“In the beginning God created…” You and I are made in the image of God and one of the implications is that we are creative beings. At Sipping n’ Painting (the little art studio business that we own) it is very common to witness people’s apprehension, hear the objection “I’m not creative” and watch the hesitation around the idea of being artistic. Somewhere along the way someone drew a line in the sand and put a small percentage of the kids on the creative side of the line and the rest of us on the other side of that imaginary line. As a result, most of us believe and even say, “I’m not an artist, I’m just not the creative type.” But I don’t believe it, I think every human being is made in the image of God and there is no one more creative and artistic than the designer of this planet earth.  Just consider…aspen leaves turning and twirling in the wind, oh my! Underwater life, are you kidding me? A duckbill platypus, a baby kangaroo in their mamas’ pouch…and all the wild characters in my family! What creativity, what imagination, what incredible art!

I think the thing that stands in the way of our creating is a little word called risk. We can dream, but in order for our dreams to move from dream mode alone to actual work of creation we must take a risk. It is the risk that holds us back. It is the unknown, the fear, and the potential for failure that keeps us dreaming but never creating. Sometimes I think the place where walking with Jesus gets exciting is at the moment when we leave the familiar, and dreams in hand, we step out in faith to co-create with God. It is risky, which is probably why we do it so rarely. Each week in our staff meeting we review the week. We ask: what went right? wrong? What was missing? confusing? And we always end by asking ourselves: what did we do this week that was risky?

My hope and prayer is that our church can be a place where we encourage Spirit-led risk taking. I hope we can put courage in one another when fear paralyzes us from pursing the grander vision God has planted in our hearts. I pray we become for each other the incarnational presence of Jesus that is needed to follow God into the creative and unfamiliar places He is leading.

I Lack Nothing

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
The Lord is my shepherd, I have all that I need.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

From the perspective of our personal stories, sometimes this famous psalm of David just does not resonate. Lack nothing? Shall not want? Have all that I need? I lack the family of my dreams, I need more money to pay the rent, and I wantwantwant so many other things….

When trying to understand the seeming discrepancy between the words of the psalm and our experiences of need, we might consider that when we pray this psalm, we are participating in a much larger story than our personal stories alone can tell. We are being brought into the story of the people of God. The psalm is framed in metaphorical language, which means that it isn’t designed to be read literally. Rather, the psalmist David is conveying an impression–through a series of striking images–of a general truth: God’s relationship to his people is like that of a shepherd with his or her flock of sheep. This is the first time David uses shepherd imagery to describe God in the psalms. Prior to the 23rd psalm, we read about Yahweh as a more distant “king” or “deliverer” or the impersonal “rock” or “shield.” But here David uses the personal and intimate metaphor of a shepherd who is always with his sheep and who prioritizes their wellbeing. Like a good shepherd, the Lord cares for his people.

It’s the identity of the shepherd – not the perspective of the sheep – that takes center stage in the psalm. A shepherd’s heart and mind are focused on making sure that the sheep are fed and safe, provided for and protected. This is true in the collective sense of God’s people across time and geography, and it is true in our personal lives. “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake…” When we find ourselves in need, we can trust that our shepherd sees and knows our circumstances. We can “bleat” our prayers in confidence that our shepherd will lead us well, even through the valley of the shadow of death. We can come to love and trust our Shepherd so completely that our needs diminish in the light of his presence with us.

I am delighted that we are joining with The Church in Denver (a group of 10+ churches) to study this psalm during the month of July.  My hope and prayer is that we will not just learn about this psalm but that we will experience the loving Shepherd in new and intimate ways. Perhaps we could spend the entire series…or better yet our entire lives, just praying that those first two verses of this psalm might be true in our daily lives.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

About Being Unplugged

One of the best parts about marrying into the Grade family is the annual “Up North” tradition. It’s that week every summer of Tim’s entire life (and my life since being a Grade) when we hit the lake in northern Wisconsin. We exchange our 4G network for a spotty connection, and we trade in our busy schedules for lazy days with little planned on the lake. We leave all work clothes at home and we rely mainly on swimsuits, flip-flops and the same clothes over and over all week.  Our eyes stare at the lake for hours, rather than our screens and we get loads of time with some of the people we love most.  We find ourselves antsy for activity and hot with cabin fever by day 3 in our attempt to unplug from all the movement that is our daily lives.

This past week we’ve been up north and I’m reminded once again, as I am every year, that there is just something good about non-productivity and less self-striving. There is something strong birthed in quiet and staring into the beauty of nature – if you can push past the clatter within.

Most days this week during Russell’s nap I just sat on the boat or on the dock staring up at those tall, tall trees.  I watched and I reveled and I soaked in all that beauty of the rustling wind in the pines, the deer wandering by, and the water lapping up against the shore.  I found my heart singing for nothing in particular but just because I am here and God is here and we are here together.

I wish for you a moment, or many moments, like this, this summer. May we all better learn to trust that when God tells us to rest, he really does mean it and that there are non-flashy, undetectable, life-giving gifts lying wait for us there.

