Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Iowans for Africa

Intro to Team World Vision from Team World Vision on Vimeo.

I learned this morning about an incredible opportunity forthcoming! One of our staff members, Don Williams, is also a running coach, and he's teaming up with World Vision to organize a team to run in the Chicago Marathon on October 11. This team will be named "Iowans for Africa" and team members will fundraise to help fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

How cool is that? Don showed me his training schedule. He's going to work for the first 8 weeks this spring with people who aren't really runners or who have never run a marathon(that would be people like me). Sometime in June, then, he'll add in those who are runners with that first group and coach through a training schedule that takes you up to the big event.

I'm so inspired by this! If you have interest, contact Don at dwilliams@orchardhillchurch.org. You can also learn more at the following links:


Waterloo City Scope

This past Saturday, we had a great day of learning as one of our friends, Heidi, planned out a whole day immersing us in a variety of experiences in East Waterloo. First, we spent an hour and a half together at Cottonwood Canyon. While enjoying scones, fresh brewed coffee, and the company of eighteen friends, we did an inductive Bible Study through the book of Jonah. It was a fascinating way to study the Bible. First, we spent time observing and underlining the who, what, where, when kind of things. Then we spent some time interpreting what we read, and finally we talked about application. We did this in some really nice chunks of independent time, small cluster groups, and the whole group. I loved this, and I really felt like I gained so much from this study with friends! It was a great community builder, and so much applied to what we were embarking upon for the day.

We then had the privilege of listening to Edward Johnson, a 79 year old black male, who shared his story with us. He and his wife, Sallie, live at the Walnut Court Retirement Home, and it was good to hear his thoughts about racial reconciliation and the role of the Church.

After lunch at Sookies Restaurant, we also heard from John Carr, a 73 year old man who grew up in Waterloo and has been active in the community. He, too, shared about his life, and when someone asked him, "If you could have our group do anything for a whole day, what would you have us do?" His response was "to do what you're doing...come and learn."

Then, we had this amazing driving tour that took us around the broader neighborhood. Lots of great information and chances for observation. Rich history and the chance to take in what we saw and talk about it.

I've pretty much provided the "what" of our day, but I'd love for some of our friends who were there to comment on your learnings from the day!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring Break: Aspire

This is Maverick, who literally smiles when he gets brushed!

Over Spring Break, there were bunches of trips that took off with high schoolers and college students. Denver, San Fran, Missouri, Philippines, two Mexico trips. For those who stuck around the area, we offered some service locally. One day was a trip to the Northeast Iowa Food Bank to volunteer for three hours in the afternoon.

On another day, we took 10 students out to Aspire, a therapeutic horse riding program located at a farm in south Waterloo. Aspire offers riding programs for children with disabilities, and it looks like some real special friendships happen there between kid and horse.

Our group spent the morning cleaning. We raked out the arena, cleaned a horse trailer and mats, cleaned and took out cobwebs in the barn. In the afternoon, we were able to groom the horses which was a lot of fun.

I think what was important for our volunteers to see is that the passions and talents God gives us can be used for Kingdom purposes. Marilyn Moore, the founder of Aspire, took her love for horses and horseback riding and began to think outwardly about how she might bless others with such a passion. It's a beautiful program.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

washcloths with love

Orchard Hill just sent a group to the Philippines to serve alongside our friends the Cleope's who are missionaries there. Another group from OHC, "Knitting for Peace," knitted a bunch of washcloths for the group to distribute while they were there. Here's a photo of the happy recipients of these gifts of peace that were handmade with love by a faithful group of knitters in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

oh, how I love Church

I love how God uses His community of believers in this world. God's love and light and hope radiate through the body of Christ! The past few days, I experienced three encounters with the beauty of this-

On Sunday, I sat with a group of ladies who are covenanting together as a Circle of Friends to build a network of prayer and friendship around a young single mom who has just gotten out of jail. This mom's heart has been touched by Christ, and she's wanting to grow in faith and to develop a whole new set of friends in her life. How beautiful is it to see a group of moms desire to reach out and build a network of encouragement and support for this young woman's life and faith.

