Hard Stop

Those weeks --  there are too many things to do, too many directions to go, emails flow in, text messages arrive, phone calls pull at us, needs hit like Dorian hit the East Coast -- you know those weeks and those days.  So do I. 

Distraction in those times is like a masked intruder bringing fear and distress.  Life along with our hearts gets splintered at such times. It's a hamster on his wheel-type existence. 

Last week, even while on vacation I could remember what that felt like.  It was like even while breathing in the air of peace and pause, I could still sense that "intruder" breathing down my neck.  It took discipline to come back to center, it took discipline to stop, to get rooted again.

It actually helped that I started vacation sick.  Who knew that could be helpful? But, I ate a couple of hard boiled eggs Monday at lunch that it turned out were bad.  The result was I felt increasingly worse throughout that day and began to throw up that night for a couple hours beginning at around 630 pm.  Hard start, but a true break from the reality of life in the fast lane and a hard stop (at the toilet) that had me just focused on one thing (getting rid of the culprit) and prayer. 

It was a simple prayer but still prayer.

The next day, tender but lots better, was a rest day for me.  This was a good beginning for a week away for it performed the equivalent of a computer reboot on my system. 

It seems in our lives we need to have hard stops. We need times to encounter a reboot in the operating system. We need a space when we step away and get off the "wheel." 

God gave us the sabbath.  It is an automatic reboot if we come into worship among others, put down the phone, say no to distractions and simply settle into the opportunity to be shifted BACK into first gear.  It allows a stop in the middle of the madness. 

At the start of the week it was two bad eggs that helped me reconnect with Jesus in a whole new way (!) and at the end of the week, worship did it for me again.

We attended a little Episcopal church in Waldport and there encountered Jesus in the liturgy of worship.  The music was unfamiliar (I didn't know a song). I found it was beautiful to listen to those around me singing.  The woman in front of me had spent 26 years in the chorus for the Portland Opera company. That woman SANG! The readings, the message, the prayers all transported me into a place of stillness that stuck with me.  Distractions ceased. The "wheel" stilled. And I met Jesus. 

I don't know what all is happening in your life, but this week friend, return to worship, enter community, pause in life, put down the distractions and be rooted anew in the Jesus who loves you a bunch and just wants to whisper that love into your life. 

Here's to life in Jesus alongside of you!

Brian

PS:  I can guarantee one thing -- to come into worship with an expectation of meeting Jesus will accomplish that.  He will be there for you. Make that hard stop this week, so you don't have to experience it first as I did, at the toilet bowl.  

Qualifications

At our first transitional team meeting on August 18th, I asked the team to respond to several different questions by writing down responses on sheets of paper posted around the room.

One of the questions was this one:

“What Qualities/Characteristics/Knowledge/Skills for our Future Clergy?”

Here are some of the thoughts and concerns that were shared: 

Love of Jesus and love for Jesus

Good sense of humor

No physical wall (meaning:  authentic, approachable)

Acceptance of all personalities 

Warn this pastor: Free range children – be able to embrace them 

Openness to our “come as you are” culture

Welcoming –anyone no matter what

Relationship builder

Sensitive to the Holy Spirit leading/moving ***** 

(and be forewarned: We Talk Back!)

Jesus focused, Bible Informed – someone who is real and lives the faith. 

Someone with new ideas to share and willingness to share them.

Ability to be spiritually accessible 

Good self image

After all this:  We don’t expect perfection.  Love of children all ages

A spouse who would be willing to worship and be part of church too. 

Theological Orientation – someone with centrality of Christ and desire for a classical approach to theology voiced by some.  

That last one might need a bit of explanation.  There are two main approaches to theology which could be described as classical and progressive.  That is overly simplistic, for there is actually a continuum of theology between those. And no one person could truly be described as falling into “one camp.”  That’s the problem with labels -- no one fits them. Literally. Or once we apply the label we find exceptions. Some view me, for example as very traditional and others view me as progressive!  Seriously, labels break down quickly.

But it is true theology is a component of anyone who might come.  And theology is also a component of your life and mine.  

All of us “do theology.”  We are all theologians, although we might not see ourselves as such.  Our viewpoints toward creation, toward humanity, toward faith, toward how we live our lives are all based upon systems of belief we have developed. Some of us are more “biblical” in that theology, meaning, we have a basis for action/belief based upon scriptural directives. Some of us are more “practical” theologians, basing our actions on “what is going on,” around us, and asking, “how might we respond?”   

Another type of theology is called systematic theology. This branch of approach to theology is based as the name implies on categories (or systems) of doctrine: of first principles, of the Church, of the existence and attributes of God, of the Holy Spirit, of Christ, of Man, of Salvation, and of the afterlife.  Each of these are explored and expounded upon.  There are huge tomes of systematic theology from Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica to John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, to Thomas Odin’s three-volume Systematic Theology, to Wayne Grudern’s Systemic Theology.  There are literally thousands more.   

I think one of the main desires in the desire for classical is a faithful trust in Scripture, a deep belief in the real person of Jesus, and a relationship with him, an understanding of him as that miracle over against all others making his life remarkable.  He was the Person who makes all the difference. There may be a desire of agreement on all the main issues of the day. But none of us agree on everything, so, more than likely you’ll find whomever comes will have approaches and thoughts that may differ from your own.  

The most important thing, as we have discovered time and time and time again is a faithful return to Jesus.  We can differ on many opinions of many aspects of life, but do we return to Jesus, do we find hope, life, and relationship and salvation in Him?  Then, beyond this there can be other areas that take a backseat to Him and that’s appropriate.  

As we say every week -- we are here to love God, love others, and make disciples, which are others who obey everything He commanded.  

Here’s the process we are in as far as who might come next to serve as your pastor. We have just brainstormed this list.  Next we will be discussing it and expanding it into categories of what are the essential qualities and what are the non-essential qualities. Part of this conversation will need to include our vision for the future, where we believe God is leading us. Then we will communicate these to our District Superintendent.  Here is what we are looking for in our next pastor.  

The District Superintendent, Erin Martin, loves this church. She wants the best person possible to come in to follow me.  At this point, as far as I know they are seeking someone to just follow, not an interim pastor, who would have a two-year stay to prepare for the next person.  Through the fall, the cabinet (all the district superintendents and our Bishop) will be discussing possible people who might be able to come here. In January, they may have some kind of list of possibilities, but also will add our congregation to the “Open List” and clergy from across the NW area can “put in their name” as possible candidates.  The desire is to prayerfully align “who we are as a church,” “who we seek as a pastor,” with the folk out there. Sometimes God has sent in clergy from other annual conferences to fill vacancies. That’s how I ended up in this conference, God sent me and our family north saying, “I have new places for you.”  

So, as you read this list of qualities above, do you have qualities that you would say are important to you as well? Are there other qualities you might like to see in the next clergy person who comes here?  If so, email the office@westsidejourney.org and share what those might be.  Virginia will add them to our list as the transitions team continues to discuss and share together.  And keep praying: God has said He has this and knows whom He plans to send. Our prayer is that this person “hears God’s call.”   

Three Phases

Sunday, August 18th, the Transitions Team met for the first time together as we begin to walk in these months together. It is this amazing group of people with a heart for the church and for our future.  

A transition is what takes place anytime we encounter change.  Most of us know that that would be the case, but most also do not realize that transitions are often poorly done.  For example, we graduate from High School and leave for college but often do not take time to really walk through the realities of “letting go” of the phase we were in, High School, and feeling the feelings that may accompany that departure, for we are so busy heading into the future, that new beginning, in this case college.  In his book of the same title, William Bridges, describes transitions as having three distinct parts -- first the ending, a neutral phase and then a new beginning. 

Endings include:  Shock, Anger, denial, fear, sadness.  There are emotions there. And there is a real need to actually feel them. You have to end something in order to begin. We all will need to process emotions this year, that’s healthy and normal.  

The Neutral Zone often involves a sense of confusion, being displaced, disoriented, and skeptical; it even can feel apathetic.

When I look back at the transitions of my life, I think I have often just looked toward the future, the new beginning, to such an extent that I diminished the fact that I needed to let go and say goodbye to a current place. I didn’t walk through a transition, I hopscotched.  I hope I am learning to be more honest with the process now. 

Then the New Beginnings can bring excitement, joy, energy, commitment, and acceptance.

We have a transitions team because we are entering a season of transition.  The team is mostly made up of people already on church council with a few others added who were keenly interested in the process. Please feel free to communicate with any of them your own thoughts and your own heart as we walk in this year.  The members are: Chris and Debbie Gabel, Kari Suppes, Wendy Fedderly, Mark Smith, Randy and Cindy Loayza, Francie Stacey, Gayellyn Jacobson, Jane Williams, Susan Brehmer, Kristin Walters, and Martha Tunall.  

What I loved about this first meeting was the openness and honesty this group possessed to really talk about what it feels like to them to begin this journey.  We have lots to look at this year and our desire is to involve the whole congregation in walking out this journey together. All of you have things to share, feelings to process and the need to both end and begin well.  It is tough to do but so necessary.  

If you had been there you might have caught some of us crying tears of sadness and immense joy, both. One person said, “I didn’t expect this kind of ab workout.”  That was from the laughter. One thing I have loved and continue to love about this congregation is all that you have taught me about authenticity. How we have learned to walk alongside one another. 

We were reminded that with my sabbatical in 2016 we all learned that you are a great congregation together and you will continue to be that great group of dynamic people with heart and vision after I move on and another pastor steps into leadership among you.  God has this and has you. This is good to remember. And as another member of the team said, “Change is good. It is an opportunity for all of us to grow.”  

Keep praying and keep communicating as we walk through transition. 

PB  

Living Faith

 The team of 11 — all from Westside— returned from the Dominican Republic July 29th.  We experienced great cross-cultural training.  

The best moment was when we were divided into four different cultures and given one cultural trait for each of our cultures.  These were based on actual people groups from a missionary’s experience in Papua New Guinea.  

Then we were instructed to decide based upon the trait how we would greet, welcome, engage with others, give gifts, etc.  Then we were visited by each of the other cultural groups and we visited them. Finally we visited while trying to adapt to their culture — receiving what they offered and appreciating who they were. 

My cultural trait was to value being relaxed, indeed we viewed doing anything hurriedly as improper.  Our word was calm. We felt it offensive to greet or be greeted too quickly. Fast movements were shunned.  This was the opposite of my wiring. Really tough for me!

When we visited one of the groups who hugged instantly, enthusiastically greeted, and offered gifts immediately, it overwhelmed me! And I realized that other culture was more how I am naturally wired.  What an awakening moment. I wrote my family about the experience apologizing if I was ever overwhelming to them!  

Grace wrote “Dad, you are not overwhelming!”

Anna wrote this:  “I was thinking about your cross-cultural experience that you texted about yesterday! What an amazing exercise. 

I hope you know, though, that no one is “poor” for knowing you. You make every life you touch richer! 

But it is probably helpful to understand why some people react to others in certain ways. And still let people own their own feelings. 

I’m sure you know all that. 😉 

Love love love you!”

What gifts to receive these messages.  

As we went into the community of Rio Grande we all kept in mind our cultural experience.  Indeed we would joke “Remember to tone down culture 3!” That was the enthusiastic culture.  The exercise had been so helpful. 

We were allowed no cameras the first day.  “Focus on building relationships,” Tim, our leader said, “If you exit the week having built relationships but having finished no work, then you were successful.  Money brings aid but relationships bring hope!” 

Watching how relationships have changed lives was my lesson this trip.  Mary, whom I had met last year, gave me a huge hug this year when she saw me in the street and calling me, “Mi Brian!”  

Mercedes the mayor and who runs a small grocery store came to bring coffee to our team and thanked us for coming.  

Ken who was one of our foremen who is off drugs and has met Jesus because of working alongside teams of people who weren’t talking about Jesus but who were living Him.  It’s not possible to talk much about your faith across a language difference but faith communicates through smiles, hugs, gestures, and how you handle stress.  

These are a few.  The children now in school because of this work have dreams.  Rather than saying they will become farmers like their parents when they grow up, they say “I want to be an airline pilot.” “I want to be a forensic scientist.” They have visions beyond the community.  One little second grader is the top student in all of the DR and three years ago had no access to education. 

We all were impacted by this experience— even though we were only there one week.  Life changed for us.  

And I kept returning in my thoughts to the work God has called us to here with teens and Family Promise.  And I was struck with how much can happen when we live our faith. Even though we cannot use our words about Jesus unless a youth or adult asks, Jesus is not limited to words and if we live well, if we embrace their lives, then this will speak loudly.  Besides communication is only 13% verbal, the words, the rest is through facial expressions and gestures. 

We are working to bring culture change as we do these works here.  Having seen such changes in the DR, I know it works.  

Royalty

This has been such an amazing few weeks.  

First, all five of our grands and all four daughters were here for our 60th birthday party bash on July 13th, then, second, this week, three of our grands, Antonia, Theo and Gregory have been here for a week while their parents went backpacking.  Both these times were incredible. I just love these kids. 

Theo and Josie, cousins, are close to the same age and are the daring duo for certain.  Two weeks ago I overheard this conversation: 

Theo:  “You know what, Josie?  When I grow up I will be a man and when you grow up you will be a,” and he paused trying to think of what exactly to say, “you will be, a, a, mother.  I will be king and you will be queen. Won’t that be fun?”  

Josie was not paying attention too keenly but said, “Yah,” in response. 

After Josie returned home, her other grandma was poking her with words saying, “Josie, are you going to grow up to be accident prone?”  

And perhaps turning into this previous conversation with Theo and others, Josie responded, “No.  I’m going to be a princess and Spider Man.” When Theo was told of this response, he responded by reminding her that she would be a queen but affirmed she could be Spider Man, as well. 

Actually this is not bad theology. In Christ we are all priests and kings -- we are mighty with authority.  And as to Spider Man, well, we have been given great power and equally great responsibility.  

I think, however, that often we live below God’s high calling and gifting of our lives.  This is especially true when we are not connected to community. For it is in community that we get reminded and invited into this greater Story -- just like Theo did with Josie. 

On our own, it’s hard to even remember the Story we are a part of.  We can spend too much time immersed in other less significant stories. From there, it is difficult to remember our regal status, our great power, our amazing giftings, especially when surrounded by other voices which downplay instead of emphasizing who we truly are.  

