The Price of Freedom

There are those of us in the Vineyard movement who seek the edge.  We are finding ourselves in atypical ministries, or planting churches in atypical contexts.  We don't do this in spite of our Vineyard heritage, but precisely because of it.  It is the Holy Spirit that drives us to these places.

We follow the Wild Goose into the wilds of urban blight, the confusion of cross-cultural ministry, the sacrifice of incarnational community with the poor, the massive scope of ecological disaster, the dark nether-world of human trafficking, the ambiguity of post-christendom, and the blue oceans of secular humanity.  We are seeking the creative and entrepreneurial responses to these contexts and injustices that will further the aims of our King beyond the birthplace of our movement.

This is not a critique of what has come before, or even much of what goes on now.  Simply an acknowledgement that we are indeed leaving the house of our fathers.  We do not leave without their name, nor do we leave as a critique or rebuke.  We leave to expand the house.

It is here, however, that many of us begin to feel the pain.  In leaving the birthplace behind, we feel the lack of provision and protection that comes with being there.  I have seen and heard (and even felt in my own heart) the complaint from those of us on the frontiers, "why am I laboring in such obscurity, deprivation, and isolation?"

This however, is the beauty of our movement!  The Vineyard has always chosen to embrace the nimble creativity of freedom over the cumbersome power that comes with supporting structures.  Those of us in the frontier feel this even more, but it is still the Vineyard way.  We must simply accept the cost of being a pioneer.  We chose this.  Indeed God, in His sovereignty, chose it for us and us for it.

We are the signposts pointing towards the future.  This is the price of being the change.

The word of the Lord to us is simple, "stop seeking affirmation from those who have gone before you, and stop seeking it from those who hold power and authority today.  Instead, walk in the confidence you have in the affirmation from your King.  You need no other."

Spirituality of Poverty

The fundamental task in laboring in poor communities is spiritual.  This doesn't mean it isn't also practical, but it is a measured practicality that is attempting to uncover the curse of 1) alienation from God, 2) coercive and abusive relationships with each other, 3) hostility, ignorance, and apathy towards creation, and 4) an identity of shame.  These practical acts are spiritual in so far as they uncover the truth of the curse, and simultaneously uncover and introduce the authority and action of Jesus to break the curse,  heal these places of wounding, and tie bonds of love around us and Him, us and each other, us and the world.

The Second Adam is taking on the power of sin and death, defeating it, and re-forming us into His glorious image: favor and freedom with God, table fellowship with our enemies, stewardship of the creation, and walking in our authority and glory as the revealed children of God.

We partner with Him in breaking the power of the curse, healing the wounds, and building the bonds of love.

Charity and relief work are often needed as a precursor to this work, and in deed often constitute this very task.  But they can often also serve to inhibit this spiritual task.


Living in the Caveats

Somethings aren't always the case, thats why we have exceptions, 'what-ifs,' asterisks, caveats...

Recently, in a conversation about the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, we decided that most people live in the caveats.  They don't live in the middle, they live in the exceptions.  People often don't live in the scriptural balance of 'pursuing the gifts' and 'orderly worship.'  One group lives in the place of 'who am I to quench the Spirit,' when in all reality its not the Spirit at work.  Another group lives in the place of 'that opens us up to abusive practices, and emotional hype,' and all that means is, 'we don't do that here.'

You know you are living in the caveats when you find yourself asking the question, "yes, thats true, but what about...?"  The fact that there are wrong turns, and bumps in the road, on the way to Chicago, doesn't mean there isn't a way to get there.  Or even that it will be all that difficult to navigate.  Just that we have to pay attention to the guide, stay focused on the road, and never forget the destination.

This is a cultural phenomena.

We like to focus in on the exceptions to the rule instead of the meat of it; we wanna follow the letter of the law instead of spirit; we want to find out what is permissible instead of what is beneficial.  We love bizarre interpretations of obscure texts instead of the main and plain teachings of obvious and popular texts.

My pastor would always say, "its not the things in Scripture I don't understand that bother me, its the things I DO understand!"  Loving God with every fiber of my being, repenting of my sins, loving my enemies, living generously, humility, forgiveness, sacrifice, listening and obeying, spiritual disciplines; these are the most difficult, but necessary components of my faith.  Which is why I'd rather sit around and argue about obscure textual references...


What Laws Should We Add to the Gospel?

Acts 15:29 contains a prohibition on the eating of meat sacrificed to idols, meat from strangled animals, and blood, as well as a prohibition on sexual immorality.

Interestingly this prohibition is a part of a letter explicitly freeing gentile followers of the Messiah from the obligation of following the Torah.  (Read all of Acts 15)

So what's up?

I thought we Christians were not under law?  Am I guilty of sin for enjoying a rare steak?

Why would they, in one breath offer absolution from the ceremonial law of the Jews, and in the next breath, require adherence to a few obscure points of that same ceremonial law?

The simple answer is... context.


This was the early churches exhortation to the gentile believers, 'don't conform to the pattern of this world,' don't participate in your culture simply because its your culture.  Don't go with the flow; thoughtfully engage in counter-cultural subversion of the status quo.  Not by picking up a sword or a spear, nor even by moving out into the desert in isolation, but by living right in the middle of the Empire, engaging in all of the same relationships and social interactions, but do so with Christian intentionality.  Live a different, otherworldly, heavenly culture, right in the middle of this one.  Do it in quiet but obvious rebellion.  Refuse to eat these things, and watch your culture quickly come to frustration and confusion at the question, 'who are these people, and why do they live the way they do?'

So how do we apply this today?

I think its okay to eat blood sausage, if thats your thing.  For us to really apply this passage to our lives, we need to contextualize it.  What are the cultural forces at work today that 'it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us' to confront and subvert?

Here's my list:

"You are to abstain from purchasing any item that is not used or handmade; from eating or driving alone; from recreating behind your house instead of in front of it; and from sexual immorality."

What's yours?


1st Century Church Planting Strategy

Do you ever wonder what the secret of the miraculous growth of the first century church was? Well here it is!

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Acts 1:7-8

Jesus commands them here (and earlier) to go into all the earth and teach women and men how to live in the Kingdom, partnering with the Spirit's actions on the earth.

"you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching"
Acts 5:28

The pharisees themselves testify to the effectiveness of the apostle's preaching, but we see that they still haven't obeyed Jesus! They have stayed in Jerusalem. They are indeed witnessing effectively to the King's rule, but not obeying it!

8 And Saul approved of their killing him (Stephen). On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Acts 8:1-3

With the stoning of the deacon Stephen, a great calamity falls on the 1st Century church, and yet, it is the very tool that God uses to spread His people throughout the surrounding countryside, and nearby regions. So, to be succinct, the 1st Century church-planting strategy is a) disobey God until b) persecution comes, and c) the church is scattered, so that d) the seeds of the Gospel are carried to the far corners of the earth.



"Christ came to liberate mankind from the penalty of sin and to release individuals from the consequences of sin and from the oppression of evil spirits. Oppression in the world manifests in many forms: economic, ethnic, political, religious, cultural, and demonic.
To fully express the love and compassion of God to the community, we must address all the needs present: social, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Jesus has come to set those people free and to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. He's come to redeem and save them, forgive their sins, take them out of their plight, and set them on a new road leading ultimately to their total redemption and deliverance when Christ's kingdom comes in its fullness." 
John Wimber


The Pastor's Job

"If pastors are meant to be believers who are called to serve the rest of the priesthood, then their most difficult and thankless tasks are to offend people with Scripture, to expose their own failures and messes, and to confront the most embedded cultural sins of our time."

Iani Dunbar



There are lots of different ways to make people feel welcome, and there are lots of different ways to communicate that welcome to people, but the most fundamental thing that we can do to make people feel welcome is to actually welcome them.

When we are enjoying the presence of another, and excited to find them in our home or community, that is the single most important factor in making them feel welcomed, all other attempts to make them feel included hinge upon this reality.

Build with Strength

"Train faithful men, don't try to train men to be faithful."

I heard this the other day, and thought it worthy of reflection.  I find it to be good and wise advice, so long as it is a guideline with plenty of wiggle room, and not a rule without exception.

Find those within the community who have proven themselves committed, invested, and passionate, then teach them how to use their commitment, investment, and passion in healthy, effective, and fruitful ways.

Jericho Road is Awesome!


Free Markets at Work?

Last night around midnight the fire department came to a house on our block to put out a fire...

A mere 18 months ago 157 Dewitt St was a functioning building with several apartments in it, and several tenants living there.  Since that time, the building has been abandoned, left unsecured, and routinely vandalized by neighborhood teens, homeless looking for shelter, and criminals using it as a base for activity.

This, of course, has a negative impact on life on our block.  It creates noise, it's an eyesore, it produces garbage and debris in the street, and is a dangerous playground for children.  It invites criminal activity, and depresses the property values on our block.

Up until the fire last night, this property still had lots of potential.  The foundation was good, the 'bones' were solid, the roof and siding were still fairly new.  In fact, several individuals and organizations had expressed interest in purchasing the property.  In spite of the problems it was creating on our block, it could still have been a healthy and productive part of life on our block.

So what happened to it?

The story on the street is that the owner went through a divorce that caused him to be unable to continue payments on the mortgage, the bank initiated foreclosure proceedings on the owner.  The owner then relinquished the property to the bank.  Then the bank decided it didn't want the property after all, and so never took legal steps to finalize the transfer of title.

At this point, the original owner had been run off by the bank, and the bank was refusing to take responsibility for the property, so it had become our problem...

We repeatedly called the numbers the bank left on the doors during the foreclosure action, but they refused to talk to us.  We called the police when we saw it being vandalized and broken into, but they have bigger and better things to do than chase away trespassing kids.  We even enlisted the aid of local housing organizations who were interested in purchasing and rehabbing the property, but they couldn't make any headway with the bank.

This would all just be a sad but curious story, if it weren't for the fact that this is a systemic problem.  This story is repeated on every block in our neighborhood, and in half the neighborhoods of our City.  (From what I understand there are many Cities with identical problems.)  The neglect of those in power is one of the sustaining forces of urban blight.

The bank sent out a crew to 'secure' the house at one point (they boarded up doors and windows, but never bothered to lock the basement door).  One of these men told me, "the bank doesn't really care about this house, they aren't even interested in selling it, having it sit here vacant is just a tax write-off."  I don't know about his official position with the bank (I had the feeling he was just an outside contractor) but the simple fact is that the bank created a huge mess, and is doing nothing to solve it.  In fact, they carry on with business as usual, while we suffer the consequences.  It is one of the forces tearing at the fabric of health and peace in the life of our neighborhood.

So while there are many people who bear responsibility for this problem, the owner who lost his ability to pay and then walked away too soon, the individuals who vandalized the property, and the parents who allow their kids to play unattended in vacant houses, the real culprit in this is the parasitic bank that created this situation, and the system of finance and politics that fostered it.

Needless to say, this reality is frustrating and even, at times, enraging.

Our politicians take credit for 'cleaning up the City' when all they ever do is crack down on homeowners who are trying to do their best to maintain their homes.  They wouldn't dream of holding banks accountable for their actions.

I recently had an officer of City Hall tell me that they had to raise the listing prices of City-owned properties in order to help bolster the market.  I said then, and I say now, instead of artificially inflating prices, lets fix the problems!  I want banks to simply be financially responsible in the same way I am.  If I were to own a house, and let people come in and do whatever they wanted there, criminal activity, vandalism, and ultimately setting it on fire, I would be held liable for it by the City.  I would be fined repeatedly, and ultimately be forced to sell the property or have it taken from me.

Of course all of this assumes the bank and the City are immoral, and that we are merely trying to get them to follow the same legal and financial rules as the rest of us.  They could actually go further than the law; they could actually do the right thing.  I'd love it if banks actually took responsibility for the property they owned, and the impact those properties have on the neighbors.  But I don't expect it...


Thank You!

Dallas Willard's last words on earth were, "Thank You."  (Link)  That's a powerful statement on the life he lived, and the glory of a life lived as a disciple of Jesus.  Even in a world as broken as ours, when we allow Him to work redemption in and through us, we begin to see the glory of what He has made, we begin to taste the glory of what is to come, we even get to participate in the fruition of that future glory in the world around us.  The only response to such a life is, "Thank You!"


"Come, all you who are thirsty,
   come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
   come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
   without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
   and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
   and you will delight in the richest of fare."
Isaiah 55:1-2



Can everyone be a leader?

Is the capacity hardwired into every person?  ...or only some?

The older I get, the more I tend to think leadership is unique to some people, and not all people possess it...  It stands to reason that leadership potential exists on a spectrum, (it's not an off/on thing) but there it is, some people have more, others less.

Of course, we need to define a few things.  First, leadership itself can be largely defined by influence and responsibility.  Leaders wield influence, and leaders take responsibility.  My daughter is naturally a leader; she often tells me what to do.  ;-)

Which brings up a second caveat: leadership is not inherently more valuable than other skills.  Leadership must be exercised in a healthy way, and in a healthy direction.  Hitler and Mother Teresa were both leaders.  Leaders can lead people as servants or as lords, they can lead people to heaven or to hell.

A friend of mine today talked about the difference between leading people in terms of 'arts and crafts.'  Leading someone in a craft means we begin with a common vision of what we will create; with the end in mind.  Leading someone in art means we begin with a common set of materials and inspirations; with the end up in the air.

Another friend added to this, the second approach is less like giving building something, and more like planting a seed and waiting to see what will grow out of it.  It requires patience and faith...

I'm waiting to explore this with them further...


Is Poverty Spiritual?

Genesis 1-3 the story of creation and fall; man is created in a state of harmonious relationships with God (Genesis 1:27-31) , with other human beings (Genesis 2:20-24), with the natural world (Genesis 2:8-16), and with himself (Genesis 2:25).  Man's rebellion fractures and distorts each of those relationships; God (Genesis 3:8-9), Others (Genesis 3:12 & 16), Natural World (Genesis 3:17-19), Self (Genesis 3:10).

This is a helpful rubric for understanding poverty as a condition that is rooted, not in a lack of material 'stuff,' but rather in something much more implicitly personal, and intrinsically spiritual; the relative health our relationship to God, Others, the World, and Ourselves.

This has the benefit of explaining the language and experience of poverty in ways that mere materialism does not.  Those who self-identify as 'poor' are more often going to define their poverty in terms of shame, impotence, and disenfranchisement, as opposed to low earning, or a lack of material possessions.  Indeed, the identification of oneself as 'poor' comes with its own stigma for precisely those reasons.  It also takes the most culturally prominent aspect of what we call poverty (lack of stuff), and frames it in a more holistic way; a broken relationship to stuff (or the world around us).

It has the additional benefit of explaining the unique poverty of meaning and community that is present in many middle-class neighborhoods as (while clearly different) rooted in the same basic state of humanity as the poverty of environment and self that is present in many economically challenged neighborhoods.

Further, it highlights the basic flaw in most attempts to combat poverty, namely through direct redistribution of goods and services.  If all forms of poverty are rooted in a lack of spiritual health and/or maturity, and a broken relationship in one or more of these areas, then changing the circumstances of the poor won't alleviate their poverty (a painfully obvious reality in economically challenged communities the world over), but simply exacerbate the problem through the perpetuation of impotence, self-victimization, and manipulation.

Finally, it points to the common solution; a resolute commitment to the process of developing a healthy relationship with God, Others, the World, and Self; namely discipleship unto Christ-likeness within the multicultural community of God's missional people.


A Servant's Heart?

John 13

"A servant's heart comes, not from busy hands, but from clean feet."

Generosity and grace in our own heart is present to give away to others, only after we have received it from Jesus.  First, He washes our feet, then, He invites us to wash each others'...


Lost in Translation

The other day I had a friend of mine ask me my opinion of The Message (Eugene Peterson's translation of the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament into contemporary vernacular)...

After having that conversation I looked online for some of the specific critiques of The Message just to see what people are saying.  It prompted a response!

To begin with, I really like The Message, and use it in both teaching, and personal devotions, but I do not use it exclusively.  The simple truth is that points of doctrine should be established through appeals to the original language!  If we are reading an English language Bible we aren't reading the original Bible.  Comments about changing the word of God, or playing loose with the truth miss the point entirely!  The word of God was written in Hebrew and Greek!  If we wanted to affirm the word of God in a literal way, we would do what the Muslims do with the Qu'ran, and force anyone who wants to follow Jesus learn to read the Bible in its original language.


What Results?

"However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results."

Winston Churchill


What Is a Christian?

19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene,went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good newsabout the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
Acts 11

Who are these people?  What do we call them?  They aren't Jews... they're not Greeks; they are all of the above.  So what do we call them?

How about Christians?


So, the next question is, what do you call followers of Jesus who only hang out with people who look like themselves?  Are they still qualified to be called a Christian?