Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Pair of Forty-Fives

What does it mean to pursue a goal and to be successful? Let me backtrack 15 years. It was 1991 and I was a junior in high school. I was deemed "husky" as a kid, but it was all flab, and no beef so to speak. I decided to take a weight training class as my elective that year, expecting to get in shape. It didn't quite work out that way. I felt the humiliation of being the weakest kid in the class. I had to put five pound and eventually ten pound plates on the forty-five pound barbells for bench pressing. All this while the jocks and cavemen who comprised the rest of my class easily slapped on twenty-five, thirty-five, and even forty-five pound plates. In college, I was eventually able to make it to twenty-fives, but every time I entered a gym, I could see the forty-five pound plates taunting me. They reminded me of my unsuccessful attempts at consistently working out. They spoke of me never reaching my potential. They laughed at me while the sands of time continued to drain away, making my fitness goals harder and harder to reach with each passing year.

Now usually is the time for me to segue into a spiritual discussion about the evils of comparing ourselves to others, and finding worth in the eyes of people who really don't care about us to begin with. My measure as a man cannot be laid on a scale, or printed on the side of a plate. To be honest with you, I don't have a clue what the average thirty-ish guy can bench. All I know is that for most of my life I have been sedentary and not committed to taking care of this earth-suit that is (for the time being) spliced to my soul and spirit. Since those days in high school, deep down, I wanted to prove to myself that I could get in shape, that I could be stronger. That I could bench a barbell laden with a brace of forty-five pound plates.

This morning, I warmed up at the gym and surprised myself when I decided to shoot for it. I pulled the plates from their moorings and fastened them to a waiting barbell. As I stared at the plates, the radio began playing Jefferson Starship's "We Built This City" (the #1 Most Awesomely Bad Song Ever). I laid back, gripped the cold steel and hoisted the mass of steel up. I was not accustomed to seeing so much of my peripheral vision cut off, and I paused. I slowly lowered the bar to my chest and pushed it upwards. I did it! I proceeded to take nine more repetitions before allowing the bar to rest back on the weathered pegs over my head. There was no fanfare or applause in the gym. Just me, the bench, and the forty-fives.

For the first time in fifteen years, they were silent.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Where Two or Three are Gathered

What is a church? Is it a building on a hill with a cross stuck on top? Is it a crowd that fills an auditorium? I think we misuse the word "church" far too often. In a nutshell, I believe church is about the people of God doing His thing. Why do we complicate it so much? One scripture that speaks of the church is Matthew 18:19-20.

“I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

This passage has often caused me to scratch my head. I believe that God is everywhere (especially in places where we think He isn't). What is Jesus talking about? One of my professors at seminary described God as having an inter-relationship with Himself. Father, Son and Holy Spirit being three personalities of one God. They are one in relationship with each other. So then, the person(ality) of God is found in relationships.

If this be the case, when I am in relationship with a brother (hanging out, eating, sharing life, etc.) is that a reflection of God?

Or, to put it another way, do people see Jesus when they see us together?

And if that is the case, what IS church really about?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hitting the End Call Button

Cell Phones. What would we do without them? They hold huge lists of contacts, notes, appointments, photos, music, you name it. But with all the advancements in phone technology, they can’t bring you physically closer to anybody. I mean, you can talk, IM, email, send pics and video, but all you have to do is hit the END button and you sever the connection.
I believe sometimes we do the same thing with God. A quick prayer, a quiet “amen”, and we think God is off the hook.
But, He isn’t. He's still there, as present as ever. What would we do if we lived with this realization? How would this affect our “amen’s”?

How often do I try to hit that little red "end call" button with God?

