The Savannah House- A Missional Experiment in Plano, TX

Today marks the beginning of a grand experiment–an experiment for the Kingdom of God, an experiment in doing ministry in the 21stcentury.
Far too many churches suffer from an addiction to outside-in thinking.  They look at what other churches have found successful and they try to mirror those same practices in their own context.  Often, when the practices fail, they are left scratching their heads, asking, “Why did it work for them, but not for us?”

Outside-in thinking leads to burnout.  Rarely will your church live up to the success that another church had with its own program.

Inside-out thinking, however, asks, “How is God calling us to uniquely live out the gospel in our particular context?”  Like missionaries in foreign cultures, each ministry approach is most effective when it is organically shaped by the context in which it exists.

Our grand experiment at Christ United Methodist Church here in Plano, TX is asking the question, “What does it mean to live missionally in our backyard?”  How might we take our particular context seriously?  In a day when fewer and fewer people are choosing to make church attendance a regular part of their lives, how might we reach our neighbors on their turf (instead of waiting for them to come onto ours)?

The Savannah House has emerged as a result of these questions. 
With a grant from the Young Clergy Initiative of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church, we are moving three residents into an upscale, 3-bedroom apartment here in Plano.  We recognize that, as Christians, we are called to address issues of brokenness and injustice in the world.  Sometimes that brokenness and injustice gets overlooked in upscale settings because we are quick to assume that “they’ve got it all together.”

The Savannah House residents have three goals:

1) To live in covenant community with one another, following a Rule of Life together, as they encourage each other in their ministry discernment processes. 
2) To seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as they engage in creative opportunities to live hospitably as “urban missionaries” in the context of their apartment community. 
3) To gain local church experience by interning in a variety of capacities at Christ United Methodist Church (determined by their passions and interests).

The Savannah House gains its name from the “failed” missionary exploits of John Wesley to Savannah, Georgia.  Two observations that Wesley noted in his journal as he left Savannah helped shape the vision of the Savannah House: 1) He admitted that his preconceived evangelistic strategies were deemed ineffective by such a radical change in context (outside-in versus inside-out thinking) and 2) As Wesley reflected on his time in Georgia he wrote: “I, who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted.” As a part of the Young Clergy Initiative, one of the goals for the residents is to experience the life-transforming power of God as they discern where God is leading them.

Christ UMC has partnered with the Epworth Project of the Missional Wisdom Foundation in an effort to glean as much wisdom as possible from their vast experience of intentional living communities.  The Missional Wisdom Foundation also has an excellent, established system of spiritual guidance that includes a community Abbott, Prior, Spiritual Directors and Coaches, and a host of team members to assist the residents of the Savannah House as they grow deeper in their faith.

Do we know exactly what this will look like one-year from now?  No.

Do we have specific ministry strategies in place?  No.

Do we know that this will even work?  No.

But today, as we move our residents into the Savannah House, we’re choosing to trust that it is God who has stirred this vision within us.

And God usually has pretty good ideas. 
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Lessons From a Warthog: What a Zoo Taught Me About Judgment


This past week we celebrated Emily’s 2ndbirthday.  It’s been a great week with family in town, and cake and ice cream and presents.  Emily has been beside herself with excitement all week—it really has been the cutest thing.

She was particularly cute on Thursday when we visited the Dallas Zoo.  She had been to the zoo once before, but it was when her older cousin was visiting, when she was only a few months old.  So this was the first time that she had been to the zoo while she was really old enough to name all the animals and make their sounds and really know what was going on.

