Monday, April 18, 2011

All Good Things...

All good things must come to an end...
Who said that? How did they know? I wonder if they experienced the same amount of sadness and disappointment we have as our “good thing” has come to an end.

After a year and a half of leading The Mission, we (Brian and Carrie) have decided to accept a position in youth ministry at a church in south Florida. This is truly a bittersweet time for us as we continue our journey of loving God and His people.

We have experienced so much during our time in Dayton. We’ve been amazed at the generosity of our friends and family as they sacrificially supported us. Even if just for a short time, we truly experienced an intimate community that longed to serve Jesus and love others. The Mission delivered Thanksgiving meals, and provided Christmas gifts and meals for a few families that couldn’t afford to purchase their own. Some of us volunteered at the local free health clinic. We shared our burdens with one another. We prayed for each other. Some of us found a place of healing where we could ask tough questions and openly share our doubts without fear of being judged. We learned about God and His Word together. Sometimes we got frustrated with each other, but our love for one another always prevailed. We were a small church, but hopefully we were an example of what the Body of Christ should be like.

Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement once wrote, “What we do is very little. But it is like the little boy with a few loaves and fishes. Christ took that little and increased it. He will do the rest. What we do is so little that we may seem to be constantly failing. But so did he fail. He met with apparent failure on the cross. But unless the seeds fall into the earth and die there is no harvest.” While The Mission will no longer exist, in no way do we consider our efforts a failure. We hope that the small seeds of the prayers, conversations, and actions of the Mission will reap a harvest beyond the borders of our group.

It’s no secret that I thrive on relationships. That is what has always been the “bread and butter” of how God has used me in ministry. Often, I felt like a “fish out of water” as I took on this role as church planter and Lead Pastor. While working elsewhere 40 hours a week to supplement the needs of our family, I simply did not have enough time to effectively balance all the different responsibilities. The Mission’s Sunday night gatherings were such a blessing to us and to others, but our family was struggling to make it throughout each week. So, after much consideration and prayer, Carrie and I decided that it was time to make some tough decisions. Thankfully, it seems that the Lord has once again found a great place for Him to use our gifts and talents to continue to serve Him and love His people.

We’re so grateful; to the people within our group who sacrificed furniture, finances, labor and time; to those outside of our church, but still part of our body, as they supported us with prayers and finances; to people within our community who loved our children well, provided work for us, and backed us with much encouragement. We thank God for old relationships and new during our time here in Dayton, and for the trials and growth that He has led us through.

If you were financially supporting The Mission, we would respectfully ask you to discontinue and prayerfully seek out other organizations that might need assistance at this time. Your sacrificial support has left a permanent imprint on our lives. Words could simply never convey our gratitude. Pray for us as our family makes another significant transition. And, pray that the folks that were a part of The Mission would find a place to connect to God and other Christ followers in the near future. Many blessings as you seek to love and serve Jesus through your words and deeds.

Grace and Peace,
Brian and Carrie Ward

“Give us patience and humility with our feeble efforts at faithfulness. Bless the minute things we do in your name so that our small acts of faith may find witness among many, and thereby glorify you.” Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Acts Week 2: Heaven and Earth Collide

Our primary passage for the night was Acts 1:1-11 with a focus on verse 8. The verse here comes from Eugene Peterson's The Message . It would be helpful to read the whole selected passage to better track with the summary of the lesson below.

Acts 1:8
What you'll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world."

And there it is. With one statement, verse 8, He sums up the whole task of the church. Jesus goes to heaven, and the New Creation begins with the Holy Spirit filling believers on earth. The Kingdom on earth begins. Not with political power or nationalistic pride, but power to be witnesses of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Heaven and earth collide. Heaven and earth are not two totally different spheres with one being reality, and the other being a far off “sci-fi” like dimension. Heaven and earth collided on ascension day just as much as on the day of Christ’s birth. And, Heaven and earth continue to collide through the Spirit empowered witness of those that follow Christ.

"What you'll get is the Holy Spirit"
The Holy Spirit was not sent just to comfort us, but to strengthen us to comfort others as Jesus did. The Spirit was not sent to simply love us, but that we might be empowered to love like Christ. The Spirit was not sent for our personal gain or benefit, but to courageously and tirelessly point to Jesus. The work of my flesh and blood can never accomplish a Jesus kind of love. Only the Holy Spirit can accomplish that in me. For now, in the absence of Christ’s physical presence, power and strength are given to us not to dominate an unwilling world as Knights in Christ’s Kingdom, as is so often depicted in popular contemporary teaching, but to extend love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

" will be able to be my witnesses"
It’s important at this point to emphasize that being “witnesses” is much more, (note I said more, as in not the only thing) than stating facts and verses in hopes to persuade a person to “accept” Christ. We are “witnesses” to a “Kingdom”, to a “Mission”. We are witnesses empowered, not by brute strength, but by the One described in Scripture as counselor, advocate, and comforter. I wonder if you have ever deeply considered what it means to be empowered by the Holy Spirit in light of the ways we know Scripture defines Him? By His work in our lives, and our availability to be worked through, it’s seems logical to expect that His “personality” would gradually permeate its way into how we express our lives of faith. For instance, as a Spirit empowered witness, I boldly declare truth about God the Father and His Son Jesus. But, I do it through the power given to me by the counselor, the comforter, the advocate - seeking the best for the person or community.

What do you think about this kind of Kingdom? Is this a different kind of Kingdom than the one you had fashioned in your mind? As I mentioned last week, the ultimate rule of Christ will happen. But, this is not our primary concern right now. God will work out those details. We wait... We anticipate... We hope... Until then, our concern is to busy ourselves being Spirit empowered comforters, advocates, and counselors to the ends of the earth. It’s my prayer and hope that today we have a better understanding of what that looks like.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Introduction to Acts

Over the next couple of months The Mission will be working its way through the Book of Acts. To help follow along, I would like to provide a summary of each lesson. Please join us if you can as I'm sure this will be a significant time in the life of our church.

Intro to Acts

The Book of Acts is crucial for us as a bridge to the epistles. Acts serves as a perfect middle ground for us to consider a more FULL understanding of Jesus, His Kingdom, and His Body. Acts challenges us to bring The Kingdom of Heaven to a focal point now. Not just some far off, distant scenario that will only be accomplished when Jesus returns. The Kingdom is very much alive today, and will be fully realized upon Christ’s return. Our job is to continue the presence of Christ on earth today, passionately living to restore justice, serve the poor and needy, and love one another completely. Jesus will bring all this to it’s ultimate consummation by physically returning to earth, bringing with him a completely restored social and political system. At some point in time, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. But, that hasn’t happened yet. With each second that passes by is one more second that we should be doing our job, while anxiously anticipating the Return of Jesus.

Acts was written by Luke, a devoted co-worker of Paul, nearly 30 years after the ascension of Christ. It’s interesting to note that the Book of Acts chronologically covers about a 30 year span. So, as Luke traveled with Paul and Timothy for around 30 years, he meticulously kept records of not only the goings on of the earthly ministry of Jesus, but also of the post ascension ministry of Christ. He had access to James, Peter, Mark, John, Barnabas, Apollos, Priscilla and Aquilla, and the list goes on. He very well could be the one person in the best position to write an objective history of both the life of Jesus, and the actions of Jesus through His followers after His ascension. In my opinion, Luke has to be mentioned as one of the most important writers in the New Testament. Luke stands in the gap for us that long to merge Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven, radical social, political, and religious living, and our present apologetical, fact driven, highly cerebral, knowledge based Christianity. If we are to become both knowledgeable and active followers of Christ, Acts is an important place to start.

The Book of Acts is about balance. Balance between knowing and doing, between faith and deeds. It’s the best parts of liberal and conservative Christianity all rolled into one great story. You have incredibly clear and knowledgeable sermons delivered by significant and foundational figures. And, you have amazingly passionate and sacrificial acts of service. Simply, it's church the way it was meant to be.

So, Acts will be our Bridge. It will help us to define ourselves as a church, and define what to do as a church. It will spur us on to become the 29th chapter of Acts - the continuation of this great story of both incredible knowledge, and miraculous action. It will challenge us to be people of faith, and to do, through faith, what Jesus did. We will learn that we need to be people that know how to clearly communicate Jesus, his life, and the religious tradition that He came from. And, we will see how important it is to be ambassadors of Jesus to those that need us, those that are hurting, to those that can’t help themselves. We will also be challenged to let go of all of our prejudices as Acts provides us with a biblical mandate for building a diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-economic, and multi-political body of Christ.

Acts is just as much about Jesus as the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. His physical presence is gone, but His spirit-indwelt body of followers is alive and kicking. The next few months will be a journey of discovery for sure. It is my prayer that our study of Acts will become a catalyst to propel The Mission forward as a vibrant, knowledgeable, sacrificial, and balanced group of followers.