Friday, August 29, 2008

Holding Hands

When I was 12, my family moved from Anacortes, Washington to Caldwell, Idaho. My great-grandpa Plueard had recently passed away and my grandma had purchased his homeplace in Caldwell. Grandma and Grandpa Hardenbrook were living there, atop this little hillock in sight of Squaw Butte and Bogus Basin.

My dad is their second-oldest of five children. I am a parent now, and appreciate the value of living close to family. At the time, I was only 12, and more caught up in my own dramas to wonder or care why we were moving to potato-land just as I was starting seventh grade. In fact, I was so caught up in myself that, on a trip downtown with my grandma, I was horrified and mortified that she reached out to take my hand while we crossed the street. I don't remember if I pulled away physically or just mentally. I hoped beyond all hope that none of my friends saw her treat me like such a child. I am sure that Grandma felt my embarrassment.

My parents eventually moved right next to Grandma and Grandpa, and while we were building the house, I got the privilege of living in my grandparents' basement for one summer. At 15 (I think I turned 16 that summer), it was my first taste of independence - I had my own bathroom and I could stay up as late as I wanted and no one bothered me. I was too old to need to hold hands while crossing the street - in fact, they let me borrow their car a few times. I spent a lot of time up at the dining room table, on the couch, and out with the chickens talking with Grandma and Grandpa and learning what a life of boldness would mean for me. That summer, what I had learned from my parents about marriage, adventure and faith was reinforced in conversations with my grandparents. I also was convinced that I was loved, prayed for, and believed in.

In her many years of marriage to my grandpa, Grandma had never lost her boldness, her independence, her sharp wit, or her opinions. She had experienced loneliness and single-parenthood while Grandpa served in Korea, then journeyed with him to many ministry opportunities across the Pacific Northwest and in Canada. Together they reared 5 children around a dinner table where each person was expected to back up their statements and be willing to fight for them. I realized that Grandma was one of the strongest, toughest ladies I would ever meet, and that I wanted to be just like her someday.

Since that time, my grandparents have celebrated their 16 grandchildren and traveled many miles across the US and Canada to participate in graduations, weddings and hold new great-grandchildren. They have also cried with us and prayed for us through our despair, our divorces, and our disappointments. But they never told us they were disappointed in us.

I think my grandpa has retired 3 or 4 times now. He keeps finding his way back to ministry - he considers retirement a "release to service." Grandma has worked in market research for A.C. Nielsen for about 15 or 20 years now, and just celebrated her 80th birthday. This spring, Grandma and Grandpa traveled out to Virginia to see my parents and my family. They didn't care that they were in their eighties ... when the flight arrived after midnight, they rented a car and drove 2 hours down to the house. In the morning, they were ready to go again, driving into DC to see the World War II Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. At the Korean War Memorial, holding my children's hands, I asked Grandma about her experiences in the early 1950s while Grandpa was at war. The next day, Grandpa drove again - to Monticello and back. The day after that, he drove 5 hours down the Parkway to Roanoke to see our house, then drove all the way back up to Edinburg. I kept shaking my head, hoping I will be so adventurous in 45 years.

Almost two weeks ago, Grandma was admitted to the hospital and received a diagnosis of cancer. She and Grandpa promptly quit their jobs and Grandpa said he was going to learn how to do laundry and take care of Grandma. Grandma's family is all across the US and Canada. We don't live next door anymore. We have learned to live lives of boldness and adventure, and that has taken us far away from her and Grandpa.

Over Labor Day in 2006, all 5 of their children gathered for Grandpa's 80th birthday. Most of the grandchildren were able to attend, and we celebrated our family, our common faith, our togetherness and our interdependence. I held Grandma's hand in a prayer circle. It was soft but strong.

I wish I could be next to her right now in the hospital and hold her hand one more time and tell her how much she means to me. We are planning a trip out west for Thanksgiving, and I intend to hold that great woman's hand as much as I possibly can - while I can.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Stay on Target!

We have a GPS system in Tim's new car. He uses it to find customers and new clients who may need electrical supplies. I also use GPS to find properties for our real estate business.

Tim and I have learned the value of "HOME." Our GPS System, or "Veronica," as we have started to call her, knows exactly where we are and how to get us home. We drive looking for "fisboes" - For Sale By Owner homes which are not be listed in the paper or on the internet. Sometimes we turn down a road, then we turn down another road, which winds around a mountain, then we turn back onto another road. Were it not for Veronica, we could be lost. We click "HOME" on the touch screen, and she gently (yet persistently) guides us back to the main road, or navigates a route we never would have known existed to return us back home.

Veronica serves a navigational purpose which is easily overlooked in my personal life. Sometimes I get so far off target, doing things I think are important (things God should thank me for - just look at all the work I'm doing for him!), that I can't find my way home. God's Word is my "HOME." I'm recentered, refocused, and navigated back to the place I'm supposed to be.

Luke 8:11-21 (NLT)
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word. 12 The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. 13 The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. 14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. 15 And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.
16 “No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. 17 For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.
18 “So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.”
19 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they couldn’t get to him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, and they want to see you.”
21 Jesus replied, “My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it.”

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright
© 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust.

Monday, June 30, 2008

What is the chief end of man?

What is the chief end of man?

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
– question 1 from the Winchester Shorter Catechism (1647)

Psalm 30 shows our true value to God – as worshippers.

Psalm 30 (New Living Translation)
A psalm of David. A song for the dedication of the Temple.

1 I will exalt you, Lord, for you rescued me. You refused to let my enemies triumph over me.
2 O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you restored my health.
3 You brought me up from the grave, O Lord. You kept me from falling into the pit of death.
4 Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones! Praise his holy name.

5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.
6 When I was prosperous, I said, “Nothing can stop me now!”
7 Your favor, O Lord, made me as secure as a mountain. Then you turned away from me, and I was shattered.
8 I cried out to you, O Lord. I begged the Lord for mercy, saying,
9 “What will you gain if I die, if I sink into the grave? Can my dust praise you? Can it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear me, Lord, and have mercy on me. Help me, O Lord.”
11 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,

12 that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust.

Thinking more about verse 9: If we are destroyed or cast into a pit, what gain is there to God? Can the dust praise God or proclaim his faithfulness? The psalmist bargains, pleads with God concerning his intrinsic value to God – not as preacher, teacher, breadwinner, or any other marketable skill. His main value to God is that of worshiper.

Does this tell us that our main value to God is that we praise Him, and he heals/restores us, giving us joy, so that we can praise Him, sing to Him and thank Him forever?

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Read further about the author of the Doxology, which is actually the final stanza of a song for morning praise.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

It's Not About ME

1 John 3:14-20

The way we know we've been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn't love is as good as dead. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know very well that eternal life and murder don't go together.
This is how we've come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God's love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.
My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love. This is the only way we'll know we're living truly, living in God's reality. It's also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

(The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)

counterculture - noun
a culture with lifestyles and values opposed to those of the established culture
WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University.

Ways American culture (and human nature) is opposite from a life lived for Jesus:

love of self / love for others

revenge / forgiveness

protection of self / sacrifice of self

me first / you first

get more / give more away

what is best for me / what is better for you

YouTube / being seen by God's eyes only

15 minutes of fame / legacy lived out in the lifetimes of descendants

work for glory / work as prayer (spoken only to God)

exposure / invisibility

skyscrapers and monuments / slums and orphanages

Is it just American culture that has issues with selflessness? Or is it human nature? Do we excuse too much of our self-centeredness by saying it's "second nature" (or "first nature" as we joked in Watering Hole small group last night)? Do we as Americans own the market on selfishness and simply assume that is the way God made us?

Earlier this week, we spent a day at Monticello - a glorious, intriguing monument to the life of Thomas Jefferson, built on the backs of enslaved people. He gets the glory, they get what's left of their homes' foundations on Mulberry Row.

The very next day, we drove from Charlottesville to Roanoke on the Blue Ridge Parkway. At Humpback Rocks (mileposts 5-9.3) we explored an Appalachian homeplace, including cabin, springhouse, root cellar, barn and farm equipment. I was struck by the differences between Monticello and this hard-working family setting. Monticello was all about Thomas Jefferson; Humpback Rocks was all about anonymity. The irony of Monticello is that its glory does not rightly belong to Thomas Jefferson; it belongs to the enslaved people who made it possible.

