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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An Amazing Connection: A Common Cupboard Story by Robin Black

It wasn't planed but Deb Adams called one day and asked if I wanted to do brunch and we went and we talked so long she realized she was late getting the van back for Frank to take to Second Harvest. She asked if I had time to go there with her and pick up food for the pantry. I said, "sure, I've never been there and I could see what its all about."

After getting the food while the guys were packing the van I was standing by the parking lot. A car pulled up and I saw a woman smiling at me. She got out of the car and came right up to me telling me how she saw me on TV yesterday and how I said I would be here at Second Harvest today. I stopped her and explained that she must be mistaken me for someone else; I wasn't on TV. She took my hand in her hands and said, "Yes, I saw you on TV yesterday and you said you would be here at Second Harvest and you would help me".

So I asked her what she needed, and she told me she needed help getting food to her mother. I looked over at her car to see a sweet, elderly woman sitting in the passenger seat. I went over to meet her. I asked Phyllis, the woman who approached me, where her mother lived and she told me Matthews and she lives in Charlotte, raising her grandbaby who was in the back seat, and that they could also use some help if possible. She told me how her mother, Sara, had such bad arthritis and how she had taken her for a shot of cortisone the week before but, now the pain was back and she didn't want her giving into the pain. This was something I was so familiar with. I told her I could get her some help and she gave me the contact information I needed. I explained that I may not be the person to deliver the food since I already had some disabled woman I delivered to. Phyllis once again took my hand in hers and said, "I hope it will be you then maybe some time I could have you over for a cook out."

Well, at that moment I knew It was meant for me. When my son and I went to Sara's house to bring the food, I saw how hard it was for her to get around with just the use of a cane. My heart just broke for her thinking of her living there all alone and struggling, and her daughter going back and forth trying to help while raising her granddaughter. I helped her unpack the food and showed her I had brought some hot/cold packs and cream for her arthritis, she said she needed it now and put it into her robe pocket. I told her next month when I come I may have some different things for her depending on what we got in.

Tears started pouring down her face and she asked, "You're coming back?" I explained that I would come once a month and bring her some groceries. With tears streaming down her face we simply hugged there in her kitchen, the only words spoken were "God bless you". I knew I was the one that was truly blessed that day. That God would let me see how he works; I knew I was where I was supposed to be.

What Phyllis saw or heard on TV, how she knew I would be at Second Harvest that day when I didn't know I was going to 15 minutes before I went well......Only God knows. I was so glad that my heart was open to the message I was sent that day.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

What is a Christian?

Great video. Segments from Anderson Cooper, Brian McLaren, Tony Camplolo, and average Joes. I agree whole heartedly with the conclusion. What do you think? This is why we started Common Heart Missional Community, Common Cupboard and The Commonplace.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Common Cupboard - A Jesus Moment

Last month I got an email from Kathleen McDonald. Kathleen and her family are one of the teams of people from about 15 local churches that use Common Cupboard to touch people with God's love. As Kathleen's story indicates those who serve are also touched with God's love and transformed in the process. Would you be available to be an agent of Christ's Gospel and share his love through delivering groceries? We can easily use 5 more teams this month!

I just had to share my experience this morning when I was delivering meals for Common Cupboard! The first Sat of each month we deliver food to 5 families in the Monroe area. Kevin and Kiely are out of town on a YMCA Father/Daughter camping trip. I didn't want our folks to go without their groceries so I decided to deliver "solo".

I am so grateful that I did! The first stop is a family of 5+ kids in a tiny, dirty, and dilapidated house. The kids must have been waiting by the door because they came running out when they saw my car.

Since we had the food drive at church a few weeks ago they received considerably more than usual and were very grateful.

The 9 year old little girl looked up at me and said "You are so nice to be giving us this food." I replied "The food isn't from me sweet girl. It is from a bunch of churches around this area and we want you to know that Jesus loves you."

She replied "Jesus loves the little children, doesn't he?" and I replied "Yes He does love all the children and He even loves grown ups too. Is that so cool?"

The little girl agreed and we proceeded to unload their stuff. As we were finishing up the children thanked me again for coming and the 9 year old girl called out to me "I love you!"

I don't even know this child's name but I replied "I love you too angel" and then her sisters and 2 year old brother started saying "I love you" to me.

Oh my gosh. I am wrecked! I drove away bawling like a baby and 3 hours later I am crying as I write this.

I feel like I have been given the precious gift of experiencing a real "Jesus" moment. During the exchange with those children my heart was overflowing with a warmth that I cannot put into words. All I could think was...these innocent and sweet children have hearts that are open to love unconditionally...just like the heart of the Lord loves each one of us .. unconditionally.


I then committed to learn the names of the people in that household and pray for them. My "rescuer" tendencies wants to take over and find them a better place to live, better jobs for the parents etc., but I realize I cannot save them from their economic situation. What I can do, is consistently pray that the Lord will meet them where they are. I do not know if they are believers, but I will pray they will all come to know Jesus as their Savior. The needs are great especially right now.

I noticed in a recent bulletin that there are still a few openings with Common Cupboard to deliver meals. In doing this each month, Kevin and I have realized how fortunate we are to be living as we do. In serving others, we are the ones who are "fed". Folks at our church need to get out of their comfort zone and commit to helping once a month and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. I have a strong inclination that they will not be disappointed!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Live your Faith. Share your Life.

Recently as I was doing some Internet research in preparation for Outside the Gate 2008: a gathering of missional christians. I ran into a blog called Subversive Influence. The thing that grabbed me in a post I read was his short definition of the word missional. It is also the subtitle of the blog. "Live your faith. Share your life."

It dawned on me that was not what I was taught as a typical white American Evangelical. We were taught to "Share our faith. Live our life." As such it was very important to be busy witnessing - sharing our faith. Sharing the Four Spiritual Laws, or pointing out sin, or pushing for a commitment were all part of sharing our faith. Good arguments about creation, abortion, the inerrancy of scripture, plus exposing the cults, humanists, atheists, liberals, socialists and communists were also part of sharing our faith. We were schooled in how to make our "testimony" fit our theology of "say the prayer and get your free ride to heaven".

Our life on the other hand, well that is something that is a gift from God to develop and so become successful, make money, accumulate things, influence or power. In other circles about all you could do with your life was to become a pastor or preacher if you really had faith.

To the evangelical church's credit we were also taught to live in such a way that it would be a good witness. But that mostly meant "personal holiness" or what people could see - no drinking, smoking, cursing, partying, pre-marital sex, etc. As part of personal holiness we were also taught to stay away from bad influences, or in other words people that do these kinds of things or gays, or liberals, and the like. Later it became all about "excellence", which is another word for putting on a good performance.

With our lives we were taught to get it all in line. Why? It was to make our sharing of faith seem more real to those we shared it with. And to make a really good witness be sure to banish any outwardly sense of doubt, fear, questioning, sadness, and even if you had to fudge a little, be sure to know all the answers. Living our life right was the only way that we had a chance that our sharing of our faith would be successful. On the other hand, this striving for outward conformity of life and appearance often seemed give us a free pass to live with unforgiveness, or to gossip as if it were a prayer request. It unleashed selfish ambition. And other true heart issues were glosses over.

We were pushy, inappropriate in how we spoke with people, invasive into private areas we were not invited into. So many times our sharing of faith came off in the eyes of many as hypocritical, unloving, judgemental, legalistic, some might even say, hateful. Some became our disciples but most seemed to reject our "sharing of our faith".

"They hated Jesus too you know," was the familiar chorus we were taught when we felt misunderstood, rejected, or "persecuted". Well here is the rub! How was Jesus received. It was the the church leader, the holy ones of his day, the Pharisees, the politically powerful religious politicians, the Sadducees, and the ones trying to make politics work, the Herodians, who joined the Imperial power, the Romans in opposing him and eventually killing him. But the un-churched and the sinners loved Him!

