How Can A Bad Mess Be A Good Thing?


The NYC marathon cancelled.

The NYC subway system partially underwater.

Power outages and gas shortages.

Free fuel but long lines to get your 10-gallon gift.

Unease.

Anger.

Grumbling.

Griping.

Growth?

I know. I know. This is all so last week. Haven’t I heard there’s been an election since the storm?

Why, yes, I have. And I voted.

But I don’t write about politics.

I write about community in Christ.

For me, Hurricane Sandy teaches a great deal more about community [see “Point Pleasant Beach Football Players … Help Community Clean Up”] than Election Day 2012. Note I began with “For me …”

The perfect storm provides the messy conditions necessary for growing community.

Jon Gordon in his “Hurricane Heroes” newsletter wrote:

I read that the most frequent posts on social media the last few days were “Are you okay?” “What do you need?” and “How can I help?”

I’ve heard stories of families talking again, people knocking on their neighbor’s doors for the first time in years to see if they are alright and countless volunteers distributing food and clothing to those in need.

Here’s a thought based on the super storm that blew across the east coast, devastated entire cities, and made thousands awfully uncomfortable.

Crisis creates community in ways comfort never could.

You don’t need a Hurricane Sandy for a crisis to arise. It happens when a buck hits your car (I know from experience). It happens when the boss asks you to step into her office. It happens when you get a call from the doctor … or the police … or your child (my father with six kids has more experience on this one) … or your spouse.

It happens at home, at work, on the road, and in the church.

So why does a mess offer possibility for growth in community?

Because …

Crisis clears the clutter. The distractions seem to fade when the power goes out. A few candles and a good book to read to the family replace the television noise, surfing the Internet, and outside phone calls.

Crisis creates a laser focus. When a police officer said, “You need to get to the hospital as soon as possible; your son was involved in an accident,” I dropped everything else and focused on the one necessary thing, being with my injured son (he survived without any permanent damage).

Crisis couples you with unlikely partners. A New York City driver asked a stranger on the street, “Are you headed downtown?” That exchange resulted in several folks, each previously unknown to the others, carpooling together. The ride offered time for strangers to become friends.

Is this idea of messes creating community even biblical?

When the Israelites endured slavery in Egypt, was that messy?

What about forty years of wandering in the wilderness? Was that messy?

The disciples following Jesus around for three years, did that ever get messy?

The night Jesus was betrayed, denied, and arrested, anything messy about those dark hours?

The early church (the one we so often want to get back to—“We just need to be a New Testament church.”), did it ever have messes?

And in all of those situations—Israel, the Twelve, the early church—did community grow out of the mess?

So here’s the bottom line, the takeaway for your life in Christian community:

Embrace your messes wherever you find them.

Use those messy moments to grow.

I’m curious. What is your experience with messes and growing in community?

Recommended links:

Carol McClain’s “Keep Company”

Jon Acuff’s “Why Are Christians Such Jerks?” (A surprising conclusion)

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes

Two men. Two eternal destinies.

One common hope.

A poignant and compelling portrayal of heaven and hell, with a powerful look at redemption from the perspective of both the lost…and the saved. Well done!–Susan May Warren, best-selling, award-winning author of You Don’t Know Me.

“Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes” was a compelling read for me. The vivid descriptions challenged and ignited my imagination. Tom skillfully laid out a clever story that caused me to think and made me want to read to the end.–Ron Fruit GM, WRCO Radio

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes can be found at:

WestBow Press

Amazon.com

Barnes & Noble

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If You Started a New Community, Where Would You Begin?


My friend Josh is far left swimming with friends in the Amazon.

My friend Josh and I talked about community over a meal at our local Culver’s Restaurant. Out of that conversation, three truths emerged about a sustained presence in community.

Begin with passion. This isn’t anything new. I’ve written about this before (check out “Small Town Triples in Size Overnight”). In Josh’s case, he loves wrestling (not watching WWE or horsing around with friends; but the real go-to-the-mat stuff). Something that involves wrestling gets his attention.