Yesterday morning, I went early to the Catholic Worker House and interviewed two men as a part of a national hunger study that our local food bank is helping to conduct. It was a humbling experience to spend 15 minutes with each of these men asking personal questions about income, family life, work, food, housing. Some questions asked about whether they've skipped meals or gone a day without eating due to lack of money for food, some asked about whether they've had to choose between paying rent and buying food, paying for medicine and paying for food. Other questions asked about how often they've received meals through shelters, food pantries, and soup kitchens, and how often they've stayed at shelters like the Catholic Worker Shelter. I looked around at the Catholic Worker; I looked at Fran, and her husband,Mike, who live there and help supervise the house, and I was thankful to God for the shelter and food offered there, but even more thankful for the respect given the guests, for the mercy and care offered there. I know that we talk about how these mercy ministries don't address the deeper issues, aren't often relational, and don't really help a person step out of poverty. That's true, but there is something about meeting felt needs. About offering the love of Christ very tangibly to a person. And in this often harsh world, for a person to come in off the street and find a smile and a warm meal, to be greeted with respect and dignity, that's a really big deal. Hopefully, a guest will gain a sense of God's goodness and kindness, of his provision and care, thanks to the followers of Christ who work so faithfully to serve and love, to feed people and offer shelter at the Catholic Worker.

Yesterday, I attended a Bible Study with a friend of mine who has been walking the hard road of recovery from meth. She shared about how the life she's lived is all she's ever known...and how it can be so scary to know how much change is needed and how unfamiliar it is to be someone different. One by one, other friends who are strong in their recovery, gathered around this friend to pray for her and offered her their encouragement and hope. It was an amazing and powerful experience of a faith community. People who are overcomers and victoriously living in Christ with people who are just discovering a new life in Christ.

Our triune God is working to transform the world with His lifechanging love and power. How? Through His Church! You and me, baby! What a grand adventure!

update from Molly in Australia

Here I am in Week #12 of my Primary Health care school. That means less than 1 week until I’m off to the Philippines!

In just 3 short months I have studied various topics relating to water-borne diseases, Malaria, sanitation, how to have a prenatal clinic, HIV/AIDS, and so much more. As we have looked in to many of the leading causes of illness and death in the world, it is hard to not be overwhelmed. But I have found that most of the deadliest things can be prevented, with simple, effective health care.

As I look at my full notebook of notes I think, “how in the world will I remember all this!?” But I feel God is saying this is just the beginning of a great adventure.

Part of that adventure means teaching others what I have learned. Training is imperative to see people and communities live full, healthy lives.

As I look to our Outreach phase of this school, I am blessed to be going to the Philippines for 7 weeks working with a new YWAM base that focuses on community development in slum areas. We will then finish with a month in Vanuatu training a group of health care workers whose teacher had to leave their school. These young people are the ones that will go back to their islands and be some of the most educated people on health care and we get to help train them!

Another part of this adventure is an opportunity to accompany my school leader and registered nurse to Burma directly following the completion of my school. Four of us will go to Burma for 3 weeks to train a group of women about Malaria and other preventable diseases.

This is an amazing opportunity to learn more about training others and to go in to Burma to help people lead healthier lives and share the truth of Jesus Christ in a communist nation. One year ago a huge cyclone hit Burma. When this happened, you might remember that I tried to get a team from Cambodia in to Burma to help with the disaster. Unfortunately, as an American, I was not allowed in. But God’s Word was, “Go to Burma.” I believe that this is a fulfillment of what God told me over a year ago!

As we are only in the planning stages of our trip to Burma, please pray that God would open up the doors wide. Health care is a huge open door to bring in the truth of Jesus Christ and that’s what it is all about, people coming to know Jesus.

Thank you for your prayers! I am continually trusting God to supply the money to get to Burma. But God has provided all the money I needed for this school in Perth and to go on outreach! Thank you for those who are committed supporters of this great work God is doing in the Nations.

So that’s the plan. Have a lovely day full of peace!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Michael Frost

Michael Frost is a missiologist from Australia. You can find some of his longer talks on You Tube (google Michael Frost). He has helped me over the past few years with the definition and the paradigm of "missional".

what's at your desk?

I have several pieces of paper pinned up in my cubicle that inspire me or are there to remind me of missional principles. One in particular has some notes I took from a phenomenal book called Walking with the Poor by Bryant Myers. That book, more than any other, has helped me better understand a framework for development. As we walk with and serve with friends in under-resourced areas, the book reminds us to:

- Be a good neighbor.
- Be humble before the facts.
- Be patient.
- Love the people not the program.
- Love the churches too.
- Cultivate a repentant heart.
- Act like dependent people.
- Everywhere is holy.
- Every moment and every action is potentially transforming.

