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!

Unlocking the Dream: Dreams Coming True

This week we are reaping the harvest that we have been watering and tending for the last few weeks. Conversations about money are always difficult; they force us to deal with our struggles with security, our sense of scarcity, and our insatiable desire for more.

Time and time again Jesus reminds us that how we invest our financial resources says something about what we treasure. This is why Paul tells us:

Giving grows out of the heart—otherwise, you’ve reluctantly grumbled “yes” because you felt you had to or because you couldn’t say “no,” but this isn’t the way God wants it. For we know that “God loves a cheerful giver.” God is ready to overwhelm you with more blessings than you could ever imagine so that you’ll always be taken care of in every way and you’ll have more than enough to share.

2 Corinthians 9:7-8 (The Voice)

Blog 2 editGod is ready to overwhelm us with a fruitful future, are we ready to invest in it?

I invite you to invest, in the dreams of this community called Grace and in your own growth as a disciple of Jesus. I know that God is calling, empowering, and challenging us as we lean into the future that lies ahead.

Most importantly I invite you to pray for what God is calling your family to invest, to offer, and for God to continue showing us the way as a congregation. My prayers are with you as we prepare to come together this weekend, open the vault, and offer our investment in the dream to almighty God.

Can’t wait to see our dreams come true!

Unlocking the Dream

Blog Post 1Focusing on dreams often seems unrealistic. Visions of clouds, a fantasy future, and unrealistic goals plague our imagination. Memories of dreams had and dreams unfulfilled make us timid to dream again.

Yet time and time again in the story of our faith we hear about dreams, dreamers, and dreams fulfilled. We are encouraged to hear and respond to God’s whispers for the life of the world.

This weekend we begin a journey towards unlocking the door to God’s dreams for our life together. There are three keys that could make it possible:

Presence – a commitment to worship attendance, small group formation, and missional service for both our congregation and our community. It is through presence that we hear God’s voice and discern God’s way.

Facility & Equipment – a commitment to appropriately maintain and update our facility and equipment including flexibility in space usage and constantly asking: How do we use and care for our facility? What kind of equipment is needed in order to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ, be a place of healing and transformation, and send people as missionaries to the city and beyond? Facilities and equipment make space for rootedness and outreach in a mobile and inward centered culture.

Financial Resources – a commitment to offer our financial resources as investment in our spiritual formation and in God’s work of renewing, restoring, and redeeming all of creation; this is God’s Mission.

Last weekend I invited you to consider our call to not just be Grace Community but to be a community of grace. In order for us to continue living our call we must come together, offer ourselves as servants, leaders, and investors in God’s Mission.

This week I invite you to allow God’s Spirit to guide you during this important time. Speaking about and considering how we are committing to God’s work through us can be difficult. Talking about giving of our financial resources can make us uncomfortable and “turn us off.”

Over a decade ago our founding pastor spoke to us about the challenges of being a growing congregation. He challenged us to not become self-centered but instead to focus our energy and excitement towards the transformation of our city into a more loving, just, and compassionate community. Towards the end he admitted to not knowing the next steps but asked us to trust God who would show us the way through a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Today we are once again being challenged. This time I challenge us to become a growing congregation again so that we can be partners in God’s work in our community and beyond. It will take our investment, our time, and a commitment to follow God’s lead.

A decade later I too find myself not knowing all of the next steps, but I too trust that God will indeed show us the way. God will help us find the keys to unlock the dream and use them not for our glory but for the glory of the one who has formed us into a community of Grace!

Cannot wait to see you this weekend! Invite a friend and let us dream dreams together!

The Well Played Life: Real Player

The Sacrament of the Last Supper by Salvador Dali

The Sacrament of the Last Supper by Salvador Dali

It is difficult to speak about the spiritual needs of thirty to sixty years olds. The main reason for the difficulty is that I am in the age group (36) so the places of struggle are very real. To think about work as play, about the importance of repenting from workaholism, and remembering our call to die to self so that we can live is way too close to home.

Then I am reminded that is not a sermon if it has not convicted me first. This week has been filled with much convicting and a call to new life!

“But while in the First Age we are nurtured within a community of faith, in the Second Age, we become full members of that community as Truth makers, Beauty stakers, and Goodness sakers.”
Len Sweet in The Well Played Life: Why Pleasing God Doesn’t Have to Be Such Hard Work, 140-1.

Truth and truth-telling is a significant value in my life. From early childhood I remember my father reminding me of the importance of telling the truth, later becoming the importance of character, integrity, and a good reputation. These are virtues that are formed in us over time and I cannot think of a time when they are more severely tested than during these years of family, career, and social mobility. What strikes me from Len’s challenge is that we are not just to be truth-tellers but truth-makers. We are to be a people who are living in ways that help communicate through our actions the truth’s of our life; a life centered on the joy of Christ.

A few weeks ago I spoke about my own encounter with beauty. It was a reminder that God uses beauty to awaken us to the reality of God’s kingdom. To be a beauty staker we must develop a theological imagination, we must grieve for the ways that the world does not reflect God’s peace. Beauty sustains our hope for a better day, for the in-braking of God in the world once more. Awareness of beauty is difficult in the midst of life. I think this might be why Len tells us to be “stakers” in beauty. We must claim it, expect it, own it, in order to experience it.

Goodness is one of God’s attributes. Through the Spirit we too can model goodness in the world and behave for the sake of goodness. Yet even though we are capable through the Spirit to be about goodness in the world and in our lives it seems so difficult. Yet time and time again we are called back to it. The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, called the people called Methodist to be about “doing good.” This is not simple do-goodism, instead is an attitude of loving kindness in our actions everywhere and always.

I am calling my age group to a time of self-reflection this weekend. To consider what it means to live a joy-filled life in Christ. Remembering that what matters most in our lives and what brings the most joy is the relationships, the memories made, and the way that the Spirit shapes us through the journey called life.

Can’t wait to share a word with you this weekend!