I am thankful for our gathering this past weekend. It was a spirit filled and healing time. We began to recognize the power of story and to recognize the weaving of our story with God’s larger story.
Part of the challenge for us is to allow our story telling to become a healing agent in our lives. Careful listening, engagement, and a non-anxious presence helps us to be fully present to one another, to see ourselves in the other, and to begin building bridges of trust.
An important part of our continued work is to remember who we are to “tell our story again.”Part of that story is the core values that have shaped us into who we are and that will be pivotal in our future:
V – Vision
O – Openness
I – Incarnation
C – Community
E – Evangelism
It is my prayer that you share with me the ways that God has called you to be part of this community called GRACE through these core values/guiding principles. This is part of my effort to get to know your story, but also a way to begin weaving our stories into the future.
I also encourage you to begin reading Genesis today. This amazing book of the bible is as relevant today as it has always been for it still speaks to who we are, who God is, and the promise of redemption through the gift of grace. Click here for the reading guide.
One of my practices when I begin anew appointment is to read as much about the history of that congregation as possible. I’ve climbed on attics, dug through old file cabinets, and called previous pastors, all in an effort to get a sense of the DNA of that community of faith.
What I have found has been a treasure throve of energy, inspiration, and dreams. It is obvious that from the beginning we have talked about making a place, about loving those who might normally feel unloved, and to become a healing community.
“We are a church who is about creating a generation of missionaries who will be able to reach out and touch a world that is broken and hurting.”
Rob Weber, Founding Pastor
from “Challenges and Opportunities: State of the Church Address 2003”
This past weekend we rehearsed the story of creation. We were reminded that God is still at the work of creating and recreating. We also said that an important part of our work is to tell our story again and again for in telling it we are able to get a clearer picture of God’s vision for our future.
As we get closer to this weekend I want us to begin thinking about what it means for us to be missionaries who “touch a world that is broken and hurting?” I believe that the vision that our founding pastor voiced over a decade ago is still at the center of our calling.
Living into that vision can at times be put to the test and seem lost. The story of faith reminds us to hold steady, to remember our identity, and to trust God. Only when we let go of our ideas, preferences, and plans can we be open to what God has for us.
A few days ago I was at a cemetery. This time I was not there to commit someone to the ground but to record a message about resurrection. As I went up a hill I was reminded of that faithful day when I accompanied you on your trip to join your ancestors in the ground.
It still seems like a dream from start to finish . . .
From phone call to the final amen . . .
From celebration to desolation . . .
Now it’s been seven years and I still cannot believe it! You would be a teenager now but instead of celebrating we are facing another remembrance of your leaving. Another remembrance of how much time we have lived without you in this life, another remembrance of how much time we have lived in the hope of our meeting at the great feast.
Recently I’ve had many opportunities to tell your story. In my new congregation folks are taken by the ink which marks our shared journey. It all seems in the past until I begin telling the story, and all of a sudden the heart begins to race, tears come to my eyes, and I can still see your eyes opening one last time. I am surprised at the half-life of grief and that in the midst of it we find joy inexplicable.
Once again this year I thought that it might be time to stop writing. How long would I keep these epistles coming? But once again I’ve been called back, my spirit stirred to remember and to proclaim.
Yesterday I preached on Jacob’s Ladder. I told my new congregation Grace Community of the importance of making altars to the Lord as a way to mark our journey so that we never forget. As I sit here remembering the day you joined the communion of saints I realize that this space is one of those markers. A marker of faithfulness, a marker of remembrance, a marker of promise.
A few days ago I was at a cemetery and as I walked up the hill I was reminded. Reminded that one day I will join you and all the others that I have companioned on their journey to the ground, on their journey to God. Reminded of the beauty of our faith and its insistence that death has been defeated and that we’ll gather again!
So although still sad I am so grateful. I am grateful for you, your brothers, your parents, and for our shared life. I am grateful for my calling for I’m the one that gets the great honor to be a troubadour of resurrection. I am grateful to be marked by our shared life, grateful for the way your story still inspires me to be present to God’s presence.
