One of the ways we engage our right-brained creativity in our study and prayers is by drawing and coloring our meditations on scripture. The text below can be illustrated by a tree (large mustard plant shrub in this case) with nesting birds. As you draw or color, consider how small the seed from which this kingdom grows, and how much safety is provided to these birds. Seek the Lord's wisdom for how even your own simple gifts and modest faith might contribute toward sanctuary and flourishing for some of God's most vulnerable beloved. Download these images for use in your prayers this week.
26 He also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."
30He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples. (Mark 4)
Central is located in the geographic center of six distinct neighborhoods:
We are invited to consider and discern how our context points to God’s dream for us. How might this particular location and these specific groups of neighbors be part of God’s plan for our ministry together? What would the LORD have us do here and now?
One way of approaching these questions is to wonder what needs are shared among most or all of the residents in these communities? How are they more alike than different? This question itself points to one of the foundational answers.
The reality is that we do have much in common, though demographically we appear very different – race, language, economics, education, country of origin, sexual orientation, generation. Yet we all share basic human needs for meaning and purpose, belonging and love. Particularly in the divisiveness and conflict of our current social and climate we need places where we can come together and learn from one another. We need a safe place to tell our story and to hear the stories of others - to know and be known.
Above all Churches ought to be places of welcome, healing and hope. Our context implores us to engage with our neighbors and draw them together in meaningful ways where we can all recognize, affirm and celebrate our common humanity.
The social and economic pressures of our time are best alleviated by solutions that arise from our common knowledge and shared experience. We see in the letters of Paul and the book of Acts these same conflicts arising from fear born of difference. In Christ we learn that our common humanity surpasses the value and power of any distinctions. The human race is made one in Him. We are reconciled to God and to one another, and given the ministry of reconciliation.
How will we claim and live into our reconciled nature? How will we learn and practice the ministry of reconciliation so that it spreads throughout our community and world?
One glance at the above map should make clear the amazing opportunity we have to be a hub of community connections. We can host gatherings, events and programs on our campus that meet real concrete needs of our neighbors and bring them into relationship with one another. We can partner with other individuals and groups as allies and catalysts for similar encounters in other settings.
As we make direct relational connections to our neighbors, we have the opportunity to hear their hopes and fears, their dreams and their struggles. Then together with them and the Holy Spirit we can become the answer to our own prayer that God’s kingdom would come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
My new clarifying question any time there's confusion or conflict:
In what ways are each of our feelings, thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, values, reactions and behaviors reflective of the love of Jesus and the kingdom of God. If and when they are not, how can we lay them aside, repent, forgive and be forgiven, and move forward together?
More simply: How is what's being said and done consistent with Jesus' teaching?
It is our fear of “not enough” that often causes us to stumble. What if instead we embrace God’s declaration of abundant sufficiency. During the wilderness journey from slavery in Egypt toward a home of their own, God provided “enough and more than enough” for nourishment, rest and even to share with others (Exodus 15-18). In Luke 6 we hear Jesus promise this kind of abundance if we will live in His WAY – “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:27-45)
Unfortunately, it is usually only in retrospect that we get to ask these questions. The energy of our internal narratives often carries us forward before we realize what’s happening. (Thanks to Brene’ Brown for clarifying this language.)
But with practice and mutually vulnerable accountability partners we can learn to recognize what’s happening earlier in the cycle. And when awareness comes, we can develop the courage to pause right then and there, to admit our own frailty and ask for mercy and grace to walk forward together in healthier ways.
As kids many of us were told: “When you feel yourself getting upset, count to ten.” This is good advice, but I think it is insufficient. If we aren’t given some constructive things to do during that time, then our frustration or anger or pain simply grow in the void. Ten seconds later our outburst may be worse than it would have been otherwise.
“Pray the pause.” That’s a simple way to say center and ground yourself it your truest being, in God, in life-giving love. Breathe deeply. Search your heart and mind for wisdom and hope. See the same humanity in your adversary and yourself. Ask for the Spirit’s guidance and help. Rest in vulnerability and humility. Pray during those ten seconds.
You don't have to be afraid. "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but rather of the power of love with self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7). We have the power to live this transforming grace.
Whether it is in the midst of chaos or after the storm has passed, we can increasingly allow the love of God to flow into, through and from us. This is a gift God is continually offering to all of creation. God’s mercy, grace, justice, righteousness and love are constantly moving around us, seeking to fill and transform us.
I'd love to hear what works for you in this regard. Let's be companions on this journey toward wholeness and flourishing for humanity and all of creation. Let's start right here where we live.
At Central we spent 2017 in a “Year of Rediscovery” seeking to reconnect with God’s call upon our lives and our congregation. We rehearsed our own faith stories and those of the church on Westside Drive. We acknowledged the legacies of the past and asked how God would have us build upon them – not with museums or mausoleums but with missions that matter.
Going forward into 2018, we will continue our discovery by reflecting upon
“Deeper Roots – Wider Branches”.
Our church is surrounded by amazing trees. We recognize that a tree must be healthy above and below ground – in what can be seen and what is less visible to us.
Growth is a central theme to the Christian Faith. It also presents an ongoing tension between reaching out to others with the Good News and reaching up/in to deepen our walk with Christ. Many denominations and streams of Christianity emphasize one aspect and place a lower priority in other areas. In what ways might this challenge be ours?
It is difficult for us to maintain ongoing focus on multiple priorities. Yet this is precisely what our discipleship requires of us.
We lift our eyes in worship and praise to the Good and Gracious God who created all that exists and sustains it in love. We look inward to our own struggle to turn our life and our will over to God when something deep within us demands for us to be our own gods.
We turn our eyes outward to our neighbors who struggle – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. We offer words of hope that we have received from God. AND we put our hands and feet to work restoring God’s justice for which we ask in the Lord’s Prayer – “…Your kingdom come and your will be done…” receiving for this work wisdom and power from the Holy Spirit.
God calls us to grow spiritually as individuals AND to grow the kingdom by building just communities and proclaiming God’s Salvation and Jubilee that are found in Jesus Christ.
How are you wanting or needing to grow in your faith? Do you need deeper understanding of Scripture? Greater theological insight? A firmer grounding in a life of prayer? Do you need to explore and develop your spiritual gifts? Where is God calling you to serve?
Along the way, how will you spread the Good News? Do you have family, friends or neighbors who need to hear about Jesus and what he has done for you? What he can do for them? Are their sufferings of body, mind or spirit that you can alleviate with your time and talent and treasures?
How can you help Central be more welcoming and make it easier for new folks to find their place among us? What barriers to entry exist that need to be pulled down? Where do new folks land to build relationships, make new friends, grow in their faith and find a place of service? What is your part in helping all of that happen?
As new folks come, how do we continue to meet the fellowship, worship, discipleship and pastoral needs of everyone among us – the new and the long-time participants alike? Again, there are so many tasks and responsibilities competing for all of our time and attention. Where is the place that you can engage fruitfully, using your gifts to “build up the body of Christ” (Eph 4)?
Through it all, how can your Elders, Deacons, Board, Ministry Team Leaders, and Staff work to support you? What do you need from us so that you can grow deeper roots and wider branches in 2018?