Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Life's Surprises, God's Blessings.

Surprises enrich our lives, but since they are by definition unscheduled and unexpected we have to be available to slow down long enough to experience them as God’s gifts. A totally predictable life would be boring…too predictable.

In life, we may be so focused on an objective that we fail to enjoy God’s little surprises. Recently Pam and I have driven more than 3000 miles to places where I was speaking or coaching. Lot’s of hours together…with miles to our destination slowly being reduced hour after hour.

I have learned to allow our travels to be interrupted. I am an avid roadside sign reader. While traveling from Arkansas to Indiana, I kept seeing signs advertising a restaurant with “throwed rolls.” We decided to leave the interstate and try lunch at Lambert's Café where they hope you "…come hungry, leave full, and hopefully have a laugh or two!" When we pulled into their parking lot we were astounded. There in the middle of nowhere it looked like a thousand cars had determined the same lunch plans. The wait prevented our experiencing “throwed rolls” but returning from Indiana somewhere after St. Louis Missouri we once again succumbed to roadside invitations…off the road and into Blue Springs Café. Home of the “foot high pies.”

One of the words for surprise in the NT is also linked to the idea of hospitality. In Acts 28 Paul mentions the treatment of those shipwrecked on the island Malta by a man named Publius. The way he shared his home and provision with Paul and his shipmates was surprising.

Missional living requires our being available to God when He wants to surprise us with provision, beauty, and relationships. Slow down today…pull off your predetermined pathway…read the spiritual roadsigns…and enjoy God’s gifts…and perhaps a foot high pie is in your future!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Missional Call by Shafer Parker

According to Milfred Minatrea’s book Shaped by God’s Heart, “a missional church is a reproducing community of authentic disciples, being equipped as missionaries sent by God, to live and proclaim His Kingdom in their world.” And by way of interrupting myself, I say it is a useful thing to place such a key description so early in the book (p. 12). Believe it or not, I’ve searched other books on missional church life from cover to cover without ever finding a description of the very thing that supposedly consumes the author’s life.

But to get to my point, I will never forget the liberation and clarity I experienced regarding my personal call when I finally understood the missional purpose of the church. Frankly, for most of my adult life I often questioned why I was even in ministry, primarily because I never really felt that I fit any of the standard models for pastoral leadership.

To illustrate, consider with me the pastoral styles listed by Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Church (p. 125). I am not a natural evangelist, so every church I’ve served eventually discovers it will never lead the league in baptisms. And as a worship leader I tend to lapse into expositions of song lyrics when I should be getting on with praising God. I despise the idea of the pastor as chaplain. It seems to me that serious Christians should sicken at the thought of the pastorate reduced to religious window dressing for what are essentially family affairs.

Nor am I a reformer according to the social justice model described by Warren. For one thing, the gospel, not social justice is our primary message. For another thing, a lot of matters that are widely accepted as social justice issues have no connection at all with God’s Kingdom. And for yet a third thing, placards and petitions seem to me to be the very antithesis of the Spirit of our Lord who binds the bruised reed and gently blows the oxygen of His Spirit upon the smoldering wick (Mat. 12:18-19). I do not say there is no place for Christian activism, but is it really the place of the body of Christ to be found quarrelling and crying out in the streets? That seems more like a model provided by the labour movement than by our Lord.

Having rejected the other pastoral styles in Warren’s list I concluded I had to be either an instructor or an equipper. And I was mostly okay with that. Teaching and lecturing came naturally, and as a loyal subject of the Queen it was no bother to me to speak to crowned heads if it meant their owners were bent forward to take notes.

But as I pondered being an instructor or an equipper two questions still haunted me. Instructed for what? Equipped for what? In the end I was never satisfied merely regurgitating partially digested Biblical and theological facts for fat infantilized Christians.

Only when I understood the over-arching mission of the church did I also understand my purpose as a pastor. I was called to produce “authentic disciples who will live and proclaim Christ’s kingdom in their world.” Suddenly, the pastorate became the greatest opportunity for service a man could ever have, an all-consuming vocation not to be traded for anything less (and that includes everything else).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Much is written…much to be read

I am a word person. I read. I write. I speak. In fact, I have the great difficulty being quiet.

But I am learning to listen to the words of others as special treasures. That is why I have asked a number of friends to contribute their thoughts to this missional dialogue. One thing I have learned is that while many may be invited…a smaller number respond.

In the next days, we will begin including posts from some of the friends we have made on the journey. Their insights stir my own thinking. Sometimes they write things that make me say, “Why didn’t I see that?” Other times I do not see eye-to-eye with their insights. Of course, sometimes I don’t agree with myself either!

My hope is that the inclusion of their posts will enhance our own thinking about the roles we each hold in God’s mission. I trust that you and I will be challenged to realize the significant implications of our participation in the Kingdom of God. And I hope that other voices will enable us to enter a more effective dialogue…comments are encouraged…so that iron may sharpen iron.

You will be able to identify their words by the icon: Postcards from friends…on the journey.

Be watching for the first of those posts from Shafer Parker, pastor of Hawkwood Baptist Fellowship in Calgary, Alberta. Having known each other as young children, Shafer and I had lost any contact for more than 45 years until our paths reconnected on the missional journey. Shafer and his wife Jeanne have opened their home when Pam and I have ministered in Canada. We love these sweet disciples of Jesus.

So watch for the “postcard” icon. Read and react to the thoughts of friends who are seeking to live and lead in God’s mission. By the way, I would welcome your “postcards” as well. What is God teaching you? What are you wrestling with on the journey? Share your story with me…and I’ll share it with others.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Broken Guitars…the story continues

Although it is probably everywhere already, I loved the video Dave Carroll created in the aftermath of United Airlines failure to respond appropriately after “breaking his Taylor guitar.”
Watch the video, laugh as I did, and realize the power of these words, “Keep your behavior excellent in the world…that on account of your good deeds, they may glorify God.” The world is watching…just ask United (almost 3 million viewers have seen United Breaks Guitars).

For the first time in history, we have communication methods that are instant and incredibly extensive. “No one will really know…so it doesn’t matter how we respond” is not an option. At a cost of about $150, the songwriter and guitarist recorded a music video and posted it on YouTube. And then people like you and I repost it for our friends to see. Uh-oh, United, now everyone knows.

We have never lived in a vacuum, our actions have always mattered. But perhaps they were never made public as quickly as today. The actions of churches and individual disciples are constantly being observed, just as those of businesses are. It is time to let our light shine…so that the world can see our good works, and glorify our Father. What we do matters. While a Taylor guitar is a rare piece of musical craftsmanship, you and I are created in the image of God and our everyday actions must reflect His care and compassion.

Click here for more of the story.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Peach of a Business

Peach – a fruit characterized by a fuzzy skin and sweet moist meat; a seasonal source of summer delight; an instrument through which God blesses. While the last definition might be questioned, it is accurate in the case of Ham’s Peach Orchards.

Pam and I have known Dale and Judy Ham and their family for many years, beginning our annual trek to the orchard when our children were young. This week we made the journey again with our children…and their children.

I love Dale and Judy, not just because of their gracious personality and wonderful propensity to grow my favorite fruit, but because they live God’s mission in their business. The orchard is a place where God is at work in more than just the annual rite of fruit production. He is at work in creation, and in new creation as well.

Dale sat with me and talked about God’s blessings on the orchard, on his family, and in the extended family that God has brought through the orchard across the years. Seventeen years ago, a migrant laborer was hired during picking season. Today that worker, Arelio, has become a vital part of cultivating and caring for the orchard throughout the year. More, he has become a follower of Christ and now disciples others.

Dale Ham is a story of Business as Mission at the micro level. After retiring as Captain from an urban fire department, Ham started again as a novice, this time in fruit production. Every year a new component has been added to the business. This year it was Ham’s Hamburgers at the Pavilion. As his ‘retirement’ dream continues to grow, every new endeavor brings new blessings and new opportunities to expand Kingdom impact among the growing numbers who enjoy the hospitality of Ham’s Orchards.

For information on the best peaches in Texas visit

Monday, August 10, 2009

Continuing the Journey: A Word from Valters Mitans in Mazsalaca, Latvia

One of the greatest joys I experience in Missional Church Center is the privilege of becoming friends with those who are serving God’s mission around the world. Last December I met Valters Mitans as he was completing his studies at Baltic Pastoral Institute in Riga, Latvia. While there, I was blessed to participate as he was licensed to ministry and installed as pastor of a Baptist Church in Mazsalaca, a rural community near the Estonian border. Valters was a businessman who left his business to pastor his home church in response to God’s call.

Valters and his family are serving faithfully in a difficult setting. This week I received a newsletter from Pastor Mitans and asked permission to share some of his letter with you. He asks your prayers for certain needs. I invite you to join me in praying. Further, if God instructs you to provide a financial gift in support of this dear family, I will see that it reaches the Mitans family in an expedited fashion. Without regard to your capacity to give, I ask you to read his words and respond by praying for the Valters Mitans’ family. He writes:

In the present economic situation, people are very depressed. Many families are living with nothing. There are no job opportunities here. I pray for Christian businessmen who would like to move here. Their businesses could help some people survive this situation. Please stand with me in prayer, and if you know someone who might be open to this, let me know.

I have started small groups for first time in my church’s history. In September I plan to use the Alpha Course for small groups. This will hopefully involve new people in the church, and help existing members to start thinking missionally. Please pray for good leaders and for God’s Holy Spirit to change lives.

My lovely wife Ilze is my best helper. She started “Baby school” this spring. Every week mums with 1-5 year olds come and play together. God has blessed this work wonderfully. In the beginning there was only Ilze with our daughter Rebeka, and one other mom coming, but by the start of summer, our room was too small and we counted 20 moms enjoying fellowship.

My family is doing well. We still live on my savings and that is truly God’s work, because the church here can not pay for its own pastor. If you decide to support this ministry here, I am
very thankful, and I know God will bless you. Everything that I have comes from God.

The following video includes a brief segment from Valters Mitans’ licensing and installation as pastor. Gifts may be made payable to Missional Church Center noting in the memo space, Valters Mitans. Missional Church Center, PO Box 142412, Irving, TX 75014-2412.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Minatrea with Mennonite Annual Convention

Summer is the time when families get together and visit. Laughter flies as stories are told at reunions across America. With many similarities, large families of faith gather in the summer as well in what are often called Annual Conventions.

Columbus, Ohio was the site where our Mennonite friends met June 30 to July 5, 2009 to “Breathe and Be Filled.” More than 6,500 Mennonites filled Nationwide Arena July 2 for a joint adult and youth worship focusing on “Centered in the Spirit.”

During sessions, Shane Claiborne, author and founding partner of The Simple Way, a faith community in inner-city Philadelphia called on listeners to “ask what it means to be radical nonconformists to the ways of the world.”

Sojourners editor-in-chief and co-founder Jim Wallis greeted Mennonites as “a friend of the family” who has been enriched by the Anabaptist movement and Mennonites. He told those gathered, “Your best stuff is the right stuff and you need to share it.”

The Missional Church Center logo appeared on the screen when it came time for Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary to report. Milfred Minatrea talked about his teaching experience at the seminary in January 2009. After seeing the video post we did subsequent to our teaching the class Missional Church in a Post-Modern Context, the Seminary contacted us asking permission to use segments of the video in their annual report. We were delighted to have a small part in assisting this significant institution in telling its story.

If you are looking for theological education in the San Joaquin Valley, we recommend you consider Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California. Its strong commitment of faithfulness to its Anabaptist roots and to contextual relevance in preparing students makes us glad to join the reunion with this of the Father’s family.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Grounds of Hope: A Vision of First Baptist Church McKinney Texas

Followers of Jesus are called to be “salt” in the world. Among the implications of that role is the preserving effect that we can have. Unfortunately Christians are often considered to be people who are “against what is wrong” rather than “for what is right.”

Injustice is wrong. We should oppose that wrong. Rather than simply standing against wrong, our “salt” function would best be exercised by actively pursuing social justice. We do not just speak against injustice; we do what we can to raise justice.

We speak up for what is good. We join the Father whose favorite creation-account words were “this is good.” Salt preserves what is good in society and culture. When we do that, when we prove that God’s concern is for those who are oppressed, the world takes note.

That is what First Baptist Church of McKinney is seeking to do through Grounds of Hope. This coffee and arts venue will become a ‘third place’ for people in the city. There every cup of coffee that is consumed will benefit persons living in poverty. And those who picked the coffee beans will share equitably in the profits of the consumed beverage.

In the process, the church will be educating an affluent society that often has no knowledge that there are ways for all of us to treat the world’s population with dignity and respect. Ways for our expenditures to benefit the most marginalized populations in the world. Ways to pursue justice.

Some will doubtless say, “What does that have to do with the Gospel?” I encourage you to ask that question. Seek the answers from the right source. Try Micah 6:8, or 1 John 3:17 or just try the heart of Jesus, Luke 4:17-21. Good News means so much more than eternal security. Let’s be as concerned about people who are living without Christ as we are about those who are dying without him. He cares about their condition here and now!

You can visit the source from which Grounds of Hope coffees will come and learn more about the vision of First McKinney and Grounds of Hope by watching their videos below.

I hope to see you at Grounds of Hope this fall…with mug in hand.

Grounds of Hope from Andrew Heath on Vimeo.