Monday, May 31, 2010

justice as right relationship

"When Americans consider justice it is frequently procedural; that is, we set up fair and impartial rules and whatever emerges as the end result is judged as just. In the Scriptures, justice is more an end-state. Justice is the establishment of shalom, a community of peace where right relationships are restored."

Psalm 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.

book talk

I'm reading a book called Renewing the City by Robert Lupton. It is a book that braids together the Biblical text of Nehemiah with a little historical fiction with some contemporary story of community development and urban renewal. A great combination for me.


"As co-creators with our Father, we have the high privilege and sober responsibility of recreating systems that have fallen to self-interest, expediency and apathy. Ours is the task of modeling the highest forms of charity that include even the most vulnerable among us as valued participants." - Bob Lupton


I've been thinking about a definition of grace that a friend of mine was sharing the other night. He talked about how we so often limit grace to a gift of covering from God that fills the gap of where we fall short of being holy and Christlike. We tend to forget that grace is also a gift of power to help us overcome that gap and become who God made us to be. To ascribe to only the first part of this definition is to have a comfortable and somewhat static faith. It's believing that grace is a gift of power to help us become that gives us a dynamic and growing faith in Christ.

What do you think of when you consider grace?

classic Saturday

Classic Saturday on Monday morning. This week's devotional classic comes from Jean-Nicholas Grou (1730-1803). Grou was a Jesuit priest from France/Holland who spent much of his adult life writing and speaking on spirtual growth, particularly the practice of prayer. An excerpt from How to Pray:

The Voice of the Heart

"You ask me what this voice of the heart is. It is love which is the voice of the heart. Love God and you will always be speaking to Him. The seed of love is growth in prayer. If you do not understand that, you have never yet either loved or prayed. Ask God to open your heart and kindle in it a spark of his love, and then you will begin to understand what praying means.

If it is the heart that prays, it is evident that sometimes, and even continuously, it can pray by itself without any help from words, spoken or conceived....If we do make use of words or formal acts in prayer, it is not so much for God's sake as our own in that they help us to keep our attention fixed in his presence. Our weakness often calls for the help of such acts, but they are not of the essence of prayer."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

the story of East Lake

In 1995, the East Lake Meadows housing project was among the worst places in the United States to live. Its crime rate was 3.3 times higher than the rest of Atlanta and 18 times higher than the national average. The neighborhood experienced an average of one murder a week. As Mayor Shirley Franklin commented, in a program organized by the Division of U.S. Studies and cosponsored by the Comparative Urban Studies Project, it was the only neighborhood in Atlanta she would not drive through alone. Its median household income was $4,536. Fifty-nine percent of the adults living in East Lake Meadows were on welfare. Its employment rate was 13.5 percent, and only five percent of the fifth graders at its elementary school met state mathematics standards. Sixty percent of its housing units did not meet safety and sanity standards; 30 percent were uninhabitable. City officials referred to the neighborhood as “Little Viet Nam.”

Today, violent crime in East Lake is down by 95 percent. Only five percent of its adults rely on welfare. While 69 percent of all Atlanta public school system students meet or exceed state math standards, the figure for East Lake’s Charles R. Drew Charter School is 78 percent, and 80 percent of its eighth graders meet or exceed state reading standards. Not a single recent graduate of the Drew school has dropped out of high school. As an East Lake resident and activist in its neighborhood association has commented, “We tore down hell and built heaven.”

The change was made possible by the East Lake Foundation, an entity organized to transform and revitalize East Lake. The endeavor was the idea of Thomas G. Cousins, an Atlanta businessman who realized that successful urban renewal depended upon a holistic approach. Working with members of the East Lake community, the Foundation tore down the substandard public housing and replaced it with small mixed-income rental apartment buildings organized around crescent-shaped streets. It turned Drew Elementary School into a charter school and housed it in a bright, light-filled building connected to a YMCA that is used by the community for both recreation and meetings. The community has an early childhood learning center, playgrounds, senior citizen programs, and job skills programs. Its renewal has also transformed the surrounding neighborhood, as the median home value has jumped from $47,000 to $153,000.

