Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year's Eve

Happy New Year's Eve 2014! from Phloem on Vimeo.
Talking about difficult people and the golden opportunity that they are for spiritual growth. Introducing a new newsletter (Folium) with articles on mission activities and home life.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What Are We Talking About?

Over the last six weeks our blog series has followed Romans 12 as a guide to our group discussion.  Each of us (Paul, Chris and myself) has the sense that God is doing something in our local area, and we are actively exploring what it is and how we can be a part of it.  We believe we have come to some conclusions and want to put them out there for the Body of Christ to respond.

This process, however, is not unique to us, but is something you could be doing in your region, or even in cooperation with folks in our Kingston area.  So, as I retrace the steps we have taken, perhaps you can see how God is moving in a similar way in your life, or in the lives of believers around you.

Let me begin at the beginning.  For a long time I labored under the assumption that God would work through my particular gifting and abilities, and all I had to do was use them to the fullest extent possible and good things would happen to the world around me.  I was wrong.  Or, at least I was incomplete.  It required the inconvenience of having to work a day job and going to school to realize that God works through the whole Church, not individuals.  I started to see the value of a team in a brand new way, and the cool thing was that God was showing the same idea to some other guys.

Paul Barrett and Chris Ifland had both been searching for how to participate with what God is doing in our local area.  They each have a sense that there is a need in our community that is producing broken families and a people who lack the faith to rise above it.  Eventually we met, and began to talk about what God was doing in our lives.  It required openness, honesty and agreement on basic priorities to get to the point of wondering if God had a common purpose for our little group.  In time, we saw that there was.

Our journey through Romans 12 has basically been a tour through the mission statement for our team.  Concepts like self-sacrifice, transformation, distributed gifting, hospitality, humility and service are at the core of what God has woven into each of us.  And this is built on a foundation of prayer, a love for the Word of God, and deep personal relationship with Jesus, through the Spirit.  So, when we read in verse 16 that we are to lay aside pride and associate with the lowly, we don't see condescension, but we do see opportunity.  We see the chance to walk beside the Father in what He is doing.

At this point we have come to the conclusion that the particular need that God is inviting us to engage is the addiction/homeless/broken family culture that lies just beneath the surface of our local society.  The Iflands have been going out to the woods behind the Kingston McDonald's where a group of displaced teens hang out, and have developed relationships with several of them.  Recently at our Thursday group we had a guy who is fighting addiction join us, and we were able to help him engage the business community as he searched for a job.

In all these interactions it is our goal to demonstrate Christ to our world by sharing the gospel in our actions and words.  But, we also perceive that there are physical needs for safety, employment, rehabilitation, food and shelter that must be addressed as well.  After meeting with a Kitsap County Sheriff’s detective we got a shocking picture of the tangled web of drug use, damaged people and  needy families.  There is much work to be done.

We are holding everything loosely as we move forward, but there are challenges to this proposal that require solutions, and we are weighing the options.  One component that we all agree on is the need for a physical location or hub that can allow interaction, office space, discipleship, shelter, etc. for the clients and the volunteers.  Also, for sustainability, this should be paired with an economic engine like a coffee shop, pizza parlor or feed store.  So, we are searching for a spot that has adequate space and is conducive to business.  We do not want to be constantly fund-raising and this model provides jobs and training to those that need it.

We are aware that there are those that have blazed this path ahead of us, and we are in discussions with two ministries in Kitsap County that are interested in partnering with us to see this ministry come to life.  We appreciate any suggestions you may have and hope you will pray for our continued reliance on the Father as we move ahead.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Good Overcomes Evil

Romans 12:19-21 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  (ESV)

Starting to envision a better community, one that lives out the gospel in daily life, has been enjoyable though difficult because there are so many aspects of daily life in Kingston that the gospel needs to touch and transform. The vision is way too big to get our heads around, and even the first steps in moving toward it are arguable. Yet we see God already at work, connecting us and revealing to us not so much a vision, as how to follow Him individually, and as a community of believers, into to foggy future. Our trust is in Him and His ability to work in us and through us, not the completeness or compulsion of the vision.

