Archive for the ‘Grace Seattle’ Category

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The Lessons, rapid prototyping (Part V)

In Bible,Books,business,culture,devotional,Evangelist,faith,family,Fun,Grace Seattle,movies,PCA,Presbyterian Church in America,principles,Spiritual,Technology,Theology,Uncategorized on April 27, 2014 by mstevensrev

the-lean-startup-book-400x376-300x282 (1)A few years ago the book Lean Startup, by Eric Ries took off, at the time I was working for a offshore software development company and it was unthinkable to not have read this holy text for innovation. There are major take aways from this book: Do not be afraid to fail and be willing to fail often.  One thing that is unique I have learned since reading this book is that American culture stands out worldwide because of the position that failure does not define you as a business leader.  You have very famous examples of this including Steve Jobs with his first go around at Apple, and this is even reflected within our legal system a it relates to bankruptcy (America has some of the least punitive laws for bankruptcy in the world).  In an area like Silicon Valley it is likely to meet an entrepreneur who among a success has a string of failed companies that did not work out, this is accepted and according to The Lean Startup even encouraged.

This fits well within my spirituality as God’s grace is central to my view of what is happening in the world. ¬†A minimal definition of grace would be a continuous second chance. (As a side note I have an illustration about ice cream and grace being you get rewarded even though you deserved to be punished, but I’ll save that for ¬†a later post.) Christ came to offer second chances to us, that is the point. ¬†Failure does not have the last word, just as the cross was not the end of Christ work rather he rose from the dead. ¬†There are beautiful examples of this throughout the scriptures: Joshua and the people of God attacking Ai just after the victory at Jericho¬†and losing (Joshua 7:1-26) and Peter’s denial of Jesus where he didn’t just lie once but three times claiming he did not know Jesus (John 18). ¬†These are examples of great leaders from history in the church that were not defined by horrible failure, but rather defined by God’s transformation of their failure.

There is an opposing force to what I have mentioned so far, that failure does not define you and that is the concept of shame.  Just a few weeks ago I was in a presentation at work talking about what happens when teams make mistakes.  I was already at the white board so I added this diagram for our discussion:

fears_and_tears

ToiletBowlFlushThe lower path I would describe as a pathway of shame and perhaps the best image would not be arrows but rather a swirling spiral like in a toilet bowl. Shame is a powerful force that instead of saying, “You made a mistake.” says “You are a mistake.” Instead of saying, “Let’s not cry over spilled milk, grab the rag.” It tells you that your life is an abortion. ¬†For a person controlled by shame there is no place for failure or mistakes and therefore significant work has to be done to face this horrible virus of the soul. ¬†Needless to say if you are a person controlled by shame this idea that you are free to fail will be very difficult if not impossible for you.

For those of you with children right now you know that the movie Frozen is all about this. ¬†The scene creating the ice castle is about Elsa coming to terms with who she has been created to be and understanding that she is not like everyone else, but the storm of shame is still a part of her life as she lives in isolation and suffering under the weight that she is created ‘wrong’. ¬†In my minds eye this is a modern feminist picture of Martin Luther’s great speech at the Diet of Worms, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Only when Elsa’s sister Anna is able to love her unconditionally even given her life for her, is the curse of shame broke. ¬†Though Elsa is still different this difference is used for the good of everyone around her rather then being a curse.

 

So if you buy into this idea the fear is destructive, or a positive was of saying it being failure does not define you then a natural fruit in your life is to not be afraid of failure! Lean Start up pushes this idea with the concept of Rapid Prototyping. This idea of create, create quickly, create well, but get it out there so you can find out what is wrong with it as soon as possible.  Take feedback and grow, or my preferred verb is EVOLVE.

A major evolution in my spirituality was letting go of having to be right. The denomination that I was ordained in, the PCA, was right.  They were well educated and studied theologians that had put in the hours of dedication to create a theological framework and church governance that was Biblical and therefore right.  Once you walk away from a group like that you cannot help but be wrong, because they are the only ones that are right.  This devastated me for a significant period of time, I was lost and certainly I was on the wrong side of right.  Shame played havoc with my soul and my spirituality.

lesmis2Then I became convinced that my spirituality was not about being right and it never should have been. ¬†I can be completely wrong and still loved fully by God! ¬†WOW, what freedom! ¬†One of my professors from seminary, Steve Brown, used to say “I’m wrong at least 50% of the time, I just wish I knew what 50%.” Another way to put is, my faith is not about my sin rather what it means for me to live fully human before God who has saved me. ¬†I have been redeemed from my sin and am being redeemed from my sin.

