Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Joseph's Story

So recently I've been learning a lot about Joseph's story in the Bible and how it correlates to my own story.  Genesis is the first book of the Bible so obviously a lot happens there: Creation (a pretty big deal), the Flood, the Tower of Babel, Abraham's story, Isaac's story, and Jacob's story just name a few of the biggies.  Yet interestingly the story that gets the most dedicated chapters is the story of Joseph.  From his days wearing a coat of many colors to his days of sitting high in the land of Egypt, the writer of Genesis lays out the ways in which God shapes and uses this man as a Kingdom representative - and I'm learning a lot about what all of that means for me.

Dreams are an important component in Joseph's story.  The most vital learnings for me have been in the three dream accounts.  In the beginning, he's dreaming that he is the center of the universe - a very important person to whom others (including his family members) bow.  Second, after he finds himself in prison after being wrongfully accused, Joseph says that he can interpret dreams with the help of God.  Finally, when he is called before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams, Joseph acknowledges that only God can interpret dreams.  [This is obviously a pitiful Cliff notes version of the Joseph story - you'd need to read Genesis chapter 37 and then chapters 39-50.]

At 17, Joseph alone is at the center.
“Listen to this dream I had: 7 We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.” 

Years later (perhaps late 20s), Joseph has allowed God to occupy the center of universe with him - how kind, generous, and thoughtful of him.
Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”  

Then 2 years later, Joseph finally allows God alone to stand at the center of the universe and acknowledges his own place as a servant of the King.
But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”
 16 “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” 

Joseph's story is the tale of learning humility.  Joseph's dream of people bowing down to him did indeed come true but it was only after Joseph learned that it isn't all about him.  Joseph was representing the True King and to do that he had to learn who alone was to be the Center.

I still too often find myself at a similar place of trying to edge my way into the center of my world rather than submitting that place completely and solely to Jesus.  There is no fruit apart from living by faith in Him but I catch myself over-functioning and trying to do God's part way too often.  I learning new ways to make God the center - new ways to die to self so that resurrection life can spring forth within me and the Kingdom can break into my life.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Update on Mom's House

In May of this year my mom lost her house and most of her belongings to the floods in Tennessee (see the related post just few below this one).  Since then, my brother and sister-in-law have helped her purchase and renovate a foreclosed home that is immediately next door to them.  This house was abandoned and nasty.  It looked like something from an episode of Hoarders.  My family hauled away something like 20 loads of trash on a 16-foot trailer.

The pictures below show a different story now.  The renovations that were to be completed by contractors concluded a little over a week ago.  That's good news but that also means that the remainder of the work will be done by family members...and probably at a much slower pace.

Clayton Hershner (Children's Minister here at Parkside) and I were able to go down this past weekend and help out a little bit.  We installed light fixtures and ceiling fans throughout the house and prepared the rooms for baseboards.  My family will be installing flooring and painting with hopes that mom can be moved in and settled by Thanksgiving.  That sounds like a long way off but it really isn't when you consider that the work is now being completed at the convenience of people who have full-time jobs.  I know mom is excited and can't wait.  And I know that they're all ready for a break.

Thanks to all of you who continue to ask about her, pray for her, and for those of you who've helped in very practical ways.  Thanks to the Henize and Harshfield families for their donated furniture, too.  God and His Family have been faithful and mom is continually being blessed by generosity and concern.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Crowds

As I read Mark 4 today, I noticed again a theme that God seems to be impressing deeply on me these days.  Here is another example of how Jesus addresses the crowds but then turns to the disciples to debrief the situation and go deeper into life-change in a more intimate, personal setting.  Jesus provides a long discourse on the parable of the sower (and other parables) to the crowds that listened.  But He provides an explanation to those guys who were walking with Him...those who gave Him access and to whom He had greater proximity.

It occurred to me today that I've often viewed His teachings to the crowds and His teachings to the disciples on the same or, at least, similar levels.  But I don't believe that they are.  Jesus can often be found teaching the crowd and then turning to the disciples in a way that suggests, "Okay, now that you've heard me say these things, let's talk about you and me for a little bit."  I'm not suggesting that Jesus didn't love the crowds - He obviously loved them very much - but I am suggesting that Jesus' most important work happened with the disciples, not the crowds.  And here was today's learning for me: I need to be paying more attention to what Jesus says to and how He interacts with the disciples rather than the crowd.