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Everything is Spiritual" at The River

Wow, what a great night with friends,both old and new. We had a spectacular fireworks show (please remember that if you pour match-lite charcoal over live coals they will spontaneously combust AS THEY ARE COMING OUT OF THE BAG). Not exactly safe, but then again, when should church be safe? So often we relegate experiencing God to a particular time or place (Sunday moring at a church owned building for example). Isn't God bigger than that? We watched Rob Bell's "Everything is Spiritual" after eating a mix of food ranging from Viking burgers to shrimp kabobs. After the thought provoking presentation, we hung out an enjoyed Puerto Rican Rum Cheesecake. "This tastes like love!" one friend exclaimed. The evening certainly looked like love. Seems that God isn't limited to "showing up" whenever enough people fill a building. God's already here as you read these words. The question is, are our eyes open to that reality?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Coffeehouse Genesis

We publicly launched our church this past Friday. It was really a special time for us, our friends, and some folks who dropped in to see what all the fuss was about and decided to hang out for the rest of the evening. I was not surprised at the crowd that showed up, nor was it a shock that people seemed to enjoy themselves. What blew me away was the incredible diversity of people (age, race, language, economic status, etc.) and the spontaneous interactions and discussion that ensued. We had stretched canvas over two 7'x10' frames where we hung artwork from local artists. The back sides were bare, so we had paints available for anyone to add their mark.
We waited for a while for the first person to step up. Finally, a kid asked if he could paint. I showed him where the paints were and he choose red, yellow, and blue. He then stepped up to the enormous canvas and asked how much he could paint. I told him the whole canvas was open for him. He stepped back, eyes wide with wonder and giggled. He proceeded to paint a swan, the first of many expressions that included all generations.
We all have a story to tell and a gifting to share. Let's see how the Kingdom of God expands when we open up a canvas and invite all to leave their mark.

Friday, October 12, 2007

My Jean-less Junior High Years

Why do we complicate our relationships so much? Why do we choose to hang out with some, and shun or even abuse others? Who do we really feel comfortable with? Growing up, I was not a member of the 'in crowd'. Junior high was not a series of highlight reels for me. I was (am) a nerd. I remember standing in line for gym clothes in the boys locker room in 7th grade being called a ‘slacker’ because I didn’t own jeans. We didn’t have much money growing up, so I had cheap slacks. Oh, how I wish I had jeans. But that probably wouldn’t have made too much of a difference. I was never beat up, but I sure was ragged on by my peers and the older kids. One 9th grader in particular made me fearful every time I saw him. His name was Stephen and he was big. He would push me whenever he got the chance.

Fast -forward a decade and I ended up taking a class with this same guy in college. He came in, recognized me, and sat down next to me. We had some small talk and got along fine. For the first few classes, I wondered why he was being nice to me. As he drove me to my dorm one day, I asked him about his bullying during junior high. He was shocked that he had done that to me and gave a heartfelt apology. As it turns out, we weren't so bad once we got to know each other.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Finding my Name

Today I start to write. It’s funny how long it takes for us to discover how we’re wired. The real tragedy I fear is that altogether too many people never find out what their name really is. They live, work, love and die, but don’t catch the spark that would really help define them. I think that I found my name today. I was hiking with a friend of mine of White Oak Canyon and it hit me. Writer. This isn’t my vocation, but it is a gifting and I realized today that I need to develop and practice this craft. What really blows my mind is that so many people the past few years have commented on my writing, but it has taken until today for me to embrace their words of affirmation. I have no delusions of grandeur; I am neither Shakespeare nor Poe. I am Joe. So as I stumble through these pages, I will try to be more and more like who I was made to be. “To thine own self be true.”

Thursday, October 4, 2007


I hear people talk about "missions" often. Unfortunately though, I often hear missions spoken of as projects or statistics. For example, I may hear of "mission trips" where people go for a week to serve others in a different state or even country. Or I hear about the numbers of people who were impacted by those trips. But what about the other 51 weeks in the year? What about impacting the lives of those we live with and around? Shouldn't the emphasis of missions be a lifestyle that seeks to serve people here as well as out there? To share Jesus incarnate daily with a world that doesn't even realize He cares.

