Managing Our 2016 expectations

Back in the saddle of weekly activities,  2016 is already barreling along, the stock market and the weather jerking around like a bull in the Houston Rodeo. (Or…maybe that should be a bear?)

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Whether we write down our goals and vision for the year ahead or not, we all have this picture of the way we’d like things to be. And then life happens. Here are some reminders to think about, pray about, as we try to live on purpose when life starts bucking around:

We hold our expectations with open, God-trusting hands. Like Nehemiah, we may long to see certain outcomes and ready strategic plans for the moment when doors of opportunity swing open, but our God is a God of shock and awe, disruptions and surprises.

He fulfills his promise to be Emmanuel, God with us, by means of the incarnation and a virgin birth. He fulfills his promise to deliver us from sin and death by means of crucifixion. If we weren’t so used to it we would find it utterly amazing. God thinks and acts completely out of the box.

As I look back over the last twelve months of my own life I see so many totally unexpected, disrupting developments: two deaths and a cancer diagnosis on the parent front, five last-minute plane tickets, stepping into the vacated leadership of women’s ministries at our church, surgery avoided and several as-good-as-winning-on-Jeopardy! gifts.

When we look back over the last twelve months in our culture, we see the threat of ISIS, the rise of Trump, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the exposure of Ashley Madison and Planned Parenthood, and in my own state of South Carolina, heart-breaking flooding and church shootings.

All of which reminds us that our strategic plans rest on a sure, but unpredictable foundation: “If the Lord wills.” Control is in the hands of a God who is always, always doing something new, far beyond our imagining, even (especially) n the midst of tragedy.

Did Gabriel sugarcoat the truth to Mary? The beauty of how God deals with us

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

The Annunciation by Ossawa Tanner, The Philadelphia Museum of Art

I’ve often wondered if Mary was disappointed with God. It’s clear from the way she sings her famous Magnificat that her buoyant expectations do not match the unfolding reality of life as Jesus’ mother. Face to face with Mary, Gabriel made some astonishing promises. Did God deliver?

How Change Happens

Guest Post from Sue Bohlin, Probe Ministries

Today’s post is by my friend Sue Bohlin, a speaker with Probe Ministries who has long worked with ministries to the LGBT community.

close up of a butterfly

On my 2010 trip to Australia, one of the topics I was asked to address at a conference featuring a redemptive view of homosexuality was “Is Change Possible?” This is a controversial question because there are some loud, insistent voices in the culture who say, “Unless you never again have a homosexual thought or feeling, you haven’t changed. And since no one admits to that, any claim of change is an illusion.”

No one would apply that strict a standard to any other issue! Former alcoholics living sober and free from the chaos of their drinking for decades still would like a cold beer on a hot day, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t changed!

Is change possible? Change is part of life! But transformation is also part of what it means to be a Christ-follower. Understanding how change happens, on the other hand, is another matter. So I have been thinking about the process for a long time as I prepared for my message.

Gun to Your Head. “Are you a Christian?” What would you say?

We can never know how we would respond to the ultimate threat. But a thoughtful heart check sheds light on what we treasure most.

Pray for RoseburgWhile our choices matter to God, he tells us our motives matter even more. God is always looking at our hearts.

Thinking of what I would say to a shooter pointing a gun at my head was not nearly as revealing for me as pondering why I would say it. As you read these wildly different responses from the candid crew over on Reddit how does it clarify your motives?

Captive the Movie: WOW

A serial killer and his hostage grapple with God's purpose in their crashing lives

On March 11, 2005 the Atlanta police locked the city down in a massive manhunt for Brian Nichols, an escaped convict who had bludgeoned his police escort, burst into the courtroom, murdered his judge and, before the day was over, gunned down three others.

Across town a meth addict widow, Ashley Smith, makes yet another promise to her recovery group and her daughter that she will show up clean. Hours later she holds a packet of crystal meth over the toilet…then rolls up a dollar bill and inhales it.

Of all the women Nichols could have captured that that day and forced to hide him, he chose Ashley. Of all the books Ashley could have been reading, the one on her kitchen table was Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life.

“Read it to me,” Brian orders. The words change both their lives.

Is the Gospel Mainly about Going to Heaven?

New jerusalem JPGWith this week’s release of the movie 90 Minutes in Heaven, heaven is all over social media and the news. I’ll review the movie Tuesday, but today I want to ask you a more important question: Do you think that the “main point” of the Bible and salvation is escaping hell and going to heaven?

I grew up with the Wordless Book—one page black for sin, one red for Christ’s blood, one white for being cleansed of sin, one gold for going to heaven, one green for growing. It is a strategy often used in children’s ministry to explain the salvation message. It has no doubt been helpful to bring many to Christ.

But I think in my own life that gospel message and the children’s ministry I was a part of nurtured a “Salvation is a ticket to heaven” mentality. The main thing was to get rid of my sin, escape hell and get to heaven. I think there were some adults in my life who were trying to cast a vision of being reconciled to God so I could know him, so I could love and enjoy him more. But all the heaven talk kind of drowned it out.

Being a Christian became primarily about the destination, and then learning God’s word, and then obeying– black, red, white, gold and green. And somewhere after that, the relationship and intimacy. Anyone else growing up in a Christian home or church have that experience?

When I was twenty-nine I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. As I tried to live in a world of shattered dreams, chronic pain and limited mobility I lived`more and more from duty and resignation. In his mercy, God met me right where I was, as he always does, and drew me into the intimacy and joy that I was missing. I chronicled that journey in my book Godsight: Renewing the Eyes of Our Heart.

I discovered that there was a name for what I had experienced: “Destination Theology.” I decided to re-read the book of Acts with careful attention to the way Jesus’ disciples presented the gospel. What I found there surprised me.

Three Reasons Why Thinkers Should Feel more

thinker to feelerAre you a thinker or a feeler? If you’re a thinker like me, is growing into more of a feeler something you might want to be more intentional about? If you’re a feeler, how might you inspire a thinker to grow into more of a feeler? Or is that something we can change?

Before we go any further, what does it means to be a thinker? According to the Myers Briggs gold standard of personality testing…you know you’re a thinker if, when it comes to decision making,…

…you make decisions with your head and want to be fair.
…you like to find the basic truth or principle to be applied, regardless of the specific situation involved.
…you like to analyze pros and cons, and then be consistent and logical in deciding, not letting personal feelings get in the way.

You know you’re a feeler if…

The World’s Almost* Best Advice on the Rest of Your Life. No kidding.

Welcome to laelarrington.com in this, the official launch week of my Faith and Culture: Live wisely │Love well website. Here you’ll find original weekly posts from a Christian worldview on any topic that helps us  thrive in today’s culture with a confident faith. I also scatter jewels of resources you may not find in Facebook memes.

axstj-successdsc_0808-1013-6142This week’s diamond is the June 2015 Dartmouth University Commencement address from my favorite comic sociologist and New York Times op-ed writer, David Brooks.

You’ll want to invite every 20-30 something you know to listen. You’ll glean great insight into the secrets of success and course corrections for your road ahead. Here’s a Fb Timeline-worthy Ivy Leage speech for all our friends that makes the extraordinary case, with wry humor and standing on reams of research, that what we really need is…steadfast love.

Not just Taylor-Swift good feelings, but love that sends down roots of commitment.  And the moral character that can keep it. The path to exploring your freedom and keeping your options endlessly open is “a path to a frazzled, scattered life in which you try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one.”

Back to School, Back to Work: How you can find more joy in work than play

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We live in a culture where work is a means to leisure time. Where on Thursday the radio DJ starts celebrating the fact that it’s “Friday-Eve.” But what if God intends us to work…and enjoy it?

Just think: God could have created you as a pleasure machine. He could have created a world, even before the fall, where Adam and Eve did not have to work to tend the garden. (Yes, work came before the fall.)

He could have given us bodies that didn’t get soft from lack of movement. With appetites barely felt. Where we could take endless pleasure in swimming all day every day. Or playing harps. Or video games. Or hanging out on social media. Or watching movies. Or simply sitting in his presence.

But God decided to make you in his image. And God is not a God who takes his greatest joy in leisure. God is a working God. He takes his greatest joy in work. Good work. Always doing something deep and new.

As summer vacation fades in our rear view mirror, and we head back to school and work, these truths will build our anticipation and increase our joy:

When Friends Frustrate Us: A Bonhoeffer alternative to criticizing or withdrawing

My Or Your Way Keys Showing Conflict Or Disagreement

How do you respond when people frustrate you? When their vision is smaller, their personalities grate, their pride annoys, their fears quash progress? Our culture nurtures a critical spirit. Social media affords more opportunities (and reinforcement) to vent and complain than ever.

German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew how to speak truth to people in the wrong and how to give grace when the relational issue was more a matter of personality or preference. As the Lutheran Church of Martin Luther fell under the spell of Adolph Hitler, he boldly joined the dissenting “Confessing Church,” becoming one of Hitler’s earliest and staunchest critics. (In Part 2 of this post I’ll review Bonhoeffer’s challenge, “When Politicians Fail Us.”)

But first, the personal challenge. Bonhoeffer’s commitment to speaking truth was tempered by great love. In his book, Life Together, he challenges our Western penchant for radical individualism, even (especially) in the church, and shows us, better than anyone I’ve ever read, how to forbear others who offend and try our patience. How to see and honor the image of God in each person.

Surprised by Majesty: How a Navy Honor Guard reveals what’s missing in our casual lives

Dad's funeral honor guard1

We arrive at my Dad’s graveside service and park behind the hearse. Even though we had asked for an honor guard, the sailor and Naval officer standing watch over his flag-draped coffin surprise me. While we welcome family and friends they face each other with unflinching gazes–all dress whites, gold buttons, epaulets and gloves.

The Guard’s gravity gradually pulls us into its orbit. In perfect synchronization they tuck under the ends of the flag. About a hundred feet away a sailor lifts his bugle and begins to play. The sailor and officer posted at the casket offer a slow-motion, final salute.

Dad is gone: What We Need to Let Go of the People We Love

My Dad died last night. Mom was on her way over to see him in his memory care facility, but Jesus, who holds “the keys to death and Hades,” slipped the key in the lock and opened the door.

Dad young and old

Today Dad is in heaven. And we are getting washed around by alternate waves of grief and urgency–to make plans and respond to family and praying friends. I’m a words girl and your words of sympathy and tenderness are washing over my soul. Comforting me. Encouraging me. Thank you.

Yesterday evening I was on the front row of a political forum, listening to Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal tell his story of how he found Christ (or Christ found him, and wow! he was impressive, more later) when I got the call.

Media vita in morte sumus. In the midst of life we are in death. The ultimate disruption.

Dad’s life has been severely disrupted by the deepening onset of Lewey-Body Dementia and Parkinsons. He fell and broke his hip in the summer of 2011. He has spent the last four years in that place where none of us want to be–losing his brilliant mind and his independence, living in a wheelchair. He did not go quietly into that good night. He hated the limitations of both.

What It takes to move people from here to there

Gate Gothic Fantasy Background

(“Best of” blog) This post was written when we moved from Houston, to Columbia, South Carolina almost five years ago. We are still delighted to be in our new church family and home. The lessons in how we can see a new hope and a future and move people there and keep them inspired are still fresh.

After months of transition, job search, selling a home, finding a home, a month of living with delightful, incredibly generous friends while we wait for the new home sale to close, we have finally, actually, irrevocably MOVED. What seemed so daunting and risky and unknown has become, step by step, reality. Actually, God is in the business of moving us all from HERE to THERE. And as Bill Hybels pointed out at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit last week: the essence of leadership is to lead people from HERE, the current reality, to THERE, the much preferred future.

Five ways to have a richer, more joyful vacation

DSC00260Vacation offers the possibility that, for at least a week or two, it really *can* be “all about me.” Relax and indulge in what we want to do when we want to do it.

But, if we were to pursue a vacation with Jesus at the center, might we actually find more joy? What would it look like? Here are five ways you can have a richer, more joyful vacation:

Plan and Pray

Part of the fun of vacation is planning what to do. Even letting the kids help pick out places to see and things to do. It ramps up everyone’s expectations and anticipation of the fun to come.

Are you more known for what you are against, or what you are FOR?

As Christians so often we are known for the behaviors and causes we oppose. But do our Facebook friends and communities really know what we are for?

Here’s part of our problem: We are told that when we give to God we should give in secret. We also want to follow Jesus, who was a portrait of humility. So…much of what Christians do to serve others flies beneath radar.  But sometimes we work as a team. And as a team leader I want to give a shout out to the team and not just tell, but show how our Community Connection Team made a difference in someone’s life.

