Friday, November 30, 2007

june: this is cheese

Despite fewer posts during the month of June, there is no shortage of impact in this month’s reading of Today at the Mission.
You have no idea how precious these items are.
There’s a scene in the movie Borat where the visitor from Kazakhstan is interviewing the manager of a grocery store. And as he points to an item on the shelf he asks “what is this” and the manager replies “that is cheese.” As he moves down the aisle, pointing to product after product, he asks the same question over and over again, and the answer is always the same: “that is cheese”. You wonder how long the straight-faced Borat can continue in this line of questioning. “But this says Crackers, this is not cheese,” he claims, to which the store manager replies, “no, Crackers is the brand, that is cheese.”

This is the world I know.

In the world of [rhymes with kerouac], every day grocery items like juice, salad, fruit and vegetables are as revered as gold. And truth be told, even after reading this chapter three times, I still have no idea how precious those items are.

And its not that [rkw]’s words lack power – they are most poignant. I’ve seen the plight of the hungry and the homeless on television. Heck, I’ve even volunteered at our local soup kitchen on a few occasions, too. I still have no idea.

Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

While the Gospels often include different stories of Jesus, or recount his actions using different words, the Books of Matthew, Mark and Luke provide nearly identical accounts of Jesus’ encounter with the man who had great wealth… “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

And while it’s likely that I am not wealthy by American standards, by worldly standards I am a gazillionaire. Even when I lost my job two years ago, my wife and I never worried about putting food on the table. I just have no idea.

In the past, when I’ve read this passage in the Bible, I thought about what it means to surrender to God… the importance of tithing… not serving two masters… and to be honest, I believe my heart is in the right place most of the time. But today, this passage is talking to me about something else. Being like Jesus means being able to see the world like Jesus does.
It took a considerable amount of time before the clients began to emerge in my mind as individuals. God was asking me to see what he was seeing, and with it, I couldn’t help but begin to feel some of the things he was feeling, too.
And this is where that whole love thing gets tricky. I may be kidding myself, but I think I could give up all of my worldly possessions in a moment. But I have a wife and three children that I love very much. And if my kids want to go to college, I want to help them. And if my wife is hungry, I want to feed her. And if they are cold, I want to put a roof over their heads. And if my daughter wants a pair of Ugg boots, well let's throw those in, too.

Maybe I am just being normal. Or maybe I just have no idea.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

may: the truth about my church

When are you going to show up, Lord?
Some days, I sit in one place simply waiting for the Lord to show up. Other days I am on a journey. My walk, as they say. Making choices between the narrow gate that leads to life and the wide gate that leads to destruction. And when I get lost (and actually notice that I’m lost) I simply say “show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths.”

In the month of May, we learn in Today at the Mission that Jesus appears in many places… and we need to be vigilant if we are to realize when and where he steps into our lives.
We’ve focused our entire spiritual lives on the assumption that the bricks and mortar of our church building is the place of sanctification, the place of redemption, the seat of Christ’s transforming power when in fact the cross is found outside the City of God.
For most of my adult life, I belonged to the Church of the Holy Convenience. Show up for Easter. Christmas. Your child’s Baptism. Maybe a few Sunday’s thrown in between. Then something funny happened. One Sunday during Mass I heard the voice of God. In church of all places!

I went back for three weeks in a row… and there was silence. Deafening silence. Yo God, where did you go, dude?

And then I did something I had never done before. One Sunday, I stepped into another church. And there He was.

Hey Mikey, I think he likes it. How about some more?

In the movie The Matrix, there’s a scene where Tank is taking Neo through his first training programs – where he becomes turbo-infused with knowledge. And he can’t get enough. And for the first year at my new church, I felt the same way. Sunday service. Wednesday night service. Bible study. Bring it on!

And study was followed with ministry teams. Volunteering at Sunday services. Which was followed by community service. Small groups. Then leadership teams.

And then one day you wake up and you feel something different… like the four walls of this church are holding me back. That putting so many resources and dollars into an hour on Sunday was missing the point. That the cross is outside… beyond the gates of the church… “in the wild and desolate place” we call our community… the place [rwk] refers to as “the place of anguish, of humiliation and shame.”
What matters most to God is the person sitting across the table from me right now.
So I stop going to my weekly men’s group and start volunteering at the local senior center. When my time on the church management team came to and end, I was excited… because it freed up time for me to volunteer at the community access station of our local cable channel.

To be honest… there were a few weeks recently when I was down on my church… on its leadership… and what it was (and wasn’t) doing. But I was wrong.

The truth is… I don’t belong to a missional church in that we don’t participate in many community service projects and we don’t give church money to the poor. But I do belong to a church that produces people who are becoming more missional in their own lives. Like Scott, Chris, Kevin, Stacee, Chris, Ginny, Erin and many, many more. Last week, for example, I emailed Scott if he could help me on a project that involved getting out among the public, and his reply said it all: "Since this feels like a stretch for me -- I'm in."

So whenever I sit in church now and ask, “When are you going to show up, Lord?” I am comforted by a simple fact that was recorded by a cook in a homeless shelter:
The amazing thing is – sooner or later – He always does.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

thankful for

... forgiveness
... people who notice when I'm not 100%
... opportunities to serve
... people who challenge me
... second (and third) chances
... the joys (and challenges) of fatherhood
... the promise of salvation
... growing old with someone I love
... blank sheets of paper
... people to laugh with
... the Holy Spirit
... the sheer magnitude of His creation
... and many more things.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

april: yeah for sunshine

Day in and day out… dealing with some of God’s most neediest people… it was nice to see in April, that there are days when the sun still shines at Today at the Mission.
April brought warm sunny weather, fresh spring air, and the promise of summer. After the emotional intensity of the previous month I found myself relaxing and enjoying the Mission again.
To be honest, after reading the first 46 pages, I wondered whether I could get through this book… imagine what it was like for the homeless men and women who crowded in during the Cold Weather Refuge Program – and for the people who offered themselves up as the hands and feet of Christ.

On the first day, He created hope.

We are such fragile beings. And God knew that long before Adam first stepped foot into the garden. We can be weak… desperate… and so quick to cling to darkness.
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
The first day, and already God was sending us a message of hope… one that has lasted through the ages. There is always a tomorrow. A fresh start. The dawn of a new day.

Can you imagine what the world would be like if it was always light? No beginning, no ends. No rhythm to our lives. Every day, we are given a reminder that God longs to pull us out of the dark. Away from our desperation and weakness. On the first day, He created hope.

A time to be born and a time to die.

But we humans… we are slow on the uptake. So the Lord says let there be a season for every activity under heaven. Winter, spring, summer, fall.

When Jesus says we must be born again… is that really such a difficult concept? Through the cycles of the seasons, God puts on a lesson in renewal and redemption year after year. Life. Decay. Death. Rebirth. Even in the Mission, we see the Word spreading “like a chain reaction” bringing joy to the faces of client and coworker alike.

There is always next year.

Sports. School. Work. Life. So much of our existence revolves around the calendar year… which gives us an opportunity to start all over again every January.

We humans must be really slow on the uptake.
Did you ever think of all that it takes to create days, seasons, years. The earth rotates at a speed of 1,600 km per hour. The earth’s axis tilts at precisely 23 ½ degrees. The earth then orbits the sun at a speed of just under 30 km per second. If any of the math changed even slightly… the days, weeks, months, seasons, years as we know it would not exist.

God's gift: a trilogy of hope.

Hope. Renewal. Redemption. The concepts are so important in our relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit… he gave us so many in-your-face reminders that He is there… waiting for us… ready to lift us and love us. The dawn of a new morning… a new season… a new year.

We see these forces in action at the Mission throughout the month of April, which [rhymes with kerouac] ends as he began, “Oh yeah, today was a very good day.” Praise the Lord.

Friday, November 16, 2007

march: the power of doubt

wilsonian warned me about “slow reading” the book Today at the Mission. And it’s true. Usually I whiz through books the same way I whiz through life. But try reading a post about the Green Eyed Girl, who watches as the family shelter – the only place she calls home – is dismantled in front of her eyes due to budget cuts. Read that post. Reflect on it. Think about how “she eyes me warily, they way you or I might eye an airline passenger with a gun.” Read it again. And cry.

Makes me wonder… what if I tried “slow reading” life as well?

Anyway… in the month of march, [rhymes with kerouac] continues to write about what it means to be the hands and feet in Christ in a wounded world… and the thought that I keep coming back to is summed up in a single phrase:

The way forward, in fact, is always through doubt.
A few month’s ago, there was a great deal of news about Mother Theresa and her doubts. Decades of frustration, seeking the God who would not come. But she never stopped comforting others or inspiring devotion to Jesus.
Do we make a difference in anyone’s life? Do we matter?
Perhaps Mother Theresa asked the same questions as [rwk]. At times, felt the same emptiness. A world of unanswered questions. But the point is – they both demonstrated faith not in spite of these doubts – but because of it.

Maybe, if we don’t have doubts – we are not trying hard enough.

There so much about God I don’t understand, but rarely does the size and magnitude of God leave me with doubts. After all… being a good person and reading your Bible and giving up a few hours for people I don’t know is not exactly that tough. I don’t sit there and say “Gee, I have some doubt on whether raking that old lady's house is a good idea.” And the answer, I believe, is not that I am a man of great faith… but I am simply not pushing my faith to the limit often enough.

Not to say I’ve never had doubt. About three years ago I left a business I had started and grown because I wanted to salvage a relationship with my business partner. God was very much involved in that decision. But there were times when I felt I was doing all the right things and still ending up with all the wrong results. I had doubts, but persisted through them. I trusted in the Lord. And perhaps, it is the one time in my life I have truly gone forward through doubt.

But must days are not like that. Most days are easy. And most days, I imagine, I am not moving forward.

So my prayer for today is a bit risky – but I ask God, please put me in a situation where I must doubt again.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

february: mixin’ it up

This is a ministry of love to people who can’t always love you back.
In the second chapter of Today at the Mission, [rwk] describes an environment that is so distant from my world.

While there are clearly stories of hope, optimism and redemption at the Mission – they occur within a larger context of fear, threats and danger. Ministering to the homeless means more than lending a hand to the poor – it means opening yourself up to abusive language, insults, victimization, theft, vandalism and untold hurts.

Is that what God asks of us?

I envelope myself in safety. The people I encounter on a daily basis are people I’ve met through college, work, neighborhood, church and kid’s sports. We are homogeneous in ways that go beyond demographics (white, educated, money) – everyone is simply nice. Pleasant. Easy-to-get along with. Because if they weren’t (nice that is) I would simply avoid them… leave them to someone else.

Does God expect me to have lunch with an annoying person?

Even when I think about my so-called missional life, it too is based on an expectation of safety. I’m attracted to church groups where I like everyone on the team. I visit two elderly gentlemen every other week and treasure their company. I hang out and play games with some fun-loving, special needs kids once a month and have a blast. Serve you? I have to like you first!

When God says love your enemies, he means pray from a distance, right?

I guess the one place my “safety plan” doesn’t always work is with family. Don’t like ‘em all as people, but am forced to spend time with ‘em once in a while. But let’s be honest. While my judgmental inner voice likes to highlight behavior that can be selfish, money-oriented, me-driven or sometimes just nasty – I can get through an hour of “how about them Yankees” unscathed with just about all of my cousins.

God expects more from me.

In the TV Show MASH, Major Frank Burns once remarked “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.” And those are certainly words I can live by.

In one moment, however, [rwk] comes to a revelation that struck my very soul. He writes:
The really difficult thing to grasp, however, is that the sins committed against me were also covered by the blood of Christ. They wrongs they have committed against my soul are also the things for which He died. They too were paid for.
Perhaps it’s time I started looking for trouble.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

january: proactive otherness

The mission cat, Impossible, was the recipient of a gift tonight.
In reading the first chapter of Today at the Mission, one quickly gets a feel for the plight of the homeless. But what’s sticking with me most is the way the author [rhymes with kerouac] relates with his surroundings.

The best way I can describe it is a “proactive otherness”. [rwk] seems to go out of his way to see the world through the eyes, feelings and perspective of his clients – and connect that perspective to his own journey with God.

Now for me, I often see God in what I’ll call “positive experiences” – the kid who rakes the yard of his elderly neighbor, the comforting smile of a stranger or situations like the one [rwk] writes about in his opening entry, where a homeless man sat still for three hours so as not to disturb a sleeping cat. In situations like this, I can see God with little effort on my part.

But try seeing the Glory of God through the man who attacks your faith, an intensely needy guy who never leaves you alone, neighbors who do nothing but complain, people who don’t care about your needs or schedules, and some who simply want to hurt you. No, seeing God in these circumstances requires work – a sort of proactive otherness – but it’s something I think we all could do if we only tried.

For example: Kelli Standish blogs about a recent dinner at IHOP – recounting all of the ways the absolutely horrible service by a waitress nearly ruined her night out. And as she and her husband discussed not leaving a tip – they began to think about the waitress. What was going on in her life that left her do distracted that night? What events had sucked the joy out of her heart? “There’s so much in this life we don’t see,” Kelli writes, “So much that goes on behind the scenes.”

[rwk] takes a moment to think about the life we don’t see – and while we can’t always know or understand – it seems that the mere effort opens a new window to Christ.

today at the mission

Through the kindness of wilsonian, I received a copy of Today at the Mission.

The book is day-by-day journal -- a one-year record of an emotional and spiritual journey undertaken in the kitchen of an anonymous homeless shelter that could be anywhere, or everywhere.

The author, who refers to himself only as [rhymes with kerouac] writes, “when I first began working here I thought I was going to bring God to the Mission. What I discovered was that God was already present, and very much at work, in ways I never imagined.”

While normally I speed through books, I think I am going to take this one a little more slowly – letting the words “speak to the heart of who we are, and who God is, and the yearning that lies between." So far I have finished January… some thoughts to follow.

Monday, November 5, 2007


God deserves our total devotion. Our lifelong quest is to take our everyday lives and place them before Him as an offering. As we give ourselves entirely to God, He leads us by His Spirit, who inspires us to love and serve Him with our absolute best.

One of the values of Crossroads Community Church

Saturday, November 3, 2007

decision '08 - same ol', same ol'

My prayer for today is from 1 Kings 3:9.

So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?