And she absolutely loved it.  
Each animal we saw brought a big smile to her face.  That sense of fascination and child-like wonder was in full display, and it was quite incredible.  
The cool part was, it really didn’t matter what the animal was; she loved it.  Granted, she had her favorites, but mainly because those were the ones that she was most familiar with from books and stuff.
For the most part, though, every animal she saw was as fascinating as the last.
She even liked the animals that weren’t officially part of the zoo!  Like when we were all standing at the flamingo display, trying to get her to look at the bright pink flamingos that were standing 30 feet away from us, she was fascinated by the little ordinary, brown duck that just happened to be sitting five feet in front of us.
Or when we were watching the gorillas in their habitat—which is one of my favorites—she saw a squirrel running around and was immediately glued to every move that the squirrel made.
In my experience as an adult at the zoo, I’ve already set up categories in my mind: which animals I want to see, which animals I don’t care about, which animals are beautiful and fascinating, and which animals are not.
For example, have you seen the Red River Warthog at the Dallas Zoo?  This thing was crazy looking.  I looked at the thing and and found myself thinking, “Wow, what was God thinking when he designed that guy??”
And just when I thought it couldn’t get worse than the warthog we came across the giant anteater.  I mean, really.  Look at it.
But did Emily care?  Of course not.  The only thing she would have cared about was whether it was awake or asleep, whether it was putting on a show by simply moving, or it was sitting still.
Did she know these animals were ugly?  Not unless I told her they were.  To a child, they we were just as fascinating as the last.  But to me, they were definitely placed in the category of ugly and crazy.
Unfortunately, it’s not much different than what we do with each other, is it?  We have this natural tendency to create categories.  We place each other in boxes of predetermined categories that limit the opportunities we give to one another based on preconceived judgments.  Even before meeting a someone and learning their story, we’ve judged them into a box.  
The real danger emerges when we pass on those prejudices to our children.  Emily doesn’t know that the Red River Warthog is “ugly” because I never told her it was.  To her, it’s a fascinating animal.  In the same way, the categories our children begin to form for other human beings are shaped the influence of the adults in their lives.  
Who are the people we deem “ugly” or “less-than” or “unlovable” or “crazy?”  And how are we passing on our own prejudices to the next generation?  
Instead, what would it look like if we learned from our children–if we looked at all of God’s creatures with the same benefit of a doubt with which Emily looked at all of the animals at the zoo?

What Your Eating Style May Reveal about Your Faith

I’ve found that most people I know fall into one of three categories when it comes to their style of eating.

  1. The Smorgasborder: This person has and will eat anything.  And anything they’ve ever tried is immediately declared as “the BEST thing I have EVER tasted!”
  2. The Sensible One: This person will try almost anything once, but they have the sense to admit when they don’t enjoy a particular taste. 
  3. The Predetermined Palate: This person knows exactly what they like to eat.  They will never try anything new because they’ve already decided that they won’t like it.

I’m sure there are sub-categories between these, but you get the idea.  And I bet you can probably identify your own eating style quite easily (as well as the eating style of your friends and family).
Interestingly, these same categories are quite effective in describing different styles of faith.  Think about it:

  1. The Smorgasborder: This person has and will try any belief.  And anything they’ve ever heard or experienced is immediately declared as “the BEST thing I have EVER heard/experienced!”
  2. The Sensible One: This person will expose themselves to many different beliefs, but they have the sense to admit when they don’t agree with a particular idea.
  3. The Predetermined Palate: This person knows exactly what they believe.  They will never entertain any new idea because they’ve already decided that they won’t agree with it.

Now, I can’t really claim that there is any direct correlation between a person’s eating style and a person’s style of faith, but I sure wouldn’t be surprised if there were.
As easy as it is to identify ourselves on the scale of eating styles, it might be more difficult to admit where we fall in the categories of faith.
Throughout Scripture we see God acting in ways that constantly surprise people and open people’s eyes to new ways of life.  More often than not, those who felt they had God figured out were the ones who were humbled by God.
While smorgasbording and having a predetermined palate might be okay when it comes to eating, both extremes become dangerous when it comes to faith.  My prayer is that God would continually convict me toward the middle, toward that place of tension that exists between blindly accepting every idea I ever encounter and stubbornly holding on to those in which I find familiarity and comfort.
This is what it means to live intensionally.

