Something I’ve Been Up To: Small Group Exchange

I’ve recently become a contributor for a website called Small Group Exchange. The site offers study products, such as books and DVDs, specifically suited for small groups of the Christian variety. You’ll also find helpful articles and videos for leaders. I’ve always been involved with some kind of small group in church, and I find it one of the most challenging yet helpful tools for spiritual growth. That growth won’t always be comfortable or easy, but, like going to the gym to exercise, it is almost guaranteed to work if you do it right!

My bio picture sits right between Erwin McManus and the band Flyleaf – what a fortunate first initial I have! (You’ll have to scroll down to see it.)

Check it out! I have reviews here and here.

Love for Lyrics

Yesterday we sang “Amazing Grace” and I was struck by the beautiful paradox of the first line of the second verse:

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.

If you hang around Christian theology discussions very long you’ll know the grace vs. works debate is HUGE! Where do you stand – once saved always saved or progressive sanctification? I know a guy who said the best advice is to live like you are saved by your works but to believe like you are saved by faith alone. I realize it does matter; what we believe affects the way we live our lives, but I also think the entire discussion is bigger than any one of us can pin down in a three-point sermon.

That is the awesomeness of God, really. Rob Bell has an sweet demonstration of God’s otherness in his video “Everything is Spiritual“. He explains that God lives in an entirely different dimension than we do – one not limited by time and space. He uses the analogy of a human interacting with a family who lives only in 2-D, on paper. Like Flat Stanley. Imagine how many things would seem strange to the 2-D family if we tried to enter their world in our 3-D forms. Bell used a white board marker to illustrate the way the truth of God can be hard for us to pin down. As he holds up the marker and asks what shape it is in 2-D.  We realize it looks like a rectangle from that perspective. But we know in 3-D it is a cylinder. Bell says, Yeah, God is like that.

So, back to grace and works and the lyrics to the old hymn:

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.

Yeah, grace is like that.

Pets: Our Privilege

This is our new puppy, Oso (Spanish for “bear” – a tribute to his Cuban heritage):

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We got a steal of a deal on him because he was an older puppy and not AKC registered. Normally a puppy of this breed, the Havanese, can run between $600 and $2,000. We paid $150. And, no, I didn’t do all the things you are supposed to do when you buy a puppy. I didn’t check out his parents or his home or his papers. I actually picked him up in a Kum N Go parking lot -  much like a drug deal, really. But he’s a wonderful little guy. We needed him. And this week our vet checked him out thoroughly and declared him a “perfect dog.”

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Funny thing is, when I mentioned we were getting a new puppy, my Egyptian colleague asked about our other dog, not knowing he had died shortly after a car hit him in front of our house. He went on to explain his interest in the Western attitude toward pets compared to the Eastern attitude to which he is more accustomed. I could only assume he meant our sometimes over-the-top affection for pets that makes us dress them in little clothes and buy memorial stones when they pass.

Yes, that is what he meant. Growing up, he had both a dog and a cat, but he only kept them because he shared his own food with them. Buying dog food or cat food is unheard of in Egypt. In his homeland it is also a common occurrence for the police to walk the streets and shoot stray dogs just to be rid of the nuisance. My friend shook his head and smiled, “It’s terrible, really, I don’t know why we are this way.”

Then he told me a story he meant to be funny, but it broke my heart instead. Last year when our pastor visited Egypt with my colleague, they stopped on the street to visit with a cart driver and his horse. This job, much like a rickshaw driver in China or Thailand, is a job for the poorest of the poor. It is no way to make a living. Our pastor took an apple given to him by his Egyptian hosts and began to feed it to the skinny horse. What he didn’t know was that the Egyptians called this apple an “American apple” because it is imported and very expensive. As our pastor let the horse take a bite, the driver anxiously turned to my friend and asked him to ask our pastor if he would please save some of the apple for him instead. No matter that the horse had already bitten into the flesh, the driver longed for a taste of that kind of extravagance.

“So, having a pet is a privilege of the rich, isn’t it?” I asked my friend.

He smiled at me sheepishly, as he does when I try to dissect something he would rather leave as a simple anecdote, “Yes. It is.”

A Rare Title: Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Wide Open: See and Live the Real You by Jud Wilhite with Bill Taaffe

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I won this book in a drawing on Anne Jackson’s blog (she has new book give-aways often). I have crazy good luck in blog book drawings. Seriously.

What stands out to me about this book are two things almost in contradiction with one another: Eyes Wide Open is simultaneously simple and comprehensive. I loved, loved, loved the transitions at the beginning of each chapter. The authors basically review the concepts discussed in previous chapters while introducing the connection to each new concept. The book is divided in three sections that move the reader step-by-step into a detailed explanation of why God uses us, how he uses us, and what he’d like to see us do.

As a teacher, l loved the systematic approach. But this is not a textbook or a boring self-help plan. Wilhite uses anecdotes, analogies, and real life stories to illustrate each point. His position as pastor of a growing church in Las Vegas (wouldn’t John Bunyan love that Wilhite pastors in Sin City!) provides many of these colorful examples, but Wilhite also pulls from other sources. Best of all, he uses himself as an example. His humility and common-sense approach permeate the advice he offers to fellow Christian pilgrims.

The beginning of Chapter 18: Unhindered to Make a Difference is a perfect example of one of those transitions I loved and a sneak peek at what the book has to offer:

Seeing and living with eyes wide open means we not only embrace God’s view of us, along with our new identity, and begin the journey of personal change, but we are also freed to make our own unique mark for good on our culture.

Eyes Wide Open is a fast read and has a lot to offer new and mature Christians alike. I think it would make a great small group study or church-wide reading project, but I loved it as a personal refresher course, too.

Birthdays, Puppies, and Unplugging

Some updates.

This week is Macy’s second birthday! (On Thursday.) Look at how she’s grown:

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She and Dan share a birthday . . . you can imagine this is one my favorite days of the year! To celebrate, Macy gets a weekend with Grandma Kathy, the big kids get a weekend with Grandma Cheri, and Dan gets to play with his band, findingBethel, at the Crossover Festival at Lake of the Ozarks. I’ll be with him. AND, we’re planning to pick up a new puppy. I didn’t think I’d want another dog so soon after losing Chuck, but our house feels a little empty without a furry blur under our feet.

I’m also planning to leave my computer at home over the weekend. My new BFF Anne Jackson talks about this on her blog, the importance of unplugging now and then to give yourself a break from the attitudes and tensions that come with constant connectivity to infinite miles of information. I’ll still have my phone that gets emails, so I won’t be totally disconnected. I’m just hoping to remember what it is like to read a real book and interact with humans (and a puppy) without googling for the answers!

To close, here is a video of Dan and Macy – the birthday duo – at Christmas time. It showcases Dan’s playing a little and it is a perfect picture of Macy’s determined spirit as well. (And, don’t worry, she isn’t going to fall off that piano bench. Relax.) Enjoy! Happy random summer weekend!

Dan and Macy at the Piano from Felicity White on Vimeo.