sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Tag: church

Why #givegrace?

© All rights reserved by mollie | corbett | photography

© All rights reserved by mollie | corbett | photography

This past Sunday we gathered as a community to eat together and to hear about how our financial resources continue to allow us to live into God’s call for our life together as a congregation. Some of us met each other for this first time — over half of attendees at the meal have been with us twelve months or less — others were able to finally catch up with friends and neighbors.

We have much to celebrate. Our children and youth ministry continue to grow and each weekend we have many guests that are looking for a place to call home. Those that are new to our community speak to our welcoming atmosphere as a primary reason why they choose to return. Our new people describe our congregation as loving, kind, and filled with energy. Wherever I go in Shreveport folks tell me that they have heard great things about our church.

We are blessed in so many ways!!

As I walked away from our time together on Sunday afternoon I began to wonder about the impact that our congregation has had, is having, and will have in the future. I began to wonder about the stories that illustrate our impact, that tell of the many ways that we are encountering God in this place and of the ways that this place is helping each of us see God in places unexpected.

I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we have received it!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we cannot help but respond in generosity!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we know that our congregation is needed in this city and beyond!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because there are so many children, youth, and adults experiencing God’s unconditional love!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we are finding healing from our addictions, freedom from the things that keep us bound, and redemption into new life, abundance, and joy!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we are a unique community called by God to provide a place for ALL people!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because everywhere I go I meet people who have disconnected from the church and are looking for a place where they can be who God has called them to be!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because our identity is rooted in service of neighbor, especially those who would be easily forgotten, who have been ignored!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we have been called to be a diverse community that reflects God’s love for ALL people, no matter our story!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we are a community willing to live in the tension of unanswered questions and the messiness of life stories!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we believe God is found in unexpected places!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because our only requirement to come to the table is to be hungry for Jesus!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we know that being a follower of Jesus is more than just showing up at church or talking about Jesus, it’s about loving ALL and growing in that love!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because only together we can live into our call to welcome, love, and serve!

I am so thankful and honored to be one of your many leaders. Leading in this season towards a fruitful and life-giving future is challenging but extremely rewarding. Leading in this season inspires me because our unique community is sorely needed.

So why will you #givegrace in 2017? Tell me in the comments here on the blog or in the Facebook comments. I cannot wait to read of all the ways that inspire you to make our 2017 ministry possible!

A Generation of Missionaries: Our Prayer

beachsunbeamsYou are probably wondering, what does this all mean? Where are we going?

In 2003 your founding pastor read from Exodus 13, there the Israelites where not given a map for how to get to the promise land, instead they were given the presence of God in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He told us that although the picture might not be clear, that we could indeed “follow a cloud or a pillar of fire.”

Can you see it? Can you see it in your neighborhood, where you shop? Can you see it as you drive down Ellerbe Rd. or go down the interstate? Can you see it when you drive by Cedar Grove or head downtown? Can you see it as you encounter someone with whom you disagree? Can you see it when you face oppression, evil powers, and harmful structures? Can you see it when you encounter a city that obviously needs a word of Grace?

Grace Community, I leave you with the prayer that you prayed together long ago:

“Lord, thank you, for caring enough
to call us into a deeper life.
Thank you for awakening in us
an understanding that there is so much more
than the here and now;
that there is so much more than what we need or want.
That we have an opportunity
to walk in the realm of Biblical reality, and you will use us!!

God, where we are broken, heal us,
where we are shivering, warm us,
where we are uncertain, give us courage,
where we are weak, be our strength,
where we are complacent Lord, maybe give us a kick.
We long for you, we are desperate for you.
Increase our faith,
we ask in Jesus name. Amen.”

The Rev. Dr. Rob Weber, Founding Pastor
in 2003 State of the Church Address

In Memoriam VI


St. Joseph and the child Jesus at St. Joseph’s Monastery’s Abbey Church

Dear Garrett, 

A few months before your leaving our Isabelle Celeste was born! I can’t believe that now she is the same age that you were when you took your leave. I see her so full of life, promise, and possibility and can not imagine losing her . . . but your story is a constant reminder that life sometimes unfolds in unimaginable ways.

Last year, on the fifth anniversary of your leaving I thought I was writing my last letter to you. It seemed fitting to end my conversation with you at that time. But as another July got closer, I knew that I could not, that there was more to tell you about, that your visitations were still an inspiration.

