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Learning to be brave and walk alongside a neighbor in need…

obedience

[Guest Post by my friend Sarah Beckman.  Today she released a new book called “Alongside: A practical guide for loving your neighbor in their time of trouble” and its awesome.  I asked her to share a story she told me recently, I hope it blesses you to continue to live an invitational life. If you retweet this above pic, tag @sarahbeckman14 + @steveryancarter + #alongsidebook you will be entered to win a free copy of her awesome book!]

It was a regular Wednesday afternoon. But that April day was different, because the sun was shining, and after a long, hard winter, the kids were outdoors basking in its rays. And then the brightness and joy of the day were shattered with one phone call.

Our neighbor across the street, John, had died suddenly while playing golf on a business trip. In an instant our little neighborhood world was enveloped in darkness. His compelling smile, his jolly laugh, the way he lovingly opened the car door for his wife, Deborah, the hours spent playing catch with his son in the front yard—all flipped through my mind like a slide show.

As I stared across the street at the manicured yard and impeccably painted grey house with white trim, the perfect picture on the outside was incongruent with the now tragic reality on the inside.

All I could think was what should I do? What do I say?

In moments of great loss and sadness most of us ask ourselves these same questions. And how we answer them is of the utmost importance.

That day, I braved the walk across the cul-de-sac to my grieving neighbor’s door. I didn’t have long to decide, and my uncertain mind wished my sure-footed legs hadn’t taken over. I didn’t know the now widow very well, but I did know she didn’t attend church or speak of faith at all. But as someone who professes a belief in Jesus and who wants to follow his command to love others, I knew I didn’t really have a choice.

I knocked. And when the door was opened I entered in, trusting God to equip and provide for me even though I knew my own strength and abilities were meager at best.

But that’s just the thing. God does profound work with our simple acts of obedience.

Over the days, months and years that followed, a few of us stood in the gap for Deborah and her family, offering both spiritual support and practical help. We had been given a holy opportunity to be the literal hands and feet of Christ to someone in their darkest hour. I intended to make the most of it.

Right after John died, we did piles of practical things—made vats of coffee, cooked meals, cleaned up dishes, wrote obituaries, picked out flowers, chose funeral clothes, answered the door, wrote thank you notes and made picture boards.

That summer Deborah’s son started a lunch counter in his garage, and we bellied up to the white, plastic, wobbly tables to eat chicken salad sandwiches and hot dogs with chips more times than I care to count. When Deborah wanted to keep busy that fall, we signed up to take ballet class together.

I wasn’t overt about my faith, but I might have tipped her off when I prayed out loud with her in the kitchen the day her husband died. But the mere act of continuing to serve and love her through that dark time with no agenda was likely a greater message than any words could speak. And when she saw my family leaving for church every Sunday and Wednesday night, I guess she noticed.

One day hot July day the second summer we sweltered in her son’s make shift garage restaurant Deborah said to me, “I know your family goes to church every Wednesday, and I was wondering, would you be willing to take John with you?”

“YES!” was out of my mouth before I could even finish chewing my lukewarm hot dog.

Several months later, John was asked to play in the youth band at church on Wednesday nights. He had a great love for playing guitar, but outside of lessons, the only audience he had was a few daring folks who’d venture into his dark basement cave to hear him.

The night he was performing the first time, Deborah came with me to church. As we sat eating dinner in the multi-purpose room together before the service she leaned over to me and said, “I never understood how people could call a place their ‘church home’. But now I do.”

Later as she watched her introverted son perform on stage, she leaned over to me and said, “I never thought this day would come. I can’t thank you enough for getting my son out of the basement.”

When I walked across the cul-de-sac that April day to comfort a grieving neighbor who I hardly knew, I never would have known what was to come in the years that followed. Two years after her husband died, Deborah was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two years after that, she passed away.

I spent countless hours with her in those last months planning her funeral, writing letters to her kids, crafting her obituary, and even giving away her precious belongings. She wanted my Pastor to perform the service and he visited her regularly.

I had the holy privilege of holding her hand by her side and quietly praying as she took her last breath. And when I delivered her eulogy, it was as a dear friend—not just as a neighbor she hardly knew.

All because of the incomparable power of God displayed through my small steps of obedience.

Question to Ponder: How can you come alongside a hurting friend and love more like Jesus today?

For more practical ways to walk with those you love through the rough patches of life, you can pick up a copy of Sarah Beckman’s, Alongside: A Practical Guide for Loving Your Neighbor in their Time of Trial, which releases February 14, 2017. www.alongsidebook.com

BIO:
Sarah Beckman is an author and speaker, living in Albuquerque, NM with her husband, Craig, of 24 years. They have three delightful children ages 15, 17, and 20. Her experience on both sides of the bed—both being helped and helping others—provides her authentic viewpoint for her book, Alongside.  When she’s not writing or speaking, you might find her in the kitchen creating something to share with a “neighbor” in need. She has a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also works as a communications coach and corporate trainer.

Day 34 | Seek to Understand

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“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

(Matthew 5:43–48)

The most radical call to love Jesus made was the call to love our enemies. We all have people in our lives that have hurt or wronged us in some way. And Jesus calls us to love and bless these very people. He doesn’t call us to ignore them and move on or even tolerate them. He calls us to love and pray for them. How is this possible? The only way I have found is to seek to understand them. Every convict, punk, thug, terrorist, racist, extremist, and fundamentalist has a history and a context that has led to their behavior. Of course, this doesn’t make what they did okay, but understanding their story can change our hearts toward them. My heart grows in its ability to seek this understanding as I grow in compassion and as I pray. Perhaps this is why Jesus followed his statements about loving our enemies with instructions about caring for the poor and what has come to be known as the “Our Father” or “the Lord’s Prayer.”

Reflection Questions

Who is your enemy? (Say the name; it’s the first step toward understanding and love.) Can you say a prayer for that person right now? (It can be as simple as, “God, I don’t like them, but I’m willing to be changed.”)

As you think about the person you identified in response to the question above, what would you like to know about their past, the pain they’ve experienced in their life, or their current circumstances? What would be one step to begin to learn more about that person’s story?

How are you engaging with people in poverty? How often are you serving them in some way? What has God taught you, transformed in you, or healed in you? If you aren’t serving the poor, how can you do so in your community? 

Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Amen.

Day 27 | First Things First

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Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

(1 Corinthians 15:1–8)

When it comes to beliefs, even among Christians, the differences often seem to be greater than the similarities. In this passage, Paul helped the Corinthian church to distinguish between the essential beliefs, and convictions about how to live in light of those beliefs and individual preferences as to how to prioritize those beliefs. The essentials are the matters of first importance. Paul said there are three essential beliefs of a follower of Jesus: Jesus lived on this earth, died for our sins, and rose from the dead. These beliefs are the foundation upon which everything else—our convictions and our preferences—are built. Understanding these essentials is key in relating to other Christians and people outside the church.

Reflection Questions

Before reading this passage, how would you have described the essentials of the Christian faith? How does your description compare with Paul’s?

Spend some time reflecting on the foundation of your faith. What beliefs ground your actual day-to-day faith?

Sit quietly for two or three minutes, remembering you are in God’s loving presence, and ask God to show you where you’ve mistaken your convictions or preferences for the essentials. What did God reveal?

Prayer

God, thank you for reminder to put first things first. I pray that I can stay focused on the essentials as I relate to others and seek to point them to Jesus. Allow me to remain firm in my convictions and yet able to explain the essential message of the gospel clearly. Let nothing in the way I live out my faith be a deterrent to others or inhibit the people I encounter from seeing Jesus in and through me. Amen.

Day 24 | Out of Hiding

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So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matthew 6:31–34)

To live your life to fullest expression of who God made you to be takes courage because doing so means allowing yourself to be really seen—warts and all. So many of us just can’t get there. It feels too vulnerable and we’re afraid. This is my story. For much of my life, I hid key parts of myself for fear that if people knew my struggles or weaknesses, they would avoid me. But when we let others see our weaknesses, it gives them permission to do the same. Once we’ve all stepped out of hiding, no longer worried about protecting and managing how we’re perceived, we can step into kingdom work and join with God in seeking those who are lost.

Reflection Questions

What parts of your story do you most often leave out when building a new relationship? What worries cause you to withhold those parts of your story?

Reflect on the first time you shared the hardest part of your story with someone. Who was it? How did it feel to allow that part of yourself to be seen?

Who do you know that seems to be hiding for fear of being judged or embarrassed? Ask God to show you what he is inviting you to share or to ask as a way to help whomever you identified feel safe and invited to be known.


Prayer

God, thank you for these words of Jesus. I worry about all kinds of things instead of focusing on your kingdom. Help me to release my worry and fear of how I might be perceived. Allow me to fully embrace my story, good and bad, and give me the courage to be known. Show me who needs encouragement to come out of hiding and may I be a safe place and a gracious presence where others can be seen and known. Amen.

Day 2 | Creation

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Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

(Genesis 1:26–31)

The first chapter of the book of Genesis tells us the beginning of our story with God. And what a beginning it was! God created something out of nothing. He brought light to the dark. He made the heavens and the earth. He created sun and moon; sky and water; vegetation and animals. And then, after calling all he had made good, he made humanity out of the dust of the earth, forming the first man and woman with his hands. We weren’t made haphazardly, we were made on purpose, in the very image of God. And when God created human beings, he blessed us with abundance and called everything he’d made very good. 

Reflection Questions

  • Though this may be a familiar story—one you’ve read many times before—reflect on whether there is anything that you hadn’t noticed before or whether a particular image or phrase resonated more this time.  What did you notice? What resonated? Why?
  • After reading this passage, what do you know to be true of God? (List out what he did and what his actions reveal about him.) Why do you think it’s important to remember and recount creation as part of the story?
  • What do you know to be true about every person in the world—your family members, your friends, your neighbors, the strangers you encounter, and your enemies—based on this passage? How does that truth shape the way you see and treat others?

Prayer

God, thank you for the beautiful creation and that you crafted every human being carefully and in your own image. Allow the love that caused you to create this world and its people fill my heart and overflow into my relationships. Help me to see you in the eyes of each person I encounter. Amen.

What a cardiologist taught me about the church

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There was some commotion in the mezzanine on Saturday night before I heard someone yell out “We NEED a doctor!”

Our executive pastor Heather Larson was 10 minutes into her talk as volunteer medics from the main floor and balcony began running towards this section. At first, we weren’t sure what was happening so Heather calmly took a time out and invited the church to pray. As the prayer ended we got word that a 56 year old man was having a heart attack. He was unresponsive, 911 had already been called and our volunteer medic teams began administering CPR.

The church continued praying, we extended hands towards the section and begged God for healing. As I stood there watching thousands of hands extended, prayers being offered, and the sounds of first responders working in unison. One of our worship leaders Amaris Bullock stepped up to the piano and began playing one of her original songs. There was a line she sang over and over about how “God is good, He will not relent, He will not give up on my circumstance” and you could feel the room expectant for these words to come true once again.

We were all together as one working towards healing.

Through prayer.
Through responding to crisis.
Through worship.

The paramedics came and transported the man to a nearby hospital. A couple pastors and I quickly drove over to the local hospital to be with the man and his family.

A wife and a son showed up to the ER and we just hugged. You could sense the fear, the worry and deep love they had for this man. The severity of the situation had doctors working on the man as the wife and son were moved to an isolated waiting room. After a few minutes the son came and asked that we join them.

For 90 minutes we prayed together, told stories about the man’s goodness, and tried our best to not stop hoping. We were finally brought back to a room to get an update from the doctor. The first doctor came in (who happened to be from willow) and gave us a heads up that the man would be transferred to another hospital for a triple bypass surgery.

Absolute shock. The room got smaller. Fear was trying to creep in. The family broke down. And so we started praying more.

We were brought back into the operating room. The wife and son huddled around the man they love before he was wheeled out to an ambulance.

We followed the ambulance to the new hospital where we were escorted to our own personal waiting room. The doctors invited us back to pray over the man. The wife and son and I gathered around the man. The son was giving me a side hug as I prayed and with each sentence and verse I uttered he squeezed me tighter. You could feel the love he had for his father.

4 hours later we got word that the surgery was successful. The man was stable, responsive and would be ok.

It was one massive exhale.

As I’ve been reflecting, I can’t stop thinking about what the cardiologist told me, “Your volunteers saved this man’s life. Every seconds counts and the fact they responded so quickly was a game changer. If he was driving or by himself I can almost guarantee there would be a different outcome. But he was at church, where everyone was praying and responding quickly. Being there gave him a second chance.”

Praying.
Responding quickly.
Saving lives.
Second chances.

This cardiologists words reminded me afresh how stunning the church can be when everyone is praying, responding quickly to crisis, saving lives and offering people second chances.

Who can you be praying for today?
What crisis might God be inviting you to respond quickly too?

made for more

 

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On Wednesday morning I woke up early and heard reports coming out of Baton Rouge, that a 37 year old black man named Alton Sterling had been killed by police officers. Then I saw the tape. Hours later, an incredible father from Willow who is black reached out to tell me that he’s fearful of something terrible like what just occurred happening to him. I listened and was reminded of what Bill has taught us over the years about the power of a dual narrative.

