Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Missio Lux Strengthens

One of the beauties of Missio Lux is the way that everyone knows they are important and valued, and they aren't dependent on me as the pastor to make sure things happen!

My passion has been for the Body of Christ almost since the day I decided to make following Jesus my highest priority. I believe that Paul illustrated it well in 1st Corinthians 12 when he said that "we aren't all eyes, or feet or ears, are we?" (loose interpretation!)

I was in Hawaii having a marriage enrichment week with my husband Bill last week, and will be gone again this weekend for a family wedding. Not great timing to have both "leavings" so close together, but it is good for Missio Lux because they are taking great initiative!

Sunday, the first Sunday of the month, when we usually do our monthly Celebrations, one missio community decided they wanted to gather all of Missio Lux together, despite the fact that we didn't have a celebration planned because of Easter the following weekend. So, they have planned it, publicized it and will set up, carry it out and make it happen! This is a huge step forward for Missio Lux and I am celebrating it.

Last week our missio community, which usually meets are our house, met in a different location and planned a fun night of games and connections. One missio community member has experienced a death in the family and the community is reaching out to support them. This is the Body of Christ in action and I know that Jesus is delighted to see his body moving and breathing and sharing life with one another.

I will keep you posted about this weekend as the Body of Christ gathers with their true head, Jesus! I am just one of those feet......

Friday, March 27, 2009

Invitation to Banquet Together, Part 2

Have you ever given a party to which no one came?
There are few situations in life that are more disappointing than putting a lot of thought, time, energy and anticipation into hosting a party or an event, only to have very few or no one show up, leaving us with an empty table.

Jesus speaks to this reality in the second parable he tells about the Banquet. In the first parable, there were so many guests that they were jockeying for position, but in the second one, the table was empty and the host was incensed.

In Jesus’ day, two invitations were given.

The first was the initial invitation and then a second one would come much closer to the actual event. So, those that were invited must have indicated in the beginning that they would be there, but when the servant came and said that everything was ready, they all began to make excuses. Their excuses included work, possessions and family which sounds a lot like what consumes much of our time and attention today.

When only excuses came instead of guests, the host told his servant: “Go out into the street and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” This is the exact same wording as the previous parable in Luke 14. When the servant did that, he came back and said that “there’s still room at the table.” The host then told his servant to go into the highways and along the hedges and compel them to come as well because I want my table to be filled.”

Jesus wants his table filled this Easter when we celebrate his resurrection at Occidental Square.

He wants to know, “Will we respond to his invitation, or will we too be distracted by our work, possessions and family?

Living out the Kingdom of God is both a great privilege and responsibility.

The privilege is that the very One who created us wants to have a party with us. He invites us to his banquet table. The responsibility is that he wants us to choose him above everything else, even if the others are important in our lives.

One of the excuses that may come up for one of us is that we feel uncomfortable going to Pioneer Square, wondering if people will be safe at Occidental Square. We wonder if we will have anything in common with people in the Square or those that are going to come from other invitations, as we gather with people from all walks of life.

The Jews who heard Jesus’ parables felt the same when they heard him say that the host wanted to bring even the most hidden people to the banquet. But, one thing that can’t be denied is that Jesus calls us to be light in the world, to go beyond our comfort zone and to go to where those that he created and delights in will be found.

Laurie Bunnel just wrote a paper about the Banquet for seminary. I love what she writes: “In my local church body, the transformational message of the banquet parable is playing out this Easter through leaving our suburban environment to celebrate Christ’s resurrection with many in the inner city who, just as those along the highways and hedges, would not feel welcome or invited to join the festivities at a local church. Our desire is for them to not only know that they are welcome at our celebration but that Jesus is welcoming and desiring their acceptance of his kingdom invitation.

We certainly don’t have it all figured out, but we are moving in the right direction. When a well educated affluent woman from the Eastside of Seattle and a man who has spent decades living on the street sit together on grungy concrete sharing a meal and celebrating the resurrection, not only are the parallels to the challenges Jesus made to table fellowship in his time remarkable, but the glimpse of the coming Kingdom is magnificent.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism, part 3

I've been blogging the past few days about Michael Spencer's article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled: The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism.

After assessing reasons for why he predicts that evangelism will collapse in the next 10 years, and what will be left, he makes the statement: "Evangelicalism doesn't need a bailout (we are all so excited about those these days), it needs a funeral.

