Friday, May 29, 2009

Summer in suburbia

I haven't been able to blog lately because of school, work, life, etc., but here are some tips from a subtext article by Steve McCoy about how to live missionally in the suburbs this summer:
So summer is an ideal time to connect with new folks in your suburb as we enjoy the weather and the culture around us. Here are a few suggestions for your summer from the things my family is doing. I hope you will add your suggestions, stories of stuff you’ve done, and share your plans in the comment section.

Be a Participant

Get involved in the life of your suburb. Find a community calendar on your city’s website and put some stuff on the family calendar. We recently attended a very popular fair in downtown Woodstock. My son and I were in the Little League section of the Memorial Day parade and my daughter was in the middle school band. Molly and the other two kids were enjoying the parade with some local friends from school. Through events like these we’ve met new folks, made new friends, and supported the life of our suburb.

Be a Servant

I’m the dad to four great kids, ages 6-12. I made a commitment to try to be a servant when possible as they get involved in public activities. This works best for me with sports. I’ve coached just about every team they played on. Just last night I sat in on the Bittie Ball (“coach pitch” level) coaches meeting. Daniel (6) is on the Devil Rays this year (Satan’s team). So while I’m already an assistant coach for Little League and soccer, I’m now also the head coach for Bittie Ball. It’s going to be a busy summer, but I get to serve a bunch of great kids and their families by being a coach. It forces me to learn their names and get to know them, and they want to know me too.

If you are going to serve as a coach or help out at the local school (as Molly does) or help with a summer play or whatever else, you need to do it with excellence. It’s frustrating to have someone in your family in a public activity only to find out the people in charge are incompetent. If you serve, do it well. Truly love your neighbor and consider them as more important than yourself. It not only makes folks love the experience, but it endears them to you.

Serving through various cultural activities also provides us the opportunity to serve our neighbors beyond these events. We often see former team members and/or their parents out in public or at their schools. I will always be “coach” to these kids. One thing we work hard at is trying to have at least one cookout a year for players and their parents. And that leads to another suggestion for your summer in suburbia…

Be Hospitable

For Memorial Day (last weekend) we had a cookout. It was mostly community friends we’ve connected to through local school involvement, but we also invited a church friend or two and a visiting couple from the previous week’s worship service. We had about 40 people there, some I knew well and others I met for the first time. It was a blast. Here are a few things you should do to make your cookout a hit.

- Introduce people. If you are bringing folks together who don’t already know each other, and you should, make sure you introduce them so they all feel comfortable.

- Have plenty of good food. We had too much food because we wanted to be generous. Nothing like a cookout where you feel underfed. And make it good food, please. I don’t want to come to your house if you are going to buy the hot dogs with the highest amount of rat hairs and bone chips. Not all hot dogs and hamburgers are created equal. Get quality stuff. And spice it up. We got burgers at Sam’s and then added a layer of Famous Dave’s burger seasoning. People raved about the burgers, though most of them didn’t know why. You want your neighbors happy.

- Let people bring something if they want to. Sometimes people feel obligated. Sometimes they really enjoy bringing something. Don’t presume on people and don’t ask them to bring something. But if they want to bring something it can be a good thing. It makes them feel like they’re a good neighbor too. For our Memorial Day most everyone insisted. Some brought a dish, or chips and soda. One family brought a ton of Edy’s ice cream they got for free in a contest. It added a super-charge to the cookout that none of us could probably afford otherwise.

- Have plenty to do. We had more games we didn’t use than we used. You are providing opportunities, not a schedule. We had kids playing baseball in the church field, jarts, football, a fire pit as it cooled off in the evening, lots of lawn chairs, sparklers for kids after dark. And think of the little things, too. We fogged the yard before people came to kill most of the mosquitoes and then we had several cans of Off available. We had sunscreen. We had music. We tried to cover all the bases, though we learned a few bases we didn’t cover as well as we will next time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The New Shape of World Christianity

Now reading Mark Noll's new book The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith. Here's his snapshot of how the global church is changing:

This past Sunday it is possible that more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called “Christian Europe.” Yet in 1970 there were no legally functioning churches in all of China; only in 1971 did the communist regime allow for one Protestant and one Roman Catholic Church to hold public worship services, and this was mostly a concession to visiting Europeans and African students from Tanzania and Zambia.

This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the United States combined—and the number of Anglicans in church in Nigeria was several times the number in those other African countries.

This past Sunday more Presbyterians were at church in Ghana than in Scotland, and more were in congregations of the Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa than in the United States.

This past Sunday there were more members of Brazil’s Pentecostal Assemblies of God at church than the combined total in the two largest U.S. Pentecostal denominations, the Assemblies of God and the Church of God in Christ in the United States.

This past Sunday more people attended the Yoido Full Gospel Church pastored by Yonggi Cho in Seoul, Korea, than attended all the churches in significant American denominations like the Christian Reformed Church, the Evangelical Covenant Church or the Presbyterian Church in America. Six to eight times as many people attended this one church as the total that worshiped in Canada’s ten largest churches combined.

This past Sunday Roman Catholics in the United States worshiped in more languages than at any previous time in American history.

This past Sunday the churches with the largest attendance in England and France had mostly black congregations. About half of the churchgoers in London were African or African-Caribbean. Today, the largest Christian congregation in Europe is in Kiev, and it is pastored by a Nigerian of Pentecostal background.

This past Sunday there were more Roman Catholics at worship in the Philippines than in any single country of Europe, including historically Catholic Italy, Spain or Poland.

This past week in Great Britain, at least fifteen thousand Christian foreign missionaries were hard at work evangelizing the locals. Most of these missionaries are from Africa and Asia.

And for several years the world’s largest chapter of the Jesuit order has been found in India, not in the United States, as it had been for much of the late twentieth century. (pp. 20-21)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

National Day of Prayer - and Action

For the National Day of Prayer, here's an op-ed piece by the authors of Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers:

Let Us Pray… And Act

By Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Millions of Americans will gather today in hotel ballrooms and on town squares, in church buildings and on campus lawns for National Day of Prayer. Millions of other Americans will, no doubt, look on this public religious act with some suspicion. Is National Day of Prayer a hang-over from the days of the Religious Right? Are those who gather protesting President Obama’s assertion that we are not a “Christian nation,” but a democracy that welcomes and protects the practice of diverse faith traditions?

As evangelical Christians, we admit that our fellow Americans have good reason to be suspicious. Though evangelicals have often argued fervently for the separation of church and state, we have also blurred the dividing line when access to political power served our agenda (and our pocketbooks). Even when our churches have tried to serve as the “conscience of the state” that Dr. Martin Luther King challenged us to be, our concern has been too narrowly focused on issues of private morality, overlooking the problems of systemic injustice that King himself so boldly challenged. If we are going to pray in public, evangelical Christians must begin with a prayer of confession. We have shouted the gospel with our mouths more than we have showed the world good news with our lives.

But our confession cannot be that we have over-stepped the boundary between private faith and the public square. The problem is not that Christians have been too public with our prayer. What we must confess is that we have done too little to become the answer to the prayers we pray. So often when faced with the problems of our world we have asked, “God why don’t you do something?” without realizing that God might be saying, “I did do something… I made you.”

When prayed by followers of Jesus, “God bless America” cannot be a divine endorsement of a political agenda or an excuse for inaction (as if we were asking God to bless others so we don’t have to). When we pray for God to bless anyone, we are challenged to see that we might be the hands of that blessing, for God has no hands but ours. When we pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” we commit our whole lives to caring for the least among us—the unborn and the undocumented. If Christians are praying with Jesus, we cannot stop praying and acting until we see the restoration of all that is broken in our lives, and in our streets… broken political systems and broken families, polluted ecosystems and shattered lives.

So, rather than argue that National Day of Prayer is something that should go away with Jerry Falwell and the Christian Coalition, we say keep it. Let’s call Christians (and everyone else) to prayer. But let us also challenge ourselves to become the answer to our prayers. When we pray for the hungry, let’s remember to feed them. When we pray for the unborn, let’s welcome single mothers and adopt abandoned children. When we give thanks for creation, let’s plant a garden and buy local. When we remember the poor, let’s re-invest our money in micro-lending programs. When we pray for peace, let’s beat our swords into plowshares and turn military budgets into programs of social uplift. When we pray for an end to crime, let’s visit those in prison. When we pray for lost souls, let’s be gracious to the souls who’ve done us wrong.

None of us can do everything, but everyone can do something. To begin to act on our prayers with any seriousness is to remember why we pray in the first place—because anything worth doing is beyond our power to do alone. We cry out to God because we know we need help. But the God chooses to work in and through us. We have a God that does not want to change the world without us. So let us pray… and let us act.

Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove are the authors of Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals (InterVarsity Press).

For a list of "50 Ways to Become the Answer to Our Prayers" visit:

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Crossroads College commencement

Yesterday I was the commencement speaker for Crossroads College in Rochester, Minnesota. I graduated from here fifteen years ago when it was still called Minnesota Bible College. Kind of crazy to be back. Ellen and I spent a lot of the weekend visiting places we used to hang out and showing our kids where we went on dates and whatnot. 

When I was invited to speak a few months ago, I wasn't sure what to say, given the state of the economy and all. But here's a snippet of what I came up with:

Graduates of the class of 2009, I congratulate you on this landmark day. The papers have been turned in, the finals are over. And here you are in cap and gown. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and I and the whole Crossroads community congratulate you today.

But let’s be honest – these are scary times. Recession, job losses, swine flu. I’m reminded of the 1994 movie Reality Bites, which came out the year I graduated from here. In that movie, Winona Ryder gives a college valedictorian address and says, “But the question remains… what are we going to do now? How can we repair all the damage we inherited? Fellow graduates, the answer is simple. The answer is... The answer is... I don't know.”

It’s a jarring scene, but I like it because there are no easy answers. There are a lot of things we simply don’t know. But as Christians, we have hope and confidence that our all-knowing God leads us even when the future is unknown.

So let me give you one main image to take with you. As you go on from here, do things not because you are driven, but because you are called. This comes from the author Gordon McDonald, though it’s probably not original with him. Don’t do things because you are driven, but because you are called. I love the contrast in imagery. One is the picture of a cattle drive where someone drives the cattle to go one way or another, perhaps against their will. The other is a picture of a gentle shepherd, calling his sheep to follow him, for he knows them by name, and they know the sound of his voice. That’s the kind of life that God calls us to. Don’t be driven to succeed, to achieve. Don’t be driven by outside expectations or pressures or fears. Be called. Follow the voice of our Savior Shepherd.

All of you are here today because God has been calling you from the start. At some point in your life, you heard God’s call to follow Jesus. It may have been at church, in Sunday school as a young child. Or it might have been later on in life, at a point of crisis, a moment when you realized that your life had to change. And you heard that first call, “Come, follow me.” So you turned to Jesus. And your life has never been the same.

Later on, somehow or another, you heard a second call, God’s call to come to this college. It may not have made sense, it may have been an unlikely choice for you. For many of you, coming here was a costly act of sacrifice, and you gave something up to come here. But you sensed God’s nudge, and you answered the call. You came.

And many of you have overcome great personal challenges and obstacles to get here today. Financial challenges. Personal doubts. Academic struggles. Maybe family opposition. Let today be a day of vindication, that whatever you may have faced in the past, you are here now, and you are a graduate of the class of 2009. Remember this when you face discouragements in the future, because nothing can take this day and this accomplishment away from you.

But that’s not all. Somewhere along the line, I hope, you’ve also heard a third call, a more specific call, to ministry, to mission, to participate in God’s global and eternal purposes for this world. You might have been at a camp or on a short-term mission trip. Or you may have heard the still small voice in a classroom here, or in a late night talk with friends, looking at the pond or standing up on the hill. For me it was all of the above, at a fireside at Pine Haven Christian Assembly, and during a God’s Hands trip in Minneapolis, and in classes at this college. I heard about how God was on the move, and that he was at work to redeem and restore this fallen world. And he was calling me to participate somehow. I didn’t know exactly what I would do. But God had called, and I would answer.

Today, graduates of the class of 2009, you continue to answer the call. And you are graduating for such a time as this. A time of foreclosures, bankruptcies and global recession? Yes. Because every scary headline in the news represents people who are struggling, in desperate need of hope. And God needs people like you to make a difference in their lives. More now than ever.