Much can be learned by dissecting what Jesus says to the crowd but much more can be gleaned by soaking up how Jesus interacts with the disciples.  We are, after all, called to be and to make disciples rather than be or make a crowd.

In fact, if Jesus' words and interactions with the crowds were of primary importance, I believe that the New Testament would read very differently.  It would be a collection of sermons.  The disciples would be mysteriously missing altogether with the vast majority of the context of Jesus' interactions and guidance missing with them.  But they are not missing: Jesus' work with the disciples - shaping them into the very guys who will usher in a movement of disciple-making and, when combined, the church - drips from most chapters of the Gospels.

Jesus loved and taught the crowds.  But He focused on bringing life-change, identity, authority, and purpose to His disciples.  You are called to be a disciple who makes other disciples.  So join me in reading more about how Jesus would interact with you after the crowds have been taught and have left (that is what crowds do, after all...ask Jesus).

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

I've received a few messages or had a few conversations each day this week with people who've taken Sunday's challenge.  Some have sent the directions from the back of their shampoo bottles (some of which are pretty funny).  Some have talked about the condition of their hair.  I even received an article from the Wall Street Journal about shampoo.

This past Sunday's challenge was to shampoo twice each day this week (as instructed by the general "lather, rinse, repeat" on the back of shampoo bottles) as a way to remind us of the Discipline of Repetition.  Our transformation into people who more clearly represent our Father happens as a life-long process.  We need to keep going and we need the power of community.  Shampooing the second time each day will help remind us to keep going in our journey.  And using both hands to lather and rinse will help remind us that we cannot do this alone.

Again, there will be no magic in your hygiene practices this week...but you never know what God will use to reveal Himself to you.  From the sounds of conversations so far with people this simple, daily reminder is helping them with the Discipline of Repetition.  May God reveal Himself to us more and more each and every day - whatever that takes.  Lather, rinse, and repeat.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

6 Months Ago

Today our youngest daughter turned 6 months old.  It's unbelievable how quickly the time goes by.  [I'm sure that many of you further down the path of parenthood can attest to that truth even more than I can imagine.]  Everyone gives advice about how we should cherish each day - and we do - but cherishing in no way slows down how quickly it passes.

In a related issue, our oldest daughters are almost three and yesterday Jen wanted to say something to me about them in front of them and she said, "We'll have to talk about that a little later."  It was weird for me to hear that because of what it signified.  What she said was true and the girls do understand conversations that are held in their presence.  It was timely in that it was another reminder that our girls are growing up very quickly.

I'm not wanting to delay the maturity of our girls or always keep them young...that would selfishly unfair of me.  I'm wanting to see them develop into the young women that God already knows.  I just want to be able to appreciate as much as I can along the way.  Six months ago seems just like yesterday.

Tennessee Flooding

Many of you have asked me recently how my mom has been doing since she lost her home in the Tennessee floods.  Thanks for your concern and your continued prayers.

At this point mom is doing very well.  She is living with my brother and sister-in-law and we're working on what the long-term, permanent solution will be for her.  It'll be another house at some point but we're working on what that will be.

Mom lost just about everything in the flood.  She was able to protect (and salvage) some pictures and other items of special significance.  She was also able to get almost all of her clothing and a decent amount of kitchen stuff.  Practically all of her appliances and furnishings were destroyed.  What we were able to save is now in storage with other family members.

Mom is thankful for what she does have and is thankful for life (other people in our hometown were not so fortunate).  With that as a backdrop, she is pushing through with a grateful and even anticipatory spirit.  We'll see what the next chapter brings.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Sometimes I wonder about the rhythm that I keep.  It seems very different than what it used to be as I was growing up.  At that time it seemed that my entire family and I had more of a daily rhythm.  Perhaps it was because we lived in a very small, rural town.  Perhaps it was just a simpler time.  But it seemed that we counted by days when I was growing up and things were scheduled by the day.

Now it seems that my entire family and I have more of a weekly rhythm.  Perhaps it is because we live in a large, suburban area.  Perhaps it is just a more complex time.  But it seems that we count now by the week and have to schedule things in a seven day block because the individual days in that block simply don't have enough combined hours.

You would rightly argue that God is the one who designed the weekly rhythm.  But it seems that He created the entire world in six days and then spent a day in rest.  I usually get through six days, let stuff spill over into the seventh and then move on to the eighth and following days without much of breath.  That was not God's design.

One of our Next Steps this past weekend was to plan a "Matthew Party" to which you would invite people to your house this week for a party.  I thought, "That won't fit into this week...or next...how about 3 1/2 weeks from now...does that work?"  That's the part that I don't remember from my years growing up.  If you had told me that we were going to do something 4 weeks from today as a kid, it would have simply felt like forever.  Now I wonder if there is enough time in 4 weeks to make it work.

So maybe my rhythm is just off.  Maybe my family is busier than yours...but I really don't think so.  I think I've missed an important element in rest and recognizing today for what it is.

I don't have a neat way to tie this post up with a bow.  I'm just praying that God will show me His Rhythm.  I don't want to miss the melody of life in Him simply because I can't keep tempo.  God's movement is a movement you don't rush.

Hebrews 3:13 - But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Passover (Seder Meal)

You'll begin hearing about our upcoming Passover celebration (seder meal) in the coming week.  I'm really excited.  I've facilitated two of these events before and I can tell you that they are powerful reminders of the redemption story of God - both of the nation of Israel from the bondage in Egypt and our own story of freedom in Christ (which, by the way, correlates nicely with our Free series).  We're planning it for the Thursday evening before Good Friday (rather than a Good Friday service) because that was what Jesus would have experienced on Thursday night and we hope it will make Good Friday more memorable.

I like the seder meal because it evokes all of your senses; there are things that you see and hear (obviously) but also things that you touch, taste, and smell.  You sample a lot of different types of food that commemorate different parts of the exodus story.  You also enjoy an entire meal together celebrating the freedom of God.

I also like it because it is intergenerational - there is something for people of all ages.  Grandparents help "tell" the story.  Young kids search for bread in the room like an Easter egg hunt.  It's a great time.

We'll begin selling tickets this weekend.  You've got to make plans to attend.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Food Packing This Weekend

I'm incredibly excited about the opportunity that we have this weekend to pack 80,000 meals for people in Haiti.  What a great chance to actively participate in bringing relief to a nation that has been completely crippled and devastated.  I get even more excited when I think about the fact that the elements that will go into this Sunday were put in place long before the earthquake struck on January 12th.  By listening to God we were able to get ahead of the need.  And I know Parkside well enough to confidently say we'll continue to address the needs (in a very hands-on way) for years to come.

So let's celebrate together what God is doing this weekend through all of us at Parkside.  Both campuses will be pulling together to do something great.  Lots of us have invited friends and neighbors.  Talk with people in your circle of influence and come on out this Sunday.  See you then!

Salem Rd Campus: 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
River Campus: 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Quote I've Read Again Recently

I reread a quote recently that always strikes a deep cord within me.  This is an excerpt from The Present Future by Reggie McNeal:

The difference between planning and preparedness is more than semantics in the biblical teaching.  God does the planning; we do the preparing.  It is God who declares: "I know the plans I have for you," he says in Jeremiah 29:11.  He does not say, "I am waiting for you to develop plans I can bless."  I am not against planning.  I am just suggesting that there is a dimension beyond planning that is critical for us to understand.  We can settle for our imaginations, our plans, and our dreams.  In fact, I think the North American church has done just that.  We have the best churches people can plan and build. But we are desperate for God to show up and do something that only he can get credit for.  God wants us to pray and to prepare for his intervention.

God knows, we need it.

I pray about this for us at Parkside every day - that God would reveal His Kingdom to us rather than us trying to assert our kingdom on Him.