But what about what remains? He asks:

Is it a good thing that denominations are largely to become irrelevant?
Only if the networks that replace them are able to marshall resources, training, and vision to the mission field and into planting and equipping churches.

Is it a good thing that many marginal believers will depart?
Possibly, if churches begin and continue the work of renewing serious church membership. We must change the conversation from maintenance of traditional churches to developing new and culturally appropriate ones.

The ascendency of the Charismatic-Pentecostal-influenced worship around the world can be a major positive for the evangelical movement if reformation can reach those churches and if it is joined with the calling, training, and mentoring of leaders. If American churches come under more of the influence of the movement of the Holy Spirit in Africa and Asia, this will be a very good thing.

Will the evangelicalizing of Catholic and Orthodox communions be a good development?
One can hope for greater unity and appreciation, but the history of these developments seems to be more about renewed vigor to "evangelize" Protestantism in the name of unity.

Will the coming collapse get Evangelicals past the pragmatism and shallownemss that has brought about the loss of substance and power? Probably not. He expects the landscape of the megachurch to be around for a very long time.

Will it shake loose the prosperity Gospel from its parasitical place on the evangelical body of Christ? History is not that encouraging.

It doesn't sound too hopeful, does it?

No, if we look at it from our evangelical vantage point. But, when we back up and consider the Bible and recent history, I am anticipatory for some extraodinary days ahead:

The Bible teaches us that when the Holy Spirit came upon the Jesus followers in the upper room waiting for their promise, a revival started that lasted for 300 years. It was only when the powerful, life transforming witness of the Jesus followers became the official religion of the State, that things began to shift for the worse.

We often equate freedom of worship with success. My view of China points to the opposite. When the missionaries were forced out of China because it became illegal, the fire was lit and new believers were born with increasing speed.

When the church is forced into smaller communities, the power of invitation becomes life altaring. Deep friendships are formed, and lives of faith are lit on fire!

When we begin to live with a realization that Jesus taught us to seriously "take up our cross daily and follow him," we understand that we have freedom in our faith, but losing freedom in our culture re-inforces that following Jesus is a faith worth dying for.

The next 10 years is the separation from the Christian era to the post Christian era. We will need to live differently, but Jesus' Church is not going to die. It's going to be refined, purified, brought back to the origins of the basic commands of Jesus and the power behind it, and that, I think is a very good thing!

Spencer ends his article by stating this: "Christianity loves a crumbling empire.
We can rejoice that in the ruins, new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born.
I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, number, and paid staff its drugs for half a century. We need new evangelicalism that learns from the past and listens more carefully to what God says about being his people in the midst of a powerful, idolatrous culture."

After reading these blogs and thinking through the implications, I'd love to hear your viewpoints on what you believe will happen in the coming days, and the next 10 years.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism, part 2

I wrote a couple of days ago about the article written in the Christian Science Monitor by Michael Spencer about the collapse of evangelicalism.

After listing the 7 reasons why he believes it will collapse in the next ten years, he explores what will be left.

Ten years is a stunningly small amount of time. Think about what you were doing 10 years ago, and how fast time has flown by since then. Ten years ago I was starting a ministry in Denver called "The Journey Project" that came alongside Jesus followers to help them discover how God created them, how they were gifted and then to expose them to different areas of service opportunities to use their God-given gifts and passions, along with others who were called to the same passion. What were you doing?

Spencer asks "After evangelicalism collapses, what will be left?"

1. Expect evangelicalism to look more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented megachurches that have defined success. Emphasis will shift from doctrine to relevance, motivation and personal success, resulting in churches further compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith.

2. Catholic and Orthodox churches will grow.

3. A small band will work hard to rescue the movement from it's demise through theological renewal.

4. The emerging church will largely vanish from the landscape.

5. Agressively evangelistic fundamental churches will begin to disappear.

6. Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity will become the majority report.

7. Evangelicalism needs a "rescue mission" from the world Christian community. Missionaries will come from Asia and Africa.

8. Expect a fragmented response to the culture war.

I think that Spencer missed some other important outcomes. I see many, and will mention a few:

Denominations will become increasingly irrelevant as loyalty to a denomination is decreasing on a rapid scale. Relational networks will become the joining places.

Church buildings will become increasingly harder for churches to maintain and many will be sold to secular organizations, forcing churches to either close or go smaller to meet in homes and public spaces.

Large staffs will become a thing of the past as churches will be unable to continue to pay salaries.

Professional theologically trained clergy will be replaced by those that are trained through on the job experience, and most likely, have other roles that pay the bills.

Volunterism in the church will be replaced by people discovering how to make a direct impact in the world and find a way to do it.

Families will discover that they are tired of being separated when they walk in a church building and will find ways to live out their faith together.

People will be less likely to call themselves Christian and more likely to combine aspects of different faiths together, what I like to call "design a faith."

Less and less people will know how to read the Bible or understand it's relevance for life in the 21st century.

Depressed or optimistic? Stay tuned for another day.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism, part 1

I got an article forwarded to me a few days ago that I have been pondering. It feels very timely and very important.
It starts out with this statement in very bold print: "An anti-Christian chapter in Western history is about to begin. But out of the ruins, a new vitality and integrity will rise."

Michael Spencer begins "We are on the verge, within 10 years, of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioation of the mainline Protestmant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West."
He continues: "Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I am convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But, the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close."

I agree with this statement, although my heart wants to say no. I have wonderful memories from my life of faith in an evangelical Church. I enjoyed ministering in several evangelical churches. But, the signs are too real and present to be ignored.

The writer lists several reasons for why he believes that evangelicalism will collapse:

1. Evangelicals identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism.

2. We failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught.

3. Three kinds of evangelical churches exist today: consumer driven megachurches, dying churches and new churches whose future is fragile.

4. Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism.

5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to "do good" is rapidly approaching.

6. We have not passed onto our children a vital confidence in the Bible and the importance of a life of faith.

7. The money will dry up.

Any one of these 7 reasons are important enough to suspect that we are on the wrong track. The past few months have been boggling for the first and seventh reason: the culture war that evangelicals have fought have left cynicism and even bitterness behind in a good part of the US. I live in the Northwest and some of the pre-election discussions I was part of were absolutely steamy in the anger released toward the Christian right. Spencer writes "We fell for a trap of believing in a cause more than a faith."

The economy is on a huge decline, and that in itself is serious. But, I believe there is an even bigger reason that the money is drying up. The giving patterns of Christians are taking a giantic right turn. People are less and less likely or willing to give to a church budget or even to an organization where they have little say for how the money is spent.

If you take the second and fourth reasons, how we have fared at passing on our faith to our youth and children, the situation gets even more serious. If they have no roots, and very little loyalty, to a church, a denomination, or even a ministry, they will not give money. They are motivated by story: and will give to a compelling story where they have personal investment.

So, if the ship is sinking, what do we do?

I believe that we must go back to our roots: where our faith began. It began with a man named Jesus, who loved the world so much that he was willing to become human to show us who God is. When I talk about Jesus, people listen. They are open to him, it's the Church that they say no to.

We need to find different forms of worshipping. As we move away from the building and invite people into homes, practicing the "Shalom Hospitality" that the Bible teaches us, people begin to thaw and their spirits open to the God who Created them.

We need to be present in the world. But, we need to do this quietly and without fanfare. As we live out the Kingdom of God is here now, we do the things that Jesus himself did. We can pray, heal, we can deliver, we can be present where God directs us to be his light in a world that seems dark.

We need to free up funds. We need to stop guilting people into giving and find ways to free them up to respond where their hearts direct them. As we give people ownership of their giving and let God lead them to where he is showing his need, pocketbooks open, checks are written, and the world is helped.

I don't have all the answers. I just know that I am glad that I am part of Missio Lux. I believe that our structure is allowing us to move differently and people's lives are being changed. I am able to have conversations with so many more people now that I am not on staff of a big church.

What are your thoughts?

taken from Christian Science Monitor: March 10, 2009 by Michael Spencer

Friday, March 20, 2009

Invitation to Banquet Together with People from All Walks of Life

Invitation to Banquet Together with People from All Walks of Life”
“And they will come from the east and west, and north and south,

and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God” Luke 13:29

Jesus loved to teach in parables. He did this because parables appear to our feelings and stir our emotions; they touch us where we live in daily life! As we read a parable, we should read in such a way that it transforms our relationships, character and action.

Jesus has given Missio Lux a parable to focus on through this season of anticipating Easter. It is found in Luke 14 and it is called “The Parable of the Great Banquet Invitation.” The jist of the parable is that Jesus went to the home of one of the Pharisees, (they are the ones that were usually trying to trip Jesus up in what he says.) He saw the guests jockeying for position. So, he gave them a tip for how we are truly to respond when we are given an invitation; that is to take the place of humility, at the foot of the table. As we humble ourselves, we will be exalted by God.

But, then Jesus did something very interesting. He began to speak about the guests that are invited. This is important because in Jesus’ culture, people dined with others who had equal social status, not above, nor beneath them. His teaching most definitely caused a reaction to those that heard it.

Listen to what Jesus says:
Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”

We have the opportunity in Missio Lux this Easter to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind to enjoy a banquet with us. Unlike the past two times that we have gone to Occidental Square and served lunch to the poor and disenfranchised, saving all the food for them, this time we will be eating together, enjoying the banquet that Jesus speaks of in Luke 14. We will also be living out the prophecy from Isaiah that Jesus stated in Luke 13:29 that “We will come from east and west, north and south, and will recline at the table of the Kingdom of God.”

This is the definition of New Testament hospitality.

It literally means “love of a stranger” in Greek. It is a clear sign that both the host and the guest are to sit together and to accept one another and recognize one another as equals.

We are calling the Easter Celebration “A Gathering for People from All Walks of Life” because beyond the poor and disenfranchised, we envision people from different ethnicities, economic status, ages and genders.

As we do this, we are entering into Jesus dream for his Church: where we come together to celebrate our unity in following Jesus rather than staying separated due to our different worship styles, denominations, and geographic locations.

It is our privilege to be a Church without Walls.
This Easter we will be celebrating in a location that has no walls, so that we can extend the open invitation to whomever the Lord wants to bring. Ask Jesus who he has chosen for you to enter into extending an invitation. Stay open, he may surprise you!

Perhaps this is a new thought to you, to go to Occidental Square to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, rather than your normal Easter tradition. I urge you to consider Jesus’ parable and let it transform your relationship, character and actions. As you consider the invitation during the next few weeks, think through the delight you will bring to Jesus as you step out in new ways of living your faith.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Follow Up on Community

I jokingly call my blog the "blog without comments!" I always get excited when I get one because it doesn't happen all that often.

But, there was a big response to my thoughts about community. This is exciting because each person that responded is living it out and is able to speak to the power of being in a healthy, vibrant, living community.

One person wrote that they have been in a community for 32 years~Wow!

They stated that having a covenant that they wrote about their intentions for the community has really made a difference. They also look to each person to bring something that God has shown them through the week to share with one another. And, that they make room to rub up against one another, which means they experience conflict, but they don't run from it, they allow it to refine their relationship, like iron sharpening iron.

This thought that everyone brings something that God shows them through the week is really powerful.

It is a definite transiton from listening to the preacher or the teacher, to one where we each carry a responsibility and a privilege to share the "aha" that we experienced with our Creator that week. As we do this, we see God's movement multiplied and it definitely makes us stronger as a people gathered. It also helps us to connect in deeper ways as our sharing will touch another in meaningful places.

The other vital piece of this is path for community is that it makes us balanced. One person or family doesn't stick out as the ones who have it together or are "mature" but everyone begins to live into that place, recognizing their voice matters just as much as everyone elses.

I've had some people tell me that they really want to hear from someone who is seminary trained. And, yes, some very beneficial things get shared, but if the Holy Spirit lives in everyone who follows Jesus, don't we all have the ability to hear him and then share what we learn?

I dream of missio communities that are committed to one another, despite all the obstacles, including conflict!
I dream of missio communities that run to be together because it is truly the best part of each week.
I dream of missio communities that extend the invitation for others to join them because they know that what they have is just too good to keep to themselves.
I dream of missio communities that have a missio purpose so important that they would rather die than not help make it happen.
I dream of missio communities that will show the world who Jesus is: our Loving Creator who came as a human to show us who God is. Jesus, Immanuel, God moving into our neighborhoods!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Celebrating Easter at Occidental Square in Seattle

Do you have childhood memories of getting all the necessary Easter accessories? The dress, the purse, the shoes, the gloves. . . .all of it just so! It was an important time for me as a child as I looked forward to the celebration of Easter which of course, included the Easter Bunny and baskets full of chocolate eggs.

But, this year, my focus is on much different things for Easter. Deciding what to wear will be at the bottom of my list of important preparations, as we get ready to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus at Occidental Square in Seattle.

This is a definite experience of moving from the “unfamiliar to the familiar.”

It will feel unfamiliar to get up and have Easter morning free. It will feel unfamiliar to forego our family brunch and instead to feast with the people that come to Occidental Square from all walks of life. It will feel unfamiliar to celebrate with many people whom we do not know, instead of just our church community. It will feel unfamiliar to be setting up the park, rather than the church building to be all decked out in Easter lilies and finery.

But, as we are learning in Missio Lux, often times it is the unfamiliar that Jesus calls us to live.

I think about him, coming to earth as a baby, hitting that stable must have felt rather unfamiliar. Living within the constraints of a human body was pretty unfamiliar. Being physically separated from his Father had to be very unfamiliar as he had been with him for eternity before. Hanging on the cross, experiencing pain at the deepest level of suffering, felt unfamiliar for one who created a world free to pain and suffering.

We are called to live a lifestyle like Jesus.

Are we willing to risk the unfamiliar and the unknown to be with people that he delights to be around?

Jesus last public words before his arrest were about this very topic: Listen to what Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

As we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus in Occidental Square with people from all walks of life; let’s prepare to celebrate with Jesus. This is what he is telling us, that as we are present Easter day to share his good news through action, celebration and prayer, we are directly doing it unto the One we choose to follow.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Missio Community in Korea

One member of Missio Lux has a business recruiting and bringing teachers from the US and Canada to Korea to teach English.

It's called Adventure Teaching (http://www.adventureteaching.com/).

Part of the dream has been to start missio communites in Korea. Scot went over to join his partner who lives in Korea, and they held their first ever Missio Community training Saturday.
Please read his email and pray for these budding communities to take root and bring forth what God desires for each one of them:

Scot writes:

One of my projects over the past couple weeks was to put together a gathering of Christian teachers that Adventure Teaching has brought over to equip and connect them, and encourage them to launch missional communities. It was quite a headache finding a meeting place that wasn’t going to cost the business an arm and a leg, and would be a central location to teachers coming from all over the massive Seoul metro area. At nearly the last minute though, after stringing all of the teachers along with emails stating “we’re still waiting on confirmation of our meeting place, but plan on Saturday at 2:00”, one of our partner schools finally confirmed we could use one of their classrooms. The best part about it, was that they let us use the room for free.

On Saturday, at 1:30 we planned to be at a Subway station near the school to start meeting teachers and running them over to the school by taxi. We ended up meeting 3 teachers in route, which was pretty fun. Side note: it’s odd how different people are in reality vs. virtual communication over the phone and email. Once we got the subway stop teachers started to arrive. We had decided that Sarah Jane and I would run over to the school and set up the room and get some beverages etc. Our taxi driver ended up getting lost which turned our 5 minute trip to the school into a 15 minute frantic scramble of phone calls and broken Korea until we reached the school, with 10 minutes to spare before the meeting. Sarah Jane gave me a plan for room set up, and then ran off to the store. I ran up and down 4 flights of stairs grabbing chairs. The funny thing about the chairs is that they were all small chairs meant for kindergarteners…

Meanwhile Reuben was back at the subway stop meeting teachers, shuffling them into cabs and then explaining the intricate route to each driver, and working up quite a sweat. He even managed to buy a bunch of fruit and donuts, on his last ride to the school.

Reuben and I were overwhelmed by the turnout. I figured there would be about 12-15 teachers that could make it out, but over 20 teachers actually came, and quite a few more were unable to make it but interested. Meeting some our teachers face to face was such a rewarding experience. We got to see and hear how Korea has impacted their lives. We started the meeting sharing our funniest experiences in Korea and introducing ourselves. It was great to see the teachers who had been there a few months, take the new teachers, freshly arrived, under their wing. There were some great stories told.

Finally we got the meeting underway.

I cast the vision for living a life of great meaning, and how “if we follow Jesus our lives will be full of great meaning, purpose, desire, and adventure. Our lives will naturally be a great story.” I then lead into an explanation of Missio Lux and how missional communities work etc.

The response was incredible. After I was done talking, Reuben just had the sense that people had some things they wanted to share. So he opened it up to people’s response. They seemed to catch the vision right away. Many of them shared about how this is something that they have been yearning for, and praying for; it is the part of their Korean experience that has been lacking etc. Everyone in the room was engaged, and most of them had something to say, even in tears at times.

After everyone had a chance to share, we helped the teachers divide into groups in accordance with their geographical locations. Everyone, although we gave them complete freedom not to be a part of a missional community, was interested in being a part of one of the communities. The communities shifted a bit and certain people shuffled form one group to another that would be easier for them to get to, but in the end… we had 4 groups of teachers, connected, and passionate about making an impact while they are in Korea. Each of the groups had denoted a person who will be the catalyst, or the person who would be the emailer and the person who would try to keep things going.

Of course after it was over an all of the teachers had left, there were a couple of things that we forgot to say of course… Still, it was an amazing success. This is such an exciting step for Adventure Teaching and Missio Lux. Please keep these communities in your prayers and thoughts. I’ll do my best to keep you updated.

Scot Sustad
Director of Teacher Relations

Adventure Teaching Inc.
Seattle, WA USA
1-425-922-5122 (Cell)
1-206-257-0613 (Office)
Skype: adventure.teaching.northamerica

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Number of U.S. Christians declines

The Seattle Times ran an article Monday that outlined the results of a study that determined some important shifts in how people are identifying and living out their faith.

A survey that took place between February and November last year of 54,000 people states that the percentage of Americans that identify themselves as a Christian has dropped from 86% in 1990 to 76% today.

The biggest shift that has happened over the past twenty years is that people are much less likely to identify their faith through a denominational label. In fact the number of people who describe themselves as generically "Protestant" went from approx. 17 million in 1990 to just 5 million in 2008. Meanwhile, the number of people who use nondeminational terms have moved from 194,000 in 1990 to over 8 million today.

A large shift took place with those that say they have no religion. It is now 15% of our population, so there is a "growing non-religious or irreligious minority."

Interestingly, the North Pacific doesn't have the title for the least religious section of the country any longer, it now belongs to New England where 34% of Vermont residents say they "have no religion." On top of that, the only increase of religion took place in religious minorities of Muslims, Mormons, and movements of Wicca and paganism.

These are all interesting trends. But, I want to add one myself. Many people, including myself, are shying away from the term "Christian" because of the cultural baggage it carries. When I am around people who do not follow Christ and say the word Christian, I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their comments that their perception is large mega-churches with fallen leaders and the political religious right.

They rarely, if ever, say, "Oh, you follow Jesus."

So, now just to be clear, I like to say I follow Jesus or that I am a Jesus follower. This helps to clarify that the most important label to me is the One who started this amazing way of life: Jesus Christ, Immanuel: God in flesh, coming to earth to show us who God is!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Missio Community Sunday

Sunday we had our Missio Community. We had a couple of new families, so all together we had six families that gathered to know God, love one another and seek to serve the world. Our missio community is intentionally involving children so it has an extra dynamic that many of the other Missio Communities do not have. We have only been meeting for a few weeks, so we are just getting to know one another.

The ages of the children range from 3 to 10 years old, so it is a broad range! We started out our time together playing the Truth or Lie Game; it was fun to watch how the kids came up with their statements. Some of their lies were very creative! After the game, we were able to explore how much easier it is to remember the truth, and how much effort it takes to tell a lie and remember what you've said.

Bonnie then takes the children for a lesson on their level for about 45 minutes. This gives us as adults a chance to connect with God and one another. We started off with a reflective prayer that takes the six different aspects of the Lord's Prayer and gives us a chance to commune with God through each area: God's character, his Kingdom Come, God's provision, God's forgiveness, God's guidance and his protection. Watching and hearing their response from this prayer was like seeing a thirsty person drink!

As we explored what is important to them in community, the common theme was for their children to grow up knowing that God loves them and that others love them. Some expressed their desire for their kids to have Christian friends to walk through life, and others stated their desire for othe adults to know and love their children.

Isn't this how God designed it? If you think about the Jewish life around the time of Jesus, relationships were vital in living out their faith! Most of Paul's letters are about living in relationships with one another.