The last year I have done much reflection on my vocation. Pastoral ministry, the work of curing of souls is at times as overwhelming as it is life giving. I’ve wondered, like I have wondered since I began this work, whether I am being faithful to God’s call in my life. Am I in a role that best allows me to be an effective disciple, an effective instrument of God’s kingdom? If not pastoral ministry, then what? 

Well, you know the answer to these questions: Yes, Juan!!! Stop wondering and keep on leading, curing, and proclaiming! (and stop the pity party ;-)) 

This year someone recommended a wonderful book called If You Know Who You Are, You Will Know What To Do by Ronald Greer. I can say with much confidence that the process surrounding your leaving, even though it soured Julys forever, was one of the key markers that allowed me to “know who I am,” and has continued to clarify for me not just what I am to do as a follower of Jesus, but continues to inspire me, convict me, and thrust me to be passionate about the church’s call to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to the world. 

I was telling the people of St. John’s your story recently and how each time I stood behind the table to share the bread and the cup that you were standing by me, your arms moving with mine as we gesture together across time and space (kairos time), united by the promise of the great banquet were we will feast together. Till then I’ll take the rehearsals for they remind me again and again that although life unfolds in unimaginable ways, that God’s presence is with us, the promise of resurrection keeping us hopeful in the midst of hopelessness, keeping us awake when we are tempted to go to sleep, and keeping us alive when we are tempted by death.

We’ll keep at it  . . . see you at the great feast!

Peace & Love, Juan+ 

P.S. I do hope to bring life again to spiritstirrer.org. Writing, as you know, feeds my soul!


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.

Watching from Afar – A United Methodist GC2012 Reflection

ImageI’ve been preaching to my pews this morning. Like I do every week I’ve stood in front of my imaginary congregation and proclaimed what I pray will be a “word of the Lord” this coming Sunday. I am always amazed at what stirs up in me during these times, at the conviction of God’s word in me, at the passion that cause me to pause and take a breath, at the “spirit” that I sense in our sanctuary – a spirit that I know is present always and everywhere.

Then I get back to my daily work. To the e-mails, phone calls, conversations and doings of pastoral life. There is a leak coming into my office, planning for a few meetings tonight, and hopefully a lunch date with my spouse. All of it while the “word of the Lord” is still stirring in me . . .

Like many United Methodist people I have been observing our holy conferencing from afar. I’ve been watching the live stream, twitter feed, and Facebook postings.  I’ve not commented yet, I am not sure that I know what to say yet, I am still taken by the mix of the ordinary and extraordinary by the juxtaposition of worship and plenary session.

I love United Methodism. I am thankful that it found me a little over twelve years ago when I needed “good news.” I also struggle with it. I know that much change is needed and that something must happen to help us change our direction.

As I watched the Call to Action presentation last night, as I read the tweets, and the Facebook commentary, I was taken aback, there was reality mixed with hopelessness everywhere. But then worship began; the sounds and sights of the gathered community, the symbols of our life together taking center stage.

Something struck me as I thought about all of this through this morning: to the reality of our decline and of the need for change, and of the desire for something new, there is a response and that response might just be our gathering around the signs and symbols of our faith. A doxological response might just birth the new life that we are so desperately seeking.

It is true that we must do something and I trust that our brothers and sisters in Tampa will tend to the Spirit as they find ways for our church to continue its witness by empowering  all who call themselves United Methodist to grow into holiness of heart and life.

I’ll continue “watching from afar” (and praying) as I continue leading the body of United Methodist believers in this part of the connection into the work of God’s kingdom.

Lent is About Discipleship: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

"Jesus in the French Quarter" © 2012 Todd Rossnagel

This past Sunday I had the great joy of baptizing three month old Jane. It is always an honor to gather people around these important times in their life. As she laid quietly in her mother’s arms I asked her mom to renew her own baptismal promises and to make a covenant to raise Jane into her baptism.

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?

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

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races?

(The United Methodist Hymnal, p 34)

Living into these promises takes the community into which we have been initiated and it takes intentionality and a constant rehearsal of what these promises mean. After all renouncing, rejecting, and repenting takes the continued work of the Spirit in us, accepting, resisting and confessing requires the same.

So as I poured water upon her head I wondered if we ourselves recognized the magnitude of what was happening here? As we welcomed another into our community of the baptized, did we see it as an entrance into the community of those who have made covenant to the Lordship of Christ, to the way of sanctification?