Rate Me

Every time Amazon delivers something to my door, I receive a text message asking me to “rate my experience.” The text reads, “Your package with Pampers Baby Dry Diapers has been delivered by the carrier. Rate it right here at amazon.com/box.

Really? Rate my experience?  Let’s see… hmmm… I ordered the diapers, and then they arrived. Great job, everyone.

We live in a world that constantly prompts us to judge. Rate your experience, size up your competition, weigh her beauty, gauge his sincerity. Look. Evaluate. Assess. Judge.

These activities have a legitimate place in our lives. We weigh options for their risks and benefits. We attempt to choose right from wrong. We listen for truth and goodness in an effort to protect ourselves from deception. We teach our children discernment.

But judging can take up too much space in our minds and can become a perpetual habit. Once judgment becomes habit, I am prone to criticalness. I don’t want to be known for a critical spirit. I want to be about welcome, hospitality, and spiritual formation; I want to be about other-oriented-ness and active service. I want to develop a disposition that says, “This is enough. You are enough. I am enough. Relax, and rest,” rather than a personality that is always rating myself and others and concluding, “More, better, faster, higher. You could really do better next time.”

This vision of myself is not yet reality. I’m a driver. I run fast and hard, and I seek continual improvement. I need God’s words in my ear each and every moment reminding me as he reminded Jesus, “You are my beloved, precious in my eyes.” It is counter-cultural to allow myself, my circumstances and others to be enough – to cease striving and to rest in gratitude and joy. More and more, I want to live each day with less of an Amazon “rate me” philosophy and more of a Scriptural conviction: “Christ in me, the hope of glory.”

Highlights from the Holy Land

I just returned from an amazing week in Israel, walking in the footsteps of Jesus, visiting places we read about in the Bible. I’m sure the full scope and meaning of this trip will come into focus more clearly for me over time–like a picture that is right in front of my face and therefore blurry. For now, I’m so grateful to have had the privilege of…

-visiting Jesus’ birthplace (Bethlehem)
-sitting in silence in the Garden of Gethsemane
-floating in the Dead Sea
-being baptized in the Jordan River
-looking out over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
-taking a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee
-hiking around Dan, Caesarea Philippi, & Golan Heights
-stuffing tiny, handwritten paper prayers into the wailing wall
-walking the ruins of Qumran
-contemplating the evil of the Holocaust
-standing on the Temple Mount
-visiting the site of the empty tomb

In addition to the wonder of walking where Jesus walked, my other highlight included spending time with my friend/mentor/colleague Vaun Swanson who traveled with me; we enjoyed some deep belly laughs, delicious hummus, and a fire hose of historical, political and spiritual learnings.

I remember returning from my first overseas experience at the age of 16, when I talked about my time in Bolivia so much that my friends starting teasing me, “Oh, one more story about the ‘B’word,” the “B-word” being Bolivia! I’m sure in a similar way there will be many stories, illustrations and lessons that I will want to share with you all in the months ahead. I hope I don’t go over board with my HL stories! Feel free to tease me if I do!

Off to Israel

I’m heading to Israel this week for a tour of the Holy Land with 30+ other pastors. I’m absolutely delighted to be going and simultaneously dreading being away from Russell for a full 9 days.  I know, it’s only 9 days, but I’m going to miss that little man!  I remember my childhood pastor Stuart Briscoe telling stories about missionaries back in the day who packed their belongings in a coffin and sang the old hymn, “I’ll See You Someday in Heaven” as they hugged and kissed their loved ones forever goodbye at the boat dock and headed to the mission field.

I wonder if there is any modern-day equivalent of such total abandonment to God and calling?  Leaving family, friends, comfort, home, and land to follow God’s calling when there was no Internet and only a slow boat in one direction seems to me now to be so single-minded, so final, so fully abandoned. Where are today’s examples, in the United States, of people who are “abandoning all” in surrender to God’s call on their lives?  Maybe I’m just being nostalgic about the old-school missionary stories, but I wonder sometimes if we haven’t lost something since then?

What do you think? Do you have any present-day stories of people who have sacrificed very deeply to follow their understanding of Jesus’ mission for them?

As I say goodbye to my sweet Russell for the next 9 days, I remember and honor others who have gone before me and modeled gracious openhandedness with the people and possessions dearest to them.

First Steps

Russell still walking on his knees
Russell still walking on his knees

Russell is a late walker. He is 16 months old now and mainly he still walks on his knees. Here is the thing: he can walk. I see him do it, but he just moves so fast walking on his knees that I guess he thinks,  “Why bother?”. When the knee-walking works so well, the motivation to change is just not very high.

I understand, Buddy. I am late at a few things too. I am late at learning that not every situation can be smoothed over, no matter how hard I try.  I am late to accept that love and small resentments can co-exist, and that doesn’t mean that the ship is sinking. I am late at realizing that almost everyone does what they do for a reason, and if I will listen long enough, I may just come to understand why.

But you know what? Late is okay sometimes, and grace is for the late ones. First steps will come soon enough.  In the meantime, from the first steps until the last steps, God’s grace is sufficient for both of us.