Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Tangible Kingdom

If you are interested in what God is doing through the Missional Church, I highly recommend, The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.  Below are a few of my favorite quotes:

“We have preached and listened to the preachers who tell us a story we’d all love to find ourselves in, yet we feel the gap between what we hear and talk about and what we experience.”

“ The idea of God’s kingdom is now relegated to the realm of heaven, the afterlife, and we just assume that we won’t get to see God and His beautiful redemptive plan until we pass over. The church therefore becomes something we may not need any more something that at its best is worth only our recreational enjoyment. Our massive hope about God, His Kingdom, and our place in a unique community of people who change the world is all but dead, and we are left feeling like the searcher who wants in but who is reluctant to face the dangers of navigating our collective faith and purpose.”

“I had became a card-carrying member of what I call the “jaded” denomination. You know, people who have a hard time finding coherence between their faith in God and there experience in the church; people who are sick of that same old song, same lingo, same methods, same discouraging results, and same spiritual emptiness. No, I did not leave the church entirely, like 25-million plus and growing, other dechurched Christians are doing in America. But I wanted to. “

“ We want to let you know that the unsettling feelings you are experiencing are ones that hundreds and thousands of people are also working through.” 

“Our goal isn’t to attract Christian people to our worship service but to be the faithful church in small pockets throughout our city. We are creating places of inclusive belonging where God’s alternative kingdom can be experienced.”

“You might expect, therefore, that we ask you to leave your safe harbor and sail off into the stormy seas. But the harbor does not represent safety. It represents God’s kingdom. His life. His reality.  What we believe we should find and what church can direct us to. In actuality, it communicates exactly what we believe is the call of the church: Find and help others find Gods beautiful city.”

 “If Christianity was only about finding a group of people to live life with, who shared openly their search for God and allowed anyone, regardless of behavior, to seek too, and who collectively lived by faith to make the world a little more like heaven, would you be interested?…What people are asking for is the kingdom of God made tangible.”

“Hundreds of thousands of Christians believe you can’t get into heaven without “praying the sinners pray,” even though Jesus granted salvation to many without one reference to a person praying a prayer. Even post resurrection, there is no precedence for praying a prayer as the ticket to eternity.” 

“By starting with Christology (the life of Jesus), which informs our missiology (how we live), we’ll have a better chance of finding common ground with our ecclesiology (how we do church).”

“To move forward, we can’t keep everything we’ve always had. We have to pick what to take, what is absolutely necessary, and leave behind some things that have been important to us. What used to provide comfort now may only take up space or be a hindrance to getting where we need to go… This is right in step with God’s usual way of engaging His mission. He just packs light! He loves to trim off anything that would slow us down, hinder us, or make the journey more difficult….When you don’t have all the “stuff” you’re left with a lot more time to spend with people.”

“Church must not be the goal of the gospel anymore. Church should not be the focus of our efforts or the banner we hold up to explain what we’re about. Church should be what ends up happening as a natural response to people wanting to follow us, be with us, and be like us as we are following the way of Christ.”

“Influence does not happen to us by extracting us from the world for the sake of our own values, but by bringing our values into the culture….We must go out and then let church reemerge as a reflection and the natural outgrowth of our missional way of life…We knew the message would make more sense if you  saw it lived out in our lives.”

“The incarnational big-story gospel will require a place of discovery, where people will be able to see the truth before they here about. This place will not be a location but a community of people who are inclusive of everyone.  These people will be making eternity attractive by how they live such selfless lives now,  and will be modeling life in a New Kingdom in ways that will make it easy for other people to give it a try. People like this are not desperate to convert everyone; they are desperate to be like Christ and to be where Christ is. There heartbeat to be transformed into the image of Christ, and to pray and work for little specks of transformation in everyone and everything they touch. Success is faithfulness. The rest is up to God.”

“I think we should start by looking for ways to witness to this gospel by bringing tangible slices of heaven down to life on earth, and continue to do this until those we are reaching out to acknowledge that our ways are “good news” to them. If you  are really living the good news, you will have plenty of opportunities to explain the theological aspects of the gospel. But if we continue to lead off with words about the gospel instead of acts of the gospel we will continue to jip people… The incarnational way culminates in this primary difference: belonging enables believing.”

“I am not sure how we got where we are, but it’s amazing  that we think our most powerful times, our most intimate spiritual experiences, are supposed to happen within in the comfortable confines of our church services. The biblical evidence is overwhelmingly and is crystal clear that god’s power is most naturally meant to happen “out there”!”

 ‘Remember, Jesus came not to judge the world but to save the world. You can’t save the ones you judge. You can only save the ones you are connected to.”

“Did you know that we are all created with a built in desire to love the world, to bless people?  Way back when…God set up a deal with humanity.  Genesis 12:1-3: “The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

 2 “I will make you into a great nation
       and I will bless you;
       I will make your name great,
       and you will be a blessing.

 3 I will bless those who bless you,
       and whoever curses you I will curse;
       and all peoples on earth
       will be blessed through you.”

Ultimately, Gods offer to us to share his blessing with others is how we find our deepest sense of personal meaning and satisfaction.  Jesus said it this way:For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8, 35)… Jesus mentions blessing as giving sight to the blind, captives being set free, debts being paid off, food for the hungry, friends for the lonely, meaningful employment for the discouraged and self doubting,  rest for the weary, and anything else that could be felt or touched on terra firma. The Tangible Kingdom! Blessing wasn’t just nice things you said to make people forget about their problems. It was actually doing something about their problems.”

“The call to community is not about finding people just like us, or at the exclusion of other people. Community in the biblical sense is clearly about unlike people finding Christ at the center of their inclusive life together…Mother Teresa said this: “if you have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we  belong to each other.”

“Consumerism is based on the belief that I can’t help others until I help myself, that my wants and needs trump the needs of others…We all fight the same consumer tendencies, and we must struggle as a community to limit what we need inside the church so others can get what they need in the world.”

“The goal of our missional life is not to grow churches. The goal of the church is to grow missionaries. The goal of the gospel is not to get people to church. The result of the gospel is that people will find each other and gather because of deep meaning of a common experience.”

“In Hebrews 10:24-25, we have the only direct encourage for people to gather: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.”  Mission creates meaning and a context for the gathering.”

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The Plans, The Hope, The Future

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One of my all time favorite passages of scripture is Jeremiah 29:11; “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

This past week I resigned my position as the Director of CARITAS Works.  I have been in the process of transitioning out for the past two months and with the addition of Karen O’Brien I was finally ready and able to hand the furniture bank off fully to CARITAS.  It was exciting and sad all at the same time.  I was actually a little shocked at the sadness because I have been working toward this goal for more than two years.  I think the sadness was more about feeling a little lost than about actually wanting to keep the furniture bank.  It only took me about a day to morn the loss and to begin to see the future God has been preparing.

For the past few months I have been spending a lot of time in prayer and solitude seeking to discern what’s next for me and Embrace and in the past few weeks, the haze of confusion that has so clouded my mind has started to lift.  I think the key word for me in this season is “integrate”.  In the past five years I have birthed three ministries; Quest which was a small group ministry for women that I started when I first moved to Richmond, Shine which was a missional small group ministry for youth that I did with my daughter, and Embrace which was focused on the needs of the homeless population.  When the furniture bank component of Embrace grew so large, I had to let go of Quest and Shine.  However, I have longed for the day when I could bring all three together.  I think that day has come. 

I have had a large number of people over the years lament the fact that there are no opportunities for families to go on mission together in the local context in a relational way.  I have also become increasingly aware of the lack of community and belonging both in the suburban and urban context.  What if I combined the community building aspects of Quest, with the youth focus of Shine and the missional heart of Embrace into one?  What if instead of separating women, men and youth into separate groups and then dividing those groups up into mission, bible studies and fellowship groups, we instead put it all together?  What would it look like to be the family of God on mission together as families?

I heard a new word this week; it was the word “twinning”.  I learned that the Catholic churches in the area are “twinning” with congregations in Haiti.  The one congregation that I was visiting with was going to start an organic garden at their church and help a congregation in Haiti do the same thing.  I liked this idea of two communities from different areas doing the same thing but in different context.  The struggles in Richmond will be different than the struggles in Haiti but they are both on the same mission “to grow an organic garden” in order to feed those in need in their community and they can each share their journey and will likely help one another learn as they go.

The mission of Embrace has always been to help prevent and end homelessness by mobilizing people of faith.  What I have come to see in the last few months is that if we do not invest in urban young people, the cycle of poverty and homelessness will continue and if we do not invest in suburban young people the destructive patterns of materialism and consumption will continue to erode our sense of community and belonging. 

So what if we tried some “twinning” around empowering youth?  What if we started a missional community in suburbs that had the mission of empowering young people to be a blessing to their community (which was the Shine mission) and we twinned that group with a missional community in the urban setting that had the same mission of empowering youth and blessing the community.  The mission is the same but the challenges will be different.  In the urban setting people tend to have more time and in the suburban setting people tend to have more resources.  Many of our urban youth have developed a strong faith which has helped them persevere through great challenges and our suburban youth have often benefited from education and enrichment programs that have fostered their creativity and talents.  I believe bringing these two together would be a blessing to both. 

I am still praying about exactly what this might look like but some amazing things happened this week.  A lovely lady I have known for years offered her home school network facility, which is near Chesterfield Town Center, to us as a gathering place.  It is a great space with a large group meeting area and four good size classrooms.  This would provide us with a place to gather, plan and meet before mission events.

I also met a lovely woman who is doing amazing work with inner city girls in Hillside Court.  We have hired two summer interns who will both be focusing on empowering youth, both suburban and urban, throughout the summer.  In addition, the past few weeks we have been doing home visits in the east end with our clients.  In those visits we have met some wonderful people many of whom want to be a part of blessing their community. 

I heard at the conference I went to last month a description of the church that I really liked.  They described the church as “The family of God on mission together.”  I am thankful that so many of you are already on mission with us.  It has been such a joy to meet so many people who are passionate about what God is doing in our city.  I am thankful the season of letting go is over.  I hope you will travel with us through this season of integration.  If you have any ideas or questions please either leave your post here or contact me via email at wendy@embracerichmond.org

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Ode to My Mom; and All Other “Abnormal” Mothers Out There

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A few years ago my youngest daughter said to me, “Mom why aren’t you a normal mom?”  I asked her to define “normal mom” and she said, “You know, the kind of mom that is always at the bus stop, eats lunch at school with her kids, and who puts notes in my lunch box.”  In other words, the culturally constructed image of the “perfect” mother; the kind of mom whose life revolves around her children, and who values her family above all else.  What child would not want that kind of mom?  I can remember as a child having similar feelings though I was never bold enough to say such things to my mother.  I did, however, think them.  When Caroline said those words to me, I felt like I had been socked in the stomach.  Was I doing this mommy thing all wrong?  Or, was there perhaps another image of a mom that while not the cultural norm, could be equally as healthy?

I am thankful that I was raised by a woman who refused to become who society wanted her to be; a woman who has lived everyday of her life striving to be the unique, amazing, sometimes odd woman God created her to be.  She is not your typical mother, and all I can do is praise God for that. Without her lively spirit and her zest for life, I would not be who I am.  I pray someday my daughter will come to appreciate my uniqueness as I have come to appreciate my mother’s.  This mother’s day, I want to celebrate one of the early “abnormal mothers”, a woman I hope my daughters will seek to emulate; a woman who simply wanted to be true to who God created her to be, in all her uniqueness.  I want to celebrate my mom.

I was born in Lampasas, Texas in 1967.  (Yes, that beautiful baby in the picture is me.)   Lampasas is a sleepy little rural Texas town with a population of about 4,000 people at the time I was growing up and a culture that was closer to the 1950’s than the 1960’s.  At the time of my birth, my mother was 19 years old.  She had dropped out of school at the age of 16 to marry my dad, her high school sweetheart.  My mom had grown up in the military and had seen the world but found herself living in a community where few had ever ventured outside the county line.

My sister was born two years after me and my mom and dad were your typical working class family.  Dad worked at the local Drive In as an assistant manager and mom stayed home with my sister and I.  But she was always dreaming of her next adventure.  She sold jewelry, spent a lot of time with her friends, and threw a lot of parties.  At the time I did not like the parties and I’ll be honest, I never liked her friends.  My mom had a strange taste in friends. I think it was because she never really fit in with the “normal” mothers.   I asked her once why her friends were all so weird and she replied, “Because, I like interesting people.”

She had a special knack for attracting people in crisis.  She even moved several of them in with us! There was the two teenage boys who had taken to the road to “find themselves”, several alcoholics whose wives had kicked them out, and family members who were just down on their luck.  Those she did not move into the house she spent hours at the kitchen table counseling.  Everyone knew that if you needed help, Sissy Miiller would listen without judgment and when necessary take in the weary traveler.  I really hated having house guests growing up.  Especially the type of guest my mom invited in.  I wanted my family to myself and I deeply resented the amount of attention my mom paid to these really messed up people.  I was also embarrassed to have my friends over because no other family I knew was running a homeless shelter out of their house.

Once my sister and I reached grade school, my mom’s party days ended as did the house guests as we settled into a more “normal” family life with my mother deciding to join the workforce.  She got her GED and in a matter of a few short years, she climbed the ranks in the local bank and was the Vice President of mortgage lending.  From there, she started her own mortgage company which she then sold many years later to start raising Emu and Ostrich on the ranch of her business partner.  From there she started her own embroidery company and to this day, she is continually dreaming of new adventures.  My mom is anything but boring.

I think my mom’s decision to take in people in crisis and to befriend social outcasts was one of the hardest things for me to deal with growing up.  I wanted her to be “normal” and to do “normal” mommy things, but I now realize that though I did not like her choices, somewhere deep inside me, my mom planted a seed of compassion that I know would not exist without her living such a compassionate life.  I think the gift of compassion is worth 1000 school lunches and countless love notes.  I never doubted she loved me because she loved everyone so feely and genuinely.  I always knew I could talk to her about anything because she never judged anyone.

So why don’t I go to lunch  at the elementary school or greet my daughter everyday at the bus stop?  Because God has called me to the same mission as my mother, to befriend interesting people and to show compassion to my hurting neighbors.  I know I will not win the “Suzy Homemaker” award.  My children will not remember me for my cooking, my spotless house, or my attentiveness to all their needs.  But I do hope they will remember me as one who loved much and who sought to live a compassionate life.   I don’t know if my daughters will every fully understand my choices, but I know I am grateful that my mom choose to be a bit odd and fought against the cultural tide of conformity to claim the life God created for her.  That is what I want for my girls.  I don’t care if they grow up to be successful or wealthy, all I can hope for is that they become fully who God created them to be and continue the tradition started by my mom of redefining the “normal” mom.

I pray our society discovers a new definition of the “normal” mom.  I have a few suggestions as to how we might think of redefining “normal”:

  • So what if the “normal “ mom looked a little more like Mother Theresa and a little less like Martha Stewart?
  • What is instead of hanging out at the mall, she hung out at the soup kitchen?
  • What if instead of spending her money and time on having the perfect hair, nails, and  outfit, she invested in disadvantaged children?
  • What if instead of spending hours hanging out on the soccer field, the “normal” family spent that time building relationships with the poor?
  • What if instead of being only focused internally, the “normal” mom was also focused outwardly toward a world in need of the love she has to give?

So Happy Mother’s Day Mom, thanks for helping redefine “normal” and thanks for being so weird!

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