Friday, December 21, 2007

The vocation of God

Philippians 3
12-14I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.
15-16So let's keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you'll see it yet! Now that we're on the right track, let's stay on it.

I turned 35 this month and I am 100% committed to a vocation I'm still learning about . . . changing the world. Once you do a bit of it, it's really addictive.

I am an academic advisor as a full time job to support my family. I also have a part-time job as adjunct faculty for a University for extra money and I love teaching. I have a pastoral role to my house church community and network. I am a husband, father, son, brother, neighbor, friend, boss, citizen, mentor etc. to others. But all of these roles fall under my big picture, umbrella vocation of changing the world. I think I am here in this realm to change and be changed. To myself be transformed into the image of Christ and in turn work at changing the world to answer Jesus' prayer that "your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven". That is a really big idea.

I think one of our issues in humanity (in the church and outside of it) is that we have small ideas about ourselves and our world. We serve little gods, we aspire to small ideas, we dream small dreams, we liimit our expectations to what we know. But a life wrapped up in the worship of the One true God brings you to a different place altogether. A place where you see outside of yourself, you see the world as God sees it and you begin to dream bigger dreams. It is time with God that feeds my vocation to change the world. He is utterly amazing and fills my soul with such life, I wish I spent more time in His presence.

But be careful. To get wrapped up in the vocation of God requires everything. Literally, everything. Death can't be a barrier, comfort can't be a barrier, personal status can't be a barrier, suffering must be embraced, accusations must be expected, rejection must be acceptable and so on. But as you dip into his life, you find more life and it is completely addicting.

This Christmas I worship at the feet of the One who came and called me to bigger ideas for me and my world. On the day I die, may I be found faithful to the vocation of God.

peace to you and a Kingdom Come,

Monday, December 17, 2007

For us!

This was our advent reflection from this weekend, I think I read it over 20 times through this weekend and I'm still pondering its significance. The promise came for us, thank God!
Isaiah 9:1-7A Child Has Been Born—for Us!
1 But there'll be no darkness for those who were in trouble. Earlier he did bring the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali into disrepute, but the time is coming when he'll make that whole area glorious— the road along the Sea, the country past the Jordan, international Galilee.
2-7The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light.
For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—
light! sunbursts of light!
You repopulated the nation,
you expanded its joy.
Oh, they're so glad in your presence!
Festival joy!
The joy of a great celebration,
sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.
The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants—
all their whips and cudgels and curses—
Is gone, done away with, a deliverance
as surprising and sudden as Gideon's old victory over Midian.
The boots of all those invading troops,
along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood,
Will be piled in a heap and burned,
a fire that will burn for days!
For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!
He'll take over
the running of the world.
His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
Strong God,
Eternal Father,
Prince of Wholeness.
His ruling authority will grow,
and there'll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.
He'll rule from the historic David throne
over that promised kingdom.
He'll put that kingdom on a firm footing
and keep it going
With fair dealing and right living,
beginning now and lasting always.
The zeal of God-of-the-Angel-Armies
will do all this.

God is good. Peace to your reflection of a Kingdom Come.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"I Got JESUS!"

Now before you jump to conclusions, let me explain.

I was talking on the phone with my wife last night while I was driving home from work. I heard my 5 year old son, Zach, screaming in the background but couldn't make out what he was saying. (He's on the autism spectrum but developing well at his own pace). My wife said, he screaming, "I Got JESUS!" and running around. Now it may be the dream of every parent to hear their 5 year old scream such words of allegiance, but let me finish the context.

He is taking his air-action, nerf-ball pump gun and snipering baby Jesus out of the Manger scene on our family room coffee table. Wooden baby Jesus was getting picked off by the skills of his nerf gun which sent him into exclamations of, "I Got JESUS!!"

I longed to hear Zach speak these words, but I thought they might be in a different context. I think even Jesus thinks its funny.

Ha! Peace,

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Eve of turning 35

Tommorrow I turn 35, here are some highlights of the first 35 years of my earthly realm so far.