Find challenging people. Someone who knew Josh and his love for wrestling invited him to a Christian wrestling club. The group meets weekly and focuses the first 90 minutes on wrestling. They challenge each other to improve as wrestlers, but not just as wrestlers.

Move into a deeper and wider purpose. Purpose in community always has two distinct directions—deeper down and further out.

The guys who meet on Tuesday evenings not only wrestle with one another, but they also wrestle with Scripture in order to grow deeper in their faith. They spend the final hour together in study, conversation, and prayer. That’s going deeper down.

Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15 NIV).

In learning to live out their faith, Josh and his friends follow this advice: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17 NIV).

          The further out for Josh and friends involves a Brazil connection, a jujitsu instructor in São Paulo. Four guys from the local group travel every year to São Paulo in order to help shape the lives of young men who’ve grown up in impoverished conditions.

Josh made the trip this past summer and shared both his wrestling skills and his love for Jesus Christ on the jujitsu mat and in a Brazilian prison.

Let’s ask a few questions to think through your specific community in Christ.

What’s a strong passion in your life? Do you love sports or working on cars or baking or reading? Can you take your passion and find others who love what you love?

         Who are the people who’d join you in your passion? Is their love for baking, for example, strong enough to build a regular weekly gathering?

How do you build in a recognized deeper purpose? This isn’t meant to be stealth evangelism. The community recognizes their common interest but want to take that interest and springboard it into a deeper connection to Christ and His people.

How can the community take its deeper love and reach further out? Growing deeper seems to happen when the community’s purpose includes looking beyond the group. How can you connect your passion to the nearby needs of others?

In Josh’s case, the wrestling club worked all year doing what they loved while focused on a particular outreach, a Christian jujitsu club in São Paulo, Brazil. Not everyone traveled there but everyone helped prepare the group through their study, conversation, and prayer in community.

I’m curious. Where have you seen passion and purpose connect to create a thriving community? What is something you love that could serve to connect with others in Christian community?

Recommended links:

“Lean on Me” by April McGowan (great story illustrating how compassion connects)

“The 3 Components of Job Satisfaction” by Michael Hyatt (passion is one of the 3)

“Small Group Surprises” by Jon Acuff (recognizing you still have a way to go to know others)

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes

Two men. Two eternal destinies.

One common hope.

A poignant and compelling portrayal of heaven and hell, with a powerful look at redemption from the perspective of both the lost…and the saved. Well done!–Susan May Warren, best-selling, award-winning author of You Don’t Know Me.

“Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes” was a compelling read for me. The vivid descriptions challenged and ignited my imagination. Tom skillfully laid out a clever story that caused me to think and made me want to read to the end.–Ron Fruit GM, WRCO Radio

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes can be found at:

WestBow Press

Amazon.com

Barnes & Noble

If you enjoyed today’s post, consider subscribing. Each new post will come directly to your email inbox.

 

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Community Done Wrong Is Alright


Bread done wrong.

Seth Godin wrote, if you want to be a great writer, you need to write poorly and continue writing poorly until you write better.

In relation to living in Christian community, I’d encourage you to get community wrong and keep getting it wrong until you get it right.

Let me start with an assumption based on Scripture (Oh, you’re throwing that Bible stuff at me; who can argue with God?). Living in community with other believers isn’t optional. During his earthly life, the Lord Jesus exemplified living in community in three specific ways.

He remained connected to family. As a 12 year old, he traveled to Jerusalem in a large company of family members. After a miracle, others said of Jesus, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” On the cross, he spoke to John about caring for his mother Mary.

In his 3-year ministry, he traveled with the Twelve and others. He had his private moments, but the solitary moments were for brief periods and always resulted in a return to his band of followers.

His weekly habit included meeting in the local synagogue. If anyone had a reason to miss church, he did. And he didn’t.

Okay, I’m not going to belabor the point that Christian community is the norm for those who love the Lord.

But how does a person find the right place in which to live out Christian community—a Bible-believing, Spirit-filled, God-honoring, Jesus-loving church (you can add as many superlatives as you wish)? In other words, where can a person find the perfect church?

You already know the answer to that one. You do, don’t you?

I want you to fixate on this one point (after all, I am). Get comfortable with community in Christ done wrong. When I say comfortable, I mean accept the fact community will be messy, painful, and less than ideal.

Bummer! That sounds awful.

Question: Why would anyone want to be a part of that?

Answer: Because Jesus was (and is—and, no, I didn’t stick my tongue out when I wrote that).

I heard a couple of things on NPR that seem appropriate to share on the subject of learning to live in community.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (and, yes, I had to google his name, and, yes, that is the way you spell Arnold) spoke about the lessons he learned through bodybuilding. He saw the value of discipline and how repeated action (lifting weights) led to success (bigger muscles).

He mentioned how important doing the reps (daily lifting regimen) was. To improve one couldn’t take shortcuts. He had to do the work on a consistent basis.

In a program about baking bread, a caller asked the guest expert, “How do you know when the bread is ready for kneading?”

The baker said, “You have to learn by doing it. There is no scientific step-by-step plan you can follow. You’ll make mistakes.”

She went on to note the mistakes looked awful but they still tasted good. I’ve made my mistakes in baking bread and I have to agree, the mistakes do taste awfully good.

Here’s the takeaway from those two stories.

You have to commit to the regimen of community to experience the benefits. You’ve got to get your reps in. In other words, you must submit to the discipline of showing up, being present, and engaging in life with others. Shortcuts to intimacy are a lie. You have to do the work. When you do, you also reap the rewards.

You have to learn from the mistakes—yours and theirs. Intimacy involves seeing the imperfections. It’s looking at people with all the makeup removed and viewing them as they are. It’s also allowing others to see you as you are. That definitely is a messy business but necessary to the pleasure intimacy brings.

So here’s my suggestion. Do community in Christ wrong … until you get it right.

I’m curious. What examples can you share of staying with something long enough to get it right?

Recommended links:

Jer at The Next Twelve posted “What Everybody Should Know About Building Great Friendships”

Chris Patton at Christian Faith at Work posted 2 articles, “A Confession of Doubt and Frustration” and “A Confession of Doubt and Frustration, Part 2”

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes

Two men. Two eternal destinies.

One common hope.

A poignant and compelling portrayal of heaven and hell, with a powerful look at redemption from the perspective of both the lost…and the saved. Well done!–Susan May Warren, best-selling, award-winning author of You Don’t Know Me.

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes can be found at:

WestBow Press

Amazon.com

Barnes & Noble

If you enjoyed today’s post, consider subscribing. Each new post will come directly to your email inbox.

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Essential Elements of Christian Community


Today’s guest blogger is Kari Scare from Struggle to Victory. She’s currently teaching a class in her home church that lines up well with the theme at Curious. You can learn more about Kari here.

Healthy Christian Community

A healthy Christian community functions in much the same way as a healthy ecological community. Consider the giant redwoods as an example.

Giant redwoods have an extensive root system allowing them to survive in a wide-range of conditions. Also, these trees exist in a symbiotic state, creating an environment where they continue to flourish and grow. In theory, the giant redwoods could live forever because of this relationship and the resulting continual growth.

These three elements – an extensive root system, a symbiotic state, and continual growth – are also essential elements in a healthy Christian community.

Extensive Root System (Psalm 1, Isaiah 61 & Jeremiah 17)

Deep roots are developed by focusing on God’s Word – all of it, not just the feel-good parts. It involves learning about Him, thinking about what is learned, and then applying it.

Obedience makes our root system even stronger. God’s blessings come to the obedient.

Fellowship develops roots too as a healthy body of believers builds faith and draws individuals closer to God. Because of the powerful impact others can have, making friends with those who love God’s Word is crucial for a strong root system.

Praising God for our salvation and the righteousness He brings presents another aspect of a strong root system. We are to delight in God’s presence.

Finally, trust strengthens the root system of a Christian since abundant strength comes to those who trust in God, not only for themselves but for others too. They will flourish even in times of drought.

Symbiotic State

A healthy, growing church increases in numbers because a healthy community attracts people to Christ. But what elements create that healthy environment, that symbiotic state where the health of each member positively impacts the others?

Most importantly is love. Love for one another not only builds the body up but it also shows that we live for Christ (John 14:34-35).

Second is sharing and generosity (Acts 2:44-47). We are not meant to cut ourselves off from one another and to live separate lives. We are meant to share our lives.

A healthy, growing church also provides mutual support. This means supporting the weak (Acts 20:35), realizing that we ALL are weak in some area, and bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2).

Jesus’ last command before going to Heaven indicated that Christians are to also be missionaries (Matthew 28:19). A healthy, growing community not only positively impacts its immediate surroundings, but it also contributes to the surrounding ecology in a positive way.

In order to have this wider positive impact, a Christian community must be unified. This makes the church a positive example to the world, and it draws others in. Unity helps the body cooperate in a way that gives a taste of heaven. It also renews and revitalizes ministry because there is less tension which saps energy.

Continual Growth

A healthy Christian community also grows continually. Being rooted in Christ (Colossians 2:6-10) means growing in faith after seeds are planted.

Part of continual growth is making sure to not let anyone lead us astray (Colossians 2:6-10). Likewise, we are not to be an obstacle to other Christians either (Romans 14:13).

We are also to be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11-12). The growth of your faith is no one’s responsibility but your own. Refuse to let anyone get in the way of you getting closer to Christ.

What We Must Understand

In Star Wars, Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan says to Boss Nass when trying to convince him to help the Naboo, “You and the Naboo form a symbiont circle. What happens to one of you will affect the other. You must understand this.”

Whether or not you like Star Wars, the point of this message is clear. When people live together in a community, the health of one individual impacts the health of all the others.

When one part struggles, the whole body struggles. When part soars, the entire body is lifted up.

Kari uses the redwoods to symbolize healthy community. I’m curious. What image would you use to describe healthy community?

Recommended links:

“Dear God” letter by Jon Acuff @ Stuff Christians Like

Today’s Word: SEED @ A Minute with Maxwell

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes

Two men. Two eternal destinies.

One common hope.

 

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes can be found at:

WestBow Press

Amazon.com

Barnes & Noble

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Helping to Clear Up A Guest’s Confusion


Have you ever stood in someone else’s kitchen and wondered where they kept their cups?

In my recent trip to Texas, I wondered that each time I stayed with family or friends (a total of 5 homes in 2-1/2 weeks).

I ask that question because, when we visit somewhere, we always have to orient ourselves to our new surroundings. This is true whether it’s a friend’s home, an unfamiliar grocery store, a foreign country, or a church.

While visiting my brother in Llano, Texas, I stopped by the local United Methodist Church to connect with a fellow pastor. Outside the church, signs pointed in various directions to help a visitor find the office, sanctuary, and other parts of the building. But once inside I found no such helpful directions. I felt a little disoriented. I knew where I wanted to go—the pastor’s office—but I didn’t know how to get there.

On the other hand, I visited a pastor friend who lived just outside of Texarkana, Arkansas. I attended the Sunday morning worship service and saw this very helpful sign.

I knew where I wanted to go and I knew how to get there.

Now imagine a guest visits your church, your home, or your small group. How can you help him or her get oriented?

