Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Are We Building Noah's Ark?

Just sent this letter on our Vineyard Community Mission Netowrk newsletter. (Want to subscribe for free? Just email a request to receive it sent to

"Just six months ago when our beloved Crown Valley Vineyard Church closed, the world looked very different. Although the first hints of the current financial strain and chaos were blipping on the radar last summer, the campaign cycle was in full swing, there had been no bank and mortgage meltdowns or mass layoffs yet, and most folks (including Christian leaders and church members) anticipated "business as usual".

My how things have changed!

It turns out that our move to replant our ministry to the community IN the community couldn't have been more timely. Many churches and non-profits are reporting that they are in serious financial trouble at a time when people need help more than ever. If there was ever a time for God's people to re-imagine ministry through more simple, organic and purely biblical models, it is now.

What I saw and heard at our last ATM (our network's monthly "All Together Meeting")confirms my suspicion that we don't need a lot of the resource-hungry structures and programs to "equip the saints to do the work of the ministry". You are doing as much or more actual outreach and care ministry now as you did when we were still a traditional church (CVV).

You are meeting neighbors and connecting. You are doing ministry in everyday places as everyday people who know Jesus. You are training and branching out into new ministry on the internet, at Birth Choice and in other ways and in other places.

And here's what is really interesting: WE ARE BEING WATCHED. Witness this email I just received through our VCMN website:

I am the pastor of a local church in Santa Ana and recently came across information regarding your ministry. I was quite intrigued by the structure of your church because we have a very similar structure. More than a centralized church, we are a small ministry network with expressions of church that meet around our community in Santa Ana. We are committed to working in some of the more economically challenged communities in our city. Most of us have moved into the city as we seek to establish God's kingdom in our community.

I wanted to know if it would be possible to speak to a pastor or ministry leader from your church network. I would like to dialogue about your church structure. I have read your story on-line and have many questions. What would be the best way to connect with someone from your ministry?



Stay Tuned!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Surviving Mind Bombs

A new year has just begun and I can't remember a time when the news in America was so relentlessly bad. Of course, I am refering to the media blitz of unending scandals, ripoffs, injustices, bickering, crisis, moral degradation and confusion. But I am also refering to the news that so many of my friends and acquaintances are enduring extreme trials including job losses, bankruptcy, health battles and the like. Not even the unprecedented adoring that has been slathered over our new President has been able to fully quell the pessimism, fear and deep concern that is currently coursing through the country.

My family and I have our own struggles and I am learning that the decisions we must make, the conversations we must have and the changes we must embrace will not be easy. In order for us to do our best, we must manage our challenges in an environment of faith and not fear. We must think clearly, talk plainly and act wisely. However, doing so is difficult when so many daily mind bombs are raining down on us and shaking our confience to the core. I am learning that if I am to survive this mental terrorism, I must discipline my thinking in the following ways:

* Stay in the moment. Jesus taught us to ask for "daily bread", or -- as some translate it -- "the bread of today". If I venture beyond today with anxious thinking, I find myself wandering in arid, graceless realms that drain me both quickly and thoroughly of my ability to cope. Today is all I have been given and it is all I am responsible for.

* Believe that I have been prepared. I have a new favorite saying that goes "everything, EVERYTHING that has happened in my life up to today has prepared me for TODAY (not tomorrow, but today)". I really believe that and -- because I do -- it keeps me sane.

* Keep on Sowing. When it comes to what will happen to me tomorrow, there is one thing I can do with confidence. I can sow my "morning and evening" seed (Ecclesiastes 11: 6) today so that God can grow some of it and make it ready for harvesting tomorrow.

That is because the bread of tomorrow will come from the seeds I plant TODAY (and not the morning of the day I want to pick the fruit). So, I make phone calls, work on skills, solve problems, dream dreams, take steps, write stuff, pray stuff, think stuff, and act on stuff that I KNOW will not pay off until later (if it pays off at all). You can see more about this in some of my more recently posted blogs.

* Put myself in Bigger Hands. Again and again, Scripture reminds me that my life is not my own. I have been "bought with a price" and am, therefore to "glorify God with my body, and my spirit, which are God's". When the mind bombs fall, we must make sure we find our shelter from the blasts in the strength of His grip on our lives. I have found that praying the words of Jesus: "Not my will, but Yours be done" can save me from mental collapse when the heat is on. Try it for yourself.

Finally, I readily admit that I cannot survive the random blasts of the raining mind bombs alone. I have a circle of friends and family I readily lean on and who also lean on me. Without them, I have far fewer resources to draw upon after the mind bombs have done their worst.

At our recent ATM (All Together Meeting) for the Vineyard Community Mission Network, someone read Psalm 77 aloud. Fight the mind bombs. Read this Psalm out loud yourself.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Living "Just Sow"

John Wimber's Missouri roots showed, at times, in the way he applied down home wit to church leadership and Christian growth. "You've gotta dance with who brung ya'", he'd say, or "You've gotta service what you sell." The Apostle Paul was no stranger to pithy sayings either. Witness the following "farm-fed" observation from Galatians 6: 7:

"...a man reaps what he sows".

Get it? If you so corn, you don't reap sweet peas and if you sow squash you don't reap tomatoes. You get more of whatever it is you've been planting. Period.

But here's the rub. We really DON'T seem to get that (maybe that is why the verse begins with the words: "Do not be decieved"). We seem to believe that we can sow one kind of seed and harvest something entirely different. After all, haven't we been working hard in the fields? Don't we deserve a reward for our labors? Yes. But in what fields have we been sowing and what kinds of seed have we been planting? This is one arena where life, it seems, really can be that simple.

Over the past nine years since my wife's devastating car crash, I have witnessed this principle at work in Robin. She (who had been brain-injured in the wreck) began to flirt with the idea of finishing her Bachelors Degree in Nursing via an intense, accelerated program that would require her to drive great distances, make new relationships, take on college-level coursework and much, much more.

At one point, she hesitated. Maybe she was too old to take this on. Maybe it was just too much. I encouraged her to go for it, reminding her that two years later she would be two years older (Lord willing) either with a degree in her hand or without one. Either way, she would spend two years sowing to something. To her credit, she pushed through, got to work, and reached the finish line with her degree in hand. Now, she's at it again -- this time at the graduate level as she works to complete her MSN degree while holding down two 12 1/2 hour shifts at the hospital as a nurse, teaching nursing students on the Labor and Delivery floor as an adjunct professor, and fulfilling the many hours or being mentored by her proctor at yet another hospital (part of her degree requirements). Meanwhile, she remains committed to me, our kids, and the rest of her life.

Robin has not sown to her limitations, but to her possibilites. She has not sown to her victimhood, but to her survival. She has not sown to her setbacks, her injuries or her losses but to her dreams and her call from God to be a Nursing Instructor or CNS. And the firstfruits are already appearing. There's no magic here, she's just reaping what she has been sowing.

Of course, in writing to the Galatians, Paul was seeking to apply the principle of sowing and reaping to the different harvests that come from seed sown to "the flesh" (the base desires of our nature) versus the Spirit (the transformational work of God's Spirit in our lives). We can't sow to the flesh and expect "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit". Nor can we sow to the Spirit and expect Him to leave us alone -- unchanged, stagnant and unchallenged. But one thing is for sure: every day we are sowing to either one or the other. Tomorrow's harvest will reveal which one.

Now, life is not "fair". Sometimes a farmer's well-tended field gets flooded or drought-stricken despite his best efforts and hard work. That's real life in the real world. But one thing we can count on (Paul reminds us): we will reap what we sow (in the end) and feed our souls -- and our futures -- from that harvest.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Yes, He's Younger Than Me (and She's Older)

When Barak Obama officially becomes President in a few days, it will be the first time in my life that I will be older than my President. Not exactly earth-shattering, but remarkable. At 53, I have now reached the point where -- if I were to meet the leader of the Free World -- I could shake his hand and say: "Nice to know you, sonny." It is yet another sign that life is moving on without asking me whether or not I approve.

Meanwhile, I just finished a really good DVD profiling the singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. It is part of a rather ambitious PBS series titled American Masters. Having been impressed with this one on Joni, I will definitely search out others (Yes, there is one on Dylan and on Paul Simon and some other tantalizing choices, too).

Joni Mitchell is, of course, older than I. To the casual observer, she was that whispy flower child with the falsetto voice and the wacky guitar tunings. But getting the bigger picture of her artistic journey through the DVD really opened me up to her tremendously broad range and, yes, her genius.

The reason that word fits Joni is that, like all who deserve it, she never stopped growing, risking and exploring new vistas while sending us the postcards from her journey. It is amazing to see the rise and fall of her road as it has wound its way through folk, rock, jazz, the arts and life itself.
Joni's story made me think of how artists only get a few decades (at best) in which to define the sweep of their gift. Therefore, they often pay quite a price to give us anything of lasting value. Of course, in true artistic form, her story includes angst, restlessness, loves found and lost, tough choices, high highs and low lows. Through it all, however, the enduring power of her commitment to remain creative shines on and, in her case, it seems to have done so without the usual dolops of self-importance that so often seems to smother exceptional talent. And, in her case, there is an unexpected bonus story involving her reconnection with a long lost daughter -- a child she gave birth to at age 19 in the days before the easy availability of abortion options might have robbed her of this late-life joy.

And so if you look up in the night sky, you might see my star somewhere -- still rising --somewhere between Joni Mitchell's and Barak Obama's. To find it, you will need a very, very strong telescope and a very, very clear night.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sowing in Four Fields

"As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.

Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well."

What's going to happen in my life? My country? My world? Our economy? Our opportunities? What challenges will we face? What blessings will arrive without notice? Where is the very best place for me to invest (sow) my time, talent and treasure while things change?

The answer, according to Ecclesiastes, is that you can't know where the perfect place is for you to lay down seed. Furthermore, if you wait until you get that information, you'll never do anything. "You do not know the path of the wind" (even if you have sophisticated weather forecasting computer models and hi-tech equipment: "you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things."

But don't be discouraged. The Spirit-inspired writer gives us a sure-fire strategy -- do your "morning and evening" sowing. Sow diligently in several fields. Do it in the morning, and do it in the evening. You can't know which will prosper and which won't at what rates. But one thing you can bet on is that if you sow nowhere, you can expect no harvest at all.

In light of this, I recommend a "four box" approach to seed sowing.

BOX ONE: Low Risk / Low Reward -- this is easy sowing, automatic stuff like working a job or taking basic care of your health, etc. The rewards may not be dramatic, but the outlay is minimal.

BOX TWO: Low Risk / Higher Reward -- this is a little more of a reach. It involves sowing in things that are partially developed, that you have already done some work of preparation for but these things need a little more attention than you've been giving them in order to go to the next level.

BOX THREE: Higher Risk / Higher Reward -- this is edgier stuff in your life -- out of the ordinary but not out of the question. New education. New networking. New investment. Might or might not payoff very big, but it's the cutting edge all the same.

BOX FOUR: High Risk / High Reward -- this is the "God-sized" sowing -- sowing into things that can only happen with God's favor and blessing. It's sowing to your dreams and visions. Sowing to the life you could only live if God Himself makes it possible. Writing the Great American Novel. Becoming a professional athlete. Traveling the world for Christ. Marrying the perfect man (sorry, but I'm taken already) -- whatever it looks like for you.

Now, there are two things to keep in mind:

* COUNT ON THE FACT that some of your seed will never germinate or grow very much. COUNT ON IT (so it doesn't stop you) "you do not know which will prosper", Solomon says.

* SOW IN WISE PROPORTIONS. Don't put 100% of your seed in the HR/HR box. Sow smaller amounts of seed there. Sow more in LR/LR, but don't sow it all there because you'll only maintain and not grow anything new (at best). You get the idea.

In my current life transition, I have thought this through as follows:

LR/LR = 40%
LR/HrR = 50%
HrR/HrR = 5%
HR/HR = 5%

I plan to readjust these balances as things develop, but this is my starting place. I have specific applications in all four boxes regarding my life. The more specific you can be in describing those boxes and what "sowing" involves into each, the better.

The bottom line is that if we sow to all four, knowing that we are not in control of growth (God is), then we are doing the best we can to honor Him and our own contribution to the future as well.