Why is it that those who loved Jesus in his day, often seem to despise the church of today that bears his name? On the other hand the powerful in America seem to seek out the church's endorsement - both on the political right and on the left these days. Could it be that we have this formula about life and faith backwards?

Live your faith. Live like you believe in Jesus. Instead of brushing aside his teachings on poverty, power, forgiveness, revenge, peace, self-giving, neighbor love, enemy love, and humble service to the least, why don't we focus on living this faith? Instead of teaching and talking about Jesus, why don't we focus on being Jesus (as his body, the Church) to the world? Then we will have more to share than words about our faith. We have a life lived by faith to share.

Imagine a world where we as Christians actually "live our faith" as a first priority. The natural result is to "share our lives" with the hurting, hopeful, proud, strong, weak. rich, poor, the oppressed, the oppressor, the foreigner, the worker, the boss, everyone. Would it not transform lives (ours and others) and possibly our culture and society as we participated with Christ in the salvation of the world by living our faith? True, it might also raise the ire of this world's powerful, wise, religious, wealthy, beautiful people. But, that is what it did when Jesus lived it too!

Live your faith! Share your life! This is what the world needs. It can't be done in a building where the church meets for worship. That is, not if it is to be done the way Jesus did it. Rather, it is done in the everyday ordinariness of life, in the commonplace, where we live every single day. It is small things done with great love. It is overlooking faults and forgiving without condition. It is responding with kindness. It is radical hospitality and love of neighbor and enemy. It is laying down our lives, that others might live. It is bringing peace and seeking justice without regard to reputation. It is loving as Christ loved, no strings. When people who live like this are seen, people say ... "that's what Jesus is like." I want to be that kind of follower of Jesus.

Outside the Gate 2008 I hope will encourage us to live more like Jesus. Jesus said, "As the Father sent me, so send I you." Let's become the message of Jesus to our neighbors, our city and our world.

Outside the Gate 2008: a gathering of missional christians, is on the weekend of October 3-4, 2008 in Monroe, NC. For more information check out the Outside The Gate blog at OutsideTheGate.TheCommonplace.org

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Moving ....

As I got ready to go to bed last night I was thinking how glad I was to be done moving! I hate moving! Deb and I have had some really great friends, Uri, Alex, Paul, Scott, Harry, Rickey, Sean, and of course my parents and my boys Kyril & Bene helping us out big time! THANKS SO MUCH! We have worked hard over the past couple weeks. Although I have a couple items in my garage .. a couple benches, some paint, a couple cabinets we have to take off the wall, we are done. I was so glad to be done . . . But then I remembered, as I climbed into my bed, THE ATTIC! I forgot about the attic. I am not looking forward to it. What should I do with all that old stuff up there? I should probably just toss it all out, without even looking at it. It's so tempting! Instead, we will probably move it on over.

We have moved to my parents' house. We have been talking with them about it for well over a year. My parents love their home. They have tried to sell it a couple times so they could buy a smaller home with a first floor master bedroom. It has never sold. Truth be told, I think my Dad has been praying against its sale. It's a great house on an acre and they have spent a lot of time making it their own. In the spring we decided to move a head with the plans for us to move into the second floor after they built a new master bedroom addition on the first floor. It just seems to make sense as my parents finish our their 7th decade.

As I have thought a little about the move, the attic, the boxes to unpack, and all the stuff that right now is piled into the garage at our new abode, I realize anew how much useless stuff is hanging around, cluttering up space, and pulling me down. And I don't mean just the stuff in the garage! There is so much from the past that has to be sorted through. Some of it stored away. Some of it cherished. Some of it needing to be resurrected to find a renewed place of prominence. But most of it just needs to be tossed, recycled, or sold! As I go through my past and all the stuff I have accumulated I hope to be able to not only organize my outside life toward simplicity, but my inner man as well toward the simplicity of following Jesus!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Some Simple Concepts on which to Hang my Theological Hat - Part 2 "Where Heaven and Earth Overlap"

As I mentioned in my first post in this series, I have been reading a book by N T Wright called "Simply Christian." I found this book to have several concepts on which I could "hang my theological hat." I first wrote about what he calls an "echo of a voice". This concept flavors much of the book. I believe it is an underlying current in all of life.

Before I delve into my thoughts on the second concept, let me share where I recently saw this "echos of a voice" concept in play. It was toward the end of Michelle Obama' speech before the Democratic National Convention last night. She connected deeply with these deep echos when she spoke of what Barrack had said in the past. She said, "He talked about "the world as it is" and "the world as it should be." And he said that, all too often, we accept the distance between the two and we settle for the world as it is, even when it doesn't reflect our values and aspirations." As she finished up her remarks, she returned to this theme that connects deeply with that "echo of a voice" to "set the world to rights" as she called for a commitment to change. She spoke of how she wanted this election to be remembered, "this time we listened to our hopes, instead of our fears ... how this time we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming ... how this time, in this great country, where a girl from the South Side of Chicago can go to college and law school, and the son of a single mother from Hawaii can go all the way to the White House ... that we committed ourselves ... we committed ourselves to building the world as it should be." The way she connected the deep "echos" with her cause, is how we need to connect these same yearnings with our campaign for new creation through the Prince of Peace, Jesus.

Another concept that is even more pervasive than "echos of a voice" in NT Wright's book, "Simply Christian", is the concept of a place "where heaven and earth over lap". I want to share my take on this is and how it impacts evangelism in our emerging post-modern context.

The foundation of this concept is rooted in seeing that most religious views revolve around two options. Option 1 has a god that is transcendent or far away. This god may have created the world, but after he was done setting all the principles, interactions, powers, and living things in place he separates himself from it and watches from afar. Occasionally he might step in and do something miraculous, but for the most part he just lets creation quietly tick away. This would be a thought that heaven and earth are eons apart. This is deism. The Option 2 god is either everything and everywhere (pantheism) or in everything (panentheism). This would be equivalent to heaven and earth are the same, there is no distance at all. Option 3, as he calls it, has a god who is distinct from creation but chooses to interact with his creation at key points, even binding himself to creation. These might be called places "where heaven and earth overlap". This is a description of the God of the Bible.
In the Bible we can see these places where "heaven and earth overlap" especially in the temple, scripture, Holy Spirit anointing, and ultimately in Jesus. Jesus is the one wherein "heaven and earth overlap and interlock". NT speaks of the sacraments, such as communion or baptism, as being such "places". But the key place today we see this overlap is in the Church, his body, and the individual members of that body, you and I. Because of Jesus, we are to be such places of overlapping and intersection between heaven and earth. This is most amazing! Through his resurrection he has initiated new creation. This new creation is what you and I have become in him.
Although I have not done this key thought of NT Wright's justice in explaining it, I hope you grasp this amazing thought. The kingdom of Heaven is very near. It is in us. We, you and I, as followers of Jesus, are the key "place" through which heaven has chosen to interact with our world in our day! We are "new creation" in Jesus and agents of this new creation on earth.

Are we perfect? No, anyone can see we are not. It is all of grace. It is not of our merit, it is of Jesus' resurrection. But this does not change our calling to be places where "heaven and earth overlap."


The Celtic Christian tradition of "thin places" is similar. It expands this thought to literal geographic locations where God showed up in the past and still shows up regularly. The picture to the left has St Cuthbert's Island in the foreground and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in the background. Both of these places are considered to be "thin" in Celtic Christianity. These are places instrumental in Christianity's advance in the northern parts of England. Thereis still a sense to many that the boundaries between heaven and earth, the spiritual and the material worlds, appear to be very thin there.

If you know me or at least seen pictures of me, you may understand why I like the term "thin places". I especially like thinking that God has making me a "thin place" to the world around me. How I pray that I may be so "thin" that people may experience heaven when they interact with me!!!

This theological "hat peg" must become more than an allegory or an idea, but a greater and greater reality in my life as I follow Jesus. How do I become this kind of person that is a "place where heaven and earth over lap" or a "thin place"?

First, I must believe God has through Jesus has made me one. "If any one is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has gone,the new has come. "(2 Corinthians 5:17) Second, I need to become "thin" enough for this expression of new creation to shine out of my life. Paul reminds us, "I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I , but Christ lives in me and the life that I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20) Third, I must realize it is a journey, not a destination. "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God". (Micah 6:8)

So how does this fit with evangelism. The big E word is just about being "thin." Being a "place where heaven and earth overlap". Being agents of new creation. Living a life uncomplicated by religion, but bringing heaven with us wherever we are. It is about doing what Jesus did, and being a participant with him for the redemption of the World. "As the Father sent me," Jesus said recorded in John 20:21, "so send I you."

The world will listen to this kind of evangelism. It is an evangelism of service. It is a demonstration of God's love. It is God's people living in pursuit of Christ's example of brother love, neighbor love, and enemy love, self-giving love. It demonstrates itself in serving the least, loving the lost, caring for the poor, comforting the sick and dying, living a life of service to our fellow humans.

As I close out this post, I want to mention that I believe that we are entering a new time. I believe that these emerging post-modern times will bring challenges to our ways of thinking about things like evangelism, gospel, and church. I think it will drive us deep and wide. Deep in our devotion to Christ as we struggle to adjust and wide in our love as it becomes the way people really know who is following Jesus. As the culture in the west becomes more and more post-Christian we will find new challenges and new opportunities as we compete in the market place of ideas. Strangely enough, I believe, the thirst for true spirituality will increase, even as religion falls by the wayside. It is an exciting time to be a follower of Jesus.

Next post in this series will be on a parable that NT Wright shares about a "hidden spring". To some degree this illuminates to me both the opportunities and the challenges we face in engaging our world today as agents of new creation in Jesus.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Outside the Gate 2008 Invitation

Dear Friend,

You are invited! Please mark your calendar for Outside the Gate, October 3rd-4th in Monroe. We will be gathering again this year at Monroe Christian Worship Center on Friday evening for a time of worship, encouragement, and ministry, Saturday morning workshops & outreach, Saturday Lunch, and end with a Saturday night gathering including a prayer and commissioning time.

I would love to see everyone who has had some connection with Common Heart or Common Cupboard join us for this time of of encouragement, inspiration, equipping, and commissioning as we continue to reach out to the local community.

OTG '08 is also time for all those who share a common heart for reaching outside the gates of our local churches to gather. Together we will gain new strength, share ideas and increase our vision in advancing the kingdom of God. So I encourage you to invite any of your friends who may be (or would like to be) involved in "local missions" work, or who live a missional Christian lifestyle.

Additionally it is an excellent opportunity to introduce or update the leaders of your church about what is going on at Common Cupboard and other missional endeavors in our community. We love to have pastors join in the conversation as we re-imagine how to walk in the ways of the One who said, "As the Father sent me, so send I you."

Hope you will be there, bring a friend and a church leader! Mark your calendars - Oct 3-4, 2008.

Yours, sharing a common heart,

Keith
--
Keith Adams
For more information about the OTG 08 gathering see OutsideTheGate.TheCommonplace.org

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Some Simple Concepts on Which to Hang my Theological Hat - Part 1: "Echos of a Voice"


I have been reading a book by N T Wright called "Simply Christian." The book has been compared to C S Lewis's book "Mere Christianity", but for our post-modern times. Although it does not endeavor to "prove" Christianity, it does seek to explore the "reasonableness" of the Christian faith. I want to look in the next couple posts at some thoughts from the book.

I like books (or sermons for that matter) that give me a concept to hang my thoughts on. If I can walk away with something that helps me to express what I believe is true, I will consider the book (or sermon) a triumph. This book gave me several pegs to hang my "theological" hats on. They are "echos of a voice", a "hidden spring", and a place where "heaven and earth overlap." In reality these thoughts play together in such a way that I can more clearly see our calling as followers of Jesus to participate in God's new creation story playing out in our generation.
N T Wright begins by presenting what he calls "echos of a voice." These are yearnings or desires that are kind of built in to us. They are not clearly or precisely the voice of God, but are the echos of that voice that still resonates deep within the human spirit. He enumerates several. They can be summarized as justice or as he expresses it, "putting things to rights", spirituality, relationships, and a sense of beauty.
I like this thought of "echos of a voice". The basic implication is that anyone that I run into will have these echos resonating within their spirits, regardless of how "dead" their heart may be. It may be a mutilated and tortured sounding echo , possibly even barely recognizable as a voice, but it is still there. If I am attentive to the heart of my neighbor, I can discern them and understand that this is a place of connection between us.

I am always looking for ways to connect with people. A main reason that I started Common Heart Missional Community stems from my belief that as Christians we are commissioned to participate in God's mission by connecting with people in a way that reaches them. For way too long our canned presentations of a gospel message have focused on narrow issues. Often times they do not seem to resonate deeply with many of the people we meet. And if they do not resonate it is no wonder that they do not seem draw people into a living and vital relationship with God. The voices that resonate with these echos seems to catch people's attention in this world. From "Four Spiritual Laws" to Evangelism Explosion, from seeker sensitive churches to the new post-modern attempts to be seeker sensitive we seem to be missing hearts with our messages. On the other hand, avenues from Oprah to movies, from "tree hugging" to gay rights, from new age spirituality to pornography seem to me to captivate many hearts by appealing to these "echos".

To me this idea of "echos of a voice" gives me a much broader theological peg to hang my attempts to make connections for Jesus with people. Through Common Cupboard we have been reaching out demonstrating God's love in practical ways, primarily through grocery distribution. We have been breaking down barriers, but how are we to connect in a much deeper, yet non-threatening way. Realizing that in our society as well as in the hearts of people that we meet, there still resides this "echo of a voice", gives an intentional follower of Jesus an understanding about some deeper areas we share in common with society at large and its people. It also reveals avenues to connect heart to heart with our neighbor.

My friend Ryan Bailey at Rivendell Center teaches a skill he calls "Opening the J.A.R." (Joining, Authenticity and Risk). He sees these three elements as key to connecting heart to heart with another. His teaching centers on a counselling relationship, but as I have been learning about it, I have also been considering its implications on opening people up to Jesus in everyday encounters.

The details of J.A.R. are for another time, except to say that I believe that in the past, using canned approaches, we sacrificed what is key to touching a person's heart. We were taught not to truly join someone on a heart level, but rather to go for the goal of getting them to "pray the prayer" or understand the gospel. There is no doubt that this reduces our level of risk and in so doing we become very inauthentic. And in our emerging post-modern culture, the inauthentic is smelt from a mile away!
Also our canned approaches tended to stay mostly on a surface level. If we engaged our hearer at all it was often on an intellectual level, and we got an intellectual acknowledgement rather than a heart repentance and commitment to following Jesus. If we can tap into the "echos" our hearts' share, although we will not agree, there will be common ground to stand on and build a conversation drawing people along in their spiritual journey.
Augustine of Hippo wrote, "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless till it rests in thee." And the scriptures affirms something similar in Ecclesiastes 3:11b, "He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. " (TNIV) I think that what Wright calls "echos of a voice" is a way of seeing this eternity set in the heart. And if engaged there may be a way to coax out the sense of restlessness in the heart to which only God can bring rest. The end of our spiritual journey is rest in a deep love relationship, "heart to heart", with the triune God.
These thoughts I am hoping to more fully develop and experiment with this summer. My desire is to present what I discover as one of the workshops at the Outside the Gate gathering of missional Christians October 3-4 in Monroe, NC.
In my next post I will look at NT Wrights concept of "where heaven and earth overlap".