Another year, soon another July will end, we got through another one, we continue counting them and re-membering . . . I’ll see you at the great feast!
The pastoral life is incarnate. It requires voice, body, and conversation. It also requires imagination, vision, and hopefulness. These are only some of the ingredients that make the pastoral life both possible and complex.
One of the ingredients for a fruitful pastoral life is rootedness in a community. In order for the pastoral life to become fruitful it must in some way shine a light on what God is up to in a particular place at a particular time. It requires an understanding of the body politic, of the joint identity and culture of God’s people called the church. This need for rootedness is the biggest challenge for those of us called to pastoral life in an itinerant system.
I am thankful for the ways that I’ve been able to begin rooting in this new place. There are still boxes to be unpacked, conversations to be had, and a city and culture to be learned, yet I’ve been able to look across this community called Grace and sense a shared Spirit and a shared hope for God’s future through us.
It has been an amazing six weeks since we began to “tell the story story again.” We have journeyed from the beginning of time to a turning point in the making of a people. We have not held back but instead have faced the realities of what it means to be human and the steadfastness of God in the midst of our failures, struggles, and rebellion.
I hope that you have found yourselves knowing that you are a people. A people marked, chosen, and sealed. Marked by the story of our faith, by the rhythms of the human condition and God’s call to new life, to our restoration and the restoration of all of creation. Chosen to be proclaimers of good news should empower us to be bold and to engage in the beautiful process of salvation. The Holy Spirit has sealed us at our baptism and it is that seal that allows us to deepen our relationship to God and neighbor.
It is my prayer that this new beginning has helped us begin a conversation. Conversations take time, effort, and attention. We must find ways to hear each other and to discern the places where God is purposely speaking, calling, and paving a way for God’s future. As we have worshiped together it has become abundantly clear that the Spirit of God is doing a converting work among us.
Conversion is about change, a change of heart and life. In order for us to change we must be mindful of the movement of the Spirit among us, it is in that movement that we will find an initial pathway to our continued conversion, to our promised future.
There are three movements that will help us live into God’s future: a commitment to discipleship & discipling, a commitment to the practice of discernment, & a commitment to fruitfulness.
This week I’ll be sharing about each of these movements and what they might mean for our life together. I look forward to the conversation!
I hope that no matter where you go to church that you have heard about the word “disciple.” Early in Jesus ministry he chose twelve to come by his side and be helpers in his ministry. These became his disciples, his students, and his followers. As Jesus left this earth he commanded his disciples to “make” other disciples, to baptize, and teach them the way of Jesus.
Go out and make disciples in all the nations. Ceremonially wash them through baptism in the name of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 20 Then disciple them. Form them in the practices and postures that I have taught you, and show them how to follow the commands I have laid down for you. And I will be with you, day after day, to the end of the age.
For two millennia the Church has been tasked with this important mission. We have been called not just to compel others through our witness to become disciples, but to form them and teach them the practices and postures of discipleship. It is out of the learning of practices and posture that disciples engage fruitfully in God’s Mission in the world.
If the fruit of the presence of the community of disciples — called the church — is God’s shalom then I am not sure that we have done our work well.
I am thankful that we as a congregation have recognized this reality. We recognize that although we have grown in number over the years that we need to be better in the ways that we connect people to discipleship opportunities and discipleship communities.
One of those initiatives is our Disciple’s Path course that we are piloting with our Lay Leaders and we’ll roll out across the congregation later this Fall. There Jim Harnish defines discipleship as:
A follower of Jesus whose life is centering on loving God and loving others. Disciple’s Path Leader’s Guide, p. 20
So in light of this definition, what does it mean for Grace Community to be committed to discipleship and discipling?
I believe that it means that we are committed to discipleship as a posture, as action, and as behavior. It is simply not enough to intellectually ascent to certain beliefs or to do “good things.” Disciples model in their thoughts, actions, and speech a deepening love of God and neighbor. When we fail at living in a growingly loving way disciples acknowledge their sin, seek reconciliation, and submit to each other for accountability and continued growth.
