Monthly Archives: April 2009

What If…

ucao6ahbncahpjy05cap65sv2cagmni7mca8cxryaca8xhjpica5jfcncca34tlnvcafyyia0caw0hvypcaixagwwca7vbozyca2bcpq0caxy9qqmcad026e5can8jq7pcarj0mxycagyeij1cago98dp

What if every impoverished child living in Richmond experienced true, authentic, unconditional love?   

What if every Christ Follower actually loved like Christ and was willing to follow Christ into the margins of society in order to see Christ in the faces of the least, the lost and the forgotten?

What if the Body of Christ stopped casting stones at one another but instead united to break the bonds of generational poverty by truly becoming the hands and feet of Christ in the world?

These are the questions that came to my mind when one of the speakers from the Exponential Conference challenged us with this question “What if God really could do what God did in the New Testament?”  He then asked us to formulate “What if Questions” that reflected the heart of our ministry call.

At the heart of Embrace is a desire to help individuals escape from poverty.  As I have had the opportunity to hear the stories of dozens of homeless men and women over the years, I have found an alarming pattern.  Many of those who are trapped in homelessness are there due to wounds suffered as children.  While this is not always the case, I have seen this pattern more times than I care to count.  Those who suffer from these scars are among the hardest individuals to work with because many have never experienced unconditional love and often do not believe they are even worthy of this kind of love.  So the question I most want an answer to is “What if every child in Richmond experienced true, authentic, unconditional love?”  Would it make a difference?  Would it break the cycle of poverty?

You may be thinking to yourself, “How could this ever happen?”  That leads to my second question “What if every Christ Follower actually loved like Christ and was willing to follow Christ into the margins of society?”  If those of us who profess to be Christians actually did what Christ did and spent time with those impacted by poverty; we would come to know the children and the Christ spirit that dwells in us would empower us to develop real, authentic relationship with these children which over time; would allow every child to know they are loved.

I know that these children are still going to be wounded but my belief is that once they know they are lovable; they will be able to heal without the magnitude of long term damage I currently see.  I do not want to give up on the adults, we need to continue to work toward healing but I think the church can have the greatest impact in the area of prevention.

So what does this look like?  I honestly do not know.  I am just starting to ask the question.  What I do know is that it must be relational, not program or event driven.   I do know that there are others like the Micah Initiative and Youth Life Foundation who have come to the same conclusion; if we want to break the cycle of poverty we much invest in the children. 

In a recent Unity Works session one of the participants said “I really want to minister with my family.  Are there any opportunities for families to do ongoing relational ministry with families in transition?”  Sadly my answer was “not right now”.  However, as with all things Embrace, all it takes is one dreamer.  Please join us in asking some new questions and in dreaming some new dreams.  If you are aware of ministry opportunities that engage families in ministering together in relational ways, please let me know.

So what would the world look like if God really could do all the things God did in the New Testament? 

Jesus said “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”  John 14:12

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Urban Ministry

What’s Next: Plant a Church or Empower a Movement?

8caqajb4ocalwnoawcapnyswjcah3r7sqca7wdwzocatg5lzocasw01q4caq8a4cocaym6ps4ca7o2xcfcaklwculca7fjgqrca34n7eacazta7orcang1at7cac6qdx5cav8ql1dca9vljx1ca3audlb1I am entering into one of the most exciting seasons of my life.  God has allowed me to see and do so much over the past six years but I feel certain that it has all been preparation for what is yet to come.

In September, Embrace Richmond transferred the Furniture Bank element of our organization to CARITAS and CARITAS hired me as the director of the program.  For the past eight months, I have worn two hats; Executive Director of Embrace Richmond (www.embracerichmond.org) and Director of CARITAS Works (www.caritasworks.org).  In that time the furniture bank program has grown significantly and so have the programs operated by Embrace Richmond.  I realized last month that I could do both jobs half way or put all my energy into one direction.  After much prayer I felt led to slowly move out of the CARITAS Works role and focus solely on Embrace Richmond.  I am now down to 12 hours a week working on CARITAS related programs and I have taken considerable time off in the past month to ask “What’s next?” for Embrace Richmond.   This transition would not be possible without the addition of Karen O’Brien to our staff and the support of Karen Stanley the Executive Director of CARITAS both of whom have been incredibly supportive of me over the years.

In December 2003, I was faced with a similar decision as I wrestled with my call to vocational ministry.  At that time I began writing “The Journey” which was originally sent out to a few close friends who committed to pray for me.  As that list grew, I put the emails on a website and they are now available through “The Journey” page of this blog.  Basically, The Journey writings helped me to discern what was next for me.  As God revealed new pieces of the puzzle; I wrote about it as a way of publicly recognizing where I saw God at work and as a way of remembering.  These pieces were the building blocks for what eventually became Quest Women’s Ministry and Shine Groups for Girls which eventually led to the creation of Embrace Richmond. As Embrace Richmond moves into a new season; I feel called to do the same thing; look for God at work, figure out how it relates to my call and Embrace Richmond’s mission and share those insights with others.  Those of you who know me personally know that I am full of ideas and as an extrovert; I feel the need to communicate as a way of fleshing out all these thoughts.  However, I do not want to frighten anyone…I know Embrace cannot respond to every need or fulfill every dream or idea that pops into my head.   So relax and just dream with me a little.

For those of you who are joining me on facebook; I will be posting the entries on my facebook page as I write them.   If you are not yet my friend yet, please “friend me” and join me on this adventure.

This past week I attended the Emergent Conference which is the largest church planting conference in the country.  I went thinking I was going to help my friends Lewis and Doug who are both church planters but something happened at this conference…my mind was expanded.  I think my idea of “church” was way too small.  As I sat in the conference listening to some of the most innovative Christian leaders in the world; I began to get excited about what God was doing.  God has started a movement across this country; a missional movement much like the one identified by Eric Swanson in his book Ten Paradigm Shifts Toward Community Transformation which I wrote about in The Journey emails back in 2004.  (You can download this paper for free from www.leadnet.org) This idea is what gave birth to Embrace Richmond and is still the vision that I long to see manifest in Richmond.

I still do not feel church planting is my call…but fueling a missional movement; that gets me excited!

What is a missional movement?  I will attempt to share what I think it is in my next post .  In the meantime you can catch a glimps of it in Eric Swanson’s paper or through The Journey entries.   Please pray for me and for the Embrace family as we move into the fullness of what God has for us.

1 Comment

Filed under Urban Ministry

Tough Question; Where is Jesus?

clouds2

In one of our recent discussions about the role of spirituality in The Healing Place recovery program, one of our Unity Works participants asked the following question, “I still have questions in my mind about the “God of my understanding”.  Does AA proclaim the Gospel or is the “God” a universal ie Budah, etc…..God? When and where is Jesus? I understand the challenge of needing to be non-denominational but how is Christ proclaimed?”

I spent many years in an evangelical church that taught that the only people who knew God were those who publicly proclaimed Jesus as Lord.  I am sure most of you are like me and just never really questioned that belief.  Sounded good, must be true if the preacher says so and in the book of John, Jesus clearly says “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Who could argue with this teaching?  Surely anyone who challenges this idea, must be a heretic, a non-believer, and a danger to the faith, right?

Before we all start picking up our stones and casting them at anyone who may think differently, I want to tell you a story.  It is a story that has been played out in my life over and over again.  I keep meeting wonderful people who were once caught in addiction.  Who through The Healing Place and AA groups have come to know God and who claim to have been healed of their addiction by the “God of their understanding”.  They are now bearing fruit; reaching out to other sick and suffering addicts; calling them to come to know God and helping them to be reconciled to God and their fellow man.  They are loving and generous and truly love their neighbors as themselves in ways far beyond most church going folks that I know. They are doing all this healing in the name of an unnamed God.

We know from scripture that the power to set the oppressed free is a power that Christ grants through the Holy Spirit.  I have seen that spirit of freedom break the chains of addiction; I believe only the power of the Holy Spirit can bring a healing of this nature.  So I have a problem.  Either I believe that it is all the same spirit or I believe that there is another spirit through which such freedom can be gained.

In his book “How (not) to speak of God” Peter Rollins issues a challenge to our modern ways of defining God. He writes “The emerging Church is thus able to leave aside the need for clarity and open up the way for us to accept the fact that what is important is that we are embraced by the beloved rather than finding agreement concerning how we ought to understand the beloved (as if a baby can only really love her mother if she understands her.) ”

In other words, rather than look for Jesus through our own definition of God, we should look for evidence of God’s embrace.  Without a doubt, my friends from The Healing Place, have experienced the embrace of the beloved and it has transformed their lives and through them God has transformed me.  God has gotten much bigger and far more mysterious as I have witnessed God at work through my new friends.  Some may read this and consider me a “liberal” or worse a “heretic” for believing that God could be that big; bigger than the church walls, able to work without a formula and yes, even able to free those who cry out to a God they cannot name.

Father Richard Rohr, a fellow heretic, writes in his article, “The 12-step Program as Coded Gospel”,  “Why do you often feel the very power and presence of God after listening to addicts share their stories of faith, confession, forgiveness, humiliation, and surrender?  God seems to be the one obvious and essential person in attendance at most AA meetings I have ever attended, yet there are no icons, candlesticks, vestments, stained-glass windows, or pipe organs in sight.  How can this be?  Is this perhaps what Dietrich Bonheoffer meant by the “religionless Christianity” that he saw as the future?”

Peter Rollins writes “Hence Meister Eckhart famously prays “God rid me of God”, a prayer that acknowledges how the God we are in relationship with is bigger, better and different than our understanding of that God.”

Are we willing to look for God in unexpected places and allow ourselves to be embraced by the beloved in unexpected ways?  Are we willing to accept that God is bigger than anything we ever imagined; that God has no limits?

Where is Jesus?  Only God knows.   I am learning to accept there are some things I will simply never understand.  There is tremendous freedom in letting God be God!

The Apostle Paul put it this way;

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11:33-36

7 Comments

Filed under Urban Ministry

On This Rock

img_10922

While in New Mexico, I spent three days at Casa Del Sol at Ghost Ranch which is a spiritual retreat center near Santa Fe.  This is the second personal retreat I took this year and both times, I was blessed beyond words.  My first retreat was to Holden Village in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State shortly after my daughter’s surgery this past fall.  That week gave me the strength to make it through one of the most difficult seasons of my life and this retreat allowed me time to rest and reflect on that season.  There is something amazingly healing about solitude in the wilderness. 

We are in the season of lent; a season remembering the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert being tempted by the enemy.  These past few months, have been a season of extreme temptation for me. I have been tempted to quit, to run away, to abandon the call, to let go of the faith that once sustained me. The words of the enemy sound something like this “Nothing you do really matters.”, “Why are you sacrificing so much for people who really don’t want to change?”, “You don’t know what you are doing, you should focus on things you can be successful at.”   

On my second day at Ghost Ranch I climbed the trail to Chimney Rock; a large outcropping of stone.  As I climbed I reflected on what created this magnificent sculpture.  The answer: centuries of harsh weather and erosion.  I looked below at the mounds of soil, evidence of what is left of a once great mountain.  Now all that remains is solid rock and it stands resolute testifying to something unshakable.

I realized that our spiritual journey is often much like the journey of these mountains.  Pain, cruel reality, and the harshness of life can erode our faith.  We have two choices; let go of what no longer is needed and cling to the rocks of our faith, or crumble and fall.  I spent the next two days, reclaiming one solid rock.  The rock I leaned when I went to Vacation Bible School at the age of seven; God loves me.   God loves me just the way I am; whether I am a successful or not.  The outcome of what I do does not really matter; only my faithfulness in following where ever I am led, even when that place makes no sense to me.

All that matters is the love God has for me and when I truly get that, then I am able to truly love God and all of God’s creation.   Up on the top of the Chimney Rock, I felt fully embraced, held by the only one who can heal me and shelter me from the storms.  During this difficult season, I have made many mistakes, done things I wish I could undo.  As the storms raged all around me, I lashed out at those I care for and I neglected my loved ones.  I have been beating myself up for the past few months because I was not strong enough, wise enough, or loving enough.   Through the ravages of this season, I have been broken.  I decided to follow the advice of these rocks; cling only to what is solid and let all else be washed away.  God loves me.  There were many beautiful rocks in New Mexico but this is the only one I choose to bring back to Richmond.

Leave a comment

Filed under Personal Reflection