sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: church (Page 2 of 20)

Hopeful Imagination


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It has been a difficult set of weeks. We have faced sin and death in our lives, in our community, and in our world. Fear has come calling, terror has visited, and despair wants to settle in. It is normal to want to build walls, lock doors, and hit back.

We have arrived at church looking for hope and it has been hard to find! There we have been reminded of what we have been living through phone notifications, website updates, and the daily news. The texts of the season made incarnate and thus difficult to hear. We come looking for hope, for a word of the Lord, for the promises of Christmas and instead we are reminded that we must experience the disorientation of exile in order to be able to experience the reorientation of salvation.

Exile is being a stranger in a strange land. Exile forces us to look at our shaping – assumptions, presuppositions, and worldview -with suspicion. We must be suspicious because exile shapes us in the ethos of the false self that serves the purposes of a self-centered and self-serving dominant narrative – a narrative of fear, exclusion, and enmity.

Hopeful imagination reorients us and shows us the pathway for our return home. The pathway is paved by repentance, by the change of our hearts and minds, from the dominant narrative into the alternative narrative of God’s kin-dom. A narrative rooted in love, healing, and justice; a narrative of safety, embrace, and reconciliation. This narrative is centered in the person of Jesus Christ.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann reminds us that we develop a hopeful imagination by studying the:

themes, metaphors, and dynamics which give new life to the tradition, which summon to faith in a fresh way, and which create hope for a community so deeply in crisis, that it might have abandoned the entire enterprise of faith. This literature of realism and candor referred the loss to God and thereby released energy, courage, and passion in the community.

from Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile, 3

For the last few weeks we have struggled together realistically and with much candor. We have faced the realities of our current needs for salvation. We have heard the groans of creation and of our participation in structures of sin and death.

We have also been called to prepare the way. The hindrances to salvation have been lifted. The community does not have to live in denial, fear, and anxiety. Instead we are to allow for the Spirit to change our hearts and life. In very real ways we have rehearsed what it means to refer all of our struggles, insecurities, fears, prejudices, and injustices to God.

Now that we have turned over our sin-full practices as individuals and as a community our hearts are open to the coming of the Christ. Our souls ready to receive the gift of grace, the soil for God’s kingdom in us and in the world bursting with possibility!

So this weekend we begin rehearsing the story of a God who becomes one of us. A God who chose not to abandon us and creation choosing instead to come to our rescue. This weekend we begin to rehearse the hope for a peace-full world. We come recognizing that peace requires sacrifice, requires practice, requires our participation in life with God.

As we sing songs of praise this weekend and as we hear the story told again may we develop a hopeful imagination for the promised future. May we allow our reality check to fill us with energy, courage, and passion. May we come together as a community of believers to be peace makers in the world!


Pastor as Prophet

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John brought this divine message to all those who came to the Jordan River. He preached that people should be ritually cleansed through baptism as an expression of changed lives for the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 3:3, The Voice Bible

This week we encounter a prophet. One that calls people, especially the mighty and powerful, to pay attention to the ways that the created order does not reflect God’s peace-full reign. To the ways that the people have walked away from one another, from themselves as a people of the promise, and from God. From the ways that they continue to perpetuate injustice and oppression.

Often the people have become comfortable. So comfortable that they no longer see how their life and their behavior towards one another no longer mimics God’s call to a deeper love of God and neighbor. Soon the people begin to confuse their apathy, prejudices, attitudes, and worldview to God’s intention for them and for those around them. No longer seeing the plight of neighbor, making exceptions of themselves, making a god who thinks, feels, and acts like them.

The prophet’s message is hard because the people need to be woken up! It’s hard because most of us find it difficult to be confronted about our failures, mistakes, and wrongdoing. Hard because acknowledgment of our sin means letting go of our power and control.

In the end, the prophets were not extremely successful. We do have a record of their prophetic utterances and we do recognize how they have inspired their communities in retrospect. But in their time most of them were killed by those in power. Their message too dangerous, too real, too on point for the mighty to ignore. The prophetic message is always a threat to those in power, to the majority, to the comfortable, and to the prosperous. A threat to those with the most to lose!

One of the roles that I believe that the pastor plays in a community is that of prophet. Truthtelling for the sake of transformation, for the sake of a change of heart and life. Proclamation that reminds the community again and again of its call to be agents of God’s kingdom — agents of peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, and love. Proclamation that wakes up our hearts to the least, last, and lost.

The prophetic role should come with warning labels. It is easy to come across preachy, arrogant, and self-righteous. It is easy to offend to the point that one is no longer heard. It is easy to leave little room for conversation and for nuance. At the same time, it is easy to tell God’s people only that which is comfortable, safe, and that which will not cost you anything. It is easier not to push, challenge, or question. Easier not to meddle . . .

This week I invite you to read Luke 3:1-18. Hear the voice of the prophet: How is it challenging you? What are the demands of the kingdom according to John the Baptizer? Where are you feeling pushed, made uncomfortable, or bothered?

This weekend come prepared to hear what I pray is a loving yet challenging word as we continue preparing for the coming of Christ.

He preached with many other provocative figures of speech and so conveyed God’s message to the people—the time had come to rethink everything.

Luke 3:18, The Voice Bible




A Kin-dom Imagination


The empathetic imagination moves in a direction opposite to that of fear. In fear, a person’s attention contracts, focusing intently on her own safety, and (perhaps) that of a small circle of loved one. In empathy the mind moves outward, occupying many different positions outside the self.

Martha C. Nussbaum in The New Religious Intolerance, 146


This past weekend we spoke about the importance of developing what Martha Nussbaum calls an “empathetic imagination,” or what I would call a kin-dom imagination. (If you missed it, you can watch the sermon here.) An imagination that fosters in us the ability, the spiritual gift, of seeing the other not as someone to be feared, demonized, or ignored, but instead as a fellow creation of God.

This imagination is centered and rooted on Jesus’ call to “[l]ove your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28, NRSV)

Love, not just of our neighbor, friend, or family, but of also of our enemy is centered on our recognition of a common humanity, on a kin-dom. The reality that all of us are God’s own creation, all of us fallen, all of us in need of redemption. But also all interconnected and constantly tempted to break that interconnection, to create enmity, to see ourselves as better. As theologian Walter Brueggemann reminds us, to see ourselves as exceptional:

[T]his future, conditioned by justice, is not an arbitrary imposition of an angry God, but is a conditionality found in the very fabric of creation. It is indeed how life works, no matter how much the strong and the powerful engage in the illusion of their own exceptionality.

Walter Brueggemann in Theology of the Old Testament, 645.

So how do we develop a kin-dom imagination?

I think it begins with rooting ourselves in the story of Jesus as found in the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John).

Even though we live in what at times seems like a Jesus-saturated society I am constantly amazed how unfamiliar we are with the breadth of the Jesus narrative in the gospels. We might remember a story we heard as a child or maybe even one we have heard in a sermon, but we ourselves have not made it a practice to read, reflect, and meditate on the gospel text.

In order for us to develop kin-dom imagination, we must immerse ourselves in the whole of the Jesus story, again and again.

Practice: The Gospel in 90 Days – One chapter a day with one grace day.

I also believe that we must purposely practice what saint and spiritual teacher, Ignatius of Loyola, called indifference. Indifference is “the freedom of detachment,” the ability to let go of anything that keeps us from God. Anything, especially our prejudices, opinions, ideologies, and even our religious understandings. Instead, we learn to recognize our blind spots,  our limited experiences, and humbly accept that God is mystery and yet still speaking, still revealing God-self to us.

In order for us to develop kin-dom imagination, we must practice indifference so that we open ourselves to experience God’s continual revelation.

Practice: Ask daily – Is anything (attitude, position, point of view, activity, relationship, etc.) keeping me from love of God, neighbor, and/or self today?

Finally, in order for us to grow our kin-dom imagination we must commit to live life in covenant community. Covenant is not a word that we seem to understand in our highly individualistic culture but covenant life and practice is at the center of the Christian faith.

In our baptism, we are grafted to Christ in the body called the church. Our grafting is rooted in God’s unfailing covenant with us and our ascent into living a covenant life with and in Christ’s body called the church.

It is in this body that we practice what it is like to be kin to one another. Baptismal kinship is not based on human bloodline but on the new covenant in Christ’s blood. We are kin across culture, time, space, ideologies, religious understandings, political affiliation, nation, and language.

In order for us to develop kin-dom imagination, we must see our differences as part of our shared humanity for baptism marks us as a people who see neighbor as covenant partner and enemy as one to be loved into covenant life.

Practice: Answer – What does it mean for you to be part of the body? What does it mean for all to be part of it too? What would change in you, in the body, in your community if the other joined you?

As we continue this Advent journey it is my prayer that we help one another grow in our kin-dom imagination. That we continue attempting to live into its reality and that our humble practice begins to bear fruit of peace (wholeness, healing, new life, love, restoration, salvation, holiness, blessing, justice, righteousness) in visible ways in our life, families, neighborhood, and city.

Now go imagine!!

[Luke] considered the reign of God to be not a benign reality but a deeply subversive and disturbing force that was already undermining the foundations of Rome and all earthly claims to power. Luke was promoting nothing less than an entirely new way of life that offered incredible blessing for both peasant and elite.

Karl Allen Kuhn in The Kingdom according to Luke and Acts, xvii



The One of Peace

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This weekend we begin again. This beginning is called Advent, the four-week season before Christmas. It is a season of waiting, of expectation, and of hope. A season that calls us to examination, to pay attention, and to stay awake.

Advent reminds us that we are still waiting. Jesus promised that he would return to restore all things, to renew all things, that a new creation would be made known at the end of time. Each year before we celebrate Jesus’ first coming, we first rehearse our hope for his second coming. We rehearse that salvation has not reached its fullness, has not been completed, creation still groaning, humanity still groaning, for God’s final and eternal reign of peace.

The theme and sermon rhythms for this season were finalized in August. Our scriptural companion will be the Gospel according to Luke. In August as I was completing my focus statement for the sermons that are coming I realize that peace, peacemaking, and peacekeeping, were the central point of connection. I looked forward to bringing a word about the one that we wait for, the prince of peace.

This was before Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Bamako, and Minneapolis. Before terror seem to hit too close to home. Before we were once again reminded of the peace-less reality that many in our world suffer every day.

But it was also after. After many other conflicts, wars, and rumors of war. After other acts of violence, abuse, and oppression. After we have found ourselves in a cycle of being victims and perpetrators. After years of “peace on earth” intonations.

So we begin again, we say: “O Come, O Come, God with Us!” We begin again, we look around, take a deep breath, and pay attention. We begin again, hoping that heaven comes crashing down on earth once and for all, swords turning to plowshares, tears to joy, mourning to dancing, violence to compassion,  enmity to fraternity, kingdom to kin-dom, and civilized world to common humanity.

Let us come together this weekend to re-member the one of peace. Let us come together to remember that “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:28

Leading Others to Abundance

Sermon Slide - Week 1

This morning we struggled together with what it means to live abundantly. Only once we begin to live this way are we going to be able to lead others into that abundance. At the cornerstone of this abundance is Christ in whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28, NRSV)

It is Christ and Christ’s Spirit that allows us to look at the world through the lenses of the grace that has forgiven, restored, and transformed us. This grace is truly abundant, overflowing, spilling out, more than we need or deserve. It is both overwhelming and humbling.

Out of this abundance of grace, we encounter the other–neighbor, friend, and foe–and are able to extend that same openness, that same space, and that same love. This grace also allows us to be grace-filled in the midst of disappointment, difference, position, or preference.

When we find ourselves growing in anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, and despair towards others and ourselves we must ask if we are rooting ourselves in scarcity. What is at the core of those emotional responses? Why are we tempted to respond in ways that do not model the way of Jesus in how we respond, treat, and engage? How can we center ourselves, listen to the other, and graciously express our opinion, a point of view, or frustration?

Asking ourselves this questions begins to make room for abundance to guide us. Our eyes begin to be opened to our continual need for grace and we begin to seek others, to hear their stories, and attempt to live life alongside them so that we can better walk together. We might still disagree, we might still see situations differently, we might still struggle but living alongside provides for a redemptive position, for a space where mutual respect and acknowledgement of our identity as God’s child can guide us into life together.

This week I invite you to live out of the grace given to you. I ask you to pay attention to what God might be up to around you, to the ways that you can be a participant in leading others into abundant life in Christ. This participation pushes us beyond our comfort zones into the healing, exorcising, feeding, and restoration of all people. Into living our baptismal promise:

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?

Baptismal Covenant I, The United Methodist Hymnal

Into sharing the excitement of a God whose holiness–whose abundance–led to God becoming one of us so that we could know love. This way of engagement, this way of life, this way of faith could be our biggest witness to God’s amazing grace in our city and beyond!

“Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

Colossians 3:12, The Voice Bible

I can hear it now: “Grace Community, a community of abundance . . .” I cannot wait to see you next weekend as we continue to do talk together about Quality Control: What Shreveport Needs from Us.

On Thirty-Seven


I come from a long line of survivors,
thrivers, perseverers,
and life-warriors.

I come from surprise,
the ellipsis of life together,
from rainy weather,
and joyful cries.

I come from rhythm,
from fast talk,
slow walks,
and “stayin’ with’em.”

I come from mystery,
attuned to awe, wonder,
pruned stories, made to answer,
and students of history.

I come from dreamers,
seers of another way,
ears to another whisper,
and justice screamers.

I come from lovers,
of all people, no matter the stories,
from mourners of the heartbreaks,
and pointers to the peace that hovers.

I come from thirty-seven,
from years of being companioned,
shaped by community and solitude,
and hopeful for earthly heaven.

In Memoriam VIII

EightDear Garrett,

Eight . . . eight is the number of years since your leaving. So much life happens in eight years, so much grief outpoured, so much thinking and reflecting done. Eight is long enough to notice that time has gone by but when it comes to death, eight might as well be one. Such is the finality of death, such is the promise of eternal life.

Recently I told your story, our story again. This time around a dinner table as we gathered to say goodbye (for now) to Papa Gene. Death stimulates our longing for stories, death begs for re-membering, death begs for the balm that stories bring. So I told our story, your story again.

I know that I am not alone, that the many you touched in life are often telling your story, somehow still trying to make sense of it, trying to find healing for what is now a scar that will never go away.

In the last year, I’ve been constantly reflecting on scars. On how the pastoral life leaves you marked, the longer you live it, the more marked you become. This scarring is varied and unique to each person and place. In some ways it could be seen as the rings of a tree, a sign of age, perseverance, and new life.

At times it’s our baptismal mark that gets tender, these are the moments when it seems like God has come visiting. Babies being born, couples making covenant, people gathering around crumbs, and oil on foreheads for healing, all making our baptismal mark active, tender, and strong.

Then there are the marks of disappointment, trials, and heartbreaks. Those events, encounters, and seasons that make you question yourself, your call, and the ministry of the church. These scars are incarnate examples of the difficulty of discipleship but also of the power of God to work in us and through us in spite of our scars.

Eight . . . eight is the number of years healing, hearing, and heading into my continuing call. My re-membering guides my way, my scars, keeps me humble, and your leaving continues to inspire me to be a spirit-stirrer, space-maker, and gatherer of people.

I’m still marked . . . you are still missed . . . I’ll see you at the great feast!

Peace & Love, Juan+

Be a hero, Donate Life! If you want to know G’s story click here.

Here are the previous yearly notes: In Memoriam, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII.

One Year at Grace Community

It’s really hard to believe that a year has gone by!

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Arriving at a new appointment is always difficult. Pastoral work is relational and relationships take time. Guiding a congregation like Grace Community requires the pastor to guide a group of people, connecting with them as individuals yet ministering alongside them as a community. It requires investing relationally while at the same time keeping the health and mission of the whole at the center of pastoral time, effort, and energy. Learning this balance takes time and I am thankful that now that I’ve had the honor to walk through a calendar year I’ll be able to focus on deepening my pastoral competencies, no longer focusing on experiencing everything as new.

Each day in the last year I’ve learned something new. Pastoral work is rooted in a particular community. This requires every pastor to make their curing of souls incarnate to that place at that time and to be nimble enough to leave room for the shifting hungers and needs of the mission field. Each day I’ve asked myself, how does my understanding of my task as a curer of souls, as a spiritual director, preacher, teacher, and leader, need adjustment in light of these particular people called Grace Community?

I look forward to this next year of life together. We are a unique community as we continue to find ways to tell the story of God’s redeeming love to all people in ways that they can truly hear it, in their language, where they are, good news of great joy! I think we are uniquely positioned to become a shining light in the city of Shreveport and beyond!

There are three specific gifts that I see in us that I pray will guide our future:

  1. A desire to mature spiritually – seekers becoming servants has been our mission from day one, this means that maturing spiritually (becoming a servant) is at the forefront of our identity.
  2. A desire to make spaces for reconciling conversations – our diversity across the theological, social, and political spectrum positions us uniquely in this city to have “courageous conversations” about the many issues that divide us today as we continue to make space for all people.
  3. A desire to invite others to our shared work – this is what some have called “relational evangelism” but is truly about being so excited for God’s work in our lives through our community that we want others to experience the same: Christ through grace restoring lives!

I look forward to many more years of shared life (decades?). I look forward to continue leading you as I preach/teach, empower our staff and lay leaders for ministry, and lead strategically through relationships across our denomination and community. These three tasks are at the forefront of my role as your pastoral leader into our gifted and fruitful future.

Thankful for the past year and looking forward to many more!

Peace, Juan+

What I Wish That Young Guy in the Picture Would Know: 10 Years in Pastoral Ministry

Commissioning Practice 2005

Commissioning Practice 2005

Honestly, I am not sure where the last 10 years have gone. The only reason I know it has been that long is that the calendar says so and that the 16 mo. old at my house is now about to enter 6th grade.

I’ve recently been consulting my journals from my season of preparation to become a pastor, especially the last few months in the spring of 2005. There was so much excitement about beginning that which I had been preparing for since I woke up in the winter of 1994 knowing that God was calling me to the work.

After 10 years, I can say that it has been an unexpected, thrilling, rewarding, exhausting, challenging, and transformative journey. Here are some things I would tell my younger self:

  1. Be Ready for Surprise – people, places, and situations are not always what they seem. Take a deep breath, trust, and enjoy the journey.
  2. You will Fail – at times miserably, at others more modestly but the work of curing souls is humbling, so get back up, you’ll survive.
  3. Don’t be a People Pleaser – no matter what you do, how you do it, when you do it, there will always be someone who will be disappointed, who will question you, your relationship with God, your competence, your call. Live into your calling humbly and honestly. The rest will take care of itself.
  4. Persevere – get up and remind yourself that the harvest in indeed plentiful. Dry your tears, control your disappointment, walk away, and get back at the work that God has called you to, you will not just survive, you will thrive, in time.
  5. Root – everywhere you go be fully present, especially at home to Shannon and the kids, but also with the sheep that God has surrounded you with and with the neighborhood that you live in.
  6. Talk to friends more often (especially Josh Hale) – believe me, they will be your lifeline, do not hesitate to pick up the phone, you need them and they also need you, you are in a yoked and ordered life, you are not alone!
  7. Be Who You Are – you’ll change towns more often than you think, you’ll adapt in more ways that you imagine, but always remember who you are!
  8. Remember Joy – this will seem elusive at times but pay attention because it is all around you, do not be so focused on the current task to the point that you miss an opportunity to experience the power of joy.
  9. You Are NOT Leaving Pastoral Ministry – at least not in your first 10 years, in all seriousness you will look at the classifieds more times that you’ll be able to remember, you will have opportunities to do other things with your life but in the end this calling will be renewed again and again and for that you’ll be thankful.
  10. Pay Attention – time will fly, look around, journal daily, enjoy Sundays, put the kids to bed as often as you can, forgive, reconcile, live life with God’s people!

Where Wild Things Grow: A Review

I’ve been a lover of poetry since my father shared poetry with me as a child. I grew up in a home filled with it in various forms: song, scripture, verse, and place. The more I think about it, the more I realize how immersed my life has been in the rhythms of poetry, in its invitation to imagination, and to a way of seeing the world.

Early on in my life I was inspired by the poets of Latin America, especially Pablo Neruda, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Julia de Burgos, Jose Marti, Ruben Dario, and Octavio Paz. In the last 20 years, I’ve been blessed to add William Blake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Langston Hughes, Wendell Berry, Mary Karr, Mary Oliver, and Christian Wiman. All have provided a point of view, all have inspired me to look at the created order in a new light, all have in some really powerful ways deepened my soul.

I am thankful to add teacher, mentor, and friend W. Craig Gilliam as another window & conversation partner to my journey through words and world.

11058644_10153492517579050_264163910835429953_nWhere Wild Things Grow is an invitation to pilgrimage, to pay attention, and to be present to the moment. From the very beginning, W. Craig Gilliam invites us to “break loose on the wind, soaring” so that we can experience that:

“We are sufficient for the day,
to love, to adventure
to go on the grand tour,
into another
today.” (97)

In a culture that is hurried Gilliam calls us to slow down as we live as a people “walking alongside,” as we make space for life with its wild weediness to transform us, connect us, and propel us into human flourishing. His poetically raw picture of what it means to be human allows all of us to enter into his poetry and see all encounters, all of life, as gift.

Poetry invites us to flourish in the midst of this beautiful and at times heart-breaking life. Gilliam faithfully takes us on this journey as many have before him and adds another voice to the human attempt at shining a light on the mysteries of being human in time, space, and place. This beautiful collection of poems is indeed for everyone, for we are all sojourners, all constantly “[o]n the edge of the forest where wild things grow.”
Where Wild Things Grow is available today, order your copy here.

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