unplanned detours


As I write these words I should be on a basketball court with a group of neighbor youth, giving instruction and encouragement, refereeing games, and building relationships. At least, that is where I would prefer to be on Thursday evenings. But sometimes life offers detours.

As I suggested in a tweet yesterday, we should “never underestimate the opportunity disappointments provide to trust in God’s providence.”

Meanwhile, I redirect my attention to some creative independent opportunities to touch the lives of specific homeless friends within my sphere of daily living. For now I will leave it at that, except to ask that you pray for me that God would supply resources and wisdom.

Also, please pray for my friends without homes with whom I have opportunity to connect, that they may feel Jesus’ presence, comprehend his love, and experience his goodness in ways that are transformative.

In time, opportunities to re-engage the neighbor youth through basketball may occur. I pray that happens soon. But I refuse to develop a lackadaisical, defeatist attitude particularly when the need is so great, the time so short, and God’s direction to keep pressing into the margins is so clear. So, off I go.

Now it’s your turn. What’s your next move?

Break camp and advance…

when the missional honeymoon ends


I knew this period would arrive. I’ve been here before. Since returning to my church and re-engaging the neighborhood I’ve enjoyed a honeymoon period. It officially concluded tonight. In a good way.

One young man walked out, cussing under his breath, because he didn’t like how the basketball teams were picked. A colleague spent time with him, but the boy’s hot temper earned him a dismissal from the campus for the evening. When any honeymoon period ends, true colors fly.

At the same time, I got to spend about fifteen minutes coaching one of the players regarding his hand placement and footwork for his jump shot. As his accuracy improved, his eyes got wider. It was the first time I’ve been able to spend significant time with him. I’m grateful for the opportunity.

We continued the evening of basketball, mostly on a good note. Yet, one person fell a couple of times during the game and the others laughed at him. In fact, they wouldn’t stop laughing. So, at the end I gathered them all together and said, “I’m not exactly sure what was going on, other than the fact someone fell a couple of times and you laughed. I could be wrong but it appeared to me you were singling one person out. However, when it became clear your laughter upset your teammate, do you think it might have been a good idea to back off and just play the game? No one likes to be the target of the group. I don’t like it; neither do any of you. Let’s keep that in mind for next time.”

The evening was an ebb and flow of relational engagement, both challenging and encouraging. It isn’t always pretty. Sometimes it is downright frustrating and messy. In those difficult spaces we can rest assured that although the honeymoon is over, the real work of relational ministry can begin in earnest.

And they will watch our responses carefully to examine our true colors.

evangelism in real life

I don’t typically initiate evangelistic conversations with people. I tried when I was young, and again sporadically as I aged. Painful, faltering episodes, not knowing what to say or how to say it. I knew the content but intuitively sensed I simultaneously lacked confidence and depth of relationship with them.

But something happened on my journey of following Jesus. I started listening more and talking less, understanding others more while holding back on evangelical information dumps. And people began initiating conversations with me.

In a high school locker room. The teammate who asked the question about whether there really is a God…. He committed suicide a few years later. I was speechless when he asked; more so when I learned of his death.

In a cornfield in the rain during the summer. The fellow high school laborer was delivered from demonic oppression and gave his heart to Christ two hours later. In the driving rain. The Christian owner told me I would not be paid for not working for two hours. When I explained what happened and said I agreed I should not paid, he rejoiced at the young man’s salvation. No, I wasn’t compensated (rightly so).

On a college campus as a freshman. A man ten years older struck up a conversation with me. He was from Hollywood, California. I listened to his story for two hours. Such a hard life, full of unfortunate decisions. His brother, a college senior, came to me afterward and thanked me for sharing the gospel with him.

On an urban outdoor basketball court in Eugene. Numerous times. Other young men in their early 20s challenged me to games of one-on-one. After I defeated them they wanted to talk. About religion, spirituality, God, life. Never once did I steer them toward conversations about faith. God did that, and they asked of the hope within me.

And so many other encounters over the years. In the marketplace, on city streets, in children’s ministry, in homes, at parks, and so on. Individual conversations far from the glare of the ministry limelight during the course of normal everyday living.

I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t seek to evangelize. I’m just saying I choose to enter relationships with my neighbors with the understanding that opportunities to tell God’s story will arise as my story interacts with theirs in the daily routines of real life.

in their shoes

I went to the grocery store this afternoon to pick up a few items. I particularly wanted 1/2 lb of 7% ground beef from the meat counter. Turns out the counter was closed over two hours earlier than their posted hours. Not sure why. At first I felt inconvenienced. I didn’t want to buy a much larger pre-packaged quantity for a much higher price.

While mulling it over I saw one of the meat workers leaving his work area, obviously dressed to go home. Part of me wanted to ask for his help, but then it occurred to me that maybe he had a valid reason for closing early. So, rather than inconvenience his plans to leave early, I merely smiled and said, “Hello,” as he walked past me.

For just a moment I put myself in his shoes and felt compassion for his perspective. How might I grow in maturity and missional sensitivity if I were to try to do that in all of my interactions? Not sure, but I intend to find out. Selfishness is boring anyway. Far more thrilling to bless others with no thought to my own personal gain.

a single hoop in the neighborhood


A quiet moment behind the church gym early this morning. The neighbors are all sleeping. It’s Sunday. The kids won’t be around for several hours. But they are on my mind. I think about the littlest ones playing on the swings and climbing the play structure, laughing, telling stories, and play-acting using their imaginations as only children can. My mind turns to the older ones, playing hoops, riding bikes, scooters, and skateboards, and trying to stave off boredom.

This is where they frequently congregate, here at the solitary backlot hoop and over at the courtyard near the worship center. They play, talk, and do life together. Usually without parental supervision, but not always. Often the parents or grandparents of the youngest kids will accompany them on their adventures. Especially the Muslim families which tend to be the most intentional concerning their children’s activities and whereabouts.

