Monday, October 25, 2010

Imagine the Possibilities!

For the 2011 Stewardship kickoff dinner we were asked to reflect on the question "What could Faith Outreach do with unlimited funds?" Here is the response I offered to the congregation...

What could Faith Outreach do with unlimited funds?

Wow, unlimited funds!

I suppose Dr. Jenny Chapman could stock and staff a full service clinic in Haiti? Maybe even build a hospital?

I suppose we could fill several South African preschools with books and music? Wouldn’t that just fill Miss Shan’s and Nancy Hamilton’s hearts! And while we were at it we could assure adequate care for the children in eGoli’s HIV/AIDS orphanages? Kaylynn Campbell would be ecstatic!

I suppose we could eliminate the debt for the Presbyterian Home for Children? Maybe even start an expansion? That would bring tears to Anne Whitfield’s eyes!

Every child at Morris Elementary could go home with food for the weekend. Whitesburg Elementary could have full after school care and tutoring. Libba Nicholson and Sara Curtis’ dreams would be fulfilled!

Maranatha could have up-to-date facilities and year long programming. Gene Joiner and a long list of us would see dreams fulfilled.

And just how many Habitat houses can Doug Franklin build?

This is just a short list of dreams come true for only a few outreach ministries that are near and dear to Faith Church.

Now the chances of us achieving unlimited funds are pretty remote. But you may have noticed that each one of those ministries have people that are passionate about them. People that understand these are things that God is calling and equipping them to do. Actions they undertake just because they love God and want to share God’s love with others.

That’s my dream. My dream is that we can nurture folks along in their faith so they can grow into the servanthood that God wants for them. My dream is to develop that sense of calling in each of us so we can establish team based ministries that don’t over burden or burn out a few. Respite care and Downtown Rescue Mission worship are very successful examples of such ministries. They rely on teams of volunteers and require essentially no money. My dream is that we don’t spend all our “church” time within these walls. My dream is for us to be joyful givers and a sent people and to understand how that comes as a natural response to God’s grace; not as obligation.

To get to that point, I’m afraid, will require us to pledge something more precious than money. We are going to be required to pledge our time and ourselves. We will be required to challenge ourselves to step out in faith to seek, learn, and try. Are you ready?

This entry prompted me to look back at this one: from June 2009. Not that much different.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Church Scars

During the visit from our South African friends I had the pleasure to be their driver for their trip to Cullman. Besides the Ava Maria Grotto we also visited a Catholic shrine down there. It was a most impressive place; huge, beautiful, spiritual. But it left me with a very uncomfortable feeling I can’t put my finger on. Obviously I must still have some unresolved Catholic issues from my youth. I have had these feelings before; see “Pew Time.”

I have also been struggling with my attitude toward Faith Church. Struggling with some scars and resentments left after the great turmoil. That is going to happen when a family of faith that has been so deeply instrumental to my faith development acts so uncharacteristically un-Christian. It shook my foundations. Even now as we move forward, I know there will be scars that get reopened. Will we be able to work through those scars or will they prevent Faith Church from becoming what God wants it to be? I suspect church scars are the deepest for just that reason. The relationships where you trust the most, open up the most, and love the most are the ones that cut the deepest.

I have also been attending one of Rev. Maricarmen Castro’s small group meetings. I have truly enjoyed these meetings. The meetings are still young, fresh, and full of Christ’s love and promise. I can see how they can be welcoming oases for many folks struggling with their faith or their church. But my pessimistic side can also see how, as these groups grow, they will be subject to the same human temptations that often turn churches into less than hospitable places.

And finally I have been attending Jerry’s Companions group. It has only been a brief time as it just started, however I feel very at home there as it is full of folks I have known for a long time and trust easily. We have been discussing God’s grace. The daily reflections concerning God’s grace in Companions as well as God’s holiness and grace in the Old Testament for Maricarmen’s group have highlighted the many, many instances of grace I have experienced. Experiences of grace I have had through friends, family, Faith Church, mentors, Maricarmen’s group, and other churches in the Presbytery. But I am also reminded of many instances when we, and I, turn away from grace; instances that are part and parcel of the human condition.

So, how do we deal with our scars and the wounds that are still to come? Yes, there will be wounds to come, because we can’t stop loving. If we stop loving we die.

It all rests in God’s grace. The grace that:
  • Brought me to Faith Church and found my faith.
  • Brought Marilyn and I together.
  • Nurtured me through raising a family.
  • Sustained me during Faith’s turmoil.
  • Brought me to a Rescue Mission worship that showed me true service.
  • Took me to Big Cove First Light for a message I needed to hear.
  • Found me in a Companions group that has quickly become a place of grace and healing.
  • Found me naturally making the Catholic “sign of the cross” as we remembered our baptisms by placing our hands in water.
  • Brought me to participate in a baptism that reminded me of our unity through Jesus Christ.
  • Urged me to connect with Maricarmen’s missional group of other scarred and searching folks.
  • Brought substance to the concept of incarnationally loving others in that group.
  • Brought me, as I was struggling with this entry, to a Sunday of serving communion to folks I love as well as ushering to folks I have grown distant from.
  • Reminded me why I love those folks too!
  • Repeatedly keeps me at Faith Church for whatever God has planned there.
It all rests in God’s grace. The list goes on and on each day. And the question is the same each and every time, “Do I accept this grace or do I turn away?” Like the prodigal brothers (Luke 15:11-32), what happens after the text? Do we accept the grace given and find forgiveness or do we reject the grace to live separated from God?

What will you do today with the graces you will be given; accept them, turn away from them, share them?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Missional Church: Small is Big

I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion last evening about what “Missional Church” means. This was a joint discussion with a group visiting here from the eGoli, South Africa Presbytery. The discussion was led by Pastor Maricarmen Castro and three of our eGoli guests.

Maricarmen started off with some definitions as she tried to contrast the meaning of missional with what most of us in church think of as missions. In my experience this has been a difficult challenge and last evening was no different. The major difference is that each of us is individually called to be a missionary in sharing the Gospel; it is not just the Pastor’s or the Church’s job. This was summed up well with the concept of taking the Gospel outside the church, not just inviting others into the church. The other key point was that sharing the Gospel missionally is not to be confused only with acts of service in our efforts to combat social injustice and poverty. As you can tell from my description this concept is hard for us to grasp and convey, particularly to those steeped in church tradition. But I think it might become clearer if I tell you what I heard unfolding in the following discussions.

Questions from the floor centered on two things, the first being “How do we do this?” To me this revolves around our feeling inadequate to explain and teach the Gospel. The second question centered on “How do we get our church to do this?” To me this revolves around us still thinking in terms of this being a church program. One gentleman’s question about how to convince his church to continue in an effort when there were only a couple of individual “successes” generated a good deal of follow on discussion. As this was playing out it became obvious to me that, in true American fashion, we were thinking BIG. Individually we were thinking we are not equipped to convert anybody. Corporately we were striving for the big program.

The answer popped out to me; in the Missional Church small is big! God is not asking us to convert anybody. He is only asking for us to share “what we’ve seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20) Individually we are called to share what having a relationship with Jesus has done in our lives, period, God will do the rest. You can’t convince your church to change or to continue seemingly inefficient ministries with grand rhetoric. But you can tell the simple story of how you’ve seen God change lives. Our stories are as small as the boy who faithfully offered five loaves and two fish (John 6:9) and with that Jesus fed 5000! It is as small as Maricarmen’s challenge to doing something nice for a neighbor and watching how God can use that.

So be God’s messenger. Go out and do something SMALL and let God do the BIG lifting!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Revolution or Reawakening?

Our Sunday school class is just finishing up our study of the book, “The Irresistible Revolution,” by Shane Claiborne. A very interesting and thought provoking read!

Claiborne basically relays his spiritual journey through stories that have shaped it. Admittedly Claiborne’s journey is much more intense than the average Christian. He also phrases many ideas and questions in shocking, thought provoking ways. I think Claiborne can rightly be considered a prophetic voice for Christians today in much the same way as the prophets of old were to the people of Israel. In Claiborne’s autobiographical approach to this prophecy, the early chapters have a deeper more cutting edge ring to them. It is an edge that possibly turns off more folks than it really should. However, for those open and brave enough to continue reading, the last three chapters find a message that is mellowed by experience and more practical in tone but still just as prophetic. This experienced tone makes it an even more compelling prophecy that is just as dangerous to ignore as it is to acknowledge. This puts us readers in a very challenging position.

Chapter 11 challenges both professing Christians and secular altruists with some compelling words.
Just as “believers” are a dime a dozen in the church, so are “activists” in social justice circles nowadays. But lovers are hard to come by. And I think that’s what our world is desperately in need of – lovers, people who are building deep, genuine relationships with fellow strugglers along the way, and who actually know the faces of the people behind the issues they are concerned about. We are trying to raise up an army not simply of street activists but of lovers – a community of people who have fallen desperately in love with God and with suffering people, and who allow those relationships to disturb and transform them.
Chapter 12 challenges particularly American Christendom to meaningfully reassess how we do church today. From the mega churches that turn Christianity into a neatly consumable, schedulable product to the fortress mentality churches that are defending dogma and tradition to the last dying member, “Church” in America today is dying. In my mind these approaches treat “mission” as something that is done to somebody else. Claiborne and a number of other sources these days are calling for a reawakening to the ways of the 1st century Church. This is a much more organic approach that works through building relationships that intertwine and reach throughout the community. This approach treats mission as a partnership where all parties grow. This chapter has particular application at this time in Faith Church’s life. In our healing process we need to struggle with the question of what kind of church does God want Faith Church to be; this, or that, or some hybrid?

Chapter 13 brings us back to unity. This is somewhat ironic given Claiborne’s often shocking approach but is certainly biblical and demonstrates Claiborne’s growth. This chapter emphasizes that we are not alone in any of these struggles. God is ever present and we need to be humble and respectful to each other.
…we have to remind ourselves to stay anchored in the church, for we need roots and wisdom.

It seems to me that God could surround us with elders as we bring new energy into an aging body, but it will take tremendous courage from old folks to dream new dreams and allow a new generation to make their own mistakes. And it will take great humility from the new generation of the church to listen to the wisdom of our elders and know that we can learn from other’s mistakes.
In one word, from over two centuries of history and from at least one wise Pastor, it all boils down to Agape.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Story ...

A man, let’s call him John, has just settled into his new life. He could be new in town, starting a new job. He could be divorced and starting fresh. He could be part of a young couple or a young family. He could be newly retired, unemployed, or widowed. There could be many reasons why he has reached the point of being settled in a routine that gets him through the daily must do’s. Now it’s time to branch out and seek out other things and other people.

One of the many places John could look is to volunteer at something? After all he’s always felt like he should give something back or make things better for folks less fortunate. He doesn’t even consider a church. He’s had bad history with churches. They’re either judgmental or hypocritical or both; no that’s not on the list. So John goes online through and finds a HUD sponsored community learning center.

John settles into a routine of volunteering at the center one night a week. He helps different clients with computer skills. Some kids working homework, some adults learning computer skills, some seniors with emails and researching medical info. He has a number of regulars that he actually looks forward to seeing. One night a group of three new volunteers shows up. The center does have a big turnover in volunteers so John doesn’t think much of it.

The group introduces themselves, they’re from XYZ Church. OK, John has seen a number of church people come and go. They usually are a Youth group that only comes once as some kind of “project”. Or others come for a while, don’t seem to act any different than any other volunteer and lose interest after several weeks. But there is something different about this group? Before they start their work they form a circle and say a prayer? John notices these folks really try to get to know their clients. They talk and laugh. At the end of the evening before they leave they form another prayer circle, a couple clients actually join them.

The weeks go by and the XYZ people become regulars. They generally have a nice chat with John each evening. They ask John if he is involved with a church. He says no, waiting for the “sales” pitch, but it never happens. The XYZ folks always start with their prayer circle and they always invite clients to join, but never push. John notices them really getting to know their clients. Many times he sees them praying with their client and frequently hugging and tears are shed occasionally. John notices their clients smile a lot more than most?

After a couple months John joins in the prayer circle …

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Thankful for a Cloud of Witnesses*

Once again I am brought to a feeling of thankfulness for the place Faith Church has been in my life. I read this posting in a blog that I follow;

I like following this blog because it is written by a woman that is deeply Christian. Yet, somehow, she can walk that thin line where she has credibility and influence on the lives of very spiritual people that have become fearful or disenfranchised from the Christian church. Exactly the place where Christ’s church needs to be these days.

In this particular posting she talks about our children and where they learn about their faith in a kaleidoscope world but one that has, seemingly, black and white rules on where faith can be discussed. I was compelled to share this comment:
As “sad but true” as it is, our children are amazingly adaptable at being who they need to be for different people they come across. Perhaps that’s even truer in today’s world where they are constantly coming in contact with people with different worldviews. Our children, and my wife and I, have been blessed with a strong faith family. A church that not only teaches but develops strong relationships. This affords our children access to a large group of faith mentors they can turn to when those difficult questions come up. Questions they don’t necessarily feel comfortable talking with us about. And it gives my wife and I an incredible sense of comfort knowing they have that “large cloud of witnesses.”
This is one of the things that Marilyn and I value most about Faith. It has been, and I pray will continue to be, one of Faith’s bedrock missions. Once again, Thank You Faith Church!

* Hebrews 12:1

Saturday, January 23, 2010


2010 has started out to be a downer of a year; apparently? In the last week I have seen a lot of discussion on things that are dying.
  • Obviously there is the earthquake in Haiti.
  • A new blog acquaintance who’s Grandmother has passed away, which made me think about my Mom and Dad.
  • Another blog acquaintance ruminating on the slow decay of a couple small steel towns near Pittsburgh, an area and experience I’m familiar with.
  • A blog post commenting about three different focal missional groups reacting strongly to changes they are experiencing.
  • And of course there is looking back over the last year of Faith Church that could have gone either way and is still precarious.
Yet each one of these also carries with it a strong sense of new life!
  • There was a parallel story of how a town devastated by the 2004 tsunami has rebuilt better than before.
  • The grieving granddaughter passed on stories to her young daughters about the great life of their great-grandmother. And I remember how my daughter at five years old still had a sense of what she needed to deal with losing her Grandma.
  • The blog of the decaying town focused on the coffee shop that offered a spark of life through “splashes of color” and a community garden.
  • The missional movement blog commented about how things we hold onto too tight, trying to keep them the same, makes it all about us instead of the mission. Which made me think, if these are truly organic movements then some things die to give way and nourish the new things.
Most folks simply learn to accept these ups and downs as part of the circle of life. But as Christians shouldn’t we have a much more positive outlook? Christianity itself is rooted in the fundamental belief that out of death rises new life! Christ died and is risen! Paul continually talks about dying to sin and being reborn in Christ!

Faith Church has at least stopped the decline and has a lot to look forward to as we do the hard work of nourishing the things that will bring new life in Christ. There may be some pruning necessary as well but we will all discern those things together, when the time comes, as the Body of Christ.


These are just some of the many “new life out of old things” I’ve noticed. Maybe sometime I’ll give you my thoughts on the US Post Office or NASA…