Farmer's Market in a Basket

This past week our family signed on with a local farm co-op.  Basically, we partner with 12-15 other people, pay $20 a month and get a basket filled with fruits and veggies.  This was our first week and I was well pleased with what $20 bought.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Pants in the Family

I'm usually very skeptical about what I'm about to tell you.  It's like Publisher's Clearing House or something.  Does anyone ever REALLY win in that stuff?  Anyway...

My wife is very good (read that: VERY good) at being frugal and saving money.  She carries a three-ring binder filled with coupons to Kroger.  She reads blogs to know what deals are out there.  She's sharp, I'm telling you.  If Y2010K strikes, come on over to our stash in the basement.  We'll all live for quite a while.

She got word that Dockers was going to be giving out a free pair of pants to the first 2000 people who responded once their ad was shown during the Super Bowl.  2000 people isn't many when you think about a whole nation watching (arguable only 1 1/2 % knew about the gimmick ahead of time, but that's no matter here).  So my wife had completed the form and was trigger-ready as soon as she saw the commercial that night.

And we won!  That's right.  I now own a new pair of Dockers.  We actually received them yesterday, which might I add is very prompt on their part.  I've included a picture just to prove it's real.  Pretty cool, huh.  Thanks for letting me wear the pants, honey.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Outreach Leadership Team

I've had the opportunity to work with the leadership team of our Outreach Ministry for the last few months as they've collaborated on some big discussions.  They've worked very hard and the results are showing.

We launched the River Campus back in the fall of '09 in the East End/Columbia Tusculum neighborhood as a complement to over 25 years of ministry that has been going on in that area through the Outreach.  They've been a concrete way that the love of Jesus has been made known.  [If you've never volunteered at Outreach, I can't encourage you strongly enough to do so.]

Now that team is looking diligently at how they can deepen their ability to see movement in the lives of guests/clients and perhaps figure out a way to become more mobile (both to address crisis needs in other areas as they arise and to be able to go ahead of our next campus - whenever that happens).  The reconfiguration will mean that Outreach volunteers will be able to actually sit down with a guest/client and talk to them, both to get information about their immediate physical needs but also talk about spiritual needs and family concerns.  Since this process will require more room for people to sit down together and talk (currently all of the guests/clients are on one side of a counter), we'll need to rehab the building in which they meet.  [Another sidenote: If you're good with construction and want to lend a hand with the renovation, contact our office and let us know...we'll give you more information and connect with you once that project begins.]

They are also searching for a used, 14-ft box truck to replace the old yellow one that spent it's last gallon this past fall.  This truck will help with picking up food and operating the food and wellness operations.

While these changes are very important, I've more enjoyed seeing this team collaborate together and discuss how this one ministry more effectively makes disciples who make disciples (both with the guests/clients and with volunteers).  They model how effectively a team of Christ-followers can work together for the Kingdom when it doesn't matter who gets the credit.  Thanks, team.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

And I Like Storying

So far today I've been able to have two conversations about last night's story in Lifegroup, which was the parable of the sower.  It reminds me of a few reasons that I love storying.

Honestly, storying is the most I've ever really discussed the Bible in a small group environment.  In past times (and I've done small groups intensely for over 10 years), I've focused on (and taught others) to spend some time "hooking" the group with an intro question.  Usually 10 minutes or more.  And prayer time was about 10 minutes.  And then opinion sharing and trying to compose the right kinds of questions to avoid long, painful silence consumed 30 minutes.  That usually meant that though Scripture was the foundation of the lesson, like most foundations it wasn't seen once you actually got inside.  So I like how storying has us talking about the Bible more than anything else.

I also like how I'm not the one talking the most.  No, seriously...I do like that.  Most of the time with small groups the leader feels like they have to carry the conversation and ask the right questions (as above).  But the combination of storying and they way that listening connects to our discipleship path means I should hush more than articulate well my every thought.  Come to think of it, I'm probably not the only one in my group that is glad I have to talk less and listen more.

