Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Break of Day - Jimmy Sustar

Jimmy is husband and dad who is also a songwriter and a missionary. He also is the kind of guy you want around if you break your leg in the wilderness. Recently, his family has returned from Thailand to have a baby and dream with God and their community about today and the future. You can read more of their journey HERE.

You can download this and other songs at our podcast site HERE.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Village - James Harrison

James is a missionary with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Canada.  He is currently headed west through the Rockies on a Greyhound bus to help lead a YWAM program in Vancouver.  He shares stories, insights and songs on his blog HERE.  Oh, and he's a twin.  And he likes Llamas.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.

Despite my size I was once a child, and I was raised.  Everyone is raised, really, whether it's for good or for bad.   I was fortunate enough to be raised in a good way, by good people, by a good village.

This village always made me feel like I was a friend, like I was special, and most importantly, that I was part of the village myself.

The village gathered together once a week, and some of us even gathered again on another day of the week.   Both events would be down to earth, like a big family.   There'd usually be some food to enjoy together, some sing-a-long time, and the village leader would give us some advice and read from The Village History and Guidelines.   Our meetings would start late and end late, and since it would take a driving hunger to pull people away from each other we would just go eat lunch together.

Many villagers were smokers, but since my parents were smokers that never bothered me.  It just reminded me they were all normal people.

The real test of their genuineness was when I was going through hard times.  Especially as a teenager I needed people to tell me I was not abnormal.  They told me the real thing I wanted to hear--I was special, precious, and fun to be around.  People were happy when I was there.   Especially as a teenager I needed people to lead me through the paths of growing up.   I needed men to lead me through the paths of growing into a man.

I didn't need someone to take my hand and lead me through every decision (though I wouldn't have minded that at the time); I simply needed to see men acting like men, in normal situations.   What is it like to be a man in this village?   What do you do?   What do you say?    When do you argue?   When do you leave things be?   Is it okay to yell at my mom?   Is it okay to laugh at people when they're not there?   Is it cool to cheat, to steal, to lie as long as no one finds out?   What am I supposed to do with myself, with my emotions, with the frustration I was depositing in the bank everyday, not knowing that one day it will inevitably bust itself out?   Can I hit people, or do I just keep the hate inside?   WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS FLESH AND TISSUE THAT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE I'M FROM OUTER-SPACE??

Extreme, perhaps, but these are things you learn; either the right answer or the wrong one, by habit it will become the norm.

In my village men were active, not lazy.   They were gentle and kind, not lordly and fake macho-men.   They listened, offered input, and most importantly they acted as men in front of me; and I noticed everything.

Just so we're clear the village is the church I grew up in...  my church: New Hope Christian Fellowship.   The men were mostly Chris, Aaron, Jimmy, James, Mark, and Ken.

The village raised me with the love and kindness that I didn't always find at home.   But then, that's kind of the point of the village, right?    They acted as a community in godly ways and set examples for me.   They shared what they had with me--their lives and their true selves.   I'm eternally grateful.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Everything - Mark Barrentine

Mark is an elder and a Bible teacher at New Hope Christian Fellowship in Modesto, California.  He's been known to host karaoke parties and is pretty good at teaching kids how to make bubbles.

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. (Acts 2:44&45)

Immediately, I am on the defensive.
Concerning, “everything” I am pensive.
I give from abundance; out of what is there.
And cling to the “savings”, the “extra”, the “spare.”
I justify my holdings as family care.
But this is more than, “My fair share.”

When I have two and my neighbor has none.
I am stealing if I don’t give to the needy one.
Jesus leads me past cultural style.
Go beyond what’s required, walk the extra mile.
Giving at least, all left in the sack.
Be like the poor widow, and give from the lack.
It’s hard to imagine a life like this.
Counter to all the “-isms” and “-ists”

It’s not “in common” if I consider it mine.
We are not “together” when we draw lines.

The Gospel is not shared just through telling.
But is known in caring and sharing and selling.
In surrendering barriers and boundary lines.
Being Good Samaritans at all times.
Consider the lilies and birds - how they live.
So to any and all who ask - just give.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Just what is church? - Beth Morgan

Beth is a student of the French language, a world traveller, a worship leader, musician and could harmonize with a dying cat and make it sound good. You can hear her music and read more of her thoughts at her blog...http://boredatthebeach.blogspot.com/

One Sunday this summer, I found myself considering this second chapter of Acts in an interesting way.  It was one of those days where things "came together" in my head and I was "stirred".   For my fantastic summer job, I was taking a group of exchange students to the Stratford Festival's production of Jesus Christ Superstar.  As wacky as this portrayal of Christ is, this production (particularly the music) really impressed me.  The rage of Jesus upon seeing the temple exploited especially struck me.  Also, the weakness and the humanity of the disciples was made pretty obvious in this story and I couldn't help but think on how amazing it was that these same men and women spread the story of Jesus, performed miracles, started the church and wrote letters that have been forever documented and revered.

Evangelical Christians so often talk about "the early church" and reflect on how simple it was and how it inspires us to "go back" to that model, to forsake religion, etc.  It is this second chapter of Acts that we hold as some kind of motto, but still seem to fall short of living.  Or at least, fall short of discovering a way to do this kind of church, this kind of Christian community in our culture today.

The morning before seeing Jesus Christ Superstar, I was coincidentally a part of a discussion group after Sunday's sermon, reflecting on on the question, "What is church?" and James 5:13-20:  

“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective....if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins."

In the discussion group, we all seemed to agree that, for the most part, we're pretty good at the first few items, but not so good at confessing our sins to each other and definitely not at "bringing people back", since that requires a level of community and accountability that we shy away from in our culture.  We discussed how, in our perception of other, less individualistic cultures, the Christian community is much better at this.  In my experiences in Brazil, it has always seemed to me that church is a safe place to be vulnerable, to confess (with much latin emotion of course) and to even call someone out who has "lost their way".  Has anyone noticed how we tend to cringe at the word "backslider" these days?  Certainly there is a difficult line between judging and "bringing someone back".  I think it is a particular challenge for the North American church (or maybe I should just speak for the Canadian church) to build church community that is good at all of these things: praying, praising, anointing, and bringing people back.

All that being said, it was not this discussion that challenged our little group the most; it was the revelation that someone in our group was feeling alone and unsupported by our church (of which I am, in this instance, embarrassingly a part).  This person, who was receiving support from others outside of the church, admitted having serious questions about just what is church.

Isn't it interesting that many of us do not find support in our place of worship, yet we are able to find it in other places?  According to the descriptions from Acts 2 and James 5, our faith communities should be places of devotion to teaching, praising, performing miracles, and expanding the kingdom, while being places that give and receive support, prayer, and accountability.

It seems to me that this "early church model" is not so simple as we think!  Yes, we need to support one another and carry each others burdens, but we all have a lot of burdens!  There is a lot of suffering and it extends way beyond our church communities--how do we walk with everyone?!  I don't really have a relationship with that person who shared her pain in that Sunday discussion group… so what then?  And when do we have time to perform signs and wonders?  It's wonder enough to be able to maintain any type of community in our here and now!  I guess if those regular ol' disciples were able to pull it off, we can continue to be inspired and to pursue this kind of church.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The intersection of belief and behaviour - Jamie Arpin-Ricci

Jamie is a Canadian (which is why behaviour is spelled that way), a pastor, a ywamer,  a writer but most importantly a husband and a new father (woo hoo!).  He regularly writes at missional.ca where you can find out how to pre-order his soon to be released book The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom (IVPress, Nov. 2011).  http://about.me/missional

Few things in life are more memorable than the rite of passage that is being allowed to drive a car. I remember the years leading up to it being filled with anticipation. And then, my 16th birthday rolled around and went to take the drivers exam. After making only one mistake on the written, I was given my learner permit. One evening shortly there after, as the family was getting ready to return home after an evening in town with friends, I asked if I could put my new government approved driving skills to the test. My parents exchanged a nervous glance, but decided to allow me the privilege. So we loaded up and headed home.

Now, I should note that growing up in a forested rural area, learning to drive required special knowledge that is not "normal" to the typical urban driver. After all, it is not all that common for city drivers to swerve around an unexpected bull moose who views your oncoming car as little more than a minor annoyance. This was an expected lesson for me, as I had grown up as a passenger in the car when one or the other of my parents made such necessary evasions. So as I drove the 10 country road miles towards home, I knew well enough to be watchful for wildlife, ready to avoid them.

We were just over a mile from our destination when it happened. The animal ran out in front of the vehicle. With instincts sharp, I made a maneuver that I believed demonstrated the control of a NASCAR veteran, swerving to the left, narrowly missing the gravel shoulders that led into the 8 foot-deep irrigation ditches. Righting the car, I was about to turn with a triumphant smile to my father in the seat next to me. Before I could, however, he roared:

"What the heck do you think you are doing?!?"

I looked at him incredulously, "Why do you think? Did you want me to hit the animal?"

"Jamie," he said through gritted teeth, "It was a chipmunk!"

With a force of will, my father calmly explained that we try to avoid moose or deer because they will seriously damage the car and possibly injure the passengers. It was not, he emphasized slowly, about protecting the innocent animal (to which my older brother in the back seat added, "Yeah, you moron").

"Next time, you run over the damn chipmunk!" I stared at him in horror. All this time, I had sat in the back seat of the car under the illusion that my parents avoided the animals to protect their precious and beautiful lives. For years I had interpreted their behaviour through the lens of my own assumptions and values, only to learn that they were very different indeed. It was a long time before I forgave them of their heartlessness (and even longer before my dad let me drive again).

The intersection of belief and behaviour is a unique dynamic. Often times, we can find ourselves behaving in ways that are the norm for our context. We assume a unity of belief, when in fact, our choices are often informed by very different, even contrary motivations. The reverse is true as well: many people who we see as behaving in ways that are contrary to what we belief is right are actually making such choices out of the same beliefs that inspire our very different behaviours. I am not suggesting that there are no absolutes. Rather, we must learn that things are not always as they seem. This knowledge should give us pause before we affirm or reject people without going just a little deeper.

This knowledge might also be a lesson for parents of soon-to-be-driving teens, but that is another story altogether.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Crystal Meth and Communion - John Rosenbaum*

*John is a student of philosophy and theology in Washington State. He loves books and has also been caught enjoying really bad puns.

Community is at the heart of Christianity. God is Himself a community, three distinct
persons, each person fully God, while, as we know, there is one God. And the
manifestation of the greatest commandment (to love God with all of our finite selves) is
to love other finite beings. Or, in a word, community. And if God is loving us into who we
truly are, and we are who we truly are when we are in community, then we assume that
there is some desire instilled in us for love and community.

If you know me, you probably know that I had a rather long run with some of the hardest
drugs scientific advancement has ever spilled onto this massive, spinning ball. I want
to share some of that experience in light of that innate desire for community, why that
lifestyle had so much pull for me, and what my ultimate source of freedom from it was.

Thereʼs this idea that marijuana is the gateway drug. I would posit that alcohol is the
threshold to that gateway. Case in point, the second night I ever got drunk (thank you,
college) was the first night I ever smoked a doob. I quickly became a pothead (a term, I
have noticed, that is most often used by non- and ex-marijuana smokers, but rarely by
those who actively smoke). I found a group of friends who understood me, my likes, and
my habit. We really connected, man. And thatʼs not even mentioning the profound
spiritual “insights” I would have on a daily basis (a little dope and Scripture, anyone?).

After falling into a super-deep depression (a cocktail of an existential funk, inactivity
and, if you can believe it, weed), I found my saving grace– ecstasy. When I was rolling I
felt good– like, really good. I was joyful, and I could connect with my community in ways
that were impossible before. (Of course, you know how impossible it is to be open and
honest about your thoughts, feelings, hurts and dreams with anyone without the
assistance of narcotics.)

After eight straight months of multiple pills a night, multiple nights a week, I eventually
weened myself off the heinous, roller-coaster of a drug with something much more

Crystal meth is more healthful, right?

Anyway, with meth I found the freedom to do the things I was always too depressed to
do otherwise. Like practice my guitar, skateboard, and clean out the garage. In a way, I
“mounted up with wings as eagles,” for I was running without growing weary! I was
deteriorating, but at least I was doing it with spunk.

In retrospect, through the means of physical ingestion of some substance in the
company of the wrong group of friends, I obtained a mockery of all of the things I truly
desired: knowledge, community, and the drive to make my dreams become a reality.

But the road to freedom from liquid death and chemical dependence was paved by
those in a different sort of community. A group of people, of Christians, came alongside
me. They cared enough to try to understand what I was going through and why, before
telling me what I had wrong in my perspective. They opened their homes and their
family lives to me as I struggled to my feet. I found true freedom to start living out my
deepest desires, from living a life of love to fulfilling my passion for learning and
thinking (both on-going processes, of course).

If Satan and his power are only mockeries of God and His gifts to us, and (I assert) the
fullness of the deceptive powers of Satan is realized through the physical ingestion of a
substance, there must be some physically ingested thing from which flows the power of
God (that which is being mocked). What is this source of community, the one of real life
and freedom? It’s the ʻbreaking of breadʼ– the body and blood of God Himself made
man, living out what it fully means to be human by dying for each individual in all of
history and for creation itself. Whether you believe it is the Real Presence or simply a
picture of the Great Act, the fact remains life itself flows from this great model of

While Truth is a person, certainty is something that is hard to come by in this life,
leading to many factions in the “one body.” Even still, we can walk this life together,
sharing everything in common, being glad and sincere, growing in virtue and
prayer, and celebrating our differences, as long as we continue to walk in his power by
breaking bread together. To ʻdo this in memory of [Him].ʼ

Friday, August 12, 2011

Welcome around the fire bowl - Chris Whitler

As city mission workers, my wife and I were approached around 2003 by interested
supporters that wanted to help us buy a house. So we did what any one would do. We
put our stuff in storage, borrowed a fifth wheel trailer, parked it at our church, and lived in it for 6 months. Me, my wife and two sons lived in a fifth wheel on a church parking lot for 6 months.

Outside our fifth wheel sat the fire bowl, along with a ragtag collection of camping chairs and old metal folding chairs stenciled with the name of a long gone outreach group called "Heart of Fire Ministries." And a few nights a week, our community (young people, homeless people, a few crazy people, church people, family and friends) gathered around it. We lit a fire, talked, laughed, shared songs, stories, ideas and pipe tobacco. (Don't worry, we didn't give any tobacco to the young people.)

We never got a house. We moved out of the fifth wheel and rented a home. The fire
bowl lived on there for a while. Sometimes we lost our way around it. Another family
adopted it for a while. It's been in the rain for a few winters and has gotten quite rusty, but it’s still here.

I'd been kicking around the idea of starting a communal site for stories, songs and
discussion, but struggled with what to call it. I originally thought of "Some Points West", which I really liked. I got the idea listening to an audio book where the author was describing a train station announcement for "all points west." I thought that would be clever. Then I watched the movie "The Soloist" again and realized it's almost exactly the name of Steve Lopez's column in the LA times.

Then I remembered our fire bowl. So, welcome. Pull up a "Heart of Fire" chair, or if
you're lucky, a comfy camping chair, and let's listen and share together.

Our first few posts will explore themes around a scripture describing the early church in the book of Acts.

"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

Was there a time in your life like this? Tell us about it.