Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Willard Wednesdays

The Divine Conspiracy: Chapter 3 What Jesus Knew: Our God-bathed World (pp. 88-91)

The Great Inversion

The Widow’s Offering

Luke 21 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

"This story calls to our attention The Great Inversion that lies at the heart of the good news of Jesus and his people.  The scene at the offering box in the temple is an illustration.  What turns up so graphically in that case is actually a general structure that permeates the message of the Bible as a whole and the reality portrayed therein."

"This structure indicates that humanity if routinely flying upside down, and at the same time it provides a message of hope for everyone who counts on God's order, no matter his or her circumstance."

"Again, the children of Israel were the most deprived segment of Egyptian society.  Yet they 'triumphed over the horse and the rider in the midst of the sea.'  The barren, the widow, the orphan, the eunuch, the alien, all models of human hopelessness are fruitful and secure in God's care.  They are repeatedly invoked in Old Testament writings as testimony to the great inversion between our way and God's way."  

"To see everything from the perspective of 'the heavens opened' is to see all things as they are before God.  The Kingdom Among Us is simply God himself and the spiritual realm of beings over which his will perfectly presides- 'as it is in the heavens.'"

"The kingdom is to be sharply contrasted with the kingdom of man: the realm of human life, that tiny part of visible reality where the human will for a time has some degree of sway, even contrary to God's will.  'The heavens are the heavens of the Lord,' the psalmist said, 'but the earth He has given to he sons of men.' (Psalm 115:16)  And as things now stand we must sigh, 'Alas for the earth!'"  

"To become a disciple of Jesus is to accept now that inversion of human distinctions that will sooner or later be forced upon everyone by the irresistible reality of his kingdom.  How must we think of him to see the inversion from our present viewpoint?  We must, simply, accept that he is the best and smartest man who ever lived in the world, that he is even now 'the prince of the kings of the earth' (Rev.1:5)  Then we heartily join his cosmic conspiracy to overcome evil with good."  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Willard Wednesdays

The Divine Conspiracy: Chapter 3 What Jesus Knew: Our God-bathed World (pp. 84-88)

on life and death

"Jesus made a special point of saying that those who rely on him and have received the kind of life that flows in him and in God will never experience death.  Such persons, he said, will never see death, never taste death.  On another occasion he says simply that 'everyone living and believing in me shall never die.' (John 11:26)"

"So as we think of our life and make plans for it, we should not be anticipating going through some terrible event called 'death,'to be avoided at all costs even though it can't be avoided. That is the usual attitude for human beings, no doubt.  But, immersed in Christ in action, we may be sure that our life- yes, that familiar one we are each so well acquainted with- will never stop.  We should be anticipating what we will be doing three hundred or a thousand or ten thousand years from now in this marvelous universe."

"Could this be the actual truth about our case?  Jesus' word to us would certainly be, 'Believe it!'.  We are never-ceasing spiritual beings with an eternal destiny in the full world of God."

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

mobilizing around youth employment

This article was recently in our local newspaper.  Thanks to Cosby Neighborhood Center and leaders forging collective effort to employ local young people this summer!

Monday, June 20, 2016

a critical mindset in mission

I'm sharing this letter today for reflection and conversation within the circles of those whom I serve alongside. Believing also that Merton has something vitally important to say to us old activists as well...

Thomas Merton: A letter to a Young Activist

“Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.
The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important.
The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work, out of your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.
The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. Because I see nothing whatever in sight but much disappointment, frustration and confusion.
The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do God’s will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it before hand”.
Enough of this…it is at least a gesture…I will keep you in my prayers.
All the best, in Christ,

Saturday, June 18, 2016

CCD Saturday: fcs urban perspectives

In his books Toxic Charity, Charity Detox, and Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life, Bob Lupton challenges our paradigms of compassion and helping that are well intended but often unknowingly are paternalistic.  If you're interested in continuing to learn from the wisdom and experience of Lupton, you can sign up to get FCS newsletters here.

From this month's newsletter focusing on parity rather than charity:

"But what if we really wanted to forge genuine, trusting relationships? What if we wanted to engage as peers rather than patrons? Perhaps we would seek out activities providing a level playing field, like a soccer (or chess!) tournament. Or indigenous students teaching us conversational Spanish as we teach them English. Or employing experts in local culture and history – perspectives unlikely to appear in tourist brochures and guide books. Or having village elders impart wisdom borne of scarcity – faith journeys about which Western Christians know very little.
Parity eliminates pity. If we seek out talents and abilities rather than deficits and needs, we might encounter spiritual wealth that largely eludes the materially wealthy American missioner." 

 -Bob Lupton, June Urban Perspectives

Thursday, June 16, 2016

ccda cohort visited grace and peace

I was in Chicago last week with CCDA Cohort 6.  We spent part of our 4 days together listening to friends in Chicago share about their passions, the ministry work in which they're involved, and talk about a theology of reconciliation.  

One of our stops was at Grace and Peace Church where we listened to Pastor Sandra Van Opstal  talk with us about their church and a worship that expresses hospitality, mutuality, and solidarity.  Here are a few notes I took:

Sandra shared a bit about her journey and the life of faith community of GAP.  The space is used for worship but also has many community programs and activities happening.  Sandra calls it “A community center that meets in worship on Sundays.”  

Sandra spoke about creating worship to help us consider the global picture.  A diverse worship so we get a fuller picture of God’s Kingdom.  We need to know each other, each other’s stories, and to stand in solidarity.   Diverse worship is critical so that we better learn who God is and learn to stand in unity.  
Worship should be expressive AND transformative.  

A good tour guide helps shape a tourist’s trip around their interests…(ie:  someone coming to Chicago might say they’d like to try deep dish pizza in Chicago).  A great tour guide will take you where you NEED to go to better experience the city.  (ie:  take tourist to eat a jibarito sandwich..fried plantain sandwich.)  This is true in leading and guiding worship as well.

Practice hospitality in worship.  We welcome you.  There’s something in our worship that welcomes the other.   Who is on stage?  Does it represent the community?  What style of music and songs do you have?

Practice solidarity in worship.  What do small groups and worshiping congregations do when a Ferguson happens or when Syrian refugees are in the headlines?  Tell the stories of the global Church.  Scripture, songs, prayer, preaching, teaching, worship….we can use these to shape and craft a people who think globally and are anchored in history and as persons who recognize they are connected to the rest of the world.  

Intersect worship-preaching-justice.

Practice mutuality in worship.  Challenge how we tend to read Scripture through our context.

MLK quote:  “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

Sandra’s book:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Willard Wednesdays

The Divine Conspiracy: Chapter 3 What Jesus Knew: Our God-bathed World (pp. 79-84)

The Spiritual...

Dallas Willard's words in this section help me to remember that I do not need to grow hopeless or afraid in the world.

" 'Spiritual' is not just something we ought to be.  It is something we are and cannot escape, regardless of how we may think or feel about it.  It is our nature and our destiny."

"We always place a tremendous premium on what comes from the center of our being, the heart.  It, more than anything else, is what we are."

"The heart, or will, simply is spirit in human beings.  It is the human spirit, and the only thing in us that God will accept as the basis of our relationship to him.  It is the spiritual plane of our natural existence, the place of truth before God, from where alone our whole lives can become eternal."

"We ought to be spiritual in every aspect of our lives because our world is the spiritual one.  It is what we are suited to.  Thus Paul, from his profound grasp of human existence, counsels us, 'To fill your mind with the visible, the 'flesh', is death, but to fill your mind with the spirit is life and peace.'" Romans 8:6

"As we increasingly integrate our life into the spiritual world of God, our life increasingly takes on the substance of the eternal.  We are destined for a time when our life will be entirely sustained from spiritual realities and no longer dependent in any way upon the physical.  Our dying, or 'mortal' condition, will have been exchanged for an undying one and death absorbed in victory.' "

"Of course that destiny flatly contradicts the usual human outlook, or what 'everyone knows' to be the case.  I take this to be a considerable point in its favor.  Our 'lives of quiet desperation', in the familiar words of Thoreau, are imposed by hopelessness.  We find our world to be one where we hardly count at all, where what we do makes little difference, and where what we really love is unattainable, or certainly not secure.  We become frantic or despairing."

"In A Confession, Leo Tolstoy relates how the drive toward goodness that moved him as a boy was erased by his experiences in society.  Later in life, after overwhelming success as a writer, he nevertheless sank into psychological paralysis brought on by his vision of the futility of everything.  The awareness that the passage of time alone would bring everything he loved and valued to nothing left him completely hopeless.  For years he lived in this condition, until he finally came to faith in a world of God where all that is good is preserved. "

"That is precisely the world of the spiritual that Jesus opened to humanity long ago and still opens to those who seek it.  Observing the faith of simple peasants and the deeply meaningful (though painful) lives that flowed from it, Tolstoy was led onward to Jesus and his message of the kingdom of God.  That message then showed him the way to the spiritual world and the 'mind of the spirit,' which, as Paul also said, is 'life and peace.'

The mind or the minding of the spirit is life and peace precisely because it locates us in a world adequate to our nature as ceaselessly creative beings under God.  The 'mind of the flesh,' on the other hand, is a living death.  To it the heavens are closed.  It sees only 'that inverted Bowl they call the Sky, Whereunder crawling cooped we live and die.'  It restricts us to the visible, physical world where what our hearts demand can never be.  There, as Tolstoy saw with disgust, we find we constantly must violate our conscience in order to 'survive'.   Jesus, by contrast, brings us into a world without fear.  In his world, astonishingly, there is nothing evil we must do in order to thrive.  He lived, and invites us to live, in an undying world where it is safe to do and be good..."

Saturday, June 11, 2016

CCD Saturday: on hospitality

Following are quotes from Just Hospitality: God's Welcome in a World of Difference by Letty M. Russell

"Hospitality is the practice of God's welcome by reaching across difference to participate in God's actions bringing justice and healing to our world in crisis."

"Practicing God's hospitality means that I am constantly looking for ways to empower other outsiders in the institutions where I work and live.  I always have to ask myself as I gather with a group, 'Who is missing? Who are the ones whose voice is not heard?'"

"In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus promises to be with those who offer hospitality to the least of our brothers and sisters.  From this it would seem that hospitality can be understood as solidarity with strangers, a mutual relationship of care and trust in which we share in the struggle for empowerment, dignity, and fullness of life.  The word for hospitality in the Greek New Testament is philoxenia, love of the stranger.  Its opposite is xenophobia, hatred of the stranger.  The ministry of the church is to be partners with strangers, to welcome those whom Christ welcomed, and thus learn to be a community in which people are made one in Jesus Christ in spite of their different classes, religious backgrounds, genders, races, and ethnic groups."

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Willard Wednesdays

The Divine Conspiracy: Chapter 3 What Jesus Knew: Our God-bathed World (pp. 76-78)

"God is..seen everywhere by those who long have lived for him.  No doubt God wants us to see him.  That is a part of his nature as outpouring love.  Love always wants to be known.  Thus he seeks for those who could safely and rightly worship him."

"Seeing is no simple thing, of course.  Often a great deal of knowledge, experience, imagination, patience, and receptivity are required.  Some people, it seems, are never able to see bacteria or cell structure through the microscope.  But seeing is all the more difficult in spiritual things, where the objects, unlike bacteria or cells, must be willing to be seen."

"Persons rarely become present where they are not heartily wanted. Certainly that is true for you and me.  We prefer to be wanted, warmly wanted, before we reveal our souls- or even come to a party.  The ability to see and the practice of seeing God and God's world comes through a process of seeking and growing in intimacy with him."

"The heavens progressively open to us as our character and understanding are increasingly attuned to the realities of God's rule from the heavens."

"Certainly mere space travel is not the way to discover the divine richness that fills all creation.  That discovery comes through personal seeking and spiritual reorientation, as well as God's responsive act of making himself present to those ready to receive."

"In a striking comparison, Ole Hallesby points out that the air our body requires envelops us on every hand.  To receive it we need only breathe.  Likewise, 'The air which our souls need also envelops all of us at all times and on all sides.  God is round about us in Christ on every hand, with his many-sided and all-sufficient grace.  All we need to do is to open our hearts.'"  

Monday, June 6, 2016

Picnic in the Park 2016: gotta love this next generation!

We had an awesome, energetic first Picnic in the Park of the season!  Picnic in the Park started to grow a culture of community and oneness last season, and it feels like we picked right up where we ended last fall.  A beautiful mix of people playing, praying, serving, eating together.  And the youth! They bring us together and lead us, for sure.
Food Prep 
Playdough and painting fingernails at this table

Rice Krispie servers

Grilling up the beefsteak

Welcome and prayer

More Rice Krispie help 

Who wouldn't love some fresh fruit for lunch?
Harvest Youth Group prayerwalking around the park

Dishes duty

Saturday, June 4, 2016

CCD Saturday: Gentrification with Justice

Across the country, people are moving back into the urban centers. Properties once abandoned or neglected are being bought up, and trendy lofts, shops, and restaurants are fast replacing areas that were eyesores for years.  Even Waterloo, Iowa's downtown is making welcome and beautiful changes thanks to some committed developers and investors.  As cities cheer on new economic development, and as wealth comes back into inner city areas (gentrification), what happens to those among lower income brackets who live there? How can we bring revitalization to our downtowns and neighborhoods without continuing the patterns of displacement and segregation?  How can we gentrify with justice? Bob Lupton offers some practices for gentrification with justice below in this article written for the Verge Network: 

Harnessing Gentrification for the Sake of the Kingdom

The definitive works have yet to be written on how to harness gentrification for the purposes of the Kingdom. However, a few guiding principles are rising to the surface from some of the best practices around the country. Here are just a few:
Gentrification is. Some rail against it; others laud its arrival. For good or ill, it is our new reality. And it will only increase in the years to come. It means welcome new economic and social life for our cities and, with the pro-active involvement of the saints, can introduce a whole new era of hopefulness for the poor. Our mantra must be: gentrification with justice.
Diversity is a gift. Communities that are economically and racially mixed can be the richest of environments for families as well as singles and older adults. Diverse community is God's plan, the final destination toward which all the righteous are heading to the City of our God where people of every tribe, every nation, every tongue will take up eternal residence.
Community doesn't just happen. Especially diverse community. It must be built. Focused and sustained effort must be invested in getting to know neighbors, organizing community activities, modeling neighborliness and communicating good news. Love of neighbor must be practical and visible over time.
Indigenous neighbors are a treasure. It is easy to ignore seniors, easy to push on past less communicative neighbors, easy to exclude those who don't show up at community functions. But the rich history of the neighborhood is imbedded in the lives and family albums of long term residents. The effort to extract and honor this history is well worth the time and effort. And everyone, no matter how unlikely, has some valuable talent to contribute to the life of the community.
Economic viability is essential. A community will not be healthy unless it has ample neighbors with discretionary income to attract and sustain businesses. The gentry are essential. However, justice demands that we ensure that the poor are embraced and included as beneficiaries in a healthy community.
God's shalom must be worked at. The roles of peacemakers, communicators, gatherers, organizers, connectors are some of the most vital talents needed for the establishment of peace and prosperity and a prevailing sense of well-being that God desires for His creation. Shalom is not merely the absence of crime on the street, it is the prevailing presence of peace and goodness in the relationships of God's diverse family. It is achieved only by intentional effort.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

throwback to Jellyfish Lake

If you go to, you can find all sorts of random news stories, pictures, videos each day. The other morning, I stumbled on a link titled "12 Weirdest Lakes in the World" and joyfully found Jellyfish Lake in Palau listed...a lake I had the chance to snorkel in 1991 when we lived on the island of Guam and traveled to Palau to scuba dive for a weekend.    

Jellyfish Lake is packed with a species of jellyfish that have lost their sting.  When we set out to snorkel, our guide told us to look out on the lake and determine where the most direct sunlight was located..and then to swim toward that spot.  Upon approaching the sunny spot, you snorkel into thousands, and you can hardly see past them to any of your fellow snorkelers because the jellyfish are so thick. They are crazy beautiful...and they travel across the lake each day to follow the arc of the sun "because golden jellyfish don’t just enjoy basking in the sun—they need its light to survive. Solar rays nourish essential, algae-like organisms called zooxanthellae, which live symbiotically in the jellies’ tissues and provide their hosts with energy as a byproduct of their photosynthesis."  see this link for pictures and more information:

There's a good devotion in there, I think.  Following the arc of the Son...not just because we enjoy Him but rather need His light to survive.  Our cells were made to soak up His light in order to really live and thrive. 

"I am the light of the world." -Jesus
"I am the way, the truth, and the life."  -Jesus

Photograph by Ciemon Frank Caballes, National Geographic Your Shot

Willard Wednesdays

The Divine Conspiracy: Chapter 3 What Jesus Knew: Our God-bathed World (pp. 66-74)

Willard spends a good number of pages helping readers understand that the kingdom of the heavens (found 32 times in the Gospel of Matthew) means that God is here...invading the air around us...near and present rather than far off and distant as we've come to understand when we think of heaven.

Willard shares interactions of OT and NT friends of God that show us"heaven is here and God is here, because God and his spiritual agents act here and are constantly available here." And of course, "incarnation in the person of Jesus is the most complete case of 'God with us,' or 'Immanuel'.  

Nicodemus had trouble understanding the birth 'from above'.  "To be born 'from above,' in New Testament language, means to be interactively joined with a dynamic, unseen system of divine reality in the midst of which all humanity moves about -whether it knows it or not.  And that, of course, is 'The Kingdom Among Us.'"  

"But do we actually believe this?  I mean, are we ready automatically to act as if we stand here and now and always in the presence of the great being...who fills and overflows all space, including the atmosphere around our body?"

"The damage done to our practical faith in Christ and in his government-at-hand by confusing heaven with a place in distant or outer space, or even beyond space, is incalculable.  Of course God is there too.  But instead of heaven and God also being always present with us, as Jesus shows them to be, we invariably take them to be located far away and, most likely, at a much later time- not here and not now.  And we should then be surprised to feel our selves alone?"  

How might we think and live differently if we recognized Christ and His Kingdom right next to us, all around us, all the time?  As Paul says, "For in Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28)  Consider this absolute reality and nearness of God as you go about your day today.   

"We may ignore, but we can never evade the presence of God.  The world is crowded with Him." -C.S. Lewis