Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"So, I'm your missions project..."

WARNING: This post may offend boy scouts, church missions directors, charity project coordinators and many others. Please consider, I am the director of a charity and my responsibility is to discover ministry opportunities to assist the needy. This blog is a trust. It is a journey piece. It speaks deeply to me and hopefully to you.

I have a friend named Don. He is teaching me a lot about our efforts. Last week, he made a comment to me that alarmed me. It made my face flush with emotion. I didn't know exactly what the emotion was. Was it embarrassment or shame or maybe fear that what I had been doing was all wrong. I still don't know. Here's the comment:

"Sometimes I think I am just a merit badge for a boy scout or a star on a missions page in someone's do-gooder book."

Don's about 50. He had a great partial career as a corrections officer and a parole officer. The prison system he was working for decided to contract out their labor so the state workers were laid off. Don wasn't rehired. Middle management costs too much. He started truck driving and got injured and couldn't return to the truck. And the injury kept him out of a job. Don now has a part-time job which pays the bills, almost. He doesn't have medical insurance and still has many medical needs. Last year Don made $7500. He hopes he makes that much this year.

"I don't want to be a charity case. But I do need help... and I do live at Hickory."

Hickory Terrace is a government subsidized apartment complex. The government subsidizes rent based on income (sliding scale). So by its nature, it houses the working poor and the non-working poor (disabled, etc.) I'm glad part of my taxes help pay Don's rent. He needs it. But the "...and I live at Hickory" remark means what you can guess... "I'm one of them. I live in one of the neighborhoods that is on your 'local missions' list, your 'Jerusalem' list, your scout book.... yep, when you're supposed to help someone, that someone is me."

"But remember, I need the help and I am thankful when I get it."

Don was raised by his grandparents. They died about 15 years ago. That was his family. Period. We met Don when we "adopted" Hickory Terrace as a mission opportunity. He watched from a distance at first and was very thankful for the effort people were making to help folks. Then he began to help us in the apartments. If he knew of someone in need he would tell us to see if we could help.

Then one day, Don needed help. His apartment manager called to tell us he was in ICU. When we arrived at the hospital he was stabalized and when we walked in he looked up with great surprise. "My grandparents died long time ago and I've been in the hospital plenty times and no one has ever bothered to check on me...It sure feels good to be visited." Don gave his heart to Jesus that day.

"The kindness of God leads to heart change (repentance)."

I don't know what it was for Don or for that matter what it is for any other people who "live at Hickory", but Don had already been the recipient of a lot of mission's projects, outreaches, evangelism visits, etc. Many folks had a check mark on their missions card with Don's apartment number filled in.

But Don is not a check mark or a merit badge.

He's my friend.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Surf's up!

Ever rode a surf board?

When we lived in San Diego I saw otherwise sane people who would listen to the 'surf report' on their way to work and if the surf was up, no matter how important their meetings were... forget about it, "We're going to the beach." Old people, young, overweight, fit, buisnessmen to beggars the wetsuits came out and off to the beach they went. Paddle out there and wait for the 'big one'. There's something about 'catchin' a wave'.

Then we lived in Phoenix.

If you want to surf in Phoenix you had to go to a waterpark and there is a big machine made by a lot of engineers powered by a big pump which uses a lot of electricity that makes average waves that last a predictable time and cost a lot of money to make and for you to ride. Sure, it's a wave but it ain't the same let me tell ya. And any self respecting surfer who has rode the real thing... forgetaboutit!

Waves are a lot like movements.

Movements can be generated... like the WWJD movement, which drug up a good old book and marketed it well complete with bracelet or the Prayer of Jabez movement which drugup a good sermon and marketed well it complete with commemorative coin... sure its a wave, but let me tell ya... then came the real thing.

Like the 'Jesus movement' which broke out when a bunch of hippies found Jesus and he wasn't in a church and they didn't invite him to one... or 'Promise Keepers movement' where men from different religious and ethnic backgrounds worshiped together (in a football stadium led by a college coach also not in a church incidentally)... many for the first time. This movement hosted the largest gathering of pastors in American history and an actual 'million man march' on the Captial mall, seeking God on behalf of the nation.

Here's the problem with real movements and real waves... we don't start 'em and we don't stop 'em... He does. We just have to wait for them... sittin' out there on our surfboards... waiting and watching for 'the big one.' But we can, if we pay attention, see 'em comin'.

Back to the surf report.

Scientist know how the surf works and when the conditions are right for a good surfing day. So they get on the radio and TV and let us know so any of us who love ridin' can get ready and head to the beach. It's the same way with God. Many of us missed the wave called the 'Jesus movement' cause we were afraid of the long hair, the guitars and the sandals. Or we missed the great men's movement because we were afraid it would compete with our monthly men's breakfast (when it wasn't about that at all). As Seth says, "The system doesn't know what to do with a movement." The station was blaring "Surf's up" but we missed the wave.

Most of us got in on WWJD tho'... Know why?

We could control it. It fit in our program schedule. We could order it and make a Sunday School lesson or VBS out of it. We could flip the Big Pump switch on and off. Our denominations could endorse it. Choose to pay admission or not. Remember real waves... we don't start 'em... He does.

There is a wave God is making in Corinth.

You'd be blind if you didn't see the activity of God in Corinth these days, especially in two areas. The care for the people living in the margins and the partnerships that God is creating among his people. In the last few years and at an accelerating pace, God is causing His people to reach out to the lonely, hurting and neglected and have meaningful relationships with people who we wouldn't have normally sought out as friends, drawing into community those who have lived outside of it.

And in doing so we've found each other. Other Jesus people out loving, caring, serving... bringing Jesus food and clothing, hope and help. And it's been wonderful. We're not only falling in love with each other but we are sharing real life and partnerships and hope and dreams. And it's fun and scary and... doesn't fit in the program. And you can't control it. It's the beginnings of a God thing that we didn't start and we can't stop. He did. But we can see it as surely as the weatherman knows the waves are gonna be big... and then we have a choice...

Cancel the meetings, grab the wetsuit... surf's up!


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Frogs, field trips and Dr. Johnson

You know you love field trips! When I was growin' up I didn't even care if it was just to go to the park to find bugs, anything and I mean anything to get out of the classroom. And the breaks... spring and Christmas and Thanksgiving... any long weekend or teacher work day... and snow days, anything, I mean anything.... ugggh the classroom.

And then came the "brainstorm"... small at first, then all consuming. Couldn't we learn outside? Why not have all classes at the park or in a canoe, on a creek or hiking a trail or even better... on a ferris wheel or a roller coaster. That's how you'd get kids to learn. You have to get "outside" the box.

Ever heard how to cook a frog?

They say (it'd be real funny if this was some myth) you put the live frog in the cool water and you heat it up real slow and the frog doesn't notice the temp change and suddenly... you got him cooked. Well...I got cooked! That's what happened to me in the classroom. They just kept me in there and suddenly... I couldn't get out! I loved the classroom! Forget the bugs and the roller coasters... I want more classes!

Unless you're Mat Johnson.

Mat's a surgeon in town. He tells me that he had to sit in the classroom for 13 years (K-12), then four more, then five more, then four more... yep, twenty six years in all! Oh my goodness... shoot me, shoot me now. You know what Mat said... no more classroom for me. I'm gonna cut people! Heck, I would too if I had to sit in the classroom for twenty six years.

But that's what we do, huh?

There's the class in a small room with people your age (Sunday School). Then there's the class with music and the loud, exuberant teacher (Sunday morning worship). Then there's the specialty class (training). Then there's the loud guy again (Sunday night). Then there's the midweek class (Do you see the pattern?). We all love and need the classroom. Isn't it possible that we've learned enough in class to DO SOMETHING! I don't know about you but I want to catch some bugs or ride a roller coaster or have a field day or even (gulp)...make a difference in the life of someone who is hurting.

Let's get out and help somebody! Let's reach out beyond our 'comfort zones' and make a friend with someone who doesn't have much money or much hope or anything else that I learned about in all those classes. Don't get me wrong... those classes are useful and necessary... but are they supposed to be all we ever do?

Back to Mat.

What if after those twenty six years they said, "Mat, congratulations you graduated... now go back to class. Huh!? You and I want to save the world, make a difference, help somebody... don't we? Mat didn't sign up to be a student. He signed up to be a surgeon. We weren't created for the classroom. We were "created unto good works which God planned beforehand that we should do them."

Word up... It don't happen in the classroom!

Why don't you take a 'field trip' or two? Use the skill and knowledge that you have learned in class. After all they are "white unto harvest".


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Images, brands and the dance

Ever notice the little words under the name... "finger lickin' good", "you're in good hands", "obey your thirst"... those slogans or motto's that try to subcommunicate with a few extra words what you are or what you get if you try the product. Some advertisers think they are as important as the product name (KFC, Allstate, Sprite) in "branding" the product. Slogans are so much a part of the vernacular that we sometimes miss their impact in our culture. "Sorry bud, this ain't Burger King which means in sloganenglish "You can't 'have it your way'", as an easy example. We've picked up on it in the church. We put these cool mottos and logo's together to create 'by imagery' a few words that say who were are or who we want to be or who we'd like you to think we are. There's the 'all B' motto: A Place to Believe, Belong, and Become. There's the 'little too long and churchy' motto: "A soul winning church serving in the Love of God". This one's kinda catchy... "The end of your search for a friendly church." It's the 'all churches stink besides ours' motto. I dunno about 'em all.

When our team began to meet together in Phoenix (my home before moving to the south), we fussed and fussed over these few words. Had to be just right. Had to be short, relevant, catchy, pithy, cool, profound and of course, communicate our identity, theology, ethos, pathos, vision, mission, core values and shoe size... all in one. I've just figured out recently why it matters so much. We want people to know who we are. And we know they don't read! Here's the rub. After all the trouble... they still don't know... and still don't read. So we dance.

Crosswind's dance started early on.
We said, "We're a ministry". Our friends said, "Naw, you're a church".
We said, "We're THE church but not a church." Our friends said, "Huh?"
We said, "We're a faith-based charity". Our friends said, "Looks like a church, smells like a church..."
Our friends said, "But you worship together". We said, "Yes, we do".
Our friends said, "But only churches worship together." We said, "Are you sure about that?"
Our friends said, "Do you have members?" We said, "We have volunteers and donors."
We said, "We are a local missions center". Our friends said, "You are? What's that?"
And we dance.

We don't dance because we're mad or upset that we're misunderstood. Gosh, we don't understand ourselves sometimes. We dance because 'who we are' matters. We're different. We're weird. We aren't your average 'run of the mill' anything. We are an experiment. We dance about who we are because we need our Christians friends if we are gonna make a difference. Just think if Salvation Army didn't have any donors except their "weekly" volunteers. And just think how the Lighthouse Toy Store would help all the families at Christmas if only their week to week volunteers helped or donated.

We dance because we have a dream that every low income housing neighborhood could have a few volunteers who would love and serve the families there, bringing Bible studies and practical love and resources. We dance because we want every struggling Corinthian to have a friend who can help them have a better life. We dance because we know we can't pull that off. It takes churches and charities and companies and individuals... it takes us all.

What's the Crosswind piece? To pave the way... to try out new ideas... to be a friend to the friendless... to organize connection points to the community.

"Do we want to be in charge?" "No."
"Do we want credit?" "No."
"Can you just ask us what works and do it yourselves?" "Please do."
"Is it okay if you try something we tried and do it better?" "We hope so."
"Is it okay if you steal our ideas?" "Sure. We stole 'em from somebody!"
"Will we help if you need it?" "You bet!"

And we dance...


Monday, March 2, 2009

To the church

Tommy Wilson needs a men's home.

Living Free serves a lot of people who are coming out of prison or coming back fom a long stay at a rehab who need a place to stay until they can get their wheels under them. Nelson Hight wants to have a women's shelter. Crosswind and other charities are trying to figure out how to help the homeless community. These things seem easy on the surface. $50K here, $150k there and we could really upgrade the "urgent care" infrastructure of our community. But how come we can't pull it off?

The word "church" means "the called out ones". It is the people who are God's kids, who have recieved "the adoption as sons". It is the "bride of Christ". It's us. Christians. We are the church.

God used the word church 77 times in the New Testament. My favorite use of the word was this... "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours 1 Cor 1:2 That's us! The church of God which is at Corinth! God was writing to all the believers in Corinth. The City Church. Most of the New Testament was written to the City Church. The letters to the Churches were to all the believers in cities: Corinth, Colosse, the region of Galatia, Thessalonica, Rome... you get the picture. The local church was City Church. A time or three God mentions a gathering of believers who met at a home, but at least 70 of the 77 mentions of his Church, he mentions it in the 'Big C' not the 'little c' (local fellowship).

2000 years later... how we have switched that all around! We hardly ever talk about the 'Big C' anymore. You know "the church of God in Corinth." We say we have 200 plus churches in Corinth and stuff like that. But I'm as sure as I'm sittin' here, if God wrote us a letter he'd address it just like he did in the verse above. To City Church. As a matter of fact, we use the word in ways God never used it at all. We say 'let's go to church'. Hmmmm... is that like saying "let's go to Christian?" We say we are going to go to 'leave the church'. Hmmmmm... does that mean leave Jesus? I can't 'go to church', I am the church, along with all of you. How did we get the terminology drift where we don't see talk church like the Bible talks it hardly at all? I mean, you know, we talk about it. Everybody could pass the Sunday School quiz on "Who are the church?" But we sure don't function that way, do we?

Whenever God’s kids gather and throw their hats and hearts and checkbooks together to grow in faith and in love and use their connectedness as a strategic launching point for action and outreach, I say bravo... that's 'little c' in it's best sense of the word.

But to demand an isolationist allegiance to a local Christian fellowship in exclusion to The Church, isolating The Church from its brothers and sisters and keeping The Church from practical love and fellowship, practical unity, practical partnership is missing the mark of The Church set forth by our Lord in the New Testament.

God has cast the vision for his children, and his vision includes that we (all of us) are one, that we are members of one another, that we love one another, that we care for one another, that we put up with one another, that we forgive one another.

Yet practically, we organize ourselves where we are members of some, we love some, we serve some, we put up with some; and those some are... the ones who believe my doctrinal statement, are faithful to my schedule, do my programs, give to my missionaries, look like me, make the same income as I do, etc.

Listen, I just want to get Tommy and Nelson their buildings built. And I think 'little c' keeps 'Big C' from letting that happen. What if we were the Church at Corinth? What if WE addressed homelessness, single moms, drugs, teen pregnancy, addiction, unchurched, lost, poverty, joblessness together, as one, one big bride, one big happy family... one big church.

What if WE did it? ...the church of God which is at Corinth.