The project’s success, the panelists agreed, stems in large part from its holistic approach, combining attractive and well-maintained housing, education, and family services. Former Mayor William Hudnut of Indianapolis, Indiana and Chevy Chase, Maryland spoke about the need for mixed-income housing as a major element in urban renewal, emphasizing that it can be both profitable for investors and the creator of enormous social capital. Fifty percent of East Lake’s housing is market rate. Apartments are organized, Cousins said, so that the few families on welfare live in-between two working families and are literally surrounded by examples of what they can accomplish. That, along with job training and education, helps move additional members of the community into the paid workforce.

Charles Knapp, the Foundation’s president, described East Lake as an ongoing process. The Foundation has now bought nearby land and plans to put working class housing on it, both so that low-income homeowners can build up equity and so that the neighborhood does not become gentrified rather than mixed-income. An urban renewal project such as East Lake requires a long-term commitment, Knapp said. The panelists commented that it also requires the ability to be flexible, a strong funding plan, an equally strong board of directors, and extensive neighborhood involvement. The lessons of East Lake have now been utilized by a number of other communities, and the premise behind the day’s program is that other urban areas may well find it a useful example of best practices.

Philippa Strum, Director, Division of U.S. Studies 202-691-4147

powerful potential

I taught at Harvest Vineyard on Sunday, and one of my points was about what God can do when the Body of Christ works together on a shared vision of blessing.

Then, yesterday, I spent the day with Bob Lupton, a Christian community developer, who has done a lot of good Kingdom work in the area of neighborhood revitalization. I had the privilege of visiting with Bob for four hours on a drive, and if I had to sum up his impact on me for the day, it would be this: We have much greater potential for much greater endeavors than we allow ourselves to dream.

I was inspired by the many great endeavors going on for the Kingdom of God by a connected Body of Christ giving their imaginations and gifts together over to the Spirit of God and His powerful redemptive work. Things like rebuilding whole neighborhoods and intentionally "neighboring" in them. A big organic urban garden project. A micro-enterprise lending thousands of dollars to Nicaraguan peasants. An old golf course being transformed into a PGA tour course, and its surrounding community, East Lake, being changed from a ghetto into an attractive and healthy place to live.

My prayer is that God might give us great vision and maximize the potential of our Body for His Kingdom work and for his glory.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

classic Saturday

Martin Luther (1483-1546), one of the most brilliant theologians and most influential men in the history of the Church. Even more important was his close walk with Christ. This excerpt is from Table Talk:

Laying the Need-Not Prescribing the Answer

One who prays correctly never doubts that the prayer will be answered, even if the very thing for which one prays is not given. For we lay our need before God in prayer but not prescribe to God a measure, manner, time, or place. We must leave that to God, for he may wish to give it to us in another, perhaps better, way than we think is best. Frequently, we do not know what to pray as St. Paul says in Romans 8, and we know that God's ways are above all that we can ever understand as he says in Ephesians 3. Therefore, we should have no doubt that our prayer is acceptable and heard, and we must leave to God the measure, manner, time, and place, for God will surely do what is right."

What a Great Gift We Have in Prayer

"No one can believe how powerful prayer is and what it can effect, except those who have learned it by experience. It is important when we have a need to go to God in prayer. I know, whenever I have prayed earnestly, that I have been heard and have obtained more than I prayed for. God sometimes delays, but He always comes.

It is amazing that a poor human creature is able to speak with God's high majesty in heaven and not be afraid. When we pray, the heart and the conscience must not pull away from God because of our sins and our unworthiness, or stand in doubt, or be scared away. When we pray we must hold fast and believe that God has heard our prayer. It was for this reason that the ancients defined prayer as an Ascensus mentis ad Deum, 'a climbing up of the heart unto God.' "

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

the heartbeat of a neighborhood

I am my mother's daughter. My mom is into family tree work, and she spends hours and days driving to people's homes she's never met and having beautiful, hallowed conversations as she listens to their stories. She loves it, and she's good at it.