Think like a tourist. Tourists have lots of questions when they tour someplace interesting and new. Some questions are common. Everyone asks them. Some are unique to specific people. Either way, consider what questions you would have in entering a place for the first time. Also consider what fears or concerns you might have in arriving at an unfamiliar destination. Take time to answer touristy questions.

See with fresh eyes. This can be a challenge because you know where you keep the cups in your house. You also know the pastor’s office is “just to the right of the vestibule, down the hall, and the second door on your left.” The visitor gets lost at the word “vestibule.”

The signs which you think are helpful may be seen in a different light through the eyes of a stranger. See things from his point of view.

Show the way. For a year, I worked at the Walmart in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. I learned several important lessons while working there (like when two ladies waddle out with a cooler between them, they may be shoplifting—I offered to help carry their heavy burden; they grunted, “No, no, we’ve … got … it.”).

I also learned when someone asked, “Where can I find coffee filters?” to stop what I was doing and walk the customer to the aisle where coffee filters were located.

By the way, I worked in Lawn & Garden, nowhere near the coffee filters.

When someone’s lost or confused, guide them to the right place. This is true whether the confusion stems from being in an unfamiliar physical place or a just-as-unfamiliar spiritual position. “Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15 NIV).

Don’t point.

Go with them.

Maybe even offer them a cup of coffee (or beverage of choice).

I’m curious. What’s the coolest, most helpful thing someone’s done to make you feel at home in a new place? For me, a pastor friend recently invited me into his office to pray with the church leadership before the worship service. Way cool!

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes

Two men. Two eternal destinies.

One common hope.

What people are saying:

“Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes” was a compelling read for me. The vivid descriptions challenged and ignited my imagination.—Ron Fruit, GM, WRCO Radio

A very intriguing book that puts a different spin on Heaven and Hell. It is not just fluffy clouds and a fiery lake. T. Neal Tarver has created a story that you won’t want to put down until the very end.—G. Worthington, College Student

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes can be found at:

WestBow Press

Amazon.com

Barnes & Noble

If you enjoyed today’s post, consider subscribing. Each new post will come directly to your email inbox.

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When a Setback Sets Us Up For Something Better


Imagine with me for a moment that you want to buy a new home. You know the price you’re willing to pay and the area you’re willing to move into. You circle two houses in the paper that meet your requirements.

          This fixer-upper.

          And this ready-to-move-into home.

They sell for the same price.

They are on the same street.

Which would you choose?

Elaine Miller, author of We All Married Idiots, and her husband Dan faced this situation over a weekend.

Two houses.

Same price.

Same street.

The decision as she describes it was a no-brainer.

But they ran into a snag.

The ready-to-move-into home sold ten minutes before they returned to place their offer.

They settled for the fixer-upper, one she named Crooked. And its needs managed to overwhelm them within a few short months. They couldn’t handle all the necessary repairs, and the problems made everyday life in the home stressful.

Questions arose out of the stress. God, why did you withhold your blessing from us? Don’t you love us? How can anything good come out of this? Why couldn’t we have gotten back to the better house sooner?

But then something amazing happened.

Dan went to a football game and spoke to a young man who was just starting out in the construction business. He hired the contractor who practically lived in Elaine and Dan’s home for weeks.

During that time, the young man asked a lot of questions about God and the Bible. The couple answered his questions and helped him come to faith in Jesus Christ. From those conversations, the young contractor chose to pursue another path, one of Bible school and full-time ministry.

Note: Elaine W. Miller tells this story in more detail in her book, We All Married Idiots: Three Things You Will Never Change About Your Marriage and Ten Things You Can. I’m over halfway through the book and find its advice sound in relation to my own marriage. I read it as a devotional in the morning after my Scripture reading. I recommend it to those who are married.

I’m curious. What setback set you up for something better?

I’ll give my own answer in the comments.

Recommended links:

Jon Acuff’s “How big are your failures?” (Brief but good thought)

Today’s Word: COMMITMENT at John Maxwell Team (Good illustration of commitment’s benefit)

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes

Two men. Two eternal destinies.

