Good.

What a week we had here in Cincy last week!  It was full of life and a deepening of friendships, both old and new!  We heard from our friends Steve Chalke, Dave Parr, Damon Lynch III, Troy Jackson, Peter Block, and a whole host of others at Immanuel Church in Clifton (where I pastor) and in and around Cincinnati in some amazing neighborhoods, especially Finneytown where we have our Oasis Community Hub emerging.

That was the beginning of the week.  At the end of the week, we had new and old friends from Economics of Compassion and Neighborhood Economics converge at New Prospect for a conference.

SubstandardFullSizeRender (1)

I needed a nap after last week!

However, I have loved having so many worlds come together around Finneytown, Clifton, Immanuel, Oasis, Economics of Compassion, Amos, and others.

I’ve been around Oasis for a long time.  Many of their staff have been good friends over the years.  Oasis has been on the forefront in Europe and around the world on reimagining (or recalibrating as Steve Chalke would say) the church.  They have done this by being centered on Christ’s being and Christ’s actions….especially when it comes to serving and including folks who may have felt excluded.

I have talked over the years with my friends from Oasis what it would look like to have them more fully in the states and how we could use Oasis to be a part of the “new church” or the recalibrated church.  How we can be conversation partners, as well as collaborating with other?  Could groups like Oasis help the American church be the community based blessing that we are called to be?

So, this past week, we saw a glimpse of what could be.

Much of this past week and what has gone on in Cincy came out of a trip that our family took to the UK last summer.  Friends like Steve Chalke, Andy Sexton, and Andy Matheson had invited us over to London to check out first hand their community hubs and school academies.  So we took them up on it.  On one leg of the journey, we were supposed to stay at our friend Andy Matheson’s house.  He sent us a message a couple of days before we were to arrive to say that he had worked it out to stay at a friend’s house who was on vacation.  I was looking forward to staying with Andy, but took it in stride.  When Andy picked us up at the train station to take us to our lodgings, he told us that the house we were staying was an English Manor house on the estate of the Earl of Essex, Penshurst.  So, for the next 4 days we stayed in a 7 bedroom, 5 bath house on a hill overlooking Pinehurst.  It was fantastic.

On several of the fields we were overlooking, there were hundreds of sheep in various fields at different times during the day.  One afternoon, the Mathesons and other friends of ours, the Kinney’s, were visiting with us.  The Kinney’s kids and are kids are of similar ages, so they all went out into the fields to try and catch sheep, try as they might, they couldn’t catch them…however, they did step in quite a bit of other very messy and smelly things…yet, fun was had by all, even if a few sheep may have been a bit rattled.

I read once that you cannot very easily approach sheep…they are sheepish if you will.  They aren’t easy to heard either, unless you are their shepherd.  Shepherds, especially in Jesus’ time, spent a lot of time with sheep.  Shepherds had a way of gathering sheep, by simply calling them out.  Sheep will follow the shepherd because they recognize the shepherd’s voice.  They trust that voice.

In the Bible, specifically John 10, we are referred to as sheep, you and I together.  It’s obviously a metaphor, but much like the beauty of the landscape at Penshurst, we all live together in a beautiful world.  We also produce a lot of smelly and messiness.  Our relationships with each other are filled with craziness at times.  We don’t always follow or lead each other well.  There are dangers around us, and sometimes there are other forces out there, thieves such as loneliness, selfishness, pride, or addictions, or folks not being the best version of themselves, or fully understanding themselves, their “True Selves”.  Or maybe others that come in the middle of darkness as it says in John 10:10 that kill and destroy the lives that we were called to live.

Yet, Jesus tells us that he has come to give us life.  When we slow down, or get caught up in recognition of good things around us and the origin of that goodness, we can recognize the voice of the true shepherd, the voice of Jesus who has entered in the fields of our lives, who walks with us and towards us…walking through the messiness to call us towards new fields, new adventures.

We often recognize the voice of Jesus through others.  Maybe we literally hear words from Jesus through others such as a speaker, or maybe even a preacher (maybe…).  Or maybe we recognize the voice of God through something we read, or a song we hear.  Maybe it’s listening to our neighbors as we walk down our street.  Or, seeing someone else practice charity through their actions or giving themselves away.

