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.