New…Part 2.

25 11 2010

Since I recently blogged about my journey to accept newness over the past year, it’s only fitting that I update you on a couple things that are new in my life.  They’re pretty significant, actually – and I covet your prayers, partnership, encouragement, advice, questions and reminders to rest (!) along the way…

New Health. As many of you know, in August of this year I discovered I was severely anemic, and had to brave my biggest fear – needles! – to undergo a blood transfusion so I could get back on track.  I have since been seeing specialists to determine the cause of my iron deficiency.  We haven’t ruled out all the more serious possibilities yet, but the good news is that my body responded really quickly to the initial treatment which is a good sign.  Thank you to those of you who prayed – I really feel God has given me this new health, and I feel better than I have in a long while!

New Church/Role. After moving to Tacoma a year ago, I struggled to find a church that truly felt like home.  There are some great Christian communities up here to be sure, but I couldn’t find peace about joining with any of them.  In the meantime, I moved into a neighborhood in the southeast area of the city, more ethnically diverse and lower income, and a longing grew to be a part of a church community there.  A couple months ago I came across First Creek Church, a Foursquare church plant in the nearby Salishan neighborhood, and as I prayed about joining up with this community, God began to stir my heart for that neighborhood and for ministry possibilities there.  I sensed very clearly that God had prepared a place for me, to use my seminary education and ministry experience and to continue to grow into who He is making me.  And so, a couple months ago, I committed to join the leadership team of this small, new little church, as the Pastor of Discipleship and Outreach.

In this role, I oversee our outreach and partnership with the community, networking with leaders and getting to know our neighbors.  I also work to develop our church’s community within – overseeing how we welcome new people who come on Sundays, cultivating ways for people to connect through smaller, intentional groups, fostering spiritual growth through discipleship, guiding the church’s prayer ministry, and preaching on a regular basis.  Obviously, this is more than one full-time job, so I’m looking to engage others in this kingdom work too.  I am so excited about this new role and new community – and a little terrified too.  I’ll still be working at World Vision, and working with First Creek Church on a volunteer, part time basis…meaning I will be very busy!  Beyond this, it’s cross-cultural ministry; every interaction challenges me, stretches me and puts my faith and knowledge to the test.  It’s both exhausting and exhilarating.

As I begin to step into this role, I not only want to make you aware of this significant life change, but I want to invite you to join with me in some way.  As you think of me, I request your prayers – for energy, wisdom, team unity, breakthrough and transformation in southeast Tacoma, and for God to give me vision and creativity as I help pastor this community.  Some of you may share my heart for the poor and oppressed, and may be willing and able to commit to praying for me and First Creek Church on a weekly basis.  If this is you, please send me an email or comment and I will include you in a team that I will send regular updates and information to.

Lastly, some of you may be able to give financially to help grow our church.  Currently, none of the pastoral staff is getting paid – we are all working separate full time jobs – and this will likely remain the case for quite a while.  In the meantime, however, the church is seeking to raise funds for operational costs and for a future home facility (we currently meet at First Creek Middle School).  We are currently about $4,000 away from reaching an interim goal of $25,000 which the Foursquare denomination will match.  Since I am not raising monthly support, a one-time gift would go directly to our church’s budget and used to reach the community.  If you feel led to contribute, please reply to this email and let me know and I’ll get you details on how to make sure your donation is tax deductible.

If you would like more information about the specific vision, mission and method of First Creek Church please let me know and I will share those details with you.

As I struggled to make Tacoma home, God recently reminded me of Jeremiah 29:4-7:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce.  Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease.  Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.'”

I’m not much of a gardener, but I pulled a lot of weeds in my yard recently and let each yank be a commitment to the city of Tacoma and to it being my home for however long God desires.  Before I went to seminary, while I was in seminary, and even after seminary, nearly everyone I knew or met would ask me if I was going to become a pastor.  The answer was always “no” without hesitation.  If I am completely honest, accepting this new role has been an identity shift for me and a slightly uncomfortable one at that.  I’m not going to stress myself out by trying to figure out what this means for my longer-term future.  All I know in this moment is that I am assured of God’s invitation to be here and in this role, and it is (as I recently discovered as I read back over an old journal entry) a direct answer to prayer.

I am so excited for the possibilities ahead, grateful I can journey through these new things with you, and hopeful that the God who makes all things new will continue to supply all our need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.


7 11 2010

About a year ago I moved to Tacoma, WA rather reluctantly.  I had a great job opportunity but I was tired of moving and starting over.  Since 2003 I have lived in three different cities (Tacoma would be the fourth) and three drastically different communities, moving from college to working in politics to seminary (anyone want to talk politics and religion?).  Tacoma didn’t represent potential or adventure for me, it represented the potential for further isolation from a beloved community, another obstacle to the continuity I craved in my relationships and lots of “get to know you” conversations I’d already had enough of.  In all my other seasons of transition, I embraced each new place and experience whole-heartedly, without blinking an eye.  But my heart fought Tacoma and remained reluctant.  For the first time in my life, I lacked the energy to engage with unfamiliar people around me, my heart couldn’t release the people I loved in California and I didn’t want anything to do with anything….new.

This reluctance and deep inability to embrace change was, in itself, a change for me that I didn’t enjoy but had to accept.  I couldn’t be untrue to myself or how I felt.  So I sat in it.  And over the course of the past year, God has consistently, faithfully, and persistently nudged me, invited me, reminded me and encouraged me to not reject newness.  I decided to do my own informal word study of “new” in Scripture to see what God really thought of it.  Admittedly I didn’t use the Greek, but nevertheless received a helpful overview.  Referred to almost 200 times, the simple word “new” has a lot to say about who God is and what it’s therefore like to live with him.  Consider this:

In 173 English references to “new” I only found nine that put the concept in a negative light.  That’s only 5%.  14% of the references were neutral and the remaining 81% of appearances referred to “new” in some positive way.  Newness in humanity and in God’s kingdom is primarily and overwhelmingly a good thing, and a normal thing.

The downsides of newness are legitimate: Israel, for example, chose new gods and we all know that didn’t bode well for them.  God despised Israel’s new moon festivals when their hearts and integrity didn’t precede their celebration.  New kings and new Christians had limitations because they didn’t have the experience needed to make certain wise judgments.  So, my hesitations with newness weren’t far off the mark – history, experience and the “familiar” develops relationships and builds wisdom in us that has deep value.

But new things have their benefits too: most references to “new” in Scripture relate to the new moon festivals or to the seasonal harvest.  New grain and wine were prized and their cyclical coming was depended on and celebrated as evidence of God’s faithfulness.  New things are stronger – new strength, new cloaks, new carts, new bowls are all referred to as superior things.  The Psalmists often speak of new songs they will sing, a direct result of new acts of faithfulness from God worth their praise.  Isaiah encourages us that God will do new things and tell new things to his people…and we look forward to a new heaven and a new earth that promises God’s shalom.  The New Testament is rich with the promise of newness: we have a new covenant precisely because God found fault with the old one.  God gives new hearts and new spirits, and new mercies every day.  God’s people, with the Holy Spirit, will speak new languages, will have new life and a new nature.  And, in the chapter of the final book of Scripture we are told that indeed God is making all things new and we are given a picture of the beauty of newness.

After seeing how clearly God is a god of newness and how he has made newness to be a part of our months and our days, I challenged myself to celebrate newness somehow each month.  And as I do, I see how new I am now too.  In deep – sometimes unexplainable – ways, I notice myself engaging challenges differently, working differently, thinking differently, dreaming differently…all as a result of the way God is growing me here in this new place.  I still long for stability and comfort, but in knowing that God in his very nature will always be doing new things, I can’t resist newness too long or I will resist God himself.

What’s new with you?

perspective check: the kingdom always lies beyond us, and other reminders

26 08 2010

I found myself forgetting things this morning: I left the house without my gym shoes when I needed them to go walking after work.  I left my mug on my desk as I walked to the lunchroom to get (a cup of) tea.  Little, nonessential things slipped my mind.  Sometimes we operate in life thinking we’ve got everything we need in view, and then a random thought, unexpected phone call, or calendar alert on our phone pops in out of nowhere and shifts our perspective.  Forgetfulness skews our perspective.  Reminders keep us on track.

While I was forgetting non-essentials today, I found God reminding me of very important things, essential to the core of my being.  Some of them are things I have been straining to remember for the last year (or more) and refusing to forget, despite a host of other things competing for my attention.

He reminded me that the knowledge of God can also be the quickest thing to separate us from him and that my theological education means nothing if I fail to behold the beauty of the Lord.  For a great sermon on the topic, check this out.

He reminded me today during chapel, as we heard from youth involved in World Vision’s Youth Empowerment Program, of his heart for young people to know him and for especially forgotten, oppressed, or abused youth to be empowered to rebuild their own cities (Isa 61).  He reminded me of the way he has built that part of his heart into my own, and of the ways he has been stirring me to be a peacemaker.

He reminded me of the passion I had once that burned deep in me for others to know the Living God and to be changed by his love.

He reminded me of the way he calls his people to live like exiles: by praying for the city they are sent to, settling down and making it home, even if they are far from the place and community they love (Jer. 29).

And he also reminded me, through these words by the Archbishop Oscar Romero, of the greatness of the kingdom of God, the privilege it is to live in it and work for it, and the meaning inherent in every small way we participate:

“It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that
is God’s work.  Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the
Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for
the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.”

A Time to Plant

14 08 2010

Now that it’s finally stopped raining, I’ve been going for a lot of walks, usually through neighborhoods where I get some really beautiful views of the Puget Sound or at dusk, quick glimpses through windows and screen doors of a thousand different lives.  I stumble over cracked sidewalks and overgrown bushes and duck low hanging trees, and I pass a lot of personal gardens.  I’m not a gardener at all, but this time of year offers a view of magical, colorful creation at its best.  Bright purple cabbage, yellow corn, leafy green lettuce, red tomatoes, yellow squash and a confetti of wildflowers dot my walking paths.

It gets me thinking about growing.

We were made to create.  In the image of our Creator we have been invited to join the repetitive yet spontaneous and endless process of production.  We get so bogged down in the pressure to produce that we forget about the God-nature of it, but it’s true.  We were made to imagine and dream and till the soil until something beautiful sprouts.  With this likeness in our being, in our very function, it’s no wonder that we (particularly in the industrial West) so often skew the balance between work and rest.  To work is in our nature; even if we have a few lazy days (or years!) we still long to see the fruits of our labor.  We grow grumpy and frustrated when our lives don’t seem to make “enough” of a difference in the world, when our work doesn’t seem to ever fix anything or stay the ever-persistent demands of survival.  Even when we’re tired – exhausted – we.  keep.  moving.  Stopping won’t get us anywhere.

Lately, as I walk through my neighborhood, I find myself uncomfortable with the stillness of both the streets and my own soul.  I whine to God that I’m walking alone, that my dearest friends are hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away, and that I have nothing “more exciting” to do.  But then I see a garden and I’m reminded of how things grow.  We plant for the harvest, but the harvest won’t happen without the tedious, time-consuming tending of the soil.  The crop won’t last long if we don’t take the time to water and dig and watch and wait.  The real growth happens underground.

And so, among the gardens I pray.  I am reminded that I am never alone and that God himself is faithfully tending to my every need and preparing me for a harvest that will last.  Even more, he invites me to create myself with him.  He gives me space to till the soil too.

Too often, because we’re so busy bent over, close to the ground, looking for the fruit to pick, our prayers remain in the present, or in the past that, like a weed we can’t get rid of, crowds out the crops we really want.  We pray for the needs of the day or of the moment – all good prayers and in line with Jesus’ teaching in what is commonly referred to as the “Lord’s Prayer.”  We know someone who is sick, or hurting, or scared, and so we pray.  We feel anxious or angry or alone, and so we pray.  We’re haunted by certain memories or mistakes, and so we pray.  But we get so busy in the pace of the work, that eventually all we seem to be able to do is keep up.

Yet in the moments when the ground is empty, then God invites us to plant, and we get to lift our eyes and look ahead.  We get to pray for the coming harvest that’s still invisible.  We get to pray for future things.  We no longer just have to pray for survival, or for God to “fix” things (even though sometimes there are seasons where that is all we can do), but we get to pray also for God’s creative, proactive presence in our lives and our world.  We get to dream with him what it could look like for his Kingdom to spring up through the earth wherever we’re planted, in giant purple heads of cabbage and in tiny little berries.  We get to pray for crops large and small.

Don’t get too hung up on the harvest.  Every seventh year God asked his people to let the land lie, and to remember that even though they were made to co-create with him, it was imperative that they remember who the first Creator was.  And when they worried about what they would eat that year, he reminded them that he would bless them with everything they needed during the time of rest – with an abundance, actually.

Heed the Creator’s command to rest, and in so doing, pray for the underground growth.  Don’t resist the stillness or the silence or the loneliness you may find yourself in.  It’s the way that we plant and pray for future things, and it matters.  It’s the way that the mustard seed grows.

This is my DREAM!

4 07 2010

I was encouraged by this recent post from Steve Kimes, Pastor of Anawim Christian Community, a church in Portland, OR for the homeless and mentally ill, originally posted on the Mustard Seed Associates blog last month.  Read this and get a glimpse of my heart and hopes for my future (and now too).

Living With The Homeless

I approach Ron on his couch in our finished basement. “Hey, Ron, could you please start watering the plants out front?  It’s starting to get dry.”

Ron looks up from his paper, “No problem, Steve. Do you want me to do the ones by the street, too?”

“Yeah, I don’t want them to dry out.”

Ron has been sleeping on our couch for five years. He’s in his 60s and used to live in his truck. Someone ran a red light and totaled the truck, but since Ron didn’t have insurance, he was considered to be at fault. We took him in because we didn’t want him to return to the picnic table he used to sleep under, concerned that he might not make it through another winter. So he does some gardening and sweeping for us and we give him a place to sleep. He’s kind and passive and easy to live with.

Since we obtained our six bedroom house six years ago, we have had people living with us. Even before then, when we had a two-bedroom apartment, we had people sleeping in our living room and porch. Honestly, my wife and I have had people staying with us off and on since three weeks after we were married. To many people, this seems like an excessive ministry, especially since we run a church made up of the homeless and mentally ill. “Isn’t this too much for you? Why do you keep people in your house?”

Sometimes it is too much for us, or it feels like it. One gentleman we had staying with us would stand in our dining room, right in the center of our three-story house, and preach so loudly that no one could escape it. He would be in a manic phase so no one could stop him, either. And there was the time that we had someone detoxing from heroin in one of our basement rooms. That wasn’t one of my best ideas, either.

A couple of years ago, we were burned out from all of our ministry. We couldn’t imagine continuing to deal with people’s social weaknesses, their ups and downs, their drives for personal success and their inevitable failures. We talked about shutting everything down. Diane pointed out that, even if we moved to a different city, how long would it be before we invited someone into our house and the whole thing started again? Not long, I mused.

We were made for this ministry. Community isn’t just a nice thing to do, it is a lifestyle we must live. Why is this? Why must we live in community with the homeless and mentally ill?

  • Because discipleship is not education but lifestyle training. In Christ, conversion is a new creation, not the signature on the bottom of the doctrinal statement. Jesus himself demonstrated that the new lifestyle of following Him is something to be acculturated into, not simply taught. Thus, for my task as a pastor to succeed, I must live with those whom I am discipling, not simply giving classes leading or accountability groups.
  • Because the socially outcast need permanent halfway houses. Almost all discipleship and mentoring programs for the homeless attempt to train the homeless to be middle class. This is assuming that the best the homeless could achieve is a Christian lifestyle of consumerism and single family dwellings. But the real issue is that most of the chronic homeless (who have lived on the street for at least two years), no matter what training, never successfully live on their own without assistance. There are many reasons for this, but the question I have is, what is successful?

    I have found that alternative living is one option that succeeds. This allows the homeless to live in small communities without worrying about rent or utilities, but only doing what work they must in order to retain their place in the community. This allows them to live in the barter economy they are used to, rather than making a shift to a monetary economy. Our community allows for that, working ten hours a week for room and board instead of a monetary payment.

  • Because it keeps me and my family honest. Some might have concerns about raising my family with the homeless and the mentally ill. However, there is no danger for my children in this life. Instead, it has brought opportunities for my children that otherwise wouldn’t exist. My son and daughter have had the opportunity to talk about homelessness to their classes, and to live out cross-cultural ministry. But more than this, having some of our congregation live with us is accountability for us. Whatever we do in our lives, that is what is shared with our congregation, and so our lives are always under examination.

    This means that when we make errors, even grave ones, we must apologize for them and live well – not only for our family, but for the health of our ministry. This seems like a surrender of privacy, but honestly, it is a priceless gift. It is a daily reminder of how we need to live, not just for our relationship with God, but for all those around us. We all have this to a degree—living with our spouse or children— but living with my congregation is a reminder I find to be essential.

LOVE this!

4 07 2010

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” – Matthew 5:9

sharing an excellent article by Tom Sine re: the needs and benefits of alternative community for our generation

4 07 2010

originally posted on his blog last month…

Community… a coming crisis and a creative opportunity 2010 to 2020

by Tom Sine

As we emerge from the worst recession in 70 years we learn that nearly 3,000,000 Americans lost their homes in 2009. But as we race into the second decade of the 21st century we are likely to face some other housing challenges that few are talking about.

First, as the economy begins to recover, housing prices are going to begin to rise again. Historically housing prices in North America have risen much more rapidly than the general economy. As a consequence we are likely to see growing numbers of 20, 30 and 40 year olds priced out of the housing market in 2010 to 2020. It is already happened in Santa Barbara, California and Vancouver, British Columbia where housing prices start at $700,000.

The problem is the middle class young have all been scripted to live out their parents’ affluent suburban lifestyles. I’ve yet to find a Christian college or church that is informing the next generation about the looming reality that growing numbers of them are unlikely to achieve the lifestyles they were raised with, and most will be unable to buy homes in the communities in which they were raised. These are just a couple of changes coming to the economy for the middle class.

While those of us who are part of the silent generation seldom spent more than 20% of one income for rent or mortgage, young couples today often spend 40% to 50% of two incomes to purchase their first home. As a consequence they have much less time and resources to invest in the work of God’s kingdom.

Increasingly were seeing couples like Jeremy and Janice, who bought a house together with another Christian couple in Colorado Springs. Each couple has their own floor in the home and their monthly mortgage costs are significantly lower. As a consequence of this decision, Jeremy and Janice were able to locate much closer to the college where they are involved in campus ministry, plus they are enjoying community with the other couple.

Not only is the single-family detached -housing option likely to be less sustainable economically, it is also likely to be less sustainable environmentally. In his new book Eaarth, Bill McKibben’s makes a convincing case that we could hit the peak oil tipping point where the cost of gas doubles or triples in the very near future. As a consequence all of us, and particularly those who are starting out, will need to create a range of new housing options that have a much smaller environmental footprint.

The cohousing movement is creating a spectrum of new cooperative communities all over the country that are not only less energy and land intensive but also create mutually supportive communities that will become increasingly essential for life in the turbulent times ahead.

The Bartimaeus community in Silverdale, Washington is the first Christian cohousing community in the Northwest. They have clustered their 25 units closely together on 3 1/2 acres with cars at the perimeter. Instead of backyards they use their land more intensively by creating one place where the children play together, and another area where members garden together. They meet several times a week in a common building and operate like a large extended family, not only caring for one another in their community, but reaching out and serving their neighbors in Silverdale as well.

Since growing numbers of those who are graduating from our Christian colleges are unlikely to be able to afford the single-family detached option, we are urging Christian colleges to help expand their students’ range of housing options for the future. We propose that instead of building yet another luxury dorm, they construct intergenerational cohousing communities. In this environment students would not only experience a community -based lifestyle but also discover a more sustainable and less expensive way of living.

In the last five years we have seen a range of experimental communities developed in Australia, Canada and the United States. These new communities are primarily composed of younger Christians who want to live in a way in which they are able to more authentically be a difference and make a difference in our world.

For example, Jonathan and Leah started the Rutba community in inner-city Durham, North Carolina. The members of this community live in three different homes. They not only share life together but they do morning and evening prayers and also enjoy sharing life and hospitality with their neighbors. They have discovered this cooperative lifestyle enables them to significantly reduce their living costs so they are able to free up both more time and money to invest in the lives of young people in their neighborhood.

Christine and I decided it’s not enough to write about people creating experimental new communities; we needed to join them. Four years ago we started Mustard Seed House with Eliacin and Ricci and their kids, who live upstairs in out tri-plex, and Peter and Anneka Geel who lived downstairs. We started meeting weekly over a meal to share our life and faith together as well as doing morning and evening prayers five days a week. Being very concerned about sustainability, we raise about 40% of our vegetables on an urban lot and enjoy doing hospitality with friends near and far.

We are also in the process of designing a Celtic eco-village on 40 acres on Camano Island, north of Seattle. Our hope is to have a permanent monastic community living on the land that models a much more sustainable lifestyle set to a very different spiritual rhythm. We plan to put a very high premium on sustainable design, including alternative energy sources as well as a large organic garden. Initially we are exploring creating a residential unit to host 25 to 35 students at a time who want to experience a simpler, more sustainable and celebrative way of life. {Be sure to read Christine’s more in-depth description in the Seed Shares.}

We plan to offer courses on sustainable living and sustainable spiritual practices for life in an increasingly volatile future. We would love to have friends from all over the planet join us in imagining and creating this new model for a more cooperative, sustainable way of life that could be replicated in other communities where you live and serve God.

Imagine the difference it could make if followers of Jesus started creating a spectrum of new experimental alternatives of cooperative communities which are more sustainable, celebrative, and less expensive and which also make a little difference in our troubled world.