Tuesday, February 24, 2009

11 people

wow. Just heard that only 11 people from our congregation showed up for the Sunday service. I'm not really sure what to do with that.

Monday, February 23, 2009

inter-congregational fellowship

This past weekend the SFC staff which I'm a part of went away for a retreat. We didn't go far, but we felt very distanced from the normal hustle and bustle of our neighborhood...

This isn't "normal" in our christian culture for all the pastors (Sr, associate, youth, music) to be absent from the worshiping congregation on the same day. Yet for me, there was clear value in the experience.
1. It was an amazing time of being together as a staff, building relationships, cooking meals, dreaming, reflecting, and casting a vision for the future.
2. We relied on the fellowship & support of the Kingdom of God.

A big part of why we were able to go away is because of the way we've structure our building. Discovery House, the building our church owns, currently has 5 congregations who call it home. And as such, I believe there is value in how we, as a staff had a weekend away, relied on the support of the Discovery House family. As we were away, we asked one of the other congregations to help us in speaking and leading worship. What ensued was a joint worship experience where 2 congregations came together as the CHURCH.

Growing up in a pastoral home, I never saw my dad leave on a staff retreat in this way. I never heard of inter-congregational fellowship taking place where support was felt on both ends.

I hope this past weekends experience for - SFC - all the congregations of Discovery House - and the greater Church - can be one of learning what it means to be neighbors in the Kingdom of God!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

communal living

Communal living is a hot topic these days isn't it? With the economy spiraling down, I have heard of many friends and neighbors interested in "out of the box" living situations. I've heard of people who have lived by themselves for 10+ years thinking about having roommates again. I've heard of young adults wanting to cut down costs, and moving in with friends. Our governments are even on the communal living band waggon as neighborhoods are being rezoned for denser population.

Within the church we too often hear of people desiring to live intentionally within a community. We have seen this done in many ways. And, I'm sure many of us have our own thoughts about it. I know I do. I'm drawn to it, but like my own space. I want to live, build, and support others, but don't know how...

When I lived in Kansas City a Nazarene church transformed a house next door to the church property; they turned it into a community house for men. There were some guys who were coming out of addictions, rehab, and other situations which needed the support of Christians guys; and there were others, who saw the value in coming along side a brother in Christ.

In Shane Claiborne's book the Irresistible Revolution he describes his own life. Along with some friends he developed a small community of believers. They focused on loving God, loving others and supporting one another.

I read on MSN today about a similar living situation. One where individuals together planned meals, finances, and time together as adults and with their children each week. In all respect, they were truly living in a micro community, supporting, loving, and caring for one another. (All things, when we're honest, are what we as followers of Christ feel compelled to do.) Here's the link to the article: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/29239960/?GT1=43001

At this point in life, I don't promote this "non-traditional" expression of community, but can't help wonder what it is telling us about our neighbors longings for communal living.

Monday, February 16, 2009

SPACE, creating * visioning * imagining

I have been wondering what it means to create space. Or to recreate it, re-vision it, or re-imagine it. We all have space in our lives poorly used. And it is such space which draws my attention.

Over the last several months and even the past few years I have been able to participate in the recreation of space. From our old 1910 home to our 1950's church building - space has been redefined, re-visioned, and re-imagined.

And this leaves me wondering, as I hear of others having life words or slogans which define their motivation, the mission, if mine might have to do with space.

I'm not so concerned with outer space - as in the land out beyond our galaxy, as I am with the inner space within our lives, and the outer space in which we live it. For so often we live our lives in such ways to attain retain, and acquire space simply for the filling.

The inner and outer spaces of our lives have the potential for much more than the filling of. Our lives have much more to offer than the storage of the past.

And it is with this thought, as we look at space within our church building and wonder what use it could be in the coming days for the kingdom, that I wonder about my life words. It's with this thought, as I long to encourage others to interact with God, that I wonder about my life's mission.

Creating space is much more than mere words on a page. Creating space is much more than building a structure. I believe we can create space to interact with others, create space -out of old space - which brings new life and purpose, and I believe we must create space within our lives to be in relationship with our God.

So here I am, creating space - both outer & inner.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Living beyond ourselves 2.8

As we begin, I’d like for us to first read through the whole of 1 Corinthians 9.

On Tuesday I met with Mark (the other pastor I work with) and Carolyn (our Music Leader) to plan for today’s service. As we began, I told them that I was tired of Paul. Earlier in the day, I’d written Mark and email, titled it Paul, and wrote these 5 words:” I’m getting sick of Paul.”

I’m getting sick of him. He’s arrogant! He talks about himself way too much. He talks in circles, and for the most part, is just kind of annoying. So some of you might remember a few weeks ago when Mark was talking about a different passage where Paul was telling us how we shouldn’t’ marry. Do you remember that? It was in First Corinthians chapter 7.

