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Have you taken the time today to reflect upon God’s presence? Where have you seen God or experienced God this past week? What are you doing to intentionally cultivate your awareness of God’s presence in your life or in the people around you?

I know these are not easy questions to answer. And when you do seek to answer them, you end up less than satisfied with your responses. You are either embarrassed that you have not taken time to focus upon God’s presence or you are unsure whether you can truly identify God’s presence.

Besides, what difference does it make?

I understand. I confess that I’m still learning to become more aware of God’s presence in my life. So, let me tell you what I am learning. Read more

If you’ve spent any time with me at all, you likely know one of the questions that I will ask at some point. The question is some variation of, “Where have you experienced God’s presence?” 

The simplicity of the question can stun people to silence.

When I first started asking the question, I thought the silence I received was my failure to communicate. Then I learned the truth.

To answer the question, you have to be paying attention to where God is at work in your life. In nearly a decade of asking questions about God’s presence, one thing has become clear: most of us are beginners on this journey.

Before you reply, “I was raised in the church. I’m not a beginner!” Let me explain. Read more

I have always heard that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  Is that the same for the church? Are we, as the church, beyond learning new ways of relating to our communities? Are we too old to share God’s love with one another and with the people around us?

I remember a story told by Fred Craddock.  He said he had never been to the greyhound races, but he had seen them on television. He said:

Running, Running, and Running…

They have these beautiful, big old dogs. I say beautiful, but they are ugly old dogs.  These dogs chase that mechanical rabbit around the ring. They run and run, exhausting themselves chasing that rabbit. When those dogs get to where they can’t race, the owners put a little ad in the paper, and if anybody wants one for a pet, they can have it. Otherwise, they are destroyed.

I have a niece in Arizona who can’t stand that ad.  She goes and gets one every time. Big old dogs in the house. She loves them.

I was in a home not long ago where they had adopted a dog that had been a racer.  It was a big old greyhound, spotted hound, laying there in the den.  One of the children in the family, just a toddler, was pulling on its tail, and a little older child had his head over on that dog’s stomach, using it as a pillow. That old dog just seemed so happy. I watched the children and the dog for a few minutes.

Then I said to the dog, “Are you still racing?”

He said, “No, I don’t race anymore.”

I said, “Do you miss the glitter and excitement of the track?”

He said, “No.”

“Well, what’s the matter? Did you get too old?”

“No, no, I still have some race in me.”

“Well, did you win anything?”

He said, “I won over a million dollars for my owner.”

“Then what was it? Did they treat you badly?”

“Oh, no, they treated us royally when we were racing.”

I said, “Then what was it? Did you get hurt?”

He said, “No, no.”

Then what?

He said, “I quit.”

“You quit?”

He said, “Yeah, I quit.”

“Why did you quit?”

And he said, “I discovered that what I was chasing was not really a rabbit.  And I quit.” Craddock said the dog looked at him and said, “All that running, running, running, running, and what I was chasing wasn’t even real.”

Craddock finished by saying, “If you believe in God, you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

Is it the same for the church? If we trust God, can we learn new ways of loving our neighbors?

Chasing What is Real Transforming MissionChase What is Real

Our culture is going through some massive changes.  These changes are shaping our values regarding how we define family, live our faith, gain knowledge, and understand science. The changes we are experiencing are complex and coming at lightning speed. As a result, the church is being left behind as a quaint spiritual artifact and dusty theological antique.

In such an open arena of competing values and counter-Christian views, what do we need to learn to step into the future? How will we make an impact in our communities and the world?

Let’s stop chasing what is not real and begin to chase what is real.

So, what is real?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission1. Relationships

Develop faithful, trusting relationships with Christ, within the congregation, and in your local community.

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about adding more activities to keep people busy. We’re busy enough!

When I started in ministry 45 years ago, the focus was upon the “7 Day a Week Church.” The idea was to have some form of activity in the church building every day.  There was to be no “white space” on the church calendar.  This activity form of ministry was based on getting people into our church buildings. Although it created lots of opportunities, we did not develop what was real.  Our focus was on activity and getting people inside a building.  We did not focus on developing relationships with people.

All the activity has worn us out.

We have three types of relationships that need to be nurtured: our relationship with Christ, relationships within the congregation, and relationships in the community. If one of those relationships is missing, the other relationships suffer.

Our relationship with Christ and with one another in the congregation can always deepen. Often, we fail to see the community right outside our doors. The people who live in our communities who do not have a relationship with Jesus or a church continues to grow.

Go outside the church building and into the community. Get to know the people who live in your city, neighborhood or town. Listen to their stories, their dreams, and their needs. One of the greatest gifts you can offer to others is your time. As you take the time to nurture relationships, you’ll also have the opportunity to embody the love of Christ to others.

What would happen if we were less mesmerized by numbers and more involved in developing relationships Christ, the congregation and your local community?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission2. Holiness

Be intentional in strengthening your inner life and bringing together your personal faith and your missional participation in the community. John Wesley called it personal piety and social holiness.

You are a child of God, free to serve in God’s love.  As God’s love takes root in your life, serve the community, neighborhood, or city in God’s love.

Be the person God created you to be. As a responsible representative of God’s love, you are free to take initiative to test your thoughts, to honor your intuition, to see what requires doing, and to accomplish it. At the same time, you are free to trust God and the people around you. You can be faithful in your living because you believe God is faithful to you.  When you face anxious times, your inner life allows you to test your wisdom, your patience, and your hope.  You draw courage, trusting God’s grace and the relationships you have developed with God’s people.

Knowing and trusting your relationship with God through Jesus, you are free to model God’s love.  You know that God is with you.  Others will come to trust God’s love because they see and experience God’s love in and through you.

What would happen if we were less concerned about looking good and more concerned about being centered upon the well-being of others, loving as we have been loved?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission3. Integrity

Be the person God created you to be both in what you say and what you do. Model integrity by living the life that produces the behaviors of love. When you are in Christ and are moved by the Spirit, the unexpected acts of Christian love will come in response to God’s grace.

What would happen if we were less focused upon being successful and more focused upon developing lives of love from the inside out and living lives of love, both inside and outside the church building?

I think we could teach an old church new ways of living and loving.

Let’s chase what is real!

Last week I called my pharmacy to have a couple of prescriptions refilled. The pharmacist took my name, date of birth, and said, “You will have to check with your doctor before I can refill your medications.”

So, I called the doctor’s office. I explained to the nurse what I needed to refill my prescriptions. She put me on hold. When she came back to the phone, she said, “To refill your prescriptions, the doctor wants to check your heart, blood, and cholesterol. He wants to assess any changes so he can make necessary adjustments to your medications. You know he wants you to be as healthy as you can be.”

Later that day, after I had complained about the inconvenience and unnecessary cost of a doctor’s appointment, I began to reflect upon the ministry of the churches in the Capitol Area South District.

Read more

A Lenten Journey of Naming God’s Presence

The reality of God’s presence should give us reason to pause. We know our pastors have the theological training to understand God’s presence. We also know many of our laity can teach about God’s presence.

But we see evidence that the distance between our heads and hearts continues to widen.

So, it’s time to get real. “Get Real” is an opportunity for you and your local church to name in plain, every day, ordinary ways where God is showing up. If you’ve only been thinking about how God could show up and not named how God is showing up, it’s time to Get Real.

The Process:

  1. Read a Scripture.
  2. Reflect on a focus word.
  3. Respond to one question.

We told you, it’s simple. But don’t let the simplicity fool you. It’s also what leads to individual and community transformation.

What You’ll Do:

We’ll  post a Scripture, word, and question on the Facebook Page every morning at 6:30 a.m.  Look for it to be “pinned” to the top of the page before 8 a.m.  Each day stands on its own. While this series starts on 2/14/18, you can jump in at any time. Here’s what we’ll do together.

  1. READ the Scripture.
  2. REFLECT on a focus word throughout the day.
  3. RESPOND to a question after 7:30 p.m.

Again, the process is simple. The outcome is transformational.

Who is the For?

Get Real is for the one who is struggling to wonder if God is real. This process can create space to talk about Jesus. For the one looking to engage a Lenten discipline, this process can provide structure and guidance. For anyone seeking to be faithful today, tomorrow, and the next day, this is a practice of faithfulness.

Can you imagine what might happen in our cities, towns, and neighborhoods if we spent time this lent and simply got real about God’s presence in our life? What might happen if we then joined God in ministry where we live, work, worship, and play? I believe our lives and our communities will change.

So, where did you see God today? Let us know in the comments below. Better yet, sign-up below to Get Real. And remember, you can join at any time. The dates below simply serve as a guide.

Through the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, we have focused on becoming aware of God’s presence in our everyday living. We are continuing that focus during the Season of Lent. Ash Wednesday is February 14.

Lent provides an excellent opportunity to become more aware of God’s presence in our lives. Through self-examination and reflection, Lent is a time of discipline, which leads to self-denial and acts of service. I am writing today to invite you to join me on a Lenten journey. Read more

In the early ’60s, at the height of the civil rights movement, a group of white ministers issued a public statement urging Dr. Martin Luther King, in the name of the Christian faith, to be more patient in his quest for justice and to relax the relentless struggle for civil rights.

King’s response came in the form of the famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” In the letter, King indicated that he had received similar requests for delay, indeed, that he had just gotten a letter from a “white brother in Texas” who wrote, “… It is possible you are in too great a religious hurry … The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.”

Dr. King replied that such an attitude stemmed from a sad misunderstanding of time, the notion that time itself cures all ills. Time, King argued, could be used for good or for evil. Human progress, he said, is not inevitable, but rather … it comes through the tireless efforts of men (and women) willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

King knew that complete justice must await the coming of God.

So did Luke. Watch and read Luke 2:28-35:

 

As we continue to become more in tune with God’s presence in our daily lives, let’s respond in ways that reflect the love of Jesus. As we respond to God’s claim on our lives, we too, are invited to be people who seek justice.

May it be so.

Prayer for today: O God, in Jesus, you have told us that the time is ripe to do right. In the name of Jesus empower us to live as righteous doers of your way, truth, and life. When it’s all been said and done, There is just one thing that matters, Did I do my best to live for truth? Did I live my life for You? O God, by your grace, help me live my life for you in relationship with all the people you love. Amen

An epiphany is “a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you.”

Several years ago I had an epiphany. I was sent, by my doctor, to the hospital emergency room with an abnormal heartbeat, an arrhythmia. It was serious enough I had to stay several days. During my hospital stay, I had a procedure to “shock” my heart back into rhythm. Read more

One of the songs I like at this time year is “The Best Gift of All.

Candles glow from frosted windows
Rooms are filled with twinkling lights,
There’s a manger scene, boughs of evergreen,
Someone is singing ‘Silent Night’…
And every gift my heart remembers, of easy laughter, dear old friends
Precious faces and smiles, the dancing eyes of a child,
All remind me once again:
The Best Gift of All is JESUS
His love knows no season or place
You can see Him in the firelight
Reflected on each face…
And though we cherish the blessings of Christmas, When his love seems especially near…
The Best Gift of All is Jesus – ALL THROUGH THE YEAR!

In a world of hidden motives and questionable agendas, there is still hope in what God offers. Because of our brokenness and the world’s chaos, Jesus is the message of God’s goodness. In Jesus there is something pure, something right, something true, Someone good.  The best gift of all is Jesus. He is with us all through the year.

All Through the Year

This week I was reminded of a family that celebrates Christmas all through the year. Through a small white envelope stuck among the branches of a Christmas tree, there is no name, no identification, no inscription. The envelope just peeks through the branches of the tree.

The tradition began 17 years ago when Nancy’s husband Mike stated, “I hate Christmas. Not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it. I can’t stand the overspending, the frantic running, the gifts given in desperation because you can’t think of anything else.”

Knowing how her husband felt, Nancy decided one year to bypass the usual gifts of “shirts and ties.” She wanted to do something special for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Their 12-year-old son, Kevin, was a junior wrestler at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, Kevin had a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. Most of the wrestlers on the team were boys of little financial means. They were dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together. There was a sharp contrast between Kevin’s team in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and new wrestling shoes. As the match began, Nancy was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without protective headgear. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Kevin’s team won easily. Although Mike was happy for Kevin, he was sad in his heart. He said, “I wish just one of them could have won. And I wish something could be done with their uniforms.”

A White Envelope

That’s when Nancy had the idea for Mike’s gift. That afternoon, she went to a local sporting goods store, bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, Nancy placed a simple white envelope on the tree. Inside was a note telling Mike what she had done and that this was his gift from her.

His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year. The next year Nancy sent a group of Special Olympics children to a hockey game, and another year she sent a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned the week before Christmas.

The envelope became the highlight of their Christmas celebrations. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning. Their children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure.

The story doesn’t end there. You see, Nancy lost Mike six years ago to cancer. When that first Christmas after his death came, she was still so wrapped in grief that she barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found Nancy placing an envelope on the tree. And an amazing thing happened. On Christmas morning, there were four white envelopes. Each of Mike’s children had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown for that family, and now Mike’s grandchildren stand wide-eyed around the tree as their fathers take down the envelope.

One Last Gift

Now, what happened in that family?  They experienced God’s incredible gift of love. That love is our hope and it is rooted in God’s gift of Jesus.

So before you pick the paper off the floor, or serve your Christmas meal, or start the thank you notes, be sure to look in the tree one final time. There’s one last gift there. It’s a message waiting just for you.  It won’t be in an envelope.

It will be wrapped in swaddling clothes…

God so loved…God gave…The best gift of all is Jesus…all through the year!

I pray that you do not miss the joy of Jesus this Christmas!

 

We ask leaders seven questions to guide us to a process of personal and congregational transformation. The process and questions begin with naming God’s presence. If you’re thinking…“Why do this?” “Who needs one more thing to do?”

Let me frame the expectation.

  • We’re asking you to lead a congregation to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.
  • We’re inviting you to be open to the transformative power of God in your life and the lives of the people in your local context.

The process we’ll outline over several weeks (perhaps months) is a journey of transformation – for all of us. It begins with a focus on the purpose of the church and the presence of God.

Naming God’s Presence

Today, we begin with naming God’s presence. This is the first foundational element of a transformational process. We know and believe God is with us. But, it’s a whole different task to actually pay attention to how God is moving. So let me ask you:

  • Do you and leaders in the church experience God’s active presence in the congregation? How do you know?
  • Can you articulate what God is up in the congregation?
  • How is God moving through the congregation and its people?

This is not something we do once and move on. It is an ongoing, integral part of daily life as a disciple of Jesus. It is a simple, yet profound act of being in God’s presence and responding to God’s movement.

Awaken the City

While serving a church in Cincinnati, I had the privilege of starting a ministry we called Awaken the City. (It’s now called Summer Impact.) Every summer we hosted teams of people for a week at a time for the purpose of introducing them to ways to serve as disciples in the city.

On Sunday evening, we’d lead a prayer tour of the city. Every week, we’d pray for specific ministries, people, and situations. For between 90 minutes to 2 hours, we knew the city and her people were covered in prayer. As teams piled into mini-vans and 15 passenger vans to go from one location to the next, we were sharing what God was doing, the needs of the community, and asking God to open us to use us in service every day that week. We’d return for a worship experience where I invited people to respond to a simple question from Scripture that set the context for our prayer experience.

Often, the question that started the week was, “Where did you see the light of Christ tonight?’ The response on the first night was underwhelming. One of our interns would inevitably get uncomfortable with the silence and name a place where they witnessed Christ’s presence. Often a leader or pastor offered the next observation. At the start of the week, usually, 2-3 people wanted to speak. No more. No less.

Three-Fold Pattern

Throughout the week, every day, we would practice this rhythm:

  • Study Scripture and pray for our ministry partners
  • Serve in the city during the day
  • Celebrate through worship in the evening

From the Scripture for the day, a question emerged that individuals reflected on as they served. In the evening, during worship, we’d share our reflections.

Every week the same thing happened. Sunday: crickets. Minimal responses. By the end of the week, either on Friday or Saturday morning, we came together for a final worship experience. When it came time for me to invite reflection, I reminded the teams that there were 40-50 of us, everyone wants to speak, and we need you to depart in less than to be 30 minutes.

They never got the point. 🙂

The stories unfolded about their own life-changing, about the people they met who were different from them and learning that Jesus is what makes us all the same. Every summer I had the privilege of my bucket overflowing witnessing, hearing, and seeing how God’s presence was transforming lives.

Focus and Themes

At the end of every summer, I knew where we needed to focus for the coming year in our community and global outreach ministry. One year we needed to develop a deeper relationship with a ministry partner working with children, the next year a local school, the following year, I realized we needed to be in the urban core fulltime. I also learned about where and how people found their place of passion to serve in the church.

The intent of Awaken the City was not to name priorities or develop a process for claiming a ministry passion. The intent was to help people engage in service in the city – in their local context. Over the years, I’ve shared this online in different forms. Inevitably, the same thing happens. We move from crickets to a concert of voices naming and witnessing God’s presence to people adapting it to their daily life.

A couple years later, I learned that a mainline denomination had done research, showing that God’s presence and God’s purpose were foundational elements of congregational vitality. I laughed and said, “Would you like thousands of stories to prove that is true?” When I finished my doctoral work on this very topic I knew the challenge we faced. How could others embrace something so simple, yet transformative?

The Invitation

First, we have to want Jesus to transform our lives. Letting Jesus into our lives means giving up control of where and how Jesus will show up and show off. It means letting go of what we want and sitting at the feet of Jesus long enough to hear his hope for us.

Second, transformation does not occur without reflection. Transformation necessitates reflection. Trevor Hudson, a South African pastor, notes, “Unless we value and practice reflection, little personal transformation occurs. Unreflected-upon experience seldom yields its life-giving secrets. Too many of us work and live without reflection, without gaining any objective perspective on our behavior or any understanding of why we do what we do.” When we pause to reflect, specifically on God’s presence, faith is articulated and becomes a lived reality.

Third, transformation has stalled for many of us. How do we know? Some people reading this are thinking a basic practice of Christian discipleship is another task to do rather than a way of living as a disciple of Jesus. Transformation necessitates a relationship with Jesus, each other, and your local context. If any of these relationships are lacking, you’ve likely stalled in growing to become more like Jesus.

We get it, it’s a busy season. We’re inviting you to lay aside the excuses that have appeared as obstacles and focus on the transformative work of Jesus.

A Vision for the Coming Year

Tim Bias offered, “At the end of next year, I want to hear how your life and the place where you live and worship are changing.” How will this begin? It begins when you pay attention to where Jesus shows up and by choosing to join in God’s movement in your local community.

That can’t happen if we don’t stop and pay attention to God’s presence. It can’t happen if we’re living vicariously through others.

It happens because we are in touch with the Spirit of God moving in our midst. As leaders, then you can come together and share how you’re experiencing God. Listen closely and deeply. You’ll start to notice patterns of where Jesus shows up and shows off in your life and the lives of those around you. Then, jump in and follow Jesus’ lead.

God with Us

During this season of Advent as we’ve invited you to reflect on God with Us, we’re seeing anticipated and unlikely patterns. The depth of hurt, illness, and loneliness is sobering. The power of music this time of year is a reminder that music is a language of the soul. Music evokes memories and emotions while moving within us. From the ordinary moments of being with kids to the extraordinary moments of sitting with others in hospice and the hospital, the abiding presence of Christ is evident.

The example of God with Us is an invitation to read, reflect, and respond to one scripture, one word, and one question for the day. At other times we might say, let’s focus on “Scripture, serving, and celebrating.” You may even say, let’s look at “Word, work, and worship.” It doesn’t matter what you name it. What matters is that you integrate reflecting on God’s presence into your daily life. And, in case you missed it. No, this isn’t something you do at special seasons or times of the year.

Can you imagine what might happen in our cities, towns, and neighborhoods if we focused on naming God’s presence? What might happen if we then joined God in ministry where we live, work, worship, and play? I believe our lives and our communities would change.

The question of God’s presence will stay before us in the coming weeks as the first foundational element of a transformational disciple-making process.

  1. Trevor Hudson, A Mile in My Shoes, p. 57