Monday, March 30, 2009

Re-Thinking Discipleship

Explore. Imagine. Experience. Discipline. Relate. Train. Receive. Care. Act. Inspire. Understand. Enlighten. Grow. Transform.

These are words that describe the process of spiritual growth. Components of a challenge passed down to us from the red letters of Scripture and the generations who have gone before us. Though the word has grown stale and cold for many of us, it is the adventure of discipleship.

The pages of Scripture reveal anything but a dull life for the disciples. As far as we can tell, Jesus never herded his twelve Galilean buddies into a living room for an evening of cookies, Kool-Aid, and surface conversation and labeled it a “discipleship group.” Discipleship with Jesus was never reduced to a workbook of questions with obvious and simplistic answers. It was raw, active, in your face. People were being raised from the dead, demons were flying out of people, and Pharisees were being smacked upside the head (metaphorically speaking). And there was never a one-size-fits-all approach to anything.

Somewhere along the way, we replaced spiritual workouts with spiritual worksheets. How do we reclaim the adventure?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Relational Scars

Last week, I continued our Scars series by talking about relational scars. When it comes to relational scars, we are all in a unique situation. Because we have all been on the receiving end of relational scars, and we have all been on the inflicting end, as well.

Following the story of Paul and Ananias, two men who dared to take a risky step towards one another, and in the process, found hope and healing.

Check it out here.

Writing Quirks

I'm new to this writing thing, and's hard work. I'm realizing that it's really a discovery process right now-- figuring out my rhythm, finding my voice, acknowledging my quirks. Not that any of you care (with the possible exception of my mom), but here are some quirks:
  • I can only write for about a two-hour block at one time. Then I need to break.
  • I need to break before I finish a section or a thought so there is something I need to get back to after the break.
  • I'm much better at starting chapters than finishing them. So I've got 2-3 going at any given time.
  • It's best if I can totally change locations between two-hour blocks.
  • One of my best writing places is the National Air and Space Museum. I feel inspired there.
  • Every time I enter the Air and Space Museum, I have to touch the moon rock. I have to.
  • My best writing seems to happen at Jacob's Coffeehouse. I also like the National Gallery of Art and Barnes and Noble.
  • I like music in the background, typically instrumental only. Most of current writing is being done to the tunes of Iona, The Book of Kells.
  • I've been wanting to get my researchers card for the Library of Congress so I can write in the famous Reading Room...but I'm afraid that wouldn't work well as I would feel the need to write something profound and therefore just be paralyzed.
I'm sure there are tons more. Alright...back to it...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What's Challenging Me Today, Part 2

“Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly, or box like one who beats the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
- Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:25-27

"I generally pray two hours every day, except on very busy days. On those days, I pray three."
- Martin Luther

“The great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version "of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.”
- John Ortberg

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
- Abraham Lincoln

"Too many Christians today have half-formed imaginations."
- Ian Bradley

"If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself and your religion is worthless."
- James, James 1:26

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What's Challenging Me Today

“Half the world is starving; the other half is on a diet. We are not privileged because we deserve to be. Privilege accepted should mean responsibility accepted.”
- Madeleine L'Engle

“If anyone among them comes into want while they themselves have nothing to spare, they fast for two or three days for him. In this way they can supply any poor man with the food he needs."
-Aristides of Athens

"The kingdom of God is found in the dirty, grimy, common places of the world. And in his presence, we are all changed."
- Kevin Blue

"The road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action."
- Dag Hammarskjold

"I came to realize that preachers were telling me to lay my life at the foot of the cross and weren’t giving me anything to pick up."
- Shane Claiborne

Real Freedom

“For you have been called to live in freedom—not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.” Galatians 5:13-14

We have been given freedom in order to serve. How often do we think about it like that?