I believe missions is about a process we go through. As we discover the God who created us, we are compelled to help others to discover Him as well. This is about reconnection. This is NOT about converting people to be like us.

Jesus did not come to covert people. He did not come to make bad people good (quote by Ravi Zacharias). He did not come to make “good” people “better” (as well as self-righteous). He came to make dead people live. He came to bring a message of hope and joy to people who hadn’t experienced much of either.

He looked on people with compassion. These were broken people just like us. People who felt that they were not experiencing true life. They felt a great disconnect. That, this isn’t the way things are supposed to be. They could see that there is so much beauty and grace and order to the world we live in. But there is also anxiety and hate, and emptiness. Jesus came to bring out the former and crush the latter. He came so that people could awaken to the reality that the Creator of the Universe actually wanted to live in a relationship with us.

This is the message that God gives the Church to share with everyone. Missions is about seeking opportunities to share the life we have been given to others. It’s about living the life we were created to live. A life of hope, and authenticity. A life, yes, that is often filled with pain. A life that sometimes raises more questions (if we’re really honest with one another) than answers. Yet, a life that has joy because we are walking with our Creator. And we believe that He is in the process of making all things new. He is establishing a kingdom of reconnections, and He calls us to build with Him.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Why I Love Twilight

There's something wonderful about twilight. It's not day nor night, just in-between. The ancients called it the "time between the times". Although both the early morning and early evening may look eerily alike, they have a different feel to them. The early morning is still and dreamy as if it is trying to make up its mind whether to get out of bed or not. Early evening on the other hand is an unwinding after a long day. There's that moment, right between the times, that a hush seems to fall on the world around me. It's as if time stops for a heartbeat, then slowly starts up again. I've experienced it countless times, and I always leave with a sense of wonder, exhilaration, and melancholy. I believe that time will stop when we come face to face with our Creator. So I believe when I experience twilight, I experience a tiny taste of heaven. It's wonderful, but also faint and fleeting. I want more, but will have to wait. I know God is everywhere, but time always seems to get in our way of connecting with Him. During a brief moment in twilight, however, time disappears and I can peer at the heart of the One who loves me most.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Fruit Bearer

I had a great conversation with an old friend a few weeks ago. We talked about this idea, this dream, of learning to be comfortable with who we are. Accepting our gifts and acknowledging our vices. What does it mean to be human? How do we walk the fine line between narcissism and self-hate? And even more confusing, reaching out to grasp the hand of God; what does that look like? How do we walk like Him? How do we take on His identity? How can we grasp the fruit of the Spirit which God offers to us?

He left the conversation with an analogy that has haunted me ever since. He likened Jesus to The Bearer of the Fruit of the Spirit. Because of His sacrifice, we can pick fruit from the tree of life; We can eat of His flesh, and partake of His nectar. We can drink in life. So I have more questions now than I did before; and that’s a good thing!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Six Reasons Not to Quit

Long, but very good! Everybody who is trying to do new things to touch people's lives with the love of God should read this post! Joe B

6 Reasons Not to Quit
Posted Jul 12, 11:07 AM By Andrew Hamilton
June 2007
Andrew is the Director for Forge Western Australian. Andrew has spent 10 years in youth ministry, 2 years as a pastoral team leader and is now the team leader of Upstream Communities a missional community in the new Perth suburb of Brighton. He is responsible for oversight of all aspects of the Forge internship and intensive programs.

If you're anything like me then chances are you like to be successful at whatever you attempt. As well as that you probably like to be perceived as successful by your peers. Maybe it's a 'bloke thing'. Over the last few years however, I have increasingly been coming to grips with my life as a failure. We have now been in the same place for nearly 4 years and are yet to see one person sign up to follow Jesus. This was not at all what I hoped for or expected when we set out to begin our missionary venture in the northern suburbs of Perth. Even though I told people it would be a long term project and we would need to be patient I (secretly) still expected amazing results and in double quick time. As a youth pastor I had seen the youth ministry I was leading grow dramatically from 30 people to 250 in less than 2 years with many of those new Christians. For some reason I concluded that a) this was normal and could be replicated b) I was the key element in catalyzing this dramatic period of growth. I figured that if I could make it happen in one setting then surely I could do it again somewhere else… I have since come to see how arrogant and foolish that is. But in a world that praises the charismatic leader and puts the success or failure of a ministry (whatever those words may mean) down to the ability of the senior leader, it's a fairly reasonable conclusion to reach. Everything I had read about leadership told me I was 'the man' and that because of my gifting and charisma I could make it happen.

The truth is I can't.

Now depending on who you are and your own experience, you are either about to stop reading this story by a bloke who clearly has no clue as to what he's doing, or you may be saying 'thank goodness I'm not the only one who seems unable to make it happen' at will. As I speak in different places of our experience as a missionary team I am often embarrassed and occasionally even feel like a fraud. I sometimes wonder why people even invite me to speak when our own experience has been so difficult. We have not come close to achieving what we set out to accomplish and there are no guarantees that we ever will. We dreamt of seeing many people who don't know Jesus signing up as followers and of seeing many new faith communities birthed in our local area. We dreamt of an explosion of the gospel in our local area. As a person who is naturally achievement & results oriented the fact that we haven't seen this has been a great disappointment to me and a cause of much personal soul searching. So…why continue?...This is the question I often ask myself. If we are clearly not achieving the results we are hoping for, then aren't we better off 'shaking the dust off' and moving on to more fertile ground? You've heard that plenty of times… right?...Let me offer some reasons why those of us who are failures need to keep going in pioneering mission.

1. Someone needs to do this work—As I was talking with a friend of a larger local church recently he helped me understand some of what we are doing in a fresh light. As we drank coffee together he pointed to his cup and saucer and said "If the church is the cup then what most churches are doing is reaching the people in the saucer—the close by, the interested and open, the ones wanting to be convinced. They come along because they want to believe and we can help them in that." He went on, "It sounds like you and the Forge crew have said 'let's go to the people outside the saucer—the ones who may even sit somewhere on the extremities of the table'". It was a very helpful picture, and its one I often share when speaking with other first world missionaries who are seeking to connect with those who are not going to come to church programs. I believe our mission is a more difficult one because the people we go to are often not 'seeking' and may not even be interested initially in what we are about. Inevitably as we do this work it will take a significant period of time to see a shift in the orientation of the people we know. By and large my previous experience had not prepared me to patiently journey with people as they explore faith. If they didn't come thru quickly then I felt I needed to move on. What I am observing as we spend time with people is a definite openness to spirituality and even to discussing Jesus, but they are in no rush to sign up. So a significant question is: if we don't go to those people 'beyond the saucer' then who will?...

2. We are giving people hope—It's somewhat ironic that our struggle can offer hope, but my observation is that there are many people desperately seeking a different way of expressing their faith, of integrating with their community and living the gospel. A surprisingly large number are tired of the Sunday focus that has absorbed so much of Christendom and want to really engage in the world. I believe the journey we are on is one of learning and discovery, and we share what we are learning as we go. I sense that just knowing there are people out there 'having a go' can inspire others to also put their hand to the plough. Maybe we will never see any fruit for our labors, but will inspire a band of others to do better what we were attempting. I take hope from this.

3. Our definitions of success and failure are dodgy—surely not! So much has been written about this that I hesitate to simply regurgitate it. We speak often of faithfulness as the mark of success, yet quickly revert to counting bums on seats. I completely understand the desire for tangible results. It is deeply embedded in me from my long evangelical history, but it's this kind of pragmatism that at times actually prevents us from attempting anything new. If it doesn't 'work' then we get rid of it. There are many missionaries who have served in overseas cross cultural contexts who must be very glad that this pragmatism has not been applied to their endeavors. I know there are eyes watching all of us crazy missionary types wondering if we will actually make a difference or if we are just wasting our time. Before you quit make sure you take time to define success appropriately.

4. I need to grow—I don't know how many times people have said to me that maybe this isn't so much about what you do as what you learn in the process. Now honestly… I'd rather just learn this character formation stuff by reading a book! But it's true. There has been much shaping of my own identity in this journey and I am a richer person—perhaps even a more Christ like person for it. Is there something in God's scheme of things that I can't see? Maybe…

5. This stuff just takes a long time—I will admit that I have been completely taken by surprise by how long it takes to establish a presence in a suburb and to develop relationships where significant conversations can occur. I believe we have been at that place for a year or so with most of our friends, and while they are open to gospel conversations and have even met with us regularly to study the Bible they are adamant that they don't want to get involved with 'church'. The days of 2 barbecues and then the 'bridge to life' are long gone and we just need to get over it. This is going to take a while. We have also chosen to live at a very sustainable pace of life which means we are not going to run ourselves ragged in the name of growing a church. Nowadays when people ask me if I'm 'busy' the answer more often that not is 'no' and I hope to keep it that way. We have chosen to work less than full time and to make our time available to those in our community, but we can only travel at the pace people want to go at. In busy suburbia this means the pace is slow for the most part, because most people work long hours, are time poor and very few are available to 'hang out' during the week.

6. Our work is critical to the future of the church—ok so maybe that sounds a bit dramatic, but I'm serious—deadly serious! If the church in the west is in decline and our current approaches to mission are not cutting it, then we must take the time to explore other ways we can configure ourselves to connect with the world we live in. We desperately need more pioneering missionaries who are willing to follow Jesus into the difficult places and explore ways of engaging with a world that doesn't care if we exist. Some of what we attempt will fail, some of it will break ground and chart a course for others to follow. But we cannot underestimate the importance of what we are doing and its place in the future of the church. I sometimes tell people that our primary purpose at Forge is not to get more people coming to church, but to get more Christians going back into their communities living and thinking as missionaries. If we go some of the way to achieving this then I would die a happy man – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
I actually have another 4 or 5 reasons I could offer as to why we need people to keep on going in pioneering mission, but I'll stop there as this article is already too long. As I struggle with my own sense of failure, and need for recognition there are days when I consider applying for pastoral jobs at local churches where the work is familiar and I know what I am doing, where at least there I can see the people in the 'saucer' coming along occasionally, where I get kudos for decent sermons and the size of the crowd makes me feel like I am doing something worthwhile. It is familiar territory and safe.But it doesn't feel like what I am made for. To move in that direction would be to pull the ship back into harbor and tie up to the dock. It would be to call the adventure 'over'. It would be to sign off on what God has called us to and to slip back into the safety zone. It was in a dream once that I sensed God saying 'the only reason Columbus actually discovered new lands was because he had the courage to lose sight of shore and to keep sailing and sailing and sailing…'While I often feel like a failure (and maybe you do too) I know I am not one. I know that I am being faithful to the call God has put on my life and right now I am doing exactly what he wants me to do. In that he is honored and pleased. I will continue to grapple with my own 'ego demons' and hopefully reach a place where I can live without self doubt and distraction. That time will come when I genuinely believe that success really is about faithfulness and not about how much I have accomplished. Until then please be patient with me and put up with my occasional laments, and in the mean time don't quit!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The False Gospel of Impact

A few days ago I ran across an article that reaffirmed what I have been suspecting all along. Success in terms of the Kingdom of God is about obedience, not "numbers" or "impact". God wants us to follow Him, not some program He told someone else to do. God does not want you to be Rick Warren, Donald Trump, or Mother Theresa. He wants YOU to be YOU! Here's the interview from Leadership Magazine...

The False Gospel of Impact And other ministry lessons from the creator of Veggie Tales.

Phil Vischer may seem like an unlikely person to address the darker corners of a pastors' souls, but his new book, Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story about God, Dreams, and Talking Vegetables (Nelson, 2007), wrestles with questions every church leader should be asking. In 2000, Phil Vischer was running the largest animation studio between the coasts, had revolutionized Christian family entertainment by selling thirty million Veggie Tales videos, and was named one of the top ten people to watch in worldwide religion. Vischer's vegetable empire, better known as Big Idea Productions, seemed poised to become a Christian Disney. But by 2003 the dream was over. After a heartbreaking court decision, later overturned on appeal, Big Idea declared bankruptcy and Vischer had to sell the company's assets, including his computer animated characters Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. We spoke with him recently about his life after Big Idea, and how God has transformed his understanding of ministry.

In the book you talk about growing up in evangelicalism. How did that shape your sense of mission when you started Big Idea?
In college I heard a sermon in chapel about knowing God's will. It was given by a former mathematician. He said that if God's will is not clear we should use the test of spiritual expediency. Which of the two choices in front of me will impact more lives? That one is God's will. My evangelical upbringing said more impact is better. It's better to be Bill Bright than Mother Teresa. Better to impact millions at once than one at a time. God has given us limited time and resources and we have to help as many people as possible—not just two or three. Mother Teresa should have franchised a system for feeding the poor on a massive scale. She needed an MBA.

When did that perspective begin to change?
Near the end we were selling a gazillion [Veggie Tales] videos and I was getting four hundred fan letters a day, but one day I was reading my Bible and I came across the verse that lists the fruit of the Spirit. It occurred to me that none of those things were present in my life. It didn't say the fruit of the Spirit is impact, large numbers, or selling lots of videos. I realized something was not right. I began asking, how am I supposed to live? I thought I had that figured out, but evidently I was completely wrong. So over three months I went through all of Paul's letters and wrote down every directive or instructive statement he made. And when I read all of those statements it became clear that the gospel I had was a sham. It was more the gospel of Benjamin Franklin than the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was more about self-improvement, and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, and going out and changing the world. It was American cultural values masquerading as the words of Christ.

What is your understanding of success now?
Now I understand God has a unique journey for each of us with unique measures of success. Now I ask myself, have I done what God has asked me to do? Am I walking with him daily? Success has very little to do with where I end up. I don't know exactly why, but we seem wired to look for numerical results for affirmation. But success in ministry cannot be about measurable impact.

What advice do you have for church leaders? How can we keep our souls healthy?
I think we all have to start with a good self-assessment. That is what I did when I was sitting in the wreckage of my world-changing ministry reading the fruit of the Spirit and not finding it in my life. We should have peace. We should have joy. And that doesn't mean we should force ourselves to have it, because we can't. It will come from us when we've let go of our life, when we've let go of our ministry, when we've let go of any aspiration for having an impact. When it's just us and God we'll find the joy and the peace. Then, we can get back to work and help other people follow that path.

Wow, that pretty much nails it! Thanks for your honesty Phil!!!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Vision for a new faith community

"What is The River like?" Maybe a better question is "Who are we being called to be?"

Life Changing
Small groups of people are where it's at. When asked where our church meets, we laugh. "All over the place," is our response. The church is about people, not buildings. Our Small Groups ARE the church. They meet regularly to share life; both its joys and struggles. You'll find them meeting in bars, malls, coffee houses and diners. You'll see them serving others in our community and beyond. And you'll hear about them starting new Groups. There are people all over the place who need to reconnect with God and with others; without new Groups we'd never get to share this journey with them. All kinds of friends are invited to walk along with us. They come because here they discover acceptance and love.

Love Redefined
Love is the melody and chorus of this song. Taking the example set by Jesus, we focus on loving and serving people as they are and where they are; no strings attached. Our motivation is to love people simply because they are loved by God. Instead of trying to get people to come to church, we bring the church to the people. When we tell the good news by BEING the good news, we offer Jesus in person to a world that is weary of being tied to religion. Living our faith in this manner results in light invading darkness. We believe that the love of God is realized with every kind act, every addiction broken, every injustice made right and every truth proclaimed.

All Things New
We stand for truth. The Truth that shouted "It is finished!" and passed into death, only to reclaim life three days later. We believe that because of the Cross, and only because of the Cross, broken people like us can reconnect with God. And we believe that this reconnection is only the beginning of true life. God is making all things new. We believe that God's vision of heaven, a kingdom of reconnection and restoration, starts here and will one day culminate with the return of Jesus. Everything will be restored to the way things were created to be. That longing in our hearts that something just isn't right in this world will vanish along with death, pain, sorrow, and isolation.

Inner Growth
No Lone Rangers are allowed here. We were created to live in community with God as well as each other. We want to be like Jesus so we take hold of His identity and allow Him to wrap His life around us, above us, beneath us, yes, even within us. We recognize that truly following Jesus is a process that does not come from just reading the latest books and taking a bunch of classes. Rather, we learn His ways as we serve others and walk with those on the Journey. The Way of Jesus is caught more than it's taught. As we follow Jesus, we begin to see changes that we couldn't bring about in ourselves. Miracles happen. We become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient and self-controlled. We choose a lifestyle of purity because it's how we were designed to live and who we were called to be.

Discovering Identity
What's your name? We believe there is so much more to our identity than a jumble of letters assigned to us at birth. That's why we are focused on discovering God's name for us. Who are we really? What drives us? What are our passions? How are we gifted? How do we go from feeling like just another member of the human race to finding out who we were created to be? This isn't about what you do to get a paycheck; it's about your calling in life. As we discover our calling, we find ourselves walking alongside other people who share our passion and talents. Artists and Poets, Storytellers and Musicians, Dancers and Singers, etcetera, all find communities where they can connect with others. This quest for identity is a journey we cherish and celebrate.

Gathering to Honor
Once a week, all these groups gather together. Why? So we can honor God as a community of faith. We have had gatherings of the church in warehouses, garages, train stations, and houses. During these gatherings we take time to worship God through music, art, scripture, reflection and questions. We believe in a life that wrestles with questions. It's how we grow as individuals as well as a community. These gatherings are not about numbers. It's not about getting a crowd to sit in our seats; it's about helping people find out how they fit in God's story. A story about a kingdom unlike any other in human history. A kingdom not based on political might or brute force but rather the power of reconnection and restoration that can only be found in the love of God.

Creating a New World
A kingdom where the poor are rich and the lonely find family. Where justice and mercy slow dance. Where hearts, souls, and minds are opened and wisdom expands. Where we pour love on Jesus' tired, dirty, beautiful, aching feet whenever we serve another person. A kingdom where we receive our name and engage our calling. Where shattered lives and fragmented dreams find the hope that leads to restoration. We have caught a glimpse of this kingdom and we have found it captivating. We as the church have been called to get this kingdom started on earth as it is in heaven. The keys to this kingdom are in our hands. When are we going to unlock these gates? Who will help push the boundaries of this kingdom until it swallows up all that causes disconnection and suffering? As this River bursts forth we will flood our community with the tangible presence of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


I am sick of hearing about the need for Christians to live in a bubble world. Yes, we are called to be pure; to continue growing to look more and more like Jesus. But we are not called to be isolated from the world around us. We are called to GO out into this world and to LOVE people like God loves us. No strings attached.Years ago, a friend asked me "Where is the church of the 1st Century?" A church that turned the world upside down. A group of people that made an impact that still resonates centuries later. These ordinary people doing what was thought impossible. Changing lives. Feeding the poor. Freeing people from the shackles of disease and despair. Reconnecting people with God and other people. Conquering desolation through unconditional love. It was not until last week that I felt I had an answer to this question. Here is my faulty, weak, and uninspired attempt...

