February 2011


This is my first Sunday Shout Out in a long time, and it is a very special one. This Sunday Shout Out is to my mother, Judy Vining.

I could give a Sunday Shout Out to my mother for a lot of different reasons. I could write about how she sacrificed and served to raise two children as a single mom. I could write about the warm hospitality that she has extended to hundreds of people over the years. I could write about her career as a nurse serving thousands of women and children living in poverty. I could write about the strong convictions that guide her life.

While all of those would make great posts, this is about something different. This shout out is for the profound things that my mother said to me recently.

First, you need to know a little back ground. A few months ago we discovered that my mother has pancreatic cancer. Since the diagnosis our family has done a lot of researching, praying, planning, and crying. It has been hard, very hard. In a recent visit I was inspired by how she is choosing to face this difficult journey.

This is how my mother is trying to approach each day:

I want to handle the days ahead with grace.

I only know that I have today.

Today, I know that I am loved.

Today, I have people to love.

Today, I can make a difference.

Her words are full of wisdom that all of us would do well to live by.

(Thank you mom for all that you have done for us over the years. We love you. Happy Birthday!)


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Our culture is obsessed with success and fearful of failure.

Christian ministry often carries added pressure for success. There is a popular notion that really spiritual people will always succeed in ministry. In other words,  good Christians – people who pray a lot, know the bible, and stay morally clean – do not fail.  That idea is not biblical. That idea does not match experience. That idea actually stifle leaders and hinders the work of God. It is poison.

I am not a fan of failure. Failure is not the goal that we should set for ourselves (I hope to have more success my life!).  Yet, I think that in our success oriented culture failure is underrated.

Here are a few ways that a Fail can be a Win:

1. If you failed, you actually tried to do something! You probably tried to do something that you believed needed to be done. You probably tried to do something unique. Failure is not the worst thing.  Failure is better than selling out, or conforming, or cowering in the face of adversity, or just talking.  Find pride in your failure.

2. If you failed, you have an opportunity to learn and grow. Failure gives you a grip on reality that is not shared by those who have not failed, or risked enough to fail. The biggest “failures” in my life, I would never want to repeat them, have provided me with a unique perspective on life. Find wisdom in your failure.

3. If you failed, you have the opportunity to know your true self. Failure provides you the opportunity to check where your identity is rooted. Failure can strips away the false self of image and performance.  In failure you are valuable and you are loved simply because you are. Find grace in your failure.

4. If you failed, you opened up the possibility for something wonderful. Failure creates a new reality, a new context for creativity. When you factor in the God of resurrection into our failure, what seems to be empty is often the beginning of something new and beautiful.  God will bring light into the darkness. Find hope in your failure.

For more honest and liberating discussion of failure and success in ministry, I encourage you to participate in the the upcoming Epic Fail Pastors Conference April 14-16.  If you can’t make the conference, you will find even a visit to the website to be refreshing.

It is easy to see the impact of greed on a culture when the economy falters. We forget that greed was often embraced, even encouraged during the boom days of the past.

During both our economic ups and downs the scriptures have given us consistent warnings of the high price greed. The ancient book of Amos proclaims that our love of money and stuff will destroy our core relationships.

Relationship with Others:

Amos 2:6-8

This is what the Lord says:

“The people of Israel have sinned again and again,

and I will not let them go unpunished!

They sell honorable people for silver

and poor people for a pair of sandals.

They trample helpless people in the dust

and shove the oppressed out of the way.

Both father and son sleep with the same woman,

corrupting my holy name.

At their religious festivals,

they lounge in clothing their debtors put up as security.

In the house of their god,

they drink wine bought with unjust fines.

When we love stuff, we begin reducing other people to either a means to or an obstacle to getting more stuff. We can continue de-humanizing others to the point that we begin viewing people as just stuff, good stuff and bad stuff. We see this today in everything from neglected children, to work conflict, to sex and labor slavery.

Relationship with God:

Amos 5:21-24

“I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.

I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.

I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.

Away with your noisy hymns of praise!

I will not listen to the music of your harps.

Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,

an endless river of righteous living.

Our loves direct out lives. When we love stuff we pattern our lives around stuff, not around God. As a result, our religious worship is empty. God is not interested in religious pomp and circumstance if our lives are not right. I am afraid that this is at the root of much of the superficial spirituality of our modern religions culture.

Relationship with Self:

Amos 4:1-3

Listen to me, you fat cows living in Samaria,

you women who oppress the poor

and crush the needy,

and who are always calling to your husbands,

“Bring us another drink!”

The Sovereign Lord has sworn this by his holiness:

“The time will come when you will be led away

with hooks in your noses.

Every last one of you will be dragged away

like a fish on a hook!

You will be led out through the ruins of the wall;

you will be thrown from your fortresses,”

says the Lord.

We become less than human when our lives revolve around stuff. While there will be divine judgment for greed, much of the punishment is self-imposed by living life outside of the design of the universe. We see this today in the empty eyes of teens who have every item that they want and in rampant chemical abuse found in wealthy communities.

While money and material goods are important, we must always keep them in right perspective. We can not allow the love of stuff to stifle our greatest calling to love God and to love others as we love ourselves.