So does this mean we just run off not caring? Roman 6, is helpful here. ¬†Also I remember¬†Steve Brown¬†using this great illustration. ¬†The discussion of grace and obedience is like a dog chasing his own tail, and the good news if the dog follow the master everything lines up. Let’s live with complete affection and focus on the master and trust that others have been created to do the same!

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The Lessons, big things and little things, Part III

In Bible,church,Community,faith,family,Friends,Grace Seattle,Japan,leadership,mission,PCA,Prayer,Presbyterian Church in America,principles,prophet,Spiritual,Theology,Uncategorized on April 12, 2014 by mstevensrev


sacred-heart-of-jesus with a pair of flame within it
At this post I want to make shift from the previous two I shared regarding the last few years of my spiritual journey. ¬†In the previous posts the mid-faith crisis I experienced was manageable because of a few light posts that were available to me over the four year period. ¬†These were far from mountain top experiences with God but rather as 2 Corinthians 12:9 encourages us, “‚ÄúMy grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.‚ÄĚ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” From these few cold glasses of water I was kept from throwing myself off a bridge literally, and I with this post I want to transition into sharing a few things that I have learning in the experience.

The Walk¬†and the The Wall¬†were completely necessary for me as they each provided insight into the God I have known since a young child, the God who I had studied about in Seminary, and yet the God who I had shaped so clearly in my image I hardly knew anything about at all. ¬†I love the Annie Lamott quote, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.‚ÄĚ This quote is also a very good starting point for my first lesson, Big Things and Little Things. ¬†As we all know most profound lessons that we incorporate into our lives actually come from kindergarten. This one is no exception but it came from my daughter’s kindergarten.

My second daughter began kindergarten this year, and having been the first of our kids that went through Montessori preschool we were unsure how she would adjust to Seattle public school. Thankfully our concerns were without merit and she is thriving, most of the credit goes to her teacher, Ms. Pattsy Burgess of Broadview Thompson. ¬†One of the major lessons that Pattsy has taught my daughter, me and our entire family. ¬†The simple lesson is “Big Things and Little Things”.

go dog go 2

The assessment is fair that our family is a sensitive family that often has emotional responses to the situations life throws at us, this can often lead to a blowing out of perspective small situations because of our emotions. ¬†Early in this academic year my daughter explained to me that, “Daddy, your house burning down is a big deal. Losing your pencil is a small deal.” ¬†Of course I had to ask more and she went on to explain that Ms. Burgess began to ask her when she was frustrated or emotional in a situation, “Is this a big thing or little thing?” Often the big thing would be your house burning down, so pretty much anything in comparison is a little thing. ¬†A part of me was concerned that having a child consider her house burning down may have risk associated with it, but in my continued discussions with this wise six year old this never seemed a big deal, thankfully. So what was shared as a framework to help my daughter identify if her emotional response is in line with the situation has become a reminder for me as well. ¬†This is not to eliminate emotional responses or even call them wrong, rather it is an opportunity to calibrate to keep them in line with what is actually going on rather then spiraling into a world that is out of touch with the actual situation. ¬†Often it provides a good conversation with the younger two girls in our family when they are fighting, it just takes some of the spit and fire out of the situation.

Every human being on the planet has had their share of both Big Things and Little Things.  In my life the Big Things include suffering sexual abuse as a child, severe cycles of depression since middle school age, the deposition of pastor and dear friend during seminary at Grace Seattle (the church where my wife and I met), working over three years for a hypocritical conservative pastor who was unfaithful to his wife and family for more than fifteen years, and counseling a serial murderer as a first year pastor.  Each one of these Big Things in my life takes years of counseling and meditation to properly understand and remain human after suffering, part of my recent spiritual journey is recognizing that these are Big Things and to not live in denial of the impact that just one could have on a single human life much less a marriage or family.

Another point to share is the event that caused me to lose my ordination and ultimately leave the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was actually a small thing.  In the past few years sharing it I almost felt embarrassed.  My family was almost broken apart and we left the church because  Grace Seattle, where I was serving as a ruling elder, did a terrible job of firing the worship pastor.  Churches and business hire and fire all the time, to someone outside that church or outside the church at large it would be confusing as to why it caused such an impact on me and my family.

The first point I had to reflect on was, did we overreact?  I have come to peace that we did not.  Admittedly I am an sensitive emotional person and as I stated before this can lead me to making Big Things out of Little Things.  This is the reason for a time I would be embarrassed talking about the situation with people, I was still exploring the option that I had overreacted.  Unfortunately, I did not overreact to a Little Thing rather this Little Thing exposed a Big Thing far worse then simply firing a worship pastor.

The worship pastor and his family had been serving Grace Seattle for thirteen years when the firing went down.  They had served the church during the first major crisis where the pastor was deposed, and the original music created by this pastor was the only stability during the crisis.  The Big Thing that happened in the firing was he was no longer a member of the church or even a human deserving to be treated with dignity, rather this pastor  was a limiting factor on the future growth of the church and threat to the senior pastor and needed to be dismissed regardless of the impact on his family or his spiritual health.  This act was cruel and abusive, and I write openly on this because I was on the side of the perpetrator as an elder before I left the church. This was a Little Thing for the church that resulted in a Big Thing for a family, and as a leader who failed I need to publicly repent of these decisions I supported.

In reflecting on this situation and my experience in the PCA as a whole I realized there is another Big Thing.  As a denomination, organization or business the PCA has a fundamentally broken model in that they fail to value people. In my experience in and outside the church this is not unique.  Very few embody the words of C.S. Lewis,

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

During my brief experience as an Elder in the PCA,¬†this failure has lead to regular acts of corporate abuse and deceptive harmful group think. Under the guise of being “balanced on Scripture” or “true to Scripture” the¬†PCA¬†abuses people if they are out of line with conservative reformed theology. It is assumed by the PCA that you are not even elect if you think differently then their narrow misogynistic modern view. Orthodoxy is dogmatic and completely violates the Biblical requirements for being part of the community of God as described in both the Early and Late Testaments. ¬†For those ready to battle me on this point, feel free but at least take a moment to read Scott McKnight’s recent post (by guest blogger Michael Pahl) that relates to what it means to seek “Biblical Christianity”. Scott’s guest blogger Michael Pahl writes in regarding the current WorldVision Situation but the depth of the divide described in the article I believe applies to my point, here.

At this moment I think it is important for me to share a part of my first post in this series, “I am on a new path where my thoughts will be appropriate to share with the world. ¬†There are some who know me that may read this post with concern or possible feel threatened that I am making a case against beliefs they hold close, if that is the case for you do not feel obligated to continue reading. ¬†Your friendship from afar is appreciated, yet I am not interested in arguing or persuading anyone of making this same journey if they are not open to it. ¬†So in short if you found this via Facebook instead of leaving nasty comments feel free just to unfriend me now, no hard feelings and I wish you many blessings.” ¬†So in short you can attempt to argue with me all you would like but I feel no obligation to fight anyone on any of the content of this post. ¬†If your goal is to correct me or start a fight my advice would be to unfriend me now, rather if you are open to discussion I long for that. ¬†Any defensiveness to protect a theological view is a Little Thing for me and I am focusing on Big Things. May God have the glory.

Also I think it is important to mention that I did ask the family of the worship pastor permission to use their situation as an example, they suffered through enough already related to Grace Seattle, and they said yes without names named.  In regards to the leadership of Grace Seattle or the PCA I did not ask their permission or allow them to review this post.  Since leaving Grace Seattle and nearly being excommunicated I have had no contact with the leadership of the church, I am essential dead to them.  The PCA on a denominational level perpetrated lies on why I left my ministry role in Oakland, CA at All Nations Church and have not contacted me since ripping my ordination during the last crisis at Grace Seattle. In the face of all the sin that both of these organization are perpetrating, I think their actions toward me are Little Things. My hope is through these prophetic words and the work of the Holy Ghost, repentance will come to all who have been involved in these horrible destructive actions and bring them closer to God. That would be a wonderful Big Thing.

Related to this kindergartener I am trying to raise with her two sisters in the church, it is really challenging yet our family has never left the church and God has not abandoned us.  As a parent I long to keep telling a story to my kids about a Big Thing, with all that has shifted and changed in my spirituality Jesus is the Big Thing.  Also I long to tell a spiritual journey story that allows them to see the beauty and pain of their spiritual legacy.  Only my oldest daughter was alive when I was a full time vocational pastor, the other girls have only known their daddy as a sales monkey, I long to tell all three a redemptive story that is a Big Thing.  But the legacy goes back further on both sides of their families, faithful Catholics and fundamentalist with cult like loyalty in their blood, a strange but sweet mix. All this is only a part of the wonderful lesson the God of the Universe has for this little tribe known as the Stevens, may the God of the universe give us the imagination for the big things that have been prepared in love for the world as well.

 

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A follow up to a snarky post regarding Mark Driscoll

In Bible,church,Community,Evangelist,Friends,Grace Seattle,leadership,PCA,Prayer,Presbyterian Church in America,prophet,Spiritual,Theology on April 6, 2014 by mstevensrev

So in a previous silly post I made a statement about Mark Driscoll’s confusion. ¬†To his credit there has been a statement of repentance from the man:¬†http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/mark-driscoll-posts-open-letter-apology

His letter has been covered in a number of blogs and such, I have not read much but must say that I am hopeful that these are first fruits of some very good movement for Mark, Mars Hill and Acts 29. ¬†I long for a world where public repentance is not a major story by Christian leaders, but rather these ‘leaders’ live as publicly in their repentance as they do their celebritism. ¬†Praise be to God.

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>Proverbs 10:6-11

In Bible,devotional,Grace Seattle,Proverbs on July 12, 2010 by mstevensrev

>6 Blessings are on the head of the righteous, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
7 The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.
8 The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.
9 Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.
10 Whoever winks the eye causes trouble, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.
11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Verses 6, 7, 11 give us some good news for the righteous which is then clearly set against the wicked. A blessing upon your head if younger righteous. This is kingly imagery, for your head is where your crown is placed. You will be honored, or seen as royal. Also there is another beautiful blessing upon the head and that is oil. Oil provides fragrant smell, cleanliness, and even healing for your scalp and skin. These publicly visible blessings are in contrast to the mouth of the wicked which is concealing violence. Hidden and dark.

Also the righteous are thought about favorably. The older I get the more I think about hiw I will be remembered, by my children, family, friends, and others I have known. Could it be that the memory will be a blessing? Can I live In such a way tomorrow that will leave others with a memory of blessing. Wow, through our mouths this can pour out like a fountain. I picture a vast fountain of wine for many compared to a garbage heap that is filled with rot from the wicked.

Babbling and secretive the wicked contribute to their own ruin. They are playing games in secret and trying to be smooth. I love to wink at my daughters in affectionate love, but this is a picture of a cheater at the card table signaling to his partner. Receive God’s commandments, walk with integrity. These will bring about security.

This morning I was wonderfully reminded where my security is supposed to come from, when It comes from anywhere other then God, I will live as a violent insecure self protective man. When my security is based upon the promise of the Gospel, that God loves me and has given himself for me and all his gifts are mine, then I can be gentle and secure. The Proverbs push us to a love of God’s law which is only attainable with the understand from Jesus of God grace. Yes I see my failure constantly in the law, but I know it is good, and I also know that God is making me more and more in it’s image I am his failful one. How deep is the broken that is constantly present in my life and yet how much geater is the love of God who has rescued me not leaving me to rot!

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>Where I’m going, not where I want to be, but further along than I was

In family,Friends,Grace Seattle,writing on October 17, 2009 by mstevensrev

>The start of school when you have kids and the beginning of a new year bring about reflection, at least for me. Or perhaps I am more of navel gazer than I think of myself. Regardless my recent thoughts have brought me to a place where I have more peace than I have in quite awhile.

Seattle is a very special place and God has put in at the center of our family in a very special way. There was no place in the world where we could have gone and had such an easy transition after Oakland. Simply having the initial gift of free rent from my father-in-law relieved so much pressure and allowed me to look for a job without going deep into debt. Also the support structure of wise friends who have walked with us for years was priceless, and then we were also surprised by the new friends God brought into our life during that time who have been an amazing blessing. There are plenty of questions about the future but where we are meant to be is not one of them. I won’t be surprised if there are pressures that work on moving us in the near future but the only pressure I’m concern about is that of God’s.

Stewardship. When I graduated from college the last thing I cared about was making money. I wanted to creating something cool and care for people. That was carried on throughout graduate school, when after making decent money in my first job I easily walked away to pursue full time ministry. Then there was Oakland, which looked more like survival financially for Karin and me. The stress of graduate school and working for a church startup put us in very bad position in regards to our finances and stewardship. This was not a faithful time in my life as I reflect upon it. While some of the circumstances were out of my control, having been through it wisdom would not allow me to do it again. For those who supported me I was not “unfaithful” with that money, it had more to do with places I would take money from and what I was leveraging in order to just make ends meet. Thankfully God has given me a very gracious family who also seem to have a short term memory:) Now God has placed me in a great position to be a good steward. I pray often to God saying, “All this ambition you have given me in my work, may you bless so I can be just as ambitious with my generosity.” Just this week I had lunch with the pastor at Grace and we were dreaming about what God would do in Seattle, and how if He chose to use us.

As I write this my girls are playing Wii in the room next to me. I can’t help but think about how much I enjoy being a father. There is so much joy that comes from seeing them grow, learn, and become the women God has intended them to be. During graduate school both Karin and mine we juggled a very crazy schedule which meant I had significant amount of time with our first daughter during the first four years of her life. I feared that I would not have the same connection with number two, that was a completely unfounded fear. Sure I wish I had more time with our two year old, but both my daughters bring me so much joy and they are the thing I take the most godly pride of in my life.

Then there is my marriage, which I mess up all the time in. Though I am listening better. Karin is not merely one of my advisers but rather the partnership God has given me in this life. She knows me better and loves me more than anyone in this world and her words deserve that kind of respect and honor. Now if I didn’t get grumpy, sensitive, and bent out of shape so often I am sure that I would do a much better job of honor that voice in my life. For years though I didn’t even know the place that she was to have in my life. I’m also learning to speak and encourage when she needs me. Her drive and capability often lead me to give her space because I deeply know that she can do it, but I’m learning she still needs to hear my encouragement. That is crazy and sweet.

My writing has had to take a the back burner:( I still cannot believe that I had time to blog thru the Psalms, and even start the Proverbs. As I hear from other friends at my stage of life, so who are even writers, I find they have a similar struggle. That actually encourages me. There is only so much time and if my kids are civil and I like my wife that says tons.

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>News has similar problem as church

In church,Community,Grace Seattle,Theology on October 2, 2008 by mstevensrev

>

Read the news headlines about what is happening and while wild and worrisome it is not that interesting to me.¬† What is interesting is the story behind the story.¬† For instance all the economic and government drama doesn’t really add up to a hill of beans for me until today when five people from my company get laid off.¬† How this will impact their family, partners, and life is captivating to me, yet that is the story behind the story.¬† Ed Burns captures this well.

Last Sunday something inspired me during the service that was enough for me to think, “We should end church here because what just happen was amazing.”¬† The headline would read, Volunteer Reader doesn’t show.¬† But the story that God wrote behind that amazed me.

First there was a long awkward silence, that seem to last as long as a woman in labor to me and I would think everyone else that is even partially engaged in the service.  It took either the pastor complete and utter disconnection to what was happening (which I doubt) or leaders who were comfortable enough with letting it sit.  They are fully capable of stepping in and reading scripture and yet it is not their duty in that moment so an able minded/bodied person would need to step up.

The person who ended stepping up was the Children’s Minister.¬† Her entire life, and that of her husband, is spent filling in gaps and serving people who may never even know who they are.¬† They are a beautiful picture of the people who make church happen, and get very little in return.¬† On a side not it was also a great opportunity for me to see her great new hair cut, but it was clear that her stepping into the moment was completely about serving.

What brought tears to my eyes and a chill to my back was when she began to read and it was Phil 4, Have in you the same mind as Christ…A passage completely about selflessness and caring for others.¬† I could not think of a more incarnate picture than this young lady and then reading this passage in that particular circumstance.

Just as you thought God was going to return on the cloud or had because it was such a transcendent heavenly moment, as she finished reading she gracefully slipped as she walked down the steps, not a full on fall, just a trip.  Enough of a bump to remind you that the entire moment was real, and sometime real is beautiful and sometimes it is embarrassing.

In all of that I was grateful to have been around enough to know the story behind the story, and I felt sad for people who it was their first Sunday at our church.¬† They missed God showing up, and how hard is it to figure out if you belong in a place or understand it’s true meaning and nature when you only see the headline story.¬† What really matters is the story behind the story.

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