Friday, August 28, 2009

Inspiration From Luther

A few quotes:

"Where Christ is, there he always goes against the flow."

"The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God."

"Let the minds clash-- but keep the fists down."

"The time of silence is gone and the time of preaching has come."

"Christians are to be taught that it is better to give to the poor or to lend to the needy than to buy indulgences." (huh...what indulgences do we throw money at today?)

"Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew of the exactions of the indulgence preachers , he would prefer to see St. Peter's Basilica burned to ashes than built up with skin, flesh, and bones of the sheep."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Melancthon, Luther, and Radical Courage

A team from NCC is in Berlin exploring new ways of doing church, ministry, and reaching a generation that has pushed the church to the edges of cultural relevance. What better place to find inspiration than the home of Reformation?

As Ryan pointed out, it's ironic that I embarked on a pilgrimage to Reformation country with a St. Christopher medallion hanging around my neck. Chalk it up to being a Christ follower in a post-modern world.

There is so much to process from today that I have no idea where to start. For now, I'll just share some pictures and quick thoughts.

First stop- a small cafe for some caffeine and sugar. From left to right, new friends Brian and Mike, then awesome NCCers Kate and Jen, and my Discipleship Team partner in crime John. And that's the Castle Church in the background. Yes, THE Castle Church.

The Main Street of Reformation- a walk down this street is an exploration of the radical courage of Luther, Melancthon, and others who fueled change in the 1500s. We saw the Castle Church, Melancthon's house, Luther's house, and the University of Wittenberg where radical courage took root.

The Doors. Well, not exactly. The original doors are no longer with us. But it was on the doors at this spot where Luther posted his 95 Theses in 1517. Above the doors we see the image of Luther and Melancthon holding the Augsburg Confession.

A view of Wittenberg from the top of the Castle Church tower-- 289 steps up.

Inside the Castle Church.

The grave of Philipp Melancthon.

The home of Philipp Melancthon.

The tired crew-- finding a place to rest as Heather completely nerded out in the home of Philipp Melancthon. Seriously-- I was way more excited about this than Luther's home. For whatever its worth, my fascination with Melancthon wormed it's way into my upcoming small group study, Sacred Roads.

This was seriously one of the best days ever. Feeling inspired and challenged to live out the faith that has been passed down to us by the pens of the theologians, the sweat of the evangelists, the words of the prophets, the passion of the preachers, and the blood of the martyrs.

I might get around to blogging on and showing pictures from our other adventures, but for now I will leave you with a quote from Luther:

"Let the minds clash-- but keep the fists down."

I'm sure he wasn't referring to the fist bump. :)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Janes Island

It seems Ryan and I will always celebrate our anniversary outdoors. The first year it was exploring caves in the Shenandoah Valley. The second year, we hiked the backwoods trails at Gettysburg (which are covered in horse poop) and rode roller coasters at Hershey Park. The third year, it was paddling the Shenandoah until we were burned red as lobsters. Last year, it was exploring the Crags (and an infamous fall or two) in Edinburg, Scotland.

This year, we went kayaking at Janes Island State Park on the eastern shore of Maryland. There were great little beaches where we could stop for water breaks.

Here is Ryan observing the local wildlife...and trying to figure out which water trail to follow next.

Next stop...Berlin. Sans Ryan, unfortunately.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Five Years

Five years ago, I made one of the best decisions of my life. I said "I will" when Pastor Mike Mathews asked me if I was willing to marry Ryan Zempel. It's been an awesome five years! We've been on safari in Africa, dug up dinosaur bones in Drumheller, Canada, floated in canoes on the Shenandoah 'til we were lobster red, sailed across Loch Ness, traipsed across horse-poop filled backwoods trails of Gettysburg, produced Godspell, bought a house, hosted more than 25 guests in that house, walked across a Broadway stage, explored a glacier in Alberta, hiked around the North Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland, and lots of other really cool stuff.

I'm super thankful for Ryan Zempel.

(I'm also thankful for fun friends like John Hasler, who, knowing my love for all things patriotic and Americana, celebrate with us and left me this little surprise in my office this morning)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What I'm Reading Now

I've got a ton of books that I'm really excited about jumping into. The ones that are bookmarked right now include:

Sabbath (Dan Allender)- If I had to list the one area that God has really been dealing with me about, it's this. I found Mark Buchanan's The Rest of God to be one of the most practical and theologically helpful books I've read in a long time, so I'm following it up with Allender's slightly different perspective. So far, it's good, too.

The War of Art (Steven Pressfield)- Recommended reading from Rob Bell. I like to balance reading on the left side of the brain and the right side. The title resonated with me because I discovered it back in the spring while working on Sacred Roads-- which was a daily fight.

Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln (James Humes)- I'm really focused on strengthening my communication/preaching skills. This one came recommended by story-teller extraordinaire Ben Arment.

Some of the books in the on-deck circle include The Journals of John Wesley, Leadership Coaching, and Reframing Theology and Film.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Sound of Silence

At 5:30am today, our house became very empty and very quiet. It's the first day in a few months that we've had no guests staying with us. Over the past summer, we've had nine different folks bless us with their presence.

A 15-year-old brother-in-law from Oregon who loves for us to expose him to experiences that will change his life in exchange for some really great spaghetti.

A student working on her PhD in theology who is willing to talk at great lengths about the trends in culture and how they affect our experience of church.

A long-time family friend from Mobile who is now an engineer in North Carolina and is always up for a run to the Outback.

An aerospace engineer and medical internist who are former NCC leaders and now invest their free time doing medical missions in South America. And their two awesome kids.

A couple of abolitionists who are heading to South Asia to put an end to modern-day slavery.

We've loved it. Many of these guests have overlapped one another which has enabled me to do one of my favorite things-- facilitate and engineer new friendships. It's been such a great opportunity to learn and to live in community, and I'm thankful to get a front-row seat for watching God work in and through these amazing people.

I'm sure we will feel a bit of empty-nest syndrome in a few weeks. For today, it's a good time to recalibrate, enjoy some quiet, and gear up for the next wave of guests.

Sticky Church Blog Tour: Chapter 12

This post is part of a blog tour for Sticky Church.

It's no secret. I'm become a huge Larry Osborne fan. After reading A Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God, I knew I wanted to hear what this guy had to say about small groups and their role in the spiritual formation process. So it worked out well that wanted to host this blog tour for the book.

I have not been disappointed. As expected, Osborne delivers straight-talk about the honest realities we face when attempting to build community and make disciples within our current cultural context. He does not give us a book that offers "the next big small group fix," and he doesn't promise results that are unrealistic and unsupported. Rather, he simply tells us what they are doing at North Coast Church and why it is working for them. As you read it, you might discover seismic philosophical shifts that dramatically change the way you do small groups. Or you might find a simple tweak that makes a tremendous difference in how you experience community at your church. Regardless of what your small group model is, there are principles in this book that will prove to be helpful.

I've been asked to focus on Chapter 12: Overcoming the Time Crunch. No matter where we are located geographically, all of us have faced the struggles that come with competing priorities. Osborne's primary message is this: we can either stubbornly embrace the "perfect small group model" and fight against culture or we can harness culture to flow with the rhythms of our lives in ways that benefit group life. We can either created a demanding system that we ask leaders to come serve or we can create a system that serves our leaders.

The chapter addresses three areas where we face the time crunch when it comes to small groups.

First, the reality that most people in the church are willing to invest two time slots a week into church life.

Second, how to balance the need for leader training with the limited time leaders have to give.

And finally, creating a small group that runs on the rhythms of life. A system that allows for breaks at strategic points during the year.

I'll let you discover their strategies for yourself when you read the book. But here are a couple of my favorite take-aways:
  • "Instead of giving a dead and dying program and nice Christian burial, we tend to put it on life support."
  • "We've had to say no to many great ideas and programs that would have broadened our ministry but blunted our impact."
  • "What we intended as a reward for our leaders quickly became a measure of a leader's commitment and willingness to sacrifice for the good of the ministry."
If you are responsible for group life, discipleship, and community at your church, make sure to read this book. You won't necessarily agree with everything, and you shouldn't adopt any model without engineering it specifically for your unique cultural and ministry context. But there are principles that are universal.