1) I was a decision of my Mom's during my parent's divorce proceedings. They had already decided to divorce but my Mom thought that God wanted her to have one more child, so my Dad obliged. That's the story as I understand it. My Mom hid her pregnancy of me because the church folk knew the marriage was breaking up and as church folk do so well, they came down on her with judgment and condemnation. So she never saw a Doctor until she walked into the hospital in NE Philly in the snow late on December 7 in labor. She delivered me as a single mom at 5:00 a.m. on December 8 as the nurses and doctors from the night shift were finishing their philly cheesesteaks. I've always had a love affair w/ those cheesesteaks ever since. I was predominantly raised by a single Mom who worked all day and went to school at night to provide a life and opportunity for me and my brother and sister. She paid for my college education and everything else I ever needed growing up. We have had our differences, but that woman is a stud! Because she chose to persevere and provide, I got a chance in this life. Thanks Mom.

2) My growing up years were dominated by sports. They were my outlet for my anger and intense emotions. They were as well my identity, I was how I played. (Talk about a recipe for disaster) I had talent, but my real gifts were my mind and passion. There were always more talented players, but I was determined none would be smarter than me and none could match my passion. Most days I was right about that. But with that came my fatal flaw as an athlete, inconsistency. A streaky player in all the sports I played, always ended with quality stats but it was a roller coaster to get there. I played a little college baseball but largely gave up this entire identity to pursue other passions.

3) Ministry has always been a passion area for me since January of 1990, it was then that I became a follower of Jesus. At 17 I preached my first sermon and been in some form of ministry ever since. These past 17 years have been a whirlwind of activity in several contexts always trying to pursue the Kingdom and offer it to others. God has allowed me to travel to study, teach or be in mission to the following countries: Canada, Mexico, Dominican Republic, England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Austria, Holland, Ukraine, India, Israel and Palestine. I absolutely love to travel and be on adventure or pilgrimmage, I hope to do it the rest of my life.

4) Relationships define me now. I belong to Abba God, he has my singular allegiance. I belong to my wife Nicki for going on 15 years now, she is an amazing support to me and my best friend and smokin' hot! I belong to my 3 kids, Ali, Megan and Zach, I am not home anywhere unless I am with them. I belong to Ordinary Community, my spiritual family, they spur on my Christ following. I belong to Elpida, a network family of other Christ Followers who are some of the most intimate friends I have ever had (you know who you are). I belong to Paul McGillivary and Glenn Johnson as my accountability brothers, they have full permission to speak into my life to say what needs to be said.

5) I have become a pretty decent teacher over the years with teen, young adult and older adult students all over the world now doing some pretty amazing things that I feel so blessed to have been a voice in their journey. Each teaching experience for me is another opportunity for me to learn and connect and spread a dangerous way of thinking, that is the virus known as the Kingdom of God coming straight from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

Well, tomorrow I turn 35. Sounds good, bring it on! I still think I'm just getting started.

Peace to you to stop and notice the Kingdom around you today,

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Missional Fight Clubs?

I think this was done in 2003 or 2004, but Jim Henderson from Off the Map interviewed Kevin Rains and myself about our experimentation in building relational networks with like-minded Kingdom folk and this is the transcript. I still find myself closely akin to these thoughts.

Missional Communities--Join the Fight Club!

Kevin Rains and Chris Marshall lead missional communities in Cincinnati. They've been brought together by a mutual interest and a need for support. They've invited several other missional leaders from the region to join with them in something they're calling The Fight Club. Kevin and Chris recently sat down (at their computers) with Off The Map to fill us in on their view of the missional community movement. How did you guys meet? And why, since you live in the same city, did you not meet sooner?
Kevin: I met Chris because a guy from New Zealand mentioned him on his website. So essentially we lived for years in the same city, share a near identical vision for church and ministry, but met because a guy seven thousand miles away wrote a couple sentences about this experiment in Cincinnati called "Ordinary Community." We probably didn't meet any sooner because we're more interested in flying under the radar and stirring up trouble quietly and in hidden ways... guerilla church! I guess if we were good at marketing and promotion we would be running a big business or a big church.
Chris: I actually knew of Kevin's group of communities but had never taken the time to make the connection (choosing instead in my youth to believe that I had an original idea). When Kevin contacted me, we got together at Starbucks. He asked me straight up what my intentions were. I told him that I wanted to live in Cincinnati for the rest of my life and ask God for his Kingdom to come. It rang true with his intentions. That was the beginning of a brotherhood.

