Monday, December 17, 2018

What makes a good gift? Part II

In the our last post I argued that a "good gift" is one which invites the recipient to move into a closer relationship with the giver. This invitation to relationship demonstrates the value that the gift-giver has for the recipient, and that value is integral to the happiness that comes with receiving the gift.  These dynamics of "invitation" and "demonstration of value" are present in the smallest of gifts (a child's art project given to a parent) and the largest (an engagement ring).

From that starting place, our questions today are: How do the above principles of "invitation" and "demonstration of value" play out at Christmas and in the gospel? And what might they mean for us as gift-givers and disciples of Christ?

First, Christmas is the celebration of God's gift to us: Jesus Christ, the very embodiment of God. The gift of the infant Jesus was driven by God's desire to be in right relationship with us... In fact, the gift of God's presence itself created the means for the relationship to develop. Note here that the gift is obviously given in expectation of a return: God expects humans to respond to his initiation of relationship by giving themselves in return to know, follow and love Jesus.

Second, we often hear in descriptions of the gospel that the gift of God's grace is "free" or "unconditional." While it is true that God's grace (more concretely, the gift of Christ's death on our behalf) cannot be earned and is given without any prior conditions, it not "unconditional." The gift is given with an expectation of a return. Humans are to respond to the gift by moving closer to God relationally, namely, by surrendering their lives to Jesus and giving him their loyalty and obedience. The gift of God given through the death of Jesus is the ultimate gift, as it gives the highest possible value to the recipient- the value of the life of God's Son- in order to create the possibility of reconciliation in the relationship between God and humans.

If we understand God's gift-giving at Christmas and in the gospel of Jesus we can come to a few conclusions about our own gift-giving and discipleship:

1. The greatest gifts we can give require giving of ourselves. In other words, if our gifts are to be significant they will mean giving time, energy, empathy and attention to the recipient. We imitate Christ when we give of ourselves to another. Of course, this can be very inconvenient, messy and costly, which is why it is also uncommon. I challenge all of us to take time to consider how we will be open (or to pray for the grace to be open!) to deepen relationships with the people who will receive gifts from us. If we can't be open to deepening those relationships, both theoretically and logistically, then we might ask why we're giving them gifts...

2. A fitting celebration of Christmas is all about our acceptance of God's invitation to deepen our relationship with Him. We can go through all the trappings and churchy events of Christmas, but if we're to busy to actually take this invitation to move closer to God then our celebration is hollow. Can we put our surrender to Jesus' will (what would make for a good celebration in His eyes?) ahead of our expectations (demands!) and desires for our Christmas celebrations?

3. The task of a disciple is to imitate the master. The primary method that Jesus used for making disciples was giving of himself. Before any teaching, training or directing Jesus gave of himself to the people God sent Him to. The very foundation of His mission was His presence; Jesus was constantly sacrificing in order to be present and give His time, energy, attention and empathy to His people.

If we claim to be Jesus' disciples, then we too are called by God make disciples. I believe our first question in that process is, "Who am I sent to?" After we answer that- and before anything else- our task is follow Jesus' example and begin giving of ourselves to that group of people. It is our job to demonstrate their value, and invite them into relationship, through the gifts of our time, energy, empathy and attention. May all of us disciples of Jesus take this Christmas lesson, that God's work begins with sacrificial giving, and boldly give of ourselves to the people God has sent us to through this Christmas season and into the new year ahead.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

What makes a good gift?

In case you hadn’t noticed, Christmas shopping is kind of a big deal. Small and mid-sized retailers make 20-40% of their annual profits during holiday season. Over 55% of all American consumers participate in holiday sales beginning on Black Friday alone. And, drum roll please, about 25% of Americans are still paying off their Christmas debts from last year (scary!). As I said, it’s a big deal.

There are many reasons for this annual binge in gift purchasing. There’s tradition: it’s just what we do for Christmas, right? And there’s obligation: we don’t want co-workers and extended family members thinking we’re stingy, right? And of course there’s a great amount sincere desire to bless others and mark the holiday as well.

Lost in this craze of finding and buying (and financing!) gifts is a rather important question: what makes a good gift?  There are as many different answers to this question as there are gift purchasers, but here are a few common answers to the above question…

Answer One: It’s helpful.
Utility is often our go-to for gift giving. What does this person need? Surely, if I can correctly identify the need and supply a gift-wrapped solution I will have blessed and served the gift recipient, right? There is much to commend in this strategy, as it seeks the betterment of the other and is not overtly driven by the tastes of the gift giver. However, this strategy of gift purchasing, for all of its pragmatic appeal, usually falls flat. Frankly, most people are not great at determining the needs of others and finding a good solution for them. Remember, nobody likes being fixed! And, the most pragmatic gifts (money and gift cards), do not always indicate a high degree of investment in the gift giving process. While they are always nice, they are not always thoughtful.

Answer Two: It’s what they say they want.
There’s a lot of overlap here with the first answer, the only difference being that this option avoids the “let me fix you” issue. The same issue arises with regard the problem of (potential) thoughtlessness, and, this answer sometimes boils down to a utilitarian agreement in families (“you get me what I want and I’ll do the same for you”). This strategy, while efficient, hardly exudes the Christmas spirit. (It should be noted, however, that if there are “interesting” family dynamics at play this is a safe place to land!)

Answer Three: It’s a surprise.
What this answer really points to is the truth that a good gift brings a sudden, and positive, emotional response. The surprise gift is all about the moment of discovery, and the happiness it creates. I believe all great gifts offer this “moment of discovery.” However, the element of surprise is not enough in and of itself, as we’ve all gotten surprise gifts that were not helpful, not wanted, thoughtless and not good gifts.

Answer Four: It required a sacrifice.
Okay, now we’re closing in on a good answer. If you receive a gift that you know required sacrifice to give you are almost always going to be touched by it. That’s true even if you don’t like the item given. The sacrifice made will make an emotional impact on you and you’ll recognize the significance of the gift. That being said, even sacrificial gifts can flounder, particularly when the actions and attitudes of the gift giver do not align with the sacrificial nature of the gift. When these two are out of line, the gift is met with cynicism and suspicion. If a sacrificial gift is given, therefore, it must be partnered with a relational commitment (more on this below).

Answer Five: It seeks nothing in return.
For many people this is the ultimate answer, and many people believe a true gift requires nothing in return. What is celebrated in this answer is the idea of gift giving as a wholly selfless act, designed only to bless the recipient. Much of philanthropy falls (or wants to be seen as falling) in this category, and the “anonymous gift giver” is often put forward as the ideal gift giver. BUT, there is a major problem with this answer. While this gift giving style avoids some of the obvious pitfalls of bad gift giving (forced reciprocity, exerting relational control, shaming, self-promotion, etc.) it ultimately prevents the gift giving process from arriving at the proper goal, which is explained below…

My Answer: A good gift invites the recipient into deeper relationship with the giver.
Our reaction to the great gifts that we’ve received reveals the answer to our question. What do we do when we get a meaningful or wonderful gift? We immediately go to the giver! We look at them, we smile at them, we hug them, we call them, we write them-  we move relationally toward them. A great gift invites us deeper into relationship with the giver. We feel this invitation given through many of the answers discussed above (sacrifice, helpfulness, no self-promotion, effort in making a surprise, etc.). Furthermore, it is this invitation to relationship which ultimately communicates our value in the eyes of the giver. Their valuing of us, demonstrated by a gift or giving process that invites relationship, is the most significant part of the gift giving dynamic.

If a gift is given without any relational invitation then it will probably not be meaningful to us, and can be potentially offensive. This dynamic is where so much charity, governmental and “mission” work fails, as it is devoid of relational invitation. On the other hand, all sorts of gifts- large and small, surprise or anticipated, helpful or purely sentimental- can be wonderful gifts if they demonstrate to us the desire of the giver to be grow closer to us.

In our next post I will discuss how this concept of gift giving lines up with the Christmas story, and indeed with the gospel as a whole, and how we might leverage it to better love our neighbors.

Until then, and as always, I invite your thoughts, concerns and rebuttals!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Update Time!

Well faithful readers, I know I owe you an apology... I have been seriously slacking on the blogs! But, it's never too late to turn it around, so here are a few tidbits about what's been going on with Burning Bush Communities...


November was a big month for Cultivate, our youth ministry in Pine Manor, as we had many new students from the neighborhood join us. While the kids are always ready for dinner and usually ready for some high-energy and messy games, they also continue to engage with us in discussing serious topics. Over the last six weeks we've had some meaningful discussions about relationships, the power of words (for good and bad), God's hopes for our lives, and the reality that we all have to deal with our selfishness.

Please continue to pray for our students and leaders. Our students face an enormous amount of conflict in their lives, particularly in their neighborhood, and our constant prayer is that they would be protected from those who would harm them and that they would make wise decisions. Please pray that our boys walk away from those who want to fight, and avoid the spaces where fights are inevitable. For our leaders, pray that we grow as team (everyone using their gifts) and that we are energized as we serve.

Welcome to the team, Lauren!
Over the last month we are thrilled that two of our local missionaries have kicked off their efforts! Carlos and the Sensible Outreach Solutions team are joining us to serve in Pine Manor, and are working to gain trust with an eye on establishing a community dedicated to walking with families through crisis situations.

And our south Lee County missionary, Lauren Salmon, is working diligently to establish her presence at Discovery Village at the Forum, where she is launching a choir for residents this month! Way to go Lauren! We love your heart for sharing Jesus with our overlooked neighbors!

At long last, our building renovation is almost complete! We are hoping to be inspected by the end of next week, and cannot wait to get in. We've had some great conversations recently with folks who have a dream to use the space to share Christ's love with their neighbors, and are excited to see what doors God opens once the space is fully available.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Slowly But Surely...

Well faithful readers, you must be feeling many different emotions right now: shocked, confused, possibly overjoyed, and with good reason, given the significance of the occasion. Come on, two blog posts in one week!?  It's hard to believe, but here we are.

In all seriousness though, I wanted to give you all a quick update on the space that Burning Bush is renting and renovating at 3594 Broadway. Many of you know that we applied for the permit the first week of July, and we were chomping at the bit to get started. So we chomped, and chomped, and chomped, until we learned that everything with renovating moves painfully slow!

We wound up getting the permit in early September, and since then have trudged through demolition and some water and electrical issues, and hopefully (fingers and toes crossed) we will be finishing a couple of walls early next week and then painting before inspections begin.

Below are a few pictures of the outside of the building (which was a medical building), and then you can see inside our suite some of the work in progress...

The front building is a pharmacy which faces Broadway. But if you keep coming back...

... you'll find our suite tucked into the first corner!
The main area as seen from the door.

Another angle of the main area.

A conference room to be.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Please Don't Touch My Idols!

What are your idols of choice?

Don’t have any? Are you sure of that?

Idolatry is, in biblical thought, the longest running, most damaging and most pervasive human problem. While it is generally seen in contemporary life as a relic of the ancient world (who worships a golden calf these days?), idolatry is just as potent and common today as it ever was. This is because idolatry is ultimately not driven by the object/item worshiped (i.e. a statue, a dollar bill, a chemical feeling of happiness), but is instead driven by the human condition, which is always in search of validation, vindication or escape… which are what the idols offer the worshiper.

A few months back I read a brilliant (and difficult) little book, Sharing Possessions, by a theologian named Luke Timothy Johnson. If you get the chance, read some of his stuff, it’s quality! In this book, Johnson offers a brilliant assessment of idolatry: what it is, why it exists, and how we can find it in our lives. Below, I am quoting my favorite part of this discussion, and encourage you to read it and reflect on your own life. But reader beware, because if you are honest here you might find some painful truths… I know I did!

From Sharing Possessions, pages 49-53…

Idolatry, in simple terms, is the choice of treating as ultimate and absolute that which is neither absolute nor ultimate. We treat something as ultimate by the worship we pay it, meaning here, of course, neither the worship of lips or of incense but of service. Worship is service. Functionally, then, my god is that which I serve by my freedom. Whatever I may claim as ultimate, the truth is that my god is that which rivets my attention, centers my activity, preoccupies my mind, and motivates my action. That in virtue of which I act is god; that for which I will give up anything else is my god. Diagnostically, I can tell what my god is by seeing what it is around around which the patterns of my life organize themselves.

Our lives, after all, do form patterns. Our freedom is not found in scattered outbursts of random activity, but in the shaping of a direction. There is in all our lives some sort of consistency in response to situations… The patterns in our lives form about the deep and usually unarticulated attitudes we hold towards ourselves, the world, and others. Within this fundamental orientation of our lives, our personal project of existence is being formed. The choices we make at this moment or that flow out of this orientation and either strengthen it or weaken it…

Phenomenologists of religion have been telling us for some time that the human creature is one that inevitably centers itself in this world, and does so by choice, The primordial sense of creatureliness, that is, our accurate perception that we are powerless and without self-generated worth, moves the human creature to seek power and worth in something outside the self. The human organism is instinctually impoverished and existentially threatened; meaning does not come to us automatically or easily. We do not have a place in the world given simply by birth and instinct as do cats and dogs. Somehow, it is in the centering activity of our freedom that we seek this place in the world and our significance. Where the center is located determines the pattern of human activity… It is from the center that the human person expects power, meaning, identity, worth- everything, in short, which should go with being.

We are lonely creatures, then, who find ourselves lacking worth and meaning (we are not the sufficient cause of our own being) and who feel impelled to seek them outside ourselves. Where we identify the source of our life and power (our being) and our worth is for us our center, and our center organizes the patterns of our perceptions from which our actions flow. Where the center is, there is our god.

Some questions like the following may help us get the point: What is it, really, that enables us to get up and face each day’s activity? What is it that we will make room for during the day, no matter how busy our schedule? By what measure do I look back over the day, or week, or year, and consider it a success or a failure? In the daily round, is the high point the end of work and the beginning of leisure? The first drink? Is that which I will fit into my schedule no matter what my three mile jog? When I lie awake in my bed with a feeling of discontent, is it because I did not get done all the work I intended to do that day, or did not get some time to myself, or did not spend time with my children and wife, or looked foolish in a conference, or dread facing a job interview tomorrow? When I look at others of my own generation, as I suspect we all do, and think about “where I am” in my life, what measurement do I use? Do I think of myself as a success or failure in relation to others, and on what basis- my health, my wealth, my work, my fame, my family, my power over others, my good looks? These are not complicated questions, but they are, for most of us, difficult ones, for they have a way of locating our center. And this brings us back to idolatry, For, if idolatry is a functional phenomenon, the real question comes when I ask, “Where is it that the meaning and power of my individual human life is sought? In what or where do I seek my sense of worth and identity? What is it, seen or unseen, which is the ‘bottom line’ for me, the source of my hope? What is it without which life would not be worth living? What is it for which I move and act, without which I stumble and fall? What gets me depressed? What is it, in my actual life, that functions as my god?”

Counterfeits are the more dangerous the closer they come to the genuine article. No one is much hurt by a wooden nicker, for no one is fooled by it. But people can be badly hurt by artfully printed thousand dollar bills… the important idolatries have always centered on those forces which have enough specious power to be truly counterfeit, and therefore truly dangerous: sexuality (fertility), riches, and power (or glory).

The attractiveness of idolatry lies in its claim to manipulate ultimate power; the folly of idolatry lies in the fact that any power which can be manipulated cannot be ultimate. The idolater says, “This which I can see and feel and handle and use, which is within my disposition, is the ultimate source of my worth, my identity, my security, my being. The power I have is the measurement of my value”… Idolaters are persons who, filled with the terror of nonbeing and worthlessness- the built-in threat of contingency- must construct their own worth (as the Scriptures have it), “with the works of their own hands.”

When we hand over the measurement of ourselves to forces which are just as much created as we are, then our gods are truly illusory… This illusion and folly is completely compatible, we should note, with a verbal confession of the “true god”; idolatry flourishes as much within orthodoxy as without. We can pledge allegiance to the most orthodox and theologically discriminating of creeds; it does not matter, Idolatry is found in the service of the heart, the way we concretely and existentially dispose of our freedom…

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Cynicism, "Christian" Leadership Failure, and a Proposal

What are you most cynical about?

What group of people are you most cynical towards?

For me, that’s an easy question to answer: celebrity “Christian” leaders, and the less-popular Christian leaders who imitate them.

I understand that I need to work on this. I’m not proud of it, but it is the truth.

A primary source of discouragement in my faith is the behavior of “Christian” leaders period. From Willow Creek to the ongoing Catholic scandals to the “Court Evangelicals” and beyond there is a super-abundance of evidence that churches are hiring and supporting men (let’s call it what it is) whose character is not even up to snuff for our lowly cultural standards, much less the standards of Christ. 

All of this raises two questions for me:
One, what is it that churches are looking for in leaders that creates this problem?
Two, what should churches be looking for in leaders?

Much could be written in reply to these questions, but I’m just going to offer two brief opinions on them.

First, it seems churches are most concerned with hiring people who are “effective.” That is, they are people who can fill seats on Sunday morning and can get the church’s staff to competently run the supporting programs needed to keep the people in the seats happy (children’s ministry, parking, communication, etc.). What that means is that these leaders are, above all, highly skilled communicators. They can capture and hold the attention of an audience, and they can inspire a staff and volunteers to run solid supporting programs. So, it all boils down to hiring a communicator… that’s what they are looking for. 

Now, let me be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with hiring great communicators. It’s a wonderful thing to have a communicator on a leadership team who can do the items listed above. BUT, being a great communicator SHOULD NOT be the reason someone is hired to lead a church or is put in any position of spiritual authority. When it is the primary reason you entrust leadership to someone, you get the situation that we have now… abuse, lies, cover-ups, fraud and all the rest.

So, what should we be looking for in leaders?

To answer that question, I am going to enlist the help of Douglas Campbell, a New Testament scholar who just wrote a helpful book entitled Paul: An Apostle’s Journey. While I do not agree with all of Campbell’s theological claims in the book, his discussion of how the mission of the church should dictate the selection of Christian leaders is spot on. Below is an excerpt that I believe gets at the heart of this issue. While it might seem tangential at first, keep reading! You have to understand the part about how people learn (in this case, to imitate Christ) before you can understand Campbell’s assertions regarding leadership selection.

“As Aristotle said some time ago, the goal of ethics is also the means. What he meant was that the goal of our activity—here, right living—is approached through right living. This seems obvious at first glance, but actually it isn’t. What he is claiming—along with most of the ancient moral tradition that Paul stood within, but not our modern traditions—is that ethics has to be learned, and, further, that it is best learned in community. Putting things succinctly, communality is learned communally… To teach people to relate lovingly, then (which Campbell presents as a central goal of the church), we must construct a loving community and live in it, copying its most loving members.

When we consider this quickly, it seems incredibly obvious. When we press on it harder, however, it is anything but. Most of our pedagogies are not set up imitatively, and this might explain why most of them are so ineffective at transforming people’s actual relationality and relating. Protestants have long placed their faith in the transforming power of the preached word. They are frequently surprised at how little the communication of information about the Bible and from its texts—however eloquently and passionately done—changes the behavior of its churchgoing listeners. How unsurprising though. There is nothing to imitate here, or to copy. People cannot copy a preacher except by becoming a preacher, and that activity can leave a lot of other moral activity unaddressed. Writing a book will not change much either. It can help, but it can only be secondary to the main business of constructing healthy learning communities out of people that are influenced by people…

We have already noted that the basic relationship is imitative. People copy people. But who copies whom? We come face-to-face here with the irreducibly elite nature of a learning community, and we shouldn’t get too upset by this. Sociologists have long confirmed that all communities have elites. Every community has leaders and followers. There just aren’t any alternatives to this. The $64,000 question is not, should we should have elites? but what sort of elites should we have? The answer for Christian communities is that we should have Christian leaders who are characterized by the relational qualities that we want everyone else to copy.”

Campbell, Douglas A.. Paul: An Apostle's Journey (Kindle Locations 1302-1306). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

I can't help but think that if we took Campbell's suggestion here about how Christian leaders are selected seriously- and added to it some statements about demonstrating a vibrant and bold faith along with some ministry training and experience- we'd be on our way to a much better way to selecting leaders. And, as an added bonus, we might experience far less cynicism-inducing moral failure from the people who lead our churches.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Introducing Cultivate

What’s life without a little irony?

If you had asked me a year ago what the chances were that I’d be working on a start-up youth ministry for at-risk teens in Fort Myers this fall, I would’ve said slim… very slim… possibly non-existent.

Many years ago now I left a job in Costa Rica working with at-risk youth to do the seminary and ministry to adults thing. At that time, I said that while I was tremendously blessed for the eight years I got to work with at-risk youth, I was ready to move on (permanently) to something different.

And somewhere God chuckled.

When Amy and I decided to launch a local missionary network last year one of our guiding principles was, “Who are the people that the established churches are not serving or seeking with Christ’s love?” We then set out to find those people and to see if God would open a door for us to build relationships with them, serve them, and reveal the Kingdom amongst them. That mission took us down many different streets, but we never received the green light we were looking for to put all our effort into one place.

This past June I was reasonably frustrated with the situation (it had been a tough spring for a variety of reasons), and at a loss for where we were supposed to be. And it was, of course, when I threw up my hands and said, “Okay God, you’re going to have to make something happen here,” that He did. He kicked a door wide open in fact, with just one catch… the people we were called to serve were at-risk youth.

That divine irony thing… get’s me every time!
(When I was 23 I also cursed God and swore I’d never go back to church. Yup, I’m that guy.)

So, for the last four months we’ve been hanging out a few times a week with a group of about 15 teens who are growing up in a particularly challenging neighborhood in Fort Myers. (Here's an example of what goes on in their neighborhood.) They are bright, funny and full of life, but face some very significant challenges in their surroundings.

Nothing like trusting another 13 year old when you're blindfolded
Four weeks ago we officially kicked off Cultivate, a ministry aimed at sharing God’s love with these teens and helping them develop their God-given gifts. Each Wednesday we are gathering to play games, eat dinner, and to talk life and faith. Through the ministry the youth will have mentors, and will have the opportunity to earn special outings and activities (through grades, serving others, meeting goals, attendance, etc). We have a long way to go, but as I write today I’m filled with joy and thankful to God for leading us to this community and for throwing a little irony and adventure into our lives in the process.

All that being said, if you are local and would like an opportunity to serve some great young men and women please let me know! We have many needs that could be addressed by all kinds of people. And to everyone reading this blog, please pray for us that we would lead this group with an abundance of grace, love and truth, and that we would continually point the guys to Jesus with our words and
The champs in action!

No injuries were sustained...

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Finishing Up Mark

In the last section of Mark’s gospel we discover the final, and most important, identity of Jesus: Son of God. This is where Mark’s story began (1:1) and in these last chapters we come full circle, albeit with very different and a deeper understanding of the significance of those words.

In Jesus’ day calling someone the “son of God” was simply another way of calling them “the king.” Numerous ancient kings took the title “son of god” (including Caesar Augustus), claiming that their rule was ordained by god and that they were the mediators of god’s (or the gods’) will for their people. In Israel this concept was slightly modified, in that the king was not the law-giver or the mouthpiece of God (those positions were held by the Torah and by the prophets). However, the idea that the king was God’s chosen ruler was still there (again, this was connected to the Son of David idea that we discussed in the previous post) and therefore when other Jewish characters (like the High Priest in 14:61) say “Son of God” they basically mean what we said for “messiah.” 

Redefining “Son of God”

At this point you might think we’ve already covered all this territory, but here’s the thing: Jesus redefines what it means to be Son of God. Through Mark’s gospel we learn that the Son of God is…

… the Son of Man, who is persecuted and suffers and is then lifted to victory by God and exalted. In other words, being God’s Son does not simply mean reigning on high apart from the struggle below. Rather, it means sacrificing oneself for the sake of God’s people, and through this sacrifice becoming the instrument of their victory. (Jesus alludes to Daniel 7:13-14, 21-22, and 23-27 in his speech about the destruction of the temple and in his own trial, and these references point to a prophecy of a “Son of Man” who suffers and is exalted by God… Jesus actively seeks this role!)

… the true Image of God (Col. 1:15), who reveals the Father’s heart and character through the passion and love he demonstrated in going to the cross for the sake of humanity. It is at the moment of Jesus’ final agony and death that the centurion under the cross declares him to be the Son of God (Mark 15:39). This indicates that Jesus’ death itself was revelatory; through it the love of the Father was revealed, as was his unique relationship with the Son, which spurred on the Son’s sacrifice (see also Mark 1:11 and 9:7).

… the Resurrected One, who has overcome evil and death and possesses in himself eternal life and the complete authority of God. His kingship is revealed to be eternal, and his call and invitation for people to follow him (i.e. give him their allegiance) continues to go forth after his death and resurrection, with the promise that his disciples will share in his eternal life and kingdom.

Where does this redefinition leave us?

This consideration of Jesus as the Son of God leads us back to the previous post, in which I said Jesus wasn’t about helping us get what we want (“win”) out of life. Rather, I said that he wanted us to renounce our own agenda and interests (“deny ourselves”) in favor of God’s agenda, even if that meant loss and death (“pick up your cross”). That of course then begged the question, “Why be a disciple of Jesus if it might cause me to lose what I want for this life?”

While I partially answered that question by pointing to Jesus’ character and trustworthiness as a leader, it was not the moment to discuss the “incentives” of following Jesus. But now that we have a little understanding of Jesus as the Son of God, it is appropriate to name why we follow Jesus… note that it’s not just about “going to heaven when we die!”

We follow Jesus because in him (in his very being) is the eternal life of the Kingdom of God, which He offers to those who, as disciples, give him their allegiance. This means we can receive that life now (via the Holy Spirit) in part, and look forward to receiving that life fully on the day of the resurrection when the Kingdom is established in power. 

We follow Jesus because he is our champion: the one who willingly and lovingly laid down his life to defeat sin and death, atone for our sins and reconcile us with God our Father. Jesus possesses the true authority of God, who is always giving of himself in love in order that life and blessing might be received by others. His authority does not simply rest on his power (though he has all the power needed) but also on his love. 

Further, as one who struggled and sacrificed as a human like us, he is a faithful and merciful guide as we navigate the difficulties and disappointments of life, including our own sins and errors. We can trust him to lead us because he knows the way of God, the way to God and the obstacles that face us on our journey.

It is hard, and scary, to let go of our own interests and desires and to let Jesus have control over our lives and our full allegiance. But it is a wise trade in the end, because,  in the words of Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” The invitation to follow Jesus, the Son of God, and to receive His love and His life, is the greatest gift we could ever receive. So much so, that it is indeed worth losing everything we could possess or desire apart from Him. I and  And that, in the end, is what the Gospel of Mark is all about.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Gridiron Glory Days and Mark #4

105 pounds of pure power...
Have you ever been excited to take on a challenge or risk, and then as soon as it began in earnest realized that it was a bad idea?

When I was in 8th grade I tried out for the football team. I was a solid backyard football player at that point in my life; I could catch, run and even tackle reasonably well. My one problem was that I only weighed 105 pounds. Being so small, I knew that I had to prove to the coaches I was not afraid to get hit and mix it up with bigger players.

So when our first “hitting day” rolled around I decided to roll the dice. I was put in the “B” group of hitters, meaning that we had done well (we weren’t group C), but we weren’t top level. At the end of practice, our coach allowed anyone from group B to challenge anyone from group A to a one on one hitting drill (the goal was to block the other guy down or out of the lane). In a moment of insanity, I jumped up and challenged the second best blocker/tackler on our team, who played middle linebacker and full-back, and probably out weighed me by at least 50 pounds. 

As we walked over to the drill area and got down in our stances I knew that I didn’t have a prayer of knocking this guy down, and there was a good chance of me getting crushed in front of the team and many onlookers. And the little voice in my head said, “What the ____ were you thinking John!” (fill in blank as you see fit). But it was too late to repent; the coach had the whistle in his mouth… And for the end of the story you’ll have to make it to the end of the blog…

So at this point you might be thinking, “What does that story have to do with the Gospel of Mark?”
Well, today we’re taking on sections four (8:31-10:45) and five (10:46-13:37) in Mark’s gospel, and in these scriptures we learn that Jesus is: One, the Son of Man, who is destined to lay down  his life in loving service to God and God’s people; and two, the Son of David, meaning the true earthly king and authority of Israel who will not avoid conflict or back down from those who don’t recognize his rule. The result of these two identities of servant and messiah being faithfully held by Jesus will be Jesus’ death. And the disciples, who were undoubtedly enthusiastic about Jesus the Messiah in Mark 8:29, are in these sections struggling mightily to follow through with their own professions of faith, and perhaps wondering what on earth they were thinking in following Jesus in the first place!

Section Four: A Few Takeaways

Four times in this section (just two chapters) Jesus predicts his suffering and death… Mark is not being subtle here! Jesus identifies himself repeatedly as the Son of Man in this section, and it is clear that for him this meant he would give his life away for his people. To be the Son of Man was to serve (10:45). And of course this stood in stark contrast to the hopes of his disciples, who believed that by virtue of being Messiah Jesus would cruise to an earthly victory over the enemies of God and Israel… If there are any doubts about the disciples struggling with Jesus’ decision making here note that the section begins with Peter attempting to rebuke Jesus for even speaking about being killed (8:32).

Jesus’ determination to give his life away in obedience to God is held up against those who are looking to secure their own interests… such as approval or recognition by others (9:34), exclusive claims on Jesus (9:38), self-importance (10:13), wealth and possessions (10:17-25), home and family (10:29), and glory (10:37). Jesus reveals that discipleship means a willingness to part with each of these items for the sake of the Kingdom, even if they are good and desirable things in many other contexts.

The competing claims between these “desirables” (just listed) and Jesus’ way sheds light on what Jesus meant in 8:34 when he said that any disciple of His would have to “deny himself.” Many people think Jesus is talking about “self-denial” here in the sense of going on a diet, abstaining from pleasures, and avoiding things we otherwise like. But that’s not what Jesus is after. To deny oneself in this case means to renounce any claims (like ownership) we have over our lives. The Greek word used here for “deny” will be the word that Peter uses to deny he knows Jesus. Further, it was the word used by others in the Roman world to renounce political allegiances. To “deny ourselves” is to renounce our own rule over our lives, and to give that rule to God, via Jesus.

Section Five: One Takeaway

Jesus is the authority: that is the briefest way to sum up section five. This section begins with Jesus recognized as the Son of David by a blind beggar (10:46, don’t miss the irony), and Bartimaeus’s words should be noted. To be the “Son of David” was to be an authority in Israel. Jesus then proceeds to show off that authority in his last week: setting up a mock royal entrance to Jerusalem (11:1-8), stopping sacrifice at the Temple to deliver a prophet condemnation (11:15-17), cursing a fig tree as an illustration of judgment on the Temple (11:21), claiming authority in front of the chief priests (11:33 and 12:9-11), and delivering authoritative teaching on the resurrection (12:24-27), the greatest commandment (12:29-31), and the future destruction of Jerusalem (13:1-30).

A Disciples’ Problem: Then and Now

“What is Jesus thinking?” Surely those words (in a variety of tones) crossed the disciples’ minds as they journeyed towards Jerusalem and watched Jesus throw the gauntlet down once he arrived there. What kind of person makes a huge authority claim (to be king!) and yet presents himself as a servant who is unwilling to fight (physically), even in the face of manifestly unjust and false authorities? Shouldn’t he know that those things will get him killed, and possibly the disciples with him? Surely this is not what the disciples thought they were signing up for when they left their nets! They didn’t sign up to die with Jesus; they signed up to WIN with Jesus!

Win with Jesus… that sounds like a slogan that might (unfortunately) very well exist!

Win with Jesus is a problem because Jesus wasn’t interested in “winning,” or at least how we define winning. Jesus was about doing God’s will. Apparently he didn’t care if that made himself, or anyone else, happy or comfortable or wealthy or popular or wise or whatever. He was about God’s will because he loved God, and he loved his neighbor (that great commandment thing again, Mark 12:29!).

Many people (all of us?) are interested in Jesus because of what we think he can do for us. And there’s something true and good in that. Jesus was and is a healer, and a savior, and laid down his life for us (Gal. 2:20). But at some point we have to face the fact that Jesus is not ultimately interested in our success or happiness or desires apart from God’s Kingdom and God’s will. And therefore, if we are his disciples, we must continually fight to renounce our pursuit of our own good and interests (i.e. success, happiness, etc.) and turn over the keys of our life to Him. 

That might not sound what you or I signed up for. Admittedly, few people are attracted to slogans like “Deny yourself!” or “Come Die with Me!”. So why hang in there? Why keep following Jesus? Why go through with this difficult and painful journey of renouncing ourselves when Jesus doesn’t promise any “winning” in this life?

I have two things to say to those questions today:

First, wait for the next blog post when I will answer those questions at length!

Second, perhaps we have a ray of hope here: a true authority who gives away his life in love for God and others. Think about that… not something you see everyday. Most of us have big-time problems with authority, and many of our reasons for being skeptical of authorities are justified (just pick up a history book to know why). At the heart of these authority problems is our lack of trust. How can we trust anyone with power in a world like ours? It is in this vacuum of trust that Jesus stands out. Though we can’t trust Jesus to give us what we want for ourselves (see above), maybe we can actually trust him because he doesn’t make that promise in the first place. The only things he promises to us are fellowship with him and a share of His life (more on this next time) until God’s Kingdom arrives. And instead of making this a sales pitch, he simply models what it looks like to give oneself to God in love and in trust, and invites us to join him. So why keep going with Jesus? Because he is trustworthy.

So… how did that whole football thing work out for me? Well, as soon as the coach blew the whistle I threw myself with all my might into my opponent… and got destroyed! Honestly, I as soon as the whistle blew I shot off and hit him hard but basically the next thing I knew I was on by back. Silver lining though: my willingness to challenge him and the fact that I initiated the contact (I was quicker than him) got me moved up to the “A” team, and I wound up being the last person to make the cut! (No joke, the coach actually pulled me aside the day the roster was announced and told me I was the last person to make the team because he was scared I could die if some of the really big guys hit me or fell on me… nice motivational speech to start the season!)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Walking through Mark #3

Messiah in training?
For most of my early life I believed that the word “messiah” was synonymous with “savior.” A messiah was someone like Luke Skywalker or Rodimus Prime (see Transformers: The Movie, 1986) who was destined to save the universe, bring balance to the force, and all that jazz through a singular (and possibly momentary) act of heroism.

Matrix of Leadership = Messiah?

While my definition of messiah got a few things right, it largely missed the mark of what scripture means when it says “the messiah.” When we read “messiah” in scripture (“christ” in Greek) we should really just think “king.” It technically meant “anointed one,” which more or less meant God’s chosen ruler (which could be fulfilled by a prophet or priest as well).

By the time of Jesus’ ministry the word “messiah” was a little more loaded with meaning, because Israel had not had a “true” king (descended from King David) in hundreds of years, and had been colonized and oppressed in that time. Those who looked for a messiah in Jesus’ day looked for a king who would restore Israel to glory, usher in a time of peace and prosperity, and deal with “the Gentile problem” (i.e. Israel’s oppression). There were many different takes on how these things would roll out, but the bottom line of all of them was that the Messiah would be the king of Israel.

This is important for us today because in the third section of Mark (6:31-8:30) we discover through the disciples and crowds that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel.

So how does Mark show us that Jesus is the Messiah?

Jesus picks up where Moses and David, Israel’s greatest leaders, left off.

We find Jesus in 6:31 in the wilderness with a large crowd and nothing for them to eat. If you know the Old Testament this should immediately remind you of Israel in the wilderness after they leave Egypt. And just as Moses asked God to provide and received manna, so Jesus prays and bread is provided for the crowd. The implication could not be clearer: Jesus is standing in Moses’ shoes, and is therefore leading an exodus of sorts in Israel.

Often overlooked in this story is a nod to David as well. We’re told Jesus has compassion on the people because they are “like sheep without a shepherd.” In the ancient world kings often spoke of themselves as shepherds, and of course the most famous shepherd (literal and figural) of all-time in Israel was King David, and he too spent many years in the wilderness before taking the throne. If Jesus is the true shepherd, then he stands in line with David.

In our next story (6:45-52), we find Jesus walking on water. Again, this should remind us of the Exodus, when the people miraculously cross the Red Sea. Here Jesus not only evokes Moses, but supersedes him by not even needing the waters to part. And finally, when Jesus is confronted by the scribes and Pharisees (7:1-23) he shows himself to be at the very least an authoritative interpreter of the law, and perhaps a law-giver as well. Again, our most famous law-giver and interpreter was Moses, and Jesus is now in his place.

Jesus shows his rule is meant for Gentiles (non-Jews) as well as for Israel and the Jews.
Many of the most treasured words and prophecies concerning the Messiah (or at least interpreted in that way) in the years leading up to Jesus spoke of the Messiah ending the conflict between Israel and the Gentile nations (Isa. 49:6-7, 2:3-4, Ps. 2:4-9, Dan. 7:14 etc.) In the stories of the Syrophoenician Woman, the Deaf Man, and Feeding the Four Thousand Jesus is most likely (obviously with the first) dealing with Gentiles. In these stories we see:

Gentiles submitting to Jesus (7:28)
Gentiles being healed in the same manner as Israelites (7:31-35)
Gentiles being fed in the same “Exodus” manner as Israelites (8:4-8)

In other words, Jesus is shown to be the king and shepherd of Gentiles too!

Peter tells us!
Of course this was the obvious one. At the closing story of this section, Jesus asks who the disciples who they think he is and Peter answers correctly by saying “the Christ,” (which means the messiah, 8:29). People often ask why Jesus then tells the disciples not to share this, and I think there are two good reasons. One, because if you are called king and there is already a king (Herod and essentially Pilate) you will find yourself in hot water pretty quickly. Two, because they don’t really know what it means for Jesus to be the “messiah.” Which leads us into our final issue…

What’s with the weird story of the half healing?

Why does Jesus only heal a guy half-way on his first attempt in 8:22-26? Or, better question, why does Mark tell us this story right before Peter’s confession? The best answer is that Mark is probably making a point about the disciples level of understanding. They are about to say that Jesus is the “messiah,” but they really don’t know what that means… they are the blind guy who thinks people look like trees (so he can see again, but not clearly) before he’s entirely healed!

So, what does it mean for us?
This section of Mark is a turning point in the story, because now the disciples know the first critical identity of Jesus: he’s the king. This is a substantial shift because teachers can be listened to and appreciated from a distance, and the powers of prophets can be admired at a distance, but a king makes an immediate claim of authority over us. You can be neutral with a teacher and avoid a prophet but if you have a king you either submit or you rebel.

It is crucially important for us to recognize this claim of Jesus’ that he is king. Many people want Jesus as their savior (the hero messiah of my youth), but far fewer really want him as their king. This is because kings demand obedience, and we generally prefer to do things our own way.

The most basic Christian confession was, and is, that Jesus is Lord (i.e. messiah/king). That’s what Peter gets right in 8:29. To be a disciple of Jesus then is NOT simply to trust that Jesus will forgive me if I trust in him or his death for me or believe he is a savior-hero. Rather, to be a disciple is to recognize Jesus’ kingship over us and everyone else, and in light of that, to obey him to the best of our ability. There of course are more key pieces to discipleship (namely, imitating Jesus in character and ministry) but it all begins with recognizing that he is the king and being willing to bend the knee to him. 

Bonus Points: What’s up with the numbers in the mass-feeding stories?

Many biblical scholars believe that the numbers we are given in the “mass-feeding” stories have symbolic significance… here is a little chart to give you some food (bread?) for thought!

Feeding 5000
5 Loaves
5 books in the Torah… “man does not live by bread alone…”; Think also of the ideal OT king who embodies and gives the Law to the people (Deut. 17:18-20)  

12 Baskets left over
12 tribes of Israel… there is enough for all of Israel
Feeding 4000
4000 People
4 is the number for “the whole”; 4 directions, 4 winds, 4 corners of the earth… in other words, the whole world is represented

7 Loaves, 7 baskets left over
7 represents the 70 Gentile nations traditionally taken from the genealogy Genesis 10… there is enough for the whole world

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Walking Through Mark #2

Today we are looking at the second section of Mark (4:35-6:30). The key to understanding this section of Mark's gospel is that it presents Jesus as a prophet. As we said in our previous post, Mark is allowing us to discover the key identities of Jesus through the eyes of his disciples and the crowds, and then using these identities to challenge us (again, through the disciples) to respond accordingly (i.e. repent).

When most people think about a prophet, they think about someone who “sees the future” or announces what God is going to do. And while announcing God’s actions is one thing that prophets did/do, it was not the most important or only role that prophets took. In general, the most important thing that a prophet did was to reveal God’s perspective about an issue (political, personal, worship related, etc.). Generally, these revelations were critical of standard practices, but not always.

That being said, the prophets that were most famous were not famous for what they “predicted” or even wrote, but for the deeds of power and miracles they were associated with. Moses, Elijah and Elisha (the latter two who did not spend much time “making prophecies”) were the most well-known prophets, and they were remembered for their miracles, or we might say, for their power.

 Jesus’ Power
All of the stories in this section of Mark focus on the extraordinary power of Jesus. And if we take a moment and parse out some details, we can see just how extraordinary they are…

Important details
Stilling the storm
The most significant OT miracles are about God’s power over water: creation, the Flood, the Exodus, and crossing the Jordan. Water is a symbol for chaos in the OT…Only God has power over water!
Jesus has been given power over the natural order and the chaos that naturally exists in the world.
Casting Out Legion
A Roman legion (6000 soldiers) was the most effective fighting unit (and the most feared) in the ancient world; Jesus is in Gentile territory, at night, by a man who has proven “invincible” to all prior restraints.
Jesus has complete dominion over the forces of evil in any location and at any time
Healing the Woman and Raising Jairus’s daughter
Jesus not even trying to heal the woman; No doctor could heal the woman; Resuscitation miracles extremely rare… Elijah and Elisha are directly evoked in raising a dead child.
Jesus has healing powers unmatched by any human doctor, and raising the dead is the rarest of miracles.
Granting the Twelve authority over unclean spirits (power to heal included in that)
The granting of power to a disciple reminds of Elijah and Elisha, but they never gave power to twelve at once!
Jesus has the ability to empower his disciples to participate in his work.

Faith and Fear
The proper response to the power of Jesus is “faith” (4:40; 5:34; 5:36; 6:6). This “faith” is not intellectual belief, but trust in Jesus’ power to overcome whatever is arrayed against the follower of Jesus. Whether it is a storm at sea, a disease, death or being sent out in the face of political opposition (the disciples being sent out in Herod’s territory) Jesus’ followers are facing conflict, and are invited to trust in him rather than flee and surrender.

Fear then is presented as the opposite of trust. The disciples are afraid in the storm; the villagers are afraid after Jesus heals the man possessed; the people of Jesus’ hometown are suspicious of his abilities and popularity (6:3). Note that the disciples actually take a step forward in not allowing fear to prevent their mission. Knowing that Herod had killed John, and being sent without provision would have been good reasons to fear, but instead the disciples choose to have faith and trust that Jesus will empower them to complete the task that he gives them.

Our Question

Of course, Mark is not writing his gospel in this manner (with fear and faith juxtaposed) simply to entertain careful readers. Rather, he is challenging his readers to observe their own lives and discipleship in light of this story. If we do understand the call of the Kingdom (part one, remember), are we living into it in trust? Are we looking to Jesus’ power as we face conflicts? Are we accepting the work (local mission!) that he is calling us to in belief that he has empowered us to do it?

To the extent that we can answer yes to any of the above questions we are accepting Jesus’ identity as an extraordinary prophet… but of course we can’t stop there! Stay tuned for part three. . .

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Walking through Mark #1

Today we are kicking off a three week tour through the Gospel of Mark! My goal is to post a couple
Come on, come on, come on, feel it!
of times a week and hit some of the key notes as some of our BBC folks read through this scripture. But whether you will be discussing Mark with us in person or not, I’d love to have you thinking about this gospel with us, and please feel free to send thoughts and questions!

Here is a five minute video I made that covers introductory matters and the first chapters: Mark Video One

Or, if you don’t want to watch the video, here are the highlights:

Roadmap for Mark:
Mark’s gospel unveils the identity of Jesus for us in a systematic fashion, as his book can be divided into six parts that all highlight one identity of Jesus. They are:

Jesus the Teacher: Mark 1:16-4:34
Jesus the Prophet: 4:35-6:30
Jesus the Messiah: 6:31-8:30
Jesus the Son of Man: 8:31-10:45
Jesus the Son of David:10:46-13:37
Jesus the Son of God: 14:1-16:8
(I got this structure from Richard Peace's Conversion in the New Testament, page 123.)

Mark invites his reader to move with the disciples and the crowds as they discover who Jesus is, with an eye of course on getting them to recognize him as the Son of God (which he tells us up front!). Note that as the disciples and crowd discover these identities they find Jesus’ challenges to them grow as well. From following him, to trusting him, to serving his mission, to denying themselves, to risking arrest by being with him and beyond, there is a correspondence between knowledge of who Jesus is and responsibility to act on it.

In the first chapters of Mark Jesus is perceived by the crowd and disciples to be a teacher of great significance. The heart of Jesus’ teaching is the "Kingdom of God." Jesus announces that the Kingdom has arrived with his ministry, and that people who put their faith in Jesus' message can begin living in the kingdom through the process of repentance. In ancient history and biography, a character’s first words are often a summation of their core message, so we can assume that wherever Jesus goes in Mark’s gospel his focus is on sharing the message that the “Kingdom has drawn near” and that people can “repent and believe” to receive it.

Note: When we hear the phrase “Kingdom of God,” we should think “rule/reign of God.” God’s authority and rule is being revealed through the ministry of Jesus, and those who follow Him are given the opportunity to learn to live with God as their King. Of course, this was the hope and desire of faithful Israelites, who were waiting for God’s rule to be established in Israel in a definitive fashion.

From the very beginning the call to be a disciple of Jesus (someone following Jesus to learn to imitate him) was a call to mission. Jesus’ first words to his future disciples let them know they will “fish for men” (1:17) After Jesus draws a crowd at Simon's (Peter) house (1:29-39) he wakes up early the next morning to pray and leave. This is Jesus’ standard operating procedure. He is always going to people who have not received the gospel of the Kingdom, with an intention to reveal the Kingdom and invite them to receive it (reveal and invite are key words for us!)… and his disciples are always doing this with him! The point is, discipleship and mission cannot be separated. Mission is context in which discipleship happens, and discipleship equips disciples for further mission. To be a disciple of Jesus is to participate in the mission of Jesus!

Note: Many people associate the concept of "imitation" with discipleship, and rightly so. However, many people only consider this imitation along the lines of character. That is, we want to be like Jesus in terms of being merciful, generous, truthful, etc. However, imitation should also include actions! I would argue that the most common action that Jesus takes in the gospels is to be with, train, teach and empower his followers. The point is, that if we are trying to imitate Jesus, we also should be working to be with, teach and empower others to do the same!

A final takeaway from this first section is that understanding Jesus’ announcement about the Kingdom is a prerequisite to all that follows. If one does not understand the nature of the call then one cannot “repent and believe the good news.” So while many in the church are absolutely correct in emphasizing that faith is more than simply intellectual understanding, it is certainly a irreplaceable piece of discipleship.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Back to School!

Back to work for Zach and the PJ Masks crew
Summer vacation is over!  

For the first time in my life I am saying those words with contentment, having now survived my first summer with two children in the house 24/7. So, thank you Lord for school, even if it’s just half-days!

But the important thing for you, fearless reader, is that now I have no excuse not to blog… so let’s get back to business!

This summer was a great time for the Halley family to get out town a few times ("vacation" may be a stretch) and refocus and we are excited for what this fall will bring for BBC. Here is a teaser for what’s to come:

We are launching a youth ministry for teens in Pine Manor this September. We spent the summer hanging out and getting to know them, and are excited about getting a group going after Labor Day. Our mission is to partner with the youth in Pine Manor to help them reach their God-given potential, and we will pursue this mission through mentoring, games, speakers, bible studies and special outings.

3594 Broadway
In June we leased a space about two miles from Lee Memorial Hospital, and are excited to be the first tenants at 3594 Broadway, which is a building dedicated to community development, collaboration and sustainable ministry. We are currently in the permitting process for some renovations, and we hope to move in to our space in early October.

Missional Community
This past Sunday we kicked off our first missional community, which is simply a group of followers of Jesus who are committing to growing together as disciples for the purpose of serving Jesus’ mission in our city. Over the next nine months our community will be dedicated to listening to God and each other, to serving our neighbors and to finding the places where we are called to reveal God’s love and purposes.

Finally, the Wednesday Word will be back this week! Our group will be working through Mark for the next three weeks, and I invite to join us in reading through the gospel and thinking about its implications for our lives. And I will, of course, be posting blogs on Wednesdays that wrestle with these scriptures.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

How Cheap Can a Man Eat, Part Four: The Aftermath

I love it but boy I'm tired of it!
Well friends, the simple diet experiment has come to an end!  And since I blabbed so much about it in the first place I figure I owe you all a recap of how it went and what I learned.

For those who missed all the hype at the outset, the simple diet experiment was a six-week experiment to see how cheap I could eat (in order to give more money to hunger relief) and to see if I could break my dependence on eating for comfort. My diet over the six weeks consisted of:

Rice and Beans
Bananas and Apples
Oatmeal with Raisins
Cheap veggies (carrots, onions, lettuce, tomatoes)
Protein Shakes
Some peanuts/peanut butter (this was unplanned- details below)

So… here are the results:

First off, the diet was exceptionally cheap. My wife Amy did the diet with me (75% of the time, anyways), and I think that between us we ate for about $200 over the six weeks. Honestly, this was even cheaper than expected. But consider this:

Seven days of homemade beans for two costs $2.
Seven days of rice for two costs about $1.50.
Seven days of oatmeal for two costs $4.
Seven days of 5 eggs/day costs about $6.
Seven days of bread for two (2 slices/person) costs about $6.

Throw in potatoes, fruits, veggies and protein powder and that was about it.

In general, the diet was actually not as hard as I thought it would be. I got some nice breaks from friends who invited us to dinner and to their homes, and I found that I can be pretty content with any of the above foods if they are seasoned and especially if there are sautéed onions involved.

However, there were two significant challenges. One, when I started running hard again during the diet I needed more calories, so I added some peanuts and peanut butter to avoid being perpetually “hangry.” Second, as expected, it was very hard to give up snacks at night. Admittedly, I cheated a couple of times, but found that all it took was something really small (couple bites of apple sauce, a few saltines, a graham cracker) to satisfy me. Since I didn’t get much sugar during the day, just that little bit at night or an extra pinch of salt did the trick.

 All that being said, I was THRILLED this past weekend to eat cereal again, and popcorn, and to NOT eat rice and beans. I think I could eat eggs about every day, and I even like oatmeal now (gasp!) but by the end I was so tired of rice and beans, that even my extremely bland sandwiches (of which I was previously tired of) seemed like a gourmet meal.

So what did we learn from all this?

One, it’s not hard to save money if you are willing to give up a little time for preparation. For example, a can of seasoned black beans costs about $1 and if we have black beans as a family we eat about a can and a half. But as I said above, we can eat black beans every day for a week for $2 if we buy them dry! It just takes a little time and effort to cook them and season them, but obviously that’s a huge difference. I realized in this process that this dynamic is at work in many food items we buy- we’re not paying for the food itself, we’re paying for the convenience of someone else preparing it to be eaten.

 Now you might say, “I don’t have time to prepare food, so I have to pay.” BUT, how much time do you spend deciding what to eat? And shopping for it? The beauty of the simple diet is that it takes NO time to decide what to eat (you don’t have options!) and I spend much less time at the store. So the time basically balanced out. This of course points to the other financial lesson here- make a list before you go to the store and stick to it! Even if something is a “good deal” you can only save money if you don’t spend it.

The big “breaking dependency” lesson I learned in this is that if you get rid of sugar and salt in 99% of what you eat you will truly appreciate and be satisfied by the 1% that you do get. Our favorite items are even more special if they are rare. We are content without them, and perhaps joyful with them. And that beats being unsatisfied/discontent without them and only satiated with them. 

So, now the question is, how do I integrate this into my life for the long-term? Right now, I’m thinking that I’ll take one week a month to eat simply for the original reasons of giving more to those in need and to serve as a reset against “living to eat.” But it could also work by spreading out the simple eating days in the month… like two simple eating days a week, or two or three stretches of three simple days in a row per month. (In general it’s best to lump them together so you can cook in bulk and save time.)

And now I turn the question to you, faithful reader. Do you agree with me that however it’s done, it’s worth giving up our favorites foods a few times a month to keep someone alive? If so, I urge you to act! Whether you forgo eating out a couple times a month, or fast for a day, or try out the simple diet, please consider making this small sacrifice so someone else can eat!  Check out for details on the organizations who leading the fight against hunger and who could transform our small sacrifices into saved lives.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Lights on Broadway

Well fearless readers, Burning Bush Communities has finally made it to Broadway!

No, no, not that Broadway. But who needs that anyway? We’ve got a much hotter and more “authentic” Broadway, with plenty of character(s) and even a few flashing lights (sirens count, right?). So basically we made it to the top!  

Okay, enough jokes. Today we are signing the lease for our new space at 3594 Broadway Avenue, Suite E. Right now, she ain’t much to look at- and perhaps she never will be- but we’re very excited about using this space to serve the greater Broadway neighborhood. (For those of you familiar with Fort Myers we’re in a big neighborhood with boundaries roughly at 41, MLK, Fowler and Winkler.)

We have two goals for the space:
Serve local ministries who don’t have office and meeting space, and,
Serve at-risk students in our neighborhood through whatever means we can find.

As of right now, we are working on developing a partnership with another local non-profit to provide a free after-school program for neighborhood children, and we are dreaming up and planning a mentoring program for middle or high school students who attend schools in or bordering the neighborhood. Please keep these items in your prayers as over the summer as we have lots of work to do!

More on the space to come in future posts, but for now I’m off to find a delicious (yeah right) and "simple" snack because it is the LAST WEEK of the simple diet experiment! Thank you Lord we have almost made it because I am really tired of rice and beans! (I will post some reflections on the diet next week, FYI.)

Baby Steps into Mission: Presence, Part 2

Faithful readers, I apologize for the long delay in getting this blog up. Between summer vacation, official cross country practices starting...