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Being Poor

Recently my boss passed along an interesting entry on a blog called "Whatever". I read through the post which enumerated many one liners starting with "Being poor is ..." As I read it I remember times in my life when I have identified with some of the statements. But, I also was struck by some thoughts that relate to the gospel.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Recently I was talking to a woman who told me she had a real good job. It pays really well. But, since they cut back on hours she was struggling and needed some help. Her job paid $8.00 an hour and she was a single mom with two children and a grand-baby living with her! A couple months later a simple accident made it so that she was not able to work for a couple days. She lost her job. She then lost her apartment. She lost every thing and she and her familhy are now living one room rental. When you live that close to the edge, it doesn't take much to fall off! I am not the smartest guy on earth, but I know this, Jesus loves her. And because of this love followers of Jesus can serve her, and show her his love!

Being poor is relying on people who don't give a damn about you.

Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

This to me is one of the reasons why followers of Jesus can't do things like the world does. The need for help is imperative in many of these situations. But if it is given through caring people who live out God's love in practical ways --- this can be life changing! How many conditions does our love have? The problems with attaching strings to acts of kindness or charity is in how they are attached. It is usually with a hook!

Being poor is people surprised to discover you're not actually stupid.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you're not actually lazy.


Being poor is knowing you're being judged.

It amazes me how unloving we can be in judging our neighbor. People know when they are being judged. Just a momentary look, or a slight tone of voice, the choice of a particular word or maintaining an certain posture can speak louder than the words we use to express God's love. Everything we do displays our hearts. Jesus is right in saying that out of the "heart proceeds all manner of evil." Do we fall into the same traps of judgement as the world does?

Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that's two extra packages for every dollar.

Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.

Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn't mind when you ask for help.

I got a call from a senior citizen. It took me a couple days to get over to her apartment and bring her some food. When I did she told me her electric had just been turned off. She had no food in the house. She also told me that she got $14 in food stamps for the month! That was surprising. Then she told me that she stopped going over to her daughter's because her son-in-law gave her a hard time for having a bowl of cereal. I was floored. Then she told me that her brother-in-law was a pastor, but he was so busy that he made her feel unloved and an imposition if she asked for any help. Now I was hurt ... I knew the pastor!

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

The Gospel is good news to the poor! Have we been sharing it "in such a way" that it is actually good news? I am grateful that my savior was a poor, homeless, refuge, born to an unwed mom, in an oppressed land. It is no wonder Jesus says, "if you have done it to the least of my brethern, you have done it unto me." It is how we take care of the poor that shows what kind of people we are. (And what kind of God we serve.)

There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors. Deuteronomy 15:11 The Message.

You can read the blog these one liners are taken from by clicking here --> Whatever - Being Poor There were over 700 responses to this blog entry before they shut down comments. Others added many more "Being poor ..." statements.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Jesus For President Blog Tour Part 2

Well in the first post of this 2 part series on the book "Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals" by Shane Claibourne and Chris Haw I wrote that I expected the next post in about a week. Well that makes this post over a month late!

During the past month I have been chided by my son for taking so long to read it. "I can't believe how slow you read!", he would tell me. Then there was the day I was telling him why I was having a difficult time with the book. He was so disillusioned by what he thought I was saying. He said, "Not you too!" You see Bene has taken a lot of the underlying thoughts of this book and ran with them. Being 17, it is easy for him to grasp a radical thought like, "We must obey God, rather than man." It is right up his alley. Believe me, it is right up his alley.

But I really didn't have a hard time with the book in the way my son thought. No, actually the book was refreshing, albeit exceptionally challenging. It was, in many ways what I have always wanted to preach, but could not bring myself to do it.

Like Shane and Chris, I believe that there is an inherent conflict between the gospel and nationalism, politics and power. I believe that at it's core I can not reconcile a capitalism of greed and self interest with a gospel "economy" of love. I believe that through Christ I have become a part of a family that is trans-national and has no boarders. I believe that Christ and the family he has brought me into is the absolute key to my identity. I am a kingdom of God man first, foremost and only ... or at least that is what I believe. I believe that pursuit and acquisition of political power has corrupted the message of the church. I believe I have but one life to be lived and that life is hidden with Christ in God.

My problem was that reading the book struck a chord of dissonance between what I believe and how I live my life. I, in my faith, am an ordinary radical going way back. I gave up a 4 year full paid Air Force ROTC scholarship, because the first day I stepped into class written on the chalk board were these two sentences. "Do not kill." And, "Love your enemies." The instructor did not speak about these two Bible quotes, until the next class. But by then, I had already meditated on the conflict between the call to follow my savior who "while we were still enemies died for us" and the call of "Uncle Sam" who told me to kill his enemies. Next session when the instructor used these two quotes to introduce a discussion of "Just War" theology, I was already concerned about how I can possibly follow Jesus and the US (or any nation) at the same time.

Since that time I have timidly skirted around a direct confrontation of what I believe about patriotism, nationalism, war, power and wealth on the one hand, and following the King of Kings with uncompromising allegiance to following his manifesto of peace proclaimed in the gospels. It was the undercurrent of much of what I taught, gently confronting the dual allegiance to the American Dream and the Kingdom of God, but rarely would it come out in full form.

So what was my conflict with a book Jesus for President. While I have been believing many of these things, I have been pursuing the "American Dream" . And I haven't done a very successful job at that, since at the same time I have been pursuing a "Kingdom Vision". No matter what I believe, the reality is that I can not serve two different dreams/visions, just as I can not serve two masters. A better way to express this conflict with the book would be to say the book Jesus for President exacerbated a conflict in me.

I find my self wishing I were 17 again. I could stand at the crossroads and chose to follow Jesus ONLY. Gone would be the baggage I have accumulated during the past 30 years of dividing my energies between multiple conflicting paths. But I can not go back.

As I was finishing the book I began to think: I need to just work hard to extricate myself from my unsustainable lifestyle so my family and I can live more simply. Then we would be able to fully engage in intentionally living a life of loving my Lord and my neighbor. I said, "Yes, that is now my goal, I am going to strive to work my way out of the rat race." I went back to work after making my lunch time commitment, and descended quickly from anxiety to depression as I felt the weight of how difficut this would be. (Well, that's a bit of an overstatement, suffice it to say I had that queezy feeling in my stomach, couldn't see my way clear, and continued into at least deep remorse.)

I guess I can say the same thing as Paul in Romans 7:21 - 25a, for I feel the tension between the good I want to do and the reality of my day to day life.

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death. Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. (New Living Translation)

I am not sure how this conflict will be resolved exactly, but I know that Jesus is the one I follow and he is the one who is still at work transforming my life. I believe as Paul says later in his life in his letter to the Philippians (1:6), " I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns."

Shane says the point of this book was to "provoke the Christian Political imagination." Let me give you a few quotes that did this for me. (By the way, this book is full of great quotes from Christians through out the ages and from many others as well. Too cool for a history buff like me!)

From the book ... "But it seems that John (in Revelation) has brought his reader so see the greatest sin of political imagination: thinking there is no other way except the filthy rotten system we have today. Is it possible we can't see the destructiveness of our economy, not because we don't know it's terrible, but because deep down, we feel that it's necessary and that therefore it's hopeless to criticize it?" (pg 153)

A nation that continues to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." Dr. Martin Luther King (pg. 156)

"Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed ... This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron." Dwight D. Eisenhower (pg. 215)

"The divine banner and the human banner do not go together nor the standard of Christ and the standard of the Devil. Only without the sword can the Christian wage war: the Lord has abolished the sword." Terulian , a 3rd century church father (pg 197)

On the same page the book asks, "HAS CAESAR COLONIZED YOUR IMAGINATION?"