What's your church background. Which groups/denominations have you been a part of?
Kevin: I was baptized Episcopalian as a baby, grew up Baptist, spent a couple years in an independent Reformed church in high school, and eventually migrated toward the Vineyard via YWAM during my college days. All my current heroes are Roman Catholic. I'm a spiritual mutt.
Chris: I'm from a broken family. We attended my Mom's fundamental Baptist Church three times a month, and my Dad's basement Pentecostal Church once a month. I grew up either spiritually confused or angry, depended on the day. I got suspended from Catholic school five times, got married and ordained in an independent Bible Church, attended Evangelical Free college, served as youth pastor in the Disciples of Christ and Reformed Churches, interned at the Cincinnati Vineyard and went to a United Methodist Seminary. Yup, I'm a mutt too.

What's been happening in the Midwest in relationship to the missional community movement?
Kevin: I recently heard Bono, the lead singer in the band U2, speak in Indianapolis and he said something to the effect of "One could easily grow a movement in the fertile soil of the Mid-west." That resonated with me and confirmed what I have felt since I was a kid. I grew up in Cincinnati and have dreamed since high school of a disciple-making, church planting movement in my hometown and this whole region. What started happening a few years ago is that several like-minded young dreamers started finding each other (mostly via the internet) and began relating. There's this informal web of relationships that exists from Cincy to Lexington to Columbus to Indianapolis to Dayton.

Chris: We're also finding that there are people who are dreaming up their own dreams in their own neighborhoods in every part of the country. Some of them are coming this summer just to hang with us a bit and see what we do (it’s pretty ordinary), but any excuse to throw a party and we're all for it. Hospitality is one of the key spiritual gifts to this gig and so having others come and receive hospitality from us is a great way to catch the missional community focus. We also are hosting our 3rd worship gathering this Easter which will consist of four different missional community networks. Quarterly gatherings say we're not alone.

Let's keep it real. When it comes to being edgy, Cincinnati isn't the first city that comes to mind. How did that happen?
Kevin: Cincinnati rocks! We just don't want everybody moving here so we keep it kind of quiet. It's truly an amazing city, but I can't tell you why in this public forum or there might be a mass movement here and we'll lose that small town mixed with big city flair we have. Oops. I may have just told you part of the secret. The rest will require a decoder ring.
Chris: We say that Cincy is like Nazareth: "Can anything good come out of Cincinnati?" God's got a sense of humor.

What's the reason you guys gathered a bunch of like-minded missional community types?
Kevin: We're desperate. Pioneering is lonely, slow, and hard. It helps to have a few other people who really get it to speak into your life.
Chris: Tying our boats together give us a broader view of the murky waters known as the future. More personally, when I hit the wall, these guys cared for me. Brotherhood is irreplaceable; life's too short to be isolated.

Why the name?
Kevin: Actually it's just a nickname. On the way to the first meeting I was strongly impressed to not name it and not try to make it anything. Just build a few friendships and let Jesus do what he wants with it. So we decided to not name it. Perhaps a name will emerge. Chris can tell you how we got the nickname -- he said it first.
Chris: Brad Pitt is cool. Actually in the movie "fight club" these underground pseudo communities pop up out of a desperate attempt to find something "real." They attend neighborhood support groups because "it's cheaper than a movie and there's free coffee." I suppose this is ordinary enough for us to shoot for.

What are you hoping to accomplish through Fight Club?
Kevin: To support, mutually equip, resource, love, and network a few guys that dream similar dreams... that are interested in being a part of a movement that Jesus leads and they facilitate... and to pick a few fights along the way.
Chris: What he said. For the first time in my ministry life I am doing something I believe in. I'm no longer turning the crank and running the machine; I wear my passion on my sleeve daily. I want to network with doers who feel the same way. If you're interested in waxing eloquently about postmodernism and deconstructing Church but you're not attempting anything in the real world, you're not invited. Fight Club is for doers who take risks, partner with God for the future and put feet on their dreams.

From your perspective, what is a missional community? What sets it apart from say a traditional church?
Kevin: They tend to be smaller by design. They are more like AA or Fight Clubs than institutions. They talk more about reproduction than growth, relationships more than meetings. They are poorer. They rarely have buildings and don't dream of getting one and when they do get one they're not really sure what to do with it. They have no super stars. They read Nouwen more than Warren, and Church history more than Barna, but they love the whole church and are not angry or reactive against the traditionalistss or the mega-church guys. They just dream something different. Basically we want to be part of a kingdom movement, we're not about building an empire.
Chris: We count differently. We count relationships as our main event. We have to lower the bar of performance; excellence is not in our vocabulary. If it's not doable, we can't do it. Eighty to ninety per cent of our giving can go back out in mission; it isn't used to keep the organization running. The gift of teaching is not as crucial as the gift of hospitality. The priesthood of all believers is not an idealistic theology, it's necessary for survival. There aren't any power seats, nobody's getting paid. The focus can remain on authentic community and relational mission. Missional Communities are a way to do church in the new world that happens to fit our gift mix and passion areas.