We ended our focus time with a blessing. Each person was to give a blessing to another. It was so moving to watch the children bless first. One boy blessed his sister, other's blessed other kids or some of the adults. Everytime this happens, the love of Jesus just pours through the room.

Then, we had dinner! We end with dinner at this missio community because of our starting time: 4 p.m., but also because it gives people a chance to stay as long as they like, with no rush getting to the next thing. It's been thrilling to observe how long people stay; this week it was 8 p.m, as we make time for friendships to begin to happen.

Wish you could join us for our developing Missio Commuity. God is doing something special within us.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Important thoughts about Community

As you can see, I've been blogging a lot about community in the past few blogs.

I am doing it because I am in a period of shift in my thoughts and ministry. It's going to be hard to articulate the deep shift that is taking place within me because I've always said that "community" is important, believed it and made room for it.

But, this is the deal. I was trained, modeled, and taught that community happened within the church. This is true; but the underlying assumption is that the church would organize it, and that it would happen quickly, such as in an 8 week Bible Study held inside the church building.

I knew this wasn't true, but as a leader in spiritual formation working within the structures of an organized church, these were the parameters that I worked within. We were able to have a Bible study in a home occasionally but the underlying assumption would always be that we would return to the church because that is where it really happened.

The term "sold a bill of goods" keeps running through my mind.

As I have been outside the structure of the oranized church for one year I think that I am just now beginning to get a clearer picture of what's really true.

I was in South Carolina almost a month ago and observed what Mike Breen and the 3dministries team did. I heard their stories as most of them came from England 4 years ago, moved to Arizona, and then only weeks before, picked up and moved to South Carolina. Whole families. Going to extremely different cultures because of their "commitment to their community." Their love for one another. It showed. It glowed on their faces. It was apparent in their gathering for prayers together every morning. They were a true team with a commitment to their work, of course, but even greater, to one another

At the same time, I was reading a good book called "Reimagining the Church." I have so many books cross my path these days that I have almost stopped reading them because I am actually living what most of them are writing about, but this one caught my attention because it was the theological reflections from Frank Viola, who took the leap from the organized church to the house church.

This is what he writes "Being in homes made the early Christians feel that the Church' interests were their interests, and this is one of the very reasons that the Way grew so rapidly in the beginning; people felt that it was very relevant and that it helped bring greater value to their lives."

This has hit me at such a deep level because I am not sure most churches actually have families interests at heart. I know when I came to the last church where I was called, they had something on almost every evening of the week for a different age group, so it was like families could be together one or two nights a week if they had kids in different areas.

I think about how a family can walk in the doors of a church and then go four or five different directions; that is if they even drive there together!

I keep thinking about an article I read just as Missio Lux was begining to gather called "Detoxing from Church," I even blogged about it. But, one statement still sticks in my mind. The author states that "if you are coming out of the organized church, don't do anything for a year, just get together." I remember thinking, what a waste of time that would be. We need to get moving.

But, if I was to do it over again today, I would do just that. I would have held dinners and get togethers just so people can learn how to be together without an agenda.

Deep in my heart, I am not sure that we know how to do that anymore. We have becomed so programmed that we can become anxious if we don't have a "reason for gathering" or an agenda to follow.

I am still processing this. I will keep processing this. I will keep pursuing what it truly means to be a community with Jesus and the people he created, because it is at the heart of what Jesus shared as his heart. I know we will find it because he promises as we seek him, we will find him.

Where are you? What are your thoughts? If you have experiences of life in a true community, I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Missio Lux Celebration

Sunday was our monthly Celebration. We often focus on a missio story to share, but this time we sought to live into the different elements of the Acts 2 Church.

They committed themselves to the apostles' teaching, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

We started out by some exploration of Acts 2, worshipping God for who he is, and inviting him to come in prayer. We were invited to come and share a word of Scripture which had spoken to us through the week.

The Jesus followers in Acts 2 pooled their resouces and shared with one another as anyone had need.

We have a family in Missio Lux who has need, as they are both self-employed, and in one week, they lost all their contracts. We gathered in a prayer circle around them, and asked the Body of Christ to pray. It was truly the Body of Christ at its best. Those in their missio community came and supported them by laying hands on them. People spoke words of Scripture to encourage them. One 1o year old girl prayed an amazing prayer, showing that children really can lead the way.

Invitation to receive prayer: miracles, signs and wonders so that everyone was in awe:

As we continued to worship the Healing Prayer Ministers moved through the people praying for anyone that the Lord prompted them to pray over. One woman was healed of her headache. Another was given encouragement in a difficult situation. One person just needed to know that they were seen and loved.

They followed a daily discipline of worship followed by meals at home;

We moved to the tables where we took communion; but instead of it being an individual act, we did it together. We prayed the Lord's Prayer and read Acts 2 again, discovering which elements were especially meaningful to us and how we would like to see the Lord do more of within us.

every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God.

We have dinner together. People linger. They reached out and encouraged the family that shared their journey. New people were embraced. Children ran freely through the room and played together. One new family came and their children couldn't wait to come back again.

People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added to those who were saved.

People are hungry for relationships. We have a relationship with the One who created the whole universe. That's worth sharing....God continues to expand his family.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Experiencing Community with Healing Prayer

I always look forward to Tuesday nights. This is the night that the Missio Community Healing Prayer gathers; it is my place of greatest belonging. When I am with this community, I am happy and at home with those that share my passion for prayer and for walking in the miracles of healing.

We start by praying, breathing deeply remembering that Holy Spirit is breath and brings life to us. We remember and speak out who we are: our identity as Jesus' followers. We praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit for who they are and what they have done. We confess our sins, and we pray for one another.

Every week it looks different as we wait for the Lord to show us how to procede.

Tonight we asked the Lord if he had words of encouragement that he wanted to share with us. As we began to speak them, four of the six words were for the same person. She was blown away by God's care for her as she just got a new job at her work; which actually protected her from the layoffs that came the next week. The message from three of us were very similar; God wanted her to know that he had put her in this new position and he was with her as she walked through the different trials of her life.

We prayed over our Easter Celebration which will be taking place at Occidental Square. God is showing us what he wants that Celebration to be; and we are listening and responding.

We finished by discovering who amongst us had need for prayer. Three of us did, so the whole community broke up to pray for the 3. Next week it will be different people. We ended up by praying for a husband of one of the women in our community that just had surgery, and then blessed one another.

People linger.

They don't like to leave the love, the warmth and the acceptance that they find in the community of God's people. I sit with a smile on my face as I think, "We are getting closer each time to discovering what God really intends for us as his followers as we live into the relationships he invites us to live."

It's All about Relationships, part 1

The Celebration Sunday was focused on God’s people in community. We looked at the Acts 2 passage and discovered in it that everything that they did in the New Testament Church was about Relationships.
I have to believe that these first new believers had their heads spinning as they realized that much of what they held sacred in their faith: following the law, worshipping at the Temple, making animal sacrifices, no longer were the way to know God and follow him. Everything was turned upside down as they discovered the way of Grace!
At first it feels strange to not do the things that we are so used to doing. But, as we let the unfamiliar become our new familiar, we begin to get excited and embrace the new way. The new way for the first Jesus followers, who by the way, were called “The Way,” discovered that what God really wants is Relationship! That’s why we were created: to be in relationship with God and each other.
So, once they found out how wonderful the new freedom is, they began to let it permeate every aspect of their lives. They began to get together every day; and enjoy one another. The first thing they did together was Eat! They shared communion through the whole meal and let it be a really amazing experience as they shared how God had met them that day. They also focused their worship on God through exploring the Scriptures, prayer, caring for one another and praying for miracles and healings, which happened on a regular basis all around them.

Acts 2 tells us that everyone was in awe because of the miracles being done around them. God was showing off his powerful love in bringing forth healings and miracles, as he encouraged them in their new way of following them.
They also made sure that no one around them went without what they needed. No welfare or government assistance was needed because the new Jesus followers understood it was their privilege to care for those around them. They gladly sacrificed so that others would not suffer.
The Church of the 21st century is in many ways at the same place of the first Jesus followers. Much of what we held sacred is shifting and God is showing a new pathway for how to follow him. The basis and foundation of that pathway is that it is all about relationships. We can stop working so hard and enjoy being together as we let God’s love surround us so much that it can’t help seeping out to those around us.
This small band of Jesus followers made such an impact in their world that none of us will ever be the same. Is it possible that we have the same opportunity to live in such a way that the next segment of history is affected by our very lives? I hope so, let’s begin by letting God love us well as we love one another and the world.