Index of Lessons – a growing list

You are invited to make use of this list by responding with your thoughts on one of these topics. If you start a new post, please be sure to label it with the corresponding tag so we can all follow the conversation. Thanks.

· The First Lesson:
· “If you don’t have your health…”
· Big failures – my inability to walk through the valley
· Base Jumping – when we seek to come face to face with death
· Facing death with the mind – thinking our way through
· Facing death with the heart – feeling our way through
· Facing death with the soul – faithing our way through
· From the mountain to the valley
· Loosing life – finding life
· Selling today for tomorrow
· Miracles of Generosity
· Job loss – salvation through failure

“If you don’t have your health…”

I don’t want to make you feel bad if you’re one of them, but I get frustrated when folks say, “At least we’ve got our health,” or worse, “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.” AAAHHHHH!!!!

First let me say I understand this impulse – I appreciate being healthy, and work hard to stay that way (sometimes). But none of us really ‘has our health.’ Health is not a possession that you can go and acquire like a new suit or a place in the country. You may spend hours in time, energy, money to ‘be healthy’ – watching what you eat, visiting the gym (and actually exercising, not just saying, “hi”_ going to doctors and trainers, avoiding tobacco, alcohol and anything else that might disrupt your body’s natural rhythms (even coffee?!). And you still get cancer or drop dead from a heart attack. Or you don’t drop dead but perhaps worse you have a debilitating stroke that leaves you physically and mentally impaired for decades, suddenly relying on others for the most basic of daily functions.
So, what does it mean to “have health”? And what have you said about your neighbor who doesn’t? Is she ‘less’ – less human, less valuable, less able to have meaning and purpose in life?
In western culture – if I may generalize – one’s value is often determined by the ability to produce a marketable product or service that is useful to society. When we first meet someone, we ask, “What do you do?” as a way to classify or understand them.
What if instead we were to ask, “What do you believe,” “What do you value,” What do you love,” Who is important to you,” “How do you make difficult decisions”? If I were asked those questions by a new acquaintance, I might feel threatened – like they were wanting to challenge me on those things – that only speaks to how twisted our society is and how afraid we are to be in relationship with people. Relationships are dangerous – they are where we get most hurt – But relationships are also the source of greatest joy in life.
Read a book like Mitch Album’s Tuesdays with Morrie and you realize the great grace that can be found in loosing one’s health – the simple ecstatic pleasures – talk, touch, companionship – again, things which come in relationship.
One reason we hate illness is that it compromises our freedom & independence. Many of us (I) don’t like to ask for help. I will do a task poorly and incorrectly rather than say, “I’m not sure how – I need a hand.” What is it at work in us that so needs such independence, such freedom? Even in my most intimate relationships with family and dear friends, I’m slow to say “I need help, I need you.”
Sickness gives us that gift, if we’re open. When I am really ill, I am forced to rely on the help and support of others. I see men and women resist it, though I think for different reasons. Women resist because they are accustomed to being the care takers, doing for others. Receiving another’s care seems to violate that foundational principle that helps create a definition of self. This is a connectional relationship, but one based upon her ability to care for others. For men, the reason goes away from connection toward independence. “I have been told to make my own way in the world, and that means I shouldn’t rely upon anyone.” Now, that said, it is often the case (for me and others) that when men finally to accept help, particularly from a wife, we regress into some kind of son/mother relationship and become, as our wives might say, “big babies.”
How often I go to the doctor with dread rather than gratitude. My attitude toward my healthcare professionals could be, “Thank you. Thank you for investing in your education, studying and working hard so that I can be healthy, and so when I need you, you are there for me. And further, “How can I be here for you?” How can I make my relationships with such people (all people?) more reciprocal? How many of my relationships are one-sided, or at least lopsided – money in exchange for service – a simple economic transaction and nothing more. “You do this for me, and I (or my insurance company) will pay you $XX.xx.
I even approach ministry that way – fee for service. I do because I’m paid, and if someone outside the circle wants something from me, I want to be paid for that too. I think about being paid for weddings, funerals, counseling, etc. Instead, I might view all of these as gifts I am able to offer others because I’m already well paid.