But as much as we want to grasp the glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven being lived out in a local community, our hands are still full of those things we find so hard to let go. Paul the apostle writes in this last bit of Romans 12 concerning a particularly hard thing we all have faced to some degree – releasing our desire for revenge. In the past two blogs, Locke and Paul have shared from Romans 12 about the very practical aspects of living both IN the body of Christ (v9-13) and AS the body of Christ alongside those who are still in darkness (v14-18). These last verses clearly indicate that while trying to live out the gospel in public life, we can expect opposition, persecution, discouragement, even harm and severe loss. Though apostle Paul, in verse 14, states “bless those who persecute you,” and in verse 17 “repay no one evil for evil,” he returns to this theme once more in verse 19, expanding his teaching and quoting scripture as if he knows this topic has the potential to derail his reader's vision and motivation. His emphasis should be a clue.

Have you been wronged, or seen wrong, to the point of not hearing God’s voice clearly due to the loud cries of revenge (perhaps masquerading as justice) ringing in your head? Maybe our reputation has been sullied or our possessions and sense of safety have been stolen, or even a loved one has been taken away untimely and unjustly. Maybe some of these things have happened because we are followers of Christ. Paul knows all too well the trouble believers face as they begin to live out the gospel in cities and communities where, in many places, darkness has had its way. This is not a pleasant part of the future to discuss, but necessary. Romans 12 does not leave us to simply struggle, however.  Paul is clear that perpetuating evil through revenge makes no sense, both because vengeance belongs to God and because it destroys the opportunity for grace to redeem a tragedy.

The proverb quoted in verse 20, about heaping burning coals on someone's head, at first glance seems confusing, until we see the proverb’s metaphor as the way one’s face feels when deeply ashamed and remorseful.  Meeting the basic needs of those who have severely injured us is probably not what we want to do at the moment.  But to give our pain and desire for revenge over to God, and to see his greater purpose, positions us to overcome evil with good that brings our enemy to a place where they understand their brokenness, and God can deal with their heart; to choose to accept either redeeming grace or, sadly, justice.

In moving forward with the vision we have been discussing, we will assuredly run into our own sin and the sins of others. How we deal with these events and situations is critical to staying our course and momentum in following Christ, in whom is both truth and grace. Let’s ask for His power to be people that can face evil and overcome it with good.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Words To Live By

Romans 12:14-18 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. [15] Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. [16] Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. [17] Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. [18] If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Kingston is a beautiful place to live. The slow pace of life is very desirable. But what would be the impression on the rest of the world if the people of Kingston took these words to live by to heart (Rom. 12)? How can we, at work, in school, with family and friends, become known for blessing others, sharing in each others joys, pains and sorrows? What would be the impact in our community if both individually, and as a community, we increased in our compassion for the less fortunate and resisted evil by trusting God, instead of ourselves, to repay evil?

We long for the perfect world that God created originally, but we live in a fallen, less than perfect world. To prepare us for the life to come, Jesus came to this fallen world and redeemed us with His blood, but also with His words. He gave us instructions and an example of how we are to live, penned by the Apostle Paul, but taught by Jesus...words to live by. Empowering us with His Spirit, this transforming power enables us to live as new creations (2 Cor. 5:17) and to become His image (Rom. 8:29) to lost people without hope. 

As a result lost people persecute us when we reach out to them. The Apostle Paul in Romans 12 exhorts us to bless them (v. 14), just as Jesus did as he was being nailed to the cross (Luke 23:33-34). We are encouraged to have compassion, rejoicing and weeping with people we are in relationship with, empathizing with their joys and sorrows (v.15), like Jesus weeping with Mary when her brother Lazarus died (Jn. 11:32-35).

The Apostle Paul gives us the greatest challenge of all in verses 16-18. He challenges us to live in harmony by setting aside our pride. We do this by relating to those who we may consider “lowly” and by not thinking of ourselves as wise, but instead we turn to words inspired by Jesus...words to live by... tough words! 

Jesus’ words to live by are the words that instruct us in how we are to live as a healthy community. A community of fallen people, lifted up by Jesus, empowered by His Spirit, living both as a witness and as the hope of a life to come. When we trust in the wisdom of God and reach out to each other in love and forgiveness, even in the face of evil ( v.17), we can experience peace. Even in a fallen world.

If the community of Kingston became committed to God and His words to live by (the Bible), is it possible for Kingston to not only be known as a beautiful place to live, but also as a community that is known for blessing, rejoicing, living in harmony and a community of peace? This is our challenge from Romans 12. Please feel free to join in on the conversation.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

There Will Be Fireworks

Romans 12:9-13 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

I love fireworks.  In their brief life they fly, spin, sparkle and make a lot of noise.  The best ones light up the sky with brilliant festoons of colors and patterns, and they shake the ground with a BOOM that you feel in the pit of your stomach.  If you shoot off fireworks, you are sure to get a crowd.  Ordinary people will stop whatever they are doing to watch the show, and a smile will emerge on their faces as they remember the good times that go with pyrotechnics.  But all that never happens if the tightly wrapped packages of black powder, brown paper and metal shavings stay in the box.

Many Christians never take their faith out of the box.  You know how I know that?  The sky isn't lit up and the ground is not shaking.  It's that simple.  When you light a firework and it sits on the launch pad and puffs a little smoke, you call it a "dud," right?  When a believer in Jesus doesn't act like a believer in Jesus, we start to suspect that their powder is all wet, or their fuse has no fire.

The apostle Paul is writing to the Romans with a description of what expressed faith should look like.  The thing I want to draw your attention to, is the fact that this is not a list of behaviors to imitate by shear force of will. These things begin with LOVE, are founded in love and burst upon the world out of love (v9).  If fireworks had feelings, they would burn, burst and bang for the simple joy of doing what they are designed to do.  As Chris wrote last week, the things that get in the way of that joy are the remnants of the selfish, arrogant, lifeless people we used to be.

It makes sense.  If we are redeemed from being evil, we will would avoid evil like a rat infested restaurant, and, on the other hand, we will hunt down good like it is the latest edition of the iPhone (v9).  You see what I mean?

When we love each other like family and zealously defend one another's honor with all the fervor of the Tang dynasty (inventors of fireworks), we are in our element as servants of the Lord (v10-11).  Furthermore, our faith begins to reach beyond the box and ignite brilliant displays of humility and burst out audible "bangs" of discipleship.  With that as our focus, instead of polite society and rigid organizational structure, it is a no-brainer to have hope, patience and frequent conversation with the God of the universe (v12).

Our planet is spinning on a wobbly axis, tilting from one extreme to another while trying to reduce pain and increase pleasure.  It will never find a balance, because it is attempting to pivot around everyone's self-interest.  But we have found a true and un-moving center in Jesus.  As our reality spins around the One who made it all, we see clearly and have hope based in His leadership.  When the sky really is falling, we have the patience to weather it because we know God is in control.  It is something like being strapped down to the backseat floorboard of a constantly swerving car.  The difference is in knowing that Mario Andretti is driving, instead of a 2 year old.

Our lives are regenerated from the inside out.  Sure, sin fouled up the environment, our physical and moral selves, our relationship with God and each other, but we are now something new.  And that newness is not just intended to enhance our packaging, or inject our faith with ever greater amounts of black powder.  No, it is designed to be used.

Giving and hospitality may sound like quaint notions for a bygone era, but try applying it to the darkest corners to our society (v13).  Helping out fellow followers of Christ has got to be seen in the context of giving 'til it hurts, to those that are hurting for the lost.  It means giving out of love, so that those who carry love can carry it further.  We are not just trying to be hospitable, we are practicing hospitality like a doctor should practice medicine; by the oath.  We have a fire inside us that will not allow us to do otherwise.  We give, because giving brings light, demonstrates hope and the produces the sound of praise to our God.

Now, you may be reading this and thinking that this is the time to do something dangerously Christlike.  If so, I would like to encourage you to do 4 simple things:
  • Find someone else (or a group) that feels the same way
  • Pray together to see what God is already doing
  • Ask how God is leading you to be involved
  • Listen
As I said at the beginning, "I love fireworks."  However, it is the times that I have seen the people of God take off and light up the night, that I love even more.  I hope to see you on the launch pad.

(FYI - Our little group that meets Thursday mornings, 7am at Majestic Mountain in Kingston has been doing this for some time.  We have come to a few practical applications of Romans 12, which we are pursuing.  God has shown us pressing needs in our community and we are taking steps to provide a means of meeting those needs.  We will give specifics as they become more concrete.  However, our practical application may not be the same as what God shows you. Keep listening.)