Be still and know that he is God

In a moment I want you to close your eyes. Not yet. I’ll give you the signal. 
Read Psalm 46 first. Read it again more slowly. Do you want to read it again? Go ahead…

When it’s time to do so, I invite you to forget your surroundings and concentrate. Focus on your life as it is now. Here. In this moment. No matter what pressures you face, or the grief that pummels the deep places of your soul, or the self-talk that constantly assaults your dignity and value like an ubiquitous dull ache repeatedly interrupted by penetrating targeted barbs, I want you to rest in the presence of Jesus. 

As you close your eyes, speak his name with an attitude of worship. And wait. Listen. Speak his name again. Listen for his response, keeping in mind God’s message of encouragement for his people in Psalm 46, particularly verse 10, but in the context of the entire psalm.

This is your signal. Close your eyes, not opening them until you are ready, however long that may be. 
Now that you are back, reflect upon your experience. Write it down. Share with a trusted friend. 

Be still and know that he is God. 
  

Yo human, the clock is ticking

As I completed my walk home from work she stood at the entrance to the apartment parking lot, waiting for her children to arrive home from school on their bus. Looking up from her phone, she offered me a brilliant smile framed by a colorful Hijab and a friendly hello in response to my own smile and greeting. The moment was brief but meaningful. 

I see her and her children often in the complex. Yesterday, she followed her daughter as the six year old girl struggled to master riding her bike, albeit with training wheels. It brought back happy memories of my own as my father helped me to  graduate from training wheels to greater freedom as a bicyclist. 
It also reminded me that regardless of the color of our skin, our religious and cultural background, our political leaning, our social status, or our gender, we are human, God’s beloved creation. 

Yea, that’s right. Each of us is created by and loved by God. Imagine that. You may not agree. God loves you anyway. No matter what you have done, or think you have done. He loves you. But I suggest that you not ignore his love or take it for granted. The clock is ticking. Got questions? Ask away and I will reply when I can.

John 3:16-18 NRSV

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

Doing life on purpose

As I lurched forward over my small metal cart full of groceries, I instinctively tucked in my left elbow and braced for impact. The birds kept singing, oblivious to my impending doom; nearby cars honked and hurried to important destinations. The approaching sidewalk pavement stared at me with a gritty, menacing smile in the form of cracks and general disrepair. My momentum carried me forward. I felt nothing; then everything in quick succession as I tucked and rolled. Quietness, then pain. Frustration, then gratitude, realizing nothing was broken, although I did sustain minor bruising. In that moment all alone on the ground, with peanut butter and bread spread across the sidewalk alongside cans of soup, a package a skinless chicken, plus bags of spinach and lettuce among sundry other items, a car stopped near me.

A woman rushed to my side. She identified herself as a registered nurse. She insisted I rest for a moment while she ascertained my condition. Then she gathered up my groceries and packed them back into the basket, asking me if I needed further assistance. After I thanked her and pointed out that my home is just a hundred yards away, she left.

It occurred to me once again as it has so often in the past: I am alone, but I am not alone. Although this event happen two years ago, it remains fresh in my mind today. It encourages me to do life on purpose, seeking ways to encourage others and to find ways to enter into community with them. 

So I continue leading kids church twice per month, I enter into conversations with my apartment neighbors, I befriend bus drivers and fellow travelers throughout the city, I know my local grocers, the Starbucks baristas, my hair stylists, the gas station attendants who fill up my work truck, the workers at my local goodwill who wave each time I come in to find a new treasure, the warehousemen and customer service staff at local flooring vendors, fellow truck drivers, and so on. Just now as I wrote this paragraph I shared a laugh and brief conversation with a lady whose dogs were curious about my activities outside this Starbucks.

By doing life on purpose with a view toward becoming a Christlike witness, mission moves from merely marketing Christian information to incarnating the life and work of Christ through authentic relationships which inspire new friends to dare ask of the hope which they perceive in you. 

I contend that it is bolder to befriend a person with an attitude of genuine interest and posture of listening and learning, than it is to preach at her with no clue as to her story.  Likewise, it is more redemptive to inspire questions from her about your hope in Christ, then it is to proclaim your doctrine in a manner disrespectful to her struggles, however unintentional it might be. 

Proclamation is important, yes. But base it on relationship, preferably friendship. Evangelism should not be like a marketing call center which is satisfied with a 2% success rate based on voluminous contacts. It should be committed to long-term conversation as providence supplies the opportunities.

This requires commitment to doing life on purpose, particularly despite criticism from some within the Church leadership establishment who prefer their paradigms and programs to real relationships in a messy world. It calls for vulnerability. It will probably cause pain. Mission was never intended to be for our pleasure or comfort. It’s intended to proclaim Christ and alleviate spiritual, emotional and physical suffering.

Are you in?

safety is over-rated

In many ways, the unreached aren’t so different from followers of Jesus. They work, play, smile, bleed… They may even be seeking for meaning in life. But how will we know to sense their cues if all of our attention is inwardly focused?

For the last two years I’ve actively engaged people in my new community, making friends, listening, sharing laughs all within the ebb and flow of daily routines. Bus drivers, drug addicts, laborers like myself, business people, parents, kids, and so on. A divers sampling of humanity. Outwardly appearing normal, but on a deeper level struggling through life. 

Connecting with others powerfully is done most effectively in the context of real life through regular interactions. It’s intentional, not accidental. It’s active, not passive. Their terms, not ours. 

This is why I choose to live and work primarily outside of the Christian sphere. While I value the teaching, influence and covering of my local church, my primary ministry is outside of its walls and in the community.

It’s not a safe space, which is why I depend all the more on The Lord God to order my steps in the days ahead. God isn’t safe either, to borrow Lewis’s observation about Aslan. But he is infinitely good.

single living in the daily routines

I don’t often write or talk about singleness, especially with respect to much of what is being portrayed via the arts, literature, lecture halls, and spoken word venues. I’m too busy living a full life to concern myself with caricatures, misconceptions, and intentional distortions both within and outside of Christendom. Much of the Christian content dealing with singleness misses the point. The world would be better off if we simply stopped publishing expert opinions and began listening to real people.

Life is hard, single or not. Work must be done to earn a living and maintain a healthy household environment. Decisions must be made. About career, education, financial choices, how to spend time, how to recognize and obey God’s call to minister.

In some ways my life is simple. I work, I minister, I sleep. Then I work and minister some more until it is time to sleep again. In other ways it’s complex. I try to maintain friendships, but life is busy. People grow distant. Friends can sometimes regress into mere acquaintances. Friendship takes a lot of work and if you are an introvert like me, one or two dismissals is all it takes for you to get the message that it’s time to move on.

In the last five years I’ve carved out healthy margin in my life. I get my sleep. I’m able most weeks to relax sufficiently to counterbalance a physically demanding job. It took finishing academic work and firing myself as Children’s Pastor to make it happen, but I am glad I did it.

Many well meaning people have shared with me their opinions about my singleness over the years. Not a single one of them has understood me or correctly evaluated my needs. Too bad they didn’t take the time to listen. It might have saved them a world of disappointment in my failure to live up to their expectations. They said things like:

Them: “Wow, Glen. You must have the gift of singleness! That’s amazing. I guess that means you will be able to do a lot more for the church.”

Me: How do I respond to that graciously? First, what is the gift of singleness? Is it written about in the same biblical context as the gift of marriage? Show me in the Bible where a person is given a spiritual dispensation to live as a godly single. We are no different than married people, including the fact that we need God’s special grace and wisdom to focus our thinking and actions so that we honor Christ rather than succumb to inappropriate sexual temptations.

As for ministry availability, my service is to Christ, not strictly to a local church community, although that is the context of my primary spiritual covering. For most of my life, much of my ministry has taken place far from a church campus out in the marketplace, workplace, and the various iterations of online communication.

Them: “God told me that he will soon reveal the person he has for you. Here’s a book. Read it and if you want to talk about it please contact me.”

Me: Oh really? How come he hasn’t told me? Thanks for the book. I’m sure I will recommend it to someone who needs it.

Them: “When are you going to settle down?”

Me: When God decides it is time for me to go to heaven to take up residence in one of his rooms he is preparing for me.

I’m all for marriage. In fact I’m pro marriage. Next to committing your life to follow Jesus Christ, it is the most profound covenant a person can make. I admire those who do so and follow through on their covenant faithfully. I don’t know why it is not my path, only that I must obey Jesus to the end of my days.

My days grow shorter with each passing moment. I choose to live them in Christ honoring fullness. No angst. No regrets. Full of joy.

I may be alone in the natural. But since I am in Christ, I am his and he is mine. What more do I need?

scouting the way ahead in 2014

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Hi friends! Happy New Years!

Thanks so much for reading my blog and being a part of my life.

Last New Years Eve I wrote a post entitled glimpsing the days ahead in 2013. As I review that post. I realize that not much has changed for me in terms of my desire to engage the margins. But my resolve is stronger and my focus is more clearly refined. There is no turning back. No longer is this excursion into the margins a tentative adventure. It is my journey, my residence, my life. Much has happened in 2013.

I’ve begun coach training through Western Seminary. Having completed three courses, I am now being coached by an advanced student who is working on certification. Also, I am coaching a couple of clients with the aim of adding a few more in the coming days.

Children’s ministry is once again integral to my life. I am part of the teaching team for 180, my church’s Saturday outreach to children in our neighborhood. I also lead kids church in Sundays once per month.

I’ve engaged in conversations with key frontline leaders who are working to minister with and among the homeless and poor in the Portland area. Through this networking effort, I’ve met some fascinating people. They inspire me through their selfless ethic of service to their friends without homes. I desire to be a catalyst in Portland, helping thought leaders connect with each other and encourage one another, too.

And I write. Two deadlines loom right now. Plus, there is my own special project which requires me to revisit it after a one month hiatus.

But what lies ahead in 2014? Here are my hopes:

-Spiritual growth in my life, characterized by a more predominate life of prayer, and growth in the fruits of the spirit.
-Further development of relationships with my friends who are marginalized from the church and the gospel. Not just the poor or the homeless, but anyone who will never step foot inside a church or who typically is mystified by the ways we obscure the clear message of the gospel.
-Encouraging others, through coaching, writing, speaking, even editing. I want to give of myself so that others may blossom into the persons God has called them to be. Are you one of those people? Please contact me. Let’s talk.

Happy New Year friends. I’m praying for you as you read this. May you press in to the heart of God and thereby dream dreams which he has for you. You matter. To God. To me. Let’s work together to make 2014 a year of change in our hearts and in the lives of those whom we influence.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Jesus is Born

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In an obscure feeding trough in the small town of Bethlehem there lay the Christ-child, a target of genocidal soldiers, yet protected by angels and the love of his Heavenly Father, as well as Mary and Joseph. Although the angels rejoiced, the shepherds marveled, and the magi gave gifts in their wonder, this child and his vulnerable family soon would be thrust into exile. We easily pass over this part of the story. We read of the announcements, the birth, the celebrations, but in our hurry to open our presents and conduct our holiday traditions, we gloss over the terror which visited the city of David at the order of Herod. Driven mad by political machinations and the desire to retain his power, the King commanded the deaths of all boys two and younger in the House of David, a declaration made more simple to achieve by the census decreed by Caesar, which required men to return to their ancestral lands with their families in tow.

But God was several steps ahead of the evil perpetrators of this horror. The angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, warning him to leave the town with Mary and Jesus and make for Egypt, remaining there until he received further word to return home.

So was the manger scene a silent night? Not really. Holy night? Absolutely. All is calm? Sure, if you think that uncultured shepherds just in from the fields, angels above singing songs of joy, and a caravan of magi wanting a view of the child is the stuff of calmness. Not to mention the likely stable animals jousting for feed here and there. But bright? Oh yes. Heavens eyes attended to that scene in the manger. And the star (or some configuration of stars) in the heavens shone down on them, having led the magi directly to them.

But when the shepherds went back to their fields, when the angels ascended back into heaven of dispatched to their tasks at the command of God, when the magi took their leave, there remained a young family far from their home, exhausted from their journey, the rigors of child-bearing, and the unexpected attention of the aforementioned well-wishers, now asleep together. Until the visitation of the angel to Joseph in his dream.

Exile. The home he had built for his family in Nazareth would have to wait for a long while. Until God had dealt with Herod. As Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus and their few earthly possessions, as well as the gifts brought by the magi, in tow, I wonder: did they hear the screams of horror from children being slain? From mothers trying to protect their babies? From fathers fighting back, only to be struck down by the sword of Herod’s hatred? Did they perceive the significance that it was this child, their child, the Christ-child, who was the target of Herod’s death squads?

If ever the people of Israel needed a savior, it was then. Yet, all of that was in motion already in the person of Jesus. He would not, as Herod feared, rise up to be a political Messiah, waging war on competitors for the throne. Instead, he would rise up into maturity just as he came as a child, with completely unanticipated humility, coming to die, rather than to conquer. So that he might conquer sin for all time.

Indeed, he would die even for the sins of those who committed the most heinous acts of terror against the infant boys of Bethlehem as his family fled into exile. If he would do that, how can we possibly think that his sacrifice could not be sufficient to atone for our sins? How could we believe that he would not forgive us? Me? You?

What is your response? What is next for you? I suggest reading the Gospel of Matthew, especially the first few chapters. Then, the first few chapters of John. Read with an open mind and heart. Yes, both are necessary. Got questions?

Contact me. I’m listening prayerfully, asking God to reveal himself to you.

Jesus loves you.