Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Wednesday Word: Loaves and Fish

Hello readers! It’s Wednesday, so we’ll be catching up with our reading from Pancakes and Prayers this past Sunday… looking at Jesus feeding 5000 people in John.

John 6:1-14
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”


Community, Communion and Commission

This story is a beautiful picture of the three core elements of a microchurch- community, communion and commission- at work together in the ministry of Jesus. It begins, of course, with a community (the disciples) gathered around Jesus (communion). He has drawn a crowd, and when he commissions his disciples to help feed the crowd and they give him what they have he performs a miracle (communion). As a result of that we see their community expanded to include all those who join them for this meal. This story is a picture of how communities of disciples should operate. As we walk with Jesus he gives us a mission (grounded in his compassion and love), and through that mission his presence and power is revealed, and all those who took the risk of seeing what was happening through him are then invited to join his community.

Also, note that it was a big deal who you ate with in the ancient world, and who your host was, because the act of eating with them marked you off as belonging to "their people,"; people who they would care for, support and claim as their own. And here the ENTIRE crowd is invited to dine with Jesus (the Messiah!), who is the host of the meal (he stands, they sit) regardless of who they were or are up to this point. The point is, his presence and his community is offered to any who were willing to make this journey with him. It did not hinge on any religiosity, ritual observance, clean living or virtue. At this moment it was just about recognizing that something big was happening through him.

That Exodus story again!
Yup, just as we saw allusions to the Exodus last week in Acts 2, we see it again here! That shouldn’t surprise us, as it is THE central story of the Old Testament. Here we find Jesus and his disciples in the countryside (think wilderness) and going up a mountain (think Sinai). And of course, John tells us that it is nearly time for Passover, a celebration of God’s leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Then, lo and behold, the crowd needs bread, just like the Israelites did after escaping Egypt, and Jesus provides (think manna). So what’s the point of this? The point is, John is telling us this story in such a way to drive home the point that Jesus is in fact acting as a new, and superior, Moses who God has commissioned to free his people from their oppression. Only this time it’s not oppression from a political entity (at least not in the first place), but rather oppression from sin and death. And note that the people’s attempt to crown Jesus in verse 15, while a correct instinct, misses the point of the larger exodus that he is working towards.   

Give your bread and fish.
The example for us as individuals to follow in this story is the little boy whose five loaves and two fish are used to feet this massive crowd. There are a few things we should note about him. First off, children in the ancient world had no status or protection; essentially they were nonentities except in the eyes of their parents (if they had good parents). Second, the amount of food that this boy is offering is obviously inconsequential in the face of the need of the crowd. And finally, by giving it to Jesus he runs the risk of becoming just another hungry face in this crowd. Yet, it was by HIS small offering of bread and fish that Jesus performed this miracle.

We live in a world of tremendous need, and when we take a hard look at these needs it is clear that we do not have the resources to meet them. Furthermore, many of us are keenly aware of our own shortcomings. How could we with all our issues help anyone, and why would anybody listen to us? Wes are this little boy; we have too few resources and we’re not seen by the world as people who could actually bring about change. Yet Jesus does not let us off the hook. He knows what he can do with whatever we have… whether it’s our time, our resources, our talents, our hobbies or whatever we can offer to him. He simply asks us to take the risk of giving to him what we do have, in the hope that he can turn it into something amazing and beautiful and transformative… something that reveals his kingdom, and builds community and calls others into his mission.

May you be bold then, faithful reader, and offer your bread and fish to him today.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Acts 2: Thinking About Pentecost

Today we’re keeping up with our investigation of Acts with our BBC leaders… as always, I hope my reflections spur you to push deeper, and of course I welcome questions and comments!

Acts 2:1-12
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

Things to Chew On:

1.   Did I mention communion?
In our last post we discussed how communion, being in God’s presence, is what empowers mission. Here we see that play out vividly, as the group of faithful disciples waits for God’s presence, and then is empowered by that presence to do the work that Jesus commissioned them to do. And of course, in their waiting in prayer they are following the example Jesus set for them through the many times he withdrew from crowds and activities to pray and be empowered by his Father. The concrete take away from this should be obvious… ministry begins with communion, and not programs, plans or techniques.

2.   Think Sinai
The miracle of Pentecost parallels the Exodus story in several ways. If the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is the Passover/Red Sea event that frees God’s people, then Pentecost corresponds to Mount Sinai, where God’s presence comes to his people and gives them a new identity, a new mission and empowers them (via the law) to fulfill their commission. In each of these instances the presence of God is revealed through fire and elemental violence and leaders are brought into that presence to prepare them for the task God gives them. Note also that as Sinai points towards the Temple that would be built (Moses on top of mountain as high priest, elders halfway up the mountain as priests, people at the base of the mountain), so Pentecost to points towards the new temple: the community of God. Thus, seeking the presence of God primarily means seeking God in community.

3.   Qualifications?
If you lived in roughly 33AD and were going to start a movement to spread a particular way of life or philosophy around the Roman world, who would you start with? In our society we generally think about the “best and brightest,” the people with most education, or the people who are the biggest names. Interestingly, God decides to kick off his mission by pulling in marginal people of all different backgrounds (see 2:9-11), who as foreigners, would be largely considered second class citizens in Jerusalem. They are probably not the ones with the best pedigree, best education or best connections. But they are the people who are most capable of sharing the story of Jesus with their own cultural community, since it is their home culture. And of course, their home communities comprise the Roman world… which was the target! The lesson is, God often calls people who are naturally equipped to reach their own people.  If we are serious about reaching out to the many growing subcultures in our cities this is a lesson we must learn. We too must first consider who God has already prepared and embedded (like the foreigners in Jerusalem) in the different neighborhoods and subcultures in our city to share his love, and seek to equip, empower and resource them, rather than to take that role because we feel more qualified by the standards of our culture.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

This one's for you Mike

 Yesterday during a Good Samaritan Cycling Team outing I had the pleasure of meeting Mike Rivera, the man pictured on your right. Mike was hanging out by the Racetrac at 41 and Edison with some other folks who we serve and as soon as I pulled up he engaged me in conversation.

A few things caught me off guard with Mike. One, most people who we serve hesitate for a moment or two before they engage with us the first time. (After all, couple of guys riding around on bikes giving out water is pretty strange!) But Mike warmly greeted me and engaged immediately. Two, Mike had no hesitation about sharing his story, and was brutally honest about his mistakes with me, a complete stranger. Third, Mike was just at the point of deciding to start fighting to get a little of his life back. He was ready to look for work, and ready to be done with the streets. I almost never get asked for prayer from people in Mike's place (I usually do the offering), but Mike asked. He knows he can't do this thing alone.

Finally, Mike writes poetry, as his way of dealing with his situation and giving something small back to the world. He offered to share a poem with me, and it was both a confession and a subtle word of warning about who we serve and the consequences.  I asked him if he'd like for others to get to hear it. He said yes, so it's my pleasure to have it for you in the video below. So here you go Mike, this one's for you, and don't give up the fight to get back on your feet!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Acts 2: Communion and Community

Guess what, faithful reader? This week you get two Acts blogs as we hit on it at Pancakes and Prayers and with our BBC leaders this week! This is going to be a little strange since I will actually go backwards to the start of Acts 2 later in the week, but such is life. Enjoy!

Acts 2:42-47
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Much has been written and said about Luke’s description here of the earliest churches in Acts. While it is obviously a simple and probably idealistic description of the first communities of Jesus followers, it is undoubtedly powerful. For us modern people who struggle to find meaningful community in our compartmentalized lives there is an allure here of real belonging. I have personally heard dozens of sermons about this passage, often presented as the goal or “bottom line” of what a church wants to be about, and the vast majority of these sermons have focused on “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,” and  “the breaking of bread.” In other words, these churches have made a clear point that they want to be a place where people are well taught and where people find strong community.

Their focus on these items is good; those are undoubtedly critical pieces in our attempt to be faithful to the gospel. However, I have NEVER heard a sermon that focused on the early communities’ devotion to prayer and sharing possessions. With regard to the sharing of possessions, most people avoid holding that up as a model because they don’t want to scare people away. It is sort of a “good for them but that was a LONG time ago thing.” With regard to the prayer element, I don’t really have an answer. My best guess is that most of us simply think about prayer so informally that we don’t really consider how it could shape a community. Like so many other items it has simply become an individual practice or something we only partake in briefly and formally as a group.

I would like to gently challenge this state of affairs. I don’t think you can have the kind of community detailed above until you have shared communion with God (not bread and wine but time spent in God’s presence). It is the believers time spent together in prayer, and their experience of the Spirit in prayer that gives birth to their group identity and that gives them their mission (to love one another and to invite others into God's presence). So we might say that communion both creates community and compels mission. And the cycle then comes back because a community that is engaged in mission will be compelled to seek communion. The risk and sacrifice that real mission entails makes for active and dynamic prayer and time spent with God. It is in the midst of this cycle that the deep community that we long for is born.

Of course how these ideas are applied depends on context, but here is my small encouragement for us: in whatever Christian “community” we are planted in, if we want a deeper community to be born, let’s make sure there’s a priority on both prayer and mission. Of course we need time just to get to know each other, and have fun, and relax, but real community, Acts 2 community, requires more than common interests and fun time together; it requires shared time together in the presence of God and shared engagement in His mission.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Homeless Coalition Stand Down

This past Saturday a few of us from Burning Bush Communities had the opportunity to team up with other non-profits and homeless ministries as we participated in the Lee County Homeless Coalition's "Stand Down and Homeless Service Day." Each ministry or participating group set up a booth and offered goods or services to our neighbors in need, including: hair cuts, sleeping bags, flu shots, hygiene kits, blankets, water bottles, flashlights, employment opportunities, and much more. At our table we offered chapstick, hand sanitizer, skin care products, and nail clippers (which were a smash hit!). We probably served close to 500 people, and gave away around 600 nail clippers!

With Tonya and Tom from our Come as You Are community.

The event was truly inspiring for a variety of reasons. First, it was awesome to see the potential of the agencies working together. That is, after all, the idea behind the Coalition! None of us could pull of an event like that alone, and my hope is that it inspires further collaboration. Second, the diversity of the volunteers at the event was inspiring. There where people of all ages, races, classes and political stances working together for others... and that's not something we encounter too much these days! Additionally, the joy of the volunteers working was striking. I'm so used to seeing bored and uninspired volunteers at events, and it was energizing to see people actually fired up to be a part of this work.

The final reason the event was so powerful was it gave us an opportunity to see many of our homeless friends who we haven't seen in a while. One of the challenges of doing homeless ministry is that you might grow close to someone over the course of a few months, and then they vanish. Maybe they go to the hospital and then to a halfway house, or maybe they're arrested, maybe they finally get housing... you don't know. And frankly, it's easy to fear for the worst given the health problems and dangers that many of them live with. So the chance to see some of our friends who had disappeared on us was a huge blessing. Moreover, it was special to see their gladness to visit with us; it was validating for our ministry for these brothers and sisters to also recognize us as friends who want to know them, and not just provide for their material needs. And in this regard I want to highlight Tonya (in the picture above), who has been serving meals to the homeless in a park in Fort Myers for a decade. So many people knew her and joyfully greeted her, and it was a huge testimony to her faithful service year in and year out. You and your team are amazing Tonya!

Let me wrap up by also saying THANK YOU to all our supporters who gave us the means to participate in this event... you were a part of our success and joy on Saturday!

Please see more pics below and here's a link to the Newspress article about the event Click Here.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Update and Acts 1

Hello again, fearless readers! I trust we are all beginning to find our footing in this new year of ours, and it seems time to get something shaking on this blog. Starting in the next two weeks you can expect a few posts a week by me on a few different topics:

Monday: General Update or a “fun” series
Wednesday: I’ll post a brief devotional following up on what we discussed in our microchurch, Pancakes and Prayers.
Thursday or Friday: I’ll post a brief bible study connected to our core discipleship group. (We’ll be working through the book of Acts first.)

My goal will be for each of these posts to be accessible, regardless of whether you are part of that group.

Today we will get started on Acts… this will not be an exhaustive study; we will not deal with every verse or even every chapter, but will simply pull out some key themes and I hope some practical takeaways.

Acts 1:1-11
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Three Key Points:

1.  The Kingdom of God . . . Whose job is that, again?

In 1:6 the Apostles are asking Jesus if it’s finally time for the Kingdom of God to arrive in its fullness (which coincides with their hopes for the restoration of Israel). Given the fact that Jesus was just resurrected, it’s not a bad question to ask. However, Jesus essentially redirects them to the task at hand (1:7). Since it’s not their job to bring about the Kingdom (“It’s not for you to know the times and periods…”), they’ll just have to trust God to make that happen when the time is right. This is a key point for today, as many followers of Jesus believe it is within our power to bring about the Kingdom, or “build the Kingdom.” Nothing in this exchange would lead us to believe that the Kingdom is in anyway dependent upon our work or our success. Further, it is the belief that we must succeed for the Kingdom that leads to compromise and “the ends justifies the means” thinking. Since it doesn’t depend on us, we can focus on being faithful witnesses and have the peace that comes with knowing our successes and failures will not ultimately make or break God’s Kingdom.

2.  Can I get a witness?

Jesus tells the Apostles that they are to be his “witnesses,” and the Greek term Jesus uses is where we get the english term “martyr” from. This is not a coincidence! While Jesus is certainly asking the Apostles to verbally share and recount his ministry, his death, his resurrection and more, he is also asking them to go and live in the world with him as their King. Their witness then is a way life that recognizes the rule of Jesus in its entirety, and also therefore one that rejects the final authority of anyone or anything else. And, as you can imagine, that is a dangerous way to live in our world, and the consequences of that lifestyle resulted in their deaths and the birth of our english word martyr.

3.  What’s with the Ascension?
The ascension of Jesus probably holds the title of “The Least Understood Extremely Important Event” in the New Testament. Usually we just treat the ascension as Jesus flying off to heaven because God is not ready for Him to establish the Kingdom. However, the ascension is actually a critical theological event, in which Jesus fulfills his messianic role and takes a seat at “God’s right hand”… which means that Jesus is the King! The resurrection shows God’s vindication of Jesus, but the ascension establishes that Jesus is in fact God’s now and future anointed king who has the power of God behind him. In the ascension Jesus also fulfills the hopes expressed in the Old Testament for God’s chosen king to rule over and restore creation:

Psalm 110:1
The Lord says to my lord,
    “Sit at my right hand (i.e.in heaven via the ascension)
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Daniel 7:13-14
I saw one like a human being (this is interpreted as Jesus in the ascension)
    coming with the clouds of heaven. (note Acts 1:9, “a cloud took him”)
And he came to the Ancient One
    and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
    and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
    that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
    that shall never be destroyed.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Opioid Crisis Hits Home

One of the many issues currently plaguing our society is the sheer amount of "news" that we are force fed on a daily basis. Traditional news, 24 hour news, internet news, Facebook news . . . in the midst of so much information, and so much disinformation, it can be difficult to identify what really matters and what we need to take stock of. And when everything is labeled "a crisis" we grow numb to the calls for attention and help. Today I will add my voice to the clamor, but I hope with good reason . . . because the "Opioid Crisis," as it is now called, is a legitimate crisis. And if you are a disciple of Christ it is something you need to consider.

Lee County friends, what percentage increase do you think there has been in opioid overdoses here since 2013?

100%? 200%?

Nope. Try 800%! Here is the Fort Myers Newspress story that broke these numbers: Opioid Epidemic.

Now that's just overdoses (from 171 in 2013 to 955 in 2017). I don't have numbers for overall usage, but it can't be pretty. All the opioid numbers are up, and some of these new drugs, like fentanyl, are unbelievably powerful and dangerous. (Fentanyl, according to the Newspress article, is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine!)

The point of sharing this information is not simply to engage in hand-wringing. The point is, if we are people committed to serving our community or loving our neighbors we need to be aware of what we're going to be running into. And frankly, we can't even see the full social cost yet of this epidemic. It will be over the next years as more families disintegrate, as more children are put into the state's care, and as more jails and rehab centers overflow that we will appreciate the damage that is being done. The safety-net system was simply not built to handle this sort of strain, and I know SWFL does not have even close to enough NGO's who focus on addiction and its social effects to deal with this issue.

Obviously, I don't have a solution to this problem. But I would like to propose a few things for churches or ministries to consider...

1. Talk about the opioid crisis, and prepare our people.  
Again, if we're committed to loving our city we need to inform our people of what's going on in our city. That way, when our people discover opioid addiction closer to home than they anticipated they can avoid freaking out and be part of a solution. A basic knowledge of the situation helps remove the fear and stigma which would prevent any help being being offered, and at the same time that knowledge also provides a healthy respect for how serious the problem is. It would be fantastic if the people in our churches and ministries could encounter people in the crisis with the peace and courage that comes from preparation, and that they could be ready to offer suggestions for treatment and support for those who are ready to take that step... and support options for the families that are left to pick up the pieces left by a family member's addiction.

2. Prepare our ministries to respond.
What will we do when we find the opioid crisis in our church or ministry community? We need to prepare for this eventuality now. That means gathering people who will be willing to support addicts as they confront their addiction, people who will support families of addicts, and marshaling our resources to fill in the gaps for those who are left vulnerable due to the addiction of others.

3. Lead with mercy and strength.
We are not called to stigmatize, to shame or to drive away addicts. We are called to recognize that Jesus gave his life for them, and to treat them with dignity and respect as human beings who are loved by God. At the same time we must understand the nature of opioid addiction, and be strong in our insistence that they face it. If 89% of people who go through rehab relapse (see here) then we can be reasonably sure that casual solutions and going cold turkey alone are not going to cut it. We cannot help someone addicted to opioids if we do not create boundaries. We are to help these neighbors find the help they need, but if they won't take those steps then we must not enable them with casual assistance. We must make it clear we care about them and want to help them, but only if that means helping them break free from addiction.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Announcements and Encouragements

Hello again, fearless readers, and Happy New Year to you! I am thankful that you did not give up on this blog after the long journey of Advent, and am excited to launch into new things as we begin 2018.

First, a special announcement: Burning Bush Communities is officially recognized as a 501c3 organization by the IRS! (Thank you Lord!) We received the IRS determination letter in the mail just a few days before Christmas, and we are very thankful to have that process done with! For those who are not familiar with it, the 501c3 designation allows people to write off their taxes for what they give to your organization, so it is very helpful in fundraising. AND, applying for the 501c3 is an absolute beast!

 Second, a word of encouragement!

While we all shake our heads and claim we're not making resolutions for the new year (we don't want to be "those" people!), I know many of us secretly harbor plans, intentions and ambitions to better each year at a variety of things. And that's a good thing! However, we are hesitant to claim these goals as "resolutions" because we know the track record is bleak. The overwhelming majority of resolution-makers fail to make it a third of the way through the year with their new plans. If you are a long time gym member, you know how this goes: January is crazy busy, February is better, and by March we're back to normal. Changing habits and routines is hard work, and changing character is even more difficult.

Yet, God is all about transformation. If you read the stories of scripture you can't help but see a constant call to transformation, of people, families, tribes and nations. There is no point where God is not trying to get a group of people to take further steps on their journey, and that always means change. I think most of us get this intuitively, because we do see that change would be good for us... that's why this whole "resolutions" thing happens.

So our situation is this: we do want change and we need transformation, but it's not going to be easy. While this may seem obvious it is imperative that we accept this truth. If a faithful life is a life of transformation, a faithful life is a hard life. There's just no way around it. And the only way we can get to the destinations we hope for is by embracing the hardship. The sooner we can get rid of those romantic notions of waking up a different person one day through some special magic the better we'll be.

One of my favorite stories related to this topic is the story of the Israelites entering the wilderness after escaping the Egyptians through the Red Sea. You know the story: the were slaves, God sends Moses to free them, lots of plagues happen, then they escape through the Sea and celebrate. And then they get to the wilderness . . . and everything hits the fan. Check it out:

Exodus 16:1-3
The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Classic. They miraculously escape from slavery, entirely through God's provision, and then, a little over a month later (about how long our resolutions last!) freak out because God hasn't provided the meals they were hoping for! 

As easy as it is to ridicule the Israelites in this story, I believe we should be cautious here. More often than not, when it comes to transformation we follow the same pattern. It sounds great, we get off to a great start . . . and then its hard! We don't have our old familiar comforts- so we throw in the towel.
So here's my encouragement to you: go ahead and prepare yourself for the wilderness! It won't be easy. The Israelites, believe it or not, did not go back to Egypt, and you don't have to go back either. Here are a few things that helped them keep moving forward; thing that I believe you also will need if you are to make it through the wilderness of change:

1. Community 
The Israelites were in it together. They could lament together, they could encourage each other, and they could find strength to keep up with each other when they wouldn't do it for themselves. The journey of transformation is best made in community.

2. Communion
No, I don't mean bread and wine specifically. I mean time and space to be in God's presence. The Israelites were able to continue with their journey because they had the presence of God with them (and especially the manifestation of God at Sinai). This means time in worship, in silent meditation, or devotional reading, or any of the variety of ways that God calls us into his presence. It is through our time of communion that we are reminded that whatever we are leaving behind, or changing from, is not an ultimate reality and does not provide ultimate satisfaction; only God can provide those things. This allows us to loosen our grip on those things we are leaving behind and move forward.

3. Vision
The Israelites were given the vision of a better life (e.g. the promise land) by Moses, and needed constant reminding of why they were on their journey through the wilderness. Likewise, if we are to make big changes in our life we need a clear picture of why we are changing and what we are changing for. It must be a compelling vision to keep us going through the difficulties that we'll face. And to go back to that community thing, we often need others to remind us of it when our own vision grows blurry.

So... be encouraged on this journey! If you are already feeling the strain of transformation, that's okay. The hard stuff was going to come sooner or later. Let's go ahead, accept it and make sure we have what we need to overcome it: a community, a vision and time and space for God to empower us with his presence.

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...