This book is about taking seriously the call of Christ and translating the stories and the words we believe into action with great imagination.

The last section is called "A Peculiar Party". In it they tell stories of how ordinary people following Christ are living out faith in mustard seed fashion. Headings such as The Third Way of Jesus" speak of how without political power we through love and intentional living change the world. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King "To our most bitter opponents we say: " Throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our houses and threaten our children and we will still love you. Beat us and leave us half dead, and we will still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory."

Shane and Chris share the need for Christians to practice revolutionary subordination and political imagination as in when a community of Christian challenged an unjust law targeting the homeless in Philadelphia. They had communion, ate pizza, and slept in the park in solidarity with the homeless after the city made it illegal for people to eat or sleep in the park . (pg. 294-295) The results were handcuffs with apologies from the police, jail, and the case and the law being tossed by a judge who's heart was challenged by love.

Other parts of this section speak of our need for new celebrations, language, heroes, holidays, rituals, liturgies, and new eyes to see. Examples are given of how ordinary followers of Jesus are living out their allegiance to Jesus as President.

As I conclude these thoughts let me summarize, this book is about the mixture of national politics (empire) and religion (the faith of Jesus Christ). Usually when the whole topic of Church and State comes up, people seem very concerned that mixing religion and politics will somehow hurt politics. The opposite is actually true. When politics, nationalism, state, empire, power mixes with Christianity, it is the faith that is worse off for it. Tony Campolo is quoted in this book and elsewhere as saying that "mixing politics and religion is like mixing horse manure and ice cream. You don’t hurt the manure, but the ice cream gets pretty messed up. " This is the danger. because when the empire gets religion it is religion that gets baptized by the state. Instead we need to exercise the power of the cross (self sacrifice. love, forgiveness, revolutionary subordination) and follow our commander in chief, Jesus.

For Part 1 of my thoughts click here ---> Jesus For President Blog Tour

This post is part of the Jesus For President Blog Tour. For other blogs on the tour see Jesus For President Blog Tour. At this site you will also find videos by Shane and other information about the upcoming book Tour. Shane and Chris are to be in Raleigh on July 22.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Missio Dei Breviary

I recently came upon this online guide to morning and evening prayer put out by an intentional Christian community in Mineapolis, Missio Dei. I like it for its simplicity and for its focus inward on our heart, as well as outward toward the world. Being thouroughly based in scripture and drawing from a variety of Christian traditions, it seems to anchor my heart in the steadfast faithfulness of God while awakening my heart to grater faithfulness in living as a follower of Jesus today. Check it out .... thebreviary.com

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Jesus for President Blog Tour


I purchased a copy of the new book by Shane Claibourne and Chris Haw, "Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals". (You can click on the book to the left and read samples of it). I have been excitedly waiting to get the book after reading last fall "Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical". I bought it online and counted the days to get it. One day I came home from work and a box from Amazon was open in my living room. But the book was not there. My 17 year old son, Bene had nabbed it!

Bene has just given it back to me after devouring it. As a father I have been so excited to watch as my soon to be 18 year old has become an ordinary radical for Jesus. As he read the book, he told me that many people young and old would pick it up, skim it and then ask if they could borrow it or said they would go buy it. Six people so far, and one did go to the store and buy it.

Needless to say, I told him he couldn't lend out my copy quite yet as I hadn't started to read it! Sorry guys -- Go buy your own! I find this fascinating. I think it has a lot to do with what I perceive as an emerging dissatisfaction with politics as usual among evangelical and other Christians. Shane describes this book as a project "to provoke the Christian political imagination". I like that. Too often we have bought on to a party line, not realizing that we are part of a true, vital, radical kingdom counter to the politics of this world's empires.

I have so far only read the preliminary pages and the first section "Before There Were Kings and Presidents." Let me give you some initial impressions and I will follow it up with more thoughts in another post.

First, this book is more than a normal book. It is a work of art. I mean that literally. The pages are artwork that have the words printed on them, seemingly hand scrawled, typed, underlined and with edit marks, too boot. There is a real sense that this book is designed to awaken hearts, to truly re-enliven stiff, stuffy, cob-web filled, gray painted interiors of the inner sanctums of many a Christian's heart. It is full of color, photos, drawings, and abstract art. Its words and art flow together to get you thinking and feeling.

The first section is a re-telling of biblical history that brings in sharp relief the tension between God and empire. Shane and Chris tell the stories we all have heard in Sunday School, but in a way that you can see a clear politic of God and the empire emerging. To give an example let me quote a little from the section on the tower of Babel.

"God's people decided to build a sky-scraping tower (Genesis 11), Scripture says that "the whole world had one language," and the people seemed quite impressed with their limitless power. So they began erecting an idol of human ingenuity to "make a name" for themselves. They hoped to attain the beauty of heaven, only to find themselves growing farther and farther from God who dwelt with them in the garden of Eden. During the project, God noted that "nothing they plan to do will be impossible to them" (Gen 11:6) You can almost hear the echos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki heer. It seems that God has an aversion to limitless power. It is not that they were a threat to God but that they were a threat to themselves. This type of grand collaboration wouldn't be God's solution to a world "full of violence." Instead of letting them build a bridge to the heavens, God came "down" from the lofty heights and scattered the people across the land, confusing their languages and bringing them back down to earth. They became babblers. God confused the language of the whole human family and any hope for communication, and reconciliation now lay only in the hands of God."

Shane and Chris bring this thought to a conclusion by saying, "This tale is less a tragedy of divine punishment and more an act of divine liberation for humankind from an imperial project that would lead to death."

To me it is good for Christians to see in sharp relief that there is a difference between empire or national self interest and the politic of God and Jesus. In the upcoming sections I trust these thoughts will be expanded on and applied to my life as an ordinary radical following the crucified lamb today.

As I close this initial post on "Jesus for President", I want to leave you with the titles of the sections.

Section 1. Before There Were Kings and Presidents
Section 2. A New Kind of Commander-In-Chief
Section 3. When the Empire Got Baptized.
Section 4. A Peculiar Party

This post is part of the Jesus For President Blog Tour. For other blogs on the tour see Jesus For President Blog Tour. At this site you will also find videos by Shane and other information about the upcoming book Tour. Shane and Chris are to be in Raleigh on July 22.
Look for Jesus for President Blog Tour - Part 2 post in about a week. (It actually took me about 6 weeks, but here it is as pormised ---> Jesus for President Blog Tour Part 2 )
If you would like to hear Shane talk about the book in his own words, check out this video.



Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Prayer of Blessing for The Commonplace

This is the text of the Prayer of Blessing for The Commonplace. The Commonplace is the new home of Common Heart Missional Community and Common Cupboard. It is located at 225 Garmon Rd, Indian Trail, NC. Some of this material was written by me & some came from portions of the Brigid Liturgy in Celtic Daily Paryer by the Northumbria Community. The Scripture portion is from the New Living Translation. Also included is the traditional English translation of the Prayer of St. Francis. As you read it the italic portions give direction. The bold sections were prayed in unison. The regular type face sections were prayed by individuals.
April 19, 2008
11:00 AM

On the porch, outside the doorway

May God give his blessing on this place
God bless it from roof to floor,
from wall to wall, from end to end,
from its foundation to its covering.

In the name of our strong savior
may this place be a commonplace,

a place of small things done with great love
a place where the ordinary and common are transformed by his love.
a place of help for those in need
a place of encouragement for those struggling
a place of strengthening for the journey
a place of equipping to serve others
a place where heaven and earth overlap,
a place from which followers of Jesus go forth expanding God's kingdom and enlightening hearts with God's love.
In the "entry area"

May all be welcome here,
friend and stranger, from near and far.
May each be blessed and honored
as they enter.

There is a friend
in the gentle heart of the Savior.
For the love of him we offer friendship
and welcome every guest.

In the "Cupboard"

A reading Matthew 25
"But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on the right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.'

"Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?'

And the King will tell them, 'I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'

Lord we thank you for your provision,
for each blessing you provide.
As we gather food, here in this place,
may this food carry your love
to homes in need of nourishment
and hearts in need of your love.

Moving to the freezer room of the "Cupboard"

May all who give, and all who receive be blessed in you.
May each who labor in these be filled with you peace.
May each who carry food from this place be filled with your peace.
May each who receive food from this place be filled with your peace.

In our "Family Room"

As we gather, as we pray, as we learn, as we grow,
As friendships are developed, as hearts are encouraged,
As each day passes and each new year comes,
May we cherish the time spent together in this our family room.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

In our "kitchen"

May God the Father
be the guardian of this place
and bring his peace.

May his love be shared,
and his will be found here,
and may there be peace between all peoples.

May the Spirit bring lightness and laughter here.

May the Lord give peace
but never complacency.
Here may encouragement be found
and relationships strengthened.

Each day, every day,
each going out, and each returning,
the Lord bless you and keep you.
At the Door

Christ, in our coming
and in our leaving,
the Door and the Keeper;
For us and our dear ones,
this day and every day,
blessing for always. Amen.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors. Amen
You can check out pictures of the Family Fun Day that followed the Blessing at TheCommonplace.org

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Key Foundational Principle: "Demonstrating God's Love"

The key foundational principle of Common Cupboard is "Demonstrating God's Love." I believe that what we do and how we do it speaks much louder than any word we speak. I believe that our western culture has heard a lot of gospel, but I am not sure that they have really understood it. Too often a large part of the Church here in the US has been caught up in arguments, divisions, political agendas, scandals, and frankly our own selfishness that the words and actions have not matched. So with Common Cupboard we focus on equipping followers of Jesus to do things in such a way that the love of God is demonstrated.

The Bible is full of directives to love in both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus summed up the Old Testament in two great commandments, to love God and to love people. He told his disciples that the world would know who we are because of the way we love. We are told by one of Jesus' best friends' John in his letter to followers of Jesus that we love because God first loved us. And I love how Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans ... "But God demonstrated his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

To me there is a saying of Jesus that ties it all together for me. It is in John's Gospel. He says "As the Father sent me, so I send you." God sent his divine son Jesus as a flesh and blood human to take the lowest place and serve his creation. He sent Jesus as God in the flesh, to be Love's humble servant. It is the same way that Jesus sends us, with the same mission as well. We are sent to demonstrate God's love.

To me this transforms all that I do ... if I let it. The commonplace becomes an opportunity to demonstrate God''s love. Kindness in word or deed becomes a powerful means of ushering people closer and closer to God. But it has got to be done with intentionality. You can't be slipshod about demonstrating God's love! Its got to be on purpose.

This is why we do things the way we do at the cupboard. For instance having people fill out forms, stand in line, come to an organization, wait to be seen in order to get food that they need is not serving them in a way that demonstrates God's love. God comes to us! He meets us where we are! He sets no hierarchy or organization in the way of experiencing his kindness, compassion or love. That's why we deliver food through visiting them. That's why there is no forms, no questions, no requirements to receive our groceries. We want to break down the impersonal charity hand-out, and be personally present, caring and lovingly serve people right where they are. This is helping people "in such a way that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven."

Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying. "Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words." The story goes that this was said in response to a disappointed young disciple who had followed Francis all day long hoping to hear the preaching that transformed hopeless people and brought faith alive. Instead, he got to see Francis help an old man, give to a beggar, listen to the tearful story of another, serve a sick person. It was actually the power that Francis had to incarnate the message of the love of God in his actions, that drew people to faith in Jesus.

This key principle, demonstrating God's love in practical ways, will open up hearts to faith! Paul, the writer of most of the books of the New Testament, says this in his letter to the Romans, "Don't you know it is the kindness of God that leads you to repentance." My friends, we are Christ's body here are earth. It is through us that God demonstrates this love and kindness and draws people to repentance.



This post is the last of 3 in the series on foundational principles of Common Cupboard. The other two can be found by clicking on "Common Cupboard: A Pooled Resource." and "A Common Cupboard Foundational Principle - "Invisibility"

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

William Edward "Eddie" Thornton

My friend Eddie Thornton passed away on March 21, 2008. He was 71 years 7 months and 4 days old. I met him just before his 71st birthday last year. I am very proud to have called him my friend.

I met Eddie one day at my place of employment. He and his brother-in-law came in to see about buying a used semi-trailer. What caught my attention about Eddie was his smile and his hat. It said "Too Blessed to be Stressed." Truthfully, I was just trying to make small talk when I commented on his hat. When I did, he piped right up and explained that he indeed was too blessed to be stressed. He told me about his blessings. Then he told me he had terminal cancer but that didn't stop him loving Jesus and serving him everyday.

Truthfully, I knew I didn't have the trailer that they wanted, but I decided to have them hop in my car and drive down to where I had a trailer that nominally met their needs. It was about 2 miles down the road. Eddie and I talked. He told me about his mission trips, his life, his relationship with Jesus. I mentioned Common Cupboard, the food pantry I had started in Indian Trail, and he wanted to find out more. I didn't sell them a trailer that day, but I had found a very blessed man.

I gave Eddie my card and a couple brochures and said good-bye. I didn't know then if I would ever see Eddie again. A couple weeks later I got a call from a deacon at his church, West Monroe Baptist Church and we scheduled a time for me to come visit and share with their men's ministry. Eddie was so excited. I was excited to see him again. That day Eddie offered to start delivering groceries to folks through the cupboard.

For some time Eddie and his (now mine too) friend Floyd would go out visiting people on Mondays while Eddie was well enough to go. We gave them a couple people to deliver food to, and they made a couple new friends. One Saturday they delivered a couple boxes to families. I got two calls from an elated Eddie sharing with me the joyful sounds of a child and the tears of gratitude of an elderly lady.

During the past several months Eddie's visits to the hospital became more frequent. He was unable to have visitors for fear of infections. A new cancer attacked his spine and he had to go to the hospital for treatment. I kept asking people to pray. And we did, joining many others.

About 3 weeks ago he got home from the hospital. After he got home he called me on the phone. I was surprised but so very glad to hear from him. He apologized to me for not reading my emails till just then. He told me how sorry he was that he couldn't help during the recent move the cupboard had. He shared how much he longed to go deliver some groceries from the cupboard to people in need but the treatment of his spinal cancer left him unable to walk. He told me thought that after he learned to walk again he would be out delivering groceries with Floyd.

Then he told me how blessed he was to know me and to have had this time serving Jesus with the cupboard. He told me how grateful he was. I was about to tears, when he told me that he appreciated me. I shared, "No it is I that am blessed having known you. I am encouraged by your heart for Jesus. Eddie, I appreciate you!"

This was the last time I spoke with Eddie. I am so glad he thought to call me. I think we both knew that he was getting very near the end. Even to the end, he was "To Blessed to be Stressed".

As I have thought about Eddie recently, I realized that he is a man I want to be like. I am sure he had his failures. I don't care. I truly admire his resolute determination to follow Jesus. In the face of death, he thought of others. He is the kind of follower of Jesus I want to be. I wished I had known him better, but I can't wait to see him again in our Father's house.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Notes on life in 2008

I often use this blog these days to share my thoughts about Common Cupboard or Common Heart. I have used it late last year to share my thoughts on prayer and other spiritual issues. But the purpose of this blog if you go back to the beginning was to simply muse about life and what I have been learning. To coin a phrase, it is my "notes along the way."

I still have plenty to say about Common Heart and Common Cupboard. I have a list of posts in my mind to write on spiritual issues, and interaction with the culture. However, I thought that I wanted to get back to the simple notes along my way. And so this blog entry...

Here is one of the biggies on my heart.
My son Kyril - My son was finally diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome (autism spectrum disorder) and two other related disorders. We have been battling with the bureaucracy and the delays of the school system. The whole process has been frustrating. On the other hand, the love and patience his teachers and others have demonstrated at Wesley Chapel Elementary has been so heartening. We finally broke down and paid for the evaluations ourselves (thank God for insurance and flex spending accounts). So we will be able to provide this to the evaluation team considering Kyril for Special Ed services.


Quite frankly, and with no parental exaggeration - sure Keith ;-) - Kyril is a brilliant young man! This has actually been one of the problems getting the sevices from the school he needs. He is in the AIG (gifted) classes, and yet has challenges that only Special Ed can help with.
It was exceptionally frustrating to him when the teachers, pulled out all the supportive things they had been doing for him (but were not authorized to do) . They had to let him do poorly demonstrating his inability to access the material. They did this to prove a point to the Autism team. It was heartrending to have him come home with his first D's in academic classes and U's in cooperation and respect He had always been an A/B student in the AIG program. I couldn't even bring myself to talk with him about his grades. Because I knew no matter what I said it would break open the pain my wife was only barely able to soothe.
A couple weeks ago we amended his 504 accommodations and codified all that the teachers had previously been doing, and in that short time he brought all his grades back to A's & B's. My opinion is that if he was given what he really needed to succeed, he would blow away the grading system. He is after all, positively brilliant!

The next step (we've been working on since November) is to get him qualified to have what is known as an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). This may give him access to special ed resources like much needed occupational therapy. As he goes into Middle School next year there are many, many concerns we have and with this legal protection we will be able to address them better and more fully for Kyril's education.
Anyone going through this kind of thing with the school, if there is anyway to get the evaluations done privately, I would suggest doing it. I realized in late February when the school finally agreed to evaluate him for autism, 3 days after I set up a private evaluation that for us a private evaluation was the better choice. The main reason is that the school has a very limited agenda - "appropriate" education of my son. I have a much broader agenda - I want to see him succeed in life and be all that God has created him to be. When the school's evaluation is done they provide no diagnosis, they are evaluating him for their agenda alone. When I am done, I have a diagnosis that I can use to access for my son other services that insurance, for instance, would pay for.
A second reason I suggest doing it privately is having finally gotten the tests done and the results, there is a sense regaining control for me, the parent. Whether this is real or imagined, at least I have done something that I am not waiting (forever) for the system to do for me. Maybe, (I doubt it) it will speed up the process at this point. If we had done it at the beginning, the process of determining eligibility for IEP and special ed services would have been done by now.
On a different note, same tune .... Going through the process has caused me to ask some questions of myself. I have enlisted the prayers and support of friends, family, fellow "common hearted folks", and others through email. Deb and I have been overcome with the expressions of support and love from these people! It has been amazing.
In one of my emails, I gave a list of prayer requests. They were specific things to pray. One thing that was absent from my list was "healing". When I realized that it was not top of mind for me, I had to question myself as to why it wasn't. Mind you, I believe in healing. I have experienced it. I have seen people healed ... God has used my wife to heal people miraculously on several occasions.
Why didn't I ask for healing? I asked myself that before I sent it out, and wrestled with my thoughts about it for a couple days. I realized that I did not consider the challenges my son has as an illness. When I think of Kyril, I cherish him exactly as he is. (Frustrating as it is sometimes.) I want to alleviate his challenges, and help him to overcome them. We all have challenges and we all have gifts. To some degree Kyril's gifts and his challenges are all tied up together! How can I ask God to take away the challenges and leave the gifts. And if he took away the challenges, how would the gifts shine! I must say that I came to realize that I see Kyril as having "different abilities" rather than having "disabilities". Yes he is socially, verbally, developmentally, transitionally, and physically challenged, but he is also thoughtful, focused, loving, quick witted, determined, and quite brilliant.

The other thing I realized, is that Kyril and others whose "differing abilities" definitely bring challenges into our own lives. They are people that God loves and created. It seems to me that God uses them to challenge our values, norms, attitudes, actions, thought patterns, love patience, etc. I think God uses these folks to develop in us his own attributes of love, kindness, compassion, caring, acceptance, appreciation. I know that as soon as I realized that my son had some of these challenges, I began to change! It immediately made me realize that I had some major problems, in my actions, and attitudes toward my son Kyril - and by extension to my family, and those around me. Christ had graciously reveled some them to me through how I reacted to Kyril.

So, as I said at the start my son, Kyril, is a biggie on my heart these days. I have a feeling, "We have not yet begun to fight."


Friday, February 15, 2008

A Common Cupboard Foundational Principle - "Invisibility"

The second foundational principle of the Common Cupboard is "invisibility". It is our desire that the cupboard would be so in the background that those we serve never see it. What they see instead is the love of God displayed to them in the person who is serving.

In our orientation I usually say "the cupboard is merely a place we store the food that we have gathered together". It is not really a food ministry to the poor. It is a "common cupboard", a pooled resource available to followers of Jesus and the local church to serve people in need. As such we equip churches and individual lovers of Jesus to reach out and so we facilitate the expansion of God's purpose and mission in this community.

I don't remember where I read it, but recently I read a quote that went something like this. "It is amazing what God can do through a person who does not care who gets credit for it!" Not only does Common Cupboard not care who gets the credit, we do not want the credit. All we want is for local churches, ministries, and other lovers of Jesus to use the cupboard to serve those in need. We want God to get the credit as his cherished children follows the example of Jesus and serves the poor whom Jesus loves.

When I say that the cupboard is to be invisible, I mean it. Last month a new couple started delivering food to several homes. They had not yet been through the orientation. They asked me what organization were they delivering for. I am sure they were asking me if they should say Common Heart or Common Cupboard, or whatever. I said the name of their local church in response to their question. They seemed a little shocked. I imagine that they were thinking, "I didn't know that our church ran this." But if anyone should get the exposure for good deeds done in the name of Jesus, it is the local church.

This principle of invisibility flows from my strong belief in the body of Christ displayed in gatherings of Jesus followers known as a local church. As individual members of his body, the church, reach out and meets a need, serves a person, displays patient listening, gives an encouraging word, the world will see Jesus. It is this body, the church, that brings today what the Bible teaches. Again, there is a saying, "we are the only Bible this world will read.."
Recently I heard a song from the worship album, Songs for a Revolution of Hope that echos a prayer of St. Teresa of Avilla, which expresses this outworking of the mystery of the Body of Christ very well.
Christ has no body here but ours,
No hands or feet here on earth but ours,
Ours are the eyes here through which he looks,
On this world, With Kindness.
Ours are the hands through which he works,
Ours are the feet on which he moves,
Our are the voices through which he speaks,
To this world, With Kindness.
Through our touch, our smile, our listening ear,
Embodied in us, Jesus is living here
Let us go now, filled with his Spirit,
Into the world with kindness.
In addition this principle of invisibility stems from another of my strongly held convictions. God’s love is best displayed through people serving people, not through church programs, or para-church ministries, or charitable institutions, or non-profit organizations, or government bureaucracies. It is people helping people that allows God's love to have a transformative effect on both the one being served and the one serving. The Cupboard's invisibility helps remind us that it is not the Cupboard, but us who are serving, giving, reaching out to those in need!

Keep serving. It is the kindness of God that leads people to repentance! Next month I will share more on my thoughts on the third foundational principle of Common Cupboard, "Demonstrating God’s Love."

You can read the first of the three pricniples by clicking on "Common Cupboard: A Pooled Resource."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Your Church and Common Cupboard

In this post I would like to expand a little on how I envision Common Cupboard and your your church working together to reach our community with the good news of Jesus Christ. I will endeavor to be brief here, but I would love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with you one day and talk about it more! - Keith

Some time ago I was a pastor at a local church. It was my passion to teach the people of God. I taught a lot of things from our identity in Christ to personal evangelism, the books of the Bible to the power of the cross. My main desire was to see people serving God fully and to equip the congregation to reach out effectively to their friends, neighbors, and the community at large. I did a lot of talking. But, with all my teaching I couldn't quite get either myself or my congregation motivated to reach outside the four walls of our church on a sustained regular basis.

As I pondered this one spring, I had a rather simple but profound thought. What if equipping people for evangelism (or any gospel endeavor) was more than just training or teaching? I reasoned that American soldiers are provided not only with training on how to fire a rifle, but they are equipped with an actual rifle. Maybe I should think about equipping God's people that way. That's a thought that transformed a food pantry idea into Common Cupboard - a means to "equip saints to serve".

Let me share with you how we can "equip" your church to serve and draw people to Christ through intentional, active kindness through Common Cupboard.

We can provide you with a "turn key", local church based ministry. This is my number one priority for the cupboard. We want to help you develop a ministry to those in need in your community. You provide leadership, volunteers, and willing hearts to serve. We will provide you with training, groceries to give away to those you know in need, full access to an emergency food pantry for your members, and we will even help you identify people in need to serve.

You do not have to provide space in your facility to store food, boxes or bags. You do not have to spend lots of money or time to acquire groceries to give away. You do not have to constantly be running food drives or do fundraising. All you do is recruit a couple people who love God and love people to form your church's ministry. It's your church's ministry. We literally provide the rest so our church can be involved reaching out to folks in your community.

We only ask in return that your church add Common Heart to your local missions budget at an amount your board determines and that you help out with an occasional food drive. Oh, yes there is one other thing ... We ask you to keep Common Cupboard "invisible" to those you serve in the community. (See article below.)

If you have folks who would like to volunteer in a supportive role at the cupboard, we can certainly use the help. If you want to provide your youth group with a service project, we could help you with that too. We want to be a resource for you in fulfilling God's call to serve "the least of these."

For more information call me at 704-458-3744 . You could also click on the brochures under "Common Heart Quick Links" in the right column.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Moving Day at the Cupboard

Here is the first of several videos of Common Cupboard's move. Enjoy!

Your mission should you choose to accept it is to get those freezers out of the 300 sqft previous home of the cupboard and move them into the new 900 Sqft home on Garmon Rd, Indian Trail



To view the second video in the series Click here to see"Two Srong Arms" at OurStoriesAlongTheWay.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thoughts on Revolution


Recently I finished reading The Barbarian Way by Erwin McManus. It was as I starterd the chapter entitled The Barbarian Revolt that I realized that 3 of the last 4 books I read had a common underlying theme of revolution. The other two books were The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claibourne and Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisises and a Revolution of Hope by Brian Mclaren. I appreciated each of the books and was challenged by each in one way or another.

Brian's book, Everything must Change, challenged me to rethink the message of the kingdom of God in terms of how does the person and message of Jesus offer an alternative in addressing the pervasive issues of our day. Brian takes a macro-view of the world system and envisions how the revolutionary message of Jesus provides a framing structure for a different kind of world. In many ways this book challenged me to think outside the traditional confines of religion and consider how the revolutionary message of Jesus can be aplicable today. It was pretty heady, but very readable.



I was first encouraged to read Shane's book, The Irresistible Revolution, as I was complaining on a message board how much of the evangelical church seems to be ineffective at engaging the dominant culture. I was grousing about how with one major issue the Republican Party seems to have bought and paid for the blind support of much of the evangelical church for policies that to me seem to be counter to the heart and message of Jesus. With the Party seeming only giving lip service to moral issues like abortion, it seems like they have paid very little for such political support. One of the respondents on the board wondered if I had read this book by a young mean who with several others have moved into an economically desolate part of Philadelphia to live out the message of Jesus. Last December I finally picked up the book.

Besides chronicling Shane and his friends work it presented many challenging discussions about how to put feet on the teachings of Jesus. Shane's experiences range from working on the Bush Quail campaign as a Young Republican to later infiltrating the Philadelphia Republican Convention and speaking out for the poor. He shares about his experiences at Willow Creek Church (one of the largest evangelical churches in America) to camping out at an abandoned Catholic Cathedral with hundreds of homeless women and children. I found just the range of his expericenes for such a young man to be almost unbelievable - working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, standing in solidarity with Iraqi Christians in Bagdad as bombs began to fall, reclaiming empty lots in the urban wasteland of Philadelphia planting gardens, and proclaiming Jubilee on Wall street and giving away thousands of dollars to the poor, just to name a few.

The way he sees Christian action motivated by the love of God and the teachings of Jesus is in actually following the sermon on the mount, not teaching about it. It is in seeing Christ in the poor and serving them that we actually learn from them what it means to follow Christ. One of my favorite chapters expressed the vision of the kingdom of God overcoming the world as "growing smaller and smaller until we take over the world. Humility and loving people is transformative in the culture as a whole, as well as in ndividuals lives. This is so different from the power paradigm of the world that spawned the religious right. This book spured my heart to join him in this irresistible revolution, by taking up the life of an ordinary radical.

In the "economy" of God Brian's book would be considered "macro-economics" looking at the big picture. Shane's book I would consider "micro-economics" geting down to fine details of the day to day ordinary revolutionary. I needed the third book, The Barbarian Way by Erwin McManus,to clearly show me why I do not live the radical teachings of Jesus. Erwin helps define for me the the invisible barrier I approached as I considered how to put these thoughts and the ramblings of my heart together and produce action for the kingdom of God. Is my faith civilized, or do I have a barbarian faith that is willing to risk everything to follow the heart of my King?!

This barbarian faith that holds its alegiance to Jesus alone, has gotten me into trouble on occasion. One time not to long ago I was teaching and I made the statement "I am not a citizen of the United States, I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I have one allegiance." During the week I had some civilizing done to my statement by my friends and mentors, so that at the next meeting appologized and soften my outrageous, barbarian statement. But the truth is Jesus taught us to have one alegiance, the kingdom of God. All others either pale in comparison or are outreight idolatry. Both Brian and Shane talk about this in their books. Brian actually does an excellent job at analysing the various responses to imperial power based on the responses of accomdation, revolt and withdrawl seen in Jewish society in the days of Christ. The way of Jesus is to live in this world as part of a kingdom not of this world.

All anyone has to do is look at me and you will know that I am not your typical revolutionary, but I follow a revolutionary, visionary, king and his seemingly barbarian way. It is a way that calls us into danger, seeking to loose our life rather than keep it. It calls us to a way of humility and love. It calls us to take up our cross - the death instrument of the empire for all revolutionaries - and follow the one who prayed for the forgiveness of his executioners. For me the challenge is to bring alive this barbarian, revolutioary faith in my daily life. God calls me to love and serve people not as a ministry, but as a life. Civilizing influences all around tell me to stop, think twice, don't risk it all to live for Jesus in his kingdom.

I loved all of these books. If I was going to recomend one that you should read today, it would be The Barbarian Way. After that it's a toss up. To me Everything Must Change was an easier read. Although his thoughts were heady his narative style was inviting. The Irresitible Revolution was a longer read but was full of many stories that encouraged me to re-think how to repsond to many of today's issues, especially in the realm of social justice.