Each time I begin ministry with a new congregation I am thankful for the season of Lent. Here in Louisiana it is common for many to give something up, chocolate, cokes, alcohol . . . As I enter these new spaces I remind the community of something that has transformed my own Lenten journey: Lent is not primarily about giving up instead, at its core, is about discipleship, about those who are preparing to make baptismal vows and our renewal of those vows in light of Easter.

This Lenten season I am thinking about Jane, about how we as a community of believers will model for her the meaning of what John Wesley called Christian perfection, our journey towards a fully sanctified life.  How do we help one another open ourselves to the work of God’s Spirit in sanctification? How do we allow our worship, our devotional life, our service to the world shape our souls into reconciling love? How do we grow into justice seeking, forgiveness, and radical hospitality?

So it begins today, with our recognition of our humanity and our need for divine grace. It begins with God’s invitation to change our hearts and life, to turn from sin and death, and believe the good news. It begins with our gathering as God’s people and the mark of our baptism being made visible.

Here we go again Jane, your family is about to begin a journey we’ll take together for the rest of our lives. A journey into the promise of our constant conversion, our perfection in love, our sanctification, the Risen Lord made evident in us, for the life of the world!

Let us observe our Lent thus, giving our sufferings, our bloodshed, our sorrow the same value that Christ gave to his own condition of poverty, oppression, abandonment, and injustice. Let us change all that into the cross of salvation that redeems the world and our people. And with hatred for none, let us be converted and share both joys and material aids, in our poverty, with those who may be even needier.

Archbishop Oscar Romero

Best Intentions

God will bring us through this. -One of the Americans jailed in Haiti

I’ve watched with interest the story of the imprisoned Americans in Haiti. Little by little the story gets clearer and cloudier. In the midst of all the other chaos now we have a prosecution. Those detained claimed that they were “trying to do the right thing,” they wanted most of all to “help the children.” Making it clear that they are not “child traffickers.” It reminds me of the saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

We might never know the true intentions of these people. In other words I do believe that they had good intentions, that they wanted to do the “right” thing. So many times we want to do the right thing but go about it the wrong way. Other times we are so convinced of our sincerity that it clouds our decision making process. In this case it was the lack of needed legal documents, but there are so many other examples of people trying to do the right thing in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with the wrong outcome.

For so long Christians have been participants in this kind of naive doing of God’s work. Jesus himself told us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) So many times the history of the American church in the Caribbean and Latin America has been filled with this kind of mentality. With the intention of doing good, many denominations have done much harm and as I said in my last article have perpetuated the pattern of colonialism in the region.

Meaning well does not mean that one is doing well. If you want to help the children of Haiti, collect money, send health kits, make connections with your denominational relief work or with the many international relief organizations that are doing work there. Make sure that you know the language or have a translator. Make sure that you are following the laws of the land that you are serving.

In the end this kind of issue poses another distraction and stresses the already crumbled system. Now the Haitian government has to keep up with prisoners, find a way to set up some kind of investigation, prosecution and trial. In the meantime the eyes of the world are momentarily lifted from the devastation towards a different, and less important, direction.

Well meaning people can end up victimizing those who have been victimized already. False promises, false hope, false salvation has been at times the essence of the gospel for many who claim the name Christian. They have meant well but have not done the deep reflection on how their actions communicate and illustrate the good news of Jesus Christ. In their desperation many of these people have believed the promises made and have seen these “strangers” as the way out of their desperate situation.

As people of God we have a responsibility to live out our discipleship to the highest standard. When we engage in the work of Jesus in the world we must do our homework, prepare, and connect. We are not alone so we must carefully learn the sociocultural situation of those that we are attempting to help. Good intentions can many times lead to a bad witness of the good news to those who are observing.

We continue to pray for the people of Haiti. We also continue to call our own to accountability in the way that we help. As we continue to hear the call may we remember that the gospel calls us to best action not only to best intention!

This post originally appeared on Day1.org

God in Haiti

We are once again staring at total destruction and human suffering. The images make you stop and wonder why? We are overwhelmed, saddened, and lost. We feel powerless and wonder what we can do?

The “talking heads” have begun chanting their analysis and solutions. The world just watches as people like us face the terrorizing reality that has become their life. Those of us who claim to be bearers of good news have much to reflect upon and must be careful guardians of the gospel words. Making sure that these words are communicated in ways that are constructive, hope filled and life giving.

Much of the conversation in religious circles has turned to the nature of suffering. In a recent New York Times Op/Ed, Pooja Bhatia, asks “Why, then, turn to a God who seems to be absent at best and vindictive at worst?”

In one sentence Bhatia asks the question that many are asking. If God is the one responsible, as some so called Christian leaders have already suggested, then we are indeed in deep trouble. If God is absent, somehow oblivious to the situation at hand then we too have much damage control to do.

Jon Sobrino, Latin American theologian & priest, understands this dilemma in the Christian faith. Like many others before him he reminds us that God is present in suffering, he tells us that “God is the God of the victims.” He then focuses our attention on the biggest tragedy in such situations,

The greatest tragedy – in an earthquake or any other situation – is not the material damages it causes, but the destruction of what is human. The greatest solidarity is to help rebuild that humanity. The greatest hope is to keep walking, doing justice, and loving with kindness.

– Jon Sobrino in Where is God?: Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope

The good news of Jesus, is not going to save us from the struggles and tragedies of life! We as people living in a troubled world will be victims of brokenness, strife, and injustice. Some, like the people of Haiti, have found themselves victimized time and time again by forces outside their control. This is not God’s doing instead it reflects the brokenness of all of life, the brokenness that God came to redeem.

The images return: the rubble of buildings, bodies scattered, loved ones carrying their dead, beloved children of God walking in the destruction: lost, hungry, nowhere to go . . . there is God! Grieving, holding, walking, broken . . . It is because of suffering, pain, and destruction that God came in Jesus.

The challenge is how we as God’s people will respond and how we will show solidarity with these sisters and brothers so far away? How are we going to make the good news of hope, restoration and humanity incarnate to the people that needed most? How are we going to make sure that what we build is not the infrastructure of empire but the infrastructure of communal life?

We will respond by being loving, generous, attentive. We will love those who are unlike us and yet struggle like we would. We will give generously of what we have, reflecting the way that God gives all of God-self for the life of the world. But we will also become more attentive – we will shine the light of oppression, injustice, and alienation – we will become bearers of what is human for those who have experienced its destruction.

Through our imperfect prayers, relief efforts, and dispersed presence we will become the incarnate presence of God to those who this day needed most. Through our offering we show the world that God is indeed present, caring, comforting, guiding and opening the way for new life!

On Gratitude

In my native Puerto Rico Thanksgiving Day is an important holiday. We wear our Sunday’s best and wake up early in the morning to gather for worship. It is fitting that we begin this holy-day gathered as a community of faith to praise God and to give thanks.

Many had woken up earlier. They had gathered at the church and gone door to door serenading members and friends, marking the holiday and in its own way inviting all to gather to give thanks.

It was only after the gathering, after the time of praise and thanksgiving, that we joined family for the feast. I would argue that this was the only way that we could truly understand the feasting.

I miss those days in my native land! Now it seems that most of the time what takes precedence is not the giving of thanks but the eating of food (and lots of it!). In fact I will agree with Elyssa East who on “A Movable Feast,” an op-ed in the New York Times, writes:

“In the nearly 400 years since the first thanksgiving, the holiday has come to mirror our transformation into a nation of gross overconsumption.”

The holiday of giving thanks has become a holiday to food, possession, and overconsumption. We gather not to give thanks but to eat, not to praise God but to watch football, not to remember all that God has done but to “pat ourselves on the back” for all that we have accomplished. In other words no holy-day at all!

I wonder what it will take to turn the tide, to bring us to an attitude of true gratitude?

Gratitude is not just giving thanks. One can easily say “thank-you” and not be grateful. We do it everyday, someone gives us something or does something for us and we say “thank-you.” Quickly returning to something else, quickly forgetting.

Gratitude is a way of seeing. In its practice we acknowledge that all that we have, all that we enjoy, all that we are, everything around us, is a gift from God. We have not earned it or deserve it but have received it and for that we have no other response but gratitude. This way of seeing begins to transform us and align us more and more with God’s purposes for humanity and all of creation.

A true thanksgiving begins with the acknowledgement of God as creator and giver of all. From there it moves us to gathering. Friend and stranger alike enjoying true blessings: peace, healing, love! Enjoying a God whose table is open, who constantly gives of self for the life of the world.

Maybe if we live this way of life we would be surprised. We would find ourselves being “captured by gratitude” as Wendell Berry so aptly put it in his novel Jayber Crow. Once “captured” we would have no choice but to get up early, sing songs of praise and gather around table with love ones and strangers, friends and enemies, with all of God’s children.

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