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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blog more

Strange thing about blogging. It can be just the random thoughts of the day. It could be a well thought out treatise on the Christian life. It could be more on my own dreams. It could be sharing the dreams, thoughts, words of others as I journey though this life.

One of my problems with blogging is that I want it to be significant. But the reality of life is that we often have no idea what is significant until we have traveled down the road a little more. The past sets the course of the future. And sometimes, if we have not placed a marker on the road, when we get to the place we realize that something significant has just taken place, we don't quite know what random thought, chance meeting, or slight adjustment of course it was that though seemingly insignificant at the time, led us to this significant place.

Hence, my post yesterday about blogging more. I know I had some potentially significant thoughts, dreams, understandings, and experiences, but I can not access them out of my memory. Some of these things that I try to hold in the hard drive between my ear, may need to find a new home right here.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pre-New Years Resolution

Blog more! Blog regularly! Blog often!

Yesterday I wrote several blog posts. Unfortunately, they were all in my head. I crashed and lost them all. So .... ergo ... my pre-new years resolution.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Where the most urgent thing is - to wait

One of the blogs I read is Inward/Outward. I love it because it often shares short quotes from folks on a journey, both inward and outward. It encourages me. I would encourage you to bookmark it and visit it often. This quote appeared recently and it spoke to me.

In the desert the most urgent thing is—to wait. The desert does not take kindly to those who tackle it at breakneck speed, subjecting it to their plans and deadlines. It soon takes its revenge and makes them pay dearly for their presumption. Instead, the desert welcomes those who shed their sandals of speed and walk slowly in their bare feet, letting them be caressed and burnt by the sand. If you have no ambition to conquer the desert, if you do not think you are in charge, if you can calmly wait for things to be done, then the desert will not consider you an intruder and will reveal its secrets to you. - Meditations on the Sand By Alessandro Pronzato

The American version of Evangelical Christianity that I have been immersed in most of my life looks at the desert as a bad place. One might respond to to a question about how things are going in God, with "oh, I have been in a bad place, a real desert." Often times what we mean is nothing is going right, God seems so far away, or I am so dry I may just quit this thing. We desire a fast, instant, no work, no mess, instant growth Christianity, and when God doesn't show up on cue we get irritated, agitated, lose heart, and maybe just get lost in a desert.

That kind of desert is not what is being described here. It is not the bad place we find ourselves in. It is the place of being alone - we avoid it at all costs. For many of us being alone reveals our restlessness, and our discomfort with ourselves. Being quiet can reveal just how full of ourselves, our things, and our times we are. Alone is not the same as lonely. But alone often reveals how lonely we are and how full, and satisfied we are with illusion.

We tend to avoid being alone. But the desert is about being alone. In the 3-4th centuries Christianity was being watered down first by being tolerated, they approved, and finally co-opted by the Roman empire. During that time there was quite a number of Jesus followers who specifically sought out the desert. They did so as a means to connect with God and develop a Christ-like spirit.

When we embrace the desert and then discipline our hearts to depend on God, being along can slowly become a place of peace and solitude. Alone does not immediately equal solitude, just as it does not equal lonely. The desert deprives one of whatever we depend on. There is nothing left but just our self. And then we find that we just aren't enough. There is nothing to do but to wait, hope, and trust God. That is the lesson of the desert. it is a hard lesson. It quite frankly may be the battle of our lives.

"Desert" Christianity is as different from American Christianity as marinading a good piece of meat is from microwaving processed patties. Marinading takes time. Not much is happening while it is slowly prepared for cooking. You can not stand in front of the refrigerator and put your timer on for 1:30 minutes and bing it is done. It takes time. Developing Christian character also takes time. Time in the desert, time alone, time developing solitude so we can meet God in the secret place of silence and rest.

Our microwave version of Christianity fits well with our lifestyle. It is a busy one. It fits our deadlines, and our plans. It facilitates filling more of our time with more things, more activities so we don't have to be alone. With our microwave god all we need is a little time and bing it is done. We get what we want. Well ... not exactly. But what we get we think will do .... at least for now.

The problem is that God is more like the desert. His work in us is more like marinating. It is slow, consistent, pretty uneventful, unexciting, but soking through our whole being. He works deep transforming our character, our desires, our life so that we reflect his love brilliantly.