What is it about this movement that you enjoy most? What worries you most?
Kevin: I sometimes feel like I'm carrying around this secret in my pocket. Sometimes I take it out and look at it and feel like giggling. Other times I pull it out and it scares me like maybe it's not all it's cracked up to be.
Mostly I love the room to create and experiment and try things and fail and nobody in the big world of evangelicalism really cares all that much. I guess I love feeling like a scientist who is banking his whole life on an idea or a designer fooling around with prototypes all the while putting the idea/prototype through the most rigorous tests and refining it, reworking it, rethinking it... at times nearly starting over. But there's that sense of possible discovery, of finding something that actually works and ends up being helpful, a blessing to lots of people. That's what I enjoy... the experimentation for a purpose.
What worries me is that we'll succeed at being "communities" but fail at being "missional." I think the community part is happening pretty naturally. The missional part still needs a lot of work. At least with the communities I'm a part of and most of the ones I know of. I'm hopeful though... we have time. We'll figure it out. We have incredible resources like the Spirit of Christ, models from church history like the Celtic missionary monastics, some good mentors are emerging like Todd Hunter, Brian McLaren and the wonderful Jim Henderson.... and time is on our side. Most of the folks I'm tracking with are in their twenties and thirties.

Chris: This fits my two passions, relationships and evangelism. Being in this fulfills a sense of destiny for me. I enjoy the fact that its authentic and creative, not words I associated with Church growing up. It lowers the bar so everybody can play. Celebrities have to get over it.

For the first time in my life, I'm doing ministry and feel comfortable in my own skin at the same time. What worries me? At times, its really @#$% hard. It's painful, it's vulnerable, it goes hand in hand with suffering. Not everyone is wired for painting outside the lines. People will leave and go back to "big" church and you take it personally. Friends and family may never understand you. It will stretch you during this transition time in culture because it only exists on the margins of evangelicalism. When it is mentioned, it's seen as a church growth strategy (Big Mistake!).
Community is not a means (strategy) to and end (church growth). It's an end in and of itself (Kingdom of God expressed in the now). The worry is half of the exhilaration!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Why He Came

Advent has begun, the time of the Church year where we "prepare for His arrival". On Sunday, we reflected on the shoot that comes from the stump of Jesse. Yet the readers of Isaiah had to wait 750 years before the fulfillment of that prophecy. Sometimes waiting in the Kingdom of God requires a lot of patience, but it always soon ends in joy.

It was 2 years ago on that early December morning that I received the call to get to the hospital ASAP because my 21 month old niece had stop breathing in the night. I remember racing with my wife to the hospital with one singular thought, I wanted to get my hands on that child and raise her. My only thought in that moment was that its what our Gospel is all about, new life. When we got into the room w/ Becky still holding Kate I became overtly aware that a resurrection was not to be. As I stroked Kate's hair I found myself praying words of Thanksgiving to a God who created us out of dust. A resurrection in the way I had hoped was not to be and we were left with an overwhelming sense of grief and loss.

There has been an amazing amount of healing and beauty as we as a family and a church communiy have grieved and mourned these past couple years, but it will always be a part of my Advent reflections. It is Kate's death why Jesus came. It is Chad's death of why Jesus came. It is Jennifer and Mark Palmer's death as why Jesus came. He didn't leave us to death!! He showed up in our death, he came to our broken world and changed all the rules of death. The oppressive nature of death's finality has been abolished, completely dismantled. It no longer exists as a tyrant, Jesus brought a coup. And he didn't come with a frontal assault, he slipped in the backdoor in the middle of the night and brought a subversive Kingdom. I'm in awe of why Jesus came but in this Advent season I am unspeakingly grateful.

The sting of death is gone, it is now just a passage into deeper life. Kate, Chad, Mark and Jennifer have made that passage. I sometimes long to be where they are. But until then, I want to drink deeply from the fountain that flows from the manger under that Star. In times of deep disappointment I find hope in that light. Sometimes you have to wait, but I assure you, it will soon end in joy.

Stop and notice the Kingdom around you today,