By Pastor Marty

 “Nothing less than life in the steps of Christ is adequate to the human soul or the needs of our world.”  - Dallas Willard, The Great Omission.

windowOur call is clear: we are to follow Jesus to love and serve our world. On Sunday Doug led us in a stunningly rich dialogue on what it means for us to “seek the peace of our city,” which is a Biblical way of saying we love those around us through service and vocation. Jane shared about volunteering at Casa Juan Diego among refugees and immigrants, where she folds sheets and prays for each person who will use them. Felipe shared that in his vocation, making peace means truth-telling, and how hard this work is. As a professional historian, he’s following Jesus and seeking peace in his job.

While many Mennonites gravitate towards the helping professions, this is equally true of our business people: we are loving and serving our world through our vocations.

Service, whether through volunteering or vocation, is to take on the cruciform shape of the life of Christ. In a recent blog post on Jesus and his mission I said it this way, “We, as followers of Jesus, are called to become masters of shalom committed to the common good in the shadows of empire.”

And then I ask the million dollar question, “How in the world could we ever embrace a mission which makes us look so, well, odd?” How can we capture God’s vision for ourselves as servants, and begin to live into the cruciform life of Christ?

In the prayer journals that the church provided this spring (need another? Grab one when you do!) we see a glimpse of how we can increase living “life in the steps of Christ.” We do this through the Spiritual Disciplines, which is “doing what we can to receive from God the power to do what we cannot.” On our own we simply can’t live our core values during the week; but through spiritual disciplines and prayer we can orient ourselves  over and again to God’s values and vision for self and world.

So if our goal is service through vocation and volunteering, seeking peace and acting justly, life in the steps of Christ, what’s something that we can do that models for us the life we long to live?footwashing

What about the worship ritual footwashing? What if on Sunday we performed a literal act of service for each other in the context of worship? In this context, washing someone else’s feet feels safe, inviting, holy and well, Biblical. It feels different to wash someone’s feet you’ve known for years and worshipped with 500 times than to serve a homeless person or unknown corporate executive in this same way. Jesus of course washed his feet and invited us to do the same. In doing so, he took the form of a servant, not a leader or ladder-climber. Footwashing in worship is, along with communion, quintessential examples of doing what we can, in an effort to gain greater capacity in doing what God is calling us to do.

This Sunday in worship we’re going to try it on. Mennonites have practiced footwashing to form our faith for centuries, though less so of late. But Sunday we invite you to do what you can to receive from God the power to do what we cannot.

Specifically, we’ll invite you to respond to Micah 6:8’s call to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” by partnering up and washing each other’s feet. Our worship planning team was very excited about doing this together to praise God and form our faith. But they were also aware that for many of us, this is something new, something we might be anxious about or not want to do for various good reasons. And that’s ok! That’s why we’re inviting you, an invitation you can say either yes or no to without pressure. If, when we invite folks to wash feet you would prefer not to, by all means, stay in your seat and listen or participate in our singing. Whether you choose to or not doesn’t reflect on your faith or commitment in any way! Only you can decide if washing feet or staying in your seat will connect you more closely with God and empower you for ministry.

But the invitation is there: Come! Come into God’s kingdom and find that you are infinitely loved and celebrated by our servant God. Come to the basin in prayer knowing that God is at work in you to help you love and serve our world. Come, and try on this new way of worshipping, doing what we can Sunday to receive from God power to do what we cannot.

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. – Jesus (John 13:14-17)

 Reading the Bible Jesus Taught this morning talks about the “glory of the Lord” and how it can be revealed. It struck me as i was praying this text how deeply I want this to be true. I want God’s glory to be revealed. I want people (all people) to experience wholeness and healing. I want people to hear that they are loved by God and to believe it. I want all this “for the glory of the Lord.” Or, as Psalm 23 says, “For his names sake.”

Yesterday, I had coffee with a fellow Faithwalker and we both shared our stories, how truncated our image and conception of God has been for various reasons. And how, when healing comes, our worlds are totally transformed by a larger more complete and absolutely stunning image of God. A God who is so much more than dreamed possible! 

This is the God whose glory I want revealed: fully, for everyone.

So, what does our text say it will take? Isaiah 40:3-5 (a text used in reference to Jesus and John) points to a just society where those on the bottom and fringes are lifted high and cared for. The uneven places in our world will be made level. 

The glory of God is revealed (ie, people see God’s genuine goodness) when the world looks and functions how God intends for it to look and function! 

When we who claim his name work for this image of the world made right, when we work towards the justice and kingdom of God: God is glorified.

The familiar song “they shall know we are Christians by our love” should then be modified to say, “They shall know God is God by our love.” “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give the Glory” (Psalm 115, or 116, or 118)

May it be so in your life today.

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 15,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 3 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

There’s more to look forward to this Thanksgiving than a second slice of pecan pie when you’re [finally] alone in the kitchen.

For starters, every road in Texas is officially a speed trap for the next week, and the Highway Patrol intends to feast.

And then there’s this: you’re getting ready for hours of extroverted time with people who believe differently, vote differently, function differently, parent differently, eat differently, relax differently, entertain differently, pray differently, and expect differently than you do. Let’s face it, we like our routines, and Thanksgiving is nothing if not unusual. It’s not that we don’t love these people, we’re just not used to interacting with them. And most aren’t used to dealing with conflict daily. Which means Thursday is as ripe for anxiety as it is for giving thanks.

From my experience with FaithWalking, here’s how to eat the turkey and not each other.

Remember that anxiety is contagious, but you don’t have to pass it on. Everyone at table Thursday is connected, and each person’s anxiety can and will ripple throughout the room. For instance, if the turkey isn’t done on time the host may visibly or emotionally vibrate with anxiety. You have a choice to conduct that energy, or to soak it up and allow it to stop with you. Easier perhaps when its a turkey than when dad flips out over your election vote, but the principle is the same. Choose to absorb, not conduct, the anxiety in the room. And pay attention to your own anxiety (clinched fists, tightened back, drooping posture, etc…) so that you can be its master and not the other way around.

Be gracious with people’s blind spots. Old roles and patterns of behavior may be on full display, as family reunions have a tendency to call out the best and worst of family systems. And much that you will see and experience will be blind to those who are saying and doing it. The image to the right explains this well. When your awareness of someone’s behavior exceeds their awareness of their own behavior, you have a lot of power! Use it well. Yes, you can predict who will explode and leave the table (like always). No, your parents still don’t want your financial advice no matter how brilliant. This is not the time to bring up personality traits, point out glaring weaknesses, or say anything that includes “you always!” or “you never!” Yes, you can see it as plain as day, but if they haven’t been transformed in the last 30 years, don’t expect it to happen today. If you’re really itching to make a point, read more here first.

Say what is so for you, but take a learning posture. In other words, be civil. I love the definition of civility from Tomas Spath, “Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.”   Speak the truth, tell your story and don’t let anyone run all over you. The Jesus ethic does not demand you loose arguments. Honesty is essential. But so is granting others the same amount of respect you desire. Don’t in any way hide your beliefs, but at the same time stay engaged with those you disagree with. Taking a learning, rather than a “teaching” posture, can often diffuse the anxiety and shows respect for those around the table, even if you experience them as “enemies.” (Remember what Jesus had to say about enemies?)

If insults start to fly, just take it. Of course you’re right, you’re absolutely right! Doesn’t matter what you’re right about (ObamaCare, Benghazi, the ridiculousness of a Red Dawn remake) just shut up and take it anyway. Why? Because your relationship with these crazy people is more important than being right. Trust me on this one, it doesn’t matter who wins the argument, you’re family. You can’t control what anyone else will say or do, but you can control your own actions and anxiety. We are, after all, people who claim not only to “believe in” Jesus, but people who actually believe him when he lays out for us a strategy of non-retribution for the healing of both the human heart and the world community. So if you’re insulted, don’t insult in return.

Finally, Apologize and forgive. Whether you’ve been the one who pushed too far or they were, Jesus tells us in Matthew it’s our responsibility to initiate reconciliation. Cool off first, eat some pie, watch the second half, whatever. But say the words. Make it right. There’s a reason we leave dessert for last, it covers a multitude of sins.

And, if by chance you learn something important about conflict, come back here Friday and let us all know what it is! Thanks.

This is also posted in Marty’s Houston Chronicle blog, The Peace Pastor which you can see here.

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Justice, Biblically defined, is so much more than people “getting what they deserve.” Oh goodness no. It’s God’s intent for creation; it has to do with right relationships (which is why “righteousness” is a great synonym) between self, God, neighbor, enemy, and the world. Justice, Righteousness, Peace and (in the NT) The Kingdom of God area all connected. It’d be fair to say that Biblical Justice is tied to and connected with the concept of The Common Good.

In Romans 1:17 Paul says that the Justice of God is revealed by nothing other than the gospel of Jesus Christ! It’s that beautiful, cosmic, and exceptional in nature.
This cosmic picture is what Paul had in mind when in Romans 6 he twice calls us “slaves of Justice.” He says we’ve been freed from sin so that we can commit our whole selves to this vision of Justice (6:18,19). Of course Paul’s no rogue on this one. He’s doing nothing but connecting his own thoughts to Jesus, who decades before invites all followers to “seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s Justice (Matthew 6:33).”
Paul does the same. He tells us numerous times (6:13,19) to “present our members” to the cause of Justice. Members, likely meaning gifts, skills, tools, resources: all that we are and have.
He not only call us slaves of this Vision of God’s Common Good Justice, he tells us that when we were sinners, this vision of Justice is precisely what we WEREN’T pursuing. “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to Justice.” This too is chip off the old block, following Jesus who even more starkly calls us on our inward-gazing ways when he says, “Unless your justice exceeds the Scribes and the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).”
Of course, as we know, the Pharisees were doing anything but being concerned about the Common Good. In particular, they were concerned about personal piety, worship, tithing, and looking religious. They had neglected the weightier matters of “justice and mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23).”
The church of the west has not tied itself to Justice but to Individualism. We’re not concerned about what’s best for all, we’re concerned about what’s best for me. Shame on me!
Paul’s statement means something else though as well, no one’s going to do this if Christ’s followers don’t. God’s Preferred Common God will never materialize without the followers of Christ becoming slaves of Justice. Never.
Which of course begs the question, Why aren’t we doing this? Why aren’t Christians known for pursuing the Common Good instead of the bottom line? Why don’t most churches, including most Mennonite Churches, expend their best energies loving their neighbors and actively working for justice, peace, and righteousness? Why are so many churches in the Houston area hitching their wagon to the Religious Right’s agenda of personal piety and national defense to the exclusion of issues of Justice such as poverty, racism, wealth, education, American imperialism in Central American and the Middle East, human rights, and unrestrained militarism?
And why are we so locked in to individual responses to social problems? Seems clear that the Bible’s individual response to brokenness is charity. But it’s overwhelming and foundational response to the greatest needs in our world is Justice: A Social solution to our social problems.
My next post will explore these questions more. I’ll tell a great story that has unfolded over the last 40 years to help frame what it might mean to become “slaves of Justice.”
But in the meantime, give yourself again to Jesus and his beautiful new vision of the World as it can be: Justice.
This is how I do devotions.

As a full time paid solo pastor I have to say how important this book is. Not primarily because I’m keen on their ideas, though I am. More to the point, I have a vested interest in a mono-voiced system! All my training and skills, my passion for preaching, my desires to not ruffle feathers all point me toward mono-voiced church. For nearly ½ my life I’ve gotten my identity from this system, feeding on the competence I’ve gained and your treatment of me as a mono-voiced expert. Do I really want to give that up? Indeed, their book requires not just a new skill set for pastors, but a new humility, transparency, and spirituality as well. More than anything though, it demands I believe in and trust my people as much as these authors do.

iCare “First we were loved, now we love.” 1 John 4:19

I’ll admit I was a little anxious about our worship on Sunday. Not about our theme. I love the iCare theme our Worship and Community Life Teams have jointly crafted for us. And not about my Sermon, which, having read 7 books for this series and having over a dozen conversations with members about, fell into place very naturally and with much enthusiasm.

So what was I anxious about? I was anxious about you, and your role in worship. After months of talking in council, at Worship team meetings, Discipleship team meetings, at Community Life team meetings, and staff meetings we were ready to try something new! It was time to live into our stated value of Community and nurture one another face to face. And embrace our value of Discipleship and take responsibility for our own faith rather than what one person says. And embrace a more biblical vision of worship that is multi-voiced, rather than mono-voiced. So we formed small groups of 4 people in worship to dialogue with each other about God Ha! This has never been done! Of course I should be nervous! And perhaps you were too.

But check out this amazing list of images of our caring God that came out of our time, a list so much more rich and filled with wisdom than any list I could have EVER come up with on my own. Here’s just a sampling:

Mothering Spirit, He sings with me in all situations, Loving Father, Protector, Guide, Leader, conscience, God as my biggest fan and comforter, A wide shade tree, A large tree giving shade and providing food, A safe house.

