Spoons to the Death {Lessons from Game Night}

The Golden Spoon of Honor

On Friday night I got together with a bunch of women from our church for a game night. Only it wasn’t your normal “women’s game night.” Nope; not really at all. I guess we’re not a very normal bunch?!?! (I blame that on our pastor. {wink} Well, he does set the tone, you know. He might be my husband but I am not vouching for his normalness.)

Anyway, we called our game night “Spoons to the Death” and battled until just one of us walked away with the Golden Spoon of Honor.

Spoons can already be a pretty intense game, even when the spoons are just right there in the middle of the table. But try putting them at the other end of the room. And racing ten other women for them once you get your four cards.

Let’s just say it can get a little crazy. And painful. At night’s end we had multiple rug burns, sore knees, a blood spot on the carpet, and one fractured rib.

BUT we had a blast together. Women of all ages and athletic abilities played. And I do mean ALL athletic abilities. Ahem. Have I ever told you about how much I like books? Yeah, I prefer books and a spot of tea over sports. Pretty much always.

Mad DashEven the women who didn’t play (because they were pregnant or more tentative or just not interested) sat, chatting while they laughed at the ones who did play.  Because, let’s face it, it’s stinkin’ hilarious to watch your girlfriends in a mad dash for spoons on the floor on the other side of the room.

It was a fun night but it also made me think about a few things.

First, I hope you have friends that you can laugh with. Life is hard. I know the backstories of a lot of the women in that room and I know that life is not usually much of a cake walk. Infertility, betrayal, serious health issues, financial struggle, buried love ones, past sin that still haunts, current failure… you name it, it’s probably touched at least one of the women in that room. And, yet, sometimes, it’s good to just laugh. From the gut. Until your stomach hurts. Do you have friends you can do that with?

Shannon & Karen Duke it Out!I also hope that you go past the laughing together. These are the women I study the Bible with and talk about life with and cry with. We support each other in all sorts of ways – whether it’s bringing a meal or praying for a wayward kid or offering a ride or taking on last minute babysitting or answering the phone to talk at an odd time.

There are a couple hundred women at our church. Obviously, I know some of them better than others but most of them are connected to SOMEONE and there is deep communion in those places. If I had a serious need arise, I can think of at least 30 women that I could call that are not even in my biological family.  I don’t even have to think very long to come up with that list. We’re like a big safety net for each other. A family of linked arms under-girding one another. Do you have a network like that?

I hope so.

Brawling for the last SpoonSo what’s my point? I guess I just want to encourage you not to go through life alone. It’s risky to laugh together. Partly because sometimes you have to laugh at yourself! (Especially if someone is taking photos!) And you might even get bloody rug burns in the process. But, that is the stuff of life… you’ll never get the spoon if you don’t race headlong across the room for it! And, oh the memories made in the process.

And, to be honest, it’s also pretty risky to go past the laughing to the soul places. Sometimes, that hurts more than the rug burns. Actually, it usually does. Because exposing your soul is risky indeed. Dangerous business, that. I’ve been burned before. Pretty recently. Honestly, even when it goes really well, it is still costly. You pay with your time and emotional investment. But, I still say there is a beauty in that risk. In knowing and being known.

Whatever you do, take a word of advice from the women of CCC-Stow and don’t go it alone.

Rug burns and all.

One Non-Denominational Girl & Her Musings on Lent

I’m a decidedly non-denominational girl. I love Jesus. I love His Church (usually!). But I’ve never been particularly drawn to one denomination or loyal to one tradition within Christianity.

We worship Sundays in a converted carpet warehouse. Our pastor preaches most weeks in jeans. We’ve never even owned hymnals or had a formal pulpit. Our services are very simple with very little ritual… save the benediction at the end. We hold loosely to our “traditions” because we don’t want to elevate one way of doing something and get stuck in rut.

I’m not necessarily saying that’s better. It’s just what I know. (And, clearly, what I like.)

As a result, I know very little about the “church calendar” and some of the tradition that it highlights. I’ve never had the ash smudge on my forehead. Or abstained from meat on Fridays. Or given up something for Lent.