But I also like storying because of what happened today.  In those conversations two different people told a brief story and I was able to say, "That reminds me of story from the Bible that we just discussed..."  It was much more natural than saying, "You know, the Bible says this or that about __________."  I am more likely to share the story.  It's more accessible.  I can't tell you the number of times I've tried to remember chapter and verse to no avail.  But I can remember the story (as testified by my incredible ability to recite Goodnight Moon from memory).

Talking about God's story also reminds me that I'm a part of His Story.  That's important on a personal level because I want to remember that God loves me.  Really loves me.  Not because of what I do or lead...just because.

First, I hope you're in a small group environment.  Second, I think it's awesome if you're small group environment is storying.  May the story of God be a holy, contagious infection in all of us.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The God Who Invented Community

What we process (debrief, discuss, experience) together not only bonds us but also means that our thoughts will have greater clarity and more closely reflect the thoughts of a God who experiences Triune Community every day.  We need each other.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Just Lower the Bar

My wife was doing a craft with our girls today (mostly because that is just the kind of mom that she is and partially because like activities maintain a sense of sanity throughout the winter) when she noticed a familiar phenomenon.  The craft required that the girls place beads on a string to make a bracelet or necklace.  One of our girls picked up the lacing thing very quickly and was off and running.  Her twin sister, however, didn't seem to have the same mastery.  That is when Jen noticed something hauntingly familiar.

When my one daughter had tried for a few minutes to place the beads on the string as instructed but with no avail, she simply reverted to what her Fall-inflicted human nature said she should do - she settled.  She accepted less than the best.  She shifted the win.  Whatever you want to call it, my daughter flipped from lacing beads to organizing beads in the little metal pan.  She couldn't master what was new to her and, rather than fail, she simply reverted back to sorting and organizing and categorizing and color-matching and all the things that she new she could do.

It's hauntingly familiar because that is a part of our common, broken humanity.  We settle for less than God's best.  We punt at fourth and long when God knows (though its seemingly unattainable) that we're about to get a first down.  We aren't willing to let God use us as a medium to create a masterpiece that we can't see or conceive.  It's a fear of failure of sorts, yes.  But it's more than that.  It's a sign that our self-reliance is more important than a God-dependence.  And while that is nothing new, it is frightening for me to see it spring up in my daughter so early.

In a few weeks we'll embark on this year's all-church journey, Free.  We'll be looking at ourselves in light of Jesus' promise that His Truth would bring freedom.  As I think about my daughter and her simple shift this morning, I find myself thinking also about how I have shifted and, therefore, experience bondage rather than Freedom.  I want to be Free.  I think we all do.

If you're aren't in a group yet, don't forget to contact us and we'll be happy to get you into a group.  Hey, you're always invited to our group (Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m.).  If you're in a group, I hope your group will take the challenge to go through Free with the rest of us.

We will know the Truth and the Truth will set us Free. (Jesus, John 8:32)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Band-aids for Haiti

This past fall my mother-in-law and father-in-law began working for a mission organization in Columbus, OH called Lifeline Christian Mission (www.lifeline.org). They have served for years in one of that mission organizations' first loves, Haiti, even while they were working at a church in Wilmington, OH but were given an opportunity to serve with them full-time and stepped into that adventure.

When the earthquake struck a few weeks ago my mother-in-law was in Haiti with a team of 57 other women (my father-in-law was to join her that same weekend but obviously didn't make it). She and her team were eventually evacuated and are now safe back home in Ohio.

Jen and I were concerned at times about their safety (obviously) and we talked somewhat freely about our concerns for them and for the people of Haiti. Our discussions happened in front of our 2 1/2 year old daughters without much thought...they were still putting ears where arms should be on Mr. Potato Head or trying to get their corn to stay on their fork for the long, shaky trip to their mouths. But kids are perceptive.

Our girls will tell you (and even pray for) what is happening in "the Haiti". Our first conversation would have sounded something like this.

Us: Where is Grandma?
Our daughters: In the Haiti.
Us: What do you think she is doing?
Our daughters: Giving out band-aids.
Us: Why is she giving out band-aids?
Our daughters: Because the people fall down and hurt their knee.
Our daughters: Mommy, I want to go to the Haiti. I give band-aids, too.

I pray that our daughters will always have a heart for the things that break the heart of God.