The whole law summed up with "Love your neighbor as yourself." Is it really that easy? Is it really that hard?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Stories and Statistics

My good friend, Dave Treat, who has been an innovative leader in the group life movement and a valuable mentor to me personally, just posted a great article about how we measure effectiveness in our small groups. Go check it out. This one has been plaguing me for years. We need both statistics and stories; they are both important. The Bible contains both. But what moves us-- stories or statistics? Unless you are one of the crazy minority, you are likely moved more by stories.

So what do we do? We excel at the statistical analysis because we know how to do that. How do we capture stories? If we are really serious about wanting to disciple people, then we need to become better story collectors and better story tellers. Maybe we need to stop talking and start asking questions.

By the way, if you are looking for someone who will do a great job with training your small group leaders, Dave is your man!

Raw Prayer

Sometimes I think we stifle our own growth because we just aren't honest with God. We know we shouldn't feel angry towards people so we act like we aren't. So instead of coming to God with honesty and authenticity, we come to God with the "proper prayers" that a good Christian person should pray. Like we can fake Him out or something.

Compare that with David. That guy didn't hold back. Check this out:
"Arise, O Lord! Rescue me, my God! Slap all my enemies in the face! Shatter the teeth of the wicked!"

That's raw. And it's real.

(** And for whatever it's worth, I'm not angry at anyone right now...I just read it and thought it was funny. Or maybe I'm just writing what a good Christian is expected to write on their blog. Who knows?)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Amish Ruthie

I haven't shown a picture of my little niece Ruthie, recently, so here ya go. Isn't she cute? I've titled this one "Amish Ruthie." It's actually a scarf from Newfoundland, but whatever...

And if you have any other fun nicknames, I'd love to hear them. The Sawyer family likes to laugh-- even if at ourselves.

Scary Vision

Vision. It's a word we leaders love. We lap it up. It's our crack. We love the Bible, but we want God to come to us with a special visitation with a specific word for us. Right?

I don't know. When I look at the Bible, it seems those special vision moments are always kinda scary. Think about it. Isaiah got a coal dumped in his mouth. Mary found out she was God...try explaining that one. John saw the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Ananias was directed to heal a murderer. Um, I think I'll pass.

Now granted, there are some good visions. Like the time Peter's diet was expanded to include BBQ. That's a good day. In general, however, when God comes with a special word to us, it's usually one that we aren't quite excited to hear. But it's also one that has the potential to change the course of our lives and the course of history if we dare to obey.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What's On Your Brain Ain't What's On My Brain

An old boss, who shall remain nameless, once said (multiple times), "What's on your brain ain't what's on my brain." I think I experience that with God a lot, as well.

Have you ever noticed that God sometimes overwhelms you with inspiration when you are seeking Him for it...only not about the specific thing you are seeking it about? Did that just make any sense?

I was walking home today after a couple hours of hanging out with God, seeking His presence and anointing for something I needed today. On the walk home, I had to stop at a local park to scratch down some notes about something completely random...He seemed to be spilling out vision and direction about something that is months away. Why is that? Just a reminder that His timing is not always our timing, I guess?

It seems that God is faithful to speak to His kids...even when it's not on the topic we want Him to be on.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Brainstorming Sermon Series

In addition to working with our small groups, I have the privilege of serving on our weekend teaching team. So I've been brainstorming potential sermon series for the next few months. Here are some of the ideas I'm playing with right now.

Bad Habits- Seven Deadly Sins
Help NCCers identify and break sinful habits in their lives.
  • Lust
  • Gluttony
  • Greed
  • Sloth
  • Wrath
  • Envy
  • Pride

Help NCCers establish and build on strong theological foundations. Opportunity to touch on some historical theology.
  • Sola Scriptura
  • Sola Fide
  • Sola Gratia
  • Sola Christus
  • Sola Deo Gloria

Sacred Paths
Introduce NCCers to spiritual disciplines that aren’t talked about very often but have the potential for tremendous growth. Might have been a better fit with a Lenten series.
  • Solitude
  • Sabbath
  • Simplicity
  • Confession

