“Triangle. Square. Arrow.” Three shapes metaphorically shaping our lives. A poem I wrote this last weekend.

Triangle. Square. Arrow.

Father and Son and Spirit in unity and love together.
Love can’t be held in a box.
Love is compelled to give love.

Time. Space. Earth.
Garden. Man. Woman. God.
Love sends beloved to enjoys what’s been made.

Man. Woman. Choice.
Serpent. Tree of life. Tree of more. Woman decides.
Love mercifully sends away selfishness to die.

Covenant. Geography. People.
Multiply. Bless. Tree of more again. Divide.
Love graciously sends then restores.

Legalism. Licentiousness. Emmanuel.
Rome. Jews. Authority. Disturbance.
Love selflessly buries selfishness then rises.

Live for self. Live for God. Live WITH GOD.
Believing. Confessing. Depending. Restored.
Love, as Sent One, now sends beloved.

Listen. Learn. Love.
One Christ. One mission. One church. One another.
Love given together to neighbors and nations.

Groom. Bride. Wedding.
No more evil. No more tears. No more death. Hope no more.
Love welcomes beloved as intended, fully restored.

The Gospel is not some concept to believe. It is the proper lens through which to see yourself and others as God does.

As the WestpointChurch.org 2013 SENT life emphasis continues, the equipping focus for this month is NEIGHBORING. The Sunday teaching series is entitled “God became neighbor.” This past Sunday morning, we spent time in John 4. Each week, I close the teaching with “the bottom line.” Here it is from March 10th:

THE BOTTOM LINE:
The Gospel is not some concept to believe. It is the proper lens through which to see yourself and others as God does. It is the moving news of God changing locations, coming near, compelling us to take initiative to go near. God’s commands are not overbearing rules that when kept earn God’s love. They are rather eye-opening pathways down which we walk with Jesus in order to experience God’s love. And worship is not some emotional event defined by geography and circumstance. Rather, it is a breath-by-breath, relational response to the God who stepped into the geography He made to resurrect life from our consequentially deadly circumstances, transformationally declaring once and for all the Truth of His love.

When we believe this Good News, and over time as His Spirit grows us in understanding how this Gospel is embodied in our daily relationships (which is wisdom, by the way), then we realize how neighborly God has been with us and are gratefully and graciously compelled to go be neighborly with each other as well as to others.

So grateful to be reminded of the mysterious, beautiful, compelling news that God came near taking up residence among us. We are loved. His presence is our good.

-jason

Two quotes and two exercises that might help you lose the “wait” toward oneness in your marriage…

Hard to believe March 1st is tomorrow. That means the Sunday morning equipping focus for the Westpoint Church family moves on from the letter “E” to the letter “N” of the SENT emphasis – “NEIGHBORING.” This next teaching series is entitled “God became neighbor.” We will walk through four Scriptures in the Gospel of John as we consider the implications of God coming near to us. Looking forward to a special Easter season!!!

And here is the final Spouse Beach Diet weigh in! Even still, I hope you and your spouse will continue to give energy and effort to the diet and exercise of marriage together. To wrap up the month, consider the following two quotes and two questions together. Take some time on an upcoming date night or late night coffee at home to thoroughly discuss them. It may be just the workout you need to continue to lose the “wait” toward oneness and to go with God together on the intimate, beautiful intended mission of your marriage.

First quote…

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
― Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

QUESTION _ if the Gospel is not just something you trusted one day for conversion but everyday for abundant life in Christ, AND if the Gospel is something that is embodied more than just intellectually received, then how might you and your spouse need to center the Gospel more in your marriage? How is it absent from your relationship (in ways that you treat each other)? How would it be displayed to one another if Gospel was more central to your relationship?

Next quote…

“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.”
― Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

QUESTION _ How are love and truth playing a part in your relationship? How might one or the other be missing? HUSBANDS – is your wife certain that, like Christ, the one thing she will always be able to count on is your love and your presence? WIVES – is your husband encouraged and affirmed in the ways that you communicate your needs, or is he discouraged and torn down? How can love and truth draw you closer toward each other? And how, if applied, might it transform the way you communicate with each other?

Hope this is a meaningful and fruitful exercise, even if it is hard, even if it hurts. Please remember that difficult does NOT equal bad. Often, in fact, it equals becoming. In the context of marriage, often it equals becoming one.

Much love.

-jason

A few thoughts and a prayer as my heart aches for the families of Newtown, CT…

Yesterday I had the blessing of being with my family on one of our little one’s – Ella’s – fourth birthday. With the events of today in CT, I was once again reminded not to have any regrets for missing work to be with family.

My heart has been aching since I heard the news of 20 children and 8 adults whose lives were lost in a small New England town this morning. Tragic is an understatement. Everyone has been taken off guard. It was at an elementary school. An elementary school!!!

I’ve struggled through anger and tears this afternoon. I cannot imagine, as my sister-in-law articulated on Facebook, how those family members will feel tonight as they sit around their living room looking at presents under a Christmas tree (or hidden in a closet) marked for their child who did not come home today from school.

This is yet another reminder of the death present in our world and the importance of our mission as followers of Jesus to live sent with His presence. Leaders, including today, cry out again that these things happen because “they keep God out of our school.” What bologna! God won’t be out of our schools until someone removes the Holy Spirit from those who follow Him as they go there!

We are not asked by God to legislate righteousness. We are not persuading and proselytizing for an alternative religion here. We have been loved by the God who came near compelling us to go near with His love to those who have yet to believe beyond the death and selfishness of the here and now. Our mission is not so trite as only to be about moralism in school or making a better culture. It has all to do with displaying the message of resurrection life so that hope can be found and dead can be made new again.

As Peterson so eloquently and appropriately wrote:

The church is a colony of resurrection in the country of death.

Jesus. You wept over the effect of death. Thank You, as the One who made us, for having a heart of grace for us when we, as the ones who were made, chose to eat of the tree that opened our minds and hearts to all we could know about what we are so beautifully as well as horrifically capable of. Thank You for resurrection. Thank You for hope. Amen.

So, how do I practice “scripturing?” Here are four suggestions…

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Yesterday, I introduced the idea of “scripturing.” A few stories and an encouragement for you to consider it as you live sent daily. Today, I want to ask a very practical question:

How do I practice “scripturing?”

Here are four suggestions.

1 _ personally immerse yourself in the Scriptures.
This is not just a Bible reading program. It is not just some checklist for a daily quiet time. It is imagining yourself back in the story. It is praying for wisdom to discern the author’s intent. It is becoming a learner of the Word of God, but not so that you can be learned. Rather, it is so that you can be a learner, an apprentice who then practices what you are learning.

Rather, it is sit-down time with Jesus, opening the story of Him, and asking Him to help you read it with your mind and heart and mouth and hands and feet.

I read an article one time of a guy who used so much body lotion that had nickel in it, that his skin permanently turned blue. Well, immerse in the Scriptures with Jesus so often and thoroughly and longingly that it starts exuding from you.

2 _ invite a few others along with you in the immersion.
Learn personally. Learn together. Discuss its application. Look for the transformation. Remember that His ways alive in us are not seen with a mirror but rather within community.

3 _ ask “why” and “being” questions more than “how” and “doing” questions.
Don’t forget that one side of the coin of the “good news” is that you and I are desperate for God active initiation in our lives. We tend to want how-to formulas and action steps rather than surrender and submission to the Spirit.

“Why” questions help us wrestle with the heart and mind of God. Discovery therefore results in being closer to Him, walking more intimately and reflectively with Him, our daily rhythms being shaped by His rhythm of grace. “How” questions focus us more on our own heart and mind. Discovery therefore results in attempts to do good for God that don’t always draw us nearer to Him but rather make us less and less dependent upon Him and more and more striving to improve our behavior. The former rests in the Gospel. The latter skips around it.

Growing in wisdom includes the Spirit renewing our minds and transforming our defaults toward having the mind of Christ. The “why” questions help us imagine the Scriptures alive in daily rhythms, transferring them from a small group Bible study into everyday relationships.

4 _ finally, listen with your heart and mind for the way the Spirit leads you in your conversations.
He is with you. Are you with Him? Aware of Him? Listening for Him? Submitting to His lead?

There are so many conversations within our relationships that happen everyday in which the Spirit wants to whisper His truth, wants to weave the heavenly into the very fabric of the daily. It is how “on earth as it is in heaven” occurs. It is the embodiment of the eternal. It is love shining bright amidst the selfish.

It is what God intended.

May we practice Scripturing.

Tomorrow, last post this week on the letter S, let’s think further about how Jesus involved Scripture in His life and how that might need to transform the very ways we study the Bible…

Oh yeah – speaking of the letter S, I told you this blog series was brought you by Sesame Street. Here is one of our families favorite Sesame Street short clips:

Contrast 5 of 5 _ parenting from grace vs. parenting for moralism _ hurry, haphazardness, & hands-off OR patience, priorities, and pursuit.

Parenting takes time. A fast correction at times is enough, but often a focused conversation is necessary. In a moment of frustration, a parent can react with an angry rebuke, but walking down a path toward restoration with a child takes much longer. Parenting doesn’t give much space for hurry.

Parenting is strategic. Inconsistency is guaranteed to produce exasperation both for the parent and the child, but intentional, creative, redundant emphases over time blossom into wise choices and relational joy, both for the parent and the child. Haphazardness is not characteristic of effective parenting.

Parenting requires presence. Quality time doesn’t happen without quantity time. Occaisional gifts don’t make up for frequent absence. Respect grows as connection is valued. A hands-off approach is no way to parent.

And thus the final contrast. A prayer of sorts.

Lord, help us to be parents who hurry less, avoid haphazardness, and settle for hands-off declarations and pithy lectures. Please make us to become parents who patiently walk alongside our children, who cultivate into our kids’ lives with priorities surrendered to You, and who pursue wandering children the way You have pursued us.

PATIENCE
Yesterday morning, Jen took the older four to see the play version of the classic “Frog and Toad” stories. They adored it. My favorite tale from that collection is the one in which Toad desires a garden just like Frog’s. He plants and them is impatient. Frog tried to encourage Toad that screaming at the plants to grow isn’t probably gonna be effective. Patience and watering and more patience and even some circumstances beyond the gardener’s control and some more patience are required.

One wise dad once told me that “steady plodding brings the truest wealth,” patient cultivation brings the greatest harvest. It is true in our parenting for sure.

What helps me most to be patient with others is simply my own remembering of how much patience I require others to have with me.

PRIORITIES
When I coached high school basketball, Coach Rick Majerus, whom I am quite sure is disappointed with the closing of Hostess, declared to the coaches at his coaching clinic this very wise leadership principle:

“It is not what you teach but what you emphasize.”

Dick Bennett, who coached the Wisconsin Badgers to the 2000 Final Four, told our coaching staff to settle on four or five things that we creatively, redundantly practiced every practice, and he guaranteed not an undefeated season but rather that we would find ourselves AT LEAST in position to possibly win every game. We applied this with much success.

With the same thinking in mind, Jen and I settled on six actions that we would try to live ourselves (with the Spirit’s help) and cultivate into and encourage from our kids. We are in no way suggesting that we are great parents who have arrived at some gold nuggets of wisdom guaranteeing wonderful kids. Rather, we prayed and paid attention to the teachings of Jesus and sought counsel from some other parents and arrived at these six:

:: be believing
…that God loves us and is good and showed us His love most clearly when He sent His Son to be with us to live and die and live again that we might live with Him. The question to ask may not be, “What do you think of God,” but rather, “What does God think of you?”

:: be confessing
…when we realize or have been confronted with our selfishness or our wrongful attitude and actions toward God and others.

:: be grateful
…for the God who came near and all that He allows to come into our hands and into our lives, trusting Him to hold us both through our own mistakes as well as our collisions with the mistakes of others.

:: listen
…every step to God and every situation to others.

:: learn
…from Jesus as we walk with Him and with others as we learn and live Christ’s ways together.

:: love
…the God who loved us first as well as neighbors and nations the way Jesus loved us.

PURSUIT
In Psalm 139, David sang this prayer:

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.
(Psalm 139:23, 24 HCSB)

David’s profound gratefulness and contrite heart and surrendered life comes through in these words like no other. It is a sober and beautiful expression of worship toward the God who forgave and restored this great King.

A lot of people’s view of God is not one of a Divine Being who pursues them. For many of them, this is because their own father and mothers never pursued relationship with them in this way.

Dennis and Barbara Rainey applied these two verses to our parenting in a significant way. It is a powerful challenge to all of us as parents to pursue our kids.

When you pursue this kind of heart-to-heart relationship with your children, you’re actually following God’s example. Wouldn’t it be wonderful (someday) if your kids could say of you, “My parents have ‘searched me and known me.’ They know not just ‘when I sit down and when I rise up,’ but they also ‘understand my thought’ and are ‘intimately acquainted’ with who I am and what I’m like”?