A while ago I was in a spiritual desert place. I actually mused about writing a book titled "The Desert in my Lincoln". A couple years ago I started commuting to work a little over an hour away. For many years I was 10 minutes away from home. I often would go home or meet with friends for lunch. I met with people for breakfast regularly. If something was going on during work I wanted to do, I might be able to scoot away and do what I wanted to do. Everything changed when I began commuting a in my 1996 Lincoln Town Car. As a result I felt isolated and alone. I felt cut off from family, friends, co-laborers in ministry, and things that were familiar. Gone was a lot of my freedom to do what I wanted. I was bound to that Lincoln and where it took me from 6:30 am to 6:20 pm. But I have grown to love my Lincoln, my desert. It cut me off from the familiar, the comfortable, and the pleasant so I could experience being alone. I fought it, but I eventually began to learn to wait. It has transformed me in small ways. I actually now seek out my desert and I seek out new deserts.

Although our deserts may be different there is really only two responses to them. You can try to "tackle it at breakneck speed, subjecting it to (our) plans and deadlines." The other is to" shed (our) sandals of speed and walk slowly in (our) bare feet, letting them be caressed and burnt by the sand." The desert does not deal kindly with the former approach, but welcomes the latter.

If you are on a similar journey, I would love to hear from you. I would love to hear of your journey and the small transformative things you have experienced in your desert. If you are battling in your desert with demons, maybe we can support each other. If you are avoiding it, fighting it, trying to conquer the desert, I know how unkind the desert can be. Lets talk about it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Eight Ways to Be Missional

I have shared this in the past through my google reader. Jonathan rencenly re -posted it because of the response. I thought it would be good to share it here. This is a great, simple suggestions about how to be missional, being apart of God's sending into the world.

  1. Eat with Non-Christians. We all eat three meals a day. Why not make a habit of sharing one of those meals with a non-Christian or with a family of non-Christians? Go to lunch with a co-worker, not by yourself. Invite the neighbors over for family dinner. If it’s too much work to cook a big dinner, just order pizza and put the focus on conversation. When you go out for a meal, invite a non-Christian friend. Or take your family to family-style restaurants where you can sit at the table with strangers and strike up conversations (Mighty Fine Burgers, Buca di Peppo, The Blue Dahlia, etc). Have cookouts and invite Christians and non-Christians. Flee the Christian subculture.
  2. Walk, Don’t Drive. If you live in a walkable area, make a practice of getting out and walking around your neighborhood, apartment complex, or campus. Instead of driving to the mailbox, convenience store, or apartment office, walk to get mail, groceries, and stuff. Be deliberate in your walk. Say hello to people you don’t know. Strike up conversations. Attract attention by walking the dog, taking a 6-pack (and share), bringing the kids. Make friends. Get out of your house! Last night I spend an hour outside gardening with my family. We had good conversations with 3-4 neighbors. Take interest in your neighbors. Ask questions. Engage. Pray as you go. Save some gas, the planet.
  3. Be a Regular. Instead of hopping all over the city for gas, groceries, haircuts, eating out, and coffee, go to the same places. Get to know the staff. Go to the same places at the same times. Smile. Ask questions. Be a regular. I have friends at coffee shops all over the city. My friends at Starbucks donate a ton of left over pastries to our church 2-3 times a week. We use for church gatherings and occasionally give to the homeless. Build relationships. Be a Regular.
  4. Hobby with Non-Christians. Pick a hobby that you can share. Get out and do something you enjoy with others. Try City League sports. Local rowing and cycling teams. Share your hobby by teaching lessons. Teach sewing lessons, piano lessons, violin, guitar, knitting, tennis lessons. Be prayerful. Be intentional. Be winsome. Have fun. Be yourself.
  5. Talk to Your Co-workers. How hard is that? Take your breaks with intentionality. Go out with your team or task force after work. Show interest in your co-workers. Pick four and pray for them. Form mom’s groups in your neighborhood and don’t make them exclusively non-Christian. Schedule play dates with the neighbors’ kids. Work on mission.
  6. Volunteer with Non-Profits. Find a non-profit in your part of the city and take Saturday a month to serve your city. Bring your neighbors, your friends, or your small group. Spend time with your church serving your city. Once a month. You can do it!
  7. Participate in City Events. Instead of playing X-Box, watching TV, or surfing the net, participate in city events. Go to fundraisers, festivals, clean-ups, summer shows, and concerts. Participate missionally. Strike up conversation. Study the culture. Reflect on what you see and hear. Pray for the city. Love the city. Participate with the city.
  8. Serve your Neighbors. Help a neighbor by weeding, mowing, building a cabinet, fixing a car. Stop by the neighborhood association or apartment office and ask if there is anything you can do to help improve things. Ask your local Police and Fire Stations if there is anything you can do to help them. Get creative.Just serve!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Contemplation and Missional Activism

"Through the years I have notice that among the people most dedicated to missional activism, you find either (a) people burned out because of the difficulty of the task, or (b) people who have learned to undedrgrid their activism with contemplation, with quiet resting, finding God in the center of normalcy -- including the normalcy of struggle and hard work. "  (Brian McLaren, a Generous Orthodoxy, pg 197)
I ran into this observation while re-reading Brian's book.  It kind of sums up my experience and longings in relation to my own missional activism through Common Heart / Common Cupboard.  The only difference is I am both of the people he describes.  I guess kind of a schizophrenic amalgamation, a burn out / contemplative.   Maybe I am a slightly chard wanna be monk struggling to find that place of Shalom in the busyness of 21st century America.

Too often I am losing it.  I feel the flames flaring out.  And as I do I find comfort in prayer, scripture meditation, my daily rhythm, listening to the Bible,  and reading spiritually supportive books.  One area I lack, that I think would certainly help me, is to connect more with folks who are traveling a similar journey.

With all that in mind I have begun to set aside Sunday 6pm - 8pm for Vespers (Evening Prayer) and Scripture Meditation at The Commonplace.  It is not really something that Common Heart is doing.  It is really just me and anyone who wants to join me.  I want to take this time to focus, lifting up my heart to the Lord allowing him to restore, form, and fill.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Behind the Impossible

By Luis Espinal

Train us, Lord,
to fling ourselves
upon the impossible,
for behind the impossible
is your grace and your presence;
we cannot fall into emptiness.

The future is an enigma,
our road is covered by mist,
but we want to go on giving ourselves,
because you continue hoping 
amid the night
and weeping tears
through a thousand human eyes.

Source: “Gastar la vida,” in Oraciones a quemarropa

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Do what's neccessary first

"Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible." St Francis of Assisi.

Recently ran into this quote preparing a message.  This bit of advice is encouraging.  I also see it coming to pass with Common Heart.  

What is your dream?  Let Francis' words inspire you.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Missionaries to Indian Trail

"Serving in the suburbs is strange and hard. Unlike the inner cities, suburbs tend to bury their troubles, so that it takes time and effort just to uncover what needs there actually are. Despite the stereotypes, the immigrant, the impoverished, the addicted and the homeless are often present in the suburbs, and require the love and sacrifice that they do elsewhere. They’re just harder to find. " from an article entitled The Suburbs by Jordan Peacock
This resonates with what I have thought about Indian Trail.  The Commonplace is located in this small city.  From our location here in Indian Trail Common Cupboard has attracted a crew of 85 helpers and servants from 18 or so local churches.  But most of the food that is delivered  goes out to homes that are not in Indian Trail.  Of the 175 families per month that we serve there are only a handful in Indian Trail.  Is there really that few people that have a need here?  No, I don't think so.  The needs are more hidden here.

Not to long ago my neighbor moved out of his house overnight.  I did not know what was going on.  Turns out their house was sold in foreclosure.  As far as I know, none of us in the community knew they were having any trouble.  

Folks in need are all around us, but it is not as easy as driving into a low income area of Monroe or Charlotte to find them.  We need to search out the needs.  There are plenty of people in our own neighborhood that are hurting, hopeless, lonely, confused, addicted, depressed, confused, frightened, or suffering from a variety of distresses.  There are hungry people, people on the verge of homelessness, kids struggling all around us.  Although pride will often get in the way, love and kindness will break through.  But will we search them out.

One of the first things that you and I can do to begin to see the need is to get to know our neighbors and the people we come in contact with.  They may be next door, or behind the cash register, or who serving us our morning coffee at the drive through.  I need to step up more in this area.  May be just have a cook out this spring and invite folks to come.  Maybe we could go to the PTA meeting and talk to the people sitting next to us.  Or, just be really kind and thoughtful to the waitress that brings you dinner.