So, two weeks ago we looked at chapter 7, and Paul was telling us not to marry. He told us if we are married to live as though we’re not… because the time is short. And here, two chapters later, Paul begins by telling us that he has a RIGHT to be married. Why shouldn’t he be married? It should be ok for him to marry, since other apostles marry. It’s almost as if in this passage he’s being a little whiner.

As I read this passage and thought about what to say this morning, I was getting stuck on Paul. I was getting stuck on how arrogant he can be. I almost wanted to stop and count how many times ‘I’ is used in this chapter. (But I didn’t, I thought it might make me mad.)

Late Wednesday night, I returned to the passage and was thinking about the text. I was asking God what it was I should be focusing on. I was frustrated because I didn’t want to talk about Paul. I didn’t want to look at Paul’s writings anymore. I wanted to focus on Jesus, because Paul was just a guy. Perhaps we could even say a regular guy. He was a guy who met Jesus on a road, and that meeting forever changed his perspective. He was just a guy, and an arrogant one at times.

So, I really didn’t want to talk about Paul, I didn’t want to look at the things Paul had to say, but here was this text before me, and as I prayed and I read, I asked God to speak to me.
Ask God, ask YHWH, ask him to speak to you this morning as I read a segment of this Scripture once again. Hear his words.

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law, so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel.”

I really didn’t want to talk about Paul anymore, I didn’t want to look at Paul’s writings, but here was this text before me, and as I prayed and I read, I ask God to speak to me. And HE DID!
I heard from God. I heard him speak to me. It’s funny that it took me so long, because here we are, just over a month into the New Year and it’s almost as though I’d forgotten.

What had I forgotten?

I’d forgotten about Jesus.

I wanted to focus on Jesus, but we were reading Paul, and so I was focused on understanding Paul’s words, and I had forgotten about Jesus. I had already, after 6 weeks seemingly forgotten about the Incarnation… I had forgotten about the importance of God taking human form, stepping down into our world, within our forms and under our laws, living among us. I had seemingly forgotten how important the incarnation is in regards to all of life, including the words of Paul, Peter, the old and new testaments, and our faith. I had forgotten that without the Incarnation (Jesus coming to us) all of Paul’s words would be meaningless.

So the other day I sat there in my living room, reading chapter 9 and praying… and I heard God speak to me. I heard him say: “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel.”


Wow! What powerful words. What an amazing position. As I re-orientated my ears, and allowed myself to hear Jesus Christ say these words to me. I was blown away. I could hear the beauty in their tone. I could see the wonder in their form. No longer were they words of arrogance, they are words of beauty; they are words of wonder. They are words of power, and most importantly, words full of love. They are beautiful words, words to build a life on, and I want to make them my own!

These words, so beautiful, yet what do we do with them? How do we live them? How do we become like others? And for that matter, what does it even mean to become? Is this possible, or is it only true for Paul and Jesus?

Well, I believe it is possible. I believe we have this text, following on the tails of Christmas, to remind us that we are to follow after Christ. I believe it is possible because the Incarnation is a real expression of becoming weak to win the weak. The incarnation is a tangible way of understanding how God interacts with his people. God has always wanted his people to be able to relate to one another, and to himself. In the Incarnation, we have a physical illustration of just how upside down God’s kingdom is. It’s painted out for us in that we’re to become a servant to others, that we may express God’s love.

God’s love is wrapped up in the acts of becoming.

I don’t think we’re to become like everyone to the degree that we are lost. I certainly don’t believe we are to be like chameleons… always adapting, ever changing, and blending in. I don’t think it’s telling us that when we’re with the hip hop kids, that we sag our pants to our knees and wear our hats crooked. I don’t think it’s saying that when we’re with the Goth kids, we have to spike our hair, pierce our bodies, and then we’ll win a few. I don’t believe we’re being asked to be a chameleon and change and morph with every new person we come in contact with.
I don’t think Jesus came to us, in the form of a man, simply to relate physically to us. The outward appearance isn’t the focus of the scripture. If it were, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the TV evangelists would have it made. God is concerned about the inside of the cup. God cares about the heart of the matter.

I believe we are to understand this word become, in terms of relate, connect, care, and even love. I believe it has to do with how we are relating, connecting, and loving, those we come in contact with. It has to do with our relationships and interactions with our families, our friends, neighbors, and our community.

I wonder, what it would be like for us if Paul had written: “to the weak I became weak, to win the weak. To the broken, I became broken to win the broken. To the poor, I cared for them, sat with them, and cooked a meal with them… to love the poor. To the jobless, I helped them with a resume, and I taught them a new skill. To the homeless, I listened; I gave them a voice, a place - in my heart and in my world… to love the homeless!”

