A Desert Highway

"Desert Road" by Walid Mahfoudh is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

“Desert Road” by Walid Mahfoudh is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

I’ve been thinking about how lives are restored. How do we become a fertile place for grace to do its reconciling work?

I think it begins with conversations.

A colleague and mentor calls them “courageous” conversations. These are conversations that allow room for difference, for the ways each of us is experiencing God in our lives, and for the ways that our life story keeps us from growing in God’s love.

We are blessed that we have been known as a place where difference is part of our identity. We have lived in this middle place since we began 22 years ago. Being in this position is itself a gift from God, challenging, but a gift.

Our differences provide fertile ground for our growth in God’s love. Spaces of mutual accountability where we encounter each other in vulnerable ways are a witness to our desire to live into God’s kingdom. It makes our call to restored lives incarnate as create places for grace to be made evident among us as a diverse people.

We live in a culture and a time where our public conversations are not constructive and differences are used to divide us. We are truly in a desert place, a dry and desolate place, in a cultural atmosphere that desperately needs the church to live into its ministry of reconciliation.

What will it look like for our community to become a place that models holy conversations among a diverse community? How can this become the cornerstone of our call to restored lives that go from seeking to serving, from wanderers to missionaries?

This weekend we have an opportunity to hear about God’s insistence that the way needs to be paved for our healing, salvation, and reconciliation. Join us as we “make a desert highway,” as we make space for all people to see “the glory of the Lord.”

Broken Pots

IMG_0151In a sermon long ago I mentioned that I would love to have a plant in my office but that I would just kill it. That week a parishioner brought a plant and told me that it could die, but it would be very hard to kill it. It’s been nine or so years since that encounter and the plant is still alive, but I’ve sure almost killed it more than once!

At every move I would leave the plant for last. At each transition point it reminded me of the many holy conversations that I had and the many that I would have in my next place. After the last Sunday, you could find me with my vestments in one hand and the plant in the other. I would place it on the floor of the passenger seat in my car and drive it to its next destination.

The first thing in my new office? The plant, of course . . .

Today we shared a word about recognizing how broken we are, recognizing our need for salvation. I called for us to reflect on that brokenness, on the brokenness of the world so that we could connect with the hunger in our souls for healing, wholeness, for salvation.

We are all messed up like a person
compromised with impurity;
even all our right efforts are like soiled
Isaiah 64:6 (The Voice Bible)

After lunch today I entered my office and knocked over my plant. The clay pot is now in pieces but the plant is still alive, soil clinging to its roots, just waiting for another pot.

Our lives are like that, we trip and they become fragmented. It would be easy to panic and just toss it all away as if beyond repair, hopeless. The scripts running through our souls about our worthiness, our propensity to sin, our identity questioned.

The Good News of Jesus is that the soil of grace clings to the roots of God’s image in us, all we need is to open ourselves to the new pot, the new trajectory, the new life that God is making possible.

So there’s hope! O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

Advent Pastoral Letter 2014

Dear Grace Community,

Grace and Peace!

JCheadshot14I always look forward to Advent! Year after year it seems to come just at the right time. Just when I need to be reminded of God’s larger future, of the day when all things will be made well. Just when my own sin and the sin of the world is most evident, the church groans for Emmanuel to come.

In the church this has been traditionally a time for reflection on our need for salvation and the hopeful expectation of Jesus’ return into history to make all things new. It is a season of preparation for the Christmas Day and Christmas season, where for 12 Days we celebrate God’s coming in the form of Jesus.

This is my first Advent season with you. It is always a time that we all long for the familiar, for tradition, and for what we know are our rythms of life together. Please be patient with me as I continue learning your way of life and trying to live it out as genuinely as possible through my own soul.

In spite of all the new-ness I know that we share a passion to tell the gospel story. So we will tell it, boldly, passionately, and consistently.

It is my prayer that you will take time each day this season to reflect on the ways that we often do not shine the light of Christ in our lives. Observe the ways that the world does not reflect God’s intention of peace and justice. Pay attention to the small ways that God is showing up in your life and in the lives of others. Most of all, do not be afraid of pointing out what where you see God!

I look forward to our weekends of worship this season. We’ll sing the songs of praise, hear words from the prophet Isaiah and Mary the mother of Jesus, and we’ll count down to the celebration of God’s breaking into history in Jesus.

There are many this season that seem without hope. Pay attention and invite them to join you in worship, prayer, and noticing.

I am thankful and honored to be your pastor. I look forward to our journey together as we repent, confess, and proclaim.

Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved. Psalm 80:3 (NRSV)

Peace & Love, Juan+

An Advent Reflection 2014

"Winter Woods" by Chloe Hague is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

“Winter Woods” by Chloe Hague is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

The Christian Year is the church’s way to live in salvation history in a macro pattern that forms us over time. It provides a framework for the continuous telling of God’s story and its connection to the seasons of creation and to our identity as a baptized community.

The year begins with Advent, a season of waiting, reflection, and hope.

Advent forces us to face the coming winter. To cease, to wait, to slow down, and to pay attention is difficult when freezing temperatures keep us inside and evening comes quickly. It is hard to keep the promise alive when nature hibernates.

Yet, Advent comes, it unfolds. Week after week we mark the next Lord’s Day, and proclaim again and again “Come, Lord Jesus.”We are waiting in hopeful expectation that Jesus will come again, this time to set all things right, to bring to completion God’s reign of love, justice, and peace; salvation coming to it’s fullness!

Wanting Jesus to come is recognizing our need for a savior. Something is not right with the world, all of creation barren begging to blossom and grow. Violence, oppression, and death a prevalent theme in headlines around the world. We too might sense the angst, our list, plans, and busyness not providing for our much needed hunger. Our story’s shadow visiting again, hopelessness settling in; “From whom will my help come?”

Here grace begins to unfold. Without even realizing it the Holy Spirit raises our awareness, turns our lament towards heaven, reminds us that a way to freedom, to healing, to salvation, has been paved.

This season I invite you to not get distracted by the attempts around us to sell us a synthetic Spring, an empty hope, and salvation by buying power. Let’s gather around the light of Christ, remembering the story of our faith, and waiting actively together for the day when all of creation will experience the salvation of our God!

Dreaming Dreams & Seeing Visions

autumnleavesThis week I am once again humbled by your generosity and investment in our future. The image of each of you coming forward making visible a commitment to support the call of your body to to be a grace agent in our city brings me joy, pride, and inspiration.

As we continue to receive commitments towards 2015 I want to share with you some of what I see taking shape for our ministry together in this next year.

There are three phrases that I believe describe the blue print for our ministry as a missionary people in 2015: seeking justice, restoring lives, & transforming the city.

Seeking Justice:” Justice is not a political code word or a goal that’s exclusive of personal holiness. It is our commitment to engage our city from the perspective of God’s call to “shalom/peace,” our call to the repentance and conversion of all things, people and systems, to God’s loving intention. Our commitment to being an open and diverse community, our passion for joy-filled sensory worship, and our willingness to speak boldly about the power of Christ to seek and make whole all that is counter to God’s call to love speaks to our vision of being justice seekers in all that we do.

Restoring Lives:” Our conviction that salvation begins with the call of God’s Spirit to acknowledge our brokenness and the brokenness of the world. That we have failed God and neighbor by things that we have done and, as the prayer of confession says, by “things that we have left undone.” Recognizing our need for grace we open the doors of our hearts, souls, and minds, to a renewed spirit, a whole existence, a restored life! Our ministry in 2015 will place growing emphasis in the the many ways that we support our growth in grace (the restoration of our life). We want all people to engage in communities of grace, small groups of believers who gather weekly to care for one another in love. Small groups, prayers groups, and recovery groups, are some of the ways that this takes place and we look forward to having more people growing in grace through these groups.

Transforming the City:” The purpose of seeking justice (Christ’s kingdom as the ultimate destination) and restoring lives (grace nurturing community) is the rehearsing (the practicing) of God’s kingdom in the place that we have been planted. For 22 years we have been about this work through the many missional commitments (Common Ground, New Room, etc.), through establishing a presence where people are living and seeking, and through our worship life. We’ll continue our missional commitments but also hope to become a more robust community partner by being part of the community conversation seeking to make Shreveport/Bossier a better community and to advocate for the least, the last, and the lost.

Hear what God says!

In the last days,
I will offer My Spirit to humanity as a libation.
Your children will boldly speak the word of the Lord.
Young warriors will see visions,
and your elders will dream dreams.

Acts 2:17 (The Voice Bible)

Join us as we continue dreaming dreams and seeing visions. Invest in God’s future for us here, you can pledge online or print your pledge card and mail it to the church office. See you this weekend!