What's something at your desk that inspires and motivates you in life?

Monday, March 23, 2009

postmodern culture

"The Church continues in our attempt to blindly build bridges to our world soley on a disembodied truth model. But to our age, truth is nothing more than talk-especially when you don't show it. The eye, not the ear, is the decisive organ. Our postmodern world is tired of words- it wants real. Real is everything. Real is convincing. "

"The chasm can be bridged. We do not, as many think, live in an age that despises belief. Rather, it is an age that wants to believe, desperately so. Deeply disillusioned by the failure of human reason and logic, it is open to outside-and even supernatural- explanations. But it trusts nothing except what it can see, and more importantly, experience. For the watching world, drowning in postmodernism, this is foundational: not simply the Word of truth, but the Word made flesh. A living proof-an irrefutable incarnation."

- Robert Lewis The Church of Irresistible Influence

Sunday, March 22, 2009

the law and the gospel

I sat in on an evangelism course again yesterday, and I'm working through my angst from yesterday's lesson. In a synopsis, the two speakers on the video talked about how, when we go to share Christ with someone, we first need to present the law and help a person see their own sinfulness, the holiness of God, and their need for a Savior to save their lives from the deserved judgment of Hell. The men used an analogy of two guys on a plane. The first one was given a parachute and told that it would enhance his flight. Upon wearing it, he found it bulky, heavy, and disappointing to his flight, not at all an improvement to his flying experience. The second guy was told to put it on, as he would be needing it at any moment to save his life in a freefall that was imminent from 25,000 ft. This man put the parachute on, and didn't even think about it being uncomfortable or annoying. He found security and joy in it, as he knew it was going to save his life. The argument was that modern evangelism basically talks about the good news as being "Jesus for life enhancement" and doesn't deal with sin/repentance and being saved from Hell. When people put on "Jesus for life enhancement" they end up disappointed that they did not experience joy and peace largely because they haven't dealt with their sinfulness and the atoning death of Christ for them.

I'm in agreement that people need to recognize their brokenness, sin, and need for a Savior. I would also even add that we generally lack humility, repentance, and dependence in American Christianity.

Here's the but. But, I think that if our evangelism efforts take us to the streets to help people see they've broken the law of God and to then try to share the good news that Christ will save them from Hell, I think we will end up largely in the same place that got us where we seem to be these days. With people surveyed finding the Bible less than credible, and saying that Christians are largely unloving and judgmental, and with many proclaimed Christians living basically like everyone else except that they claim to have "fire insurance" when they die.

The course used the analogy that a seed thrown on hard ground cannot take root, but that when the soil is tilled and broken up, it can. This week's topic was about how we have to prepare the heart to hear the good news by helping a person see their brokenness and God's holiness. I would say that in today's America, demonstration is needed to help prepare the heart, as many are sick of seeing Christians being about talk and not walk. They want living proof of a true and powerful gospel that changes lives. Christians loving and serving sacrificially, passionately loving Jesus and people, and walking increasingly godly lives...now that might increase the credibility of the Word and prepare a heart to hear about God, about self, and about God's provision in Christ.

I'd love to hear thoughts from you about evangelism.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

the next right decision

My friend who is recovering from a drug addiction called the other evening, but I did not catch her call. I think that was a divine deal, as she then reached out to call another friend who is strong in drug recovery for many years now. My friend was feeling stressed and overwhelmed and has had trouble ordering her days lately. There's much reform needed in many areas and a lot of prioritizing decisions that have to be made each day. She needed to talk with someone who had walked the road and could offer experience, strength, and hope to her.

When I spoke with the friend who is further on the road of recovery, she told me what she had relayed to our mutual pal. Words like, "...you've got to work the program every day....keeping yourself in the Bible and going to Bible Study/recovery groups is your top priority.....and when you're overwhelmed, break it down to the decision in front of you, asking two questions: what would Jesus do? and what is the next right decision?"

Aren't these good rules for life? "keep yourself in the Bible daily....surround with community of believers to encourage and strengthen...consider what Jesus would do in your decisions...and rather than trying to live too far down the road, ask yourself 'what is the next right decision?' " For it's not just about drug recovery. I have a lot of reform needed in areas of my life and a lot of prioritizing decisions that have to be made each day. It's good to "work the program" and to talk with Jesus and others who can offer me experience, strength, and hope.