But I think it goes a little deeper than just changing a few details of our days.  The way you and I think has everything to do with what we do, the habits we create, our character, and the direction of our lives.  There is a little "poem" I learned years ago.  It goes like this.
Sow a thought, reap an action.
Sow an action, reap a habit.
So a habit, reap a character.
Sow a character, reap a destiny.
Recently some of the bloggers I read, the pastors at my church, and others I know have been reading a new book.  It is on my list to start soon.  But everything I have heard thus far has been good.  Here is a short section that impressed Rck Miegs at The Blind Beggar.  It seems to address the core of the dilemma for me.  It may very well be our mindset (or you might say spiritual orientation) that is the core problem.  

In the book "Missional Renaissance", Reggie McNeal, presents in this quote a comparison of two models of churches.  What I want us to see is the two cultures that develop as a result ... Member & Missionary. (Itallics are mine)

"The attractional (come & see) model of church creates a ‘member culture,’ in which people join a particular church and support that organization with their attendance, their money, their prayers, and their talent. The flow is toward the church, which is always at the center of the action, where the big game is being played.

The missional (go & be) church is made up of missionaries, who are playing the big game every day. They live their lives with the idea that they are on a mission trip. On mission trips, people focus on the work of God around them, alert to the Spirit’s prompting, usually serving people in very tangible ways, often in way that involve some sacrifice or even discomfort. Life on mission is more intentional and more integrated. While the concerns of life (family, work, leisure) are pursued, they are part of a larger story being played out for the missionary."
The need is a greater embrace of a missional mindset. We are missionaries in our communities.  If we shifted our whole world view to being a "sent people",  missionaries of a missionary God, it may open our eyes more lovingly to people around us.  It may break down our compartmental view of our busy lives and give focused meaning to our daily interactions with people.  It may motivate us to find the time and make the effort to uncover what hidden needs there actually are in our community.  

As the reality that we are a "sent people", missionaries, it will motivate us to find ways to speak God's love through our actions and our mundane interactions.  Questions like how can we demonstrate the gospel of peace in our neighborhoods, would gain more brain time.  The priority of finding ways to foster reconciliation and restoration, will become topics of conversation in our gatherings.   And we will seek out new and creative avenues to draw folks to faith as we live as ambassadors of great "Lover of our Souls".  

Oh, and what kind of people will we become!  How we will pursue the life of faith, and the formation of our innermost being in the image of Christ! With what fervor we will pray for our neighbors and our community!  What authentic life-giving communities will we create to bring to fullness to the aroma of Christ in our city!

So folks in the Indian Trail area who love Jesus, what do you think?  Can we dream together?Can we become a band of missionaries committed to our community?  Interested?  Post your comments and lets dream and explore and become together.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Called to Do the Impossible

When Jesus sent his disciples out on mission, he told them to be poor, to take nothing with them. And he told them to do things that were impossible for them to do all by themselves. So it is for all missions. Communities and their members are called to be poor and to do impossible things, such as to build community and to bring healing, reconciliation, forgiveness and wholeness to people. Mission is to bring the life of God to others, and this can only be done if communities and people are poor and humble, letting the life of God flow through them  - Jean Vanier

Saturday, March 7, 2009

"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."

I was driving into work the other day, and I was listening to my local NPR station for most of the trip. (I used to always listen, but beginning the first of the year I have been using most of that time to pray and listen to the Bible on CD.) There was a local story about churches and non-profits facing hard economic times. Believe me, I understand that to be true.

This past Sunday I spoke at Faith Community Church in Waxhaw. I don't get to speak much since I gave up my teaching and pulpit ministry to work developing Common Heart Missional Community. It was a very small crowd. The choir was most excellent. One testimony in particular was rousing as the brother shared that his shift/department at work has had no cut backs or lay offs. All co-workers were wondering how that team is being spared. My brother's answer, "This department has someone praying." As I sat through the service I wondered if I should share what I had planned.

Yesterday, I listened to this verse in Proverbs, it stood out. Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. - Proverbs 19:17 I hate to sound so unspiritual, but the Lord is a bank that will not fail! He will repay. Over at Commmon Cupboard Journal there is a virtual food drive going on. Anyone want to lend to the Lord ... Let me here an "AMEN".

Rahm Emanuel said recently in describing US President Barrack Obama's aggressive legislative agenda, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." (WSJ)

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.” And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit." John 20:21-22 ESV

These thoughts really do tie together. Give me a minute. I think I can do it in the next paragraph ...