Can we hear these words coming from the Scriptures? Can we read them coming from Paul? Can we hear the voice of Jesus saying, in God’s upside down kingdom, these words of love? Can we see Jesus, living these actions of love?

In our experiences, we tend to limit the preaching of the gospel to the spoken word, don’t we! And yet Jesus enacts the Gospel in his healings, exorcisms and through his very life. You know, Jesus is the Good News in action. Jesus is the Gospel.

In our following after Christ, in our becoming like others, we too have the ability to be God’s good news in action. We have before us the vast opportunity to preach the kingdom of God – in our voice, in our gentle embrace, and through our over arching love.

In this time of need in our country, in this time of need in our world, let’s not limit the gospel! Let’s not limit the preaching of it to the professional clergy. Let’s become. Let’s become the good news. Let’s become the gospel. Let’s be God’s voice. Let’s be God’s hands. Let’s be God’s love. Let’s be God’s embrace. Let’s be the caring heart of God. Let’s be his listening ear. Let’s be the hope filled sanctuary our society is yearning for. Let’s become. Let’s become. Let’s become all things to all people, so that by all possible means, they might know God!

Let’s Love. Let’s love one another. Let’s love beyond these walls. Let’s love our neighbor. Let’s love them, become them, know them, embrace them, and walk through life with them. Let’s become one family. Let’s do this. Let’s look out for their needs. Let’s be a tangible, flesh and bones, twenty-first century incarnation of our Lord. Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to fill us, transform us, and enable us to live beyond ourselves as we look at our world; with its hurts, blemishes, and fears. Let’s become like it – in love – that it too may know how sweet it is to walk with Jesus!

We can do this! Paul could do it, a little old man who traveled the world with hurts and pains just like us. Who tormented and terrified people before he met Christ, and after, spoke of our call to love. We can do it too!

Jesus, the incarnation, his death on a cross; Jesus modeled this becoming for us. And he is calling us… if we’ll listen, to stand up and be his Gospel to the world. We’re to follow Christ, we’re to walk in his shoes, we’re to be his ambassadors, and we can do this. We can become… We must become… We are God’s Good News! We – you and I – are God’s love made perfect, and together, we can!

Receive this benediction: As you go through life, keep Jesus at the forefront of all you do, and bare the good news to this broken world! Go in Peace.

Monday, February 2, 2009

community ethics

Over the last few weeks and months I, like many, have wondered about our nation and worlds economic position.

I have wondered what the effects of the loss of jobs will have on my family and friends. I've wondered how low income families, as costs go up, will be able to make ends meet.

Along with all of this, I have wondered about the general church and its practice of supporting the ministerial clergy. As one, I have wondered how the current economic situation will impact my own life. As church congregants continue to feel the pinch, I wonder how will this effect their giving to their local church, and as such, impact the personal support of their staff.

For generations we have had vocational & bi-vocational pastors; the bi-vocational pastors are men and women who lead congregations while also maintaining "secular" jobs - to pay the bills.

To some degree I consider what I'm doing now - with the coffee house and church ministry - kind of a bi-vocational thing. Although, it's not completely bi-vocational, since the coffee house is in direct connection to the church. Yet there is a since of bi-vocation as the coffee house can end up being a full-time job.

So as the rise of unemployment continues upward, the cost of living, and what not continues to spiral downward, I can't help but wonder how this will impact me, my friends, and the church.

If push came to shove, I am confident I could go outside the church to pay the bills. But as I look at this possible option, I'm not certain this is the principle of God's upside down kingdom our faith community is or should be striving for. There is something beautiful (even biblical) about a group of people coming around and supporting their clergy (see 1 Cor. 9).

As I look at this historical practice, I can't help but wonder if consciously or subconsciously we have set this as a way of modeling the kingdom; our community ethic - relying on the support of one another.

Perhaps this ancient practice has practical implications as we strive to living out the upside down kingdom - the anti empirical kingdom of God. Perhaps this practice of supporting the clergy was established to place & encourage the spiritual leaders to model what it means to live in community. I can't help but wonder if Jesus, with his reliance upon others, wasn't speaking to us a new ethic of living in community - where we look not only to the needs of our self, but also to the needs of the other, where we take care of one another... in regards to all of our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical needs.

Perhaps as we look at our country/world economic position, we need to re-look at our own community ethic. In this time, as many are in need, God's upside down kingdom just might be calling us to love in new ways. God's upside down kingdom might be asking us to come around one another - in a truly supportive fashion - to display God's upside down kingdom to one another and the world.

God's upside down kingdom, is just that, upside down to the world, and this might be our chance to once again step into it!