The First Lesson

As Scott and began to talk about his experience of living with cancer and what it meant for him and for his family, and for me, it became important to try to gain something from it. He valued seeking some meaning, something useful and even redemptive to rise from all the heartache and pain. I suggested that we write a book, with the working title, “Lessons from the valley” taken from the 23rd Psalm. The 23rd Psalm is a text of Old Testament scripture familiar to folks who know nothing else from the bible, because they’ve been to funerals and heard it read. Even people who don’t consider themselves either Christian or Jewish request this text for a funeral, because it is so comforting, so full of hope and peace.
The Psalmist writes, “Even when I’m at my lowest point, most in danger, weakest and most alone in the world, I will not be afraid, because in fact I am not alone – YOU, o God, are with me.” The Psalmist knows by Faith that when he faces death, God is with him. And the belief in that divine presence gives the writer comfort.
Scott could articulate, long before it became clear that he would not recover and go into remission, that this experience with cancer was a “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Death hangs everywhere when cancer comes. All the images from literature, art, and film come flooding in – a grim reaper, robed in black, with his own rod and staff not of comfort but of loss, shepherding the departed soul to the netherworld, never to return. Even when we have a faith story contrary to those myths, the images still hold power for us. The grim reaper, as if from some Charles Dickens novel like the ghost of Christmas future, showing us our own mortality.
So, Scott and I would sit, usually in a hospital room while Cindy and the boys were out, and we’d talk. He’d talk, mostly. I’d listen, ask questions, occasionally pushing for understanding. We were both optimistic in those early days. I think you probably have to be, to get through. It certainly seems to be the case that pessimism will kill, even if optimism won’t save. So I would talk of the future, with him in it, living out and teaching what he’d learned. This would not end like “Tuesdays with Morrie” in a Eulogy for an Epilogue. But it did, and there are lessons there as well to explore.
I don’t know why you’ve picked this up to read. Perhaps you’re entering your own valley, and looking for a traveling companion to point out some of the trail markers along the way. We’ll do some of that. Or, it may be that you are looking back on your valley, trying to make sense of what you’ve been through. You may be the one with the illness or injury, the object of everyone’s sympathy and pity, feeling at times more like a science experiment or med school lab lesson than a person. You may be a traveling companion – spouse, sibling, parent, child, friend – who has nursed and cared and laughed and raged and cried, feeling helpless. The valleys you’ve traveled may have provided numerous lessons for you, and for you to share. Or, it may have left you simply numb.
Not all of us enter into our valleys equally equipped to learn and grow and even thrive in and through them. Scott and I believe that our faith in Christ provides the equipping we need for this journey that each of us will take multiple times in our lives. As others have said, “no on gets out of this alive.” And this is true – death comes to us all. If we love at all, we will loose those we love through illness, injury, or the long passing of time and the natural entropy of our bodies – their inclination to eventually just stop.
I want to speak and write of Scott in the present tense at times – he is still very much present for me, and for others too. Scott is a man of faith and intellect, with a great love for his family and for nature, both of which he knows to be gifts from a loving God. For me this is not just a past reality, but a present one. The valley may have something to say about that too.
Let me say, finally, that most of what follows is mine, though informed by my conversations with Scott, primarily, and others secondarily. This is a result of one of the lessons that the valley has to teach “You never know how much time you have.” “Scott, we started too late, and worked too slow.” I say this not out of guilt, its simply a fact. One of Scotts goals was to die with no regrets – I’m not sure if he made it or not, but I suspect so, or that he came close anyway. The thought that comes to me is something like this: “The best I can do is the best I can do.” Now, sure, not everyone tries their best – Scott didn’t always, and neither do I. But when you realize this and then are able to commit to making a change, then you’ve learned something, you’ve grown, and maybe the journey through the valley hasn’t been a total loss after all.
My prayer is that through all of this, you find what you need, before during or after your valley experiences, to equip you for the journey. For us, Scott and me, that journey only makes sense in and through a life of faith. Most of all, we hope and pray that the greatest lesson from your journeys through the valley is to join Scott and the psalmist in these words:

Psalm 23
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures
He leads me beside still waters
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…
I will fear no evil.
Your rod and your staff they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil – My cup overflows.
Surely Goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

FGCC – How our Vision and Values find expression in our ministry

We continue to seek clarity around how our ministry will take shape in the coming decade. Below are some of my recent thoughts on this

The Church – at Forest Grove and everywhere – exists as a physical manifestation of the Body of Jesus Christ and of the Kingdom of God in this age. We are called as Church (Ecclesia – lit. “the gathering”) to proclaim, live out, and grow into the fullness of all to which God calls us. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 that

11 The gifts [God] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

This text expresses what it means to be the Body of Christ, what is the very nature of the Kingdom of God, and how God intends for all this to be accomplished. As each congregation lives out this calling, we will look different, but be the same in purpose and essence. The following is an expression of some of how this might look at Forest Grove.
Verse 12 either contains a parallelism, in which the second phrase is a restating of and thus equivalent to the first, (the work of ministry is equal to the building up of the Body) or, the second expands the first (building up the Body is the result of the work of ministry). Either way, the saints – that’s Paul’s way of referencing all disciples of Jesus – are to be equipped for the work of ministry, and the Body of Christ – the church – should grow up as a result.

Forest Grove seeks to intentionally develop a continually maturing faith among all we contact. Jesus is continually calling us into relationship with Him, from even before we have heard His name for the first time. The family unit is the foundation of spiritual education (Deut 11:18-20). The role of the church is to come along side families of faith, and to bring individuals and families to faith, that this primary work of spiritual nurture might happen in relationship in families and communities. We seek to teach the Scriptures contained in the Old and New Testaments, and to teach and affirm those ideas from secular thought (particularly in the areas of sociology and psychology) which are consistent with the Scriptures and profitable, as Paul says – 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3). We understand that people have various learning needs, influenced by age, gender, experience, personality, and culture among other factors, and we will teach in ways that honor those needs. This will impact how we program (schedules and types of activities), as well as how we resource (curriculum, facilities and staff). We are a church for all ages – children, youth, and adults – at all stages of life, and we will program and resource accordingly. Some education is best done at the church in more formal settings, and we will have facilities and resources to enable this to happen. As the learning needs of our participants change, our programs, resources, facilities and staffing will need to remain flexible to meet those new challenges. Other learning is better done off campus, in homes, communities, “in the midst of life” and ministry – and we will work to support and resource this kind of learning as well. The most formal setting of our teaching may be our preaching within the context of a worship service. We will pursue excellence in preaching and teaching, acknowledging the gifts and abilities of various voices within and from outside the congregation.

Forest Grove celebrates God as revealed to us primarily through the incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, our Lord and Savior. We celebrate through acts of worship – a word literally meaning “worthy of praise”. Worship is both corporate (an expression of the gathered Body of Christ) and individual – and we will teach, nurture, and encourage both. As God began to design the worship life of Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness, He made provision for various roles by gifting and enabling writers, musicians, singers, dancers, and craftspeople of all kinds. In addition, He provided a tribe of Servants – the Levites (comparable to modern day Deacons, perhaps) and the priestly tribe of Aaron – a role typically – though not exclusively – filled by Preachers and Elders today. Behind this design are affirmations of both excellence in worship and broad communal leadership and participation in worship. Likewise, Paul speaks in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 of the Church as a body, in fact THE Body of Christ – wherein there are differing gifts and differing callings and ministries. We seek a balance in our worship life as elsewhere– helping individuals discern, develop and work with in their areas of gifts and talents, while also providing space for the earnest and heart-felt if not perfect ‘performance’ of a particular ministry of worship. This celebration and acceptance of “the gifts we bring” is an affirmation of our communal nature as the Body of Christ. We will ask and expect that all who offer a ministry – whatsoever and wherever – do so with their fullest effort – “doing all things as unto God” (1 Cor 10:13; Col 3:17).

Forest Grove understands that we are made for relationship – with God and with one another. The two greatest commands are to Love God and Love Neighbor as Self – three forms of love all interconnected, though still prioritized: Love for God, Love for Neighbor, Love for Self. We cannot have one without the others. So, one role of a congregation is to nurture and encourage relationships. We do this by understanding them, and by creating time and space within the gathered community for expressing them. We also teach, nurture and encourage fellowship among believers – and with not-yet-Christians – to be integral in our daily faith lives. Our programs and facilities will foster community in the way they are designed, to both “fit” into the way we live our lives, and to continually call us to a better way of living the life for which God has designed us. Individuals and families – neighbors in our society – are disconnected so many ways. Some of the first words of Scripture are: “It is not right that man should be alone…” (Gen 2) God is in relationship – a testimony of the doctrine of the Trinity – and we are made in God’s image (Genesis 3). We will seek a balance between “programmed” community – church fellowship events, small groups, etc – and “organic” community – folks just spending time with one another at their own initiation. Programming should serve to support the more organic forms of community.

Forest Grove understands that alleviating suf
fering wherever possible is an expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We seek to teach this as a personal discipline, as well as practice it corporately through financial contributions and direct involvement in ministries locally and beyond. Our immediate geographical area (2 mile radius) is primarily an upper income community. Centralizing services is the best way to serve low income families, and a good stewardship of resources. Few such families live within this radius, so on our campus, our focus will be on supporting individuals and families spiritually, emotionally and relationally. Our education and fellowship ministries will offer teaching that addresses these needs in a variety of ways. Off-site we will engage, financially and physically, in ministry with lower-income individuals, as well as those isolated because of limited mobility. The congregation as a whole will focus effort and emphasis on a limited number of ministries throughout the year, directed by our Outreach Ministry Team. We will directly and publicly partner with Allen Community Outreach and similar organizations as extensions of our ministry to low-income families in this area. At the same time, we will actively encourage and celebrate the work of individuals and groups of all sizes within the church to alleviate suffering.

Forest Grove believes that God’s deepest desire is for us to be in relationship with the Father through an active and growing faith in Jesus Christ the Son, by the inspiration and ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. As such, while we respect other faiths and will work together with them where to do so advances the Vision and Values of the congregation, we at the same time open ourselves to God’s working in us to draw all people to Himself. We will engage the broader community in areas of mutual interest because to be in relationship with others is God’s design for human kind and a primary purpose for and expression of the Incarnation itself. While as a congregation we will undertake this work collectively, we also recognize that God is revealed to us in and through relationships, so we teach, encourage, and assist our members to be in intentional relationship with those who do not know Christ, that He might reveal Himself through us. Our job is the relationship – revelation and conviction are the work of the Holy Spirit. Relationships are for relationship sake – we do not objectify our neighbors as simply “targets” of our evangelistic efforts. If we, in Jesus’ name, can help someone better live their life, but their heart has not yielded itself to Christ, we have still done the work of the kingdom. Therefore, Forest Grove will host or support events in the community that provide people with a greater ability to thrive in their lives and relationships. Our ultimate prayer and striving will be that all we encounter might come to know God through Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

The Arts
Forest Grove celebrates music and the arts as expressions of our corporate and personal faith. They are at the heart of our worship life as a congregation, as well as nurturing our spiritual growth through our education and prayer ministries. We encourage individuals and groups of various sizes to express their faith through the arts and invite them to share these expressions in a variety of settings, both formal and informal. We want to financially support this priority through programming, facilities, resources and equipment, and staffing – both volunteer and paid. The arts become a primary way that Forest Grove can connect with the secular culture, building relationships, celebrating beauty, and looking for God’s revealed love in these creative expressions.