Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Joey Gruber passed on to Kingdom Fullness

On the right of my blog has been a donation PayPal button for a 3 1/2 year old incredible little boy who had been suffering with a form of brain cancer and last night passed on to Kingdom fullness peacefully at home in the arms of his Mom. Please pray for the Gruber family, this breaks all of our hearts.

Here is the last blog post a couple days ago from Joey's Dad:
We are always glad to type messages here to share information about Joey. It lets us update everyone without having to repeat ourselves too much. We get so many messages, in many loving ways, and wish to send only a brief reply. Thank you in advance for giving us some privacy right now. Joey needs some rest and would be better without too much stimulation. We continue to pray and we will talk to you soon. To our great friends from work, Thank you for your love and support. Thank you for your genuine concern for our situation and protecting our livelihood in our absence. May God bless you and yours. To our friends and neighbors, Each morning and night we live of our lives so close to one another. We realize that our daily activities, even hardships and trials, are shared like family. We know that you are here for us even when our response is quiet. We could not ask for more than friends who are like family. To our dear family, Every time we face trouble, alone or together, we remain bound. Our strength and value has been built growing up with you. As youngest siblings, we will always look up to our brothers and sisters, and we have learned all the best about parenting through our moms and dads. We are blessed with strength from the love you always have for us. To Joey’s friends and caregivers, You will always have a most special place in Joey’s heart. Remember childhood all of your life. Try not to be sad for long periods of time. There is always a new episode of your favorite show coming up soon, or a book to read, or another game to play. And, To Claudia, I have rarely seen two people look at each other with such comfort, and share each others company with such great compatibility. It is like your souls have known each other long before you ever met. God bless you, your beautiful sister and your mom and dad. To Stacey, You mean the world to Joey. To say that you are #1 would be an understatement. Every single thing that you do is with love and good intention for him. Your motherly intuition has protected him and kept him safe all of his life. In no other arms has he felt so safe. With no one else does he enjoy himself as much. He loves you more than he could ever bring to words, and he loves you most of all. I also love you with all my heart. My love for you has grown because of Joey, and because of your love for one another. May God protect us and keep us together, as His, forever. To Joey, You are the best part of our lives. You have been given to us. We are blessed with you as our son. We have come to know great things in this world because of you. We have also learned how delicate these things, and our lives, may be. The fear of losing you is terrible and only God knows how much your mommy and I can endure. But, please know that we are best able to face each day because of you, and that our love for each other is greater because of you. We find everything we need in life, and many of the things we want, but the very gift of you, is the greatest thing we’ve ever had. Continue to be our beautiful son, always with God, and prayerfully here with us. More love than we could ever say, Mommy and Daddy.

Father, our hearts break for them, come and be their hope and peace this day.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Being Ready

First of all, to keep up with the conversation, Check out Aaron's roll here:
blog roll

I want to state emphatically and upfront that I am Pro-Church. I am pro- the people of God on earth living in and asking for God's Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. As I pray for God to build His Church, there is a flipside to that . . . that means everything is negotiable and needs to be willing to be sacrificed at the altar. For me, that meant firing myself from paid ministry and taking a bi-occupational role. Thanks to Kevin Rains for reminding me that our bro, Chad Canipe (who passed onto Kingdom fullness in March 06) would say that we have one vocation, to seek first the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33). However, in that, we may have dual occupations or even a triad occupation. I'm not alone in having had worked as many as 3 jobs at a time to make ends meet to follow the calling of God on my life.

Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat—I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? If any of you is embarrassed with me and the way I'm leading you, know that the Son of Man will be far more embarrassed with you when he arrives in all his splendor in company with the Father and the holy angels. This isn't, you realize, pie in the sky by and by. Some who have taken their stand right here are going to see it happen, see with their own eyes the kingdom of God."
Luke 19:23-27 (The Message)

But what I want to re-iterate is that everything needs to be submitted before God. Our expectations of what a comfortable American living has to be submitted. Our expectations of where we hold community meetings has to be submitted. Our assumptions of what we envision our role in the church being has to be submitted. Our financial margins and use of physical resources has to be submitted. Our sense of comfort and security has to be submitted. Where God calls, God provides and that will come at least in the form of daily bread. If we claim to follow Christ, that has to be enough for us. We have to be very careful to guard against making "professional" what is a spiritual role.

It is the sense of entitlement that I am speaking against when it comes to vocational roles in ministry. I am not against the idea of being paid, I am against the assumption that its the way it always has been and always will be. God does not owe us anything! Not a job, not a title of honor, not an air-conditioned office nor full time hours a week to be a spiritual leader. Now his provision may emody all of that for you, but we have to be okay if it doesn't. Truly, his grace needs to be sufficient for us and its not our place to demand more. Don't run from suffering, embrace it. Let it change you. Let it bring you to deeper exeperiences of God's hand on your life. Sweating blood on your night of Gaethsamane crying out to God to take care of your family is what dependence on Him looks like sometimes. If he desires to move in a different mode of paradigm, in submission, we have to be ready to go with him because there is no one else who holds the words of life.

So in this discussion I want to say that we as the Church need to be ready and willing to do whatever it takes to be the people of God on earth and embody his mission here. If it means bi-occupational for a generation or two because of economic and cultural factors, then so be it because the Church moves on. The Church is not bound by the factors, figures and the oil prices of this world. We can change, adapt and transition in new ways because we listen to a differnt King. And that King demands singular allegiance.


Friday, April 25, 2008

striking a nerve

Ok, this issue has some really thoughtful and reflective people/friends posting on this subject so I wanted to list them here so you can check 'em out. I'm really digging their thoughts, experiences and voices on this issue of money/vocation/future church.

Steve Lewis

Kimberly Knoll

Mark Evans

Alan Creech

Glenn Johnson

Daniel So

Mike Bishop

Jason Evans

I'm sure much more is to come. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Church, Money and the Future

This conversation has a lot to unpack, check out these links to continue the conversation.

Mike Bishop

Jason Evans

Here is where this conversation has me today. Going back to 1998 (10 years ago) I saw all of these trends coming and internally felt a great disconnect between my identity as a paid vocational pastor and as a follower of Jesus on mission to release the Kingdom to my community. I found that they were not the same thing. I went to Seminary to leave ministry and try to find some answers.

Here is one of the things I learned:

- My Anthropology class said that if missionaries were to have a voice in thier missional context they would have to take an "acceptable" role in that community. You can't be a vocational missionary or pastor into a tribal group with whom that role doesn't exist. I knew that my context was with those that were well outside the church walls and that for "postmoderns", they had complete disdain for organizational structures and distrust in traditional pastoral roles. So to me, if I cared to be incarnational to this group of people, I had to sacrifice my vocational identity as a pastor and take a different role in culture to support my family. So I fired myself choosing to be something more like a bi-vocational
pastor/missionary and planted a house church network.

- This has been enormously difficult. From a physical standpoint, I have a Bachelors and a Masters degree that in one world (ministry) carries heavy weight and in another world (outside of ministry) had me laughed at in job interviews. It was a transition of total surrender, personal suffering, marital suffering etc. etc. I had to learn to follow Jesus and not have pre-set assumptions of what His provision would look like. I'm not even sure how we have paid the bills on paper looking back at some of those points but I can say most assuredly that we were/are never w/out daily bread. I've done everything from managing in the food industry, teaching and administrating at a Christian High School to teaching and administrating at a Christian University.

- From an emotional/pychological standpoint, it has been brutal. I guess it has some of the same attributes of a mid-life crisis. A loss of identity which is only somewhat healthy, this loss reveals how many false-idols you had in place, places where I should have had only a trust in Christ to begin with. Its a lot of pressure to process this internal identity shift with the realities of daily life, family and work. I had the opportunity to sit on a panel discussion last Fall in Seattle with Brian McLaren and George Barna who see these shifts and are writing about them and asked them how they think people like me can deal with this identity shift as ministry culture is changing. It was a little painful to realize that they had no answers and seemed had never even considered the question previously. I suppose in their vocations of writing and speaking they haven't had the same experience. So there is little help for this area within our culture except for one another.

- From a ministry standpoint it is both a taste of amazing freedom and a challenge of transitioning away from a role of "providing" to "empowering". My experience is that even in house churches, there are still a dose of folk who just want to be fed and have large expectations for leadership to do just that. However, there are a growing number of folk who embrace the community model and bring to the community as much or more than what they are withdrawing. That is the really good stuff. I'm learning as well to not care about other's expectations of me or my performance for them. I'm just a fellow sojourner with them figuring it out and wanting to give the Kindom away.

- What is the future? I have no idea. I encourage students (high school or college) to get degrees in fields that can support them regardless of their ministry aspirations. Get your theological training from the church community and not to see ministry as a professional, but as a missional servant. From there let God lead you and provide for you in the context. I would suspect that within 10 years due to these emerging church trends and economic realities in America that the number of vocational pastors may decrease by as much as 50%. Endowed churches and denominations will be able to hang in there longer and I suspect there will be a movement of consolidating local churches to regional churches to deal with the dwindling cash flow and top heavy debts.

- What is the future? One thing I do know. God and His Kingdom are an unstoppable force and is all pervasive reality. The spread of His Kingdom will not be squelched, it will continue on to the end of all things. It may be a process of purification but that is our calling anyways as the Bride of Christ. Our identities may end, our vocations may end, our buildings may end, our paradigms may end, our assmumptions may end . . . but the Kingdom will never end nor our invitation to participate in it. I'll be around for all of that, hope you can join me ;)

peace to the coming of His Kingdom,

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

This hurts

My truck is paid off but the gas prices are killing me. I don't drive that much and its over $300 per month, not including my wife's car. So what does this project to as a national economy? Recession seems inevitable, will it go way beyond that? A nation already ruled by fear and over-spending with no margins by individuals and the government, what will be the consequences?

How will this impact churches and mortgages and credit lines that can't be fed? As builders pass on who are the committed givers what is left? 1/2 of boomers are there to give and the other 1/2 are driven past their financial margins with consumerism and can't help. Gen X and Millenials have very little value in long term comittments, are all about instant gratification and consumerism is their native language. Commonly this group of up and comers are living on 125-140% of their income taking on exponential debt per year. What will be the result of these decisions having no margins when the shoe drops?

Will American churches go the way of their European counterparts? Becoming really funky coffee houses, restaraunts, art galleries and dance clubs. Just things I wonder about.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

House Churching

So, we've been house churching for over 7 years now and there are just some nights where you walk away and say to yourself, "wow, now that is what church is all about". (of course you can have that experience in any church model, but I'm just speaking from my story) Tonight was one of those nights. Great meal together, great laughter around the table, great stories told, great discussion of Luke 19 and re-constructing what evangelism is, great further discussion on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, always great partaking of communion elements and great sense of being sent back out into our missional contexts for the week. So I guess what I'm saying is that I think it was pretty great.

peace to your week,

Friday, April 11, 2008

Vasectomy completed, recovery in process

Boy, that was an interesting procedure. I won't go into details, but I'll just call the whole experience peculiar.

Kept a lovely conversation going on with Dr. Haaff, we covered the following topics:

* University education
* sons with developmental disabilities
* commercial development in our home of Liberty township
* running marathons and half marathons
* the astronomical rising inflation of Zimbabwe
* vacationing in South Africa
* WWII stories of his family immigrating from the Ukraine
* His grandfather having survived Siberia
* my desire to bring water and education to developing countries

So we got a lot accomplished on an intellectual level and I'm sure hoping he got accomplished on a procedural level what needed to be done.

I have very little soreness so I'm free today and throughout the weekend to watch the Masters tournament and anything else I'm in the mood for.

peace to your weekend,

Monday, April 07, 2008

Random happenings

* I used to be the biggest fan and promoter of Skybus airlines that we've used a few times, most notably with $35 round trip tickets to New York City for Nicki and I in January. But Nicki and I were using them this past weekend to speak to our college's youth ministry senior retreat in Northern Illinois and after our Friday afternoon flight, they went out of business and stranded us in Wisconsin on Saturday. We had to rent a car and drive home from Milwaukee to Columbus to get our car and then down to Cincy. So a one hour plane trip turned into a 13 hour drive and no reimbursement plan, we have to dispute the charges on our credit card. So, not that Skybus cares, but I'm no longer a fan.

* I'm hoping for a good game tonight for the national championship in college hoops. It just started and its such a frenzy pace, makes me tired just looking at it.

* Last week I was accepted into a Doctorate of Organizational Leadership program with Indiana Wesleyan University. I now have to decide if I want to actually do it or not as it will define all my free time over the next 3 years. I sure like my free time but it may be a tool for me to eventually teach full time at the college level and get involved in the kind of non-profit work in developing countries that I have in mind.

* After one week, the Reds look pretty salty, I'm impressed.

* Took my kids out for ice cream tonight for really good report cards. I'm so blessed to have 3 great kids, I'm only truly "home" when I'm around them.

* If you sense the trembling in my typing its because I'm getting a vasectomy on Thursday afternoon and it has me fretting all week. The upside is that I will be sitting on frozen peas and watching Tiger Woods dominate the Masters tournament.

* I agreed today to run in a 4 person relay for the Flying Pig Marathon in 4 weeks. Not sure which leg will be mine but it will be slow plodded. So I'm trying to up my running and down my eating for the next 4 weeks to kick start some weight loss.

* I loved the extended time with my wife this past weekend, can never get enough of that.

that'll do for now.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

MLB Baseball Preview

Well, since my boy Al Martin called me out, I can lay down some wisdom on the 2008 MLB Baseball season. First of all, I quit my fantasy baseball league so that I can focus on my doctoral studies I may be starting this summer. That allows me to now focus on teams and not just my individual players. Here is my take on the divisional winners-

National League:

East - Philadelphia Phillies, ok I'm a homer but they have the best line-up in the NL in a hitters park and their pitching is maturing in time to win the division. I see the Braves making a run and competing with the Mets for the NL wildcard. The Mets are the best team on paper but injuries will hurt them.

Central - I'll go with my homer call of the Reds due to much improved starting pitchers w/ 2 young studs named Cueto and Volquez. the addition of Cordero as a closer should mean the difference of 10 more wins. This is an above average team winning a poor division. Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers have little to no pitching to win enough.

West - Arizona Diamondbacks. nice young line-up but Webb and Haren are a lethal 1-2 punch. They both may win 20 games and their bullpen is solid. I saw them on opening day here in Cincy and I can't wait for them to leave town. LA and Colorado will compete, but I'll give the nod to Arizona.

American League:

East - im tired of the hype of this division so I'll just say the Red Sox because of their balance of talent. nuff said and purposeful omittal here of the team in pinstripes.

Central - wow, great division. I'll go with the Tribe because of Sabbathia and Carmona 1-2 punch but the Tigers will be right there and will win the wild card.

West - Angels. Loaded with talent as well, I love Vladi, most exciting player in baseball in my mind.

World Series will be the Red Sox vs. the Phillies and the Phillies win in 6! Ryan Howard NL MVP and Series MVP. The man can rake.

Feel free to fight back on these with your own comments, just know that your comments are wrong ;)


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

i remember

i remember when i used to be a good blogger