Friday, March 20, 2009

one of my favorite authors

Have you ever read anything from Henri Nouwen? If not, be sure to check out his books on Amazon...or go to your local church/public library. You can't go wrong with any of his writing.

"It is sad to see that, in our highly competitive and greedy world, we have lost touch with the joy of giving. We often live as if our happiness depended on having. But I don't know anyone who is really happy because of what he or she has. True joy, happiness, and inner peace come from the giving of ourselves to others. A happy life is a life for others." - Henri Nouwen Life of the Beloved.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

the marriage of word and deed

I have a friend who is a gifted evangelist. He has such passion and zeal for Jesus. He has woo and charm. He is winsome and child-like. His heart is so big and so burdened for people to know Christ as their Savior and Lord that he is teaching an evangelism course to help train other Christ-followers how to better talk about our universal need and provision in Christ. I sat in on one of his classes on Saturday. Toward the end of the session, an unknown woman came through the doors of the church where we were sitting and joined the outskirts of the group. Within very little time, she was pouring out her brokenness. We laid hands on her and prayed as she cried out to God for forgiveness, and we were able to encourage her in the power and promises of God through Christ.

As I recount this experience, I think about the Church going into the future. We hear lately about how the Evangelical Church is dead, and how non-believers are so often turned off to Christianity because so often the Gospel has been spoken but not shown, proclaimed but not demonstrated. There's talk and writing about demonstrating and serving and being the hands and feet of Jesus out in the world. I am all about hands-on compassion and being committed to justice work, but my experience Saturday, as well as countless other experiences, reminds me that demonstration and proclamation must marry. People are dying to hear words of truth spoken into their lives...about who God is, about what He has to do with them, about what significance they bring to the world. Words of hope and life and power and love and peace that speak directly into their being. Yet, these words have to be "sticky words"...words that take on meaning because the persons speaking them flesh them out and stick around to exemplify the Word received in their own lives as well as continue in word and deed to share the Good News with those around them. It's the Holy Spirit's work that saves and grows people, but He'll use the words and deeds of His community of followers to draw others to Himself.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Let's be back door people

In chapter 8, Perkins wrote about the benefits of volunteering. To enter into serving the poor or volunteering in a racially mixed ministry offers significant learning opportunities for the volunteer.

First, a volunteer comes to know the needs of people in human terms rather than as statistics.

Second, if the volunteer is serving in an effective Christ-centered ministry, they can catch a vision for the power of the gospel to meet these needs. They begin to understand the holistic nature of the gospel.

Thirdly, if serving takes place in a racially diverse ministry, the volunteer can learn the meaning of reconciliation and take beginning steps toward the goal of reconciliation.

Volunteers might also begin to discern something of God's call on their own lives. Seeing needs and catching a vision, God often taps people on the shoulder with their own unique gifts and calling to serve in a way that meets a specific need for His Kingdom work.

Personally, I've had a re-occuring picture in my mind this past month. I grew up on Windsor Dr. in Waterloo. We had a big patio attached to our driveway, and a back door that led up to our kitchen. Every familiar person in our lives used that patio back door...relatives, friends, neighbors. Whenever our door bell would ring, it meant that someone stood at our front door, and we knew that the person waiting to enter our home must be more of a stranger, someone without that back door familiarity.

I think of regular volunteering as being something that often helps people grow relationally in such a way that they can become a "back door friend." Coming through the front door helped people get a peek at our clean and unfrequented living room, but real life was lived through the back door where the shoes piled up, where the supper was on the stove, where kids and friends and a St. Bernard ran in and out continuously. Front door visitors often had no real commitment to our family in mind....in fact, front door people were often seeking something for themselves and were usually trying to sell something that they thought was a good idea for our family. Back door friends, however, knew and cared for and were committed to our family.

As we reach out as volunteers in areas that might be home to many needs, it is my prayer that we not be front door people with a good idea to sell, but rather committed, caring friends who take off their shoes at the back door, join the mess of real family life, and maybe even stay for supper.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

a tour of prayer

This morning I spent three hours prayer driving around our community with 6 others. We drove a big perimeter that took about 50 minutes around the entire Cedar Valley. And the remaining two hours, we drove several neighborhoods throughout. We prayed as we passed schools, hospitals, businesses, parks. As we drove through the residential sections, we prayed for families. We prayed for flood affected areas. We prayed as we passed the casino and strip clubs. We prayed for churches that we drove by, and for non-profits attempting to help those in need. Scripture was prayed, and spontaneous words from the heart. It was a powerful time that impacted me in these ways:

First, I was overwhelming reminded that it's all God. He is the Lord of all the earth, the Lord of the Cedar Valley. He is in charge. He saves. He is at work, and it is He who acts according to His good purposes. Nothing is possible without Him; everything is possible with Him. This time of prayer pointed powerfully to Him as the King on the throne, the lover of our city, the creator of the beauty around us, and the restorer of all which is broken.

Second, I found that it helped center me and give me spiritual eyes for the remainder of the day. Even as I spent time out and about with our kids in the afternoon, I found myself continuing to be prayerful...at the library, as I drove by places, and as I ran errands.

Third, it reminds me to be open to new experiences and to be willing to step outside of familiar or comfortable zones. God has used prayer walking over the past few years and prayer driving today with other believers to connect me not only with Him but with our community. My heart has grown for our community because of this.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

With Justice for All ch. 7

This chapter is about developing leaders from the community to fill the leadership vacuum. After moving back to Mendehall, Perkins discovered youth who grew up barraged with the message, "you're inferior, you're powerless, and there's nothing you can do to change it." Perkins knew the answer would be in helping these kids find their sense of dignity, discover their gifts, get an education, and helping them believe they could make a difference. He began to mentor and disciple youth and develop young leaders who would one day lead the programs and ministries. In Perkin's words,

"We need leaders. Leaders with a faith that sees the depth of our needs, yet persists in believing in the power of the gospel. Leaders with a hope that can see the future and move others toward it. Leaders with a love that will sacrifice self in order to serve others.

If we are to have that kind of leader, we dare not leave leadership development to chance. We must make the discipling of new leaders the very center of our ministry strategy."

There's an excellent question to ponder at the end of the chapter: Assume that you are matched with a Christian teen and assigned the task of developing him/her into a strong Christian leader over the next five years. What would your strategy be?

Monday, March 9, 2009

News from Kristie and JeanJean in Haiti

Kristie and JeanJean Mompremier, and their 2 daughters, Tana and Kerri, serve as missionaries in Haiti. Below is their recent newsletter.
Dear Friends;
"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14
Do we believe this? In 1804, Haiti received their independence. The slaves of the island of Hispaniola had been baptized into the Catholic church per force but continued to practice their voodoo at night. The plantation owners allowed this as they believed this would appease the slaves and keep them from revolting. In 1804, the head witchdoctor held a huge ceremony in the North. After calling on all the spirits, the leaders killed a pig and had the people drink its blood. Afterwards, they told the people that because the pig's blood was in their bodies they would have to fight against their masters or the spirits would kill them. This lead to the revolution and the establishment of the first Black republic. But after 205 years of independence, this foundation has proven itself unstable. We believe, however, that 2 Chronicles 7:14 applies to Haiti as well as all countries. We are claiming Haiti for Christ. All the pastors of UCI are committed to seeing people claim freedom by the blood of Christ, and not by the blood of the sacrificed pig. We need your prayers for this island!!
Because of the blessing of the new truck, JeanJean has been able to visit most of the pastors that attend his training classes. UCI feels that training the pastor is just the start. The whole point of the training is to send this servant of Christ back to the community to impact them. It is to be a holistic ministry. JeanJean was struck by the physical poverty and the challenges these men face-walking 11 hours to get to class, being one of them. But he also saw how the Word of God is making a difference. God is hearing the cries of His people and is working. We wholeheartedly believe it is through the local church that Haiti, and the world, will change.
JeanJean's mom has been gone for over 4 months now. While she was living, she had taken care of many, many people. At the time of her death, there were 5 young people that were living with her. All of them, except one, have parents; but the parents are unable to take care of them. These 2 girls and 3 boys were good friends of ours but our role in their lives have changed. We used to be able just to chat with them about general things. Now, however, we need to know if they have eaten for the day, if they are doing well in school, if they have good shoes and if they coming home before dark. The 2 girls are staying with us. It has been a stretching but a good experience for us. Through this, God has put a burden on our hearts for the rest of the youth in our community. After much praying, (afterall we didn't plan this!) we decided to start a youth group. We've met 2 times already and we are excited by the response. The kids were eager to participate and share with us and their peers. We are going to focus on 3 things: Bible study--knowing the Word, service--to widows and those in need, and fun--God wants us to be joyful. The kids agreed to all 3 areas. We ended our last meeting by blessing 2 widows in our community by picking up the trash in their yards. We had a lot of fun doing it. I love how God works! We had over 50 kids come--do we need to start a middle-school ministry? Yikes!
We want to share just a little more about the various ministries of UCI for 2009.
Nutrition Centers: We have been able to open 2 more centers in 2009. We have found the centers to be such a good avenue for evangelism. The parents are blessed because their kids have regular food. So many of the kids eat only once a day--if that. And they want to hear more about the gospel. They begin to believe that God is faithful and will take care of them. They don't have to fear. We found out one thing, though. There are many communities that want to have a nutrition center in them. We now have a big waiting list. We will trust and wait on the Lord.
Women's leadership classes: Pray for the 12 new women in our classes. Many of them walk very far to come to class. Also pray for Madanm Saul who has taken more leadership in the class to free up Kristie for other jobs. She is a godly and capable woman that loves to help other women for Christ.
Agricultural branch: Saul and Edner and Odelique have expanded the nursery by a third. Last year, the nursery was planted with sour orange that was subsequently grafted to produce sweet orange, grapefruit, and keylime trees. Much of the labor was done through volunteers from different churches. After receiving training in grafting, the workers received the trees to plant at their homes and churches. This year, UCI has expanded to include mango, breadfruit, coffee, cashews and reforestation trees in addition to the citrus. We will continue to train men and women in grafting. Another aspect of this branch is our pig project. We recently did another census of the pigs that were given out. Saul is very pleased to report that more and more pigs are being born and distributed in the communities.
New employees: One of the biggest blessing in having a mission in Haiti is the ability to provide jobs for people who desperately desire to work. We welcome Odisson as driver, Pastor Clebert as assistant in JeanJean's training, Madanm Petipon as nutrition center leader, and Wanes as UCI's new national missionary. We have always felt very fortunate in the employees that God has brought. The employees and the UCI board here in Haiti take real ownership in UCI's vision.
On behalf of the UCI boards--both US and Haiti--we want to thank you for your generosity and we are praying that the Lord will bless and keep you always.
In His Hands,
JeanJean, Kristie, Tana and Kerri Mompremier

Sunday, March 8, 2009

from members to missionaries

I hope it's okay to quote out of books on a blog! Does anyone know if it's okay to do that as long as you give reference to the book and author? I'm assuming so at this point....therefore, here's a good Reggie McNeal quote from Missional Renaissance:

"The missional 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 ways 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. This story does not require a round-the-world excursion to discover or to pursue. Mission is not something "out there"; it is the defining quality of how missionary life is lived."

Does this resonate with any of you?

word challenges

It seems like the words "church" and "community" are becoming increasingly problematic. The majority of people who hear the word "church" think of an a organization or building. When I say, "I work at Orchard Hill Church," or "our family goes to OHC," I'm helping people to think of the organization. That's not bad in and of itself, but according to reports, I'm learning that a large population of people- both professing believers and those not- only see church in this light and have largely forgotten that the Church is foremost Christ's followers in the world. This dual-meaning of church can cause some confusion, I think, as we have conversations and talk missionally.

I'm finding the same thing with the word "community". One meaning as in location, the other meaning as in relationship. When we talk about community development, this word, too, can be problematic, as it I think it is most often heard as "location".

Anywho, all this just to say that it's a good challenge to describe and find language that isn't perceived in only one particular way by a large number of people if used. Any words you run into that cause some question about meaning and perception as you go to use them?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

neighborhood meetings

As a friend of Harvest Vineyard, I attended their Walnut Neighborhood Association meeting the other night. Representatives from 3 churches in the neighborhood, a retirement center, and residents gather monthly to share concerns and thoughts with one another, a city police officer, and a councilman. There's talk about a spring neighborhood clean-up date, and room to bring ideas to the table. One of Orchard Hill's members is a passionate gardener. She dreams of a community garden and wonders if there's interest in this neighborhood. I brought up the topic, and residents spoke of a community garden that was tried in the past in an open field area. There was also a neighborhood initiative called "Miracle of Marigolds" in which the neighborhood has had a mass marigold planting day on corners of properties. Mainentance, theft, and vandalism became part of the discussion, and neighbors talked about how it became easier and more manageable to just plant individual garden plots and maintain their own space.

This discussion made me begin to wonder if a little creativity is all that is needed to consider how there might be some form of community gardening that would work. Especially if someone is called and committed to it. I'm hearing from other friends, both within the neighborhood and from without, that have some dreams and passions to address various needs in the neighborhood. It will be the call from God in their lives that is needed to pursue those dreams and visions. And the encouragement and permission from others to let the person know that he/she can and should follow the call of God. Any thoughts out there about the topic of calling?

Friday, March 6, 2009

creation restoration

There's no time like Spring to better consider the restoring work of Creation by our God. Today was one of those grand days outside in the Midwest. Grilled steaks outdoors, watched and listened as 2 trumpeter swans flew overhead and landed on our neighbors' pond, noticed the buds on the flowering crabs, took a moonlight/starlit walk.... yippee!! As the days lengthen with light, and as the earth warms up and is pregnant with new life, I am reminded that God is all about this restoration business. He is faithful and will not cease this mission until His light has entirely swallowed darkness and all of Creation abounds with new life.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

With Justice for All ch. 6

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." 2 Corinthians 8:9

Jesus left Heaven and became one of us so that we might know that He knows our needs...that He can really identify with us. John Perkins also gave up being a "have" and moved back to Mendenhall, MS, and became a "have not" in order to take his people the gospel. In chapter 6, Perkins talks about relocating to live among his people, and in so doing, he could better understand and share in the needs of the people.

Chapter 6 quotes James Cone with a challenging word about love expressed through voluntary oppression:

"The Christian community, therefore, is that community that freely becomes oppressed, because they know that Christ himself has defined humanity's liberation in the context of what happens to the little ones. Christians join the cause of the oppressed in the fight for justice not because of some philosophical principle of "the Good" or because of a religious feeling of sympathy for people in prison. Sympathy does not change the structures of injustice. The authentic identity of Christians with the poor is found in the claim which the Christ-encounter lays upon their own life-style, a claim that connects the word "Christian" with the liberation of the poor. Christians fight not for humanity in general but for themselves and out of their love for concrete human beings."

I do not live in the neighborhood in which I feel God calling me to serve, but I am growing in relationship with people who do, and for this I am grateful. I am grateful to learn about needs even if I cannot personally identify with those same needs, and I find that God does some amazing growth work if I am willing to enter in as a servant, learner, and friend.

fly free

Barb is a friend from church who is dying of cancer. According to her husband's carepage entry yesterday, the hospice nurse describes Barb as being in "transition" and predicts that she has less than a month here on earth.

Five years back, as a part of a World Vision 30 Hour Famine experience, we had a "for the Starving Artists Arts n' Crafts" sale. Folks young and old brought their arts and crafts to sell and give all of the money collected to World Vision to help save kids' lives. We bought a beautiful painting of a butterfly painted by Kimmi, Barb's daughter, who was in late elementary school at the time. That butterfly picture, in all its bold and brilliant colors, sits atop our daughter's bookshelf in her room. Last night during the tuck-in, Sara and I discussed the idea of giving that picture to Barb. We think it's a good idea. Barb is a wonderful artist, and I think she'd love a picture that Kimmi painted to brighten up her room. Besides that, it's a butterfly, and as I looked at the painting last night, "fly free" became the prayer of my heart for Barb.

churches are like airports

I'm in the middle of McNeal's Missional Renaissance book. Definitely worth the read. In one place, he likens the church to an airport...

"The airport is a place of connection, not a destination. Its job is to help people get somewhere else.... When the church thinks it's the destination, it also confuses the scorecard. It thinks that if people are hovering around and in the church, the church is winning. The truth is, when that's the case, the church is really keeping people from where they want to go, from their real destination. That destination is life. Lucky for us, it just so happens this is what Jesus promised to bring to us. Abundant life is lived out with loved ones, friends, and acquaintances in the marketplace, in the home, in the neighbhorhood, in the world. The church is a connector, linking people to the kingdom life that God has for them. Substituting church activity as the preferred life expression is as weird as believing that airports are more interesting than the destinations they serve."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

engaging in God's Word

I'm not one to pick up a Bible, pray that God would help me to open to the exact place that He's leading me to, and then open it and point. However, I was recently feeling restless and without words for a troubled spirit, and I was really hungering to find a good place to read in Scripture that would help address what it was I was working through. With a little flipping around in Psalms for awhile, I do believe God drew me to the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians. It seems the right time for me to spend some time in these passages of Scripture. Have you experienced God leading you into a particular passage or book in the Bible during particular times in your walk?