I pray all of our kids will say that about all of us as parents, reflecting on the ebb and flow and ups and downs of a beautiful adventure with their moms and dads.

May we parent with patience and priorities and pursuit. Intentionally. Over the long haul. With grace. For the sake of God’s goodness rather than their own.

Contrast 4 of 5 regarding parenting from grace vs. parenting for moralism _ intentionality or interruption???

I like going to the movies. My mom and I used to go see every Bond film together when it would come out in theaters. Special memories. I wish she could go with me to Skyfall. My brother and I can hopefully enjoy it together soon.

I don’t like it when others act like they are the star of this movie called Life. I don’t even like it when I act that way. And our kids certainly don’t like it when I treat them like they are interrupting the scene of the movie called “My Life.”

Not trying to step on any toes here as much as I am being confessional, but may I encourage us all as parents to choose parenting kids with intentionality rather than treating kids like interruptions.

Kids need parents. They are becoming what they were intended to be, and we as their moms and dads play an important role in that becoming. God has given them to us. We are stewards of their lives. We do not need to treat them like they are annoyances. We do not need to make them feel like interruptions.

In a grace based parenting home, parents aren’t gonna bat 1.000 on this. We need grace, too. Kids as beloved as they are can be bothersome at times, can get under our skin. But in a grace based culture, the frustrations can be fruitful if kept in check and responded to with intentionality.

That’s the real issue with our parenting, isn’t it? We tend to give knee-jerk reaction instead of thoughtful proaction. We tend to correct them in the grocery store with perfection at 3 years old in mind rather than 33. We tend to think only of how they might embarrass us at a 9 year old’s birthday party rather than how they might embarrass themselves at a 19 year old’s birthday party.

Are we cultivating into their hearts and lives for the long haul or for the short term? Are we parenting as though steady plodding for harvest or impatiently waiting in line for fast food?

God would surely be considered the model parent. In His dealings with the children of Israel, He always saw obedient response, right? Wrong. They were a stubborn, wandering people. God had to deal with their selfishness. He intentionally parented them. Faithfully, He loved them no matter what. Purposefully, He disciplined them, restoring them with a long term view in mind.

With His help, by His Spirit and God-given wisdom, we too can patiently, faithfully, purposefully parent our kids with focused intentionality.

But what should be the focus of our intentionality?

Rather than pretending that there is a magic formula or a silver bullet for this, may I suggest an exercise for us parents? Read Matthew and Mark and Luke and John, specifically Jesus’ teaching emphases, and try to derive four to six major themes from His teachings. Consider these as the focus of your intentionality as a parent. Bounce them off of a few others moms and dads for suggestions. Then begin over these 18 plus years you, Lord willing, will have with each child, steadily, patiently, intentionally sowing the seeds of those teachings, those Kingdom seeds of the living Word of God, into the hearts and minds and lives of those beloved kids.

But be cautious. I worry that we often get caught up in intentionally, or possibly unintentionally, parenting our kids in such a way that they avoid hardship trying to manipulate or ensure their arrival at a happy, prosperous life.

Be willing to surrender this way of thinking if you do not see it as the emphasis of Jesus’ teachings. Did He teach that in our following Him we would avoid hardship? Did He teach that personal happiness was the goal for each of our lives? I would suggest He did not.

He did, however, teach to love meant to lay down my life. He did teach that hardship was certain but His presence with me is a guarantee. He did teach that difficulty didn’t always equal bad, but might even be a means by which a blessing would come. He did teach that abundant life is given to me NOT as I pursue personal abundance, but rather as I live open handed with all that I have. He did teach that I find the fullness of who I really am when I love God and love my neighbor. He did teach that I was most likely to see Him not when I looked in the mirror at my own polished goodness, but rather when I looked into the eyes of the sick, the thirsty, the poor, the lame, the imprisoned, the ignored.

What will you intentionally cultivate into the lives of your kids? Is it in line with the teachings of our Savior, or is it more similar to the status quo of our society?

Tomorrow, in our last post of the week preparing us for the Grace Based Parenting Family Conversation, I’ll give “the bottom line,” including six things that Jen and I have decided to make priorities for cultivation into the lives of our own kids as we try to intentionally parent in a steady-plodding way.

Grateful to be learning together.