Tag Archives: life

Belonging: Outreach Is Not the Same as Belonging

I had conversations with four neighbors the other day that I’ve yet to meet.

It wasn’t hard to do. Do you want to know my secret? I gave them free food from my garden.

If you want to meet your neighbors, grow stuff and give it to them.

To think I took all of these classes in seminary and at different churches in order to learn how to “reach out to my neighbors.” What a waste of time and money. A garden and a little generosity was all I needed in order to be a normal member of my neighborhood.

I’m not surprised that it’s hard for us to connect with our neighbors in general, let alone to talk about deep, meaningful, life-changing things.

Some nights I run out to the neighborhood co-op to pick up milk or eggs. As I walk down the street, I see the flickering lights of television sets, evidence of neighbors holed up in the solitude of their own property, living the American dream of wealth, self-sufficiency, and pleasure.

I’ve been taking steps toward building a different lifestyle.

This past weekend I set up cages for our tomato plants and built a border around one of our flower beds. We planted beans, cucumbers, summer greens, nasturtiums, and sun flowers in our raised beds. I had to build a trellis or three for the cucumbers and beans, and I also worked on the borders for our garden paths.

While working on them, I saw four other neighbors that I chat with on a regular basis. They’re walking in and out of their homes, but I’m outside, ready to have a conversation, to pass along some garlic scapes or a handful of arugula. When I see other neighbors I’ve been meaning to meet, I pull out a few heads of garlic as an impromptu gift.

My pastor often talks about slow growth and committing to communities for the long term. That’s something I’m learning from our garden. Our cucumbers and tomatoes are flowering, but they still have a ways to go. Growing vegetables takes initiative, but you can’t speed up the process all that much.

Who knows when we’ll eat strawberries from our new plants or grapes from the vine I just planted. 

Who knows what will come of these relationships around me. I’m learning to be present, I’m trying to pull my head out of the junk that eats up my time and turns me into an isolated narcissist who feels busy and stressed all of the time while wasting my time on nothing in particular.

Opting out of today’s entertainment, self-sufficient, me-first culture is all about these small acts of resistance that can reshape a neighborhood shovel full of dirt at a time. I’ll never wander my neighborhood with tracts or try to force my beliefs on anyone.

I choose to venture door to door with garlic, fresh made jam, and lettuce.

I hope to spend time on my front porch because it’s the only place I’d want to be.

There’s no strategy here. This is just life. The thing about life is that you can’t refute it or deny it. Life digs into the dirt and takes root, and when it grows like a sturdy fruit-bearing plant, those with a chance to taste its sweetness would never think to turn it down.

I used to hide out in my Christian fortress where I wondered how to “reach out” or to “do” “outreach.” I didn’t realize that I’d already lost because I was asking the wrong questions. I’d forgotten how to just live among people. And the challenge is that many of us in America at least have forgotten how to live as well.

We’re all cooped up in our own fortresses, whether that’s a church, gated community, suburban development, hip urban neighborhood, or wherever we feel safe and unable to speak to anyone outside of our immediate circles.

When we learn how to live among people, we can build community and relationships. Those relationships become a sort of fertile soil where new life can take hold. When we learn how to live among others and generously share God’s blessings with our neighbors, we’ll create new spaces to belong that we could never construct from our couches.

Life in a community takes hard work and patience. Slowly but surely my roots are going deeper and relationships are starting to grow. There’s no agenda or plan here. I’m praying for life and for health. I’m also praying that our tomatoes do well enough that we have plenty to share.

How Amy Speigel Let Go of Perfect

When I released Coffeehouse Theology back in 2008, I realized that while I read the books of female theologians (see IVP’s epic commentary by female scholars for instance), I only read a few female bloggers. One of the first female bloggers I read was Amy Speigel, the wife of my former professor at Taylor U. and award-winning author Jim Speigel. It has been a ton of fun seeing Amy crush it as a blogger, and now she’s written a book. I’m happy to have Amy as today’s guest blogger:

Surprise! Ed is taking the day off and graciously allowing me this opportunity to share a little about my new book, Letting Go of Perfect. It isn’t just the title of my book but also a summary statement of what God has been teaching me over the last few years.