Monday, March 2, 2009

fundamentals revisited

I think I was in third grade Sunday School when I remember my teacher telling me that the church is not a building but people. I even remember singing "I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together." (I've been singing that song all day today, thanks to this recalled memory). Anyway, I remember how that was such a huge learning for me. I was the Church that Jesus talked about...and you....and all of God's people, all around the world, yes, we're the church together....okay, enough singing already. Anyway, what I want to say is that this is pretty fundamental....Christianity 101, really. We learn early that the Church is people. That we are to be Christ's hands and feet and voice and truth and love out in the world.

We also learn early on about the importance of kindness and how kind words and actions have powerful impact and influence. This too is a fundamental.

How easily we can stray from these fundamentals, though! At least, I can! And I just need reminders in front of me from time to time. I need refresher courses in the basics to recalibrate in case I'm veering or steering down some other path.

Love Cedar Valley (www.lovecedarvalley.com) is one such event that serves as a reminder to the fundamentals that the church is not a building but rather God's people, unified as one Body in Christ, and that kindness is remarkably powerful in both the lives of the giver and the receiver. I spent tonight in a meeting where there are currently 28 churches planning to serve our community and worship together on April 25. We prayed, and we caught a glimpse of the unified Body of Christ. We shared ideas of how to reach out in the lovingkindness of our God to touch our Cedar Valley neighbors.

What a great reminder this was to me of what is to be normal in our Christian walk. It helps me ask myself questions. Questions like, "How am I being kind in my home these days? Am I noticing people around me and speaking words of kindness? Have I offered gestures of kindness to people I come into contact with in a given week? How have I been unkind to people to close to me?" Questions like, "How is Christ living in and through me these days? Am I staying connected to the Vine so that I can truly be His Church? Do I work toward unity? How am I reaching outside of myself to serve and share Christ with my neighbor?"

With Justice for All ch. 5

In chapter 5, John Perkins shares the dream and principles that were given by God to him through the story of the Samaritan woman and Jesus at the well (found in John 4). In Perkin's words (italicized questions are mine):

1. Jesus went into Samaria. He was physically present in the community of need. He met the woman at the point of her need as she perceived it. He identified with her felt need. Are we going and spending time where people are? Are we listening to them and learning of their felt needs? How are we joining God's mission to address those needs and then to address even deeper needs?

2. Jesus' love, His bodily presence in the community, burned through racial barriers, reconciling Jew and Samaritan. In the same way, the presence of Christ's Body in a community today could bring people together. Do we recognize that we need each other? Are we seeking out ways to come together with people who are different than us? Are we pursuing reconciliation?

3. Finally, Jesus related to the woman at the well in a way that invited her to give to Him; He did not simply give to her. In doing this He affirmed her dignity. Then, by offering her living water, He related to her in a way that empowered her to rise above her past. Do we see the image of God in each person we meet? How are we affirming a person's dignity and helping them discover their identity and calling in Christ?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

sharing in his sufferings

Today's message at church was about encountering God in our suffering. The fact that it's not if we will encounter pain in our lives, but when. The fact that Jesus says "in this world you will have trouble" and the truth that he will not leave us in our trouble but will rather be with us.
The message was excellent as it addressed a helpful response when suffering comes to us.

What if, though, we are not to wait until suffering comes knocking at our door? What if the passages of Scripture that talk about "sharing in his sufferings" actually mean that we are to go find suffering and join with it? The knowledge that pain will inevitably be a part of our human experience is good knowledge to have, but it can still leave us as "fortress people." Fortress people are those who build up walls of fear and try to keep pain and suffering on the outside. But what if being partners in God's redemptive work in the world means that we need to risk stepping outside of this fortress that gives us the illusion of control and safety? What if in the spiritual realm, the safer place (because it is God's will) is to be outside of the walls pursuing the suffering world and sharing in it with the love and hope of Christ?