But in this brief moment I stand here alone. I pray for them that they may come to know Jesus Christ personally. I pray for my church that God will give us wisdom, patience, and favor to be his ambassadors to them and to the broader community in that neighborhood. I pray for a move of God in all of us that we would seek him for his glory so that we might all come into right relationship with him, thereby positively impacting our cross-cultural relationships with each other.

It all starts at a single hoop and playground with the common ground they provide. There are no other such amenities, however humble, close by.

Question: What opportunities for common ground are available in your neighborhood? What are you doing to plant seed in that soil, laying the foundation for deeper community relationships?

finding common ground in mission


4:30 pm

Twelve boys. Ready to play basketball. 1 1/2 hours early. Like me. I guess we are all pumped to begin this new adventure in the neighborhood. But we have to wait for my adult colleague to show up. Accountability and security are important in mission, as they are within a church program. One of the boys just stopped me as I typed that last line. He wanted to use my iPad. I smiled and told him I needed to finish some work. He ran off to play hoops in the back church parking lot. Single basket with threads of net remaining, the most recent remnant of rough treatment. Most nets last barely a few days. I have higher hopes for these kids and their families. My journey is intertwined with theirs as we learn to do life together based on common ground. In our case, basketball for now. But I pray for opportunities promising greater depth.

It’s a strange gig, this journey into the margins. It doesn’t feel like the margins at all. Maybe it’s because I feel like I belong here. Perhaps it’s also because I feel so honored to be with these people with all of their cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity. So much talent and creativity; so much intelligence and social acumen.

8 pm

Sixteen young people ended up participating in basketball tonight. Full court. Three teams. Attitudes were good most of the evening. A few tempers flared. One F bomb dropped. We got past it.

I conversed with an adult neighbor who participated. He asked me if this is a church. I said it is. He pointed out that most of the kids are Muslim. I asked him whether he is Muslim. He said yes. I then said that we try to offer fun things for the neighborhood. He agreed and said that is good as long as it doesn’t get into religion. I told him I respect that distinction; we just want to benefit the neighborhood with the use of our facility.

We continue to forge common ground. I handed out high fives and fist bumps as the night progressed. There were smiles and a growing understanding. There were also a few rough patches from kids who got out of hand and stopped following directions.

Mission tends to be messy at times. Frustrating, too. Aren’t all relationships? Opportunities to die to self abound. So that others may be introduced to new life in Christ. Doing life together in the margins: it’s painful and joyful, plus a lot of hard work. To find common ground and till the soil so that good seed might bring forth life eternal.

people skills in evangelism: forgotten and ignored

The purpose of Christ’s church is to worship God and to make disciples of the nations. We’ve spent over two thousand years figuring out how to do this. Each generation has had its challenges in the process, often forgetting or ignoring two important elements: love for God and love for others. While there have been beautiful seasons of God’s movement on the hearts of people throughout church history into the contemporary period, there have also been prevalent lethargy and even outright apostasy. My point here is to highlight how a lack of people skills has impacted our efforts at evangelism, resulting in a demonstrable failure to show love to others.

Much of the older Christian generations in the West have been weaned on the idea that evangelism is kind of like salesmanship. You tailor your approach for the needs of the target audience. Some might woo them, wine them, dine them, all the while pointing out the need for salvation and the wonderful multi-faceted features of getting saved. Others more often simply state the requisite information,  kind of in a professorial way. They may know the person they are speaking with; they may not. They often feel their duty is done once they have given the talk. Still others engage in roving evangelistic piracy (that’s gonna get me some stern emails, I just know it!), roaming sidewalks, shopping malls, workplaces, schools, and even church foyers, looking for people who show evidence of not being in, and then pouncing on them with  zeal, letting the chips fall where they may (usually alienating people from the gospel for years to come; yes, I have had this happen to me, although I was already a believer and mature enough to avoid any bitterness, and also despite the fact it was years before I decided to cut off my shoulder length hair; what can I say? I was follicly blessed!).

I am all for evangelism. You know, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, his bodily suffering and death on the cross in our place for our sins, and his bodily resurrection which signalled the defeat of hell and death, plus the power of sin. I am also for social graces. Evangelism has a very bad name in the real world where people live. Why? Well, it would require a book to list all of the reasons, but chief among them is a pervasive and profound lack of people skills. We simply do not do a good job of relating to people. Oh, sure. On the whole, we may be sugary sweet at first. But when we close the deal, bringing them into the fold, the energy we originally invested in the person tapers off into casual disregard for their ongoing discipleship and our friendship with them. This is not true for everyone. But it is common enough to merit concern. We launch people into the smoothly running machinery of our church systems, assuming that relationships will continue to blossom, when in fact they more frequently wilt. Maybe this is why graduating high school students more often than not check out of the church and faith?

If we approach or befriend people with the primary motive of wanting to evangelize them, our desire to continue that friendship will naturally fade if and when they convert, or if they prove resistant to our efforts. It begs the questions: will we continue to love them and foster friendship with them after they convert to Christ? Will we nurture friendship even if they never choose to follow him?

Proclamation is important. No doubt about it. Relationships, particularly in people groups which are exceedingly difficult to penetrate with the gospel, are paramount. Relationships with no other agenda than to love in the way of Jesus Christ. Not to close an evangelistic deal, prove a theological argument, win a philosophical or political debate, or leverage social authority in a community. Each of those elements can destroy seedling relationships within a community.

Some plant. Some water. God brings in the harvest (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). Are we willing to be patient enough to allow God to do his work in his way even if it means the chief harvest will not occur until after our season of direct personal influence has passed?