Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wear Out the Mat

Last week, I talked about carrying the mat. Another dimension of community is wearing out the mat. I blogged about this previously under a post entitled "Wear Out Your Welcome." If the welcome mat at your front door is not getting enough action, it might be time to rethink your practice of community.

Ryan and I have an old, ratty, worn out welcome mat at our door. Granted, it's time to change the thing. But for us, it's a reminder that we are called to be people who practice hospitality. Not people who can write a book on manners and etiquette or that have a well set table. It doesn't even mean that we are people who have a spotless house. It does mean that we are called to be people who create welcoming and safe environments for people to hear dangerous messages.

In a couple weeks, we will officially re-open the Zempel Porch. We'll pull out the porch furniture, the cornhole, and the ice cream and crank up the karaoke machine in the back of the house. And people from our church and people from the neighborhood mix. It's one of my favorite expressions of community.

Wear out your mat.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Carry the Mat

Community requires physical exertion. It costs us our sweat.

One of my absolute favorite stories about the sweat of community is found in Mark, chapter 2.

Mark 2:1-5
Several days later Jesus returned to Capernaum, and the news of his arrival spread quickly through the town. Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there wasn't room for one more person, not even outside the door. And he preached the word to them. Four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn't get to Jesus through the crowd, so they dug through the clay roof above his head. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, "My son, your sins are forgiven."
Imagine this story with me for just a moment, because I fear we read over this and miss the comedy and the adventure here. These guys are nuts. And tenacious. People are heavy. Who knows how far they had to carry this guy? When they arrived at the house, they couldn’t get in. Now, I would have just said, “well, the guy has got to stop preaching at some point” and just waited with their friend until Jesus came out. That’s what rational people do.

But people who "get" community are not rational. They embrace the crazy idea that when two or more are gathered God is truly there and the supernatural can happen. They dare to believe that a little sweat on their part can make stuff happen in the spiritual realm.

So they took their friend to the roof. And dig through the rooftop until there is a hole big enough to lower him. What in the world? How long did it take them to do that? Where was the owner of the house? Did anyone try to stop them? Did Jesus keep teaching or did he pause until they finished their work?

As they lowered the man on his mat at the feet of Jesus, what was Jesus thinking? Scripture says that “They lowered the sick man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

This guy’s life was transformed because of the faith of his friends.

We keep reading, and there is some discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees over the nature of forgiveness, and Jesus says,

“Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, "Stand up, take your mat, and go on home, because you are healed!" The man jumped up, took the mat, and pushed his way through the stunned onlookers. Then they all praised God. "We've never seen anything like this before!" they exclaimed.

This is amazing. This guy walked away with new faith and new legs because of the commitment of 4 friends. Their extreme commitment to bringing their friend into an environment to meet Jesus resulted in extreme healing.

Who is being transformed because of your faith and the faith of your friends?

There is something about community that draws people into a relationship with Jesus. One man on his own could not have brought this man to Jesus. Two men could not have brought this man to Jesus. It took a community, a brotherhood, a small group.

I am so thankful for the people who have carried my mat. I think about people like Alan Alvarez—who literally moved my then-fiance (now husband) and his bed when minor surgery turned out to be major care and required more than I was able to provide.

I think about people like Ruth Sessions who was willing to endure a late night meal at the Waffle House to talk, to remember, to laugh, on the night before Christmas as my Granddaddy lay in hospice care in the last hours of his life.

I think about February of this year, as Ryan and I spent an entire week hopping from city to city trying to dodge and outrun winter storms to get from Oregon back to DC. From Oregon to San Francisco to Denver to Chicago…people opened their homes to us as we lived day by day out of our suitcases.

I am thankful for the people I have met in my small groups. Who have not just become friends. But people who have carried my mat. People who sweated for me when I couldn’t go as far as I needed off the sweat of my own brow.

Whose sweat propels you? Who is carrying your mat? Whose mat are you carrying?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Final Apologetic

On the night of his crucifixion, Jesus looked forward to that day. He prayed that his disciples would be “one.” (John 17:20-21)

The second part of Jesus’ prayer was that “the world may know.”

In a similar manner, Jesus told his disciples in John 13:34-35, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

When was the last time you and your circle of friends were accused of being a Christian because your love for one another was so intense?

Francis Schaeffer called community the “final apologetic.” The ultimate defense...the ultimate proof...of Christianity is the community it lives in.

We can look at scientific evidence and historical evidence and literary evidence and archaeological evidence and build proof after proof after proof to defend our beliefs. But at the end of the day, the proof is in the way we relate to one another. That is the final apologetic.

The ultimate defense for Christianity is community. And that's one reason why I love small groups.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Jesus' Dying Wish

Do you know what Jesus prayed for on the night of his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion? Us.

In John 17, we read one of the prayers that Jesus prayed for his disciples:

"I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me."

"That they will be one." About 10 years ago, I read Building a Church of Small Groups and got my first lesson on this passage from Russ Robinson. About five years later, I heard him teach on it in person. And between the influence of the Holy Spirit and Russ Robinson, these verses have gripped my soul.

One of Jesus' last prayers was for community. For a sense of oneness and teamwork and commitment amongst his followers.

Why do I love small groups? Because community was Jesus' dying wish.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Perspective: a: the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed; also : point of view b : the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.

Mark Batterson has a formula that we use a lot around NCC:

Change of Place + Change of Pace = Change of Perspective

I experienced that in some pretty profound ways last week. I found myself outside my normal ministry context, on a different schedule, interacting with some giants in the faith of our generation. And I walked away with some fresh perspective on community, group life, discipleship, mentoring, and all those great things I get to spend both my waking hours and dreaming hours thinking about and scheming about. I'll be posting some of those thoughts over the next few days.

Community is messy. And discipleship is hard. But it's the dying wish and the final earthly command of Jesus. So if there's anything we must do and do it well, it's that.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Who Are You Serving?

All of us have some level of influence. As leaders, do we use our influence to serve ourselves? Or to serve others? When we are given a level of authority, what do we do with it?

This weekend at NCC, I talked about the story of Esther and the ways that different characters used the influence they had. Haman wielded his power to serve himself. He used his influence with the king to issue a decree to have an entire people group eliminated from the pages of history. Imagine what a man with that kind of authority could have done. He approached the king with an idea and was handed the ring—the power and authority to speak with the king’s voice. But he used it to satisfy his own ego—to seek vindication, to seek revenge. When the king asked him how a loyal man in the kingdom could be honored, he described his dream—in royal robes on parade for all to see. Even with his family, Haman only seems to talk about two things. How the king has treated him well and how Mordecai has treated him wrong.

On the other hand, Mordecai and Esther sought to serve others. Mordecai’s character was established well before Xerxes even ascended to the throne or Esther’s beauty was noticed. He took in his young cousin and adopted her as his own. He used his position in the royal court to save the life of the king and continued to serve well and faithfully even when his loyalty was not acknowledged or rewarded. The last verse of the book of Esther acknowledges the great ways in which Mordecai served his people throughout his life.

Esther risked her life to approach the king and make an unsolicited request. In doing so, she would be accusing the king’s most trusted advisor—a man who seemed to get more audience with the king than she did. And she would be exposing the fault of his own legislation.

She listened to her cousin Mordecai. Esther 4:14, “For who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Where has God placed you? As a boss, as a parent, as a friend, as a leader…you had a voice in someone’s life. Do you use that position to serve yourself? Or to serve others?

My 16-year-old brother-in-law Josh Zempel is in town visiting us this summer. Every time he visits, Josh reaps the rewards of people who use their influence to serve him. He gets special meals at the Pentagon and backstage passes to the halls of political power and personal photography lessons from professional photographers. But this trip might have trumped everything. My friend Matt is in the show Promises, Promises on Broadway…which happens to star Josh’s favorite actress ever, Kristin Chenoweth. Weeks before Josh’s arrival, Matt had planned to get Josh backstage to meet Kristin after the show. After the show, Josh stood on the stage of the Broadway Theatre in NYC...which was cool enough in and of itself. But when Kristin Chenoweth emerged, the boy went stupid. And I quote, “I’ve been waiting 10 years to meet you, hi, I’m from Oregon.”

Matt used his influence to serve a 16-year-old kid that he had never met.

In Philippians 2:4-8, we see the ultimate example of influence serving others. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, And being in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Who are you serving? This is one of the most important questions we will face as a leader, and our answer will determine the legacy we leave.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Who Are You Listening To?

Who are you listening to? The answer to that question can make you or break you as a leader. As I shared the story of Esther this weekend, I encouraged NCCers to consider the voices in the lives of King Xerxes, Haman, and Esther and the impact that those voices had.

King Xerxes listened to the “wise men” of his kingdom and banished his wife Vashti…a decision he later regretted. He listened to the wrong people.

Haman didn’t even notice that Mordecai was not bowing down. In Esther 3:3, “Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, ‘why do you transgress the King’s command. And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman.” In verse 5, we read that he was “filled with fury.” Haman listened to negative voices around him which planted the seeds of jealousy and anger that eventually destroyed him. Later in the story, he listened to friends and family that nurtured his arrogance and pride. They stroked his ego instead of challenging him to serve the people. He listened to the wrong people.

Contrast this with Esther. She listened. She was teachable. When Mordecai instructed her to keep her ethnicity a secret, she kept her mouth shut. When Hegai made recommendations about her appearance and choice of clothing and jewelry, she followed his advice. When Mordecai challenged her to risk her life for the sake of her people, she accepted that risk.

Who are you listening to? Are you listening to people who tell you the things that you want to hear in the short term but lead to your destruction in the long term? Or are you listening to people who give you instruction and exhortation that may be uncomfortable and unwelcomed advice in the moment but will lead to growth and maturity and sustainability in the long term? Haman listened to people who told him what he wanted to hear in the moment but it led to his downfall. Esther listened to things that were difficult in the moment but led to life.

I once heard Andy Stanley say, “Your friends will determine the quality and direction of your life.” I have found that to be true experientially. And I have found it to be true Biblically. When Nathan confronted David about his sin, the king could have easily ordered immediate death for such a treacherous act. He could have silenced the prophet and his sin. But he repented. He listened to the right person. And that influenced the trajectory of his life.

Joshua had a Moses; Elisha had an Elijah; Saul had a Barnabas; Timothy had a Paul.

I’m thankful for people like Marti Pulliam who greatly inconvenienced my life in middle school by challenging me to establish a prayer and Bible reading strategy. I’m thankful for a Dave Buehring who challenges me to make tough choices now that will enable me to finish my ministry well in the future. I’m thankful for a Marva Adams who quietly but firmly brought correction to some of my views of what a godly wife should be.

One of the Proteges this week told me, “I love you enough to tell you ‘no.’” I hate and love to hear stuff like that all at the same time. Especially from Proteges.

We need friends in our lives who love us enough to tell us no. We need people in our lives who will confront us. Who confront what we are doing wrong. And to confront the gifts and passions that are lying dormant inside of us that need to be called out. We need people around us who have X-ray vision into our heat—that see and acknowledge the calling of God on our lives and encourage us to pursue it no matter how welcomed or unwelcomed that encouragement might be in the moment.

Who are you listening to?

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Thoughts From Esther

I'll be finishing out our Legends series this weekend with a message from the book of Esther. Here are just a few quick and dirty thoughts before I go into final prep mode:
  • I discover new moments of comedy, tragedy, and timeless truth every single time I read the book.
  • That bit about Haman constructing his own humiliation and parading Mordecai around the city is hysterical.
  • If I had been Esther, I don't think I could have waited two whole meals. I think I would have blurted out, "That dork is trying to kills us!!" before the first round of chips and salsa had been taken from the table. I guess that's at least one reason why I'm not the one God elects to save nations from destruction.
  • The word "favor" shows up 8 times in this book.
  • If you listen to tattle-tales, it will only get you in trouble in the long run.
  • Who we listen to will make or break us. Are we listening to people who tell us the things we want to hear in the short term but will only lead to our destruction in the long term? Or are we listening to people who give instruction and correction that may be uncomfortable and unwelcomed advice in the moment but will lead to growth and maturity and sustainability in the long term.
  • We must use our influence to serve others and not to serve ourselves.
  • God is in control. Let's live like we really believe that.
  • God is the real hero of the story. Esther just decided to be obedient.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Leadership Lessons From Mary

At (re)Vision, I talked about the life of Mary and some principles and practices that were worth considering as we aim to become women of influence. God has called each of us into his story. To influence a generation. Each of us will exert that influence in ways that are as unique as God created us. They question is not if you will influence but how you will influence.

Will we be women who actively receive the call of God on our lives?

Will we engage in affirming friendships?

Will we follow God’s lead with quiet courage?

Will we care out time for focused reflection?

Will we do the hard work of offering creative encouragement?

Will we stand firmly in the midst of adversity in fierce devotion to Christ and those he has called us to stand with?

And will we put ourselves in a position to receive the power of the Holy Spirit and step out in his anointing to change our worlds?

Here are links to the articles:

When Women Lead
Aggressive Receiver
Affirming Friendships
Quiet Courage
Focused Reflection
Creative Encouragement
Fierce Devotion
Fresh Anointing

Monday, August 02, 2010

Fresh Anointing

This is Part 8 of of the (re)Vision talk on leadership principles from the Life of Mary.

For the past several days, we've been looking at different episodes in and characteristics of the life of Mary that we can apply to our lives as leaders, and the final thing I want to bring up is one that we’ve probably never considered in relation to her life-- anointing for ministry.

In Act 1:14, we read of the disciples, “They all met together continually for prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.” After Jesus ascended, Mary was a part of that band of people who stuck together to pray and wait for the arrival of the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised. If we keep reading, we find that it’s the same group of people huddled together on the day of Pentecost that were filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s kinda of cool to think about, right? That 33 years and 9 months earlier, the Holy Spirit had come upon Mary to conceive Christ within her. Fast forward to the Day of Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary again, and she speaks in tongues and is empowered to do the work of the ministry of sharing the good news of Jesus.

As women, God has a special ministry for us. It will be unique to you as a woman and you can do it only as a woman. Women of influence seek the anointing and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and influence their culture.