Proclaim the glory, majesty, and mystery of God. Help NCCers grow in their understanding of and relationship to the different members of the Trinity.
  • Father
  • Son
  • Spirit

Acknowledge the mysteries of our faith and, in the process, develop a deeper sense of awe and worship to a God that cannot be placed in a box or described by a set of theological statements.
  • Incarnation- fully man and fully God
  • Trinity- Three and One
  • Eternity- Always was, always will be
  • Sovereignty and Free Will

Code of Conduct
A series on the 10 Commandments

Imago Dei
Help NCCers understand what it means to be created in the image of God and the divinely ordained expectations, responsibilities, rights, and privileges that accompany that.
  • Essence- we reflect God’s image in our being (could focus on our capacity for morality, goodness, reason, ability to grow and change, etc)
  • Authority- we reflect God’s image in the authority we have been granted over creation (could talk about influence, Biblical leadership, even creation care)
  • Relationships- we reflect God’s image in our capacity for relationship ( could talk about the community of the Trinity and how we have the created need for relationship with other people)

I'm also playing around with some ideas on a series on spiritual warfare (not sure we've ever done one of those at NCC and it's always tricky talking in quasi-military language and metaphors in DC), but I haven't quite nailed that yet. And we'll be doing a missions/outreach/evangelistic related series this summer, so I'm trying to stay away from those topics. And we'll most likely be doing Elephant in the Church again the Fall.

Here's the question-- if you could hear a sermon series on ANY topic or ANY book of the Bible, what would it be?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Wineskins for Discipleship

...coming this fall to a bookstore near you...

I guess I should give a little heads up as to why my blogging has been (and will continue to be) curiously spotty over the next few weeks. I'm up against a writing deadline for my first small group curriculum, Wineskins for Discipleship, being published by the Threads division of Lifeway.

Our generation desperately needs to be discipled. And I believe there are ways of making disciples that no one has thought of yet. But before we start inventing, let's take a look back over 2,000 years of history to see how the church has discipled people throughout its existence. There might be something we can learn.

Wineskins for Discipleship divides church history and its approach to spiritual growth very roughly into 5 categories-
  • Relational- people grew in their relationship with Christ as they grew in relationship with one another (small groups, accountability, mentoring)
  • Experiential- people grew in their relationship with Christ as they were immersed in a multi-sensory medieval worship experience (retreats, pilgrimage, stations of the cross)
  • Intellectual- people grew in their relationship with Christ as they studied the Scriptures and developed systems of theological thought (inductive Bible study, systematic theology, apologetics, reading of the classics)
  • Personal- people grew in their relationship with Christ as they implemented personal spiritual disciplines into their lives (quiet times, spiritual disciplines, rule of life)
  • Incarnational- people grew in their relationship with Christ as they strove to become the hands and feet of Jesus to the world around them (missions, outreach, hospitality)
The study will be part church history, part Bible study, and part experimentation with new discipleship practices and spiritual disciplines.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

35 Thanks

Today, the numerical designation of my years of existence flips over to a new number. I won't specify which one, but you can probably figure it out from context clues. I thought I would list a few things that I'm thankful for.

Two Disclaimers:

First, I always hesitate to post lists such as this because it was written in about 5 minutes, which means someone(s) and something(s) extremely significant are bound to have been left off.

Second, you will notice that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and all mentions of salvation, sanctification, and redemption are missing from this list. That's because that relationship and those blessings in my life are inherently tied to every thing on this list (well, with the possible exception of the Star Wars Trilogy...) and it's to Him I give thanks.

With that said, here's an imperfect and partial list of some of the things I'm thankful for today:

  1. Ryan Zempel (who isn’t thankful for Ryan Zempel?!)
  2. Mom, Dad, Laura, Casey, and Baby Ruthie- my immediate family, who are awesome and have loved me and encourage me through Mechanical Engineering 3133, shocking job transitions, puberty, and other moments of life insanity. (Luckily for Casey and Baby Ruthie, they missed out on most of those!)
  3. Granddaddy, GranBerry, Maw Maw, Paw Paw and all who came before to leave me with a rich family and spiritual heritage.
  4. GranBerry’s pecan pie, cherry pie, chocolate pie, carrot cake, lasagna, …
  5. The Thompson and Zempel sides of the family who have opened their arms and brought me in as one of their own.
  6. The Hungry Mothers
  7. The Playhouse in the Park- and all the long hours Mom worked on box office, costuming, etc.
  8. Mims Park t-ball/softball—and Dad coaching my teams and enduring the dance recitals
  9. The Star Wars Trilogy
  10. Cottage Hill Baptist School/Church
  11. Dauphin Way Baptist Church
  12. The preaching of Fred Wolfe
  13. National Community Church
  14. The Zone Leaders at National Community Church
  15. All the staff, team leaders, ministry leaders, and small group leaders at National Community Church.
  16. John Wesley
  17. Murphy High School
  18. Louisiana State University (except for Mechanical Engineering 3133), particularly LSU football, the biological engineering labs, and Destiny Campus Ministry
  19. Disneyworld- especially the 1987 trip to EPCOT Center
  20. SEC Football
  21. The Matthews, the Plashes, the Fishers, and all those who have invested in me throughout my life
  22. Mrs. Harris, Mrs. Martin, Mrs. Waite, Mrs. Dubose, Coach Murphy, Mrs. Tucker, Mrs. Barber, and all the others that helped me to love science, history, reading, and God.
  23. Five years in the U.S. Senate working for the best Senator in Congress
  24. MLB Baseball, particularly the NY Yankees and Atlanta Braves…and the freedom to be such a bipolar fan.
  25. Stephen Sondheim
  26. The Batterson Family- for being so awesome to do life and ministry with, and for giving me so many opportunities
  27. The National Park System
  28. Letters, pictures, and phone calls from Baby Ruthie
  29. Coca-Cola, BBQ, fried catfish, fried dill pickles, Chickfila, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and all other foods Southern
  30. The 2005 pilgrimage to Jerusalem
  31. Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School
  32. Christmas and Thanksgiving
  33. Dad and Mom taking us to the beach—even though Dad hated the sand and Mom was convinced one of us would be swept away by the undertow
  34. The invention of the printing press
  35. Lifeway Threads and the opportunity to publish my first curriculum, Wineskins for Discipleship
...and with that said...I need to start writing...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Pastor Joel kicked off our "Scars" series this past weekend, and he did an incredible job of framing the series and focusing us on the cross.

We are heading into a Big Idea creative/teaching team meeting to talk about the remaining topics. Here's my question, if we were to talk about relational scars, which story would you pick?
  • Ananias and Paul
  • Saul and David
  • Other____________
Your vote? Use the comment link below.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Greater Things Workshop

I want to put an event on the radar screen of every person living in the DC metro area: The Greater Things Business Workshop led by Beth McDonald. I participated in Beth's Business Forum last year, and I can say with great confidence that it's one of the best experiences we've ever offered at National Community Church.

This year, she is offering the same materials and resources in a 2-day workshop.

The Greater Things Workshop is an NCC sponsored workshop aimed at current and future entrepreneurs who want to advance the kingdom of God through their ventures. The goals of the Greater Things Workshop are:
  • To open ourselves to allow God to do greater things in us, for us, and through us via our ventures
  • To assist Christian entrepreneurs in establishing the foundations of a successful organization; foundations anchored in scripture and sound business theory
  • To create a forum for Christian entrepreneurs to share their challenges and successes in an environment enveloped in prayer.
Greater Things Workshop Lessons: Spring 2009
  • Greater Freedom: Turning your venture over to God
  • Greater Vision: Seeing the unseeable and achieving the unachievable through the power of God
  • Greater Results: Turning vision into reality
  • Greater Identity: Bringing who you are to what you do
  • Greater Foundation: Running your organization by “the Book”
The workshop is intended to be a “jump-start” for your venture, as you initially put dreams, ideas, goals and other foundations for your venture on paper while assisting you as your venture evolves into what God has intended.

Thursday evening, April 2, 2009 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Friday all day, April 3, 2009 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Registration deadline: Friday, March 27, 2009
Price: $145.00

The City Club of Washington at Columbia Square
555 13th Street, NW, Washington DC 20004
Metro Stop: Metro Center
For more information contact:

Friday, March 06, 2009

Sarah Owen on Small Group Exchange

I get to work with the best team of small group leaders in the history of the church. I seriously believe that. From my guys John Hasler and Will Johnston, who serve with me on Team D on the NCC staff team, to all of my amazing volunteer zone leaders, team leaders, and small group leaders-- they are the best.

I'm super proud of Sarah Owen today. I was poking around Small Group Exchange and found that one of her articles has been published. "It's Not As Scary As You Think: Guidelines to Choosing the Right Curriculum." Good job Sarah! And who hasn't ever experienced the leadership challenge of trying to figure out what to study next? Check out the article for ideas.

And while you are there, check out the other content on SGX. There are tons of helpful articles and training videos. Feel free to leave your comments, especially on the videos of me, like "that Heather is brilliant" or "wow, I wish Heather was my small group leader," or "I'm so glad that Heather is my daughter." (That was a joke, Regena!)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Moments in Northern Ireland

It would be impossible for me to try to sum up our trip to Northern Ireland in a blog post. Such an incredible time. Great country. Great people. Here are just a few of my favorite moments:
  • Street Pastors
  • Preaching at the Seven Service
  • Connecting with some really amazing folks at the Living Room small group conference
  • Hiking the Giants Causeway
  • Watching Jeremy do magic
  • Listening to Amanda tell knock knock jokes to Irish religion education classes
  • Walking around the walls of Derry with Ryan
  • Singing "God of This City" with the Cornerstone congregation
  • Hanging out with Norman's and Emily's small group
  • Standing on the top of Grianan
  • Listening to John Hume sing "Danny Boy" for our team
  • Getting through immigration with our rejected visas
I could list ten times that. I also have a few non-favorite moments. Like losing my voice completely for two days, spending 6 hours in the Derry ER with one of my sick teammates, watching my entire team get sick, and eating chicken live pate. Yuck.

It was a great trip and a great connection between NCC and Cornerstone. I'm already scheming the next trip.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

When Sickness Becomes Your Sabbath

I'm blogging from bed today, on doctor's orders to keep my butt in bed for the rest of the week to knock out bronchitis and probably pneumonia. It's no secret that I have trouble keeping the Sabbath. Somehow, I can totally trust God to do more with 90% of my finances than I can with 100%. But I can't trust him to do more in 6 days of my time than I can do in 7. I mean, intellectually I believe that, but I don't live like I believe it. I've written about it, I've preached on it, but I just have trouble living it. During my 50 days of focus at the beginning of the year, one of my goals was to take my day off more consistently- not go into work, not check work emails, not do anything even remotely work related. And it turned out to be the one goal that I just couldn't consistently meet.

I don't know who said it, but I heard or read once that if you don't observe the Sabbath in some form, then sickness will eventually and inevitably become your Sabbath. That really resonated with me when I first heard it. And it seems to be true in my life.

And you know you are really sick (in the head) when a doctor tells you that you must stay at home for a week, and after coming to grips that work will still be there when you return, your immediate thought is "Oh good! That gives me time to get all that stuff done at the house." Ridiculous.

So that's my confession. I'm a Sabbath breaker. Even when sickness has turned into my Sabbath. I've read books on it. I've heard sermons on it. And I've even preached on it. But somehow, I just can't get to a place where I totally trust God with my time.

Anybody out there who has learned these lessons and are living wisely as a result? Any advice?