We as followers of Jesus have been sent on a mission by Jesus. It is the same mission that Jesus received from the Father. It also needs to be fulfilled in a similar way. After Jesus told the disciples this he also breathed on them and gave them a command to receive the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I think we as Jesus followers, and especially as "church people & leaders", we get distracted by many things. We forget that Jesus organized his whole movement around his mission. Especially when times are good, we get distracted.

When times get rough the natural inclination is to withdraw and protect. I know that in the current economic crisis I have pulled back spending, tried to pay off more debt, been more aware of my boss's moods , and have certainly prayed more for my family and other families I know that they are having it tough.

Strangely enough I think that these harder times can cause us to be even more distracted from the mission of Jesus and his Church. Even as many churches and non-profits are experiencing difficulties and as members of our congregations are experiencing the same ...I think it might be time for a "Missional Stimulus Package" .

Many churches are reducing their financial support of missionaries. Many are focusing inward. I think what we need is to spend our treasures, talents and time changing our structures and focus outward, not hoarding them on programs and projects inside our church walls.

I thank God for my job. I thank God that he answers prayers and has kept my brother's whole shift and department from having hours and jobs cut. It excites me to hear these things. BUT, I can't help but thinking about the other departments and the other shifts, indeed the workers in my own company that lost their jobs when one of our plants was closed.

I can't help but think that the words of Rahm Emanuel might apply to our churches, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Indeed this may be a serious crisis. But, just maybe it might be the exact right time to rethink, repent, reprioritze, restructure and reorientate all that we do as the Church of Jesus Christ. Maybe it is time for a "Missional Stimulus Package" that will energize and reinvigorate us to look beyond ourselves and our problems, and give ourselves more fully to God's mission out there in our hurting communities, neighborhoods, and places of employment.

What form could this package take?

Denying the Ressurection

Peter Rollins brought me to the verge of tears ...
Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Virtual Food Drive

Common Cupboard is running a "virtual food drive" on Common Cupboard Journal.  The first Saturday of the month is the busiest one for the cupboard.  Usually 45-40 families receive food on that weekend.  At the end of last weekend the cupboard looked pretty bare.  A food drive was called for ... but how to get it all in the cupboard in 4 days.  Thus the "'virtual food drive" was born.  You can chose to help out by donating 1, 2, 3 bags of groceries, a whole shopping cart, or a variety of cases of cans we often use.  Pop on over there and check it out and pitch in for the food drive.  Click here --->  Virtual Food Drive.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Franciscan Blessing

"May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done."

I ran accross this at Inward/Outward  There is a very insightful comment from a teacher and other insights as well.  To view this post and the comments click and go to A Franciscan Blessing at Inward/Outward.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

So Little Time for Prayer

The past two days the reading in the Celtic Daily Prayer have included thoughts on prayer from Horatius Bonar, a 19th century minister of the Church of Scotland.  I found this to be challenging and encouraging to me as I seek to renew my rhythm of prayer in this year.  It both corrects my heart and holds out a promise.  
"Why is there so little concern to get time to pray? Why is there so much speaking, yet so little prayer? Why is there so much running to and fro, yet so little prayer? Why so much bustle and business, yet so little prayer? Why so many meetings with our fellow men, yet so few meetings with God? Why so little being alone, so little thirsting of the soul for the calm, sweet hours of unbroken solitude, when God and His child hold fellowship together as if they could never part? It is the lack of these solitary hours that not only injures our own growth in grace, but makes us such unprofitable members of the church of Christ, and that renders our lives useless. In order to grow in grace, we must be much alone with God. It is not in society, even Christian society that the soul grows most rapidly and vigorously. In one single quiet hour of prayer it will often make more progress than in whole days of company with others. It is in the 'desert' that the dew falls freshest and the air is purest. So with the soul. It is when none but God is near; when His presence alone, like the desert air in which there is mingled no noxious breath of man, surrounds and pervades the soul; it is then that the eye gets the clearest, simplest view of eternal certainties; it is then that the soul gathers in wondrous refreshment and power and energy."  Quoted from "Ministerial Confessions"

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Quotes along the Way

"There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread."- Mother Teresa

"Surely next to its love for the chief of sinners the most touching thing about the religion of Christ is its amazing trust in the least of saints." Henry Drummond, City without a Church

There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness. -Henri Nouwen Bread for the Journey

"Remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end."  - Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert