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Are You in the Nineteen Percent…

I found this in my inbox over the weekend and wanted to share it. Too often, “Christian” music lacks substance. My friend Jim once told me the difference between a hymn and a worship song was that a hymn tells a story. A praise song simply repeats the same refrain and hallelujah over and over.

This was different. I’m often embarrassed to say I’m a “evangelical” Christian (I prefer “Jesus follower” anyway…). It usually conjures images of ultra-conservative, right-wing Christians that are more interested in one’s sexual preferences than loving others. That’s one of the major reasons I despise labels. I definitely don’t fit the stereotype.

I am evangelical in the dictionary definition of the word; “to be zealous in advocating something”. I’ve found some good news I pass on to others. According to Jesus, “loving God and loving others” pretty much sums up the Good News.

I guess the other 81% are equally evangelical as well, just in a different and extremely unappealing way. I guess that’s why this song hit home. Give it a listen, think about the words, and know there’s a lot of people out there who simply love God and love others. I guess church is where we find each other…

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Faith is Action

“Jesus wasn’t executed because he went around healing people; he was crucified as the worst kind of criminal because his Gospel message was viewed as dangerous by the ruling class. In fact, the entire Gospel of Luke is one long lesson in speaking truth to power—to the corrupt elite in Jerusalem. If we Christians claim to have anything to do with Jesus, then we must inherently be engaged with the political issues of our time.” – Peter Armstrong

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“Many in the United States claim we are a Christian nation, but if we are to call ourselves such, we must sustain a sincere connection between our Gospel values and the political choices we make. We cannot declare we are one body and then neglect to give that body the care it needs, including food, water, and shelter.” – Joan Chittister

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Living in Exile

Thoughts From the Porch: We had a series of precipitation events this weekend; at least that’s what the weather folks called them. I thought it was just rain. Regardless of what you call it, the result is it’s too muddy to do a lot at Opal’s Farm. Brendan and I will harvest radishes tomorrow, but weeding will have to wait. Oh well. It means a little more time on the porch.

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I re-read “Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile” by Rob Bell and Don Golden. I re-read many of my good books. After two brain surgeries and the trudge through middle age I get to enjoy them almost as much as I did the first time. I gain new insight and reaffirm old ones from re-reading some of my favorite authors.

I appreciate Don Golden for his work as Executive Director of Red Letter Christians (https://www.redletterchristians.org/). I had the opportunity to attend the Red Letter Revival last Fall in Dallas. Being around other disciples who strive to live out the radical, and often subversive, teachings of Jesus was the highlight of my year.   

Rob Bell ( https://robbell.com/) has always ranked high on my list of favorite authors; especially since his book, “Love Wins” put him on the outs with the evangelical community. He was labelled an apostate and a universalist (God forbid!) and exiled in the truest sense of the word. Questioning long-held doctrine and institutional religion is risky. Jesus can attest to that. I guess that’s where the sub-title came from…

A brief tangent…

I purchased “Love Wins” at my old church’s bookstore (a Starbucks-looking “seeker-friendly kind of place). I had seen it in the store the previous Sunday but could no longer find it anywhere on the shelves. It turns out that “Love Wins” had generated too many questions for the church. The Senior Pastor had asked that it be kept underneath the front counter. It was available only by request. I can assure that when the last copy was sold no more were reordered.

I asked for a copy and my purchase was quickly placed in a plain brown paper bag. It was like buying Christian pornography. Forbidden wisdom there, Don and Rob…

“Trendy” Christians

There’s a current trend among many churches to be “seeker-friendly”. Contemporary services with great bands constitute the worship experience now. Sometimes it seems like they should be taking tickets at the door. The experience is more one of entertainment than worship; for me anyway…

I retain a church home in name only. I’m not okay with sitting in the same place every week only to have the same people ask me if this is my first time at the church. This tends to happen a lot in mega-churches. It’s not the worshipper’s fault. Large groups tend to be impersonal.

My old church has a plethora of Pastors and staff members: so much so that a large portion of the budget goes to administrative costs. They do some wonderful and amazing things for the local community and in missions, but I can’t help but wonder what the early Jesus followers would think. Just saying…

I used to work on quite a few service projects the church took on, many of them having to do with community gardens and almost always working with young people. I was invited to go with the Youth Group on a service project to New Mexico. When they ran a background check (yes, a background check!) they learned I had a felony conviction from my old life involving bouncing paper. Suddenly, I was unfit to work with the young people I’d been working with for over five years. They said it was a question of liability, but I think they were afraid I’d teach the teenagers how to pass bad checks…

Honestly, I was pissed. I felt betrayed. Church was supposed to be a place of forgiveness and healing, not a business concerned with liability and self-protection. I tried to move past my feelings. I continued to attend for a while, and probably well past the expiration date…

My friend and mentor, Rusty, taught a class I enjoyed and corporate spiritual growth took place within our small, class-sized community. Unfortunately, the class was cancelled, and he was made the ‘Online’ Minister. Churches have gotten tech-savvy in the pursuit of new converts (and additional dollars? – I know, I’m a bit cynical). Quite frankly, the online community simply isn’t the same for me. I spend enough time in front of a computer screen.

Self-imposed Exile

I don’t think I’ve attended a service at my old church in three or four years. My spiritual appetite has been fed in other places: “being” the church instead of “going” to church. I get to do that daily. I’m blessed to work with a non-profit, Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm, that is faith-based and inclusive of everyone. Its mission is to provide for and minister to (serve) oft forgotten and marginalized communities in Fort Worth. Jesus called them “the least of these”. I get to be of service daily. My vocation is the same as my avocation.

I was relieved to hear that others struggle with the same issue. In his book, “Scary Close”, Donald Miller said something to the effect that he was a “Christian writer who hadn’t been to church in five years.

Lately, there’s been a nagging longing for spiritual community. I’ve been missing a home church, or more accurately, a church home: a place where I belong, where I can have community with other believers, and where I can celebrate and incorporate the Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus, in my life. 

I’ve been blessed to have stepped out of my comfort zone. Stepping out is never easy, but over the last few months I visited several churches outside my long-held religious tradition. I’ve discovered how much I miss corporate worship of the Creator and the community of other disciples. There’s a huge difference in being a Christian and being a disciple.

This past Sunday I visited a church my friend attends. The service was beautiful, the people friendly, and the Eucharist was celebrated in a way that reminded me of the beauty of community. Our time together was holy. I left feeling far less alone in my faith. That’s a good thing…

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I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know my faith was never meant to be exclusive of other Jesus followers. The writer of Hebrews urges the Hebrew Christians to remain faithful to gathering together. It’s for their benefit and growth. It’s time for me to revisit this advice.

How About You?

What is your experience with this? I’d love to hear from others who struggle with this issue and how its resolution (of suggestions anyway).

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Feeling Revived!

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s beautiful Fall morning on the porch.I had an incredible weekend at the Red Letter Revival in Dallas. I couldn’t goFriday, but I was able to attend Saturday. What a Sabbath! The workshops wereamazing. The worship service Saturday night was what I always imagined ‘church’to be. The presence of God’s spirit was overwhelming! A huge thank you toeveryone who worked so hard to make the weekend possible.

The weekend fulfilled the promise of its name – revival. I feel revived, refreshed, and renewed. Going into this weekend I found myself tired and worn down – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The months since my hospital stay have been arduous, especially financially. Work, paying work, has been slow. Financial fear and frustration creep in despite my faith.

Most of my energies have been focused on Opal’s Farm. Compensation won’t start until later next year, but the initial footwork still must be done. Doing the “next right thing” can be scary at times. The only reason I mention this is because this weekend I received a reminder of God’s faithfulness.

I attended a workshop led by Rev. Edwin Robinson on “Undoing the Theology of Racism”. He started the workshop by singing and talking about ‘wading in the water’. He drew an analogy with Moses’ parting of the Red Sea as recorded in the Book of Exodus.

You see, Jews understand the event differently than most Christians. Moses didn’t simply put his foot in the water and the sea parted. He waded all the way in. It wasn’t until the water was up to his neck that the water began to part. Salvation from the pursuing Egyptians and the sea in front of them came when the water almost covered them, when they couldn’t see it coming.

That’s stuck with me all weekend. I’ve been feeling like the water’s up to my neck lately, the future unsure. That’s the feeling anyway. But that’s not the reality. Let me explain…

If I look back on my journey to this point in life, I can see that, God has always ‘parted the waters’ for me. Not just on occasion, but every time. Unfortunately, while I see clearly looking backwards, I’m flying blind while looking forward. Maybe that’s why they call it faith…

This weekend renewed my faith. Financially, there’s more month than money right now. Physically, I feel refreshed and ready to greet the day. Mentally, I’m still fearful but somehow less stressed. Most importantly, I feel revived spiritually. I’ve struggled with the whole idea of ‘church’.  I take the words of the Rabbi literally. Sometimes I think I’m one of the few when I see what others do in Jesus’ name.

I believe that Jesus “meant what He said”. I believe that following His instruction can help me become the man Idream of being: of loving God and loving others with all my heart, mind, and spirit. I believe that He really did bring good news of the Kingdom of God and I want to share it.

My heart and my spirit tell me that Opal’s Farm is a tangible way for me to share that good news. Not by words, but by example. Jesus feed the hungry, why shouldn’t I? The Apostle James said that “faith without works is dead”. In other words, walk the walk. If you believe it, act like it.

Finally, this weekend reminded me that I’m not alone. There’s a multitude of wonderful people of faith, Kingdom people who seek God’s will “on Earth as it is in Heaven”. I really needed that reminder.

So, thank you Red Letter Christians for putting together a great weekend. To learn more about the Red Letter Movement, visit www.redletterchristians.org . Colorful