I noticed this when the kids were playing at the park this week. Karen and I had both been playing with them, and then the two older ones were off in a game of their own filled with a plot line, intrigue, and adventure. I was following 20-month-old Gregory around as he made the circuit from the ladder, down the slide, back under the play structure to the ladder again.  

Suddenly, the two older kids were beside me:  “Ok. You are the bad guy and we are going to tie you up and leave you in jail.”  

“Hey! How did I even get into this game?” I jokingly complained. “I was minding my own business here!”  But they were insistent and Gregory was being tracked by Karen. So, I was dutifully tied with invisible webs, and put into jail (the ground beneath the play structure onto the astro turf) and they ran off and left me there.  

Alone -- I would just have been standing there in my own thoughts but together, by their insistence, I got involved in a larger story. 

Sunday in first service the scripture and the quote that Virginia had included in the bulletin hit a couple people significantly.  One woman shed tears as she told of her own journey with fear. She shared how Esther’s story had spoken right into her own. In other words, her own story had been placed into the larger Story of Scripture and within that greater story she had found strength, sustenance and hope for her own. 

That’s the idea -- we need to be “included in a larger story” by walking this faith thing together with others.  

Had this woman in first service not been at church, she would have missed two connections -- one that of being connected to the larger Story which answered questions she did not know she was asking. And also, she would have missed connecting with all of us there, who totally could relate to what she was sharing. 

This faith thing is not meant to be alone, for when we try that, we miss out on finding how we are part of a larger Story which gives meaning to our own.  And remember -- you too are a king or queen, you just may not have recognized your regal status when you saw yourself in the mirror.

Community

Dear Family,

How are you doing?

Change is always tough and so very good for all of us, but still hard.  We are anticipating a change when I will no longer be your pastor here. It means that we will be bidding one another farewell, which is the tough part and unimaginable!  But it also means turning to welcome a new part of life. The thing about any transition is that there are three parts to it. I wrote about these on 7/12. It is published here.

The key is to stay in community in this time.  We sometimes play games emotionally. The hard emotions we tend to numb.  We eat the chocolate muffin, we open a beer, we get out the chips, we turn on the TV.  We think we are just numbing the negative emotions, but forget in the process that actually we cannot choose what we are numbing. And as  we numb the negative feelings, the sadness, the fears, the grief, we are also numbing joy, love, peace, and the sense of God’s presence. All the positives go away as we seek to numb the negatives.  This is no way to go.

So, could we make a deal? 

When  you want to numb, you call someone you know in the church or outside of it, and just say:  “I’m hurting.” A friend needs no other information in order to say, “Hey, tell me about it.”  And then listens. 

If you do this, I promise, this year will produce what God intends: a people who have grown closer to one another and to God.

You don’t know who to call?  

Call Virginia at the office 503.643.8070 and she will be happy to connect you to someone who will be there for you.  

If you believe you would be willing to receive such calls from your brothers or sisters in the congregation, could you let Virginia know in the office?  Thanks.  

We are in this together!

Brian

Praying Affirmations

Dear Friends, 

Last week I published the first part of an article my wife, Karen, had written for Canby UMC.  In that article she tells how she has been living into the idea of practicing positive affirmations in her own life.  Then she continues, that God had directed her thoughts “toward positive words of affirmation about our life together as a community of faith.”  As a result Karen began praying affirmations for their congregation.  

I’ve written some that I am praying over our congregation as well.  Karen’s were very similar to these. 

·     We are a lighthouse of love, healing and hope.

·     We value authenticity: sharing life-- laughing, weeping, learning, and praying together.

·     We practice real communication.

·     We share Jesus with our lives, words and acts of service.

·     We are a place of love, hope and joy. 

·     We follow the prompts of God’s Holy Spirit. 

·     We welcome those who hunger for God and spiritual substance.

·     We are seeing homeless teens housed. 

·     We openly invite others to join our community of faith.

·     We meet together regularly in unlikely places. 

·     The world sees God at work in our lives.

·     We make space for questions and are open to answers from the wisdom of God’s word and the life journeys of others who follow Christ.

·     We experience God’s presence in our lives.

As Pastor Karen at Canby UMC has been living into similar affirmations for Canby and praying daily, God began to answer.  One of her affirmations was about how “we welcome those who hunger for God.” And on Monday, this week, God brought a miracle.  A man came to the door with his cousin. The man was seeking to baptized. Today. Karen wrote: “I heard a bit of his story and then I put on my robe and stole. We lit candles and Marilyn, (her admin), was the congregation.  I baptized him. He’s been longing for this for 50 years. What a glorious gift to be part of God’s work in the world and in his life.”  

Who knows who God wants to reach or touch through us?

Would you begin to pray these affirmations or write others that connect for you?  

Let’s join in this adventure of living in the present and being willing to share what God reveals to you through it!  

Thanks for being adventurers in this journey!

Brian 

Affirmations

Dear Friends --  

Karen, my wife, had written this great article for Canby UMC, and so I asked if I could share it with you over the next two Sundays.  

Ponder this here:   

  “The conversation at our Sunday night family dinner table comes back again and again to the power of the mind, the power of affirmations, the truth that what we say to ourselves and to others often, if not always, comes to pass. There are three simple things to remember about words of affirmation:

• Positive affirmations are always in the present tense. Not “I will” or “I’m going to” but present tense: I am the best dad.  I love my body. I am wholehearted. 

• Positive affirmations only include positive words. It takes your brain a lot of extra work to get past the negativity of “I can’t” or “I won’t” or “I’ll never be like…” or “I’m exhausted.” 

• Positive affirmations are spoken as words of truth. Use words like “I am” or “I do” rather than “might” or “could.” Be sure of what you are affirming.

Our brains are set up to do what we tell them. So we have powerful influence over the flow of our thoughts and the subsequent actions that follow those thoughts. 

It seems like the apostle Paul had some insights along these lines (without the proof of brain research, but by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit ;-).  God is always ahead of science by millennia).  

He wrote this to the Christians at Philippi,

 “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise,  think about these things.” (Phil 4:8)

Paul repeated several words that seem almost like the same thing. He must have known what research has revealed. Our brains are creatures of habit and the more we repeat something, the more likely it is to happen or come true.

What about saying things that don’t feel true?

Maybe we want something that isn’t true right now and maybe it feels like it will never be true. That definitely creates a tension and discomfort. Most of our life is spent avoiding discomfort and so these positive words spoken into a hard situation create tension. This is all the more reason to embrace that intention and that affirmation.  The truth is we will either change the affirmation so that it feels comfortable (someday I will lose weight) or we will change our behavior and habits so that the affirmation is true: I eat healthy foods, I exercise regularly, and I get plenty of rest.” 

That’s the first part of her article.  So, what do you think?  

How do you speak?  What do you say to yourself?  How do you narrate life in your own head?  How positive or negative is your language? 

I know that mine has been so negative in so many seasons!  Catching ourselves is key! I’ve been choosing new, positive, clear statements instead! 

Years ago Catherine Marshall (author and then wife of the Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall) heard the Lord speak to her heart not to speak anything negative.  She agreed thinking it would be no great thing. But found she had to remain silent for three days for she was so in the habit of speaking negatively! She literally could think of no positive thing to say!  

Have you ever been warned not to make vows for they are self fulfilling in the opposite direction of the vow?  So, if you say: “I’ll never be like my dad.” Your brain won’t process the negative and only records “like dad” and positions you to become what you believe you do not want to be.  With brain research, this makes sense.  

This week – create some positive affirmations to speak over and into your own life.  Can you envision a hope and a future? “Think on these things,” Paul wrote.   

Keep walking together into this transitional Journey!

Brian 

Transitions

I was reading an old journal from last year today, and came across this Word from the Lord given May 19, 2018:  

“Sit in Me, Son.  Last night you sat in self and listened to the self.  Sit in Me. Abide. Don’t seek life apart from Me. Abide.  Be planted. Tabernacle in Me. Set up house. Find your hope and reality.  

Discover your life in Me. Be, Son. Be.  You are so valuable. 

Rest.  You matter son.  You are so gifted.  I’m proud of you. Rest.  Discover Me. Be still in Me.” 

As we walk this year together, and become a people who are listening together for the voice of God into our hearts and lives, we get to learn to sit in Jesus, to rest in Him. I loved the contrast Jesus painted in this word between “sitting in myself” and “sitting in Him.”  We can “sit in self” in many ways -- through self reliance, through medicating or avoiding emotion, through pride, through any path of addiction, through tuning in to the monologue of the heart and not tuning into the song of heaven. That night a year ago, it was by tuning into my negative heart narratives.  

For us, this next season together, is a season of transition. It is one in which we need to be tuning well into Jesus.  

Transitions and changes are challenging, but are great opportunities to process emotion together, to say the things we have not said and need to say to one another, to practice well what it means to say goodbye to a season.  Saying goodbye is essential in order to say “hello” to the next season yet coming.  

Sometimes we do transitions in life poorly -- we neglect to end one season before entering the new one, in divorce and remarriage that could be called rebounding.  At other times we might want to rush past the discomfort of the lostness or emptiness we might feel before the next season starts, because it is hard!   

In his book called Transitions William Bridges writes about the challenge of doing transitions well.  He gives an assignment to look back and identify places where there was an ending and a new beginning in life.  Here’s his question: “At what points could you use the phrase ‘A new chapter in my life opened when…’?” 

Some of my list were:  Abuse, High school, Switzerland, Bookselling in Iowa, Marriage, Death of parents, Seminary, first pastorate, etc.  

If you made that list, what might you notice about how you did those transitions.  Did you just jump one thing to the next, or did you allow yourself to experience the change in life?  

He writes:  “First there is an ending, then a beginning, and an important empty or fallow time in between.  That is the order of things in nature. Leaf-fall, winter, then the green emerges again from the dry brown wood.  Human affairs flow along similar channels, or they would if we were better able to stay in that current. But endings make us fearful.  They break our connection with the setting in which we have come to know ourselves, and they awaken old memories of hurt and shame. Growing frightened, we are likely to try to abort the three-phase process of ending, lostness, and beginning…”  (both p 17).  

This is a transition year.  

We all need to be aware that grief will take process for all of us and will look different in each of us.  Remember those stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. They don’t necessarily come in order, and also can repeat.  So, the best advice with the emotions of endings is this: When you hit the emotions, feel them.  

As a transitional time, it is a time to invest into the community in which God has placed us, sitting with one another and remaining in Jesus to listen as He whispers His grace and direction into our lives:  “Sit in Me. Last night you sat in self… Sit in Me.”  

The church council has formed a transitions team which will be meeting to plan how we can work together as a community to walk through the process of ending, or saying goodbye, or finishing well, then through some sense of lostness, and then a new beginning, as you get to welcome a new pastor and new season of ministry together with the person God is bringing.  

To do this year well, to grow through it means we need to all walk together in this. 

I invite you into the real and essential season of transition that we might do well what God is calling us to do together in this season to become the people God desires we become through this season.  

At the end of the year, when July 2020 arrives, we all might need to feel more emotions, especially then.  There is no leap-frog jump into the new, walk slowly, and through all this let’s remember that line I came back saying from my sabbatical camino:  Stay with your feet.  

You cannot be anyplace but where your feet are.  Unfortunately when we “sit in self” we are anywhere but “with our feet.”  So, sit in Jesus, listen for Him to speak and let’s keep walking and feeling together.  

Love to you all -- Brian


Chapter 44 "Spirit of Love: Loving Self"

Scripture: Proverbs 4: 1-27; Romans 12: 3-21; James 1: 2-8; 3: 13-18

McLaren calls us to a kind of self-love that involves self-examination, self-development, self-control, and self-giving.  These, he says, will enable us to love God and others more fully and joyfully (221). 

Sometimes people view God as if God just wants to steal all the joy from life, but in this chapter, McLaren reminds his readers that God invented pleasure, the senses, and the experience of His presence in which people experience a fullness of Joy. So why the rules and warnings which seem to center around areas that give us pleasure?  He says these make sense “when you realize how easily all life’s great pleasures-- food, drink, sex, owning, winning, resting, playing, working -- can become addictive and destructive. When we indulge in pleasures without self-examination or self-control, a great pleasure can quickly lead to great pain-- for the addicts themselves and for those whose lives are touched by their addiction” (222).  

So, what do we do?  McLaren says we must seek wisdom. We must ask questions like “Will this help or hinder me in reaching my highest goals?  Where will this lead short-, medium-, and long-term? What unintended consequences might it entail?  Who might be hurt by this? Are there better alternatives? Is now the best time?”

Imagine what a difference it would make if someone asked those questions before making a purchase that was risky for their budget? Or before drinking and driving? Or before throwing caution to the wind for a one-night stand? Or before working multiple 14-hour days in a row to the loss of family time?  We need wisdom in this life which is about really loving ourselves well in order to live as wisely and lovingly as possible. He quotes Proverbs 4:23, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the well-springs of life.” 

“God, it turns out, isn’t a divine killjoy. God wants you to love you the way God loves you, so you can join God in the one self-giving love that upholds you and all creation. If you trust your self to that love, you will become the best self you can be, thriving in aliveness, full of deep joy, part of the beautiful whole” (224). 

What one thought or idea from today’s lesson especially intrigued, provoked, challenged, encouraged, warmed, helped or surprised you?

Share a story about how a rule, a wise saying, and a mentor have helped you.

Talk honestly with someone you trust this week about how you are doing in the areas of self-examination, self-control, self-development, self-care and self-giving.  

I think of the command to show love for others, this proviso of loving self is a difficulty for many. It has been for me. As someone was sharing on Sunday about the difficulty to even receive the fact that they are loved, I can totally relate.  And I am not alone. I love McLaren’s sharing of how this looks and the call for wisdom. He pictures self love as a walk in wisdom in how to use the freedoms God has given us. Then there is the deeper area of the heart, which scripture calls us to “guard above all else,” which would seem to point to this call to guard against any attitude against ourselves which would be out of line with God’s view of us.  McLaren says, “Imagine those who love you most-- parents, a spouse, friends, children, and God. Now imagine standing with them as they see and love you. In silence and in God’s presence, hold yourself in that kind of love” (225). That is such a generous picture!

Chapter 43 "Spirit of Love: Love of Neighbor"

Scripture: Acts 10: 1-48; 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13 

Who is my neighbor?  That was the telling question the lawyer asked Jesus in order to justify the people he chose to love over those he hated.  But Jesus answered with a story that illustrated neighbor is not another but is how we choose to love -- we are the neighbor to another when we love like the Good Samaritan did.  Or as McLaren says in this chapter, “the Spirit wants to break down walls of prejudice and hostility so that we stop judging us as clean and them as unclean, opening the way for strangers and enemies to become neighbors, friends, family” (p. 216).  Loving is the key, naturally, but “the New Testament is serious about translating love into practical, specific, concrete, down-to-earth action.  Because each of us has something to give and much to receive, the term one another keeps popping up on page after page of the New Testament” (p. 218).  He lists many of these occurrences where we are told to be devoted to one another, honor, accept, stop passing judgment, agree with, wait for, have equal concern for, be kind and compassionate to, forgive, encourage, teach and admonish, spur on toward love and good deeds, offer hospitality to one another, etc.  The list goes on and on.  This “loving” is to be made visible everywhere, with everyone.  Start loving! 

Share a story about a time when someone affirmed one of your unique gifts or abilities, and when you appreciated the unique gifts or abilities of someone else.     

How do you respond to the list of one-another’s?

I have often felt that the one another’s in the NT are an invitation to live with others in mind, to not live as if only you mattered but to live constantly aware and looking toward the “others” God has placed around us.  I think the comprehensive opportunity to notice others is immense. Tonight driving through my neighborhood I prayed for every house and the people I don’t yet know who live within.  I prayed for Jesus to impact those families, those lives. I wondered what stresses they are encountering and what joys. I wondered how our lives could intersect. I prayed for Jesus to keep using me in their lives.  

Meditate:  In silence, simply hold the term “one another” before God.  Open yourself to the depths of meaning in this beautiful term.  


Chapter 42 "Spirit of God: Loving God"

Scripture: Psalm 116; Romans 8: 1-17; Ephesians 3: 14-21

Loving God.  That’s the beginning of the Spirit’s work in our hearts and lives, McLaren wrote, that we could become a people who actually love God.  For some the name “God” has all kinds of connotations that make the idea of God difficult to love. However, loving God is actually not “so different from loving another human being.”  Here’s how McLaren describes that:

“When we speak of loving another human being, we naturally move toward that person in a special way. We appreciate the qualities of the beloved. We respect and honor the beloved’s dignity. We enjoy the beloved’s company and feel curious about the beloved’s personhood.  We want to support the beloved’s dreams and desires. And we make ourselves available for the beloved to respect, honor, enjoy, know and support us, too, because to be “in love” is to be in a mutual relationship” (p 212).

Then all these apply to how we love and grow in relationship with God.  The bottom line as we grow is to learn deeply that we are not alone, and as people who are loved, we learn to love.  That’s it.

Share a story about a time when you felt most “in love” with God.

The call came at midnight into the dorm where I was sleeping with several other guys attending the Annual Conference of the UMC.  It was 1995. Karen, my wife, and I had just moved from California the previous year with our four daughters. This was before cell phones.  We had wired-in, actual wall phones in each room. It rang and rang before Dexter in the room got up and answered it. He came and woke me. “Hey, Brian.  Karen is on the line.”

“What’s up?” I asked into the receiver as I took the phone, and went into the hallway, the long coiled cord through the door back to the phone on the wall inside the room.  I sat down on the floor. Karen began to cry. “Honey. I’m sorry to bother you. But something happened tonight that I need to tell you about. Now.”

“Great.  I can tell it’s huge.  I’m here. Tell me.”

“I had put all the girls down for bed.  Then I went to sleep myself. I had trouble falling asleep, but managed. I awoke to this loud knocking at the door and Alex barking and barking.  I made my way downstairs turning on the light and spoke through the door: ‘Who is it?’”

“It’s Tina,” the voice responded, “your neighbor from across the street.  I have your little girl.”

“I opened the door quickly then and was astounded to see Gabrielle in Tina’s arms.  She had just been asleep!”

Tina said, “I was sitting on my porch having a smoke when I heard crying across the street. It was dark and I couldn’t see but it looked like a little person in front of the office building of the church.  So, I came across the street and there was your little girl, standing there, in front of the fence, crying.”

I leaned down and said, ‘Honey, why are you crying? Why are you up?’”

“She said, ‘I am looking for my daddy, but he is not here and I cannot find him.’”

“Honey, your daddy is out of town,” Tina said, “but I know your mama is home.  Let me carry you back to the house.”

Karen continued.

“I took Gabrielle and thanked Tina profusely and then closed the door and locked it.  I took Gabrielle upstairs and put her back to bed, in our room, and then went back downstairs and positioned a chair under the door handle of the front door.”

“As I sat down in bed, I journaled out my experience but as I began to tell the story the pictures of what actually had happened unfolded in my mind.  I saw what had happened. I saw Gabrielle leave the house. I saw that she was guarded by a double line of angels, linking arms like a fence on each side of her. She had stopped at the office for there the angels blocked her path.  They broke arms to allow Tina in to pick Gabrielle up, and then closed ranks around the two of them as Tina carried her back to the door. This I saw and the Lord spoke to my spirit saying we need to be praying. God has a plan that is unfolding and we need extra prayers for our kids.”

I was stunned with the story, but believed it for I knew Karen and trusted her spirit.  We prayed together and I felt this immense love for God -- the One who intervenes, cares, and works in all these things of life.  Thinking back to the moment I can still feel the fact of His presence.

How do you respond to the comparison between human love and loving God?

What do you think it means, the phrase, “God is love?”


Chapter 41 "Moving with the Spirit"

Scripture: John 15: 1-8; Galatians 3: 19-4:7; 5:1-26; Colossians 2: 6-7; 3: 1-17

Using the biblical images of the branch attached to the vine, of “walking,” of a fire that needs to be tended in order to keep the flame burning, McLaren invites his readers to keep walking, to stay in step with the Spirit, and to do so daily, moment by moment. He invites us to do so all through our days, from the moment we awaken, to times around the table, to times of traveling from place to place, to emergencies, to expressing our gratitude to God at the end of the day for all that it held.  Walk. Keep walking. That’s the invitation.

He also points out that sometimes people “stop walking” and instead of moving, walking, and allowing the sap of the Spirit to nourish and strengthen, they become bystanders, critical of others, observers not participants encamped together with others who share their critique.  

The calling for us as followers is to walk, day by day, along the path God has given us.  Don’t be distracted, keep walking.

Share a story about how the Spirit has encouraged you through others walking alongside you.

How do you respond to the warning about losing your way and becoming a critical bystander rather than a humble walker?

My blog’s tagline is “Westside Walker,” connected to our congregation’s name and this theme of movement that God invites us into as we “Follow Jesus.”  I find that tag so helpful to remember, I am a walker, a journeyer, one who is also learning day by day to follow, to trust, to believe, to be present to Jesus as I walk.  

I was struck the other day how frequently God speaks into my life through those around me, just by how they talk, what they say, and allowing what they are saying to speak directly into the things I am feeling, dealing with in my own heart.  Sometimes I am broadsided by such conversations. I don’t expect God to show up with a grocery store clerk, or in line at the bank, or at the gas station, or with the tech for my eye appointment. But then, suddenly, in a flash God is there and ministering not through me but TO me.  Right there while Michele, the tech, tells of her discovery that algebra which she never thought she would use past high school is an everyday part of her job, God encourages my own heart saying through her, “I’ve put in place all you need for how I will use you.”

Chapter 40 "Pentecost Sunday: The Spirit is Moving"

Scripture: John 3: 1-21; Acts 2: 1-41; Romans 6: 1-14

Using all the scriptural imagery for the Holy Spirit (eg:  wind, fire, breath, dove, cloud, wine), McLaren demonstrates how Pentecost was a reversal of the ancient account of the Tower of Babel. In that story, God confused the languages to stop the grasp of people for godlike power.  At Pentecost, God brought unity within the diversity of languages, testifying that God intends to bring his power and spirit to all peoples. In this chapter, remembering the work of God throughout history, we are invited to open up to the work and Person of God’s Holy Spirit to fill us.  McLaren writes that through the Spirit we are invited to enter into the death of Christ and be buried with him in baptism, and then raised with him in resurrection. As McLaren wrote: “Let Go! Let Be! and Let Come!” (206).

The Holy Spirit is a most fascinating member of Trinity. Like the wind He is elusive and hard to track and follow.  He is also immensely beautiful, powerful, and does engage us from the level of our hearts. Following Jesus without the Spirit would be impossible. None of us has within the wherewithal to actually follow without the Spirit of the Living God working within us.  He is essential. He came to the first Pentecost like wind and fire. He made an entrance, which was heard into the streets. This caused an uproar, people running to see what was going on. It brought hecklers. The Spirit came and began to change those first followers with a boldness that only could be Spirit connected.  

Share a story about a time you experienced the Holy Spirit in a special way.

How do you respond to the imagery of death, burial and resurrection with Christ?

Make it a habit in the coming days to take a deep breath and then exhale to express letting go. Then remain breathless for a moment -- to express letting be. Then inhale to express letting the Spirit come to fill you.  

I love the Spirit of the Living God.  When I was first baptized with the Holy Spirit, at 17,  it felt to me as if I had swallowed sunshine. Still when the Spirit moves in my heart I can get all kinds of physical sensations.  But mostly I experience joy, and what I love is that I can hear the Spirit speak and lead and guide in my life. Learning to listen and obey, this has been a lifelong project.  

Sometimes I have heard, clearly, but not followed through on what I had heard, and then have felt badly afterward.  This is also unnecessary, for “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” But still, learning to apply and live into the Word, that takes time.  I still remember the time when I passed up an opportunity to speak to a neighbor boy, he was 18, this was when I was first pastoring. There he was, outside his house, resting on the hood of his car in his driveway.  And the Spirit said, “Go up to him.” It was clear. I hesitated. I had all kinds of thoughts and fears in my head. I didn’t do it. I instead kept walking and went into my house. It might have been a moment like Philip had on the desert road when the Spirit told him to “Go up to that chariot.”  And Philip just did it. I love that.

But that day, I missed the opportunity. That boy has received years of prayers out of my desperate and repentant heart. But who knows what I missed out on that day or what he missed out on.  Hearing and obeying, that is the meaning of the word for “listen” in the scriptures. To listen is to hear and obey. Lord, help me learn to listen.

I love how the Spirit has sent so many other opportunities, which says that God brings many opportunities even when we mess up.   

Chapter 39 "Whatever the Hardship, Keep Rising Up!"

Scripture: Isaiah 40:27-31; Acts 9:1-25; 2 Corinthians 6: 1-10; 11:22-33

This chapter is again a first person testimony from around AD 64 as the writer observes Paul’s life and teaching, telling the story again of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9), and teaching about suffering.  He tells many stories from Paul’s life, how he not only met Ananias who was sent to him after he was led, blind, into Damascus, but also, he saw in Ananias, the Lord Jesus, that same Lord he began to meet in the believers in every church he visited and founded.  

In this context he says “Hardships make us bitter...or better.  They lead us to breakdown...or breakthrough. If we don’t give up at that breaking point when we feel we’ve reached the end of our own resources, we find a new aliveness, the life of the risen Christ rising within us.  Paul often says it like this: “I have been crucified with Christ. So it is no longer my prideful self who lives. Now it is Christ, alive in me” (p 198-199).

The chapter ends much like the book of Acts, with Paul in prison, Nero the emperor, and the unknown of what will come next:  “Who knows where the road will lead? God will be with us, and we will make the road by walking, together” (199).

Share a story about one of your greatest hardships?

How do you respond to the idea that we discover God’s strength only through our weakness?

This week, when you’re tempted to complain, look for a blessing that could come from enduring hardship well.

In a strange way, the greatest hardship of my own life has not been the abuse I experienced as a kid, but the inner narratives I have battled, probably rooted in that abuse, as an adult. It has been the temptation to believe and follow the lies within my heart that has been the greatest hardship.  

This inner torture has kept me bound at times, silenced me, bound me in fear, caused me to feel inadequate and unable to continue; it has left me depressed and alone.  Truly, this has been a great bondage.

With the freedom and victory of Jesus, still I have battled.  It is as if this was a thorn in my side against which I had had to learn to fight. I have had to choose truth over the lies that felt more true than “the earth is round.”  I have had to battle the thoughts of failure, and choose to believe that success is borne of obedience and faithfulness. I have had to learn to be vulnerable, for when we let the truth of our hearts out into the open air, then and only then can darkness be dissipated.  The crazy thing, although I can write about this, and although I am not a kid any longer, still I have daily choices to make in this battle to stand, to walk, to have faith, to choose life. Truth is a tough thing to choose when the lies have had a heyday for too long.

Having said this, I definitely believe I am better for the struggle and stronger too.  I agree with the observation that hardships can either make us bitter or better, they will lead to breakdown or breakthrough.  I’m still walking toward the breakthrough.


Chapter 38 "The Uprising of Stewardship"

Scripture: Deuteronomy 15: 1-11; 1 Timothy 6: 3-19; 2 Corinthians 8: 1-15

In this chapter McLaren writes again from the perspective of someone in 51 AD looking at what they were gaining through the impact of Paul’s teaching.  Not only was Jesus entering into people’s lives, but they were thereby learning to live differently. Choosing to put love into action through how they used their time, their finances, their lives.  

Here are two of his insights:

“Stewardship applies to all areas of our lives -- how we use time, potential, possessions, privilege, and power.  Whatever we do, we try to give it our very best, because we work for Christ not just for money” (194).

“When it comes to how we spend our earnings, stewardship means living below our means.  We do so by dividing our income into three parts -- the percentage needed for our basic needs, then, the percentage to save, and finally the percentage, the largest portion we can, for God’s work of compassion, justice, restoration and peace” (194).  That final part went also to help with the expenses Paul and Timothy had as they traveled for the Gospel.

Here are some of his questions.  How do you respond to these? Go ahead and write your response into a comment, or email the office at office@westsidejourney.com:

Share a story about a time when you got mixed up about what really has value?

How do you respond to the idea of dividing your earnings into three parts-- to spend, save and give?

For me, I’ve gotten mixed up about money much of my life. I have attached too much value in some moments and too little in others.  When a young pastor at my first church in San Jacinto, CA, I remember a young woman hitting the straits of her own life, coming and asking for help with rent.  My wife, Karen, still remembers the exact amount, to the penny, that I loaned this woman when we were strapped ourselves. It was around $240. This woman promised that she would pay it back as soon as she got paid.  A story that I have heard hundreds of times since. And she, as is often the case, didn’t. She disappeared. Never saw her again and we never saw our money again. And that month and the next were really stretched for us to the max because of my poor judgment on finances, believing that I had to give everything my family needed, without actually saving for my own needs first.  It was tough for Karen to release that one, but of course, she did release it, except for remembering the amount down to the penny. :-)

One of the lessons I learned, well, I admit, I have had to learn it multiple times since, was this:  I need to be on the same page as Karen when giving. I cannot offer without first coming to agreement with her. I cannot give without her saying yes as well.  This decision has helped her feel a part of the adventure of giving and assisted us with being able to be more free in giving.

Another situation illustrates the opposite extreme.  We were living in Banks, OR, and Karen was making dinner and sent me to the store to pick up Teriyaki sauce.  She was specific: “Get the Veri Veri brand, it will be on the top shelf.”

I left and en route I began to think, “What? Top shelf? Aren’t the most expensive things on the top shelf?”

Sure enough, it was the most expensive of all the brands there. I could have bought one from the middle shelf that was $3 cheaper, but instead, after a huge struggle with my will, picked up the Veri Veri brand, bought it and headed for the door.  As I was leaving, I was thinking, “I’ll get it, Karen, but when I get home I will tell you what I think about this extravagance!”

You remember, I was the one who could give away hundreds of dollars, but now could not spend $3 to bless my wife?  Looking back, I find this ridiculous, but it shows just how off I was with money, how much I got the equation wrong on what it meant to be a wise steward of God’s provisions.  

I drove out of the Jim’s Market parking lot thinking about what I was going to say when I got home, when Jesus intervened.  

“You will not say a thing!” I heard in my heart, loud and clear, is if out loud in the car.  

“Not say a thing?” I complained!  “Jesus, this is a horrible waste of money?”

But Jesus wouldn't budge. That was the longest short drive ever, as Jesus said to me:

“Don’t you think she deserves this?  What has she done for you? Raising the kids. Schooling them. Helping them get to all their events. Creating a home. Caring for you…” Jesus’ list went on and on.  By the time I reached Depot Street, I was thoroughly humbled.

“Ok, Jesus, I won’t say a word.”  I walked into the house and offered her the sauce, she thanked me, and gave me this big hug. And Jesus and I continued our conversation as I learned that I needed to walk in humility.  

Money -- I’ve dealt with mythical thinking being a miser and an extravagant giver, but have learned, slowly, over the years how to simply deal with money as a tool that need hold no part of my heart captive.  John Wesley used to say, “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” In his own life he managed to die with nothing but pennies to his name, yet had built many chapels and churches, schools, hospitals, and multiple ministries along the way out of his own earnings.  With his book royalties, Wesley in today’s dollars made in the neighborhood of $160,000 annually, yet he lived on what would be comparably $20,000 annually and gave the rest away. “My own hands have been my executors,” he wrote. Remarkable in many ways how Wesley was a steward of all the gifts of time and money God had given him.

Chapter 37 "The Uprising of Partnership"

Scripture: Psalm 146; Matthew 10: 16-20; 11:28-30; 28:16-20; Acts 16:11-40

In McLaren’s book it is AD 51 and he again retells this story from Acts 16 in first person narrative to re-experience the occurrence from that account about the life of the Apostle Paul.  It’s that great experience of Paul and Silas, arrested for doing a good deed (delivering a young girl from a demonic spirit that was earning her owners a fast buck), thrown into prison, and put in stocks in an inner cell. These two don’t grovel but instead sing praises to God at midnight when God shakes the jail with an earthquake that instantly unlatches all the prisoners’ chains and unlocks the doors to their cells.  The jailer running to see what had happened, seeing the doors unlocked, imagines that all have escaped, takes out his sword to kill himself, but instead is stopped by Paul, who says they are all still there. The jailer falls to his knees before Paul and Silas then asking them for this life they have. He and his household are converted that night.

God is on the move liberating people and we are all his partners, McLaren says.  How true. He writes it in this manner: “We are partners in an earthquake of liberation!  As we move forward together in this partnership in mission for peace and freedom, injustice at every level of society will be confronted and people at every level of society will be set free” (p 190).  

Share a story about a time you felt like one character in this story.  Or, reflecting upon the fact that Paul and Silas were engaged in protest and civil disobedience in Philippi, under what circumstances would you risk arrest, imprisonment, or death (for the sake of the Gospel)?

The second question caused me to pause when I read it, for I think that I hesitate to share my faith for all kinds of reasons.  I hesitate to perhaps take a stand again for all kinds of reasons. NONE of those reasons are about the rise of arrest, imprisonment or death.  None. I don’t take my life into my hands EVER. This fact took me out the door today. It took me into a conversation with a neighbor I never would have entered had I not been challenged by this thought. It took me into conversation with a worker at Freddies while on her break, because I knew I was not risking ANYTHING by sharing my faith with her.  It took me into praying for a couple homeless guys on the street. Again, to encourage, and without risk to my life. So much of life is risk-free, especially in regard to actual risk. So, I’m grateful for this question. Two people heard the gospel and another two experienced the demonstration of that gospel because of it.

Go and Tell!


Chapter 36 "The Uprising of Worship"

Scripture: Psalm 103;  Acts 2: 41-47; 1Cor 14:26-31; Colossians 3: 12-17

Writing another first-person narrative, McLaren imagines what it might have been like about a year after the resurrection.  He observes that by then the disciples were convinced that what mattered was not so much for Christ to appear TO them as for Christ to appear IN them, AMONG them, and THROUGH them.  “Jesus wants us to be his hands, his feet, his face, his smile, his voice… his embodiment on Earth” (p182).

Here in this chapter he discusses the four main functions that early worship included.  First, teaching either through a letter from the apostles being read, or a reading from Psalter, Prophets or the Torah.  The early church was also in the practice of each person bringing with them a song or scripture to share in worship.

Second, bread.  The church met, whether in homes, public buildings or outdoor settings, and broke bread together, either as a full meal, or a simple meal, called a love feast, often incorporating the meal of communion.  One thing that the body of believers modeled early on was inclusion of everyone at this table, poor, slave, free, male, female, Jew and Greek, city-born or country-born, no matter, all were loved, “all welcome as equals. We even greet one another with a holy kiss.”  This would have been unheard of in any other part of society. McLaren observes, “we say the words Jesus said about the bread being his body given for us, and the wine being his blood shed for us and for our sins. Those words “for us” and “for our sins” are full of meaning for us. Just as we take medicine “for” an illness, we understand that Jesus’ death is curing us of our old habits and ways”  (184).

Third, Fellowship.  “We share our experiences, our sense of what God wants to tell us, our insights from the Scriptures. We also share our fears, our tears, our failures, and our joys.  There is a financial aspect to our sharing as well. … None of us are rich, but through our sharing, none of us are in need, either” (184).

Fourth, prayer.  The gathered community prayed giving God praise, thanksgiving, confession, bringing needs to God, praying for healing, seeing God move.  

“This is why, even when we are tired from long days of work, even when we are threatened with persecution, even when life is full of hardships and we feel discouraged or afraid, still we gather to rise up in worship” (185).

How do you respond to the four functions of gathered worship:  teaching, bread & wine, fellowship and prayer? or Share a story of a time when your heart was full of worship?

One experience of worship stands out to me occurred more than 25 years ago.  I was speaking at a Christian Ashram in the mountains of California. One of the mainstays of the Christian Ashram is the 24-hour prayer vigil.  All who attend sign up for various hours. I had signed up for one of the early morning hours, so I was in the prayer chapel, that stood in the middle of this redwood-tree filled property at around 2 in the morning. I had prayed through all the requests and was lost in praising God, worshiping, singing, and then began to sing in an unknown tongue.  Suddenly someone else, who had come in during my loud praise, and was sitting in the back of the chapel joined in praise as well, also singing in tongues, and as if she had been taught the unknown melody.

We joined in a harmony that was ethereal, beautiful and incredible, for neither of us knew the song.  We sang on, carried into praise by the Spirit, and worshiping God with a heaven-sent song. It was one of those prayer moments, and one of those moments in worship that I’ll never forget.  It was incredible. Eventually the song ended, both of us trailing off, and I turned to see who had come, greeted this stranger, not part of our camp, and gave thanks for her coming to share in worship.  Soon my hour was over, but the song, the praise, the sense of God’s presence in that prayer chapel stayed with me. I think every experience of worship seeks to echo that one from long ago.

Chapter 35 "The Uprising of Discipleship"

Scripture: Psalm 25; Luke 10: 1-11, 17-20; John 21: 1-15

McLaren pictures the scene from John 21 of Jesus with his disciples at breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee as a transformative experience, a reminder of the fact that Jesus discipled these first followers firsthand, in daily relationships, not unlike this picnic scene.  McLaren notes that to be a disciple meant to be a learner, a follower, a student, an apprentice, and one who learned by imitating the Master.

“You can imagine the honor, for uneducated fishermen like us, to sit at the feet of the greatest teacher imaginable.  And now, we feel it is an even greater honor to be sent out to teach others, who will in turn teach and train others in this new way of life. This revolutionary plan of discipleship means that we must first and foremost be examples. We must embody the message and values of our movement. That doesn’t mean we are perfect -- just look at Peter. But it does mean we are growing and learning, always humble and willing to get up again after we fall, always moving forward on the road we are walking.  As Jesus modeled never-ending learning and growth for us, we will model it for others, who will model it for still others. If each new generation of disciples follows this example, centuries from now, apprentices will still be learning the way of Jesus from mentors, so they can become mentors for the following generation” (p. 179).

This summarizes what he is speaking of in this chapter, and what a great picture of Jesus and his method of working with 11 guys who in turn would lead a movement to reach the world.  Here we are centuries later still doing the same thing -- modeling, praying, learning, leading, reaching.

Questions from the book:

  1. Share a story about how you have been drawn toward discipleship through another person.   

  2. How do you relate to the story of Peter with its dramatic ups and downs?  

I know that my own story of discipleship is manifold.  I admired Karen, when we first married, for she seemed to have a pattern to her devotional life which I lacked.  I tried to adopt what she did, and learned from her. But I also felt that it was not enough, so I expanded it out.  I pursued others to see what they did to grow in Christ, and imitated them too. At one time I had overloaded myself with too many things, too many directions, too many distractions.  Then another friend advised me in reading the Bible through once a year, and his witness took hold in my heart. I began that pattern of reading the Bible through more than once in a year and held to it for many years.  

I didn’t have any single person who was a constant mentor in my life along the way, but have had many, many people God has used to raise me up. Beginning in 1978 my friend David Luce became one such mentor.

It seems God has been determined to grow me up using many, many people along the way to help me grow.  I can totally relate to Peter with his fitful stops and starts, his solitary boldness to call to Jesus, “Lord, just say the word and I will walk to you on the water!”  And his thorough defeat with denying he knew the Lord at all. I have found comfort over the years in Proverb 24:16 that says, “For though the righteous man falls seven times a day, he gets up again.” I have needed this encouragement.  I think discipleship then for me hasn’t had one shape or form, nor does it take only one form through my life. And Jesus is constant in his desire to use every circumstance to grow me up.

How about you?  How do you respond to one or both of these questions?  


Chapter 34 "The Uprising of Fellowship"

Scripture: Psalm 133, John 20:1-31; Acts 8: 26-40

This was a total Holy Spirit thing that this chapter, this particular focus should follow Easter and land on the Day of Action -- our day of community service, a beautiful picture of fellowship.

McLaren begins by observing that the account of the resurrection differs slightly between the gospel accounts.  Actually, when looking for witnesses, if police found that several people had exactly the same account of something witnessed, they would be less likely to believe them. It is the slight differences in story between the evangelists which brings out the veracity of what they say all the more. These stories were kept orally first before being written, however, do not mistake this as the modern game of “telephone.”  For in the times of Jesus, storytelling was an art form that demanded accuracy.

Focusing on John’s account, in John 20, McLaren tells how the disciples might have connected the events with Jesus in the upper room, following the resurrection with other events in Scripture.  He calls the whole resurrection event an “uprising” -- as in a movement that began at this point in time. And it is such an event. In those upper room encounters with the risen Christ the disciples received the Holy Spirit, and their commission to take this gospel out to others.  Beginning that night the disciples realized they had entered a movement, an experience of fellowship unlike previously experienced-- one that was “not based on status, achievement, or gender, but instead is based on a deep belief that everyone matters, everyone is welcome, and everyone is loved, no conditions, no exceptions… a community where anyone who wants to be part of us will be welcome.  Jesus showed us his scars, so we don’t have to hide ours.” (175). This fellowship, this new community was based around the real, living person of Jesus-- it was in him they believed, and He created this unity they experienced.

Questions:   

Share a story about an experience of true fellowship.  

How do you respond to the idea that Christian fellowship is for scarred and scared people-- without regard to gender, status or achievement?  

In my life, I have had many experiences with what I would call true fellowship.  Many of you know I have been part of an accountability group with the same guys since 1997.  Another dear friend, Mike, whom I met in 2002 has been an extension of this group, another brother with whom I have deep fellowship and honesty.  Some of these accountability group times, and some of the times Mike and I have shared talking across the nation by phone rank highest to me in my experience of fellowship.  There have been times when the presence of God is so thick in those small group times and those phone conversations, that the presence of Jesus is tangible. For years the guys and I in our accountability times began with prayer and worship and a time of listening for God to bring words for the members of the group before that person shared.  What we heard which spoke beneath the surface of what a brother planned to share, and often proved powerful. Sometimes Mike has called at just the right moment to help upright my thinking and my heart. These conversations are gifts. For me fellowship means a deep communion with others. So, it can happen anywhere as we are together with others in the Body of Christ.  

How about you? When have you experienced fellowship?