Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Notes and Reflections After Listening to Mark DeYmaz, Pastor of Mosaic Church in Little Rock, AR, about being an intentionally multi-ethnic church

You can listen to the same podcast I did. Just look for Mark DeYmaz’s podcast at

The vision for a church that is multi-ethnic originates with Jesus and then becomes a Biblical mandate. Jesus earnestly desires that all his followers be one - one with him, one with the Father, and one with each other. Jesus envisions a church that is composed of different people from different backgrounds and classes and races coming together to be his body (John 17).

The Holy Spirit creates such a church in Antioch in Acts 11. The Bible describes this church as Jews and Gentiles (two different races) coming together and forming a church centered around Jesus the Messiah. The leadership team of this first multi-ethnic church were Jews and people from Africa and Asia. (Acts 11:19-26). This is the church where Paul first has a leadership role.

Paul goes on to be the Apostle to the Gentiles and he intentionally builds churches which mix both Jews and Gentiles. The entire book of Ephesians is devoted to the unity of the church for the sake of the Gospel, by which Paul meant the unity of Jews and Gentiles, living and worshipping together - being one in Christ. In Chapter 2, Paul talks about how the blood of Christ has broken down the walls that separated Jews and Gentiles. In Christ, they are one people. In Chapter 3, Paul talks about the great mystery of how God intends that Gentiles are to be included in his salvation.

Why is the church in North America so segregated? There are many, many reasons, but chief among them is that the devil loves to divide people and seeks to keep Christians from becoming one. In John 17 Jesus says that if his followers are one, all the world will know he is the Savior. The devil surely doesn’t want that to happen.

Zion has a long history of being a welcoming place to mixed race couples. Recently, however, we’ve seen God doing some amazing things that lead us to believe that he intends to make us into a multi-ethnic congregation.

About two years ago, we had several Liberian families join the church. “Why this church?,” I asked. “Because when we drove by, God said, ‘This is a good church.’” Amazing. Overnight, 1% of our membership was Liberian.

Then last fall Shola arrived. Shola is from Nigeria and he and his family have been a blessing to me and to our church. Shola ought to be on staff. I hope someday we can afford to hire him.

Then, in December of last year, the Mizo approached us about joining together. By March of 2010, we had a fifth weekly service, this one in the Mizo dialect. Again, overnight, we’ve suddenly become a multi-ethnic church with members from all over the world. God is certainly up to something and my earnest prayer is that we allow him to continue his work and that we participate in it and become the church he desires us to be.

DeYmaz outlines Seven Core Commitments that a church as to make in order to become multi-ethnic.

You must embrace dependance. God is the one who is doing the work. He is bringing the people of different backgrounds and ethnicities. it is his work. We cannot “make it happen” by ourselves. We cannot program it, we cannot control it. In order to allow God to work, we, the congregation and leaders, must be comfortable being uncomfortable as God works.

You must take intentional steps. As God does the work, we must be obedient. We must be ready to move out and do what God is asking. We need to be willing to go out into the community and help people. We must be willing to invite them to meet Christ. Sometimes our worship styles can be obstacles to what God wants to do and we have to be ready to sacrifice our preferences and traditions. We are not talking about compromising theological principals here. God would never ask us to compromise the truth. But he may ask us to compromise all manner of human preferences and traditions. It is the age old question: will we ask the new people to assimilate or will be accommodate them? To assimilate means that we ask them to change. To accommodate means that we ourselves are willing to change for the sake of the other.

You must be willing to empower diverse leadership. As a church, are we willing to raise up leaders who are of different races than we are and empower them to lead?

You must develop cross cultural relationships. This means that we have to willing not just to say “Welcome to church!” to people of different races, but we must be willing to share their experience as well and really get to know them. We need to go to dinner at each other’s houses. We must be willing to build relationships and to really get to know each other on a personal level.

You must be willing to pursue cross cultural competence. This means that you are willing to grow in your understanding of different people and their experiences. You are willing to learn what offends and what honors them. It means that you are willing to learn a few words of their language, taste their food, share their stories.

You must be willing to promote a spirit of inclusion. What does this mean? It means that we must be willing to make people feel welcome. Display the flags from the places they come from. Translate our bulletins. Be sure that in everything we do we put them on the same level as we are. That we don’t treat anyone like a second class citizen.

You must be willing to mobilize for impact. What does this mean? It means taking the power of God that is present in diversity (when his followers are one) and using that power to impact your city for the Gospel. Can you imagine what would happen to Des Moines if the churches were truly united? Men and women of every ability, class and race, working together? That witness would transform our city.

DeYmaz identifies many challenges that will face us. Remember, the devil doesn’t want this to happen.

Challenges include (but are not limited to):
Personal challenges. Our friends or family members may not approve of what we’re doing. After all, this is a difficult task. We could be more comfortable and safer doing something else.
Theological challenges. It is harder and slower to build a church that is multi-ethnic.
Relational challenges. In working with people of different races, there is a 100% chance of being offended.
Philosophical challenges.
Practical challenges. How will we do worship now?
Spiritual challenges. DeYmaz says that it’s no accident that Paul put his treatise on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6. The book of Ephesians is all about unity between Jews and Gentiles. The devil will be sure to attack us. Unity provokes him.

The podcast is wonderful and I hope you’ll take some time to listen to it. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Report on London MoodleMoot 2011: A Conference on Open Source Learning Environments

Why on earth is it important for a pastor go to conferences?

Trevin Wax recently blogged about this (http://trevinwax.com/2011/04/19/gospel-retreat-for-gospel-advance/utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+wordpress%2Ftrevinwax+%28Kingdom+People%29). He says:

"There are many reasons why conferences are important to pastors:
-We need the mutual strengthening that comes from face-to-face conversation.
-We need the opportunity to sit and listen to the Word preached.
-We need to be reminded that the kingdom of God is vast and that God is working in all sorts of ways through all kinds of people.

"Conferences help us envision ourselves as individuals taking part in a bigger movement, a procession of the gospel that moves from God to us and then through us to the people around us. It's no wonder we enjoy the occasional retreat. We need to be refreshed and have our spiritual batteries recharged. God works in us so that He can continue to work through us."

I'd add to this that pastors are supposed to teach, and the best teachers are life-long learners themselves. In order to challenge people from the pulpit we have to be challenged ourselves. This isn't an idea unique to me. Continuing education and spiritual growth is a part of many clergy salaries. Part of my compensation package is supposed to include money for the furtherance of my learning and spiritual growth yearly. Sadly, for the last few years, that money just hasn't been available, nor was it available this year.

So why a technology conference in London? Because a long time friend and supporter of my ministry who lives in another state bought my ticket and paid many of my expenses. He felt that this was important enough for me to see and as he was going to the same conference, he could help me navigate the waters and answer my not so techie and very basic questions. To him for his generosity and to the church for the time away, I am grateful.

But why on earth a technology conference?

Because the internet isn't going away and we, as the church, need to be up to date on the very latest teaching applications. It's almost a Reformation prerogative that the church needs to appropriate new ways of communicating the old, old story. As I look at our efforts to educate our congregation and the larger world about Christ and his teachings, I believe we are being called to make more and more of our classes and supplementary materials available online, to be accessed by our members and others. Imagine how many things someone like Harold Hosch, our Scholar in Residence, has to teach. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could capture his lectures for a broader audience and a future audience? Wouldn't it be wonderful if that class you wish you could take on Wednesday night but that interferes with your commitment to volunteer in Childrens Discipleship was available on-line as an open course you could take at your own pace? Technologies available now, and beginning to come into use by schools, could help us multiply our teaching ministry and provide more opportunities for people to learn. Imagine being able to go to our website during and after a sermon to download "more information" on a particular aspect of the teaching that was interesting to you. The applications are literally endless. And, just so we're all clear, such teaching has as it's object the glorification of God and not ourselves.

I suppose that's one of the things that struck me the most about this conference. Our interest in using technology doesn't come from a desire to be cool or have the latest stuff, it comes, rather, from a desire that the whole world knows Christ Jesus. Both inside and outside the church. The content we have, the Gospel, drives us to find new ways to reach the lost and engage the seeking and edify the already convinced. It isn't about the technology, it's only a delivery system. It's about the love of Jesus Christ which compels us to share his teachings with everyone.

Here are some of the things I learned in a nutshell:

1. Current use of the Internet in education is as a static depository. That is, you Google what you want to find out. It's like a giant library. But use is now changing. Through open platforms such as Moodle, it is now possible to actually teach online, make your course freely available to all, interact with students in real time and solicit feedback all in the same place. So the really great communion class you teach can now be accessed worldwide by churches who may not wish to reinvent the wheel and are looking for good material. I see this as very exciting. Imagine churches where their are great teachers being about to teach in many churches at once. This seems to really honor the spiritual gifts of people and I believe, rightly applied, it could move us closer to a truly biblical model of doing church.

2. Educational applications of technology do not exist to replace people but rather to further communication and make our face time together more profitable.

3. It isn't about having the latest and greatest technology. Technology is wasted without solid content. In other words, what we teach is still far more important than whether or not you use Moodle or some other technology.

4. Lectures work for some people. Other learners with different learning styles engage the material in different ways. Using a tool like Moodle helps people find their own ways to learn. We learn through creation, observation, sharing, peer feedback and discussion, among other ways. Moodle allows us more flexibility in addressing these different ways of learning.

5. As a church, we're always looking for new ways to connect and communicate with people. Imagine being able to access your child's Sunday School or WOW class online and see what he or she is learning? Imagine being able to download resources to help you reinforce the lessons at home. Wow. The applications are limited only by our imaginations.

6. I was the only church guy at the conference. All others from education or business, with one rep from the police and one from the army. So this hasn't really caught on in the church yet. But it needs too. The nature of the classroom is about to change forever and we need to be ready for it!

7. We are now defined not just by what we know as individuals, but also now, thanks to technology, by what our "networks" know. You can see this in the way that FaceBook and Twitter can solicit immediate feedback. "I have a problem, anyone got an answer?" And immediately, you get feedback. So, the idea is, if you're networked to me, I know what I know and what you know because we can share all that knowledge almost effortlessly via the internet. Wow. Community = network. Amazing. I'm still chewing on this.

The most amazing lecture was delivered by Grainne Conole, from the Open University. Her key note really opened my mind and gave me so much to think about it and I am really, really grateful.

One of the highlights of the whole trip was worshipping at Holy Trinity Brompton, the church from where the Alpha Course originates. HTB is one of the churches on my short list that I wanted to experience for myself before I die. The worship, the teaching, the people, all really ministered to me. It was wonderfully refreshing and I'm still processing the experience.

Another big benefit of going to London was the chance to spend an evening with Richard Goodwin, one of the foremost authorities on Christian Counseling in the UK. He has graciously agreed to come to Zion and teach for us and our city at some point in the future. Just the chance to catch up with Richard, have dinner, and spend some time in conversation about broader issues within the church around the world was really special and encouraging for me.

Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Let's Do Something Beautiful for Jesus - No, Really, Let's Do it.

What follows is a very rough draft of where I think Zion could lead our neighborhood. It hasn’t been approved by anyone in authority. It is simply the result of prayer and watching where God has led us this far.

Vision: That Zion lead the way in our community to God’s brighter future. This is accomplished by getting to know our neighborhood, analyzing it’s needs, and finding innovative and faithful ways of meeting them.

Who is our community?: Our community is roughly defined as the Lower Beaver, Beaver and Meredith Drive neighborhoods. Our immediate activities focus primarily on the Lower Beaver neighborhood with the intention of expanding our ministry work from neighborhood to neighborhood throughout the city as God leads.

Goal: That Zion Lutheran Church will fully engage with it’s community as a force for God’s redemption through Jesus Christ.

Imagine living in a community where the church led the way in truly knowing and loving our neighbor. Imagine living in a neighborhood, for instance, where every child was intentionally offered pre-college career counseling; college admissions counseling and help finding a job while a student. Imagine a neighborhood where there were people who wanted to coach you on how to handle your money, buy a house or a car, or even learn how to cook economically and nutritionally. Imagine a community where the major businesses and institutions regularly sat down to consider neighborhood issues and how to help solve local problems. Imagine a community where every child was offered a chance to attend camp and where each child was individually known and valued and their future was the top priority of the whole neighborhood. Imagine a community where there was help for those who couldn’t afford their medications and there was emergency help available to solve the kinds of problems that systematic programs cannot address. Imagine a community that united around the concept of education and found ways to provide quality education for all it’s children and supported it’s teachers and made itself available to ensure the best present and future possible for it’s children. Such a community would be a community that had been redeemed, a community where all things were possible, a community that could help other communities unite to bring redemption and hope in other parts of town. This doesn’t have to be a dream. We believe that such things are possible if the church leads the way.

Why is the church uniquely suited to accomplish this task? Because of Jesus. Jesus, the founder and Lord of the church showed us that all people are our neighbors. He encouraged us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him into a life of sacrifice and service. Jesus desires the daily death of the church to itself as it pours his life into the world around it. The church, when it is truly the church, is the last altruistic establishment in our society. The church is capable, when it is truly the church, of uniting disparate groups within our neighborhood to work for good. Finally, the church is the only institution in the world that was founded to sacrifice itself for the good of others. It’s founder set the mark very high. To bring redemption, the church is willing to lay down it’s life and die.

One big value we have is to open as many opportunities as possible for other churches and organizations to partner with us. We realize that we can’t do this alone. We realize that this is a miraculous opportunity for the church in Des Moines to truly be One.

Those who have agreed to be in partnership with us in our community so far: Freedom for Youth, Merle Hay Mall, VA hospital, Broadlawns, various local ethnic restaurants, Wunder Years Academy, Meredith Drive Reformed Church, Lutheran Services of Iowa, International House of Prayer - Iowa, Samuelson Elementary,

Change is coming to the Lower Beaver Neighborhood. The neighborhood is composed of single family and multi-family dwellings built after the second world war. The neighborhood is a great place for a starter or first time home. Prices are reasonable and quality is good. Local apartment complexes have also found recent immigrants to America who are being resettled here through federal partnerships, to be excellent renters. As the immigrants establish themselves, they are purchasing homes in the neighborhood. With the addition of the Thai Village Complex on MLK, which anchors the eastern part of the neighborhood, immigrants are likely to continue to move into the neighborhood. Immigrants have different needs than other minority groups. These needs are tantamount in our consideration as our plans continue.

Below are a series of projects that we believe would help in the redemption of our neighborhood. Some are in progress and could expand, some are yet to be started. A list of needed resources is also provided for each project. The projects are not listed in order of priority.

School transportation for ELL students living 1.7 miles from the school. Because of a very busy street and the distance from school (especially in the winter), Zion is currently providing transportation for 14 students each school day. The current students have been selected by the school. Different groups, living in the same apartment complexes as the students, are now petitioning the church through Lutheran Services of Iowa to increase our activity to include their children as well. There is definitely an identified need here for expansion. Needed resources: Another van or larger bus. Drivers. Gas. Maintenance of vehicle. Vehicle insurance.

Whiz Kidz Tutoring Program (in affiliation with Freedom for Youth). Currently, as many as 55 kids participate on Wednesday nights (Sept - May). With 15 tutors, we are hard pressed to provide one-one tutoring but consider the fact that the kids keep coming (and bringing friends) to be justification to continue. The environment is safe and the atmosphere fun. Dinner is also provided. Needed resources: educational supplies, furniture, tutors, transportation, drivers.

Neighborhood Emergency Fund: The idea is to establish a fund, replenished on a regular basis; that would be available to aid families in our neighborhood in an intentional but non-recurring way. Examples would be, helping with a special, one time project or emergency need (car repair). Special counselors would administer the fund and would meet with each applicant to determine how needs could best be addressed. Needs: money for fund

Prescription Assistance Fund: A special fund would be established and made available to help people in the neighborhood who are having trouble filling their medications. The fund could be accessed only at the request of a local pharmacist. Needs: money for fund

Community Garden: Using available land at Zion that is currently not in use, the idea is to create garden plots that would be available to immigrant families. Some small percentage of plots would be made available to families in the church. The plots would follow basic guidelines established by the City of Des Moines in their community gardening program. Applications would be taken from immigrant families and then a lottery would be used to choose which would receive the plots. Lutheran Services of Iowa would be our partner in this. Needs: fence, ultimately, a water line, monthly water charge

Soccer team: The local apartment complexes are full of young kids with nothing to do. In order to provide structure and discipline, we propose starting a soccer team. The kids would help to raise some of their own support and the church would help with the rest. Soccer is universally played by the kids and this would serve as a way of bringing them together in a positive activity. We would either join a league or find a way to enter into competition with other clubs. Needs: Uniforms, equipment, any fees associated with being part of a league; travel expenses?

Art Camp: Creativity is an important aspect of human life and as we seek to provide opportunities for kids in our neighborhood we don’t want to forget to foster their creative and innovative spirit. Beginning in July, 2011, Zion will host a week long summer art camp for kids 3rd - 6th grade. The week long camp, which begins with a meal, will expose the kids to various artistic media and allow them to express themselves in a productive way. Needs: about $25 per child; supplies

ESL classes for parents: Much of the work so far has focused on children. But it is very important that learning English doesn’t isolate parents from their children. Parents need to learn English as well. We proposed hosting ESL classes at the church taught by volunteers from inside and outside the church. Classes would be held at times convenient for the parents work schedules, perhaps on weekends or Wednesday evenings.

Music Camp. We propose sponsoring a music camp in the summer. There are many musicians in the church happy to teach and these musicians have friends in the community who could help. The camp could run for a week or be a weekly activity, depending upon the response from musicians. We would seek to find instruments for the kids to play. A small guitar, for instance, runs about $100. We could borrow rhythm instruments from local schools. A few more electronic keyboards and maybe another drum set would help as well. The next challenge would be how to find instruments the kids could afford if they proved to have a desire to continue with their musical studies. The music camp experience would conclude with community concert.

Furniture and clothing for immigrant families. New immigrants being resettled in Des Moines will number about 100 persons per year in 2011. That’s down from over 300 per year three years previously. The decrease in new immigrants comes about because sponsoring organizations no longer felt they could do a good job in light of budget cuts and many of the supporting systems, like education, were already overwhelmed. Des Moines is now becoming a secondary settlement site, however, as families move here now after having been settled in other areas of the country, to be close to family and friends and also because Iowa has a good job market. The Chin people and Iraqis are now coming to Des Moines in “second migrations.” Zion is well connected in the local refugee community and we are consistently asked to help new families establish themselves in apartments with donations of furniture or clothing.

Camperships: This year, our dream is to send about 28 kids to Riverside Camp. We think the camping experience will be formative in the lives of our neighborhood kids. We’d like to be able to offer scholarships to every child in the neighborhood and church. We’ve found an amazing partner in Riverside Camp who will work with us to accommodate our children. We believe it would be best for the children to earn some of the money themselves through fund raisers or through doing various jobs at church or in the neighborhood. Needs: money for scholarships. A selection process. Someone to oversee the project, especially helping the kids to raise their part of the expense.

Career and education counseling: There are so many opportunities open to kids you wonder how come any of them would fail to take advantage. But while there are many opportunities, there are very few people in the lives of the kids telling them what they’re good at. Kids are attracted to the things that high salaries can buy, but may not have the right set of aptitudes to succeed in a particular field. However, they may have amazing aptitudes in another field. The idea for this project is to offer counseling by professionals to help the kids determine where they are gifted and in what kinds of things they are interested in or even good at. When a field of interest is selected, it should be possible for the kids to shadow or observe that profession. Finally, a course of study and direction can be lined out for the kids to follow as they seek to achieve their goals. The desire of the program is to give intentionality to the process of deciding “what do I want to be when I grow up?” Without a future to dream about, the present often seems bleak. Perhaps the best way to describe this process is to say that the goal is to help the child choose a target, take aim, and hit the target. Needs: counselors and their fees; a way to market the program.

Life skills training: We live in a world of fractured families, and often times that means that information doesn’t get passed down from one generation to another. Holes develop, and critical information doesn’t get passed along. This project would seek to plug some of those holes, as well as train people who are new to our culture who may never have developed the skills necessary to manipulate the systems we take for granted. Topics include bill paying, budgeting, house and car purchasing, cooking/menu planning. Needs: There are plenty of realtors, car salesmen and financial planners in the church we can rely on. Home economics people, maybe money for demonstrations.

Parenting Seminars: with translation... In many refugee families both mother and father are working very long hours. Since many are working in meat packing plants an hour or more away, they are gone from home much of the time. This has led to some discipline problems as parents are too tired to raise their children. Compounded by the fact that the children are learning English at school faster than their parents are at work, inequities and imbalances are developing in the traditional roles of parents and children. Parenting skills are now in serious need of being taught given the new reality of families. We understand that not many will want to attend these sessions but we also know that these sessions are critically important. Needs: presenters. presenter fees?

Establish a neighborhood employment network: On the westside, Lutheran Church of Hope has Hope@work, a successful ministry dedicated to helping people find employment and pursue their goals. While Hope@work is much more than an employment agency, we have no equivalent in our neighborhood for far less skilled positions. What if we could partner with Hope@work to start a northside version of the ministry that would focus on jobs that were open to new immigrants or less educated people. The goal would be to help new immigrants and others to find local employment with good wages so that they wouldn’t have to travel so far for work and be away from their families for so long (see previous). Hope@work also helps people prepare resumes and determine the steps necessary to advance their careers. Need: cooperation from Hope@work and some people with a passion for this.

Establish a neighborhood round table: Basically to continue what we’re doing in terms of networking local businesses, institutions, schools, churches, apartment complexes, home owner associations, etc, together for future planning, co-operation and collective response to neighborhood needs.

Establish a Des Moines area refugee resettlement and assimilation round table: Referencing the beginning paragraphs of this document, Des Moines was once proud to welcome over 300 new refugees a year. Currently, many regard our resettlement efforts as being broken. The schools and social services seem overwhelmed, as do the resettlement agencies themselves. Perhaps during this “lull in the action,” we should strive to bring together city, county, school, resettlement agencies, employers, churches and others and establish a round table group to plan the way forward. Perhaps by creating space for people and institutions to work together, we might establish a united approach to welcoming new refugees to our city.

Partnerships with Local Apartment management: Keeping good relationships with the apartment managers and owners allows us to advocate on behalf of the tenants. For instance, when bed bugs are a problem, some managers are reluctant to spray. If the managers trusted the church as a positive force in their properties, perhaps the church could accomplish things on behalf of the tenants to keep the apartments healthy and habitable. Helping the managers make small improvements to their properties while raising the quality of life for the tenants might be one way to build relationships and trust. Such things as building and installing picnic tables, charcoal grills, outdoor seating areas, even helping with routine cleaning or maintenance are ideas. Needs: money for supplies.

Community education experiences about the refugee community: Offer short seminars on what it’s like to be a refugee, the history and individual stories of the people in our neighborhood, maybe some role playing and some ideas on how individuals and organizations can help.

Partnership with Samuelson Elementary: Samuelson probably already has a corporate partner and we don’t know who that is yet or what they do. But our brothers and sisters at Meredith Drive have been doing such a good job at Moulton Elementary, having monthly birthday events for the kids, writing encouraging words to the teachers, and trying to supply needs in the classroom, that we thought we ought to at least try something like this for Samuelson.

Comprehensive Neighborhood Education Strategy: Everyone agrees that our local teachers are doing a wonderful job working with the ELL students. There is a volume problem, however. The school’s resources are overwhelmed and in a season of cutbacks, it’s probably naive to look for help from the district. But perhaps we could work with other districts and even parochial schools to spread the joy and intentionally open enroll some of the children into other schools with more current capacity.

Vacation Bible School: Looks like we’ll be having a lot more kids this year from the neighborhood. Having successfully brought them to church for Wednesday nights, we’re confident they’ll come in the summer for things like VBS.

Local Outreaches: Our involvement in the community started with these outreaches and they seem the best way to get to know the kids and invite them to church. We have four planned at Redeemer Lutheran Church and plans are underway for a joint event in our neighborhood with Wunder Years Academy. We plan to return to Douglas Terrace as well.

After School program: In the next 18 months, we hope to develop an after school program for the neighborhood that would provide education, food, Jesus, and a safe environment for all.

College/Vo-Tech Scholarship program: We hope to find individuals and corporations that would consider contributing to a neighborhood scholarship fund. This is one way we could celebrate as a neighborhood the graduation of our local children. It would unite the community in showing our kids that they do matter and that they are known.

Toys/hobbies: We hope to put in some little money into some “hobby” projects for the kids that they could build or work on at church. For instance, building a model race track, a train layout, etc. This helps in teaching the kids to work together, to be part of something larger than themselves, and helps to work on English. Not to mention the fact it is an excellent way to bring hobby enthusiasts and the kids together.

Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Fishing with Jesus and the Big Catch (There’s a difference between the “one that got away” and what we let sink in a tangled net because the net is too heavy).

Luke 5, Jesus calls his first disciples. Luke says that Jesus got into the boat owned by Simon (Peter) and asked Peter to put out into the lake so that he (Jesus) could teach the crowd gathering on the shore. Afterwards, Jesus directed Simon to put out into deep water and let down his nets.

Simon did so, and, what do you expect? An amazing catch! A catch so large that Simon and his crew had to signal to their partners on the shore to come and help bring in the nets which were so full of fish they would swamp the boat if they tried to bring them in alone.

After that, Simon followed Jesus and was eventually renamed Peter, and became a great leader in the church.

This story is on my mind a lot these days. It haunts my thoughts. Today I’m going to get really vulnerable and I’m going to share my anxiety with you, gentle reader, and with Zion Church, the intended audience of this blog.

Our nets are full right now. I think we’re Simon in the story. We simply let Jesus in our boat and the next thing you know, we’re fishing. And now, a miraculous catch. A catch so big there is a real danger of swamping the boat and losing it all. And remember, per instructions of Jesus, we’re in deep water.

What on earth am I talking about? We have been so blessed to enjoy miraculous ministry in seeing the Mizo fellowship join us at Zion and also in seeing neighborhood kids, primarily from new immigrant households, join us on Wednesday nights. The growth of Wednesday nights in particular is astounding. Consider that in September of last year we had 4 kids in tutoring. Last week we had 55 kids. And I know the tutors feel swamped. Driving the van on Wednesday nights to pick up and take home the kids, who live within a 2 mile radius of our building, now takes an hour each way because we have to make so many trips.

Praise God! What great problems to have! Here’s my anxiety: I am all too aware of the human tendency to want to control. When things seem to be getting out of control, our natural tendency is to want to take over, clamp down, put in rules, regulations, safe guards, mechanisms, etc., so that we aren’t overwhelmed. And, I very much fear from personal experience in churches, that when we do so, no matter how well intentioned and well meaning we are, we begin to limit what God is doing and we turn our blessings into curses.

To be clear, my anxiety comes from the collision between wanting to honor God on the one hand, and being “reasonable” and using “common sense” and honoring our volunteers and members. I’m afraid if we don’t manage this new level of ministry properly, we will, in the words of the old hymn, “bring to naught all He hath done.”

So, here are things that I’m trying to remember as we seek the Lord’s solutions for our current “embarrassment of riches.”

Remember that the recent uptick in ministry has all been directed by God himself. He brought it, he built it, and I have to believe he will maintain and sustain it. It was in June that we first went to the apartment complex simply to bless the people who lived there and give them a banquet. We did it three or so more times in the following months and God himself opened doors and provided opportunities for us to serve. We were not very organized, we were not in control, the volunteers simply showed up and so did the food and the necessary resources. God led, we followed.

Remember that we don’t get to sort through the fish while they are in the net looking for “bad ones” to throw back. Apparently, our job is simply to bring it in. So we don’t want to start thinning the ranks of the kids who are coming by trying to decide “who really needs this most?” We have about 4 kids (out of 55) that can be a challenge. They are also the kids who need Jesus the most. Two of them are not very good Muslims and are looking for the Truth. I have to believe that God will raise up special people with a great heart for these kids in particular who can patiently disciple them and help them with their school work at the same time.

Remember that we’ve spent almost nothing from our bank account to do these things. People, I believe prompted by God himself, have given and given gladly to provide for these needs. It’s as if God Himself wanted to shame those who believe that you have to have money to do ministry. And remember that we now own a church van outright because people saw what God was doing and wanted to help. I have to believe that God will continue to be faithful and provide what’s needed to sustain us through this time. In fact, I’ve already been contacted by someone who wants to help financially and will also help me put a vision together of where all this may be going. I have to believe that God has “many other people in this city” (Acts 18:10) who are about to appear and help us.

Remember that when Simon thought his boat was going to sink and the catch lost, he signaled his partners to come and help. And they did. And the miraculous catch made it safely to shore and was enjoyed by all. It’s probably past time for me to be hitting the streets and looking for more ministry partners with a heart for our neighborhood and these kids. We are so grateful for the participation of Meredith Drive Reformed and Freedom for Youth, Lutheran Services of Iowa, the International House of Prayer - Iowa, and a half dozen volunteers from other churches or no churches who are helping us already. It appears obvious that this catch is way bigger than we are.

Remember that with God, all things are possible. It’s his work, his way. So we have to continue to be diligent in prayer. We need to wear out our knees, seeking his face, and I’d appreciate your help with this. And, hey, if you’re not busy on Wednesday nights, we’re looking for some folks to help...

Thanks for reading. God bless you. Thanks for listening and letting me clear my head. I feel better already. PJ

Monday, April 4, 2011

We Just Crossed A Line

What I want the congregation to understand is that we just crossed a line. The line in question was crossed on March 20, 2011, at about 1:00 p.m. It was a Sunday afternoon and while the world went about it’s business, Zion Lutheran Church quietly became decidedly multi-ethnic. The Mizo language service had begun.

Now some people will immediately say, “What difference does it make that a quiet, medium sized church that few people in the world have ever heard have has become multi-ethnic?”

In fact, what I think is an enormous move of God, is down played by the young men I meet with from our church every Friday for breakfast. They say, “Why wouldn’t our church be diverse, Pastor John? Our workplace is diverse. Our kid’s school is diverse. Our neighborhoods are diverse. Why do you think anyone cares that the church is diverse?”

I suppose I’m excited because the church of Jesus Christ in North America tends to be one of the most segregated institutions on the planet. And we can’t really explain why. Churches often don’t even reflect the racial diversity of their own neighborhoods. Frequently, churches are enclaves. The last bastions of those who used to live in the neighborhood and now drive in from other parts of town to continue a habit of worship begun decades before.

But Zion is trending in the opposite direction. As more Asian and African immigrants move into our neighborhood, we’re becoming more African and Asian. And, it seems to me, the more we do this, the more our traditional caucasian membership seems to grow as well. Could it be that people want to their church to be more a reflection of the kingdom of heaven after all?

Recently, I was told that a certain pastor had asked some of our African families to leave Zion and join a church especially forming for African immigrants. I was told that one of our Liberian ladies told this pastor, “But we like it here. Why would we leave? This is our church.” Whenever I think of this exchange, I cry. I can’t help it. It means so much that Zion could become a home for people from across the globe. It means the world to me that we could reflect the diversity of our own neighborhood. It means that our apparent divisions aren’t dividing us, but rather they are uniting us in Christ Jesus. And I can’t wait each week until we’re together again on Wednesdays and Sundays.

My prayer is that we will continue follow God down this path he has set for us. That we will be faithful to his Word, and, more and more, reflect the amazing diversity of the kingdom of God. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