Theophilus, a monk who labored to build a cathedral in the twelfth century, writes of his invisibility and anonymity, "I have not written down my precepts for love of worldly praise, nor in hope of a reward here on this earth ... I have wanted to supply the needs and help the progress of many men for the greater honor and glory of His name."

Lord, help me be an invisible worker, faithfully constructing and creating "what I cannot even see myself." I will work for you, knowing that heaven is my greatest purpose. All of the labor for my family and church is creating a foundation for your glory and your honor.

Forgive me when I focus on me.

Read further: The Invisible Woman by Nicole Johnson (2005).

It's all about You, Jesus
And all this is for You
For Your glory and your fame
It's not about me
As if You should do things my way
You alone are God And I surrender to your ways

Jesus, Lover Of My Soul (It's All About You)
by Passion
album: Passion: The Road to One Day (2000)

Saturday, May 31, 2008

People "knowing my business"

2 Corinthians 5:16-20
16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust.

I grew up in small towns, and it's true what they say about small towns. People do tend to know about other people, and there is a lot of "knowing my business," if you know what I mean.

Despite comments I have heard to the contrary, Roanoke, Virginia is not a small town, by any stretch of the imagination. To give Roanokers a little perspective, in 2006 (14 years after I left town), Caldwell, Idaho had reached a population of 34,433. Small. The population of Anacortes, Washington, where I lived from Kindergarten through 7th grade, tipped the scales at 14,577 in 2000 (again, 14 years after my family left town in 1986). In the year 2000, Roanoke had 94,911, and the Roanoke metropolitan area had 235,932.

These facts don't enlighten us about communities, however. In a small town, communities blend and overlap, and by the degrees of separation, a person can almost know everyone and everyone can "get up in your business." Recently, at lunch with colleagues, we learned that just about everyone was connected in some way. One person's girlfriend lived in the same neighborhood as the person who had come to do our computer training that day. Her in-laws lived in a colleague's neighborhood. We were all connected through vicinity, relationships, or other commonalities.

In the church, I have found that it's a real struggle to keep that kind of community in the large group (Sunday services) setting. But don't we, as humans, crave community? We desire to be in groups that understand us, speak the same language, listen to the same music. We want people to lean on, to be there for us when we have problems. My friend Scott Schmidt led Living Water's time at communion last Sunday. He shared with us that "genuine community is where people are growing together to love God’s Word and God’s people." And why do we want community? Simple. God created us that way. He is the author of community. It is my firm belief that the church should work actively to create community and redeem community to its rightful meaning.

When a person engages in relationships with others that are not simply "hi, how ya doin'" chats on Sunday mornings, investing in the lives of others in a small group setting, lives are transformed. When a person trusts their group and leaders, it's easy to open up and share his or her challenges and hardships. Be real. Be forgiving. Feel safe in a way that he or she may not be able to feel in a large Sunday setting.

I've had my heart broken many times by people who left the church for another worship setting. It was nothing personal, they said, just needed a change. Why was my heart broken? I had invested in their life. In almost every situation, they had experienced a very difficult life experience, and the large-group Sunday setting knew all about it. We didn't have the small group format for real life sharing and caring. Suddenly, everyone was "up in their business," and it didn't feel good. It was scary. Much easier to leave and start over instead of be viewed as damaged goods, imperfect people, human.

I get it. I really do. It would bother me to no end to have my personal life an open book. In my experience, it's so much easier to talk about the messy stuff of my life with 8 people, not 108. These people have become my friends, my family, and my lifeline.

Through small groups, Living Water reconciles people to Jesus and redeems community for his purposes. We gather on Sundays for common worship, adoration and to celebrate Jesus's death and burial through communion - together - but real personal growth and introspection is perfected in small groups.

Thanks to Scott Schmidt for his guidance as Tim and I continue the ministry he began at Living Water. Scott, I can't thank you enough for your wisdom and the passion for groups you have instilled in my soul. Michelle, you have taught me the value of true friendship - a person that looks unflinchingly at someone's real life and heart loves that person (me) in spite of her flaws and foibles.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Living Water's Discipleship Process

Last year, Living Water undertook a wrenching process called "Simple Church" - a deceptively innocuous title to a book that stripped how we did "church" down to the bones and forced us to analyze how we work to create disciples.

Isn't that really what the church is supposed to do? In the process of creating "mission statements" and "purpose statements" and wondering "what is the job of the church?", doesn't it all come down to this question: How are we fulfilling the Great Commission - and what does that look like at this church?

Matthew 28:18-20
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Today's New International Version (TNIV)
© Copyright 2001, 2005 by International Bible Society

A "coalition of the willing" met regularly, weekly, and painstakingly stripped the way we "do church" down and crafted a process that WORKS to create reproducing disciples of Jesus Christ.

With the help of the book, we even came up with an easily sketched model to demonstrate it - you can draw it on the back of a napkin or business card - to anyone who has questions.

Well? Are you curious? Dying to know the process Living Water uses to create disciples of Jesus Christ?

1) We help people CONNECT to God - in our current structure, this is best accomplished in our Sunday services. Connecting to God occurs anytime we gather to worship.

2) We strive to GROW reproducing disciples - we do this in Watering Holes (small groups) where people meet together to study and share life together. People who are participating in groups are growing and will eventually duplicate themself in someone else's life!

3) We live to SERVE others both inside the church body and out in the community. Service creates a level of discipleship that puts others first - check out Philippians 2 for more information on why we do this.

4) We need to GO - not just tell others about Jesus, but invest ourselves in their lives! By doing this, we are truly reproducing ourselves and making disciples of all nations.

This simple process of creating disciples (while it wasn't so simple to identify and create) enables us to focus on the real stuff of church - what Jesus made the church for in the first place. Church has become (for many people) a building with programs and activities. For Living Water, we want to focus on people - making reproducing disciples of Jesus Christ.

Look at the previous post (created by Andrew Potter at ShoutOut, LLC) to keep us focused on the discipleship goal.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Living Water's Discipleship Process

Protection along the path

Isaiah 26:7-8

The path of the righteous is level; O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth.
Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.

"The church is the only cooperative society that exists for the benefit of non-members."
-William Temple

Those of us who live in beautiful Southwest Virginia sometimes cock our heads and give a blank stare when we hear about the battles in Richmond over the "Transportation Funding" bill. It seems crazy to spend all of that money for roads. Except for congested I-81 and a few issues here and there, our roads are fine. What's the big deal?

Well, I have to ask you - have you ever driven in NOVA? Tim and I visited Richmond recently to attend a real estate class. Whoa. As soon as the congestion started, the bone-jarring potholes and cringe-inducing cracks began. We were borrowing our mechanic's car, as ours was in the shop, and we instinctively slowed down, not wanting to injure the car simply by driving on the road.

Now, a lot can be (and has been) said about Southwest Virginia and Northern Virginia being two totally different places, with totally different needs and concerns. But every time we get around Richmond or Washington, D.C., we have a new awareness of the importance of good roads ... and are happy to return to good old 581, 460, and even I-81. Seriously, folks, it's good to be home. I hate to pay more taxes, but if it will make my roads smoother when I visit NOVA, I'll have to say I'm happy to consider it.

In our small group (we call them "Watering Holes" at Living Water) this week, one of the guys in our group led us in prayer. God spoke to me in that prayer, and I did something I don't normally do when someone else is praying. I opened my eyes and started writing. He was thanking God for the protection he gives us by preparing our path. He thanked God for going ahead of us, filling in the potholes and directing our paths. He also asked for a deeper understanding of what other people go through because their paths are not as smooth as ours. Whoa. God convicted me of my smooth-path goodness in that moment. Yes, thank you, Father, for directing and protecting my path. Thank you for that provision and special care and forgive me when I do not appreciate it enough. Above that, though, Lord, open my eyes to the potholes and cracks that fill the pathways of those around me. Help me not to look down and shake my head, but extend my hands and heart and help them find the One who can direct their paths!

When I immersed myself in learning and public service at the American Studies Program in the spring of 1995, my teacher Steve Garber said something I just had to write down. "How is it possible to see into the meaning of one's moment in history, and to act responsibly - rather than be overwhelmed by either cynicism or sorrow, because the brokenness seems so deep, the pain so profound?"

As Tim and I minister with the small groups of Living Water Christian Church - the GROW aspect of our discipleship process - I pray that I live in gratitude for the blessings God has given, yet work tirelessly to bring people to a saving, life-changing understanding and love of Jesus Christ, no matter how messy and broken-down their path may be. May I point them toward the upright One who makes the way of the righteous smooth, not turn away from their brokenness and pain, overwhelmed by sorrow, cynicism and despair.

I'm not saying that choosing to follow Jesus makes everything perfect ... thorns and roots still find their way into the path to trip us up and cause problems. But fixing our eyes on Jesus sure takes away a lot of the potholes, cracks and distractions.

Friday, May 23, 2008

My sweet boy's dreams

On Saturday, after a fun day with his grandpa and cousin Josiah, I was tucking 5-year-old Wilkin in for the night.

He prayed: Thank you, God, for making Josiah. And thanks for making him so great. And thanks for Grandpa bringing his kites today.

As always, he added: Please help me to have cool dreams – with the Magic School Bus and dinosaurs. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Wilkin prefers to pray for "cool dreams" instead of "sweet dreams." In his mind, sweet dreams are for girls, full of Barbies and pink princesses. Cool dreams are filled with race cars, trains, dinosaurs and the Magic School Bus.

To Wilkin, the nighttime prayer is a barrier - a hardhat, if you will - against dreams he prefers to avoid. He prays to keep his mind clear of pollutants.

Lord, protect my mind from things that should not be there. Keep my eyes fixed on you, and my thoughts full of pure images and goals that please you. Keep my speech full of words that point people toward you.


Psalm 5:11-12

"But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield."

Before Tim and I married in June 1995, I had a nightmare that we decided to combine our last names instead of me taking his last name.

My name at the time was Jamie Hardenbrook. His last name is Hatfield. So, in my terror-filled dream, we legally became Mr. and Mrs. Tim and Jamie Hardhat. I remember waking up from the dream breathless and relieved that the wedding was still days away, and no name change had occurred. I was a concerned bride, terrified that my wedding announcement would show up as a one-liner on the Tonight Show.

After we had settled into Married Student Apartments at Milligan College, I had loosened up a bit. Over canasta and sweet tea one evening, I laughingly shared my dream with Mike and Jen Shanks, our fellow newlyweds two doors down. Soon, a metal hardhat showed up on our door, a gift from Mike that had belonged to his grandfather. That hardhat has followed me and Tim through six addresses now, and has become a treasured reminder of the Shanks' friendship.

Over the past 13 years, I have even come to treasure the moniker "hardhat." To me, it represents the protection that our families' legacies have given me, my husband and my children.

Tim and I enjoy legacies of faith and commitment to Jesus Christ. When we met at Milligan, we had so much in common - our fathers were preachers, our grandfathers were preachers, our uncles were preachers! We immediately had a common language, a common history, and a common understanding. Although our families' histories did not overlap, occurring on opposite sides of the country, we were kindred spirits. There has never been a question for either of us - Jesus Christ will be first in our home, hearts and activities. It's that simple.

The legacy of the Hardenbrooks and the Hatfields and Goodells and Wilkins is the same, and the strength of their faith and commitment is being lived out in our home. That steely strength has provided a protection for us, a barrier from the world that is not easily broken.

My prayer for my friends and church family members is for the same legacy to be lived out in their families' lives. My friends came to faith in their twenties and thirties, and are now navigating the paths of understanding as they reframe their family life and friendships in the light of Jesus Christ. Sometimes they seem to admire the family stability and foundation that we have and wish the same for their family. I am thrilled to tell them about my paternal great-grandfather, who was baptized as an adult, then went on to serve Jesus his whole life as he preached, baptized, and founded Boise Bible College and raised a family of descendants that follow his footsteps of faith and devotion. I am thrilled to tell them about Tim's paternal grandfather, who wasn't baptized until he had grandchildren, but has 4 children who live faithful lives, and multitudes of grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are walking in the footsteps of Jesus! Our families are filled with even more amazing stories of commitment to Jesus that I look forward to sharing in this blog.

What is just as exciting to me? The legacy of my friends' families is beginning now, and I am honored to witness the creation of these "hardhats" of protection and strong foundation of faith for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They are new disciples of Jesus Christ, and they are creating reproducing disciples in their own children and in the lives of their family members and friends. Now that is really cool.