Over the past years, I have found that God keeps taking me back into a certain neighborhood in Waterloo to serve. I grew up going to a Presbyterian church in that neighborhood, and I ended up working there as a youth director for five years in my 20's. I left that church in midst of staff conflict, but I began to serve with the House of Hope Transitional Housing Program in the neighborhood, and now I am a friend and partner at Harvest Vineyard in the neighborhood. As of late, I've been visiting with several neighbors about the neighborhood, and I understand why my mom seems so energized by the connections, conversations, relationships she makes when doing her genealogy work. It really is a holy time when someone opens up and begins to share their story and experiences. I am grateful for people's openness to receive me, to let me ask questions, and to share with me about their neighborhood. It has impacted me a great deal in the past few weeks. Before, when I've gone prayerwalking with friends in neighborhoods, that has proven to be a time where I feel like God gives me more of a heart for his community and for the people. This has been that same experience for me x10. It is a hallowed time to really listen to the community.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

classic Saturday

John Baillie (1886-1960), a Scottish theologian, was known for combining mind and the heart. The following comes from Baillie's A Diary of Private Prayer. This excerpt included a prayer for each of seven mornings. Here is the first.

First Morning: "My First Thought"

Eternal Father of my soul, let my first thought today be of you, let my first impulse be to worship you, let my first speech be your name, let my first action be to kneel before you in prayer.

For your perfect wisdom and perfect goodness:
For the love with which you love mankind:
For the love with which you love me:
For the great and mysterious opportunity of my life:
For the indwelling of Your Spirit in my heart:
For the sevenfold gifts of your Spirit:
I praise and worship you, O Lord.

Yet let me not, when this morning prayer is said, think my worship ended and spend the day in forgetfulness of you. Rather from these moments of quietness let light go forth, and joy, and power, that will remain with me through all the hours of the day;

Keep me chaste in thought:
Keeping me temperate and truthful in speech:
Keeping me faithful and diligent in my work:
Keeping me humble in my estimation of myself:
Keeping me honorable and generous in my dealings with others:
Keeping me loyal to every hallowed memory of the past:
Keeping me mindful of my eternal destiny as a child of yours.
Through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

lay it down

God has something real important He's trying to say to me through all sorts of encounters recently. The learning has to do with power and control, leadership, reconciliation, partnership, know, small stuff like that.

There's a desire for unity that I hear around our community. I hear this from black church leaders in East Waterloo, and I hear this from white church leaders from Waterloo and Cedar Falls. I hear spoken words like, "We want to bridge the divide." "We need to come together." "Forming partnerships would be good."

One of the reasons I don't think much progress happens here is that coming together is often based around some desire to do Kingdom work together. This Kingdom work always seems to have some agenda. And with an agenda, there seems to be unspoken issues regarding power and control.

If I look back at the last four years of my life, I have seen the Spirit of God at work the most when I'm willing to lay down my agenda in order to participate or serve together with someone across "the divide." In doing this, genuine relationship seems to have a better chance to form. Maybe this is the Kingdom work. Maybe the Kingdom work isn't so much working together on some issue or ministry idea as it is simply coming to listen to, know, and validate the other as a person, friend, and brother/sister in Christ. Perhaps only then can God begin to create something new and beautiful as we work together in a true spirit of genuine unity.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

culture for change

"Empowerment is a popular word these days. It may be a misnomer. Butterflies, like people, have inbred capacity to emerge into creatures of unique beauty. But intervene in the chrysalis process while the caterpillar is undergoing the transformation and the process may be aborted. Assist the emerging butterfly as it struggles to break out of the cocoon and it may never develop the strength to fly. We may protect the cocoon from predators, even shield it from winter's hostile blast, but do more than create the conditions for timely emergence and we will cause damage. People, like butterflies, cannot be empowered. They will emerge toward their uniquely created potential given a conducive environment." - Bob Lupton

This quote made me consider what has been a "conducive environment" in my journey...Christian community, God's Word, disciples ahead of me on the journey, grace, accountability, opportunities to serve and to discover and share my gifts. What else would you add to a conducive environment?

Monday, May 10, 2010

a friend loveth at all times Proverbs 17:17

I was reminded this weekend through our kids' separate birthday parties and a message at church today of the importance of spiritual friends in our lives. In Christian fellowship and friendship, I have found people who desire to help me grow and from whom I learn about love and faith. A life on mission means a life with friends around me on mission. I'm so grateful for God's gift of friendship.

"Coals burn longer when they are heaped in a fire with other coals. When one is separated and no longer shares the warmth of the fire, it will become cold."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

classic Saturday

Frank Laubach (1884-1970) was a missionary to the Philippine Islands. He founded churches on the island of Mindanao, and he established and became dean of Union College in Manila. In 1930, he went back to Mindanao to live among the Mohammedan Moros, a group of people who considered Christians on the island their enemies. It's thought that through his efforts, 45,000 people learned to read and write, and he brought thousands into a richer experience of God through his own experiments in practicing the presence of God every moment of every day.

