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No Easy Answers

31 Jan

Holly here, hey everyone! Welcome back to our blog, formerly David’s blog, but I’ve hijacked it. I’ll get around to cleaning it up and updating soon, but for now, here are some recent thoughts:

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty averse to doing things that most everyone else is doing. There’s something in me that really pushes against anything that smells (to me), even a little, of cliche. For instance; New Year’s Resolutions, or even a “word” for the new year. My eyes automatically start to roll, I can’t help it. Now, I’m not trying to paint myself as some super cool rebel. I recognize that there are reasons those practices have become traditions. They often produce wonderful benefits. Like… you know, setting goals and achieving them. And this weird, stubbornly resistant part of myself keeps me from the good that those practices can hold.

That being said, there is one New Year practice that I have given into and enjoyed greatly. This is the practice of reflection and dreaming. Reflecting on the last year (almost like a daily examen) and noticing (noticing where God was, where I felt God was not, what God may have been revealing to me about myself or him) has become a joy for me. Likewise, spending time with God hoping for the new year has become a discipline for me.

Quite honestly the latter is the more difficult of the two. I’ve found I’m decently teachable (once one gets past my weird stubbornness), however dreaming and hoping require something different. They require that I trust. Sharing (not just chatting as best friends would, but surrendering in the sharing) my hopes and dreams with God, while sounding simple and obvious, is actually quite frightening in reality. As I’ve grown in my faith and my understanding of how I view God, I’ve realized that while I can verbally and mentally ascent to, “Of course God would care for my longings!”, my heart actually fears that God won’t care for what I care for. So the act of reflecting on the last year prepares my heart for the discipline of dreaming about the new. In remembering the year previous I am shown God’s faithfulness, goodness, gentleness and deep love for me, which helps me to truly give my heart over.

Now, I don’t want it to seem that the reflecting process is always (or even often) loveliness and joy. Quite often there are  questions that have been left entirely unanswered and deep pain that has lead nowhere but to more pain. In this last year David and I have had one of the most difficult, deeply sad and bewildering seasons of our lives. And as I reflect on this last season, while there are trite answers ready and willing (you know the kind, “Oh, well, obviously God wanted to teach you to trust him. BLAH BLAH BLAH.” No. Do everyone a favor and never minimize someone’s pain by turning it into a teachable moment. Maybe that will be my next blog topic… Clearly I have no strong feelings on the matter.) There are no answers to the “why” questions I have desperately asked. Truly, in my reflection time, most of what I could do in considering this pretty wretched season, was feel how horrible it had been. That doesn’t sound great but it was a gift. I realized that during that time of pain, I had no space to feel what I needed to feel. I had to put my head down and get through. But in reflecting and feeling the pain that had gone unattended to, I realized that the tides were turning. Somehow, in my heart and in our little world, there was suddenly more margin. And that margin was meant for me.

It was God beckoning me, inviting me to crumble a little, and then a little more. In that crumbling I was reminded that it was God who sustained us. And in that sustenance there was even nourishment, though I couldn’t see it at the time. God, sweetly and tenderly helping to balance the power in my marriage and unite us so much more deeply. God, lovingly letting me know more and more of my own heart. God, gently removing another control panel from my death grip. These might seem like answers to the “why”, but I don’t think so. I think these are gifts of a God who works good in all things. And perhaps there will be no “why”… at least not on this side of heaven. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

My spiritual director asked me what it was that drove me to need that “why” question answered… “Because if I know why, then I can trust that it’s going to be ok. Because if I know why, then it wouldn’t have to hurt so much”… Ah, there she is again, my little god-self, grappling for control and desperately trying to avoid the hurt. I think the last point is the most relevant for me. An answer to “why”, might almost justify the situation. And that’s unacceptable. It was wrong, it was unjust, terrifying, painful and just downright bad. That’s what it was and that needs to be acknowledged and felt. It needs to be felt because God exists in my reality, not in my fantasies. He meets me in the truth of things, not the way I think it should be. He meets me in my pain, and I shove God away (metaphorically speaking, obviously I can’t make God go away but I can certainly not attend) when I pretend it’s alright. Fortunately, our good God works good in and out of bad things. So I am trying to learn to say, “Alright, I’ll walk through the bad and painful, because You are good and faithful. I can’t do it, but you’ll do it through me. I don’t want to, but I want You. It hurts, but maybe the pain can heal me somehow.”

Gerald Sittser was a virtual spiritual guide for David and me through this last season. He gives an incredible talk on adversity as spiritual formation that you can find here (I highly recommend listening). In this talk he pointed out that situations are largely neutral. Not morally neutral (as noted above), things can be, and are, morally wrong or right. Things should or should not happen. However, situations are neutral in the sense that what they bring to your life is determined by the way that you receive them. Meaning that a painful situation, while perhaps being morally wrong, bad, and downright horrific, in a kingdom sense has just as much chance of leading you into the love of Christ as a joyful situation does. This is coming from a man who lost his mother, wife and daughter all in one car accident.

In all this I suppose I’m saying, I’m still learning. From what I gather I’ll be learning for the rest of my life. And in embracing my pain I’m more able to hope for the future, risk and try. All the while remembering that I don’t trust in my hope, risk or trying but in God, who carries me and redeems my every move.

With love-

Holly

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Poetry: a deepening beauty

29 Nov

T.S. Eliot once said, “Genuine poetry can communicate before its understood.”

My relationship with poetry has always been a foreign one up until late. I never quite understood it. Maybe I was just introduced to bad poetry at the time. Weird phrases and words that I can hardly understand falling off the tongue of an artist. It never boded well. It never struck a chord or sparked a desire within me. But God is doing a new thing here. Curiosity and wonder are stirring. What once was considered dust has become my garden.

I recently partook in a poetry night with friends. There were countless times water filled my eyes or laughter leaped from my gut through the thoughtful musings and longings of others. It was wondrous. I have an appetite for it now. Here is one short poem that continues to feed my soul. 

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God,

But only he who sees takes off his shoes’

The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

-Elizabeth Barret Browning

God is speaking amongst common bushes once seen as empty. I wonder what other bushes I might be missing? I wonder what other slices of earth are crammed with heaven for us? May we have eyes to see and ears to hear and take off our shoes together in worship. 

Profaning the Kingdom of Money

7 Mar

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Our trusty Honda finally breathed it’s last breathe by California standards a few months ago. The diagnosis – can’t pass smog. We began scrambling for a plan to get another vehicle before our registration deadline was up at the end of October deeming the car legally un- drivable. We mustered up the courage to ask a few of our financial partners if they’d consider praying about chipping into the pot so we could get another vehicle. We prayed and asked God for a miracle – and He provided one. Some offered a “pay back at your own pace” type of loan, others gave generously. These generous and obedient supporters inspired us in how they lived the truths of Jesus’ words in this passage. And as for us, I painstakingly planned out a reimbursement process for the “pay at your own pace” loans. This included but not limited to selling the old car in Tijuana, Mexico because smog laws are irrelevant there, keeping the cars value.

Being in debt to another person is foreign to me and has been a humbling process. “I will be true to my word and get them their money as quickly as possible” I tell myself. I believe there is honor and good stewardship in that thought. And in my defense, I has plans other than selling the old car to make significant dents in my loans.  However, their is another thought that God implanted deep in my heart. It’s grew like a small mustard seed within me. And it’s this, “I have someone who needs that car and I want you to give it away.” All that’s within me wanted to disqualify and disregard that notion. But I believe it was the Spirit at work- giving me an opportunity to choose what Kingdom I serve, God or money?

So I contacted my native born Tijuana friend Maria explaining the whole story. We both began to pray and God brought a woman to mind in Mexico. Mayra. Mayra has been a longtime friend and neighbor to Maria in a little town about 2.5 hours from the Tijuana border called Porvenir.  Mayra spent most of her life in Porvenir, jumping from harsh seasons of teenage motherhood at 13 to current grandma of four lively healthy kids at 55.  A story that is often familiar in this little Mexican town are teenage moms who find themselves living on the street, broken and confused, trying to care for their new baby. The father’s are often nowhere to be found and have little interest in caring for a new life. Mayra’s passion and vision is to come alongside these beaten and battered teenage moms offering them resources, care, and development to get them back on their feet. But the problem with Mayra’s ministry of the last 10 years is that she has no vehicle. Constantly she’s asking to borrow her friend’s vehicles so she can drive women to shelters or safe places. As I listened to Mayra’s story over some Mexican coffee in her humble little home a heavy silence filled the room as we waited for her response to my current question, “what was going on inside of you when you found out that someone wanted to give you their vehicle?” With tears rolling down her face, Mayra explained something to me.“I have been praying for 5 years for God to give me a vehicle. 5 years. I began to think it was impossible. I would say to myself ‘there’s no way someone is going to just show up on my front doorstep and give me a vehicle Lord!’ There’s just no way.” By this time there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. I slowly took the keys out of my pocket and slid them across the table. It was in this moment I realized the smallness of my faith in Jesus’ provision. I pray for a few days and if the Lord doesn’t seem to be answering my prayer in my timing or the way in which I’m expecting I began to lose faith. Mayra prayed for 5 years. Abraham waited for 10 years for the birth of Issac. Jacob waited 14 years for his bride Rachel. Waiting. Praying.

The motivation for this story has come from the parable of the Shrewd Manager in Luke 16:1-13. It’s seminal focus being “you cannot serve God and money.” “No servant can serve two masters.” Jesus makes it abundantly clear: you cannot serve God and wealth. Both require service and commitment. Both require attention and possessiveness. Jesus in this passage gives us the antidote to money owning us. How do we take away its power?  By giving it more and more away. We release it by holding it lightly. In doing so, we advance the Kingdom of God by investing in eternal rewards. We define ourselves as shrewd stewards of money and participate in His Kingdom when we give our resources and invest in someone outside of ourselves. Jesus hammers home to his disciples: how they steward their material possessions in this life echoes in eternity to the eternal riches they will possess in the next life.

For Holly and I as missionaries we are very mindful that the resources we have are not our own because we depend on people’s generosity for our livelihood. However, as we further examine our hearts in light of this passage there is a scarcity mentality interwoven into our framework. Fundraising is one of the most challenging formational journeys we have ever undertaken.  Money has a funny way of finding that intimate place in our hearts where we desire and need security. Jesus knows human beings inclination to find security in something other than God and is asking his disciples to make a choice. He says something very radical. The way you profane the kingdom of money is by giving it away. This is one way we declare our allegiance to His Kingdom. Easier said then done. But moments like these with Mayra call us back. To take stock of all that we have and remember He is Lord of this dance. He is Lord of our finances. And He honors those who are faithful with little.

Luke 16:1-13 “The Parable of the Shrewd Manager”

23 Nov

The broad context of the passage

The gospel of Luke is a narrative about the life of Jesus. The primary objective of Luke is to reveal that Jesus is truly the Messiah, fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies of the bringer of the Kingdom of God.  This particular passage falls within the mid section of the book known as “The Jerusalem Journey” or the “travel narrative” (Luke 9:51-19: 28). It begins in Luke 9:51 “When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem.” This passage is significant because it represents a strong pivot or turning point in the Jesus narrative as he sets his eye toward Jerusalem. So far, Jesus has been journeying with his disciples for about 3 years. Which means, he’s got about six months to live as he continues to get closer to Jerusalem. For Jesus, Jerusalem is a place of suffering and ultimately death. Therefore, the teachings and utterances that He bestows upon his disciples during this time are some of the most critical and challenging paradigms in Scripture. Jesus gets more direct, and the intensity of the content on discipleship gets raised to a new level. There is a simultaneous narrative going on in the background: one day the disciples will travel towards their own Jerusalem’s as they follow Jesus. He is preparing them for their own deaths, their own ascension. He’s laser focused on the demands of discipleship, hammering home the implications of association with the Kingdom. (Bock, pg 974) It will not mean power, but sharing in Jesus’ suffering and staying faithful to a narrow path. Any disciple who would follow Jesus needs to understand that this choice to ascension will require total commitment. As a result, Jesus gives strong warnings and teachings through parables concerning things that would lead them off the path of ascension. One of the repetitive topics Jesus addresses within this journey is the role and nature of money. It is of great importance to both Luke and Jesus.

Immediate Context

Jesus gives us a clue to the reason why he would teach on money in such a time as this. We find it immediately following the focused passage in Luke 16:14. It says, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him.” “Scoffing” is one of the harshest responses to truth. It symbolizes total disgust and rebellion. The Pharisees disagree and are angered toward Jesus because they have their own prosperity gospel. As New Testament scholar Leon Morris puts it “the covetous like to disguise their sin, they see their money as evidence of the blessing of God on their activities and thus of their righteousness.” Jesus confronts the disconnect between outward justification before people and the state of the heart.  The idea that God knows your heart is a scary thought for lovers of money. Messiah Jesus is going to reveal the truth of their hearts and the profound eternal implications of our relationship with money. He inevitably redefines the nature and eternal purpose of money for his disciples in the midst of the Pharisees. A stunning and provocative stance Jesus will take as described in the remainder of the paper.

Within the passage

So we pick up this particular text in the context of Messiah Jesus journeying to his death in Jerusalem and intent on equipping the disciples with the most compelling and crucial lessons to stay on the eternal path of ascension. Now the genre of the text as a whole is a gospel narrative and in particular, vs 1-8  is a parable. More specifically the parable is a main point allegory. Money is a key topic to Jesus as it is the focus in numerous parables and verses within Luke (7:41-50, 12:13-21, 16:1-8 etc..) Here in chapter 16, Jesus gives an answer to the proper purpose and nature of money through the parable of the shrewd manager.

The authors main idea in this passage is to declare the purpose of money as a small trivial piece of stewardship that is rewarded with eternal gifts by using it shrewdly to gain relational equity with others and advancing the Kingdom by giving it away which ultimately becomes eternal riches in heaven. The skeleton for this generic conception is in the following outline.

  1. The parable (16:1-8)
    1. Setting and audience (16:1)
    2. The manager’s firing (16:2)
    3. The manager’s shrewd act: shaving other’s debts (16:3-7)
    4. The master’s recognition and Jesus’ focus (16:8)

b. Three implications of the parable: the nature and purpose of money (16:9-13)

           i. Shrewdly use it to invest eternally in relationships (16:9)

           ii. Be faithful in stewarding money because it’s ultimately an example of stewarding greater spiritual things (16:10-12)

           iii. Serve God, not mammon and you will advance the Kingdom (16:13)

Exposition + Issues

Luke launches the chapter with a shift in audience in vs 1.  In the previous chapter, he was directly speaking to the Pharisees and Scribes. Here, we find Jesus speaking directly with His disciples. This is significant because introductions reveal the purpose and reason for the parable being told. Jesus chooses to share an important lesson intentionally with his followers and emphasize key lessons while the Pharisees are still in the vicinity.  Again, the implications and the importance of this are found in vs 14.  

We see in verse 2 that the manager is going to be let go. This would imply that he was a free man because you couldn’t fire a slave. The following 4 verses (3-7) account for his response. First thing to recognize is the stewards failure to reply indicates that he knew he was guilty. The dishonest character of the man is evident.  Additionally, he foregoes other menial jobs because of the cultural reputation attached to certain occupations. Most likely, he was a well educated and skilled worker since he managed a wealthy estate owner’s books. In v. 4 it dawns on him: in his last moments of being under the authority of his master’s name he can capitalize and secure a future for himself. He’s securing a retirement fund by paying into relational equity through lowering the debts owed to his master. In the process, he will win the hearts of the debtors and will be welcomed into their homes in later times when he is hungry and jobless.

Now this is when it gets a little hairy in interpretation. Confusion comes in vs 8 and 9 when the owner himself commends the actions of the steward and Jesus uses him as an example.  Is Jesus recommending we model ourselves after a dishonest man? Why would the master praise the steward?? At first glance it can seem that the manager is stealing from his boss again by reducing the money that the debtors owed to him. If this interpretation is correct, and the manager is indirectly stealing from his master once again, then Jesus’ intention in using him as a model for his disciples is entirely perplexing to say the least. Is the conclusion that disciples too should find moments to steal when it is convenient and profitable to themselves? That hardly seems to align with the rest of Jesus’ teaching on loving one’s neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22:39), or giving one’s last penny away to God (Mark 12:41-44).

In order to understand more intimately the shrewdness of the manager and the commendations by the master it’s important to note the commercial practices of the day. Jews were forbidden in the Mosaic law to take interest from fellow-Jews when they lent them money. (Exod. 22:25, Dt. 23:19) Additionally, in the beginning of the Roman empire there was no inflation for many decades. Those who wished to make money from loans evaded the law by reasoning that it was concerned to prohibit the exploitation of the poor. A loop hole gets exposed in the process because most people own a little oil and a little bit of wheat. Whatever was borrowed then had a given value with the interest added on within the bond. This action was usurious but the bond didn’t reveal it.  (Fitzmeyer, pg 292) Most often, stewards carried out these actions unknown to the owner. With that understanding, the steward originally overcharged debtors for his personal monetary gain by adding interest to the amount owed and pocketing for his own gain. Then in the last few days at his current job he relinquished the interest, which shouldn’t have been there in the first place. The master wouldn’t have taken any hit because he wouldn’t have seen the interest collected by the steward and the payment he’d expected would still be coming to him. At the same time, the debtors are happy because their debt is significantly reduced and are grateful for the manager’s “generosity.” As a side note, the debt that was both owed and forgiven are enormous amounts. The average wage for a worker was 1 denarius a day. One hundred measures of oil equaled about 850 gallons which totals about 1,000 denari. This is over 3 years wage! (Bock, pg 275) Meanwhile, the manager’s action put his master in a tough position. The master would have difficulty claiming the original amount owed to him now that the original bonds were changed or perhaps destroyed.  Additionally, if he convicted the manager he would then indite himself of usury. And furthermore, what the master gained in light of the circumstances is extremely valuable. In lieu of the enormity of the debt forgiven, it would have not gone unnoticed by the community at large. I’d guess that most aristocrats had a fairly shady reputation but this pious act would have gained the master status and honor within the community. These are values money can’t purchase and if the master had a choice in the matter he’d choose status over more money in which he already possess’ an excess amount. In summary the manager has won the hearts of the debtors and done no harm to his master. In fact, he’s elevated his master to new and respectable places within society by shrewdly disregarding the personal and illegal monetary benefits he had been receiving for the sake of providing for himself in the future. Lastly, ancient stories often portray powerful person as appreciating and rewarding cunning, even if it had been used against them “wisely” or “shrewdly.” (Keener, pg. 234)

Thus, we can look at the commendation by the master in verse 8 with new eyes. “his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly.” He’s not praising him for cheating him out of more money. But his smart strategy. I personally recognize when another person shares similar gifting as me and I find value through this connection. Most likely the master got rich by utilizing the same gift as his manager! The master see’s the brilliance of the manager’s decision. It’s a win – win. He can’t help but honor that move because he would have done the same thing.

The parable is over in verse 8 and the passage shifts with Jesus drawing his conclusions and direct implications of the parable. He makes a comparison of “the sons of this age” and “the sons of light.” It is a rebuke by Jesus. The “sons of this age” are non believers and servants of Satan. They are more shrewd and utilizing money to make friends then the sons and daughters of Jesus and His Kingdom!

The crux of the parable and it’s implications rest in verse 9. “make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Jesus’ recognition is not on the man’s dishonest character, nor is he implying that we emulate him. He’s making a claim on how the manager used wealth to invest relationally in his future. The word for wealth here is “mammon” in the Greek. Mammon are riches that are not inherently unrighteous but they are instrumentally used for many unrighteous things. (Morris, pg. 395) Essentially, Jesus is challenging the disciples to learn from how this squandering shrewd manager used money to invest relationally. Just as the shrewd manager was hoping for some reciprocation in generosity when he’d soon find himself out of a job; we too need to invest in the eternal reward received when we utilize resources for eternal friendships. This sheds a whole new light on stewardship of money. We have the opportunity to invest with something that is temporal and will inevitably fail, in order to gain fruitful eternal rewards through an excess of relationship.  1 Tim. 6:7 says, “For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.” Money will fail us and our stewardship is over with it when we die. So invest eternally!

Jesus continues teaching about the role of money in verses 10-13. First in vs. 10, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much.” Money is trivial and little. How often do we see money as the most important thing we order our lives around? We invest in our careers, move our families to different cities and across the country for the sake of more green. There are millions of ads that try to convince us that we are defined by how much we own.  Jesus addresses head-on the smallness of money. He’s calling his disciples to refrain from trivializing their lives on such a little thing that will fail them. Secondly, in vs. 11, “the money you pile up here is not the true riches.” it will not transcend into the next age to come. Money doesn’t last. Jesus is reminding them that they came into the world naked and they will leave naked as well. Relationships however, will transcend time. Thirdly in vs. 12, “And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” All the stuff we have is really not our own. It’s an honor and privilege to manage the material possessions we do have but it doesn’t belong to us. He is the giver of all things and thus everything we own- from the clothes on our backs, to the food in our fridge, to the cars we drive – it is all the Lord’s. And finally in vs 13, “No servant can serve two masters; …you cannot serve God and wealth (mammon). Jesus distinguishes between God and mammon. Both require service and commitment. Both require attention and possessiveness. Jesus is giving us the antidote to money owning us. How do we take away its power?  By giving it more and more away. We release it by holding it lightly. In doing so, we advance the Kingdom of God by investing in eternal rewards. We define ourselves as shrewd stewards of money and participate in His Kingdom when we give our resources and invest in someone outside of ourselves. Jesus makes it abundantly clear to his disciples: how they steward their material possessions in this life echoes in eternity to the eternal riches they will possess in the next life. If you want to be a part of the Messiah King Jesus’ Kingdom, and stay faithful on the narrow path of ascension then this is how you steward money. It is a test. We have the opportunity of bringing heaven to earth by the choices we make with our finances.

Meditation and Application

I meditated for four hours, breaking it up into 3 sections. I’ve discovered that some of my best prayer times are when I combine stillness with light exercise that requires little focus. I prayed one day for an hour walking around my local park. The next day I prayed for 2 hours while riding my bike. The final day I sat and meditated silently for an hour.

Meditating on this passage unearthed the power of its message in a very acute way in my life. My relationship with money has always been a careful one. Learning from my father’s financial blunders and frivolousness, I’ve never considered myself careless with money. I make it a priority to stay out of debt and tithe our first fruits to the Lord. In fact, I’d error on the side of being frugal. My wife Holly and I’s vocation as full time missionaries doesn’t exactly position us for breaking the bank. Actually we find ourselves often on the receiving end of Jesus followers who have chosen to steward their resources towards eternal Kingdom purposes. It actually puts us in a unique place for how this text strikes me.

I’m finding I can never really ask for money well, if I don’t understand how I relate to money. That is, if I’m clutching my fists tightly on every penny we have because it becomes my security then Luke 16:9-13 doesn’t apply to me. In those moments, I’m banking on the fact that money won’t fail me. Additionally, fear can overcome me in the asking process because the topic of money is such a taboo conversation in our culture. I’m realizing that this selfish act is actually withholding the invitation of Jesus from people in this passage. I’m extending them an invitation to invest in eternal rewards and have a new relationship with their finances and with us. So fundraising actually becomes proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people the chance to participate in the advancement of God’s Kingdom and invest in an eternal relationship with us and others. This is an incredible paradigm shift.

Secondly, We are very mindful that the resources we have are not our own because we depend on people’s generosity for our livelihood. However, as I further examine my heart in light of this passage there is a scarcity mentality interwoven into my framework. Fundraising is one of the most challenging formational journeys I have ever undertaken.  Money has a funny way of finding that intimate place in my heart where I desire and need security. Jesus knows human beings inclination to find security in something other than God and is asking his disciples to make a choice. I cannot find security if my heart is divided. So Jesus says something very radical. He says I cannot put my security in God and also in mammon. Tough principle. How do I measure if my security is not in the temporal world? I give it more and more away. Which leads me to the direct and tangible implications of this passage today in my life.

Our trusty Honda finally breathed it’s last breathe by California standards two weeks ago. The diagnosis – can’t pass smog. We began scrambling for a plan to get another vehicle before our registration deadline was up at the end of October deeming the car legally un- drivable. We mustered up the courage to ask a few of our financial partners if they’d consider praying about chipping into the pot so we could get another vehicle. We prayed and asked God for a miracle – and He provided one. Some offered a “pay back at your own pace” type of loan, others gave generously. These generous and obedient supporters inspired us in how they lived the truths of Jesus’ words in this passage. And as for us, I have been painstakingly planning out a reimbursement process for the “pay at your own pace” loans. This includes but not limited to selling the car in Tijuana, Mexico because smog laws are irrelevant there, keeping the cars value.

Being in debt to another person is foreign to me and has been a humbling process. “I will be true to my word and get them their money as quickly as possible” I tell myself. I believe there is honor and good stewardship in that thought. And in my defense I have plans other than selling the car to make significant dents in my loans.  However, their is another thought that God has been implanting deep in my heart. It’s growing like a small mustard seed within me. And it’s this, “I have someone who needs that car and I want you to give it away.” All that’s within me wants to disqualify and disregard that notion. But I believe it’s the Spirit at work- giving me an opportunity to choose what Kingdom I serve, God or mammon? As we pray for God to reveal his purposes for the car I’m not sure what will come about. I’ve began partnering in prayer and discernment with a co worker of mine who’s a native of Tijuana and networked well across the border. We are keeping our ears and eyes open to a poor Mexican family that would be blessed by the vehicle.  Maybe we will gain new friends across the border through the gift of our car. Maybe not. What I do know is that I’m at peace and ready to profane the kingdom of money and declare my allegiance to God’s Kingdom by giving it away.

Works Cited

1. Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, III: InverVarsity Press. 1993.

2.  Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to St. Luke: An Introduction and Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.

3.  Bock, Darrell L. Luke: Volume II 9:21: 24:53. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1994.

4.  Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Gospel According to Luke: Introduction, Translation, and Notes. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981.

Holly’s Trip to the Holy Land

11 Apr

 

IMG_1364Over the ten days we spent in the Holy Land we met with countless unsung peace-chasers, each of them incredible, self-sacrificing and inspiring. We heard innumerable stories of pain, injustice, and conflict ending with such hope and desire for reconciliation that it took my breath away. As I sat on the shores of Galilee, praying and desperately trying to unravel a tangle of emotions, thoughts, and desires, I was brought back to the reality of who I am and who Christ is. That I am broken and that brokenness causes me to want to an easy answer. If it’s not there, then I’ll just run away. We saw throughout the many experiences that neither of those choices are an option for peace.Therefore, neither are they for Christ. The easy answer means picking one side and fighting against the other. Walking away means pacifism or indifference and perpetuation of injustice. The truth is that Jesus asks us to do the hardest thing. Christ asks us to sit with him amongst the weeds. Not just the glaring injustices in the world, but amongst our own internal brokenness that begs us to run away from Him, quickly. For a long time I have felt a dissonance between those who fight for social justice and those who fight for spiritual formation (inner justice). Often I’ve seen these two camps abandon each other. This was a reminder that one cannot exist without the other. We heard it over and over from our friends in the Middle East. There were typically two beginnings to stories. Either the angry, abused youth fought against the neighbors who had hurt or killed family members, friends, etc. Or, the agonized youth who disconnected and got away as quickly as possible. Within each of those stories there was an eye-opening realization that nothing was changing. In fact, things were getting worse. So there was a shift.

The paradigm shift for many of our friends was that, for reconciliation to be
possible we must try to understand the other person’s story. Nobody starts out as
an angry, vengeful child… there is always a beginning. It may go back generations
or it may be much closer, but it’s there. In understanding another’s story, you
must be able to ask how you have been the wrong-doer. If we aren’t willing to
do this, to stop seeing ourselves as the victim, then we are constantly in danger
of becoming the oppressor. The way we act is directly correlated to how we view
our own stories. As the victim we will act out of defense, retaliation, and pain.Which in turn oppresses. As one who has seen in her or himself the oppressor we will react with the knowledge that you reap what you sow. If you give violence, violence will be given back. One of our friends told us that, “Violence will only ever breed violence, only love can break that cycle and breed something else.” The same Jewish Israeli friend told us, “There is no difference, our blood runs the same color.”

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For many of the peacemakers we met, and myself, the shift goes one vital step
further. In order to be truly reconciled to my husband, my neighbor, my friend,
my community, my world, I must first be reconciled to myself in Christ. That
means coming face to face with the darkness that demands retribution and that
my pain be seen as worse than that of anyone else. To come face to face with the
brokenness that hinders me from trying. To come face to face with the fears that
lie within me waiting to be lived into. To sit amongst the weeds with Christ and
know that He sees me, wholly, and loves me completely.

That is where true reconciliation begins, is birthed and must continuously be
lived out of. “We love because he first loved us”. Not that he first loved us for
all of the apologizing that we have done. Or all of the good and righteous things
we can present to him. That he first loved us. That’s it. Completely. Loved us in
the moments when we didn’t love back. When we hid our nakedness in guilt and
shame. This was the “answer” one friend gave to show how he could invite those
who seek his (literal) destruction, inside for tea. This is the answer.

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These truths are universal when seeking peace. Whether it be peace with your
spouse, mother, friend, grocer, immigrant neighbor, the gang down the street,
oppressors, victims, or dictators. We must start with reconciliation to God. Where
the light of Christ allows and desires nothing to hide. This in turn must move us
to action. Here we start seeing our enemies, hearing their stories, sharing in their
pain and giving love.

 

Coffee Shop Joe

29 Aug
The night he shared his heart with all of us.

The night he shared his heart with all of us.

“You believe in God and read the Bible right?” The piercing question rang heavy, spoken by my old co-worker and friend Joe Burns on the other end of the phone. “Yes” I hesitantly muttered, my mind swirling trying to discover the possible motivation behind this question. “Well, I’d like to discover what Scripture says and explore that more with you if that’s ok??” I think I dropped my phone. I was stunned. I was grateful. Mixed thoughts and feelings coursed through my body, I had no idea what to do and yet I knew exactly what was next. And so our journey began.

With the poised wisdom and aid of my community mate, dear friend, and brother Derek Rice, we, along with the rest of our greater community, have been walking with Joe this last year. We have read Scripture together. We have prayed. Confessed. Laughed. Cried. Broke bread. And found Jesus.

Joe is discovering how he wants to live. The kind of man he was born to become.  He recently joined us for our annual Life Compass process- a powerful tool for that offers us a framework for navigating our lives. We create post it note timelines of our past, giving us meaning and clarity for today with hope and direction for tomorrow. We dive into our personalities and love languages, clarifying our unique wiring and gifting’s.  But Life Compass really culminates with this icing on the cake- cherry on top experience, the vision statement.

Joe’s vision came from wrestling with some essential questions. What does my heart yearn to accomplish?? What so grips me that I can barely talk about it without affecting me? Vision is bigger than yourself, it engages your passion and it’s tangible.

As I reflect on Joe’s journey, it is an honor to participate in God’s beautiful story for him. I am reminded that the gospel is profoundly experienced and expressed in the context of community. That we were born for moments and stories like these. To help leaders move from where they are to where they need to be. To find, activate, and launch leaders into their unique calling so the Church can be all she was made to be.

Joe bravely breathed his vision into life with all of us last week. May you be blessed with this special gift as we all were…

“I believe that the love of God can be experienced through quality food, honorable business practices, profit generosity and welcoming cafe experiences. Using my God given gifts of hospitality and teaching, and my learned ability of the pastry arts I will give my life to stimulating healthy, positive changes in the lives of my family, friends, co-workers and patrons, especially in the context of opening and running multiple cheesecake cafes around the nation. I desire to change the injustice of the food service industry by creating a place of equality, from dishwasher to chef.  Places where all will have a sense of ownership and buy-in with opportunities to share in the profits of the business. As a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, I want to take a portion the profits and feed it back into the community, creating a better place to live.  I envision cafes of comfort and serenity;  places filled with the love and peace of Jesus.  I desire that others will experience my life and business and see a difference in me, to see Jesus in me. I want to inspire and motivate others to change the way they engage life and stimulate a new way of doing business.

Gathering around the Table of Jesus

7 Mar

What does soccer and bbq’s have in common with the Good News of Jesus? Check out this short video that tells the story of one way we see God’s Kingdom coming in our neighborhood of Golden Hill. Many thanks to Peter Schrock for this gift.

<p>Soccer Nights and BBQ: Gathering Around The Table of Jesus from CRM Leaders on Vimeo.</p>

neighborhood goldmine

30 Nov

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As we cultivate learners and apprentices of Jesus here in Golden Hill we journey through a set of “postures” each year.  The hope is these postures intimately inform our commitment towards God, our community and our neighborhood.

 

Currently we are practicing “submerging”: we desire to be Jesus in Golden Hill by seeing the hidden, listening to the voiceless, and engaging the stories that are often forgotten or misunderstood. 

 

This past week I was walking my streets and passed by the local youth center- a place where many of the transitional age youth of San Diego seek a place of refuge, resources, and friendship among many other things. As we begin to vision how to submerge in our neighborhood this “hub” for at risk youth feels like a goldmine. 

 

A quote from my conversation with the director on site: ““I have desperately tried to get the community and neighborhood involved with SDYS the last couple months. I have visited business, talked to people in coffee shops and I just couldn’t get anyone to buy in. But you just walked into my door, someone who lives in the community, and asked how you can serve us. Now THAT is encouraging.” 

 

May we have eyes to see the diversity of places and people on our home-fronts where good news is needed. And bring it

 

an alleyway garden

24 Jul

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Our alleyway is a lively stretch of street ripe with neighbor

interaction. We run into many bustling to and from their cars. It’s not

foreign to hear our neighbors, who call the streets of Golden Hill

their home, rolling their grocery cart past our window or rummaging

through our garbage. On occasion, a drug deal will go down and a fresh

piece of graffiti will set up shop next to us.  Daily, we will see one

of our neighbors doing his faithful trash clean up of our immediate

block.

 

So what about us? Well, we couldn’t allow everyone to have their fun

without us getting in on the action. Sooo…with our collective

finances, cheerful hearts and grubby work clothes; we launched our

alley garden on A street. What we have found is that this little

corridor of concrete has unearthed itself as prime real estate for

relationships to begin and it is chalk full of unknown neighbors

becoming more. Becoming friends.

 

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Today, something “other” is sprouting besides our leafy greens and

summer vegetables. The Kingdom of God is coming in Golden Hill in

simple, powerful moments. It comes when an elderly neighbor who

struggles with mental illness plants flowers in our backyard as a

source of life. Or when a  fresh handful of greens is handed to a

neighbor who is hungry. Or to another neighbor who feels safe enough to

come over and plant his own veggies with us.

 

Gardening for us has become more than caring for the earth and its

field of goodies for personal and collective consumption.  We see it as

partnering in the beauty, nourishment, and bounty of all God’s dreams

for this place.  We see it as another way of planting the roots of our

feet deep into the soil of Golden Hill. We see it as actually

stewarding the space God has given to us so that we can love our

neighbors and neighborhood well.

 

This little plot of land is creating place for us to be among the

people. When I look at the life of Jesus, he intentionally chose to

dwell, to “pitch his tent”, to be among. And he actually asks us to do

the same. So we pray that we would have eyes to see the faces of all

our neighbors, those visible and hidden, and may we hear their voices.

 May “back alley gardens” be one way that places can become something

home, something good for those who dwell around us.

 

NieuCommunities launches book and dvd

11 May

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Led by author Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley, our community in San Diego just launched Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community.

Based on St. Columbo’s description of a thin place-a place where heaven and earth are only thinly separated, comes a tangible yet powerful read that is rooted in apprenticing followers of Jesus to live into the mission of God for their unique context.

All of us in NieuCommunities played a part in the creation of Thin Places by sharing stories of how we see God’s kingdom coming in our homes, on our streets, and among our neighbors. The hope is to inspire, challenge, and spark imagination in all of us as we discover life as it was meant to be lived.

Want to hear more? Buy the book, read the full description, and watch the exclusive Submerging posture video here:

Jon Huckins: Thin Places


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