ideation
  • Woo
  • Learner
  • Self-Assurance
If you've never done the Strengthfinders stuff, check it out. Or come to Yelo this weekend.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Carrots and Endurance

A couple weekends ago, I gave a message in our Potential series. We are going through the books of 1 and 2 Timothy to dig out some of the principles that Paul passed along to Timothy, a young pastor in Ephesus that he was mentoring. Using Paul's metaphors of the soldier, athlete, and farmer in 2 Timothy 2, I talked about the importance of endurance. If we want to reach our full potential, we must cultivate a heart that is willing to invest for the long haul.

And there's some cool stuff in there about carrots. Thank you, Julie Robinson Schaer.

Here's a link to the webcast and audio.

Andrew Murray on Fruit

The more I read Andrew Murray, the more I like him and the more challenged I feel. From today's reading in The True Vine:
"The one object of my being a branch, the one mark of my being a true branch, the one condition of my abiding and growing strong, is that I bear the fruit of the heavenly Vine for dying men to eat and live."
You know, call me stupid, but it's never really occurred to me before that spiritual fruit is meant to be picked and eaten. God doesn't grow fruit in our lives so that we can be pretty additions to his garden. Love, joy, peace, patience, all those fruit of the Spirit-- they grow in us so they can nourish others. Which means we can get picked over if we aren't staying connected to the Vine. The next time I feel completely drained at the end of a long day of ministry, I need to realize that (hopefully) the fruit in my life has been invested in others and I need to make sure my branch is connected to the Vine so I can grow more.

Southern Women

For all of you women readers from the South (that would be two-- my mom and my sister), you've got to check out this book-- SWAG: Southern Women Aging Gracefully by Melinda Rainey Thompson. It was given to me to pass along to some members of our Steel Magnolias cast for "research purposes," but I had to read it first. It is hilarious! If you are a woman from the South (or wish you were), check it out!

I've already ordered a copy for myself and a copy of the sequel.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Good Food

It's been a while since I've posted a picture of my little niece, so here goes!

Kickball Practice

My small group took to the kickball field last night for the final practice before facing off with the Chase the Lion small group on Sunday. We tie-dyed our "uniforms," ran some drills, played a couple of innings, and ate sandwiches.

I think I pulled a muscle in my rear. I didn't even know you could do that.

We are thinking about having an NCC small group-wide kickball tournament this summer. There are so many reasons to love small groups!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Two Years in a Growing Prayer Meeting

I love getting old, interesting books. Last night, I visited with an old family friend (who also happened to be a previous boss), and we started talking about small groups and discipleship. He said, "I have a book for you," and proceeded to pull an old brown book off the shelf. He said, "This might give you some insight into the old ways of small groups." Titled Two Years in a Growing Prayer Meeting, the author is Rev. W. F. Lloyd, it was published in 1907, and it tells of his growing prayer meetings. It's kinda like the 1900 version of Building a Church of Small Groups.

I'm only a couple chapters into it, but I've already noticed two things:

1. Some things never change. The challenges that Dr. Lloyd addresses regarding attendance, participation, leadership, and vision, are the same challenges we face today.

2. Our zeal for prayer has changed. This book focuses on the "prayer meeting." That event that gradually turned into "business meeting" or "equipping class" in many denominations. Business and equipping are important, but should they have replaced prayer? Do we need to resurrect and reinvent them? When and where are we praying together? Yeah, we do it in our small groups, but in my experience, it always seems to be the "add on" or the activity that brings "closure" to the group as opposed to the life and power of the group.

I'm just not sure we pray enough.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Andrew Murray

The more I learn about the 19th century pastor/author Andrew Murray, the more I like him! His book Humility really impacted me about a year and a half ago. And now I'm reading his devotional writings on John 15- The True Vine.

He begins the book with these words,
"All earthly things are the shadows of heavenly realities-- the expression, in created, visible forms, of the invisible glory of God...all the vines of earth are pictures and emblems of himself."
Kinda like the carrot reminds us of God's work in our potential. If you weren't in the sermon this weekend, I'll explain that more later.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Weekend Reflections

What a great weekend! It started with good friends at the Nats vs. Braves on Friday night, followed by a drenching rain that left us soaked from head to foot. Wow, I love baseball. I shared this weekend that my earliest dream was to become the first major league baseball player. There's still hope, right?

On Saturday, I headed out to Falling Waters, WV to speak at our Alpha Holy Spirit Getaway weekend. It happens every fall and spring semesters, and it's one of my favorite things to do. All of the participants in our Alpha course get off for an overnighter, and that's where we do our teaching on the Holy Spirit. I teach on What Does the Holy Spirit Do? and we explore themes of adoption, spiritual growth, fruit of the Spirit, spiritual gifts, and evangelism. I love being around people who are so honest in their spiritual journey and so hungry for truth.

Then, I whipped through the McDonald's drive-thru and zipped back to DC to speak at our weekend services. We are in a series exploring the themes of 1 and 2 Timothy called "Potential," and I talked about the role of endurance in realizing our potential, using Paul's examples of soldier, athlete, and farmer. I had fun talking about carrots. More on that later. :)

On Sunday morning, I was live at Union and Georgetown. LOVED speaking live at Georgetown. Such a great feel in that location. Props to Pastor Dave, Pastor David, and the rest of the leadership team there. Grabbed some Five Guys with some zone leaders and then ran out to the baseball field for a little kickball practice with my small group (we are going to kick another small group's butt next weekend!)

That night, I had a conversation with a friend that sealed the deal for moving forward with a production of Steel Magnolias here at NCC and Ebenezers. More on that later, as well.

Really great weekend!

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Lisa and Lita Suwandi just brought heaven into my office.


Directly from the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. Oh my goodness. I've already taken three of them down, and I'm trying to control myself so that Ryan can have the last one. Lisa and Lita are famous for their ability to bring goodness to my heart and stomach at just the right moment. Thanks, friends!

Missions and Worship

I'm gearing up for my Neighborhoods and Nations small group tonight in which we will be talking about Missions. John Piper's Let the Nations Be Glad radically impacted my views on missions. This kinda sums it up:
“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t…worship therefore is the fuel and goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white hot enjoyment of God’s glory.”

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

One Gaius or Two?

Here's my question of the day, is the Gaius mentioned in Romans 16:23 the same Gaius that John addresses in his third epistle? Anybody willing to vote on that?

There are actually 5 possible Gaiuses in Scripture. My guess is at least some of those references are to the same person.

Yes, this is relevant to my work today. I'm cranking out tomorrow's Thursday Leadership Lesson for zonegathering on hospitality.

Addicted to Scramble

A few months ago, I confessed on this blog that I was addicted to Facebook. While I've been reluctant to add too much flair to my page by downloading time-sucking applications, I have become addicted to Scramble. It's an online version of the game Boggle, which has turned into a fierce sport in the Zempel household.

When I think of Boggle, I also think of our most recent Upward Bound Retreat. I think of three things when I think of that retreat-- a powerful move of God in the lives of NCCers, boneless buffalo wings, and Heather whooping every other person in Boggle. Good times.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Women in Leadership?

We are in a sermon series on the books of 1 and 2 Timothy, and this weekend, Pastor Mark addressed the women in leadership issue in 1 Timothy. I blogged some of my own wrestlings with that passage on this blog earlier this year, and you can access that here. It's got links to good resources on both sides of the issue.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Spike vs. Oxygen

Ryan and I had to cancel dinner plans with a friend last night because he picked up the nasty sickness that I carried around for two weeks. That meant I had about 3 discretionary hours in front of the television last night.

I'm not sure what it says about my personality, but I found myself flipping between Spike and Oxygen for the entire night. Star Wars was on Spike; Pride and Prejudice was on Oxygen. I'm weird.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Dangerous and Infectious

Earlier this morning, I talked to my good friend Alan Alvarez. Alan and his wonderful wife Sara live in Seattle, Washington, but we are desperately trying to convince them to move back to DC. Alan is an amazing small group leader and led groups and served as a zone leader at NCC for several years.

He mentioned to me his new prayer: "Help me to live dangerously for you with infectious joy."

I thought that was a great prayer!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Five Guys and Radical Hospitality

Joel (Ballston campus pastor), Jeremy (visual media magician), and I just returned from a little field trip up to Capitol Hill to experiment with practicing radical hospitality. Every semester, we have a leadership summit where we do vision-casting and training for our leaders, and this semester, we are going to be encouraging our leaders to practice radical hospitality. In an effort to better understand what God can do in us and through us while practicing hospitality, we thought we'd take some Five Guys burgers to some NCCers who are hardworking Capitol Hill staffers by day and NCC leaders by night. What's more hospitable than Five Guys? We had a blast and shot a little video. We'll post a link here next week.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Small Group News

It's always fun to read small group news from around the world, right? Check out this story from Lark News. It's hilarious!

OWENSBORO, Ky. — A small group from Rolling Hills Christian Church arrived at a place of unprecedented honesty with each other last Tuesday when they discovered that nobody in the group actually liked anyone else.

"We all realized, ‘You know what? I don’t care for any of you, and I find your kids annoying,’" says one man who was present.

The moment of openness came while they planned their annual small group camping trip. Some disagreed over dates and camping locations, until one man finally said, "To be honest, I don’t relish spending any extra time with any of you, especially not a week-long trip."

Click to here continue reading.

Running the Bleachers

Spending the better part of my weekend at the ballpark, I found myself thinking about a strong but painful memory of high school- running the bleachers. As I looked out over bleachers at Camden Yards and the new Nationals Park, I found myself hurtling back in time to my freshman year, running up and down the stupid bleachers at Murphy High School. Up and down, over and over again. For an hour minimum. Day in. Day out. What would lead a generally normal and smart young high school student to engage in such a stupid and seemingly pointless ritual?

Track team. 400-meter run.

I hated it. But it seemed that in every sport I played, we were forced to participate in stupid drills. Infield drills. Running drills. Sliding drills. Dribbling drills. Footwork drills. Volley drills. I wanted to just get out on the court or field and play, but my coaches kept forcing us to do all these stupid, pointless things. I figured they did it because they didn't know how else to fill up the practice time. Or they just thought it would be a fun way to get us busy. I would have been more than happy to just play the game. As I matured, however, I realized I couldn't play the game without the drills. They weren't pointless. They were designed to make us stronger, quicker, and more intuitive. They made us people of instinct. Drills prepared us for the game.

I think spiritual disciplines are the same way. Prayer, fasting, confession, worship, journaling, etc. Sometimes I start to wonder if God commanded us to do them just to keep us off the streets. Now that we are Christ followers, he has to give us something to do to keep us busy. To be honest, I sometimes find them pointless. C'mon, quite acting all shocked and appalled and arguing, "But you're a pastor." Admit it, you've experienced it, as well. Ten minutes into prayer and that nasty inner man voice questions the sanity and productivity of what you are doing. But when I encounter the tense, painful, and important moments in the game of life, I realize that spiritual disciplines, like athletic drills, are not meant to just keep us busy. They prepare us to play to the best of our ability. They train us into Christ-likeness. The disciplines and the drills are not the goals; rather, they are the preparation to attaining the ultimate goal.

1 Timothy 4:7 says, “Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next.”

Maybe I should go run some bleachers.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Instron Machines

Last week, I talked about the modulus of elasticity and the importance of creating discipleship environments that stretch people to the point that they experience permanent change in their lives. The need to exceed their spiritual yield strength, in a sense. And whenever I think about the modulus of elasticity, I think of late afternoons in the LSU engineering labs playing with the Instron machines.

In my civil engineering strengths of materials class, we used an Instron machine to determine the physical properties of wood, steel, and structural materials. We would stretch materials to determine their tensile strength and percent elongation, crush them to determine compressive strength, and twist them to discover shear strength.

Later, I spent hot spring afternoons in the biological engineering department doing the exact same tests. Only this time, we were conducting the tests on biological engineering materials- like foods, plants, and bone. We needed a much smaller machine for these items, and we also discovered that there was greater variability with these materials. Two 2-inch steel bars will have variations of strength properties based on manufacturing processes, but they still exhibit very similar strength properties. On the other hand, two 2-inch bones will vary significantly based on the age, health, and size of the person from whom they were taken.

Too often, we attempt to mechanize the discipleship process. It seems to me that the very early stages of spiritual growth are very similar across different types of people. But at a later point, the discipleship process tends to become very unique from person to person. Yet we try to put everyone through the exact same process. We treat every person like they are a 2-inch steel bar with very similar strength properties, and we design environments that are expected to yield similar results with every individual. But it seems to me that individuals tend to react much more like biological materials than structural materials when placed in the spiritual Instron machine. They are much more fragile and much more unpredictable. Maybe we should stop putting people through automated assembly line discipleship processes with the assumption that what works for one will work for all. Maybe we should stop thinking like civil engineers and more like environmental engineers- recognizing the great diversity and variability of the organisms we work with, and acknowledging their individualistic and sometimes unpredictable responses to the different spiritual stimuli that we expose them to.

A Great Weekend

I've got to share some pictures from my fantastic weekend of baseball. First, the Nationals vs. Orioles exhibition game on Saturday night. I pulled for the Nationals that night, and my team won 3-0.

Second, the season opener for the Nationals against the Braves. My team lost (Notice the change in hat- I was pulling for my lifelong team- the Braves), but it was a fantastic game with Zimmerman winning the game in a walk off home run in the 9th.

Finally, the Orioles opener against the Devil Rays. I pulled for the O's in this game, but they lost 6-2.

Now, for the box score on the food. It was a crazy weekend on the stomach with eats as follows:

3 hot dogs
1 chili cheddar burger
3 bags of cracker jacks
1/2 bag of popcorn
1 bag of chips
4 sodas

And a little Chickfila on the way home last night to top it all off.