We know it when we see it and hear it, especially as we train our eyes and ears to see and recognize the true shepherd.

10257672_10154109759860078_3898858896213912029_n

Alex Dingle (a “younger” friend of mine who’s on InterVarsity staff and that our church, Immanuel, is going to allow to have some office space for a period of time) and I experienced amazing beauty one weekend where we had a wilderness retreat with our youth group from my former church Northminster.  We spent the weekend in the mountains of North Carolina at a place called “Pioneer Plunge”.  We had a very diverse group of folks, but we experienced a deep sense of unity as we listened to each other and lived out what it means to be a community marked by Jesus.  We served each other, taking turns making dinner and cleaning up after each other.  It was great.  At the end of the weekend, I was overwhelmed with the abundance of deepening relationships, friendships, with each other and with God, so much so that I made a statement that there was no place else in the world that I’d rather be than right there, right then.

Friends, we have said it before, we are living in a new place with church.  The old forms simply don’t work anymore.  The world is crying out for us, the church, to be an example of goodness, of the good shepherd, to be reflections of Jesus’ actions and to reflect and amplify the voice of the Shepherd who is calling us towards him, towards abundant life, towards being one flock.  This shepherd has laid down his life for us, yet in doing so, has overcome all of the messiness in our lives and is creating something new and beautiful as he leads us into new fields, filled with beauty and relationship.

So, let’s listen to the voice of the Shepherd, let’s love each other well, and let’s play in the fields of Clifton, Cincinnati, and the world and be the diverse, yet unified flock God’s marked us out to be…we can do this, we can believe in each other as God does with us, trusting each other, loving each other, and changing the world in the process.

I can truly say that being in this field called Cincinnati, with all of its mess, is good and is filled with beauty.  There’s no other place I’d rather be, right now, than right here.

Advertisements

Deliver…this Sunday at Immanuel!

Come and be with us this Sunday, April 21st at 10:30 AM.   I’ll be leading us in a discussion on “deliver”!

The teaser: “hold on, there is a God who will deliver on the promise that you are not alone, that there is relationship, there is hope.”

Join us after the service for a potluck lunch with Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis, and Dave Parr, Oasis UK staff, as we discuss Oasis’ unique model of Christ-centered community transformation and the theology that drives it. RSVP by emailing us at secretary3445@cinci.rr.com.

Publicity Photo (2014 cropped) (1)

Rebirth.

pic 1

New life.  Starting over.  A fresh beginning.  Rebirth. 

 

Every year for the past 25 years or so I’ve been taking personal retreats to the Abbey of Gethesemani monastery in Kentucky.  Sometimes I’m there for a few days, other times I’m there for just a day.  But, I try to take at least one multiple day retreat there around New Years.  Every retreat that I’ve taken there has been fantastic.  It’s simply a time to relax, refocus, and have some time to get beyond the distractions and listen to rhythms of your life with yourself, with others, and with God.

 

I came to Gethsemani a couple of years ago with a lot on my mind and on my heart.  2013 was a hard year filled with lots of questions and a time of seeking out some deeper understandings of myself and what God is doing in and through me.

 

I also came to Gethsemani with a deep realization that there are so many folks in our communities in Cincinnati  that are also in a place of searching and yearning for something more in life.  They, like me, all of us really, have a deep desire for belonging.  Belonging to God, others, as well as a need to see themselves and others as God sees them.

 

On my third day of the retreat, I went for a hike through the woods surrounding the monastery.  I hiked to one of my favorite spots where the philosopher/theologian/writer monk Thomas Merton would hang out.  I sat there for a while and read some scripture, wrote some of my thoughts and prayers in my journal, listened…and was given a word:  “rebirth”.

 

I didn’t experience any earthquakes or a lot of deep emotional responses.  I didn’t dance.  I just had a seed planted that I believe will continue to grow in some beautiful ways…rebirth isn’t easy, it can be painful, but it does bring beauty!

 

Rebirth is really just a start, a new beginning, a new chapter.  The old is behind me, I can learn from the past, but there is a far greater future ahead.  I can’t save myself.  But, I can experience a renewal, a deeper reminder or recognition, that God is at work and doing new things in my life and in the lives of those that live in my community.

 

So friends, out of darkness, Jesus shines a light and our lives are found and renewed in relationship with him, with ourselves, and with others.  He gives relationship to us and God’s Spirit moves in the relationships around us, making all things new and redeeming everything.

 

When I think of Immanuel and being its pastor for a relatively short time, I also think of “rebirth”.  In a short time, Immanuel has been a place where I’ve been experiencing a sense of “rebirth” in so many ways.

 

Immanuel is also going through a period of rebirth.  Ithas been through a lot over its 134 years of existence.  It’s had some amazingly hard changes in just the past dozen years or so.  Yet, here we are today, in the beginnings of a “rebirth” in so many ways as a parish.  We are moving into a sense of newness as we become more community focused than ever before.  We want to be a Presbyterian parish that is a blessing to ALL in this community.

 

If you have been at Immanuel for a while, or maybe you’ve stopped coming, or have never come to Immanuel, I’d invite you to come and see, check us out!  Maybe even consider being a part of this rebirth that is happening in and around us.   With rebirth comes the hope and promise of growth in our lives, and in the lives of others as we come together.  We may even change the world!

 

So friends, receive this blessing:  “may we live into that reality and experience rebirth in our lives…may we know that in Christ, we belong, and that belonging brings hope for rebirth and new beginnings”.

 

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!

 

That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.

 

-Romans 6:1-5, The Message.

Passsion.

011215,r4,f6021

In my role as a pastor, I have the privilege of officiating weddings from time to time.  They are usually great moments in the lives of those getting married.  The persons who are in attendance at weddings are usually family and friends who are genuinely excited for the couple.  One of the best moments of a wedding is the processional.  The wedding attendants proceed in, the music is playing, then everything changes…oftentimes with the change of music, or simply a nod or motion by the minister.  Everyone stands and all eyes are on the bride as she walks in.

Yes, for me, it’s a privilege to be witnessing that.  I also know that in my own wedding several years ago, it was emotional to watch my best friend walk down that aisle.

Of course, after the processional, there are some serious life altering words that are shared.  A commitment is made.  After the ceremony, there is usually a party, a honeymoon, and then life.  Sometimes that life is up and down, hard and joyful at times.  Decisions are made, people change.  Life happens.  Sometimes life prevents those commitments from being fulfilled.  Oftentimes the marriages don’t go the way that folks entering into those commitments hoped they would.  People get disappointed, let down.  Sometimes even filled with despair.

Of course, there are also stories where folks get through some of the hard times.  But, life together can bring deep growth and joy, it will also bring scars and pain.

And, yes, whatever the outcome in a marriage, or whether ones gets married or not, there is always something deeper going on, something beautiful, something worth seeking out eyes to see, ears to hear.

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday.  We commemorate this day by waving palms and singing “hosanna”.  According to Scripture, Jesus entered Jerusalem the week of passover to celebrate this occasion with his disciples.

In the Gospel accounts, we read that Jesus rode in on a white donkey.  The writers want to give us a picture that Jesus was not on a warhorse, not coming to establish some type of earthly kingdom that folks in Jerusalem thought they wanted.  Common folks such as merchants, clergy at the time, or others would ride donkeys.  The message is that Jesus is like one of us and comes to bring peace, not war.  It was also prophesied that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem on a donkey in the old testament.  This Jesus knows what it’s like to be “us”.

The people of Jerusalem were gathering from all over the countryside to come to Jerusalem to celebrate passover.  They had heard about Jesus and the miracles he had performed, some were curious, most were hopeful, they were caught up in the festive atmosphere.  They welcomed Jesus with shouts of hosanna, which literally means “God save us”.  The people of Israel were under Roman occupation, they wanted to be liberated and free to live as they thought they should.  They were hoping for this Jesus to deliver them.  They probably were enslaved by even deeper things within their own lives, their way of thinking that prevented them from being the people they wanted to be…and, as is often the case in history, placed their trust and hope in an idea of a person.  They were transferring their hopes and dreams on to Jesus.

So, they waved palms, symbols of expressions of joy, even the coins at that time would have had inscriptions of palms and the words the “redemption of Israel”.  Again, different ideas of what that meant.  They welcomed Jesus and Jesus entered into the moment with them.

Jesus knew that things were probably not going to go so well in a few short days based on his words that he had shared with his friends.  Just like when we come to a wedding, we know life isn’t going to be easy for the couple getting married, yet, we celebrate and we know that something deeper, somehow, some way, is going on.

There were some though who didn’t enter into the festivities.  The religious rulers, those involved in the maintaining of the institutional temple worship had been trying to discredit Jesus, trying to gain the upper hand in discussions with him, attempting to validate their roles, the status quo if you will, by winning an argument, or by other means.  It’s easy to get frustrated with them, yet, we also know what it’s like to have anxiety over change, even if that change is going to be good.  The religious leaders may have known that their system wasn’t perfect, wasn’t sustainable, wasn’t good for everyone, yet it was the system they knew and they didn’t want to have that boat rocked.

They saw the crowds changing for Jesus, they saw the hope for something more in people’s faces and in their actions, yet they couldn’t enter in to the joy.  So, they began to conspire in even more sinister ways.

Jesus saw the injustices, Jesus also heard the deeper cries of the crowd for salvation, for hope, for something more.   Throughout the week between Palm Sunday and that dark Friday where Jesus was crucified, he spoke openly and honestly about deliverance, about the need for a God who was on their side.  Really on their side, not on their side for an earthly or temporal “win” but for the deeper things of life, the hard things and good things that produce a deeper sense of worth, of value, of forever permanence.

At the end of that week, the crowds turned on Jesus as the religious leaders stirred them into action.  Fear and anxiety overtook hope and the deeper need for love, change, and growth.  They, we, wanted to go with what we knew, rather than have faith and hope in something even better.  So, we killed Jesus, we experienced brokenness in our relationship with God, and with others.

I know it’s easy to judge the folks in Jesus’ time.  To ask why couldn’t they see.  Yet, it’s a drama that’s played out in our lives everyday.  We put hopes in something or someone, and when life happens in ways that we don’t anticipate, we get disappointed, hurt, fearful, anxious, and may experience brokenness and despair.  We may even make unhealthy or unhelpful decisions that have dire consequences.

In my new church Immanuel and in this neighborhood of Clifton…and in our own families and some of our deep friendships, we have experienced weariness, tiredness, anxiety, and disappointment.

As the pastor here, I know that I will get tired, weary, disappointed, maybe even a bit anxious.  Immanuel will with me as well, and with others.  We all know that, we’ve experienced that over the years.

Yet, that’s not the end of our story, nor is it the end of the story with Jesus.  He was crucified.  But, there was something deeper going on in Jesus’ coming to us, his life, and even his death.  Jesus rose out of the grave three days later.  Jesus’ love for us was stronger than all of the disappointment, all of the weariness.  His love was deeper than our desire for an earthly king.  He overcame death and showed us that God’s belief in us, God’s expansiveness, God’s love for those on the margins, God’s desire for change, growth, and for a more just system…God’s pursuit of everyone and Jesus’ model of radical inclusive community, is stronger than anything in this world.

This same God does not want us to be ashamed of our lives, ashamed of how we have reacted to our disappointments in life, but to realize the gift of growth, change, and relational presence God has given us.  To own our space and to celebrate with God what God has done for us and who believes in us.

That gives me, and all of us, opportunities for strength as our minds and hearts are inspired and renewed, by a God and God’s presence in our lives.

I used the example of weddings for this conversation.  It is interesting that we, the church or God’s people, all of us, are Jesus’s bride.  Jesus is the groom.  This metaphor is used in scripture.  God is standing at the front of the sanctuary, looking out at our lives, and sees us proceeding in and is filled with Joy.  God’s glory is wrapped up in our being who we were created to be.  The disciples didn’t get it at times, but they began a journey of deeper understanding after Jesus rose from the dead.  This gave them hope and a sense of purpose that they could face anything, that their momentary disappointment would give away to growth and a promise of even more beautiful things to come.

This same God calls us into deep community with him and with others.  As we move through the throes of life together with others and with a God who believes in us, all of us, and we will begin to see a future filled with promise, even as we live in the moment, present with each other!  We have a God who does save, who does give us a deeper hope and imagination than we could even hope for.  Makes me want to wave some palm branches and not just say God save us, but thank you God for saving us!