A Parable

There once was a wealthy, respected, and powerful man who fell in love with a beautiful woman.  Because of his love, the man devoted himself to her and soon she fell in love with him and they were married.  They moved into a small house and started a family.

After some time, the man discovered the perfect land to settle down with his wife and raise their children.  The man began making preparations to move his wife to the new land.  In order to prepare the land, the man would have to leave his wife for a time to build a house. 

So the man hired two servants.  One servant would watch over and protect the family while the man was away.  The other would be there to help the wife around the house and look after the children as they waited for their new home to be built.  Though the family for the most part needed to be stay behind, the man asked his wife to visit often to see the progress he was making, to help with planning, and join him in the work on their new home. 

In the beginning everything went according to plan.  The man made great progress on the new home.  The first servant faithfully watched over and protected the woman.  The second servant was a wonderful helper and encourager to the woman.  And the woman often went to visit her husband and check on the progress and join in the work of her new home. 

But as time went on, things began to unravel.  The first servant became concerned with increased dangers and began discouraging the woman from traveling to see her new home.  He even began to take pride in how well he kept the woman confined to the old house.  The second servant enjoyed the time she spent helping the woman so much that she became jealous of the husband and sought for the family’s sole attention.  Therefore, the woman became afraid of the outside world and turned her attention away from her husband becoming content with the friendship of her servants.  The visits to her husband became fewer and fewer until they stopped all together.

Noticing that his wife no longer came to visit and longing for her company, he decided to return to the old home to see what had happened.  Upon returning he discovered how the first servant had confined his wife to the house and discouraged her from visiting him.  He also discovered the jealously of the second servant and how she sought to keep his family from him.  The man was angry with his two servants for their unfaithfulness, so he dismissed them from their duties.

The man also discovered how his wife no longer loved him and he was sad.  But because of his love for her, he devoted himself to her once again.  He took her back to see the new home that he had prepared and she once again remembered the love she had for him.

Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Flo’s Story

Here is a video made for our church planting organization, Mission Alive, that highlights the work we have been doing in Wichita.  I think you will enjoy it!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trying to Listen to God

I talk a lot about listening to God.  I have had some really good experiences where I have heard from God and seen the timeliness of those words.  I heard the voice of God today and thought I would share my experience.

My shift at work didn’t start as early today as it often does, so that made it a little easier to go in early and start my day off with some prayer.  My prayer mostly consisted of journaling my reflections on the day before and my hopes for today.  I wanted to spend some time in silence and try to just listen to God for direction for the day.  The atmosphere in my store was not lending itself for a good place to practice silence and listening so I ended up just doing some thinking.  I asked God to help me think about what I ought to do today.  I knew that it would be an unusual day because I had to work early and then go back that evening to do an inventory count.  So my family time would be limited.  The only thought that really came to me was that I need to make sure and make the most of my time with my kids today.  I also asked God to help me pay attention to what was actually going on in my store today.

So I start work and get right into the routine of work.  And before you know it, I’ve worked half of my shift and feel like I haven’t been aware of what was going on with my co-workers or customers.  But finally, I hear a guy order a quad espresso over the drive thru, so I started making it.  As I am finishing up the drink, I hear him say through the window, “hey.”  I turn around and realize that its my next door neighbor, Bill.  We say “hi” to each other and he comments how nice the weather is.  It was a little cold for my Texas blood, but the sun was shining.  He then asked me if I’ve been able to get outside and enjoy it.  I say, “no.”  He then goes on to say, “I haven’t seen you outside playing with your son in a while, you better take advantage of this while you can.  You know this isn’t Texas.”

And then it hit me – Jesus was speaking to me through my next door neighbor, Bill.  I need to play outside today with my son.  So that’s what I did.  We played baseball.  It was fun…and challenging…and a little cold.  But who am I to tell God he has a bad idea?  When God tells you to do something, you ought to obey.  He is God, right?  But then again, who wouldn’t want to obey a God who tells you to go outside and play baseball with your son.  I’m glad I decided to listen.  I hope you will too.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Community Based on a Way of Life

I am always trying to think of good ways to describe what we are doing in this River City Christian Community experiment.  Church Plant is such a loaded word with all kinds of connotations.  So here is my latest thoughts on what kind of community River City is.

I grew up as a part of a large congregation with a big church building and a father who worked on staff as a youth minister, associate minister, and elder.  I loved church growing up.  It was my thing.  But as I got older and began to realize that I was headed into church planting I had some serious reservations about the way a church building could dominate the conversation and mission of a local congregation.  I was aware of too many good things that couldn’t be done because funds or other resources were already consumed by the building.  I also heard too many stories from friends in ministry of how their days were taken up trying to figure out how to stop an overflowing toilet or something similar rather than the really important stuff of ministry.  I also had my suspicions that many churches were held together primarily because of their location rather than Christ.  As I ventured off into my first church plant, I wanted to try to plant a church that wasn’t a community based around a specific location.

So when we planted the Sunrise Church of Christ, we never had a specific location to call our own.  We rented a couple of schools and a daycare and bounced around several times over our five years as a church and I had far fewer facility days than I heard from my friends in churches with buildings.  When we finally decided to call it quits, I thought that there would be a small core of people who would continue to live in spiritual community even though we no longer had our Sunday morning worship gathering.  After all we had shared the last five years together in mission.  However, it wasn’t two weeks before everyone had moved on to other things.  It was a disappointing realization to see that our community wasn’t primarily bound together because of shared life in Christ.  I had managed to avoid creating a community based on location, but we replaced it with a community based on an event – our weekly worship gathering.

This go around, with River City, we are experimenting with something different still.  We are not location oriented.  Our gatherings bounce around from house to house.  And we are not even event oriented, or at least we are trying not to be.  Our weekly communion gatherings are hardly uniform and we even cancel them from time to time to allow for acts of hospitality and justice.  So instead of a location or an event we are trying to build a community that shares a common way of following Jesus.  When we meet someone interested in seeking God our first and/or most important step is not to “invite her to church” but to invite them to follow Jesus.  And following Jesus is a way of life that is lived everyday, rather than what we do and where we go on one day a week.

We are not perfect and I’m sure we are not totally bound together by this way of life.  But we are closer than any community I’ve ever been  a part of.  It is a fun ride.

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Inconsistency, Research, and Neighbors

I’m beginning this post kind of sad that I haven’t been consistent with my blogging.  If I’m being honest it is probably because I got distracted or maybe even kind of depressed.  February was a tough month for me and for River City. I was sick for three weeks and my grandfather passed away.  Combine that with a neighbor we had connected with River City who stopped coming and stopped returning our calls, and we felt pretty sure that whatever positive momentum we had come upon through the holidays and January had been reversed in February.  However, as March came, I got healthy and we got back on the horse of missional living and were off and running again.

So, things are better now and I find myself blogging again.  I hope you’ll forgive my inconsistency through some down times.  It is hard to get motivated to share when things aren’t going like you’d hope.  I’ll try to do better during the next down time.

Now, let me start to catch you up on the last couple of months of church planting.

Back in January, we (River City Christian Community) partnered with a Ph.D. candidate to participate in a research project for his dissertation.  The research is studying the role of the neighbor in the formation of new congregations.  Since we are a new congregation and we are open to neighbors (anyone willing to help us) helping shape our new church, we fit the criteria.  The overarching question we would be asking is “What is God up to in Wichita?”  We decided to do this for two main reasons.  First, it is another opportunity to learn more about Wichita’s culture and to see the city with fresh eyes, open to God’s presence in places we hadn’t noticed yet.  Second, we hope it would build and deepen the friendships we have with our neighbors. The discernment process we would be going through is based on two spiritual practices.  The first we are calling Dwelling in the Word.  In this practice we read a specific passage of scripture and share a word or phrase that captures our imagination and why.  After some conversation around a couple carefully constructed questions used to reflect on the text, we develop a question for our second spiritual practice.  We call this Dwelling in the World.  In this practice we take the question the group has come up with back into our everyday lives of work, play, and dwelling in Wichita.

Phase one in the process involves just our friends who share the River City rule of life.  We spent about a month participating in these practices, learning from each other and preparing to invite our neighbors into the next phase of the process.  One of my favorite Dwelling in the World questions was “Who is my neighbor?”  God answered that question over and over that week.

In March, we began inviting the neighbors God revealed to us to join us in this process.  It was kind of intimidating thinking about asking other people to help us.  We weren’t offering anything as a form of payment or even payoff.  We were simply relying on people being willing to help us by offering their time and honest thoughts.  We ended up asking all kinds of people to participate – people from other churches, disconnected Christians, and non-Christians.  Not everyone was able to say yes, but we had several who did – some connected to other churches, some disconnected Christians, and some non-Christians.  We were pleased by the willingness of our neighbors to help us.

We are currently in the midst of phase two where our neighbors have joined us in engaging the spiritual practices of Dwelling in the Word and World.  Things are going really well and it is exciting to see how God is at work in our group.  I plan to share how things have turned out and what we have learned when we wrap things up in several weeks.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Kingdom of God is like a Funeral – part 2

Grandpa’s funeral was Saturday, February 18 in Searcy, Arkansas.  Grandma and Grandpa lived in Little Rock for a long time and retired to Searcy several years ago.  I loaded up my family on Friday to start heading to Arkansas.  There was a visitation planned for Friday night and  I wanted to make it there in time for that event.  I was actually excited to go.  I was anticipating seeing a lot family that I had not seen in years.

