Monday, November 23, 2009

Is God at work?

Do you believe that some higher power is at work in this world? If so, what does that mean? What does that look like? If not, why not?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Well, I haven't blogged in quite a while, but I'm looking to get back into the habit. Last week I was at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) annual conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. Those who have kept up with me outside this blog probably know that I'm working for Mosaic Life in Grand Rapids Michigan. Mosaic life is a diverse faith community that will be celebrating its 5th birthday this Sunday. Over the past year, we worked to develop a nonprofit community development corporation called Grand Rapids Dreams to further the work that Mosaic is doing in the community. You can check out the Mosaic Life and Grand Rapids Dreams websites to find out more about these organizations. We recently launched Grand Rapids Dreams with a public launch party, and in addition to my role at Mosaic Life, I am serving as the Executive Director of Grand Rapids Dreams. Anyway, the point of this post isn't to fill you in on all of that, but to begin my public reflection on the CCDA conference.

Three people from Mosaic Life went to the CCDA conference. CCDA has been around for 20 years, and exists to help organizations do community development. It was great to learn from people who have been doing community development, community organizing, and community transformation for years in a variety of different settings. If I could sum up the conference in one word, it would be "listen". CCDA talks a lot about Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), and that starts with listening to people's hopes and dreams, and then using the assets that are already in the community to realize those hopes and dreams. This comes from the understanding that people know their communities and know what their communities need. Once projects or initiatives have been put in place, it is important to listen to the community to find out how well the projects are working.

In addition to being educational, the CCDA conference was a very inspirational event for me. It was wonderful to hear the stories and experiences of those who have been in this field longer than I have. It was encouraging to know that we can make a difference in the community. It was uplifting to know that even when we face setbacks there are many ways to push through them or work around them. It's such a blessing to know that there is a wealth of knowledge out there from those who have gone before.

This was the first time that our tribe has had a large group at the CCDA conference. It's great to know that even in our own tribe, we are not alone in seeking to transform the communities in which we're present.

CCDA is also a great place to meet people. I reconnected with a lot of people that I know from other conferences or other encounters, and I met new people who have the same passion and dreams as I have. I know that as my network continues to grow, I will have a wealth of people to draw on for support and insight. I look forward to supporting others who are doing kingdom work and sharing my insights with my friends doing community development.

If I have one bit of advice to share with anyone, no matter what context they're in, I would say "be present". Be fully where you are, that you are able to hear what the people around you are telling you and that you can feel their emotions. Being more present in all aspects of life will help all of us as we seek to follow the example of Christ and show love to those around us.



Thursday, July 09, 2009

Careful Not to Draw Your Maps in Pen and Ink

I love the lyrics of this song by The Cobalt Season (you can listen to it on myspace):
Careful Not to Draw Your Maps in Pen and Ink

You are gonna change your mind someday
So just let go of all your thoughts on tomorrow
You may find your bearings in disarray
Though you may lead and trip and fall and follow

And all that you thought black will be proved red
Full of life and complication and sorrow
And all that you thought white was in your head
For life is lived in the shadows that we borrow

And I’ll look far, but may see nothing
And I will thirst, but may not drink
And I will yell to those behind me
“Careful not to draw your maps in pen and ink”

The same road disappears up ahead
Will you ever understand this equation?
The compass in your hand is all but dead
Time to feel your way around this evasion

Read the words again, for you might see
Life where you saw death, a way to your salvation
Best to lay down what you thought was certainty
Freedom’s found in the in that calmed frustration

And I will strain to find a pattern
And hold my breath ’till I’m on the brink
And I will yell to those behind me
“Careful not to draw your maps in pen and ink”

You are gonna change your mind someday
Just let go of all your thoughts

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Monday, April 06, 2009

Great Expectations

This is more or less the text of the sermon that I preached yesterday (my first one ever). I changed a few things around, but not much.

Great Expectations:

Close your eyes and imagine this with me:

Imagine that Michigan had-once upon a time-about a thousand years ago, been an independent country. We were strong and powerful, and took great pride in our country. However, we were eventually taken over by a large empire, which was eventually overthrown by a larger, more powerful empire known as the United States. For hundreds of years we've been longing for freedom, longing for liberation. People had been given visions by God and testified that we would one day be free, that a liberator would come from our people and free us from the tyranny we had been living under. Every year we would throw parties and share stories about the time when our people were free and about the one who would come and set us free. We lived in a state of constant anticipation for the one who was coming. A few people had given us some hope, one even raised up an army and started a revolt. After this revolt, our grandparents had been free from the United States for a short period of time, but then the rebellion was crushed and we were once again subjects of another empire. About 3 years ago, a man showed up and started doing some crazy things, like healing people. Some people even say he's raised people from the dead. He's been saying things that make people think he was a revolutionary. But he hasn't really been acting like a revolutionary, he's not gathering an army. He has a small group of people following him, but that's it. He keeps talking about a coming kingdom, and it's starting to make some of the authorities mad. Tensions have risen and fallen over the past 3 years, but nothing significant has happened. Things are starting to heat up, and it's not a good time for this to be happening. You see, there's a big festival coming up, and every person who was born in Michigan has to be there, and even those who parents were born in Michigan are supposed to come back for this festival. Not only are all those people going to be in Michigan, but they're all supposed to come to one city. Over the next few days Grand Rapids will swell to several times its normal size. People will be crammed into every possible nook and cranny. Every hotel room for 50 miles will be booked, all of those foreclosed houses that have been sitting empty will have people in them, and the authorities will look the other way, because they don't know where else to put everyone. Every empty lot will be turned into a campground. Security is about as tight as it can be with that many people in one city, but if someone wanted to lead a revolt, NOW would be the time. This man has been hard to find lately, but some people say he's hanging out in Wyoming, and the authorities have put a warrant out for his arrest. Anyone who sees him in Grand Rapids is supposed to turn him in. Can you imagine the tension in the air? Can you feel the pressure? What kind of expectations do you have for this man?

Alright, you can open your eyes and come back to this reality. But 2,000 years ago the people in Israel didn't have to imagine this, this is what was going on. This is the situation that Jesus was in. He had attracted a following and was causing quite a stir. The religious leaders were worried that the Romans were going to take away the little bit of power they had and really crack down on the Israelites.

For three years Jesus had been performing miracles and stirring up the people. The Romans were starting to take notice, and the religious leaders thought they needed to do something about it. After Jesus raised one of his friends from the dead, the plot to kill Jesus really picked up, they felt it was better for one man to die than for the Romans to come and take away the power that they had and the tiny bit of freedom and unity that the nation of Israel had. Jesus hid out for a while, but it was time for a huge festival in Jerusalem, and he was expected to be there. He went, even though he knew they would try to kill him-they had put out the word that anyone who knew where Jesus was had to tell the religious leaders. This big festival (all males Jews were required to be there) meant that the Romans would have extra soldiers in place and be watching closely. There was a large group of Jews, including Jesus' disciples, who thought that Jesus had come to liberate them from Roman rule, to set them free from oppression. The cries of "Hosanna (Save us!)" and "Blessed is the King of Israel" are testament to this belief.

Jesus had been hiding out in the countryside for a little while, and that's where our story picks up.

[Read John 12:12-15]

12-15The next day the huge crowd that had arrived for the Feast heard that Jesus was entering Jerusalem. They broke off palm branches and went out to meet him. And they cheered:


Blessed is he who comes in God's name!

Yes! The King of Israel!
Jesus got a young donkey and rode it, just as the Scripture has it:

No fear, Daughter Zion:
See how your king comes,
riding a donkey's colt.

It's really easy for us to skip over a lot of important details when we read this story. Most of us don't wave palm branches around, we've never ridden on a donkey, and we don't know what "Hosanna" means. So here's a little background information: Palm branches were a sign of victory. The Romans started this, and the Jews picked it up because their land was occupied by the Romans. Donkeys weren't usually ridden by kings or warriors, they were ridden by poorer peasants. Kings and warriors would usually have ridden horses. Hosanna is a Hebrew word meaning "Save us!" It became a cry of praise for the Jews as they waited for a Messiah (a savior). The people desperately wanted deliverance, but the religious leaders were somewhat comfortable with where they were-the Romans gave them some authority as long as they kept the people under control. If someone was claiming to be the Messiah, things were probably going to get out of control. With those things in mind, let's look at that passage again:

[read John 12:12-15]

Do you get it? Do you see what's going on here? The people think Jesus is going to overthrow the Romans and make them an independent nation again. Remember that situation I had you imagine a few minutes ago? I don't think we can really get much of a grasp for the way the Israelites must have felt living under the rule of other nations. The fact that they thought they had found a savior was a BIG deal. They were yelling Hosanna because they wanted Jesus to save them from the oppression of the Romans. They were waving palm branches in anticipation of Jesus winning a MILITARY victory. They were putting their coats on the road because they thought Jesus was going to be their KING.

The people had expectations for how God was going to work, expectations that had been building for hundreds of years. They were convinced that THEY knew what was best. They were trying to box God in with their expectations.

If you read a little further in John, Jesus basically says "guys...I know what you're wanting to happen here, but I'm going to die." In other words: "You're wrong. You're looking in the wrong direction. Your expectations are too small.”

Have you ever tried to box God in with YOUR expectations? Maybe not consciously-you probably didn't say "hey God, I don't want you doing that" or "I don't think you should work that way", but we often have an idea of how we think God is going to work. We think that God is going to do one thing, and when God goes in a different direction, we're not ready for it. Sometimes we miss being involved in something because we're looking in the wrong direction, or our box doesn't have room for what God is doing. We need to have room in our expectations for God's plans. God has big plans.

God has



God didn't send Jesus to only liberate Israel, Jesus came to liberate the world, and had the Jews been ready for that, more of them could have played a bigger role in what God was doing. The Jews had small expectations, they were not ready for what God was going to do.

Are you ready for what God's going to do? Don't miss your chance to be involved in the coming of the kingdom.

Read this verse with me: [Ephesians 3:20])(msg) "God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us."

Do we really believe that God can do far more than all we imagine or guess or request? Are we ready to join with God in all the great things God is doing? [ask specific people]... How do we make sure that we're not excluding ourselves from God's plans? What did that Ephesians verse say? God works not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. God's Spirit is at work within us. I don't know if you get that or not...I know I don't often give it a lot of thought, but that's a BIG DEAL.

Those of you who have been around the past few weeks know we've talked a lot recently about prayer. Part of prayer is listening to God. It's a two-way street. Prayer needs to be a dialogue, not a monologue. It's hard to be part of God's plan when we aren't listening to what God is saying. Do you spend anywhere near as much time listening to God as you do speaking to God, telling God what you want or need? I know it's often not an easy thing for me to do-I do more talking that listening.

If you've read much of the Old Testament, you know that God speaks to people. Some people heard God audibly, and others saw visions. We don't often see this in our lives, so maybe you're wondering how you can hear God. After Christ left the earth, the disciples received the Spirit, which the Bible tells us is given to all followers of God. So God can speak to us directly through the Spirit, through other people, through other things going on around us. And God continues to speak to us through the scriptures-the word of God. We could spend another whole message--or probably even a series--talking about the ways in which God speaks, but today the main point we need to get is that God talks to us, and if we listen to what God is saying, it's a lot easier to be on track with his plan instead having expectations that don't leave room for what God is going to do.

Just to clarify, I'm not saying that God can't work unless we have great expectations, but God wants us to be part of God's plan and part of what God is doing. We can't stop God, but we can stop ourselves from being included. We can be slow to get on board, and we can even miss the boat all together.

So are your expectations as big as what God is going to do? Do you have GREAT expectations? Are you ready for the great things God is doing? Are you ready to be part of it? Are you ready to listen to what God is telling you? Are you ready to have your small expectations blown away? God's going to tell you some things that blow your mind. I'm willing to bet that if you really listen to God, God's going to tell you some things that surprise you. So open your heart to God, listen to what our Lord is saying, tell God that you want to have great expectations, and then hold on, because it's going to be one heck of a ride.

God's already doing some great things, right here, right now. God surprised us a bit when God told us that we were going to add a second site downtown, but because we knew that God does great things, we were ready for God to do great things. Don't get me wrong, none of us here are perfect, and I don't know that any of us is fully ready for all that God is going to do, but we had room in our expectations for God to do great things, and now we're involved in something wonderful that God is doing.

So do you have great expectations? Are you ready to join with God in doing great things? I hope so, because God is doing some awesome things and wants you to be part of that.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

This made me cry

Please watch.

Do something.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Fuzzy Math

EDIT:Where I used the word "rebate" I should have used the word "credit". This doesn't really change the math at all. It means the government would take in 980 billion fewer dollars in taxes (out of 2.66 trillion in revenue).

My dad thought it was ridiculous that people were repeating McCain's $5 Million line, and taking it out of context, so I decided to watch the original interview.
In the original interview, McCain said that he wants to give each family a $7,000 tax rebate per child, and wants to give each family a $5,000 tax rebate to spend on health care. That sounded like a lot of money to me, so I checked the census and did some quick math. These measures would cost about 980 BILLION dollars. Definitely a lot of money, but without knowing how much the budget is, that number still didn't mean a whole lot, so I checked into the budget a bit, and the total estimated receipts for 2008 are 2.66 Trillion. Bush couldn't manage to balance the budget without McCain's proposed measures, so how is McCain going to find another trillion dollars to give away?

Watching Lieberman's speech, and he had a long section about "If McCain were just a typical Republican, he never would have..." and listed a bunch of the better things that McCain has helped accomplish by working with Democrats in Congress. Sounds to me like a slam on the Republicans, but boy did I get a lot of applause...did I miss something?