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One of our team members is a physical therapist. As we considered who we wanted to help on our next Saturday of Service he gave us the name of a disabled widow who lived in the basement of her home because her leg had become so bad that she could no longer access the main floor. She wants to move to assisted living but doesn’t have the help she needs to prepare her home for sale so she could make the move.

On a bright, cool Saturday morning about 25 of us gathered to help prepare this home for sale. We rented a big blue pod and began filling it with boxes of trash.

Ten things you might thank Jesus for this Easter Weekend

Lent, Triumphal Entry…days teaching and healing in the temple, final words to his disciples, crucifixion and today…resurrection. In this season of reflection and entering into the story of how Jesus loved, died and lives again I close my Bible and whisper…this is exactly who I want my God to be. From my thanksgiving journal…Thank you Jesus that…

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…you ride into town… the king on a donkey… the lion-like lamb

…you throw the money changers out of the temple..the lamb-like lion

…you challenge the chief priests, scribes and elders with such courage–in the temple day after day, healing and teaching and disputing with them  in what they think is their house. Telling the Sadducees to their faces, “You are quite wrong.” Always respectful. Always brilliant. Again and again they challenge you and fall quiet at your knowledge of truth and Scripture and your ability to intellectually thrust and parry.

We cook. We eat. We bond. And the IF: Table questions are the secret sauce

Last weekend IF: Gathering again rocked Austin and thousands of women around the world. Last year I reviewed the Gathering here. This year, whether you attended IF: or not, I invite you to roll out the IF: experience each month around your own IF: Table–6 women, 4 questions, 2 hours.
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 IF: God is real…”Take the land!” by simply setting a table. In his famous description of the armor of God in Ephesians 6 I really think that the apostle Paul should have included a knife and a fork—so powerful is the opportunity for bringing God’s kingdom at a dinner table.

In today’s culture where we feel stressed by work and caregiving and meals tend to be hurried or ignored, where we are painfully aware that our table pales beside HGTV, it takes a bold stroke of Spirit-led intentionality to make space for cooking and serving. But the rewards are rich.

Our friend Brooke Axtell made an eloquent appeal last night on the Grammys to women trapped in abuse

Please join me in spreading this video and Brooke’s story within your circle of influence. And praying for women to be set free. Also, please pray for Brooke as she stands against powers of great darkness.

When Brooke was seven her Mom, Mollie, was hospitalized with a severe reaction to environmental poisoning. Her Dad traveled extensively for his business so they decided to put their two sons and Brooke in the care of a series of nannies.

One, a seminary student they thought they could trust, repeatedly sexually abused Brooke, even trafficked her to other men, as she recalled in a piece titled “What I Know of Silence,” written for an anthology of women’s writing in 2012. She was so ashamed it was years before she shared her experience with her family.

Last night, after a clip by President Obama on the subject of violence against women, Brooke briefly shared her story of another, more recent episode of sexual abuse by her boyfriend.

How do we speak from failure with integrity?

WorldproofingWe who follow Jesus have a high calling. And often a high privilege of telling others about him and his way of life, equipping or simply encouraging them on their journey. But we are all sinners, desperately in need of God’s saving grace. So when our lives haven’t aligned with the way of Jesus how do we decide if we still should speak (or write) about following Jesus in that way?

For example, How can we best honor Jesus and speak with integrity to our children about sexual purity if we were not sexually pure?

Or should we counsel and minister to other couples about how to have a strong marriage if we’ve struggled in our marriage or been separated or divorced? What if we’ve committed adultery?

Should we counsel others on how to help their children love and follow Jesus when our children have not followed him? Do we have anything to say? Should we keep silent? If not, how might we speak with integrity?

I probably have as many questions as answers on this so I’d love for you to think and engage with me on this topic…even give me your advice.

The Best Christian Response to Terror

NO circled wagons

Another beheading. More Christians raped, murdered and fleeing ISIS in terror. The enemy wants us to feel powerless. Hunker down. Circle the wagons.

But Jesus always calls us to something richer and life-giving, even in the midst of death. After we’ve written a check, after we’ve gathered in our churches and prayed for our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world, after we’ve signed petitions…then what? What can we actually DO in a hands on way?