My Storyless Story

I was almost literally born and raised in the church.  I was born around 9:00 am on a Sunday morning and my mother brought me to the 6:00 pm service that same day because my sister was receiving an award at church.  The same day!  
As I grew up in that church for the next 18 years of my life, I was surrounded by a community of believers, who raised me in the faith.
But one of the things that always bugged me as I got into high school and college was that I could never point to the moment that I became a Christian.  I was actually kind of secretly ashamed that I didn’t have a really cool story.  I had some friends who knew the exact day and time that they had decided to follow Jesus, and some even had a plaque on their wall commemorating what they called their second birthday.  
I would get really nervous that one day someone was going to ask me point blank when I had been saved and I wouldn’t be able to answer!
This really bothered me.  
The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, was a huge proponent of the idea called assurance of faith.  This is simply the feeling that the Holy Spirit gives you to assure you of your salvation.  Wesley talked about his heart feeling “strangely warmed” the day he knew he would spend eternity in heaven.  
I had that.  In my heart of hearts, I knew that I knew Jesus.  I knew that I had a relationship with my Creator, but I could not tell you when I had crossed that line between not being a Christian and being a Christian.  
I heard stories like Saul’s conversion in Acts 9, of lives being instantaneously transformed, and I felt my like my storyless story just didn’t measure up.
Until… I got to seminary, and I took a class on evangelism.  The professor talked about the difference between the conversion experience of Paul and the experience of Jesus’ own disciples.
Whereas Paul’s experience was sudden and drastic, the disciples’ experience was gradual and messy.  This professor used the Gospel of Mark to show how Jesus’ disciples slowly came to the realization that he was the Messiah.  They didn’t start off knowing that.  They simply recognized him as a Rabbi and decided to follow him.  But the longer they followed him, the closer they grew to him, and the more they realized that this Jesus guy was waymore than they had initially thought.
And I bet, that if you were to interview the disciples at the moment that Jesus spoke his last words to them on earth and ask them, “So, when did you officiallybecome a follower of Christ?  When did you make that transition between your former life and your new life in Christ?” they probably would have looked at you and said, “I don’t know… I knew he was important when I started following him, but I didn’t know howimportant he was.  I can’t point to a specific day and time—I’ve just been following him and slowly realizing more and more that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world!”  
And at that moment in that class in seminary, I finally had language to describe my experience.  I didn’t have a story like Paul’s.  I had a story like Jesus’ disciples! I had been following Jesus my whole life.  And sure, there were times when I was following more closely than other times, but I couldn’t tell you the specific day and time that I made that transition from my former life to my new life in Christ because it had been slow and gradual.
Some of us have stories like Paul.  And that’s awesome!  

But some of us have stories like the disciples, and that’s okay too.

A Baby in a Bucket on the Beach: A Lesson on Theological Humility


We got to spend some time at the beach recently with our daughter, Emily.  Emily is 17 months old now, and this was her first trip to the beach (and our first trip to the beach with a baby).  It might seem obvious, but we learned thatgoing to the beach with a 1 year old is much different than going to the beach B.C. (before children).   

When we got back someone told me, “Well it sure looks like your sunscreen worked well.”  Thanks…   
But the truth is, with a 1 year old, it takes an hour to get ready, you only spend a couple hours on the beach before all the signs begin to clearly communicate that beach time is over (you parents know what these signs are) and then it takes an hour to clean everything up once you get home.  On top of that, most of those two hours spent at the beach is spent under the shade of an umbrella!
Nevertheless, it was fascinating to see Emily’s progression as she slowly became more and more comfortable there.  On the first day, we tried to just put her down on the sand and as we’d lower her toward the sand she would raise her legs up higher and higher.   
She did not want to touch it.  
Finally we got her to sit on a towel under the umbrella and I brought a bucket of ocean water to her with some toys.  On that first day, she didn’t quite get the concept of adding the water to the sand and playing with the wet sand.  But she loved the bucket filled with water!  In fact, she loved it so much she decided to stand in it.  And when she did, she would get this huge smile on her face like that was the coolest thing in the world.

And I thought to myself, “Wow, here is this innocent little girl, standing in a tiny bucket of water up to her shins, happy as can be, not realizing that an entire ocean of water is just several yards away from her.”
I think sometimes we do this with God.  Over time we form concepts of God in our minds that become our small buckets of water.  And we become comfortable with the bucket of water that we’ve formed and filled.  It’s a very safe space to exist, away from the waves, under the shade of the umbrella.  But what we fail to realize is the enormity of the ocean from which that water came in the first place.  
You see, God isn’t the bucket of water.  That might be our understanding or our conceptof God.  But God is the ocean—SO much bigger than we could ever grasp.
May we be humbled by the enormity of our Creator and pray for the courage to recognize the limits of our own theological buckets.  God is so much bigger…

Faceplants and Failure: A Lesson on Brotherly Love


<!–[if !mso]>st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>I remember it like it was yesterday, even though it took place sometime around 6thor 7th grade.  On a blistering hot summer day in Northern California, I found myself floating alone in the middle the lake.  Strapped to my torso was my life jacket—nothing out of the ordinary there.  But strapped to feet, was one solid, flat piece of fiberglass and plastic they refer to as a wakeboard.  In my hands—that were shaking with nerves and adrenalin—I held a triangle-shaped handle at the end of a 65 or 70 foot rope that was attached to a boat designed to go fast and create a big wake behind it.  In that boat sat my older brother—who is five years older than me (and sometimes six, depending on the date)—with three or four of his closest and coolest high school friends.

As I tried to run through every word of advice and instruction that I had just received in the moments before I jumped from the boat into the lake, it was as if time just froze.  It was one of those moments where you know something big is about to happen and the entire soundtrack of everything around you goes silent so all you can hear is the sound of your own racing heartbeat (thump, thump—thump, thump). 
Here I was.  My moment had come.  It was my first time wakeboarding, and I was not going to embarrass my older brother in front of his friends. 
When I felt like I had everything in the right place and was ready to go, I took a deep breath, and I yelled the customary, “Hit it!” that signals the driver of the boat to push the throttle. 
And when he did, the rope immediately tightened and I was quickly pulled up out of my sitting position in the water. 
This is also one of the moments that when they portray it in a movie it’s in slow motion.  The only problem was, as soon as the boat pulled me from my sitting position, and I could picture everyone beginning to clap and cheer in slow motion with the volume of heroic music rising, that solid piece of fiberglass and plastic that they call a wakeboard, the one that was strapped to my feet, sunk below the surface of the water, bringing the bottom-half of my body to a complete stop while the top-half of my body continued to rise and propel forward and then… immediately downward.  The rope snapped out of my hands and I face-planted with a loud smack on the surface of the water.
I was humiliated. 
It didn’t matter that everyone had warned me how difficult it was to learn how to wakeboard.  This was my moment.  I was going to prove to my older brother, in the presence of his cool friends, how cool I was, even though I was five (and sometimes six) years younger. 
But I failed.
When I finally collected myself, shook the water out of my nose and ears, holding back the tears of frustration and embarrassment, I looked up at the boat that had circled around to give me a second chance.  And I’ll never forget what I saw next. 
My cool, older brother, who had strapped on a life jacket of his own, jumped off the boat and began to swim towards me.  Part of me assumed that he was just going to ask me to swim back to the boat so he could show me how’s it really done, but instead he said, “All right man, you got this.  I’m going to sit here in the water with you for as long as it takes you to get up.”
And for the next several attempts and face-plants, he sat there with me, encouraging me and giving me helpful pointers as I got closer and closer, until finally, I stood up and rode that wakeboard, feeling like I had just conquered the world. 
He didn’t have to stoop to my level; he chose to.  In the presence of his cool friends, he put his own reputation to the side, jumped off the boat and joined me in the water in order to encourage me and teach me.
Now, don’t get me wrong, my brother didn’t alwaysdo things this cool.  He was a good guy—and he still is—but we were still brothers.  But on this day, in this moment, he went the extra mile to make sure I had the chance to succeed. 
We’ve all had times in our life when we’ve felt like we’re floating alone in a lake with the weight of the world on our shoulders.  We’ve all experienced what it feels like to face plant and fail. 
One of the greatest gifts that God has given us is the Church.  It’s in these hard times in life that the body of Christ is called to thrive.  Each one of us has the opportunity to strap on our life jacket and jump off the boat to join those around us in the water.
Who is it that God has put in your path?  Who is God calling you to join in the water? Jump off your boat of comfort and swim straight toward that person, saying, “All right man, you got this.  I’m going to sit here in the water with you for as long as it takes you to get up.”
You never know when the roles will be reversed.  But when they are, and when the body of Christ is operating as it was designed, you can bet that when you look up, someone will be joining you in the water, going the extra mile to make sure you have the chance to succeed. 