I have friends from both perspectives. I have family and friends who have worked in law enforcement. My dad did payroll for the Grand Rapids Police department and when he was diagnosed with leukemia, police officers donated their personal sick time so my dad didn’t lose his job while battling cancer. He accrued hundreds of hours worth of sick time thanks to their selfless generosity. I grew up seeing police officers as kind and always there to protect me. And some of my black friends, when they share the narrative they grew up with, its easy to see that there is a gap in my experience compared with theirs.

So when my friend shared his fears with me, I leaned in and paid attention because I know his fear is valid. Many would say there has been a pattern of systemic injustice and abuse of power in parts of our country. I can’t deny that, even if it hasn’t been my personal experience. So the best way to be with my friend in this, is to simply listen, get curious, and seek to understand the best I can.

Then thursday morning I woke up to hear that Philando Castile, a 32 year old black man in St. Paul who was stopped by police for a broken tail light, was shot on the scene, right in front of his girlfriend and four year old daughter. The exact fear my friend had expressed 24 hours earlier had just occurred. I watched the video and fell apart.

Like many of you, I had a hard time sleeping that night. I vacillated from anxiety to anger to grief. Tossing and turning, I finally gave up and grabbed my phone, eager for a distraction. But as I scrolled the latest Twitter feed, reports of an attack on police officers in Dallas started trending. As I watched the footage and the number of officers pronounced dead went from one to five, my heart sank. A peaceful protest had been interrupted by senseless, deadly violence.

I picked up my bible and remembered the time Jesus approached Jerusalem, saw the city and started weeping over it. I couldn’t shake the thought that Jesus has been weeping over our country this past week. Weeping over the loss of life, weeping over kids growing up without parents, weeping over the injustice, weeping over the violence, weeping over the racism, weeping…

And as Jesus stands overlooking Jerusalem, wiping the tears from his face he says, “if you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.”

And it just feels like what will bring sustainable peace has become hidden to eyes of people. I imagine many of you feel a mixture of emotions just as I do: sadness, lament, anger, fear, frustration, grief, helplessness… What can bring us peace? What can truly heal this broken world?

Friends, Peace begins at the cross and moves towards us. Peace must live in our own homes and neighborhoods. Peace is in the grudges we hold or let go of, the judgements or the grace we silently consider as we pass people in the store and in our office buildings. I love these words from Jen Hatmaker, who says, “Do what you can today to create peace. Forgive someone. Call someone you’ve been meaning to encourage. Eat lunch in a different part of town and tip 40%. Offer kind words to someone that may be especially hurting and scared this week. Pray deeply and sincerely. Believe the peaceful man from Nazareth knew what he was talking about when he told us to forgive, love our enemies, defend the innocent, and lay down our rights for others.”

It’s that last line, forgive, love, defend and lay down our rights for others that is at the heart of the gospel and central to incarnating Peace.

The hope I find in those words of Jesus, “If you had only known what would bring you peace…” is that there is peace to be found. It does exist. It is possible. We just can’t find it on our own. We need to ask God to help us find the path back to peace. We must humble ourselves out of desperation and a deep desire for this violence to stop, so that we can listen and learn from our Creator. We need to intercede for those who have lost loved ones this week, we need to find ways to help carry their grief so they’re not left to do it alone. We need to call out institutional injustice and seek to rectify it. We need to do whatever we can to ensure that this senseless violence ends. We need to stand for peace. Let’s take time to pause and pray deeply and sincerely.

+this is an excerpt from a part of the service at Willow Creek, you can view the service in it’s entirety here.

TIL trailer – Dominate

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The book trailer is here! The story behind the trailer is really about the two guys who first introduced me to Jesus – and on that note, we’re giving you a chance to buy one/get one over at Amazon right now! It’s a great chance to buy a book for you and one for someone else – maybe a person who inspires you to love more like Jesus, a parent, spouse, friend, or mentor. For me, I’m not sure what my life would have become if it weren’t for Dominate. I’ll be sending them a copy just as a thank you, a way to encourage them to never stop living this invitational life. Go to tinyurl.com/TIL5bucksoff to activate the $5 off coupon. Enjoy! ‪#‎ThisInvitationalLife‬ ‪#‎Dominate‬

Wrigley adventures

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Congrats to Adam Witsiepe! You’re the winner of the week 1 This Invitational Life giveaway. You won two tickets to watch the Chicago Cubs play at Wrigley Field.

Why Cubs tickets? Because they invoke relationship. Because – you get to bring someone along with you. As Sarah and I started dreaming about ways to spread the word about TIL book, we wondered what it would look like to find ways to help others begin to live more invitationally. What if we could create a few giveaway opportunities that affirm inclusivity?

Recently a new friend and I drove down to Wrigley, and as we sat in Chicago rush hour traffic he shared some of his story with me. He opened up about his questions about faith, his worries and past failures. The conversation was so natural and easy, we both shared and talked and laughed – it was probably the only time I’ve been thankful to sit in traffic.

I want to create more opportunities for others to have moments like we did. To share an experience together, to invite one another into our stories and memories, hopes and fears. These giveaways are a simple fun way to do just that. Be sure to snap a pic of your receipt and send it to me at thisinvitationallife@gmail.com so I can make sure you’re entered for our giveaway next Friday.

Thanks for all your support, for the many post shares and comments and all the ways you’ve been encouraging me along this writing journey. I couldn’t have done it without you!!

This Invitational Life Album

imageOver the years music has become a gateway for me to truly live this invitational life out. As a kid, certain songs signified special moments. Like when my dad would take me to a basketball game, he’d always put in a tape of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” or Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” or Tears for Fears “Shout” and we’d sing along loud and totally off-key. It didn’t matter because they did the trick. My heart was soaring as we shared those memories together. Those songs became anthems for me.

In college I heard this song called “Obsession” by Delirious and somehow it put to words the honesty, desire, and vulnerability that I wanted to have for God.  For two years straight I actually played that song when I’d wake up. Throughout the day, a line would come to mind and manage to refocus me on what truly mattered. 

John Lennon sang my wife down the aisle the day of our wedding. Sigur Ros played as we prayed and said I do. When my son was born, my wife and I had a playlist accompanying us as we welcomed him into the world. Sleeping At Last’s Umbrellas will forever bring me back to that holy moment I held him for the first time. 

Music has a way of moving our hearts, minds, and souls doesn’t it?

Over the next few weeks, I’d love to introduce you to some artists and friends of mine who embody these values and whose songs have encouraged me along the way. 

Exclusively for those who preorder “This Invitational Life” from now until August 1st, we’ve put together a beautiful mp3 playlist of songs written by incredible musician friends near and far. Just take a screen shot or picture of your purchase receipt from Amazon, Barnes&Noble or anywhere else and email it to thisinvitationallife@gmail.com. You’ll also be included in our weekly drawings for some pretty great invitational opportunities such as Cubs tickets and dining gift certificates.

The first song is called, “With All My Heart” by my good friend Marty Mikles. I met him seven years ago at a Salvation Army event and from the first time I saw him lead, I knew there was something different about him. He is an absolute gift to me.  This song has been on repeat since the day he sent it to me.  When I asked him why he wrote it he said, 

“I wish that it weren’t true, that to best know the strength of the hand of God you must first know your own weaknesses very well. But it is true.  I have come to know my weaknesses in deep, painful ways.  In the past, they had left me hollow, bruised and broken.  In light of my shortcomings, however, I will, like Paul, boast in my weaknesses, because God’s strength is made PERFECT in them.  I am not sure that I would know what I know about God’s goodness if it weren’t for the distance that He had to reach to draw me back.  Even more puzzling is the recurring and consistent pursuit and invitation with which God beckons,  “Do you love me with everything you’ve got?”  A dear friend shed some light on this recently: “It’s a question that, if we are honest, many times we must answer, ‘Not yet.’”  Dare I say, even though I have to answer with a “not yet,” God STILL repeatedly invites me to keep trying.  He is relentless, and in His pursuit of me I find the enormity of His goodness.  I may often get it wrong.  But I WILL keep trying so long as he extends the invitation.  “I will love You, Lord…”

In writing this song, I imagined a setting where broken people could sing these words together, maybe even wrestle with these words together.  Even more than that, I often think about how daring it would be to invite others into this examination, this place where we’re asking each other if it’s true of us: Do we love God with all that we are?  And how beautiful is it that in the middle of this conversation, no matter how we answer, we can still recognize God’s goodness to us!  His invitation to us is always open.  He never rescinds his offer.  How could we possibly keep this to ourselves…?”

I hope you enjoy.

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