Since accountability is a pivotal part of the journey of discipleship then discipleship formation cannot take place primarily within the worshipping community. Worship is an important aspect that is part of the formation and sustenance of disciples but it’s primary purpose is the offering of our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. In offering of ourselves we are in turn more deeply attuned to God and to neighbor thanks to the postures of the worshiping community: prayer, song, gesture, movement, word, and sacrament. It is these postures that provide the sustenance for our daily walk as disciples of Jesus.
The worshipping community becomes the conduit for discipling communities to emerge and thrive. The worshiping community’s (aka. congregation) role in discipling is to birth and sustain discipling communities. These are not just “small groups” as we have come to know in the last twenty years, where the primary function is fellowship and study. Instead we are being called to birth communities of accountability, discernment, mutual care, and mission. The hallmark and primary task is our growth in the love of God and neighbor through praxis in the works of piety and the works of mercy.
I continue to pray that we become such a birthing community. It is in that birthing of discipling communities that seekers find a place to grow into servants, that lives are restored, and grace encountered. It is in this commitment that the Lord will add to our number those who are being saved . . .
There are many needs in our world. A quick glance at the local newspaper, evening news, or smart phone notifications serves as a reminder for all of us of the need that the world has for healing, wholeness, and restoration. Congregations have to figure out how they are being called to be agents of healing in light of all the brokenness. The question is, how do we decide what we are being called to be as God’s people?
It is easy to do what we have always done. In most cases this includes mostly internal programming that is member centered. Even when we engage missionally we tend to look at our initiatives from our perspective instead of from those that we are trying to reach. A sense of inertia begins to take away our missional energies and imagination.
The practice of discernment is a foundational practice that we must learn as a faith community. Discernment is about seeking God’s will for our life together. Practicing discernment helps us go beyond personal preference, a silo mentality, and member centered programs. In its place we as a people begin to hear God, knowing that God will show us the path and will provide for the resources needed to accomplish it. It is up to the leaders of the faith community, both lay and clergy, to lead into discernment. As Kenneth Carder and Laceye Warner remind us:
Integral to leadership is a coherent vision big and comprehensive enough to energize, inspire, and mobilize individuals and communities into something new.
from Grace to Lead: Practicing Leadership in the Wesleyan Tradition, (27)
Practices of discernment are learned and fostered in discipling communities. It is in these communities of love, mutual care, and accountability that each person is provided with fertile ground for a life lived through discernment. Discipleship communities help our individualistic society recognize that making decisions through the lenses of faith is not a solitary affair but takes a community to test the spirits and make room for God’s voice to be clearly heard.
In her book Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, Ruth Haley Barton defines discernment as:
[Discernment] is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God–both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives.
This capacity for recognition and response is rooted in prayer, scripture meditation, and silence/listening.
Prayer is the basic posture of the Christian life. Prayer aligns us with God and God’s purposes and opens the door to the divine life. Prayer also unites us with our neighbors and the world by its insistence that, as the Lord’s Prayer tells us, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In order for discernment to be a fruitful practice we must foster a prayer-full life in our people and in our communal life.
In his sermon “The Means of Grace,” John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement, tells us that “searching the Scriptures; (which implies reading, hearing, and meditating thereon)” is one of the “ordinary channels of conveying his grace to the souls of men.” So it should not surprise us that searching and meditating upon scripture is one of the key ingredients to a practicing discernment. Through scripture we are able to remember our story, hear God’s voice, and align our will to God’s.
One of the most neglected yet most important practices in our life of faith is silence/listening. It is in silence that we are able to meditate on God’s word, receive the prayer of other believers and hear God’s voice. Silence is a learned practice, especially in our noisy world, that must be fostered not just in our individual lives of prayer but also in our life of worship and accountability. The silence allows us to discern by clearing the noise of our self-centerdness (the desires of the flesh: see Galatians 5:17) and focusing our attention on the Spirit’s presence in us and at work in the world.
I believe that we as a people are being called to model and practice discernment for our communal life. No longer dependent on pastoral ideas, staff initiatives, and programs and instead begin together to hear God’s voice that is calling us to be agents of transformation, of God’s shalom (peace, wholeness, restoration, salvation), for our community and for those that God sends our way. In other words we are a sent people as well as a gathered people. It is in the rhythms of gathering that discernment takes place so that we are truly sent in God’s name and not in ours.
We must begin to test the spirits as we assess our current ministry, worship life, and calling. Where do we sense God calling us towards? What are the places where we sense energy, passion, and drive? What are the places where we sense anxiety, low morale, and paralysis? As Ruth Haley Barton reminds us “does our organizational culture transform or deform?” (79)
At it’s core a commitment to the practice of discernment is a commitment to a God centered way of communicating with God, with each other and with the world.
Anything less than clear, honest communication patterns places the community in great peril.”
from Pursuing God’s Will Together (101)
I look forward to the ways that God will speak to us as we commit to discerning our life together. What do you think?
In the last few weeks I have often been reminded of the many ways that a congregation can make a difference in people’s lives. Our experiences of worship are uplifting, there is a genuine desire to welcome all who come, and the leadership of the congregation seems hungry and ready for what God has for us next. Conversations outside the worship space speak to our missional initiatives, small group ministries, and our commitment to raising a new generation of people in “the way that leads to life.” These are only some of the ways that we speak of fruitfulness.
In the gospel according to John chapter 15 we encounter these words from Jesus:
15”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
Jesus has just finished reminding the disciples to be agents of peace, that to love is the greatest commandment, and that they will have a comforter, the Holy Spirit to help them live into this way of life. Fruitfulness is only possible if we are the branches fed and nourished together by Christ-self.
Commitment to fruitfulness means that we are committed to discipleship. If our efforts at growth, kingdom transformation, and mutual care are not rooted in our desire for all people to experience God’s salvation then we are missing the mark. You can read more about a commitment to discipleship here but for our purposes I will say that fruitfulness is an outgrowth of a discipled people.
Commitment to fruitfulness also means that we are committed to numerical growth. This growth is not to be the end in itself but instead it comes from our desire to share the good news with others–because we have experienced grace we want others to experience it–and because we have shared the good news with others then “the Lord adds to our number those who are being saved.”
Commitment to fruitfulness means that we are committed to tending and nurturing the vine that is Christ and nurture others as they are grafted into it. This means that we are committed to a worship life that helps all who come to offer their sacrifice of praise in ways that help them grow deeper and stronger through the story we call faith. It also means that we are constantly initiating pathways for all who enter our campus to find a discipling community that models the way of Jesus through accountability, mutual care, and loving service in the world.
Fruitfulness takes intentionality, accountability, and alignment. We must focus all of our resources–people, money, facilities–towards our congregational mission. We must also be willing to constantly assess through discernment, asking the question “How is it with the soul of our congregation?”
I am thankful for these six weeks . . . I continue dreaming, hearing, and visioning. But most of all I continue praying for all of us, the people called Grace Community, that we are guided by the one who continues to grow the vine of God’s kingdom!
I’ve been silent, maybe silent for too long. It is easier that way, at least it is easier for me, who is not close to the source of so much pain and aguish. As a religious leader I should know better, I should know that if I don’t speak then who will? If I do not lament and call God’s people to do the same then, who will?
Then I’ve thought of the times when I have felt in danger because of the color of my skin or my “funny” last name. The times when I’ve wondered if our “mixed children,” would find hospitality or would be rejected. The times when jokes were shared and glances exchanged that clearly indicated that I was not welcomed.
Now that I am often in a privileged position it is easier to stay quiet. I know that I should not, for me, for my kids, and for communities of color everywhere.
I watch in pain and a sense of hopelessness. I know that violence begets violence, but have I raised my voice as one who is convicted? No. Maybe because as I close in on a decade of pastoral ministry I am tired of seeing little change, in fact it seems that more than ever we are addicted to violence as a recourse.