One common hope.

What people are saying:

“Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes” was a compelling read for me. The vivid descriptions challenged and ignited my imagination.—Ron Fruit, GM, WRCO Radio

A very intriguing book that puts a different spin on Heaven and Hell. It is not just fluffy clouds and a fiery lake. T. Neal Tarver has created a story that you won’t want to put down until the very end.—G. Worthington, College Student

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes can be found at:

WestBow Press

Amazon.com

Barnes & Noble

If you enjoyed today’s post, consider subscribing. Each new post will come directly to your email inbox.

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The Benefits of Attending a Writers Conference


When I attended the American Christian Fiction Writers Conferencein Dallas, I

The view from my table of Michael Hyatt at the Dallas ACFW Conference.

came with the hope of meeting the keynote speaker Michael Hyatt face to face.

Who is Michael Hyatt?

Ah, I see you’re not a writer. Click on his name to know more about him.

Mike’s influence has helped me to lose weight, start a blog, and publish a book.

I won’t belabor the point beyond the simple truth that I’m grateful to Michael Hyatt.

When I stepped into the lobby of the DFW Hyatt (how ironic), I searched for a familiar face in order to get oriented. And, yep, the first face I recognized was Michael Hyatt’s.

I introduced myself. He greeted me and introduced his companion. I mentioned I’d just arrived then asked where the conference registration was.

“Oh, you did just get here.”

Knowing Michael Hyatt was the keynote speaker prodded me into signing up for the conference but, after the prod, God spoke to me through a number of people.

Peter Leavell, 2011 Operation First Novel winner, shared about being fine without God’s help until an auto-immune disease put him in bed unable to form a coherent thought. When he said, “I needed Jesus,” he brought me back to the truth, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:7).

Jan Stob with Tyndale House Publishers offered me sound advice on where to find my reading audience.

Susan May Warren and a host of other workshop leaders taught me valuable lessons on crafting a better, deeper story.

In a moment, I’ll share some important lessons I learned, but let me begin with what almost held me back from attending.

Doubt. The fact I haven’t posted since mid-September serves as a clue to the doubts I’ve wrestled with about my writing. If I’m a lousy writer, why would I waste other people’s time by attending a writing conference?

Fear. Travel and conference attendance cost money. Why would I waste money on something I’m not very good at (okay, that still sounds like doubt)? And because I wasted money, we fall behind on our house payments and scrape by on beans and rice for a year or three (now, that sounds like fear—and, yes, I am that much of a drama queen)?

I’m glad, after the Michael Hyatt prod, I didn’t make decisions based on fear and doubt.

Because …

I connected with a writing community. I need other people who are passionate about writing to encourage me to continue. And they did.

I connected with my calling as a writer. Sometimes I forget why I do what I do. Thanks to others I began to remember the reason. I write to deliver a message of hope to a hurting and confused world. I do that through the power of story. I need Jesus and I need Him to speak through me to others.

I connected with those more experienced. At times, I’m still lost on the writing journey. At ACFW, I listened to the stories of those who had fallen, failed, and yet rose to move forward. Experienced authors served to teach me how to develop stronger skills in storytelling.

Whether you write stories or not, connecting with a community in Christ offers you encouragement on your faith journey, reminds you of your calling in the Lord, and places you in contact with the mature in faith.

I’m curious. Where do you find encouragement in your faith and clarity in your calling?

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes

Two men. Two eternal destinies.

One common hope.

What people are saying:

A very intriguing book that puts a different spin on Heaven and Hell. It is not just fluffy clouds and a fiery lake. T. Neal Tarver has created a story that you won’t want to put down until the very end.—G. Worthington, College Student

My final verdict…I loved it! –Chris Patton, Christian Business Owner, Christian Faith at Work blog

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes can be found at:

WestBow Press

Amazon.com

Barnes & Noble

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