How rich is that! Our teachers and experts in learning will tell you that it is a very different thing to “learn” by having someone tell you what to think than it is to “learn” by owning your own thoughts. In other words, you – the collective you of the 50 folks in our sanctuary – are smarter and more equipped to draw you closer to God than I am. That’s how we’re wired: we’re wired to learn in and with community.

So why oh why should we be anxious about a better plan that can empower you to connect more deeply with God than anything one person could conjure on their own? Perhaps we don’t need to be anxious. Let’s dig deeper.

Here’s two more lists for you, and I want you to choose which list you feel better about.

List A).            Passive, utterly dependent, no initiative, disempowered, non-participatory, declining, safe, familiar, what we’ve always done, passive consumers, Christendom church, dependency rather than maturity, individualism over mutuality, silence of everyone but the pastor, God able to speak through one, monologue.

List B).            Empowered, dignity, respect, gifted, responsibility, liberating, dynamic, energizing, healthy, active participation, engaged disciples, entire community is gifted, God able to speak through all,  Biblical, participation rather than performance, dialogue.

Which list do you feel better about, list A or B? There’s no wrong answer here, it’s genuinely better to say what is so for you. Now, which list do you think better reflects our God and what he desires for us? Both lists come out of Stuart Murray’s (author of The Naked Anabaptist) new book. List A is comprised of words that describe the way most of us in Christendom do church today and always have: mono-voiced. It’s the mental model we all think of when we think of “worship.” His book, The Power of All: Building a Multi-voiced Church begins on page one by stating clearly, “Churches have structured for passivity.” The mental model of “worship” is we sit, we listen, we hope those up front will help us create a private space where we connect with God, but we offer next to nothing, do nothing to build up the body off Christ, and function as passive consumers. Murray clearly states that this mental model (list A), as comfortable and familiar as it is to us, is not in any way based on Scripture, but on the traditions of Christendom.

List B, which is what we experienced on Sunday, describes a mental model Murray calls Multi-voiced worship, where everyone is treated as the gifted and wise image-bearing disciples that they are. And yes, its new! It’s also Biblical, and Anabaptist, and according to Murray, “a healthier form of church.” He says, “We believe multivoiced church equips the Christian community for mission, stimulates personal growth, encourages responsible discipleship, protects the community from many ills, and allows God’s Spirit freedom to accomplish so much more in and through the church.” It operates out of the narrative that “the whole community is gifted, called, empowered, and expected to be involved in all aspects of church life.”

So true! We have everything we need. And I mean everything. We have all the gifts, all the wisdom, all the creativity, all the passion we need as a congregation sitting in our sanctuary each and every Sunday. And it is not because you pay a pastor. It’s because you choose to show up, and function like the body of Christ in Houston.

This does not make me anxious. This makes me want to dance and sing and celebrate and share with anyone who will hear how deeply faithful, loving and wise our congregation is!

With that in mind, for this worship series we want to stay true to the format and feel you experienced Sunday: quiet times of solitude and writing, coffee, small group dialogue, and praying in small groups. Why are we doing this? This is a great question because, as I mentioned Sunday, we are largely a congregation of introverts. (note, we’re not doing this in the large group, we’re doing it in tiny groups)

We’re inviting you into deeper dialogue with one another because it builds friendship, respects everyone as having something to bring/teach, embraces different learning styles, is a more effective form of discipleship, provides  ownership, we can care for people better when we know them, everyone has something to say, we are all part of the community, if you don’t share you don’t get cared for, if you are not a little uncomfortable you can’t grow, we value community, transparency is the pathway to transformation.

You might not feel perfectly comfortable with this exercise, but please remember there are others in our midst who are deeply longing for this and may be finding it meaningful. We’re flexible and invite you to be as well as we test drive this for the next month. Find ways to engage that are non-anxious for you. If that means sticking with your close friends, please do so. But also push yourself to engage deeply, which might mean keeping a particular eye out for guests and welcoming them in to your groups.

So I might have been anxious going in to worship. But I was deeply energized while I was there. So join us Sunday as we explore what it means to care for our families. We’ll be praying over your prayer requests from Sep 9 at 8:45AM at church, and studying the excellent book The search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups at 9:30. Please consider joining us!

Above all, “Do not be anxious about anything; but in everything by prayer and petition present your requests to the Lord, and the God of peace, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:6-7).” For it is to this God that we give ourselves to in worship and in work.