Monday, December 7, 2009

Living on Mission:Faithfulness in Silence

The Intertestamental Period

For four hundred years the Jewish people strained to reconcile their faith in God's promises of blessing with the ugly experience of life under a succession of increasingly malignant pagan rulers... "The promised Messiah was the focus of their longing: until his coming, they would seek to be faithful so taht God would speed the day. They would attempt to learn about the Torah at the synagogue and obey it as best they could. They would celebrate the festivals in their own towns and perhaps sometimes in Jerusalem. They would pray, keep the food laws and Sabbath, and circumcise their baby boys. And they would wait in hope.

In the context of this fervent expectation, a young man from Nazareth, the son of a carpenter, would announce that the kingdom of God had come to Israel and was even now present with him." The Drama of Scripture

Living faithfully in silence for four hundred years waiting for a voice a word from God--living on misison for God means sometimes that we must remain faithful in the silence.

In silence, loud echoes of silence.
In the darkness, nothing.
In silence, loud echoes of silence.
In the darkness, wanting.

Desperately yearing to hear.
Pinching the ears in narrowness
and in the crevace--nothing.
Silence, loud echoes of silence.

A voice whispering on the echoe of silence.
A sound of hope, a sound in want.
A voice whispering on the echoe of silence.
A voice of a promise foretold.

Advent-the season that we expectactly wait in silence for the voice of hope, the voice of love, the voice of peace, and the voice of joy. God in breaking into our silence with a word of hope riding on a foretold promise--a promise that the messiah is here. Is peace silenced in your life, what about hope, love and joy....? This season reminds us that as we wait in times of silence on our journey of faith we can remain faithful until the in breaking of God's voice...a voice of a promise foretold. Our faithfulness is fueled on the hope that God is faithful to God's promises.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Living on Mission: Enduring the "Unkind Rythyms"

One aspect of living on misison means learning how to endure the unkind rythyms we experience in the real world. The highs and lows that do not seem as common on short term missions.

11-18-09 (Todd Harrington)


The clamoring bell in the bell tower
Bellowing beets, soulful stirrings
Jovial laughs on the pinnacle of hope.

Soil-filled dearth, crusty and brittle
Dryness is damp upon this misery
Avenging life where is your relief
Hidden is the ring of the bell.

Even after many trips and experiences, I was still fooled into thinking that my passion, conviction, and my attitude would remain constant. Wisdom reminds me that the reality of life has moments on the pinnacle of hope and moments of dryness which can even seem damp in such difficulty or misery. Living on mission faithfully means learning how to endure the unkind rythyms of life. I am seeking to remain centered in all circumstances--centered on Christ, the one who is present with me in the peaks and the valleys. I hope to remain broken and humble regardless of the rythymic waves of life.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Living on Mission: Brokenness

Psalm 22:14

14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.

Much of my heart has been hidden behind a good laugh or surrounded safely within sarcasm. I am one born to question, probe, provoke and not accept things at face value. My heart questions God, wrestles with God, and even becomes angry with God. Within the first several days of the vision trip to Swaziland at the Mpholi carepoint I found myself cursing God. I questioned His whereabouts, His heart and His love for the children in this village. There was a youg girl holding a baby on her back and singing beautifully. As I watched her, she began to melt my heart like wax. Watching her, observing her, beginning to care for her, I found myself becoming very angry with God. I took some time in solitude to cry out in anger and honesty with God. I continued to wrestle with where God's compassion was unfolding in this really difficult place. Later on the trip, I encountered a kairos moment--A moment where God enters into time, fulfilling it and expanding it beyond the everday normalcy. It happened when I spent time in the home of one of the Go-Go's or grandmothers. These are the women in the villages in the rural areas of the country who have already reared their children, many who have died to HIV, and now they are caring, loving, and feeding the children left behind from the wave of death of a generation of adults. These Go-Go' s live out the heart of Christ. They suffer, yet show compassion...they are worn yet they remain strong. They are in pain yet they have a resilient peace. In the lives of the Go-Go's God answered my cries of anger and God began and continues to turn my heart to wax and is stripping away the synicism, the judgemtnalism and the pride....breaking me as I conintue to think about and remember the lives of the Go-Go's.....they are living on mission for Chirst in brokenness calling me to follow.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Living on Mission: A Great Shake Up!

Haggai 2:21-22
“I am about to shake up everything, to turn everything upside down and start over from top to bottom----
I will take you as a signet ring, the sign of my presence and authority. I’ve looked over the field and chosen you for this work.

Ephesians 2:10
For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

We have the responsiblity and the priviledge to be a part of a great shake up! We have the invitation to live and play in God's kingdom which is a great shake up! This kingdom is topsy turvey and it is subsversive. In this kingdom the first will be last! The weak will be strong! The wronged will forgive! People will pray for their enemies! What seems obvious is made unclear in this new shake up! You are and I are invited to join in the work of this kingdom. According to Ephesians, this is what we were created for. We were created to join in the work of God here and now in this world. We are created to care for the orphans, the widows, the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the lost, and the needy. If you and I are not, then we are not fulfilling our ultimate purpose. We are to be about a great shake up! This shake up is beyond us, greater than us, and one that we can not accomplish....we simply join in the work and serve well, serve thankfully, and serve until the end......knowing that we have played our small role in this great shake up!

Poem by Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador;
He was assassinated for speaking
Up for God’s kingdom and justice in 1980

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection…..No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We
provide yeast that produces effects beyond
our capabilities.

We can not do everything and there is a sense of liberation in
realizing that. This enable us to Do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning a step along the way
an opportunity for God’s Grace to enter and do
the rest.

We may never see the end results….
We are prophets of a future that is not our own.

You are not a pastor, you are not fat enough!

One day last week, I was celebrating with around 300 children and several other adults from the local community-we all came together to celebrate a Christmas party---even though it was in October. At this party, the children many who are orphaned played soccer, net ball, colored, and played in a jumpee. One of the children asked me what I did back in the U.S. I told them that I was a pastor. So, there I was with four beautiful children….a girl that I called Fine because when I asked her what here name was she said, “I am fine.” The other children whose English was a little more improved realized the mistake and giggled when I continued to call her “Fine”. They had smiles that where rich with pain yet full of fun and laughter. I could not convince these youngsters that I was a pastor. Why would they think that I was not telling them the truth? It was baffling! It provoked me to tease out the reasons. Why in a country full of people of peace, people who trust, not believe me when I told them that I was a pastor? I began to have a complex. Finally, one of the younger ones was bold enough to share the riddle. He simply said that your belly is not big enough to be a pastor. He simply said, “That I am not fat enough to be a pastor!” Well, I am on the verge of 40 and I do not have a stomach like I used to…so I must admit that it felt good to hear that I was not fat. But, this encouragement was fleeting when I looked beyond myself to examine this comment in light of my purpose of living a life in the way of Christ. Why in a land where so many go hungry, there is a belief in the young ones that a pastor is fat? How sad to think that the Christian pastor is seen as fat---or in their context the one who has plenty. Is the western church influencing our missions to the point that we give to the local pastor and then the goods trickle down like Reagan economics? Or is it that our hearts are so full of greed that even in third world countries there is the same temptation--simply relative to scale---to have more than we really need or to look out for ourselves first. What would it look like if Christians, pastors, myself included, were known more for having less? What would it really look like if Christian pastors and leaders realized their real place in the kingdom? LAST! Not as the ones with a fat belly, but the ones with a thin regard for selfish gain.

Living on Mission-Thoughts from Swaziland

Colossians 1:6

All over the world the gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all truth.

Colossians 1:9 …..we have not stop praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

As I listen to the chirping of birds, I sit and look around on this beautiful African morning. I notice a small fruit tree along with many other exotic plants and wildlife. This small fruit tree rests in the sun bursting with the hope of fresh fruit. As I sit and look at this tree, I think of Colossians 1:6---I think about the gospel bearing fruit and bursting forth fresh new hope all over the world. Here, several thousands of miles away from home; the gospel is bearing fruit and growing. I think about how I am connected with this eternal story of hope in the past and into the future. I think of Epaphras who first shared this fruit bearing gospel to the people of Colossae some 2, 000 years ago. I think of the gratitude I have for him as the gospel shared their burst forth a fruitful hope that has continued to grow and spread to this very moment as I sit on African soil. I think about the work of those sharing the gospel to the people here in Swaziland and their connection with Epaphras. The gospel is bearing fruit all around the world and we are invited this day to join in with sharing this hope and experience it this day-- bursting forth the new fruit of hope in our own life. As Paul writes in Colossians 1:9 I do pray this day (morning) for spiritual wisdom and understanding as we seek to find ways to join in with the unfolding of God’s mission and kingdom here on Earth. May we this day awaken ourselves to the wisdom and understanding offered by God’s grace to the ways in which we can join in with this eternal story of the gospel--the fruit bearing hope of a bright new morn.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Staying on Mission by planting in a missional community

Within modernity there has become a danger of church participants becoming consumers looking at what church can do for them. In this approach to ministry, the church becomes the marketer of goods and services and the pastor becomes the lead marketer trying to entice those within the church’s sphere of influence to come and receive what they have to offer in worship and programming. The gospel is sliced and diced into meeting felt needs. Long writes,

Numerous Christians are ‘double dipping.’ Instead of becoming part of one Christian community, they attend two or more churches in quest to have personal needs met. Thus they remain spectators or consumers in each church. We need to help Christians see that this path is not God’s path. He desires us to be involved in one fellowship where we can give as well as receive.[1]

The missional calling is a catalyst in shifting the church in understanding its calling as being a people on a mission or being a sent people serving in the world. It is the shift from going to church to being the church. This paradigm shift has great implications for the health and the purpose of our congregation. The community of faith is a pilgrim community on a mission to bless others and serve others through their understanding of Christ’s service to them. Wendell Berry illustrates the missional calling wonderfully in describing the ringing of the church bell in a small rural town.

My best duty was ringing the bell on Sunday morning. The bell rope came down into the vestibule through a hole bored in the ceiling. The rope was frayed where it had worked back and forth through the hole for a hundred years, and the hole was worn lopsided. Pulling the rope always felt awkward at the start, never the way I expected. You would feel the weight of the bell as it began unresponsively to swing on its creaky bearings up in the steeple. You might have to swing it a time or two or three times before the clapper would strike. And then it struck: “Dong!” And then around the sound of the clapper striking, the sound of the bell bloomed out in all directions over the countryside, into all the woods and hollows. It was never easy for me to stop ringing the bell, so I delighted in that interval of pure sound between the clapper and strokes. The bell, I thought voiced the best sermon of the day; it included everything, and in a way blessed it.[2]

The missional church is like this bell seeking to be a blessing in all of the ‘woods’ and ‘hollows’ throughout the world. The missional church is called to be a blessing to all and by doing this the missional community evolves beyond a consumerist ethos.

[1] Long, Generating Hope, 97.

[2] Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2000), 163-164.