In fact, for most of my life, my view of those ideas was fairly jaded. Perhaps it was my experience with so many people who had ashes on their forehead one Wednesday every year but virtually ignored Jesus the other 364 days.

Or perhaps it was my misunderstandings of the traditions. Honestly, giving up diet Coke for 40 days seemed silly to me in light of the extreme and weighty sacrifice that Jesus made on my behalf. We Americans indulge ourselves in excess nearly everyday. Most of us know very little of true sacrifice and service. Many of the people I knew who gave up something for Lent gorged on their now-forbidden treat right before and after their 40 days. How could that in any way help us appreciate the anguish and sacrifice of the God of heaven and earth dying on a cross to pay for the awful sins of every person who has ever lived?  Did we think we were impressing Jesus or somehow identifying with Him by depriving ourselves of chocolate for a month and a half?

Most of my experience with such rituals was little more than pomp and circumstance. But, in recent years, I have come to appreciate some of the heart behind some of those traditions.

One thing I have come to value is the way such times help us to remember. We are forgetful creatures. So forgetful. So quickly. God knows that about us. He’s the one who instituted communion as a way of remembering. We do need reminded. Regularly.

I think such traditions can also help us to slow down and reflect. Otherwise, it’s just too easy to get swept into our cultural definitions of a holiday. We get mired in the commercial messages that pound away at our soul. Suddenly it’s April and Easter is about finding the right dress and eating jelly beans and designing the perfect centerpiece for ANOTHER big meal.

And, honestly, that’s OK for Target or Macy’s or whomever. Really. I don’t expect them to make Easter about the sacrificial death and amazing resurrection of my Lord. That’s what we who follow Him need to do. We need to make it about Him… in our homes and in our own hearts.

If slowing down for 40 days of fasting and reflecting before we celebrate Resurrection Sunday will help you to do that, then by all means, please do.

As for this non-denominational girl, my observation of Lent will mostly be in intentional reflecting. I have some books that I will use to help me focus. I have some ideas rolling around in my head that might work for the whole family. If I feel prompted, I might fast in some way during this time. It’s all still a bit of a work in progress for me. (As usual, I’m a little behind schedule. You know, since it starts today and all!)

One thing I do know. I know I want to be a woman who regularly reflects and revels in the Cross and what it means for me. Dorothy Sayers writes that to make the Easter story into something that neither startles, shocks, terrifies, nor excites is “to crucify the Son of God afresh.”

I want to be startled.

How about you?

The Upside-Down Way

I’m not sure where they came from this time. These tears forming in the corners of my eyes. It’s not that I don’t cry very often. I do. Hallmark commercials. Tender moments between friends. When I talk about my kids. Baptisms. Communions. Weddings. Movies. Music. Yeah, you could say I cry a lot.

But usually there’s something vulnerable and sweet that brings on the tears.

This wasn’t a particularly vulnerable moment. There was no soft, moving music. We weren’t in some great cathedral or a particularly beautiful building – just a converted carpet warehouse.

In fact, it was a rather jovial moment. My pastor/husband cracking jokes as he so often does. He was just introducing our three newest deacons on a typical Sunday morning. But, as he stood there with John & Keith, something in me just sort of caught. It was like I got a glimpse of God’s pleasure and it took my breath away.  As if we hit pause for a moment on all the trappings of our world system. A system that says wealth and power and ability are what make the man important.

Instead, I was thinking about these men and what God has called them to do. The very term deacon means servant. These are the guys who are the first arrive every Sunday morning and the last to leave. They collect trash and set out chairs and clean off the sidewalks. They’re the guys who come in on Saturday to fix the leak in the baptistery or show up on a Friday night to get the building ready for another event.

They simply serve – often in the quiet places that no one else ever even sees. Most of them would rather never even be recognized. There’s no extra perk for them. No pay. No power or prestige that goes with this office.  They do it because that’s the kind of God they serve. They follow the One who said “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

In fact, our third new deacon, Tom, wasn’t there. Why? Because he was back in the Cube with our kids. I’m pretty sure he was in full-costume and making a “fool” of himself for their benefit. In fact, if you go back to the Cube on any given Sunday, you’ll find a lot of our men back there. Right on the floor with kids. Leading small groups. Putting the boys in a head lock (smile). Reading the Bible with them. Leading by example.

Hence my tears. In that moment, God was peeling back another layer of truth and reminding me of a better way. His upside-down way. As I sat there, it occurred to me that I don’t know what kinds of cars these men drive or the salary that they make or even the official position they hold at their jobs. But, I do know what kind of men they are and I know the kind of “Man” they follow.

And, that, takes an otherwise normal moment on a typical Sunday morning and makes it into something profoundly beautiful and touching.

Feeding the Hungry

The questions were sincere. I know they were.

“So, what will you be DOING there?”

“We’ll be giving them the Bible. For the first time in their own language. Ever.”

The Bible that had been 30-years-in-the-making. Thirty years of painstaking translation that one faithful couple had devoted their lives to. Learning the language of the mountain people. Creating a written language in a culture where none had ever existed. Making sure it captured the original Greek and Hebrew texts. The husband died before the work was ever completed. He spent his whole adult life living among this remote people, trying to give them God’s story in a way that they could understand it.

His wife finished the work alone.

The Bible that then had to be recorded and made portable for the many, many villagers who couldn’t read. The written translation was only the starting point. Hours upon hours of recording. And we could hold it in the palm of our hand!

We who, in the 11th hour, were going to give it to them.

“Yes, but, what else? What will you be DOING?”

The inquiry was well-intentioned. The asker had visions of orphanages and building projects and food pantries. (All incredibly important and needed ministries.)

But this trip was about 10 Ohioans toting pre-recorded MP3 players up into the mountain villages of Oaxaca, Mexico. Back through winding roads that barely seemed passable and up to the people who were three or four hours from any major city. Places so tucked away that even Spanish is not their primary language. Places where the chickens roam free and the woman across the field makes tortillas fresh each day and walks them to her neighbors.

And I remember feeling a little uncomfortable as I answered. “Just praying with them and giving them the Bible. That’s what the local people there have asked us to come do. They need help getting the Bibles to the people who want them.”

I squirmed as I said it. As if giving them the Book of God was somehow second-rate. As if hammer and nails were the only way to mend the broken down places in a village. As if corn and eggs and papaya were the only foods that would satisfy their deep hunger. Or clean water the only way to quench their thirst.

Oh, friends, let’s not be uncomfortable about offering Jesus to hungry people. I fear that we Christians are in the midst of an identity crisis lately. Divisions now exist within the family of God over the role of social justice and the need for us to do more to right the wrongs around us. But, the proverbial pendulum always swings too far. Because we’re embarrassed that we have neglected social ills at times, we’re now ashamed when the Gospel is the primary thing we have to offer.

 D.A. Carson says it beautifully in his book, For the Love of God:

“We must always remember that the Gospel is not admired in Scripture primarily because of the social transformation it effects, but because it reconciles men and women to a holy God. Its purpose is not that we might feel fulfilled, but that we might be reconciled to the living and holy God.”

In that reconciling, transformation will certainly occur. Wrongs will be righted as we lovingly reach out to people and invest in their lives. We will mourn with those who mourn. We will tend to the sick. We will adopt the orphan. We will minister to the outcast. We will feed the hungry.

Let’s just not be embarrassed about giving them the Bread that will always fill them. Sometimes that will be our only offering for their neediness. And,oh, what an offering…

(for more info on Oaxaca or our ministry partners there, check out http://lokerministry.blogspot.com)

The Power of Serving Together

Having just returned from a nine-day mission trip with some folks at our church, I’ve been thinking a lot about the dynamic that happens on a trip like this one. Of course, a lot of things happen in the community where you serve. That’s the point. That’s why you go.

But, a lot of by-products happen as well.

Things happen in your own heart. God changes you in ways you never expected. Suddenly the “giver” ends up being the “receiver” and you remember that Jesus is the real giver. We’re ALL receivers.

One of the great by-products is the kinship that develops between the team members. We laugh together. We take turns using the outhouse. We scream together when we find a scorpion in the sink. We cry together (especially when women come along). We sit in a smoke-filled room with stingy eyes together. We rub each other the wrong way and figure out how to be longsuffering. We marvel together at the hand of God.

We put shoulder to the plow and we serve together. Day in and day out. And it is good.

Missions trips are a greenhouse for those things. But, it can happen here at home too. For instance, our Community Group is beginning to experience it. My sister is finding it as she serves in the nursery. Something just happens when you throw down your chips and go all in. It’s not always easy but it’s a beautiful thing.

Just this morning I found this clip from Pastor Mark Driscoll in Seattle. He expresses it well. How about you? Are you all in? Are you invested in the family of God?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ne9DzfH3Ej0]

An Unexpected Joy

It’s almost imperceptible but I can hear the change in his voice. The glistening eyes as he returns to his seat only confirm it. This is the thing that I am loving most. This passion and this affection that bubbles to the surface from time to time. My heart is undone as I sit next to this man – my husband and also my pastor.

I’m not sure what I expected as I became a pastor’s wife nearly two year’s ago. Rick and I had been doing ministry together for years on the college campus. I was no stranger to the ups and downs that come with ministering to others. I suppose I knew that this would be different. That it would come with its own set of ups and downs. But I didn’t really know how it would feel.

In many ways, I’m still sorting through it. Navigating it as I go.

But, this. This raw love for his people. It has been an unexpected joy for me.

I’ve always respected his ability to teach the Bible – the studying and the praying and the planning and the actual delivery. I’ve seen him speak to thousands; I’ve watched him open the scripture to one hungry heart. I know he’s a gifted teacher. I’ve also long appreciated his ability to lead others. He’s a planner/thinker/doer with the unique ability to see both the big picture vision and the details that need to happen to get there. These are things I’ve watched him do for 17 years now. I knew they’d part of his role as pastor.

The thing that caught me off guard and has been such a joy to watch is this love that comes through as he shepherds our church. The shimmer in his eye as he gives a benediction. The emotion that surfaces in his voice as he prays for the church. The way he’s consistently reminding us of Jesus not because of religious show but because he truly wants what is best for us. The pensive concern on his face at the things he can’t share but feels deeply because someone in the church is hurting. The sober reflection as he serves communion and leads us to remembering. The intentional pursuit of being out of his office and with his people.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen him love people before. But, campus ministry is a constant influx of people coming and going. It covers a short burst in a person’s life. It’s a critical, transformational time… but by its very nature it is quite specific and quite short. Even our staff team was very young and very transient. We loved our students but we also knew that our time with them was brief.

But this new season of ministry has allowed me to see a side of Rick’s heart that has captured me all over again. Both as someone in his congregation and as the one who sits with him at the dinner table.

My heart is undone as I watch this man who loves his people so deeply – I’m grateful that he is my husband and also my pastor.

Glimpses of Community

“What a refreshing time.” “Such neat group of people.” “I’m so glad we went.”

Such was our conversation as we got back in the car last night. We were tired from a long week and it was late but all of that seemed to fall away as we talked. We were so encouraged and grateful. Hearts happy. Tanks full. What was it that had us so jazzed? A masterful concert? A blockbuster movie? A grand fireworks show? Nope. Not that there is anything wrong with those things, but this was nothing like that. It was nothing fancy. Not a big event. Just a group of people in a home in Tallmadge, Ohio. Talking, studying, snacking, laughing. Sharing life. 

You see, Rick and I are taking time this summer to visit the various Community Groups in our church. They’re really just a slice of Crossroads Community Chapel. Little windows into the bigger family of our church. They meet in homes, pray together, study the Bible, and share life. With all the transitions of starting a new church campus we haven’t gotten in a group ourselves just yet and are, instead, enjoying this time to visit the others.

Last night was our first, and I left so refreshed. As I sat there and looked around the room, I thought about how nice it is to be in someone’s home. There’s just a comfort and vulnerability that seems to happen when you’re sitting in someone’s living room.

Then, when we opened the Bible, the discussion was rich and vulnerable. We were looking at a passage in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. It’s this beautiful, deeply challenging portion about Jesus’ humility as He emptied Himself and willingly died on a cross. Before we knew it, two hours had passed. The discussion was so rich that the leader had to prod us along to bring us to closure. Great questions unfolded as we studied the passage and wrestled not only with the Truth of Jesus’ life but the implications that life has for us. The stage was set as one man led out and shared about a time this week when he had failed to lead his family in humble service. Others opened up and we talked about how hard it is to follow Jesus’ example when we’re all so insecure in our own lives.

I was challenged as I considered my own heart. The Bible has a way of leaving me simultaneously undone and hopeful. I am continually amazed by its power.

But, the thing that was so especially encouraging in this instance was that I left with a sweet glimpse of their hearts. I’m in a totally different phase of life than most of them. I already knew some of them better than others. I was meeting one couple for the first time. How often would we normally cross paths with this collection of people in the day to day of my kid-focused life?

And yet, here we were. Tied together by the grace found in Jesus. In a home in Tallmadge, Ohio; talking about more than the weather or Cleveland sports or the best price for produce. We were sharing the deeper things of life and something beautiful was happening. When Rick and I had to leave at 11 p.m. to relieve our kidsitters, the rest of the group was still standing around talking. Something beautiful indeed.

This Is Our Church

This is our church. Meeting in a converted warehouse. Temporary canvas sign out front. Borrowed parking next door. Simple spaces.

Worship BandThis is our church. A young father showing up just after sunrise to set-up and practice with  his band of volunteers. Sound checks. Running through the worship set yet again. Hearts to do more than perform songs but to really lead in worship. Circling up to pray before the rest of congregation begins to trickle in.

This is our church. Faithful deacons and ministry leaders getting their own families ready early and leaving their homes an hour earlier than usual so that they can help others encounter the Living God. Turning on lights and air conditioning, pulling out boxes of welcome materials, setting up tables for coffee, preparing children’s ministry rooms, arranging for communion. A myriad of to-dos that most people will never consciously notice. Sacred tasks. No one worries about whose job it is to do which task, each one jumps in to help the other and camaraderie grows.

Pastor RickThis is our church. Sweet worship rising up to heaven as regular, everyday people pause to acknowledge the One who made them. Nursery volunteers snuggling sad toddlers. Kids singing so loud that we can hear them in the next room when we pause between songs. A pastor praying with a tender heart for his people. All pausing to remember the blood and broken body of our Savior. Opening our Bibles to the book of Galatians to continue our series. Desperately praying that the Gospel really would go deep. That we would abandon our bricks for the Cross.

This is our church. One couple holding hands as they stand and sing…their sweet infant son in the car seat beside them. Another couple barely able to sit together because the pain in their marriage is so great. Families who have lived in Northeast Ohio their whole lives. Others transferred in and learning to make it home. Still another preparing to move out West this summer. Some with a full brood of children. Others with hope deferred, seeking God for a fruitful womb. Singles. Marrieds. Empty nesters. All learning to find God in all the seasons of life. He is there.

Sacrifice & HopeThis is our church. Fledgling congregation shooting out from a large, strong root. Remembering launch team days where we spoke of loving God and loving people. A simple but solid foundation. Elevate, love, and adore the Lord. Love what He loves: people. Sacrifice for them, encourage them. Today, the tasks are many. The launch team has morphed into a full-fledged congregation. The rubber meets the road. Ideas of loving God and loving people are put to the test. The fledgling congregation is beautiful and fragile all at once.

This is our church. Fears, dreams, hopes, hurts. Brokenness. Humility. Wrestling with the ugliness we sometimes find in our hearts. At the same time, sweet laughter in each other’s presence. Victory and delight. Healing and understanding where there was once miscommunication. Hearts knit together as we pray. Delving into the Word as we search for truth together, spurring one another on toward love and good deeds.

This is our church. A group of people all bound together by grace. Sweet, amazing grace. It’s not our season or our socioeconomic status or our background or our ethnicity or our religious pedigrees or our personalities or our gifts or our political affiliations. It’s just grace. When that’s all we’ve got, we can revel in it together. No pretense. God is exalted and our hearts are at rest. This is our church.

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