From Letters by a Modern Mystic:

"I feel simply carried along each hour, doing my part in a plan which is far beyond myself. This sense of cooperation with God in the little things is what astonishes me. I seem to have to make sure of only one thing now, and every other thing 'takes care of itself', or I prefer to say what is more true, God takes care of all the rest. My part is to live in this hour in continuous inner conversation with God and in perfect responsiveness to his will. To make this hour gloriously rich. This seems to be all I need to think about."

"You will object to this intense introspection. Do not try it, unless you feel unsatisfied with your own relationship with God, but at least allow me to realize all the leadership of God I can. I am disgusted with the pettiness and futility of my unled self. If the way out is not more perfect slavery to God, then what is the way out? I am trying to be utterly free from everybody, free from my own self, but completely enslaved to the will of God every moment of this day."

If you want to practice more of an ongoing inner conversation with God, a deep continuous connectedness with Him, you might want to pick up and read more of Laubach's journals of his journey and training to abide with God moment by moment throughout the day.

Friday, May 7, 2010

worth the welts

Setting: It's Nathan's 11th birthday party and he has a few friends out to the acreage to play paintball with the gear N.'s older cousins handed down to him for Christmas.

Friend, Ben, who is new to paintball: "I'm scared. Does it hurt?"
Nathan, in enthusiastic voice: "It hurts like crazy. Who cares?!"

The point: We can take on a whole lot (even with joy!) when motivated for a great cause!

read this

Go to and read Katie's latest post. Just do.

My friend Laurie is back from Africa, and as we ran together a few days ago, she shared her experience of the day her group spent with Katie in Uganda. It prompted me to check out Katie's blog yesterday. No words. Just read it.

what verses can you name?

I was at a conference a few years ago, and one of the first things the presenter did was to pair people up and ask them to tell each other Scripture references or Scriptures that had to do with justice, the poor, the oppressed. From memory, we had to share what we knew. This was such a challenging and good exercise! I've heard that there about 2,000 verses that address these topics. My partner and I came up with about 30 total. How about to comment with one?

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. Isaiah 58: 9-12

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

more on dying to live

The Great Divorce

Life is full of decisions. Choosing your path will always be challenging and rewarding. C.S. Lewis pointed this out in his fantasy work: "The Great Divorce"

In this fictional account of a bus ride from Hell to Heaven, the passengers are allowed to walk freely around the outskirts of Heaven for a day and decide whether they'd like to "stay on" permanently.

Here's an excerpt:

One of the passengers, an oily man who has decided to leave and is headed back to the bus. Sitting on his shoulder is a little red lizard, twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. The man turns his head to the reptile and snarls, "Shut up, I tell you!"

Just then one of Heaven's radiant angels sees the man. "Off so soon?" he calls.

"Well, yes," says the man. "I'd stay, you know, if it weren't for him," indicating the lizard. "I told him he'd have to be quiet if he came. His kind of stuff won't do here. But he won't stop. So I'll just have to go home."

"Would you like me to make him quiet?" asks the angel.

"Of course I would", says the man.

"Then I will kill him," says the angel, stepping forward.

The man panics at the thought of permanently losing the lizard and the sweet fantasies the creature whispers in his ear. But he is tired of carrying him around. He dithers back and forth between the two choices. Solemnly, the angel reminds him he cannot kill the lizard without his consent. And yes, it will be painful for the man; the angel refuses to soften the truth. Finally, in anguish, the man gives his consent, then screams in agony as the angel's burning hands close around the lizard and crush it.

"Ow! That's done for me," gasps the man, reeling back.