I watch in pain and a sense of hopelessness. My stomach turns as we see another reminder of the deep seeded racism that plagues our society. In spite of all the so called advances people of color are still being targeted, labeled, profiled, and hunted.
I watch in pain and a sense of hopelessness. I read my Facebook feed and see news of a video with “proof.” Maybe I am not smart enough to figure out the connection. I thought that we were all innocent before proven guilty but when you are brown you should know better. Truth be told we are always guilty and we often do not have enough money to prove we are innocent. And if the latest struggles continues innocence or guilt will not matter because we are fighting for our lives!
I watch in pain and a sense of hopelessness. Quickly I recognize that a prayer comes to my lips:
“Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me.
Deliver me from those who work evil;
from the bloodthirsty save me.” Psalm 59: 1-2 (NRSV)
I pray for deliverance from the forces of wickedness that seek destruction. I pray that the cycle of violence finds an end, that justice will push its way through the brick walls of hatred and apathy. I pray that all of us examine our hearts, repent, and become agents of resurrection.
At times like this I am thankful for the saints, especially Archbishop Romero. There I find much hope, comfort, and call to action. In one of his sermons he reminds us that “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”
May God’s people become the eyes to our communities. Eyes of justice, reconciliation, forgiveness, and a call for repentance. Eyes that give sight to our collective grief and to the realities of privilege. Eyes that cry alongside those that for generations have been victims of dehumanization. Eyes that cast a vision of the New Jerusalem, where Christ promises to
“wipe every tear from [our] eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NRSV)
Till then we must bear the pain and rehearse hope. Till then we’ll stand alongside and give sight. Till then we’ll call for justice and for peace! Maranatha!
This post first appeared on August 18, 2014 in Day1.org Key Voices Blog
I will admit that I’ve had to learn to play. I was a serious child and teenager. As a college student folks would tell me that I had an “old soul.” I will give much of the credit for my transformation into a more playful self to my spouse Shannon, who helped me learn to relax, to laugh, and to be more spontaneous. I will give credit to my children who have allowed me to be silly and remind me when I am taking myself too seriously.
“We were created to have a sense of play imprinted on our souls . . . [b]ut somewhere along the path, our native sense of play and story gives way to an overlay of words and work.”
Leonard Sweet in The Well Played Life: Why pleasing God doesn’t have to be such hard work, 93.
Until I read Sweet’s book I did not think about the possibility that a sense of play has been “imprinted on our souls.” That somehow play and playfulness is part of God’s image and of the dynamics of God’s communal nature. This might explain the walks in the garden, pillars of cloud and fire, and the constant reminders of peace.
It is risky to play. We’ve been accustomed to production, to always being on the go. Playing puts at risk productivity which in turn puts at risk our sense of worth to the world and even to God. Yet it is play that opens up our imagination allowing us to see possibility and gives us the opportunity to try new things.
In trying new things through play we learn to deal with failure and disappointment. We learn to persevere! Like the toddler learning to walk or the teenager learning to drive it takes time and failure to accomplish great things.
The “novice player,” as Sweet calls ages 0-30, is ready to learn. This hunger gives us the opportunity to help young people learn to live a playful life and a prayerful life. We do this by modeling the joy of discipleship. Playfulness is contagious so as we tell the stories of faith in word, song, and gesture we pass on the meaning of a well played life to a new generation. Prayerfulness is taught by living a prayerful life with its rhythms of talking and listening, always with the goal of seeking God’s will.
Finally as people grow from learning to play to learning to pray they set the tone for seeing life as pilgrimage. Seeing life as pilgrimage recognizes that in the everyday of life there are markers that help us see and experience God. Pilgrimage requires letting go and being fully present at each step of the journey. Pilgrimage recognizes that no matter how many times we get lost our destination is secured in our home in God.
Play, prayer, and pilgrimage all help us see our lives as part of the tapestry called faith. In this tapestry we are able to be rooted in story and play not in words and work. A well played life indeed!