17 Things You Didn’t Know Your Bible Could Do

Inspired by the “15 Things You Didn’t Know Your iPhone Could Do” article that had every other person on my Facebook news feed commenting, “Wow! I never knew about #5,” and “I can’t wait to try #13,” here are 17 Things You Didn’t Know Your Bible Could Do:

1) Open

Yes, believe it or not, the Bible that sits on your shelf collecting dust can actually be opened.  Here’s to hoping that doesn’t come as a surprise…
2) It has a table of contents
Sometimes the most intimidating part of reading the Bible is not knowing your way around it.  Here’s a secret: “There’s a cheat sheet in the front.”
3) Some even have an index
Just like the table of contents, there are no funny gifs that could possibly illustrate an index.  Instead, this is one possible reaction of a person who just discovered the usefulness of looking up a particular topic or name using the index in the back of their Bible.
4) Fancy Bibles have cross-references
Want to find out who else told the same story or used the same word or referred to the same miracle in a completely different book?  Check the cross reference.
But don’t forget, if your Bible doesn’t have cross references, you may have to upgrade.
5) Many Bibles contain maps
Don’t make the mistake of reading through a story without familiarizing yourself with the landscape.  A lot can be clarified when you pay attention to the directions.  Using the maps in your Bible can shed new light on familiar stories.
6) Ever wonder why it’s called the B.I.B.L.E.?
I can neither confirm nor deny with 100% accuracy whether or not this is the real reason they call it the Bible.  I kind of doubt it.  But what if…?
7) It contains stories that are NSFW
Sure… now you want to see if #1 on this list actually works.
8) It can show you that you’re not the only one struggling with sin
Sometimes the realization that you’re not the only one is the first step toward improvement.
9) It can encourage you with hope
If you haven’t read the story of Corrie Ten Boom, do it.  Now.  As a prisoner in a concentration camp, she and her sister encouraged their fellow prisoners by reading from the Bible they had smuggled in.
10) It can actually be used to unite people (not just to divide people)
This one relies pretty heavily on the next:
11) It can be read in full sections at a time…
…not just one selected verse at a time.
When was the last time you let the Bible speak to you, rather than you speaking to the Bible?
For those who care: how often do we actually practice eisegesis and mistakenly call it exegesis?
12) The Bible can show you that you’re not the only one confused by life
 Some things in life will just never make sense, just like this guy thinking, “Why did I ever decide to become a Raiders fan?”  It can be downright depressing trying to find an answer, but sometimes we can find hope in the simple fact that we are not alone in the search.
13) It can also show you that you’re not the only one who has been angry at God

All throughout the Bible there are examples of people who were ticked off at the Creator.  You’re not the first, and you won’t be the last.  The good part is it’s natural, and it’s okay.  God is always there waiting for us when we decide to stop throwing our tantrum.
14) It can be accessed in many forms
 With each new Bible app invented, you have one less excuse why you still haven’t tested out #1 from this list.  Also, next time you see someone on their phone in the middle of the Sunday morning worship service… give them the benefit of the doubt.  We’re living in a new world now, and there’s a chance they’re reading the Bible while you’re sitting there judging them.
I didn’t say it was a big chance.  That depends on your church.
15) It can be used by God to communicate directly to you
Don’t just read the Bible so you can check it off your to-do list.  Expect the Holy Spirit to show you something.  Like a whisper from heaven, listen for God’s still, small voice.  
16) It can help you find your place in God’s story
Ever feel like you’re floating through life without being on a team?  Good news: you don’t have to be like Tom Brady here.  YOU are a part of God’s story.  Whether you want to be or not, the Bible tells a story that includes you as a character.  You have the opportunity to be a part of something that is so much bigger than yourself. 
17) The Bible can literally change your life
“It changes everything.”
Maybe you just haven’t given it a try.  
Or maybe you have, and you gave up for some reason.
Today is a great day to try it again.
Sure, you can read your Bible alone, but the experience is so much more rich when you read it with a friend or small group.  Remember: read the Bible expecting to hear from God.
And don’t be embarrassed if #1 rang a little too true.  You’re not alone in that either.
May today be the day that you begin to fall in love with God’s Word.