Let me first say that, with a title like Letting Go of Perfect, I think a disclaimer is in order:

  • I don’t know Perfect.
  • Perfect wouldn’t give me the time of day if I say her walking down the street.
  • Perfect won’t give me her telephone number or accept my friend requests on Facebook.

The perfection referred to is not my own, not something that I once possessed and have since decided to let go of. It is my pursuit of perfection, my Pharisaical life under the law of which I am desperately trying to be free.

One night I sat in my car outside a friend’s house too tired and scared to go inside. You would have thought I was heading into an angry mob rather than going to prayer meeting.

I should have been overjoyed at the opportunity to fellowship with other women and unburden myself of the cares and concerns I was facing. But all I saw was judgment. A firing squad ready to shoot down my fragile ego.

What if they see through this façade? What if they realize that just how not all together I really am? That night was a turning point for me. Because I did go in. And I did admit to be not all together. And what I discovered was none of us have it all together. None but one and He is all we need.

I have been surrounded by the Gospel my whole life. I am one of those people with the super boring testimonies (except for my high school and college years, but that’s a discussion for another day).

  • Raised in a Christian home by loving and godly parents.
  • Attended a Christian university where I had the opportunity to interact with wise and godly professors and fellow students.
  • I’m now a part of that university community as a professor’s wife with the opportunity to raise our kids among dedicated and godly people who care for us all.

I am not a part of some unreached people group who have yet to hear the Good News of Jesus, His life, death and resurrection. But despite all these advantages, I often live as though the Messiah has yet to come.

I affirm the truth of Jesus with my mouth, but it often fails to reach my heart. I have accepted God’s grace when it comes to my eternal destination but fail to fall back on it in my everyday life. I strive to obtain perfection in my relationships and vocation without recognizing that perfection on my own is unobtainable.

That might not sound like good news but in fact this is the Good News-that we were lost but are now found. I don’t have to strive for perfection because it has already been obtained on my behalf. On this journey, God has shown me how my service and worship of Him as well as my service to others had become a burden, lacking in the joy and freedom we are supposed to have in Christ.

If you are struggling to balance a desire to serve Christ with excellence and a longing for the freedom and authenticity, I encourage you to check out my book Letting Go of Perfect. It is a book about the good news of grace and how we can let it not just save us from eternal damnation but how it can work its way into every aspect of our lives. It’s about how we can stop working harder under the burden of the law and start living freer under the umbrella of His grace.

You can learn a bit more about Letting Go of Perfect here.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

meWhen Amy Spiegel was growing up, she dreamed of someday writing in a white farm house in her beloved Appalachian mountains, surrounded by animals and lots of offspring. Currently, she is writing in a house nestled among the cornfields of Indiana with one lizard and kids with allergies. Well, one out of five isn’t so bad. She bakes a mean coffee cake, has read all of Jane Austen’s works more times than is healthy and refuses to acknowledge snow as a good thing. She authors the blog ahcrabapples.wordpres.com and co-authors the blog wisdomandfollyblog.com with husband, author and college professor Jim Spiegel.

Taking Root: Creating Margins


Taking Root is a series of meditations I’m writing and editing for Central Vineyard Church during the season of Lent. You can download the podcast version of each post by subscribing to my church’s podcast or visiting the podcast blog for each day of the series.

By Rob Hartman of Central Vineyard

I had my share of paper-writing assignments in high school. Typically, there would be a page limit or range. There was the 1 page paper (No problem), the 3-5 pager (Ugh), and the dreaded 10-pager (Yikes!).

Students at a particular loss for words sometimes employed ridiculously wide margins (Voila! eight pages become ten.), while the more verbose extended our margins outward until we’d gobbled up all the white space (Presto! Twelve pages become ten). Eventually, our instructors caught on and started specifying mandatory margin sizes. You can’t blame a kid for trying.

In our adult lives, we find ourselves negotiating margins of another kind. The paper is our lives. The ink represents our activities and obligations, and the margins are those periods of rest and refreshment. All of us need some margins in our lives. But, like my classmates, we differ in just how wide we want or need them to be. The challenge is to understand our own ideal margins and to then invite God to help us grow toward achieving that balance.