We made it to Searcy just after the visitation began.  As we drove up to the Downtown church building, I was surprised at the amount of cars in the parking lot.  There were a lot of people who came because they loved my Grandma and Grandpa and our family.  Of course, all of my aunts and uncles were there and 18 of 19 grandchildren were able to make it too.  There was family from as far as Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas, Minnesota, and Texas.  There were several families who are part of my parents’ church in the Dallas area who drove up.  There was even some family friends from College Station, TX.  I was amazed how many people came.  It was fun getting to see and catch up with cousins who I hadn’t seen in over ten years.  It was special getting to see and hug my aunts and uncles as they mourned their daddy.  It was inspiring and humbling seeing my grandmother stand there and greet all the people who came to pay their respects to Grandpa.  It was a special time.

The next day was the funeral.  I walked in with the rest of the family.  It seemed like a quarter of the room was reserved for us.  All 5 of my dad’s brothers and sisters or their spouses, including Dad, had a part in the service.  It was really special getting to hear each of them talk about Grandpa, share his story, and point to the legacy he and my Grandma have been blessed with and helped create.  Grandpa was a preacher in part because when he was a child a garbage man had the courage to invite him to vacation Bible school and a Sunday school teacher had the heart to stop by and check on the kids.  Grandpa spent his life teaching music and preaching the Gospel of Jesus.  He worked in churches all over the US and later in life traveled overseas often to share Jesus with people in other countries.  I was especially touched by what my uncle Dean said at the funeral.  He quoted from Revelation 14,

“Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!”

Toward the end all the grandchildren went to the front and sang a couple of Grandpa’s favorite songs, My God and I and The Lord Bless You and Keep You.  It was a special time.

After the funeral a meal was prepared for the family in another room.  We ate together and had a special time to share special memories of Grandpa.  We talked about riding in the car on the way to Sunday worship growing up with the big hills that felt like a roller coaster and how Grandpa would press on the gas to make it more fun.  A couple of the grandkids talked about living with Grandpa and Grandma for short periods and how they would always eat breakfast together, every morning, bacon and eggs.  I remembered how Grandpa always read us Twas the Night Before Christmas when we were at his house on Christmas eve.  It was a special time.

More to come…

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Kingdom of God is like a Funeral – part 1

Last Wednesday, February 15, 2012, my grandfather, Claude Lewis (Grandpa), passed away.  I always wonder how I will react emotionally to these kind of things.

My mom’s father, Ralph Starling passed away in July of 2008, just days after my daughter was born and around the same time my good friend, Don Everroad passed away from cancer.  Don was a founding member of the Sunrise Church of Christ, my first church plant in Grand Prairie, TX.  Don was a hard worker, faithful, and loyal.  I spent almost every Sunday for more than three years unloading a trailer and setting up a school cafeteria or daycare for Sunday worship with Don and his wife, Pat.  He was usually the first one to arrive and always the last one to leave, following me back to my house to unload the sound system.  I loved the Everroads and even though Don was part of my parent’s generation, I considered him a good friend.  I had the privilege of being with Don when he passed from this life to go be with the Lord and the honor of speaking at his graveside and memorial services.  Because Don had cancer and we had some time to anticipate his passing, I had some time to think about how I would handle it emotionally.  I thought I would cry like a baby, after all I spent time with Don every week.  When he finally passed away, I was very sad, but I never cried.  I don’t know why.

Since Don and my grandfather, who we affectionately called Grand LaLa, were declining in health around the same time, I took time to consider how I would react emotionally to his passing as well.  I had a good relationship with LaLa.  I always got the sense that he was proud of me.  It was a good relationship, but not one that I would consider close.  Growing up, we always lived a couple hours drive from each other.  I saw he and my grandmother (GiGi) often, but nothing like I did with Don every week.  I figured I would be very sad when LaLa passed away, but I didn’t anticipate that I would cry like a baby.  I had the special privilege of speaking at LaLa’s memorial service as well.  As weird as it may sound, it was one of the most fun and memorable sermons I have ever preached.  When he finally passed away, I cried a lot.  It surprised me.

Grandpa and I never lived closer than a six hour drive from each other, and sometimes farther than that.  I also had a good relationship with him but also not one that I would call close.  I’m not sure how you could have a close relationship when you are one of 19 grandchildren and live half a days drive away.  I always thought Grandpa was proud of me as well.  Even though his health was declining over the past several months, I didn’t anticipate the nose dive it took there at the end.  He had some strokes and lost some of his ability to speak and move around.  When it became apparent that he had only days to live the emotions really hit me and I had a real good cry.

I guess there is something special about family.  There is something significant about blood.  Even though we weren’t close, there is something about my Grandpa that really touches my heart.  More to come…

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment