September 21, 2014 — violent

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Psalm 33

No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.

More thoughts to ponder

We could read the psalms and just ponder our thoughts. But they are made for participation. The best thing to do with a psalm is to use it to relate to God, not just think about it.

Psalm 33 might be especially good for us today in the middle of our violent world. Last week, the world’s debate was all about whether the United States would use its overwhelming investment in violence to increase intervention in Syria and Iraq. Today, our attention in the  United States is drawn to the search  for the trooper shooter in the Poconos.

Who can save us from the violence of the world and the famine of love we experience? Our hope is in the unfailing love of the Lord. We know his eyes are on us, no matter what happens. We know that Jesus will lead us through death itself.

Suggestions for action

Read Psalm 33 again and pick out the sentence, phrase, word or thought that is for you today. There are many to choose from: God sees me. Shout for joy. He spoke and it stood firm. I put my hope in you.

Use it.

September 20, 2014 — unleashed

Our five year goals.
In 2019 we are…
Organizing well enough to not be occupied by our infrastructure: We share enough money to survive in gentrifying Philadelphia and South Jersey. We have strategized, partnered and invested well enough to provide a place for our meetings and ministries to thrive.  We have unleashed an entrepreneurial leader to oversee business that the Pastors presently need to handle. We have successfully tackled personal debt bondage.

Today’s Bible reading

Read Acts 6: 1-7

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith (verse 7).

More thoughts to ponder

Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your much-ness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving, we may endlessly give,
so that the world may be made Easter new — Walter Brueggemann in An Easter Prayer

Acts 6:7 corresponds to the preceding paragraph. Expansion followed developing capacity. The Jerusalem church appointed a group of people to meet the material needs of the community.  Because of the infrastructure the team developed, the apostles were able to do their apostolic work: making new disciples — even in a hard target group: the priests!  We’ve got hard target groups too — whole swaths of the region are decidedly against Jesus and his Church, or so ambivalent it’s almost impossible for them to hear us.  But they need to hear us!  They need to know us and Jesus at the center of us!  If we can’t organize our basics, we won’t be able to unleash our apostles to do the hard work of evangelism in our fractured society and thirsty region.

Apostle means “sent one.”  By meeting our basic needs like meeting places that are welcoming and self sustaining we are able to better send the people we have and send more of those yet to be sent.  If our system is so cluttered with inefficiency and scarcity that many of our best people spend most of their time tending what already exists, we won’t ever create what is next.  I want to create what is next.  I want the world to be made “Easter new”.

Suggestions for action

Pray: May your much-ness expose our false lack.  Unleash us, Lord!

Look up how much you shared with the common fund.  Do you know how much already?  Pray that those dollars be well spent.  Pray for more capacity, personally and corporately.  Can you think of any new ways you can organize your life, your family’s life, and your finances around our mission of sending apostles.  How might you be sent yourself if money were not inhibiting you?

September 19, 2014 — change

Our five year goals.
In 2019 we are…
Risking to do what is best: We have managed not to mature into inertia.  We are disproving the generally-accepted ideas that thirty-somethings and older people can’t dream or act on their dreams, that the community can’t free parents to give their gifts, that younger people can’t relate to older people.

Today’s Bible reading

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.   And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;  their righteousness endures forever.”  Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  — 2 Corinthians 9:6-11

More thoughts to ponder

The apostle Paul was teaching the church in Corinth about money, but not just money.  He is encouraging us to be open to God and to share our lives with others, because that is who we are in Christ.  We are demonstrative like Jesus.  We are safe enough to take the risks that love requires.  Our needs are met and God will even increase our “store of seed” to offer as we move into the future.  Our generosity will make a difference in the world.

In order to stay open and generous for the long haul, we need to keep changing, because it is tempting to bend toward inertia as we age.

Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion, including changes to its speed and direction.   It is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at constant velocity.

We can get caught up in survival mode, unconsciously putting one foot in front of the other.  Sometimes greater responsibilities can pull us toward management of systems that seem bigger than we are and impossible to change.   It’s tempting to just adapt to the system.  We can get slavish to inflexible routines that leave us vulnerable or even entitled to seeking comfort in more possessions, projects, isolation, entertainment, or consumables.  It’s an easy but dissatisfying cycle.

Jesus reminds us that we have choices at every age and season of our lives.  His invitation to us is to pay attention to our hearts and our dreams as we continue to seek God together.  Being in Christ means that we have dreams for the redemption of the whole world!  We have dreams that would allow us to use our specific gifts and experiences to plant the Church through our network and see the kingdom of God grow here in our neighborhoods.  A high school in North Philly has the words of Langston Hughes permanently etched on their exterior wall:

Hold fast to dreams
for if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

In Christ, dreams are worth changing for.  But change is not usually easy.   Thanks to nano-science, we now know what the caterpillar is experiencing in it’s seemingly quiet metamorphosis into a butterfly.  When translated into audio, the vibrations inside the chrysalis sound something like an agonizing cry.  Change is not easy, but in Christ, we are given to the resurrection.   We are made to rise with Jesus.

Suggestions for action

Let God find you right now.  What dreams do you have?  How might you need to change to make it a reality?  Is there something we could do as a Body to make the dreams a reality together?  Spend a moment imagining and write it down so you don’t forget.  We are moving into a discernment process together this fall and we need to hear the dreams that are rising up among us.

September 18, 2014 — world

Our five year goals.
In 2019 we are…
Living as world Christians: We have increased our national and worldwide connections through MCC, BICWM and other partners. We send out members of our community to serve. We share substantial percentages of our income with people outside our borders. Immersion experiences have spawned regular connections with the 2/3s world.

Today’s Bible reading

Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.  So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” Matthew 9:35-38

More thoughts to ponder

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) was a tireless leader of reform and new mission during the dangerous times of the Spanish Inquisition. In her famous book, Interior Castle, she taught her community members about how to seek and find God within them.  She identified one hindrance in the journey to know God and self, she said, “Their love is not yet ardent enough to overwhelm their reason. How I wish ours would make us dissatisfied with this habit of always serving God at a snail’s pace? As long as we do that we shall never get to the end of the road.” Teresa wasn’t one to mince her words, nor reduce her love. She pressed on and would happily tell you about the great joy she experienced in doing so.

I think we seekers of God who live all these centuries later would do well to take Teresa’s colorful image into our own prayer and ask God to forgive us our slow responses to His great love. Not to shame us, but to move us to action. We need to live as Christians who reflect God’s compassion for the whole world and this will mean that we send some of our dearest friends out to far shores or into new churches, risking our hearts and our money in creative ventures all around the world. The possibilities are endless and the partners number into the thousands! Enriching our bonds with people outside our culture will show us the greatness of our God and pull us out of ourselves and into the deeper realities of Christ’s passion.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Lord, open my heart to your wide world and the needs and hopes that grow there. Cause us to connect with your people and your causes around the world. May we care as you care. May we go wherever You call.

Read the MCC websites to discover partners you can pray for this week/month. http://www.mcc.org/http://serve.mcc.org/http://eastcoast.mcc.org/

 

September 17, 2014 — hosting

Our five year goals.
In 2019 we are…
Celebrating talent and hosting the neighbors: Our Music and Arts Cooperative leads us. Our events teams have matured to create a network-wide strategy. They help us to create, affirm, connect and communicate the gospel in artful ways. Our buildings are creatively used as venues for the arts. We have paid staff that administers our events.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Psalm 40

“He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.”

More thoughts to ponder

When Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem on what became known as Palm Sunday, the Pharisees want Him to rebuke His disciples for crying out. Jesus famously tells them, if they don’t cry out, the stones will.

The message of the Gospel begs to be shared. In fact, if we aren’t doing that, we are missing the point. When we’re thinking about our five-year goals, all of them point toward Jesus and a love relationship with him. Central to our lives is the Great Commission—going and making disciples of all nations. So for us, when we express our God-given talent and ability, we do it for His Glory and to advance and expand His kingdom. Art is never merely self-expression.

We want to use the gifts God has given us for His sake. And one of our visionary goals is about that process. We want gifted artists to receive a lot of encouragement to share and to lead. We want to have relevant, meaningful, and engaging events that serve our neighbors and create good, positive space using our buildings. We want to be a safe, warm, and hospitable place for our people to host their events, and perhaps for others in the community to do the same thing.

In many ways, we are already succeeding. Praise God! Our building for Frankford & Norris is the largest art gallery on that strip of the Ave. Broad & Washington’s second story property has a good reputation among creatives. Marlton & Crescent is trying to rent its garage bay to artists! Broad & Dauphin rents its building temporary, but has many artists who have big ideas for what to do next.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Show me how to cry out and share the gifts with which You’ve blessed me.

The goal above lists some very unique ideas that need thought and prayer. Commit a part of today to doing that. What does a “Music and Arts Cooperative” look like? Imagine it, pray for inspiration, see what God springs up. Ponder a network-wide strategy for how our events may work for mission. Share it with someone. Think about what our buildings need to look like and how we should present them as a venue for the arts. Finally pray for resources and for the “right person” to be an event team leader, or administrator. Maybe it’s you!

September 16, 2014 — foment

Our five year goals.
In 2018 we are…
Fomenting reconciliation: We are conscious of our diversity and loving it. We are kingdom-like in our racial/ethnic/socioeconomic leadership, make-up, and practices. Our staff is diverse in ethnicity, age and gender. We are a consciously anti-racist, proactive-peacemaking people able to teach others.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Revelation 7:9-17

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

More thoughts to ponder

“Foment” is such a great word! I often get asked what it means.

One way to look at “foment” is to talk about it in political terms, in fact it most often used in this context. Often those who are involved in “fomentation” are instigating or stirring up an undesirable sentiment or course of action… you might be accused of fomenting political unrest! (In some ways, I hope you are.)

We talk about fomenting reconciliation. One way to frame that is to think about all the things we want to do to instigate or stir up sentiments and a courses of action that are indeed undesirable in the eyes of the powers that be. Working toward a diversity in who we are and how we act as the church as we attempt to reflect God’s Kingdom vision totally flies in the face of those powers. Consciously developing a staff that is diverse in ethnicity, age, and gender and proactively forming a people who are anti-racist and peacemakers (and who are able to teach others how to be the same) is unsettling for those who want to keep us as atomized and scattered as possible. The world doesn’t really want reconciliation. I want to foment with our next five years just because pissing off the powers that be seems like something Jesus would be into (and, BTW… he is).

The picture in Revelation is a picture of the Kingdom of God in it’s fullness; where all people join in the worship of King Jesus. The reason that agitates the powers that be so much is that when Jesus is fully King over the entire reconciled cosmos, they won’t have power anymore. So they keep telling us their lies, hoping to hold on to what they’ve got. They say, “Salvation belongs to our good works which rest upon the political process, and to the consumer.” Then they divide us up, ask us to take arbitrary sides, and advertise to us until we’re convinced that they’re right. But the picture God is giving us is one of fomented reconciliation; it’s been stirred up and provoked by Jesus and his followers to the point where all people say, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

There’s another (more archaic) way to look at “foment.” It has to do with bathing a part of the body with warm or medicated lotion. I might like that image better. The sins of racism and sexism are especially pronounced wounds in the history of the Church (the body of Christ). They need to be bathed in reconciliation… they need healing. If we were a “warm healing lotion” type of people, I think that would be a great reputation to have.

Suggestions for action

Get your hands dirty and then go wash them. No, seriously… that’s your act of prayer for today. Physically go get your hands dirty as a prayer that you would be one of those who would help us do the “dirty work” of agitating the powers that be. Then run some warm water, lather up your hands really well and wash them clean as a prayer that you would be one of those who would help us bathe our whole region in reconciliation.

September 15, 2014 – presence

Our five year goals.
In 2019 we are…
 Known as a healing presence: Our attempts to center in on Jesus make a difference. Circle Counseling and other teams provide opportunities for internal and external peacemaking. Our regular spiritual retreats are formative. A corps of prayer warriors guards the center. We have added a corps of trained spiritual directors led by our lead teaching pastor.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Ephesians 6:10-13

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

More thoughts to ponder

The apostle Paul connects this struggle that is internal and external as well as against domination powers spiritual and physical.  Isn’t it tempting to limit Jesus’ work to only one or two of those aspects?

We may prefer to limit centering on Christ (or the struggle):

  • to be a personal, spiritual process – where all that matters is our sense of closeness to God.
  • to be a reordering process outside ourselves – where all that matters is other people being changed.
  • to be against spiritual forces that negatively impact the morality of societies and perpetuate encouragement to sin and racism.
  • to be against the prison or military industrial complex, transnational companies rearranging governments, and political bureaucracies  that undermine justice.

This five-year goal is about guarding the spiritual heart of God’s people as we wage peace internally and externally, and both spiritually and physically.  We can already see some signs of life in some of our creative endeavors to lead this kind of devotion.   Shalom House as we knew it closed and morphed into the larger Circle of Peacemakers.  We’ve offered some new retreats.  More people are getting trained in the art of spiritual direction.  Circle Counseling continues to expand.  Different groups of regular pray-ers have been forming.

Being known as a healing presence will mean that healing is happening, we are telling the story, and people outside our church are feeling the effects.  Our transformation will be evident and the world will experience Christ’s presence in new ways.  Which part of that will be the most difficult?  Which will be the most fun?

Suggestions for Action

Pray: May I shine your healing light today.  

You may want to tell part of your own healing story to someone, you may want to ask how they’ve been healing.  It may be time to pray for someone in the moment instead of saying you will pray for them later.

September 14, 2014 — business

Our five year goals.
In 2019 we are…
Generating businesses and jobs: Our church-owned businesses and our Good Business Consortium have helped us mother an array of businesses. We have become adept at helping those in need through further business start ups.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Proverbs 31:10-31

She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.

More thoughts to ponder

We always thought we should try to supply jobs and enterprise to constantly-depleted Philadelphia. Our first efforts were a little store called Worldly Goods and an office the size of a closet for Circle Counseling. Later on we got together with the MCC Thrift Store people and started Circle Thrift. After a few fits and false starts, that became a thriving business with two sites!

In 2011 we started a Compassion Team called the Good Business Oversight Team. The team helped call together the Good Business Consortium.

Praise your way through this list of the Good Business Consortium’s foundational statements:

The Consortium is the church expressing itself through business;  a group of businesses that mutually support one another like family who are devoted to generating more good businesses and helping them thrive, especially in areas that need enterprise; a group of businesses lead by a agreed-upon rule that is implemented by a steering committee made up of COH and business owners.

The Consortium “creates good business where people are in need; supports risk; helps new businesses get off the ground and survive: gives “how to” advice,  shares financial resources, offers a solid formation; finds ways for brothers and sisters in business to mutually benefit one another; mobilizes more assets to form more businesses; learns and teaches how to participate in our economic system as Christians; allows for “family style” community of shared workers, work-experience, and resources.”

Amazing, right? If nothing else makes you feel that Circle of Hope is a blessed people, this should. Forming a good business and creating a circle of them is as practical as the Proverbs 31 business woman from today’s reading. So often Christians seem like they are just as “capitalistic,” in a bad way, as the rest of the “economy.” Unlike that, the Good Business Consortium (along with others who do good business) is one of the most practical ways we are exploring how to be “in the world” but not “of it.”

Suggestions for action

After a couple of years, the Oversight Team and Consortium are still getting their sea legs. It is hard to form family while you are forming a business! Most entrepreneurs are very individualistic. They rarely feel like they have money or time to share — but our friends are trying! Pray for them!

Here is the list of businesses which are presently in the Consortium: Circle Thrift, Pizza Brain, Schummer’s Sunoco, Bright Common. Patronize them! The church has been praying for Franny Lou’s Porch to get off the ground, too! Other good ideas are looking for a way to blossom; pray for them!

September 13, 2014 — compassion

Our five year goals.
In 2019 we are…
Letting our deeds do our talking: Our compassion teams make connections for us. We generate compassionate service, justice and reconciliation that connect our gifts and resources to those in need. Our Compassion Core Team serves a vibrant collection of compassion teams with a director paid by the Network.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Zechariah 7

This is what the Lord Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”

More thoughts to ponder

The Hebrew Prophets had a similar message time and again for the people of Israel “Be merciful as I am merciful.  Be compassionate as I am compassionate.  Take care of the most vulnerable among you.”  Jesus gave us all the more reason to live as God told us through the prophets by painting a picture of the Kingdom of God — a future reality in which all things would be set to right.  And the Kingdom of God is near!

Living into that future is one of the best ways we communicate our hope to the world. There there is so much that dissuades people from hoping!  Our hope is conspicuous. Practicing it is a basic way we development our faith.  Our compassion teams provide opportunities for us to come along side people in our city who are fighting the good fight, often with too little hope.  We bring Jesus to the struggle and he shines his light.

Our compassion teams provide an outlet for the passion of God to flow through us.  It is easier to respond to our hearts if we do it together — if we run with an idea to act on our compassionate instincts with the help of many brothers and sisters.  Circle of Hope is an incubator for good ideas that help our hearts grow when everything around us pushes them to contract.  Our compassion teams help us stand firm against the tide of fear that roars in fear, “Buy this, kill them, be safe, don’t try.”  We are not alone, and our compassion convinces many that they are not alone, either.

So why not do more?  Yes, I love our ambition for five years from now.  Let’s have a full time director.  Let’s share even more generously to make that possible.  Let’s create more teams that do wonderful things — necessary things for our hearts and for the hearts of those around us.  We are the sort of people who “administer true justice; show mercy and compassion.”  Let’s organize to do as much as we can to express ourselves and our hope in Jesus to the world.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Expand our hope, Lord.  Give our dreams hands and feet.  May our hard work bear good fruit.  And may your Kingdom come.

Pray for our compassion teams- Prison Connections Team, Take Back Vacant Land, Development without Displacement, Circle Thrift Leadership Team, Good Business Oversight Team, Urban Farm Team, Circle Counseling Support Team, For The Love Of Childs, Ray of Hope, Friends of Hagert Street Playground, Heads Together Haiti Support Team, Homeless Connections Team, Debt Annihilation Team, Circle of Peacemakers, BGX (Baby Goods Exchange) Team, Friends of Treehouse Books (check out compassion.circleofhope.net for more info)

Pray for our compassion core team- Megan Rosenbach, Tricia Fussaro, Sara Semborski, Jessica Mints, Mike Master, Alene Brunkhurst

September 12, 2014 — young

Our five year goals.
In 2019 we are…
Making a difference among the young: children, teenagers, and young adults find us attractive and meet Jesus through our ministry.  We continue to focus on ministering to the next generation.  We have invented ways to provide childcare communally.  We engage with teens in our neighborhood.  We maintain a presence on college campuses.

Today’s Bible reading

People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.  But Jesus called the children to him and said,“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  Luke 18:15-17

More thoughts for meditation

In this story, which is told in three of the four gospels, Jesus is encouraging all of us to come to God in child-like love and trust.  But Jesus is also demonstrating some practical & relational care for the children around him.  We want to make a difference among the young like Jesus.   We know they are precious, made in God’s image like each of us,  and we want to care for them at each stage of their journey.  Babies are learning to trust.  Pre-school children enjoy fanciful thinking; they are drawn to the wonder, power, and mystery of God.  The school-aged child becomes immersed in the community as they begin to participate in our rituals.  The pre-teen child begins to grow out of their childhood faith.  We want to listen to and answer their questions with love and truth, all the way into adulthood.

It is an adventure getting to know the Spirit of God.  Sometimes it is a journey deep into a dark forest.  It is fun but mysterious, and sometimes a little scary.  Learning Bible stories is like reading a travel guide.  What we mostly want to train kids for is the journey itself.

The “content” we want children to learn is primarily personal, not propositional, just like Jesus is the “content” for the children in today’s reading.  We want children to get to know God and relate to God in each person who loves them.  Parents have a great deal of influence on their child’s faith and health, but we are all part of God’s family since we are made brothers and sisters with Jesus.  The nuclear family doesn’t have everything a child needs and so children can benefit from being included in our familiness.  We have a lot of love to share!  Our Children’s Teams work on providing care and Bible story-exploration during public meetings, and people in all of our congregations have found other creative ways to raise children together in mission and share in the joys and struggles of being family.  When we are together as a multi-generational community we all benefit and grow in faith.

Many of the children and teens in our neighborhoods are looking for family.  Many of the young people on the college campuses around us are looking for hope and direction.   This week I got to know some students at LaSalle University.  Some of our teens are part of cell groups.  The Teen Mission Team hired a staff person this week, to help us expand our reach and connect with more young people who are looking for Jesus.

God has a mission for all of us.  He calls us to “go and make disciples.” Our village has the God-given responsibility to raise up our children to be disciples of Jesus.  We want them to grow up knowing they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them.  Our children will learn this as we live this.   The best preparation we can make as caregivers and parents is to spend time deepening our relationship with God ourselves and so becoming people with “content.”

Suggestions for action

Consider participating in the Imaginarium this Monday at 6:30 at Frankford and Norris.  For one hour the church planting core team will us help us imagine what’s next for us in “Forming Good Mission to Kids.”  If you need childcare to attend, sign up here.   If you can’t make it, pray for us and for the young people of Philadelphia and South Jersey. Whether you connect with many children or not, spend a moment to connect with God as the child you are.