But then, gradually but unmistakably, the man begins to be transformed. Bright and strong he grows, into the shape of an immense man, not much smaller than the angel. And even more surprisingly, something is happening to the lizard, too. He grows, rippling with swells of flesh and muscle, until standing beside the man is a great white stallion with mane and tail of gold.
The new man turns from the horse, flings himself at the feet of the Burning One, and embraces them. When he rises, his face shines with tears. Then in joyous haste the young man leaps upon the horse's back. Turning in his seat he waves a farewell. And then they are off across the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains. Like a star, they wind up, scaling what seem to be impossible steeps, till near the dim brow of the landscape, they vanish, bright themselves, into the rose brightness of that everlasting morning.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I'd really like to live at about 20 pounds less than I do. I'd really like to eat healthy in order to steward my body well for God. How badly do I want those things? Not enough. Not enough to die to some of my junk food habits/addictions....not badly enough to sacrifice toward a new reality or to persevere to freedom. I can tell you that I want it badly, and I can honestly ask you to show me and teach me what that journey would look like, but my attachments/addictions continue to keep me deceived into believing that the way I eat is really freedom while the road to healthy eating would be enslaving and not any fun. The vision isn't more compelling than my reality to consider it a pearl of great price. My pain and need isn't great enough to prompt the intention and sacrifice and perseverance needed for change. God's been bugging me about this for some time as I sense His nudging to gain more of a right relationship with food, be healthier, and live more freely in His Kingdom as related to food. I can honestly say I have added some healthier habits into my diet over the past few years, but bondage will continue as long as I'm unwilling to die to some other habits. Ah, dying. I think it says something about that in the Bible. Dying to find life.

Millions of Americans spend billions of dollars annually on weight loss techniques. People want to lose weight. People don't want to die of disease related to poor nutrition or obesity. I think statistics say that about 5% of people succeed in keeping weight off once they've lost it. It's a difficult journey, but it is a journey to freedom. It requires adding some new habits, but it does also require dying to others. It will require trust that through the death journey there really is more freedom and wholeness and joy waiting.

This food journey has parallels to the discipleship journey. There are many people in our churches who say that they want to grow spiritually. They will honestly say that they want others to show and teach them how. But quite frankly, the vision of living in the reality of the Kingdom of God now in this life isn't more compelling than the worldly life we live, and the sense of need isn't great enough to prompt the intention and sacrifice and perseverance necessary for change. I think we can add some things to our lives that will help us grow spiritually, but I believe some pretty big hurdles will exist until we are able to die to some attachments/addictions that keep us from Kingdom living. Attachment means "nailed to". I have nailed my desire for Christ to things other than Christ in my life. We have numerous attachments/addictions/idols in our culture...false sense of safety and security, status and power, money, comfort, consumerism, to name a mere couple that I deal with. The vision and trust that Christ is greater than every single desire I've attached elsewhere, and the willingness to die to anything I'm placing over Christ, is a big deal as we seek to grow spiritually. It will require an honest look at our attachments, repentance, and radical dependence and trust in God in order to remove self from throne. It will require dwelling in the Word of God. It will require community committed to living courageously in a new and countercultural way. It will require service and sacrifice. It will require grace-filled high expectations. This is to be the Church. This is who I need around me to embolden and encourage me on difficult journeys toward freedom and dying to find life. Not only does God's Spirit give me joy and affirm my inches of dying with a rich and satisfying drink of Kingdom life, but His Church at her best also gives me tastes of the Kingdom that keep me coming back with maybe just a little more courage the next round to die some more until my life is completely hidden in God.

Monday, May 3, 2010

classic Saturday

Yes, I know it's Monday, but I was away all weekend, and still want to share with you a few quotes on prayer written by Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941). Underhill had a conversion to Christ at age 32 and her full devotion led her to being a sought out spiritual director and conductor of retreats. These quotes are taken from The Essentials of Mysticism. A bit flowery, perhaps, but I like the gist of it. Reminds me of Colossians 3:1-3...Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

"What do we mean by prayer? Surely just this: that part of our conscious life which is deliberately oriented towards, and exclusively responds to, spiritual reality. God is that spiritual reality, and we believe God to be immanent in all things: 'He is not far from each one of us: for in him we live and move and have our being.'

"'Prayer,' says Walter Hilton, 'is nothing else but an ascending or getting up of the desire of the heart into God by withdrawing it from earthly thoughts.' It is 'ascent,' says Ruysbroeck, of the Ladder of the Love. In the same spirit William Law defines prayer as 'the rising of the soul out of the vanity of time into the riches of eternity.'

It entails , then, a going up or out from our ordinary circle of earthly interests. Prayer stretches out the tentacles of our consciousness not so much towards Divine Life which is felt to be enshrined within the striving, changeful world of things; but rather to that 'Eternal truth, true Love, and loved Eternity' wherein the world is felt to be enshrined."