“Just Stop It”

It’s no secret that many of us live hectic, over-committed lives. In fact, it’s become something of a cliche.

  • We sit in traffic, honking and being honked at as our blood pressure spikes.
  • We bring work home with us or trudge back to the office after hours.
  • We spend our elusive weekend “downtime” doing errands, meeting up with friends, or serving in ministry.

Although some of this busyness is unavoidable, we also have a way seeking it out. We’re easily seduced into believing that a full life is one filled with non-stop activity. With this mentality as our default, the idea of widening our margins may seem boring or constraining. Can you imagine Nike rolling out a “Just Stop It” ad campaign?

Given our culture’s emphasis on freedom, achievement, and engagement, it’s important to be clear then that margins aren’t about arbitrary limits or constraints. Rather, margins are about rest, renewal, and freedom from the tyranny of busyness. Establishing margins means embracing the restful rhythm of the Sabbath (Gen 2:1-3; Ex 20:8-11).

A Sabbath Sweet Spot

To say that most of us need a bit more margin does not mean one size fits all. Some people truly thrive on stimulation, socialization, or pressure. Others find that a few activity-packed weeks are enough to bring on panic attacks. What about you? Where is your sweet spot where the ink and the margin are in healthy balance?

This notion of a sweet spot isn’t just about the width of your margins; it’s also about what gives you life within those margins. Margins aren’t about “vegging out.” It’s about making time and space for life-giving activities that engage our minds, bodies, or both. It might be something outdoors or indoors. This, too, is shaped by your temperament: what gives you rest may cause tension for another person and vice versa.

Margins and Seasons

The two metaphors of margins and seasons-of-life can collide in interesting ways. Many of us will go to college, get married, have children, watch our children leave the nest, retire, and so on. Each of these events ushers in a new season of life. Not all of us will experience all of them, and those of us who do won’t necessarily do them all in the same order.

As our life seasons present unique opportunities and challenges, we’re likely to find our margins expanding and contracting accordingly. Parents of young families often find their margins stretched very thin, juggling work and family on only a few hours of sleep. In contrast, new empty-nesters typically find themselves adjusting to wider margins, sometimes wondering just what to do with themselves.

This is not to say that your life season will always dictate your margins, but the impact is undeniable. Understanding your season of life can provide insight into how and why your margins have changed.

We all need margins. They keep our lives from spilling over into a jumble of unintelligible chaos.

The Greenhouse

Think about work, school, church, play, and the social dimensions of your life. When have you felt stressed? Bored? When have you felt most “on” and joyfully engaged? Take a sheet of paper and draw one inch margins. Write every restful activity in the margins and every item on your “to do” list or work list in the center. What does this tell you about your need for margins?


As you pray today, is God calling you to accept thinner margins so that you can pursue a ministry or activity that will bring Him glory? Is God telling you to widen your margins so that you can experience a period of greater relaxation and refreshment?

How the Resurrection Changes Us Today


When I read a story or watch a movie, I crave a just and tidy resolution. I want everything to be put right. A delayed resolution is the last thing I want in a story.

In removing myself from pages and movie screens, I want the same thing in life: a tidy resolution. Much of the strain we face in this world is that such resolutions are delayed, even if they are guaranteed to us in the Bible.

We live our lives, pass into a time of waiting with God, and then we will one day be resurrected along with the rest of God’s new creation. So far as I can tell from the Bible, the resurrection and the life that follows are where God brings the resolutions that we crave today and the full blessings that we hope for.

Waiting is essential.

The resurrection assures us that there is something enormously significant waiting for us when Christ returns. If anything, we are tempted to make too much of today and too little of the good things God has prepared for us in the restored rule of Christ.

We engage in works of justice and peace not because we want to seize control of this world, but because we want to proclaim that God is already in control in ways we don’t yet understand and moving us toward something else. That is the hardest part of the Kingdom for me. God is King here and now today, but his rule is not fully present among us.

The resurrection is the game changer, the moment that God will set things exactly as they should be. How we live between now and then is certainly a pressing matter. We are sometimes faced with a false choice between a spiritualized moralism and an activist moralism. One deals with the spiritual power of the Kingdom and the other deals with the manifestations of the Kingdom among us.

The Resurrection makes the foolishness of the Gospel possible. The meek, mourning, peacemaking underdogs truly are going to win because only God can raise the dead and recreate our world into a just and loving place.

We don’t fight for control of this world using its own tools. We declare that God is already in control in his mysterious ways and that one day he will bring the life, restoration, and justice that we miss so badly today.

If I ever lose hope, perhaps it is because I have asked God to bring his future resolutions into the present. Perhaps I need to learn how to wait, to submit myself to God’s timing, and to rest in the assurance and promise he gives us today: I am with you until the end of the age.

And so I’m learning that presence of Jesus is enough for today. He is the resolution.

Losing Our Dreams in the Middle of the Story

I like to remember my semester in Israel as a magical time where everything was perfect. The streets of Old City Jerusalem were my home for a little over three months, and I could pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Western Wall any time. Best of all, I met my wife while studying there.

Jerusalem Old CityWith our wedding day serving as the perfect climax to my Israel story, it’s easy to forget the tough parts leading up to the day she walked down the aisle.

I often forget that my allergies went insane during my first month in Israel. My throat always felt scratchy and dry, which is the last thing you want in a hot, dry climate.

While Julie and I were getting to know each other, I struggled over how fast to move. Part of me wanted to be really careful about not moving too fast because I didn’t want to risk hurting her. Another part of me was certain that I could very well marry her one day. I sat on a stone wall outside of the old city in a secluded area to pray each afternoon, and she was the subject of many of those prayers.

If I take time to really think about that semester, I have a more accurate picture of conflict and uncertainty before a happy ending.

It’s like almost any movie out there. Conflict and difficulty precede happiness and resolution.

We all want to arrive at the happy ending, but we forget that the middle part usually sucks.

If I had to write a “happy ending” for my life, it would probably include publishing some more books and writing for a variety of websites and magazines. I’d be able to write what I like for a good bit of my day, earning enough to keep us financially stable.

I was hoping I could reach that happy ending in about a year.

I’ll add a pause here to let you laugh at my naiveté for a moment.

Sometimes life doesn’t work out as we plan. We set goals and work toward them, hoping we can reach them as fast as possible and then act surprised when we get bogged down in the conflict in the middle.

If I can’t even remember the struggles of that first month in Jerusalem, what makes me think I can accurately imagine what the future holds? We’re so good at stuffing away the hard times in the past, that it’s almost a super-human act to honestly face the conflicts and struggles that await us in the future.

Two Questions to Ask About Struggles in Life

There are two questions that I’ve been asking myself about my struggles and conflict right now.

Am I at the end of my dream, which didn’t work out?


Am I in the middle of the conflict on the way to fulfilling my dream?

There have been different times in my life when I’ve said yes to both of those questions. In one case, I had to let go of my dream of ever being a pastor or church planter. God didn’t call me to be either.

However, as I’ve discovered how much I love to write, I’ve also had to face struggles and conflicts that cause me to doubt. Am I pursuing the right course? Should I just give up on this dream?

From what I can tell, I’m just in the middle of this story—one that I hope will be a long one. I’m in the middle of the conflict and struggle with some great victories along the way. It hasn’t been a steady stream of disappointments by any means, but I still haven’t achieved my goals.

I’m OK with not arriving at my happy ending. It took me some time to reach that point, and perhaps my happy ending won’t involve everything I’ve dreamed about. God may still need to change some things for my future.

If you’re disappointed, discouraged, or stuck, I encourage you to ask yourself those two questions and to pray about them. Finding out you need to find a new dream may mean a tough transition, but it may be the most freeing thing for you.

On the other hand, you may not want to admit that you’re in the middle of the conflict, but the sooner you can see what you’re up against, the better prepared you will be to face it.

Happy endings are never cheap in the movies, and the same holds true in real life. Perhaps the conflict we face along the way is what makes our endings that much better.