The church of the 1st century will not be found in any building. You'll find it in the streets of Calcutta, India where nuns seek and find the sick and dying and treat them with love and dignity. You'll find it in alleyways in our cities where the homeless receive a meal and company. You'll find it in our neighborhoods when someone shares in the grief of a friend who has lost a loved one.

When we stand before our Creator at the threshold of eternity, God will not ask us how many Bible studies or church services we attended. He won't want a list of how many Christian CDs, t-shirts, movies, books, etc. we purchased. He'll ask "Did you do what I told you to do?"

Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 25:31-46, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

This is not about EARNING a relationship with God by being a "good person". Only Jesus's death on the cross for our sins made reconnection with God possible. What this is about is showing who we are by our everyday actions. If we claim to be a Christian, then we must look like Jesus.

How can we allow Jesus to so fill our being, that others can sense His presence? How can we offer Jesus food, drink, clothing, and company when we serve another? When will we stop inviting people to come to "church", and start BEING the church to those outside the bubble?

Be Jesus to someone today.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Jesus and the Bible

John 5:36-42 is a set of verses I read this past week during some time spent with God.

"I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. "I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts."

I have all sorts of questions about verses like these. Jesus seems to take delight in tearing down our religious ways of understanding God and revealing who we really are inside. More often than not, He would denounce the religious leaders actions as being completely against what God had intended from the beginning. Jesus makes a few points to the religious folk that I think ALL those in faith communities need to sit up and pay attention to.

1. Jesus states that these leaders who have spent their lives steeped in religious training have never heard God’s voice.
2. He goes on to say that the words of God have no place in their hearts.
3. He points out that study of the Bible does not lead to eternal life; He is the way to eternal life.
4. He then says “I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.”

Is Jesus saying that God’s words are another way to describe God’s love? How does that work out in my day to day life?

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Soul of a Songbird

Why is it that we put so little faith in faith? I mean, when things are going well, life seems easy. Good relationships, a positive bank balance, great health; what’s not to like about living like this? On the other hand, when relationships sour, checks bounce, and we can’t seem to get over nagging ailments, life seems to be without hope. Those of us on this journey of life are called to persevere through thick as well as thin. So why is it so easy to have faith when we seem to be able to see the “rewards” for our faith. Things go south and we start questioning God; which may reveal more than we realize about our faith. Faith is not about some blind shot in the dark, or foolish hope. When life stinks and we cry out to the Creator, we are not expressing doubt so much as we are expressing hope.

We ask questions because we expect some sort of answer. Losing ones faith only becomes a frightening possibility when we stop questioning God and we become calloused, cold, and indifferent.

The writer of the book of Hebrews in the Bible penned the following: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Hebrews 11:1-2

Faith is not about knowing all the answers. Instead, faith resides in knowing that Someone does know, and chasing after this relationship. Faith involves asking God the “why” questions. So keep asking. God is not afraid of our questions.

I like how Maya Angelou puts it, "A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Change is in the wind...

The past few weeks have been a time in the wilderness for me. I have felt totally out of focus. I discovered that my priorities were out of place with God's vision for this new faith community. We have been "gearing up for launch" thinking that advertising will get people (and especially young adults) who are disconnected from God as well as others to our gatherings; and that eventually they would join small groups.

The fact of the matter is, churches OF small groups by definition have more people in their small groups than they do in their gatherings of their small groups.

So the next few weeks will be a time of praying, fasting, and seeking out how our Lord wants this community of small groups to look like, smell like, and be like. The answer is easy (Jesus), the practice of actually living it out is another thing altogether.

What if, instead of trying to get people to sit in our seats on a Saturday night or Sunday morning, small groups of people lived out the mission of the Church in our community? What if people were loved NOT because they might be converted, but simply because God loves them? What if small groups developed based on the arts, music, paint ball, or anything else? What if small groups began meeting in the most unlikely of places? As a result, what if people began to discover how they fit in God's story? What if gatherings of the church became celebrations of what God is doing through small groups?

I believe that small groups can make a VERY big difference in our community and world. We'll see how this all plays out...