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Sunday, November 24, 2013

"How Much Longer?"

This past week I spent some time with a ministry staff who asked me to come in and talk about organization and time management. Some of the team was struggling with too many things to do and too little time to get it all done.

I did not know most of these folks, so in order to get to know them, I asked them to write a headline for their ministry newsletter, ten years in the future. "What would you want the headline to say about you?"

They came up with some outstanding and aspirational statements. None of them were arrogant or shallow -- all of the statements were deeply significant and focused on the kingdom of God. Nevertheless, they all admitted to some level of exhaustion over the many things they were trying to do, many of which were not taking them in the directions their headlines aspired to.

Then we talked about what it takes to keep focused on their ultimate goals and not get mired in the day-to-day chaos of to-do lists and people's crises. Stephen Covey, in his tried and true book 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, says that what we want said about ourselves at the end of our lives turns out to be our definition of success. I said that a formative booklet for me in college was titled The Tyranny of the Urgentwhich taught me about shaping my life around important things, which may not demand my attention the way that those urgent things do. The rest of our time together was spent in talking about how to manage our priorities and schedules according to the important things.

I'm well aware that this is far easier said than done, and I submit to you that after thirty years of vocational ministry, I may only now be starting to get the hang of it. I was reminded of this message again in my reading. Once again, Henri Nouwen speaks profound truth:

If we do not wait patiently in expectation for God's coming in glory, we start wandering around, going from one little sensation to another.  Our lives get stuffed with newspaper items, television stories, and gossip.  Then our minds lose the discipline of discerning between what leads us closer to God and what doesn't, and our hearts gradually lose their spiritual sensitivity. 

Without waiting for the second coming of Christ, we will stagnate quickly and become tempted to indulge in whatever gives us a moment of pleasure.  When Paul asks us to wake from sleep, he says:  "Let us live decently, as in the light of day; with no orgies or drunkenness, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy.  Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ, and stop worrying about how your disordered natural inclinations may be fulfilled"  (Romans 13:13-14).  When we have the Lord to look forward to, we can already experience him in the waiting.

Like children on a road trip with their parents, we are usually impatient to get to our destination, and incessantly ask, "How much longer??" In the same way, as adults we indulge our impatience by tinkering around with busyness that often does not add up to anything of real substance over time. The process of maturation must include growth in the capacity to delay gratification. This passage has been instructive in so many ways:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

May we be impatient for our true destination, but somehow also enjoy the journey.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili

In sunny, silly Santa Barbara, the main way I can tell that it is fall (even though it was 80 pickin' degrees yesterday...) is that there is a plethora of sweet potatoes, yams, squash and pumpkins in the store. I love them all!

As I approached lunchtime today, I looked at the sweet potato on my counter, and then turned to my pantry. With a can of diced tomatoes and a can of black beans, I was confident something good was coming... I googled those three ingredients, and here's where I landed.

Wish I could share a bowl with you right now. My tummy is quite happy. Stoked too that leftovers will be divine! Try it out.

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile (see Note)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups water
2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
4 teaspoons lime juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
* I also added a half-cup of frozen corn kernels

Heat oil in a Dutch oven (or large pot) over medium-high heat. Add sweet potato and onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, chipotle and salt and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add water and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the sweet potato is tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
Add beans, tomatoes and lime juice; increase heat to high and return to a simmer, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mosaix 2013 ~ quotes and reflections

Last week I attended the Mosaix 2013 conference in Long Beach (November 5-6). This is the description of it from the website:
The 2nd National Multi-ethnic Church Conference will gather more than 600 like-minded ministry pioneers - experienced local church pastors and planters, network and denominational leaders, authors and educators - passionately pursuing the establishment of healthy multi-ethnic and economically diverse churches for the sake of the Gospel in an increasingly diverse society. 
There ended up being around 1,000 people there, and it was an excellent experience. I went with six others with whom I am teamed up in pursuing a missional initiative in the Westside neighborhood here in Santa Barbara, along with the five staff pastors from the church and over 100 Free Methodist leaders from Southern California.

The time would have been worth it simply for the drive down and back in terms of intentional time for our Westside Initiative team to talk, process, think out loud and even disagree. But fortunately, the conference also provided some excellent insights. That doesn't mean I loved every speaker -- some actually infuriated me -- but overall, I was challenged and encouraged by several of them.

The conference was absolutely jam-packed with presentations, and they used an interesting format: there were three plenary sessions each day, and four speakers in each plenary slot, using a sort of TED Talk format. Each one was given 17 minutes to speak, and came one after the other. The four messages in each plenary session did not really relate to each other, and I guess that was ok. What I liked about this format was that if I wasn't feelin' it for the speaker, I knew it would be over soon, and if it was a compelling one, I hung on every word, knowing the time would speed by quickly. On top of all that, there were seminar tracks to follow, two seminars each day. Let's just say it was like drinking from a firehose.

Hands down, the highlight was hearing from Dr. John Perkins, who really is the mentor and leader of this movement toward multi-cultural ministry and church community. (I'm including a photo from my phone... grainy, but a visual reminder of this great day.) He has served in the trenches for 53 years, and the wisdom gleaned from such a life is immeasurably valuable. He went over his 17 minutes, and was I ever thankful. Praise God for his faithful service.

Yesterday I spent two hours poring over my notes from the conference, typing some of them up while discarding others. As is my way, I also ended up noting some books mentioned by presenters that I want to read as a follow up. If you like Twitter, you can just go to #mosaix2013 and see many of the comments and quotes that flowed from the time. But here is my own twitter feed of sorts...

"The church should not and cannot be segregated. Between 1990-2009, US population grew by 56 million. But how many became active church members? Only 450k. 1% at most. We're undermining the gospel." Mark DeYmaz, co-founder of Mosaix Global Network

"Luke 4 is also the Great Commission. Intrinsic to the gospel, it is preached to the poor first. Matthew 28 must be read in light of Luke 4, which was preached at the beginning of Jesus' ministry." Mark DeYmaz

"Why do we let the culture of America rather than the gospel shape our churches?" Derwin Gray

"The multi-ethnic church race: not a sprint, but a marathon for life." Paul Louis Metzger

"It is no use to walk anywhere to preach, unless our walking is our preaching." St. Francis (quoted by Eugene Cho)

"When the grass looks greener on the other side, water the grass you are standing on!" Eugene Cho

[In pursuing multi-cultural relationships...] "If you're not uncomfortable at least 25% of the time, you're not pushing limits." Curtiss DeYoung

"In that space between idea and actuality, best practices won't get you there! The only thing to get you through the gap is a deep and abiding conviction that the scriptures command us to do this. Peter even missed it. It's hard." Leonce Crump

"This conference has helped me to complete a life. Like Simeon waiting for Messiah, then meeting Jesus in the temple. I've seen some hope fulfilled. I feel finished. I couldn't be more joyful... Everything else we do is minor. No greater call than to be called to the service of Jesus... This renewal is of God. It's gonna happen. The world will see what can't happen politically or socially. This will show what God can do." Dr. John Perkins

"Find out what 'good news' means for your neighborhood." Christena Cleveland

"God is personal, but never private." Jim Wallis

"It is not admirable to be multi-racial in the Body of Christ. It is intrinsic... Racism is a sin against God." Jim Wallis

I hope to spend the rest of my days pursuing this way of ministry. We were reminded by many of the speakers that we must be in this journey for the long haul. Christena Cleveland reminded us that Jesus lived on earth for thirty years before he even started his ministry! But I am more convinced than ever that "to whom much is given, much more is required (Luke 12:48), and I am so grateful for the community I am apart of. 

I am assuming there will be follow up materials (articles, videos, etc.) from the conference, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, may we all be praying for the vision of eternity from Revelation 7:9-10,
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”