Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Butt Kicked

I got my butt kicked twice this week.

Butt Kicking #1: Saturday Night Service
Butt Kicker: Margaret Feinberg
Topic: If you don't wear your crown, God will give it to someone else.
Reaction: Ouch

Butt Kicking #2: Dinner at Baja Fresh
Butt Kickers: Hungry Mothers
Topic: When we meet in December, you must report back about what you've decided to cut out of your life.
Reaction: Fair enough. I'm cutting you out. :) Just kidding.

I'm thankful for butt kickers.

Road Trip

I'm about an hour away from hitting the pavement for Thanksgiving Road Trip 2008. I'm heading to Nashville with Ryan Z, Lisa O, and Juliet M to join up with my family for Thanksgiving. Here's what I'm looking forward to:
  • Seeing Baby Ruthie
  • Teaching Baby Ruthie to walk
  • Watching LSU pummel University of Arkansas
  • Watching Auburn upset Alabama
  • Eating at Corky's
  • Fried Turkey
  • Going to the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman
  • Being a cheesy tourist at the Opryland Hotel
  • Sleeping
  • Reading
  • Eating catfish
  • Hanging out with the family
  • Laughing and telling stories at dinner
I'm sure there is other stuff. I may blog. I may not know. I've decided I'm not going to do anything that I don't feel like doing this weekend. :)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Counterintuitive Life

I barely woke up this morning, and when I did, I experienced momentary confusion over what day it was, my task for the day, and why I was rising so early. Oh yes. Alpha Weekend Getaway.

I've attended the Alpha Weekend Getaway about 7 times now, I think, to deliver Talk #2- What Does the Holy Spirit Do? As I shamefully dragged on my clothes from last night ( was that bad), I prayed, "Holy Spirit, please do for me all those things I will preach to others about you later today." And that was about the best prayer I could eke out.

Juliet drove while I studied my notes and nearly fell asleep. I was quite sure this would be the most boring and incoherent talk I had ever given in my entire life. As I approached the pulpit, I whispered one last, "Help." And began to preach. All of a sudden, I felt like life had consumed my entire body. That's what happens when the Holy Spirit breathes on you. We begin to experience the counterintuitive life. When I'm at my worst, the Holy Spirit is at his best.

Friday, November 21, 2008

God on Broadway

If you are in or near the DC area, come to Ebenezers Coffeehouse for God on Broadway this weekend. Conceived in the mind of my brilliant husband Ryan Zempel on a road trip from NYC to DC, God on Broadway is a musical revue that explores spiritual themes in the music of the stage. The show features musical selections from Mamma Mia, West Side Story, Dreamgirls, Cabaret, A Chorus Line, and others. And the talent of the cast is off the charts.

Two shows this weekend:

Saturday, November 22 at 8:30
Sunday, November 23 at 6:00pm

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Quick Update- DC Small Group CONNECT Event

So many amazing things have been happening that I haven't had time to even process them personally. Much less process them publicly on the blog. Here are some highlights of the last week: DC Small Group CONNECT Event, NCC lead team brainstorm, zone leader/team leader retreat, God on Broadway dress rehearsal, annual staff planning retreat... Let me start with last Thursday at the DC Small Group CONNECT Event.

DC Small Group CONNECT Event
Despite the terrible weather, we had a great gathering of DC-area small group pastors and ministry directors. Thirty-five in all. We shared the best thing about our groups, the most challenging part of groups for us now, and best practices in various areas of group life ministry. The most important time of the gathering, though, was the community created and the prayer that happened amongst the leaders present.

I'm concerned that small group pastors are often the loneliest people in the world. It seems they are so busy creating community for everyone else that they look around at the end of the day to discover they didn't create the time or space to experience community for themselves.

It was a win. And I think we will continue to sponsor gatherings like this. Not conferences. But conversations.

If you were unable to attend but would like to be kept on a list for future events, please email Will Johnston.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sermon: The Suffering Elephant

A few weeks ago, I shared about the Suffering Elephant in our Elephant in the Church series. Why do bad things happen to good people? I didn't even attempt to answer that one. The Bible just gives us way too many reasons to boil it down to some pat answer. Instead, I tried to pull some lessons and insights from the life of Habakkuk to answer the question, "How do we respond when the circumstances in our lives contradict the character and promises of God?" Yeah, all in 30 minutes, right? At least it gives us a jumping off point for discussion.

If you are interested in watching or listening to the sermon, you can get it here.

Devoted, Smart, Thankful Prayer

This past weekend, we hosted our Fall Leadership Summit, and I focused on Colossians 4:2- "Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart." I've really been challenged by that in the past couple months.

I don't know that I can honestly say that I am "devoted" to prayer. I'm not sure NCC as a church could say it's "devoted" to prayer. When I look critically at my own life, I think I can say I'm devoted to a few things. I'm devoted to developing leaders. I'm devoted to learning all I can about discipleship. I'm devoted to Coca-Cola (yes, I am). I think I'm even devoted to Scripture. Prayer? I don't think so. And yet, if we want to actually make any of the difference in this world that we claim we want to make, we've got to be devoted to it.

It's not the only time we see the early church devoted to prayer: Acts 2:42, "They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord's supper and prayer.

This verse tells us to pray in two ways. First, with an alert mind. I need to pray smart. I fall into the trap of lobbing soundbyte prayers up to God. It's like I know the catch-phrases and the buzzwords to pray for different things, and that's what I pray. It's lazy and it's a cop-out. I'm not sure it's even prayer. To pray smart means to really see what's going on in the lives of the people we are praying for. It means to think about what we are asking for. It means we are praying without ceasing because everything we encounter becomes an opportunity and environment for gaining God's blessing, perspective, or guidance. We often close our eyes in reverence to God when we pray, but I think the best prayers are prayed with both eyes wide open- one on Scripture and one on the world around us. I want to pray intentionally and intelligently. I want to pray smart.

The second instruction we are given is to pray with a thankful heart. I want my prayers to begin with, be saturated in, and end with gratitude. I want to thank God for what he's done in my life. There are some things I just can't thank him enough for-- salvation, my family, my friends, my church community, etc. And I want to thank him in advance for the things he is going to do in my life. I think that praying with gratitude also helps us hit that "praying without ceasing" thing. As we experience day to day life with a growing awareness of the things we should be thankful for, we also develop a growing awareness of the presence of God.

Devote yourself to prayer. Pray smart. Pray Thankfully.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


Only one week until our CONNECT event here at Ebenezers Coffeehouse. We are gathering all area small group pastors/point leaders/volunteer coordinators for an afternoon of coffee drinking, connecting, and comparing notes.

Here are the details:

Thursday, November 13
Performance space of Ebenezers Coffeehouse
201 F Street NE, Washington, DC 20002

It's completely free, but we do need to know who is coming. To register, email Will Johnston.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Muppets Meet the Devil in Georgia

This is awesome.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Half-Baked Thoughts on a Monday

I'm currently reading Alan Hirsch's The Forgotten Ways. Really challenging stuff that is making me think. Here's one thing that is really stretching me: "If discipleship has to do primarily with becoming like Jesus, then it cannot be achieved by the mere transfer of information outside of the context of ordinary lived life...I simply do not believe we can continue to try and think our way into a new way of acting, but rather, we need to act our way into new ways of thinking."

In the Hebrew mindset, there was no difference between knowing and doing. We have a tendency in the West to try to teach people intellectually into right ways of acting. I do think there is a time and place for that and some have an intellectual discipleship wiring. But I've found that I've learned more about prayer in getting ready for a missions trip than in sitting in a small group filling in blanks in a workbook on prayer. I've learned more about community in a cast working on a production than in a small group trying to artificially do life together. I've learned more about the Bible when trying to put it into a format understandable to children than in going through a systematic inductive course.

One chapter later, Hirsch said, "Start with mission, and it is likely the church will be found." I often try to get our small groups involved in "service," but I wonder if I should turn that on its head. Start with mission and then allow group life to form out of that. I wonder if we would be more likely to act our way into becoming a disciple.