Read reviews of other chapters here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Random DC Fun

Awhile back, Ryan, Josh, and I participated in a DC-area photo scavenger hunt to help raise some funds for the modern-day abolitionist movement. Check out our abolitionist friends here.

I thought I would post a few photos of our day.

Heather and Josh looking very serious about winning this thing:

Ryan, Josh, and Heather doing our best re-enactment of Washington crossing the Delaware.

The three of us pondering at the Vietnam Memorial.

Ryan and Heather striking their best superhero monument pose.

Ryan and Josh showing the location of Ludington...sorta...first Josh needs to get the state formation correct,

Ryan and Heather filling their noses with good floral smell to combat the stinkiness of Josh.

Heather and Josh jumping in victory.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Gettysburg Pilgrimage

As part of my educational strategy for my visiting brother-in-law, Josh, I took him on a pilgrimage to the Gettysburg Battlefield. In his younger days, little Josh was intrigued by the novelty of the Southern girl coming to Oregon and became somewhat fascinated by Southern Culture, including our mysterious and enduring nostalgia regarding a particular skirmish in our nation's history.

The day began at Farnsworth Tavern, where I required my much loved Goober Pea Soup. Great food. But bad choice for a hot summer day. Oh well, it was good at this particular moment.

If you haven't been to Gettysburg lately, I highly recommend it. They have a brand new visitors center, the battlefield is more "user friendly," and the newly restored cyclorama (the 19th century version of IMAX) is pretty impressive. In fact, Josh wanted to make a return visit.

Once on the battlefield, it took a few moments to convince Josh that Phantom of the Opera was not an appropriate audio track for the day. We came to a compromise with The Civil War. Broadway plus era appropriate music. Bingo.

At the Alabama monument, Josh and I paused for a moment to remember. And to re-enact. Notice the childish nature of the Yankee and the firm response of the Southerner.

Amazingly, I convinced Josh to hike up Big Round Top. And even more amazingly, convinced him to do a little scrambling around Little Round Top. We were getting hungry for that ice cream at Friendly's.After Friendly's, we made one last trek around Cemetery Ridge before heading back to DC. Good times, good times.

Music of the Night

Drive to New York- 5 hours (because we had to stop at Cracker Barrel). Tickets to Phantom of the Opera- $60 (at the TKTS booth). Changing a kid's life- lots of thought, energy, and time...but priceless.

Ryan's younger brother-in-law, Josh, has been visiting with us in DC for the past month. When we asked him what he wanted to do while he was here, he gave us only one wish-- to see Phantom of the Opera live on the Broadway stage. It doesn't take much arm-twisting to get Ryan and me on the New Jersey Turnpike headed in that direction, so off we went.

Josh claimed that "it changed his life."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Mike Hurt: Phases of Group Growth

I love Mike Hurt. He is currently serving as the lead pastor of Parkway Church, but when I met him, he was serving as the small groups pastor at McLean Bible Church just a few miles down the road from us. Mike bent over backwards to invest in me when I first came on board as discipleship pastor at NCC, and I'm always grateful for the opportunity to learn from him.

In this quick video, Mike talks about the four phases of group life- the friendly phase, the friendship phase, the growth phase, and the future sharing phase.

As a church that operates on a semester system, an understanding of these phases can be incredibly helpful and disturbingly challenging. I thought it was worth passing along.

Find more great resources at Small Group Exchange.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Figuratively Speaking: Gracious Unfairness

The podcast and webcast are up from my message last weekend. God is not fair; he is generous. In the Parable of the Vineyard, Jesus illustrates the extravagant, unexpected, irrational, and illogical grace and generosity of God.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

DC Books to Prisoners

I got the chance to learn about a great service opportunity in my city- DC Books to Prisoners. In the basement of Foundry United Methodist Church in Dupont Circle, volunteers read letters from prisoners requesting books and other materials, select donated books off the shelves, write a note of encouragement, and pack up the books to be sent back to the prison. My A18 Neighborhood Group joined them tonight for some book packing fun. Thanks to Molly Gill for the idea and for organizing.

It was so cool to read the letters from the guys, and it was super exciting to be able to find a book they specifically requested or one that was a perfect fit based on their interests. I said a little prayer with each book I packed and letter I sent.

Volunteers and groups are needed every Wednesday night to respond to requests. It was a lot of fun, so consider it as a small group outreach option!

Book Recommendation: Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God

Larry Osborne delivers straight-forward talk on real life discipleship and offers painful, practical, and sometimes controversial ideas for how the church can do a better job helping people grow in their relationship with Jesus.

Title: Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality for the Rest of Us
Author: Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church
Reader Target: Discipleship pastors, key leaders
Page Count:220
Exploring Further:Check out Larry's blog, Larry Osborne Live

Heather's Reflections
Larry hooked me on page 2 of the first chapter with the statement, "God wants a great relationship with all of us, but it can't be found in a one-size-fits-all approach." By page 3, I was more than hooked; I took the line and sinker as well: "I noticed that almost all the books on spirituality and the inner life were written by introverts-- smart ones at that. I got the distinct impression that God was somehow partial to reflective types with high IQs, impressive vocabularies, and lots of self-discipline. And that left a lot of us looking in."

Yes. This is a book for me personally! And for any of us that are creating environments that nurture spiritual growth, it provides us with a new way of looking at the rhythms and patterns of the Willards, Fosters, Ortbergs, and Bartons-- a new way for people who are extroverted, slightly ADD, busy, or just...normal.

There are parts of this book that I agree with wholeheartedly, parts I disagree with fairly strongly, and lots of stuff that's god me thinking.

I love some of the myths he debunks and practices he questions- the allure and illusion of "balance," the inadequacy of "accountability groups," the empty promises of "spiritual disciplines." If you are in a position of creating spiritual growth environments for people, I recommend this book!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Crazy Stuff in the Sea

This is well worth the 5 minute watch. David Gallo's TED talk about octopi, deep ocean bio-illuminescence, camouflaging cuttlefish, etc. Really amazing stuff!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Baptism by the Bay 2009 Video

This is what it's all about. This is why we do ministry.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Journey On

Thought I'd give a sneak peek at the cover of my small group curriculum, Sacred Roads, coming from Threads in September. It's a journey along the historic paths of discipleship-- from the community of the Love Feasts in the first century, to the mass and soaring cathedrals of the Middle Ages, to the systematic study of Scripture in the Age of Reason, to the personal discipline of the Pietists and Puritans, to the blood, sweat, and tears of the abolitionists, missionaries, and activists of the modern age. There's so much to learn from the rich history of our faith and the legacy left by the pilgrims who have walked the road of faith before us.

The study is about 1/3 history, 1/3 Bible study, and 1/3 practical application of principles and tools that will help us grow as disciples of Jesus.

Gracious Unfairness

Thank God that He is unfair.

So often, we attempt to hold God in our debt, assuming that somehow he "owes" us something for all that we have given up to follow him. In Matthew 19:27, Peter asks, "We've given up everything to follow you. What will we get out of it?"

Jesus answered with the Parable of the Vineyard Workers-- five groups of workers who work differing hours but are paid the same. Probably not the answer Peter was looking for. Those who follow Christ from the convenience of twenty-first century Christianity would reap the same eternal reward as the man who would die a violent death hanging upside down on a cross. The unclean Gentiles would experience the blessings of the Kingdom of God.

But the parable isn't really about the workers at all. It's about the master of the estate. It's not about the inequity of payment to the workers; it's about the gracious unfairness of God. It's about his extravagant, unexpected, and irrational generosity giving more that what is deserved. God is not fair. He is ridiculously generous.

When is the last time you have thanked God for being unfair?