Sunday, September 14, 2014

nobody's perfect, everybody's welcome, anything's possible

I tune-in weekly to Menlo Park Presbyterian's sermons online.  Recently, I watched a message where they shared  their three values:  Nobody's perfect, Everybody's welcome, Anything's possible. I've since googled those three catchy phrases and learned that several churches around the country are using them.

I like those memorable phrases.  In fact, I've been saying them often as I encounter a small group of folks that I tend to want to judge quickly.

Nobody's perfect quickly frames up our common, universal humanity.  It instantly reminds me that we are all broken... every. last. one. of. us. including. me.

Everyone's welcome reminds me that this is indeed the Good News of the Kingdom of God!  Jesus sees us all broken, but He also sees us all-redeemed in Him.  He knows each person as His treasured Creation, and He invites ALL into right relationship with God through Him.  He invites ALL to live in the we were created to do.  Our world does not make everyone welcome.  Jesus does. Will I?

Anything's possible gives me hope, anticipation, and a great sense of adventurous faith as I consider that anything is possible through Jesus Christ.   He changes hearts and lives today.  He blasts through our doubts and unbelief, and he moves in surprising and miraculous ways today.

Repeating these three phrases silently has helped me several times in the past few weeks to move into a Kingdom of God mindset and out of the world's mindset.  See if you don't also find yourself repeating them in upcoming days.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

God goes before us

I was listening to one of our leaders this week share of a visit to Orchard Hill Church made a year ago from a land owner from Maine who leases farmland locally to some of our farmer friends who use the crop profits from the land for ministry efforts within our church's partnerships in Haiti, Mozambique, and the Walnut Neighborhood.  During his visit to the Cedar Valley, this land owner took a tour of the Walnut Neighborhood and exclaimed with surprise that his great-grandfather had been a pastor at a church in this very neighborhood and had prayed regularly for the neighborhood.

I wonder how many people over time, like this great-grandfather, have been called to the neighborhood, obediently playing a part in the larger, unfolding drama of Christ's restoration plan through the course of years.

Twenty years ago, in 1994, God called a group of visionaries to birth the Walnut Neighborhood Association as part of an effort called The Village Initiative.  God also called a group of people to start a Christian Community Development Board at that time in the Walnut Neighborhood and to launch its first program- a transitional home for homeless moms and children called The House of Hope.  I was a young youth director in the neighborhood at the time, and I involved our youth in some of the Village Initiative and House of Hope projects, all without really knowing or clearly understanding much vision of such efforts.

Fast forward twenty years to 2014, and God has filled me with dreams, hope, and passion for Christ's restoring work in lives and in this neighborhood through church-based Christian Community Development.  I would never have planned this call with all of the brainstorming time you could have given me.  I could never have connected any of these dots. I wouldn't have imagined owning a home in the neighborhood.  I wouldn't have imagined this journey into Christian Community Development.  But, I am so grateful for it and for the journey in better "seeing" God, others, and myself.  I'm thankful for whatever part God has for me to play in His plan.  I want to be obedient in that call and recognize that my primary role is to keep scattering Kingdom seed while God Himself, in His timing, will be the grower and harvester.

So many people have come and gone in the Walnut Neighborhood over the past hundred years, but one thing remains constant- God's presence, God's faithfulness.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

white privilege and systemic injustice 101

Until I was in my 40's, the terms "white privilege" and "systemic injustice" were foreign and unknown to me.  They were terms and concepts that I, without effort,  kept from entering my thoughts because in my sub-conscience, they just "belonged to people who were interested in that stuff." Though far from my conscious thought, they were, in fact, very close in my experience; a large part of my operating system. I just didn't know it nor think it relevant...until God let me know otherwise.

As a follower of Christ, in order for His heart to grow within me and for my actions in the world to reflect Jesus, I MUST begin to have an understanding of white privilege and systemic injustice. Why?  Because so much of how I live and what I think about people has been shaped by these forces, and God wants to transform how I live and what I think about people into a Kingdom order rather than a worldly order.

I've heard friends of color tell me that I have a responsibility, as a white person who has begun to consider the nature of both white privilege and systemic injustice, to help others grow in awareness and understanding of the same.  This is tricky and difficult, especially since I am now just considered "one of those people who are interested in that stuff" by so many who are like the earlier me.

I'm curious what has helped others begin to understand white privilege and systemic injustice. What experiences and learnings were most impactful for you? 

A friend sent me a blogpost entitled "What my Bike has Taught me about White Privilege" that was excellent in describing white privilege.  Read it here!

What are some of your learnings and experiences that brought awareness or understanding?  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Willard Wednesdays

My son and daughter were at a national youth conference this summer in Colorado where Alex Harris, author of Do Hard Things, spoke to the crowd of three thousand teens.  The event was streamed live, so I had the chance in Iowa to hear Alex as well.  During his message, he encouraged teens to "make friends with dead people".  Harris suggested that we all need mentors, but so often our living mentors have busy lives and might be difficult to sit down with very regularly.  On the other hand, spiritual giants who have lived and died but have left behind some of their books and writings make excellent mentors for us as we walk with Jesus.

I "amen"-ed loudly as Alex shared.  One such mentor and spiritual director in my life is Dallas Willard. Willard directs me to the heart of Jesus and the Kingdom of God so profoundly.  When I listen to Willard teach on the Kingdom and on spiritual transformation, the Holy Spirit taps into my deepest longings and helps me to better understand what a life lived in the Kingdom of God looks like.  I decided that I'd dedicate Wednesday blog posts to some Willard thoughts, quotes, links the rest of this year.

Below are quotes from an interview between John Ortberg and Dallas Willard at a Catalyst Conference.  You can see the whole 6 minute clip here.

Ortberg:  You've been in the church 70 years.  What has the church not been getting right that you think God is calling this generation of church leaders to get right...what needs to be gotten right?

Willard:  ...their problem is with their message..what is their central message....the inability to make touch with what Jesus himself presented as the central message undermines all of the efforts of the church.  Unless you understand that Jesus invites us through faith in him-that means putting your confidence in Him-to actually live in the Kingdom of God now, there will not be a basis for discipleship and transformation.

Ortberg:, if the Gospel of Jesus isn't primarily 'here's how to make sure you get into Heaven when you die', what is Jesus's Gospel?

Willard:  It's how to get into Heaven before you die.  That why the New Testament routinely treats you as if you have already's because you have made a transition from a life on your own to a life that God Himself is living in His Kingdom.  You get to be a part of that.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Willard Wednesdays

Quotes from the following sermon that involved John Ortberg, Scotty Scruggs, and Dallas Willard...
sermon link.  I've watched this message at least ten times and don't do it justice with a few random quotes below.  What I'm trying to say is, just watch it!!

*"Spiritual formation is the process of tranforming the person into Christlikeness.  It's not behavior modification.  It's about changing the sources of behavior."

*Ortberg:  How much change, with God's help, are we capable of?
Willard:  "You're capable of walking in all of the things that Jesus said to do.  There isn't anything you can't do by God's grace if you're willing to go through the process of discovering the source of behavior.  If you're stuck on changing behavior, you'll kill yourself, and everyone else will hate you."

*"Confession is very important to discover our soul.  When you confess, you give up splitting the self.  You own up to yourself.  Sin always splits self.   Confession is very deep in the process of discovering the soul."

*Willard "In seeking the Kingdom of God, you have to want it more than anything else."
Ortberg:  What should a person do if they realize they don't want it more than anything else?
Willard:  "We have to identify what defeats us.  I have to look at things and see them for what they are.  That alone can loosen the grip.  What do I seek?  Why do I seek it?  We have to learn to be more open and honest, but religion tends to make you closed and dishonest.  Stepping into the Kingdom means that we begin to feel the redemptive power of the Kingdom moving into all of that and setting us free."

*"Blessing is the projection of good into the life of another.  It isn't just words.  It's the actual putting forth your will for the good of another person.  It always involves God.  When you will the good of another, you realize only God can bring it about."

how does your garden grow?

(Below is the last page of Paul Fleischman's wonderful book called Seedfolks):  

"Like the ancient Egyptians, we recognize that contact with nature can heal.  Hours after the 9/11 attacks in New York, scores of people were standing in wait for the gates of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to open.  The city's public gardens waived admission fees and were thronged with those seeking solace and serenity.  In the uprush of altruism, we also saw that a sense of community-that we are known, that we care, that we will be cared for- provides an even greater solace.  

I sense that we all have hidden stores of generosity that find no outlet except in such moments of disaster.  This was the marvel of the community gardens I visited.  There were oases in the urban landscape of fear, places where people could safely offer trust, helpfulness, charity, without need of an earthquake or hurricane. Television, I'm afraid, has isolated us more than race, class, or ethnicity.  Community gardens are places where people rediscover not only generosity, but the pleasure of coming together.  I salute all those who give their time and talents to rebuilding that sense of belonging.  It's a potent seed.  "I have great faith in a seed," wrote Thoreau.  "Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders." 

Community gardening in the Walnut Neighborhood has brought about some delightful events with neighbors this summer.

Salsa making with neighbors using veggies grown in the garden.

A lovely tea party that came about after meeting a charming group of young girls who have been coming to the garden all summer with their daycare provider to water the beautiful flowers.  
Generosity, beauty, community...all signposts pointing to the Kingdom of God and Christ's invitation to join him daily in this garden of goodness!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

how can we work together toward more home ownership?

A few days ago, I stood at our backyard fence and visited with our neighbor who has lived in the Walnut Neighborhood since the 1950's.  We were discussing how a neighborhood is sure made stronger and more stable through residents who own their homes.  Better upkeep...longer-term neighbors....more shared concern...a greater chance to build relationships and community and to discover together the passions and employ the gifts of those in the neighborhood.   I've really enjoyed hearing the stories from longtime Walnut neighbors about the ol' days when everyone knew everyone in the neighborhood, and when blocks were closed off for parties.

As Link friends have spent time with youth development efforts in the neighborhood, I have experienced the challenges first-hand of the transient nature of a neighborhood that primarily has rental property.  In the early days of Youth Art Team, we had eight children from the neighborhood on the team.  They could walk over to Harvest Church for Youth Art Team meetings.  There was a relational connection due to proximity and the fact that children played together in the neighborhood.  These young residents even went door to door a few years back to help give voice to the neighborhood's desire to keep the playground that was going to be removed in the land purchase by CVS Pharmacy.  These students exercised leadership, and I could see such ownership and neighborhood pride developing as they contributed to something larger than themselves.  The same is true as I watched these students plan and paint a "Love is Power" mural in the neighborhood.  It was super cool to see the relational and empowerment dynamics developing within those who literally lived right in the neighborhood.

Fast forward a few years, and only two of the Youth Art Team members still live right in the neighborhood. Many have moved to other rentals in the Cedar Valley, and we now travel around the community in order to pick up and bring the students together.  Though community and relationships can certainly still be strong, there are just some things that are missed now due to the physical moves across our city.

So, home can we help increase the number of houses that are home-owner occupied in a distressed neighborhood?  And how do we do this in a healthy manner...without just a bunch of folks of middle to upper middle income turning over the neighborhood?  How do we create a mixed income strategy so that those of lower income do not get pushed out of the neighborhood?  How do we help everyone flourish and together work toward a neighborhood revitalization that includes physical property, a reconciling social fabric, and a thriving Christian community?  There are others around the country asking the same questions and developing models for this kind of church-based neighborhood development.  I am praying that Christ will open doors for the gathering of people and gifts who can be about this together in the beautiful historic Walnut Neighborhood.