Sunday, December 20, 2009

Living in a Larger Story Pt. 5 - Plot

To listen to the audio click on the title above or download through www.northshorevineyard.org or Itunes.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Living in a Larger Story Part 4 - Conflict

To listen to the audio of this message click on the title above. You can also subscribe to the podcast through Itunes.

Living in a Larger Story Part 4 – Conflict
Northshore Vineyard Church
12.12.09
Speaker – Crispin Schroeder
Text – 2Cor:1-6, 1 Peter 1:6-7

2 Cor 3:1-6 (The Message Bible)
1-3Does it sound like we're patting ourselves on the back, insisting on our credentials, asserting our authority? Well, we're not. Neither do we need letters of endorsement, either to you or from you. You yourselves are all the endorsement we need. Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God's living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it.
4-6We couldn't be more sure of ourselves in this—that you, written by Christ himself for God, are our letter of recommendation. We wouldn't think of writing this kind of letter about ourselves. Only God can write such a letter. His letter authorizes us to help carry out this new plan of action. The plan wasn't written out with ink on paper, with pages and pages of legal footnotes, killing your spirit. It's written with Spirit on spirit, his life on our lives!

1 Peter 1:6-7
6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Living in a Larger Story Part 3 - Ensemble



To listen to the audio click on the title above or download through Itunes.

In Part 2 of this series we learned how the call of Jesus moves us from a small self-centered story into an epic narrative of what God is doing. In this message, part 3 of the series, we will look into how even though the call of Jesus comes to us as individuals that our fulfillment of that calling will come in community, in teamwork in an ensemble.

Speaker – Crispin Schroeder
Text: Matthew 5:13-16, Acts 2:42-47

Monday, November 23, 2009

Northshore Vineyard Sendoff



To listen to the audio click on the title above or download through Itunes.

The audio on this podcast comes from the sendoff service at the Vineyard Church of Kenner as they sent out the Northshore Vineyard on Sunday 11.22.09.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Alpha Talk #5 - Why and How Should We Pray?

To listen to audio from this talk click on the above title or download through Itunes (search Northshore Vineyard).

In this talk we look into the practice of prayer, specifically Christian prayer. We explore why we pray and how to go about praying. This talk was recorded live at Mattina Bella restaurant in downtown Covington on November 10.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Living in a Larger Story Part 2 - The Call

To listen to the audio of the message click on the title above. To download hold "Ctrl" while clicking on the title or download through Itunes.

In this talk we look into the story of when Jesus called Peter to follow him.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Digging Deeper (PDF) - The Call, Pt. 2 of Living in a Larger Story

In The Call, part 2 in the series Living in a Larger Story, we explore the defining moment which moves a person from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from a small self-centered story into an epic narrative. In conjunction with this talk we have also prepared a series of questions for further reflection on this subject entitled Digging Deeper.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Alpha Talk #4: Why and How Should I Read the Bible?

To download podcast click on the title above or download through Itunes (search Northshore Vineyard).

The audio on this talk is taken from week #4 of the Alpha course which Northshore Vineyard has been hosting in downtown Covington. This talk is about the role that the Bible plays in the life of a Christ-follower.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Alpha Talk #3: How Can I Be Sure of My Faith?

The audio of this talk is from the third talk of the Alpha Course which Northshore Vineyard is running each week at Mattina Bella restaurant in downtown Covington, LA. Click on the above title to listen/download the talk or download through Itunes.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Living in a Larger Story Part 1


This is the introduction to a series that Northshore Vineyard will be going through over the next few weeks. The story that God began in a garden in Genesis 1-2 ends in a city in Revelation 21-22. If we misunderstand the beginning and the ending of the story then chances are that we will miss much of the point in the middle where we now find ourselves. However, when we properly understand the beginning and the end then we will find unfolding meaning and purpose right here. We will find that Christianity is not simply about going somewhere else when we die but that the real action is right here, right now, lived in the story that God is writing. The podcast of the audio from Crispin's message given on Saturday October 24 at Northshore Vineyard Church.

You can listen to the audio by clicking on the title at the top of this blog post or by downloading it through Itunes.

Recommended Reading:
As part of this series we are recommending that people purchase Todd Hunter's new book Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the Sake of Others.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Alpha Talk #2 - Why Did Jesus Die?

In this talk we explore why Jesus died and the ramifications of his death on humanity. The audio is available for a free download through Itunes. Just enter "Northshore Vineyard" into the search and it will take you to the podcast.


Note that this talk contains 2 film clips which will not make as much sense in audio form. We will try and find a clip on line to link to so you can watch the clip for yourself.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Search Itunes for "Northshore Vineyard"

For those who missed last week's Alpha talk, it is now officially up on Itunes. Just search "Northshore Vineyard" and it will take you to the podcast. You can then subscribe and your ipod will automatically update with each new podcast we release.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Alpha Talk #1 - Who Is Jesus, Available for Download



Northshore Vineyard is now offering podcasts of audio from our various gatherings. This first MP3 available for download is from week #1 of the Alpha Course. This talk was given by Crispin Schroeder on the topic "Who Is Jesus?" at Mattina Bella restaurant in Covington, LA on October 13, 2009.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Alpha Promo Video


Join us Tuesday October 6 at Mattina Bella restaurant in Covington at 6:45 p.m. for live jazz, dinner, and a talk on what to expect in the coming weeks of Alpha. The dinner and the course are offered free of charge. Register for dinner and/or the course at www.northshorevineyard.org

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lost Dogs in the Rain



So I’m driving home…. It was one of those rainy cold nights we get in the winter. I’m not sure what time it was, but I was the only car on the road.

I see this dog walking on the side of the road on Highway 22. Now, I’ve had dogs all my life. I love ‘em, and I couldn’t just keep driving and leave this dog out there. I pulled over on the shoulder and rolled down window. As soon as I did, this dog (who was soaking wet) stopped walking and looked at me.

I whistled, and I could tell I got his attention, but all he did was look at me.

I reached across my console, opened the passenger door into the rain, and patted the seat… The dog just looked at me. He didn’t run away, but he got no closer to me either.

“What's the matter with this stupid dog?” I thought. “It's cold, dark, and raining - doesn't he know I'm trying to help him here?”

“If I leave him out here, he's gonna wander into traffic and get killed.”

Crap - I'm gonna get soaked but I can't leave him here. Suppose it was my dog Rigby out there? I'd want somebody to pick him up.

Reluctantly, I put the truck into park and got out. The dog saw me approach, and welcomed me with a low growl. I could see his hair, wet as it was, come up on his neck.

I got down low, and put my hand out to let him smell it as I walked slowly to about 5 feet of him. He took a cautious step towards me. And then, another.

The poor dog was shaking – I’m not sure if it was with fear or cold..

I slowly reached for head to pat him, and he turned to watch my hand the way only dogs can do. I could tell he’d been tricked before. He didn’t seem like he’d bite me unless I provoked him, so I patted his head gently until he was ok with that.

He was wearing a collar – and I started to reach for it. The dog growled and flinched simultaneously. “One hand at a time, Mike,” I told myself as I patted his head and slid my hand down his head to reach for his collar and see if there was a name on it. Turning the medal in the dim light, I could see a name – Dave.

“Hi, Dave” I said in the voice we have for talking to dogs. “I’m gonna get you home now.” I looked back – my truck’s door was still open.
I knew I couldn’t pick him up to put him in the truck, so I went to Plan B.

Stepping back to the truck, I called the dog. No deal, he just looked at me.
I went back to him, petting him and talking softly until I felt the time was right to try again.

I took a step back, and called him again – “C'mon Dave!”
He took a hesitant step towards me..

I stepped back again, calling him, and he took another hesitant step.
And again.
And again.

Finally I reached the truck… I patted the seat and he cautiously got in.

Closing the door and hoping he wouldn’t go beserk if he felt trapped, I quickly ran around to my side. By the time I got in, Dave was sitting up in the passenger seat. I could tell, he had ridden in a truck before.

As I drove away, I thought to myself….

He wasn't scared of the truck.

He was scared of me.

I’m soaking wet and freezing, but at I dialed the telephone number on his collar, I breathed a sigh of relief. I’m gonna get him home safe.

This is a true story

Well, except for the name

His name wasn’t Dave – it was Tony

Well, and he's not a dog, he's a guy I work with.

And it wasn't actually raining. He was just caught in that storm that I know is life without God because I lived it for 35 years.

But just like the dog was scared of me and not the truck, people aren't scared of God, they are scared of the church.

And we (the church) can't show them what God has done for us until we get past that fear.

But the first step is getting them close enough to hear us.. to listen… To not feel threatened by who we are or what we say…. To know we are people like them, with bad days and bosses who do stupid stuff and kids that won’t listen and spouses who don’t always agree…

The difference in our lives is the peace God has given us, the peace He offers all of us… If we accept it…

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wiley Pittman and Five Notes that Changed the World


Several years ago I watched the movie “Ray”, a biopic on the life of Ray Charles. There was one scene from the movie that really struck me as a musician. Ray Charles as a child of about three-years-old lived next door to a cafĂ© and general store owned by Wiley Pittman who happened to be a great boogie-woogie piano player. In those earliest years of Ray’s life, before he had become totally blind he would drop by Pittman’s not just to listen to him practice but because he wanted to learn how to play the piano himself. The scene from the movie that really got me was how Wiley Pittman was able to teach Ray to begin playing the blues by introducing him to the pentatonic scale – five notes which provide the foundation for many styles of music from around the world from Chinese to Celtic to Blues to Country. The scene really connected with me because it reminded me of how those same 5 basic notes of the Blues scale changed my musical life as well.

I started taking piano lessons when I was around eight years old, but for the most part the first five years of piano lessons failed to really engage my heart. But one day, when I was probably about fourteen years old, I walked into a local music store to look at keyboards. That keyboard salesman will never know how, in trying to sell me a keyboard, he changed my life by introducing me to the very same pentatonic scale which got Ray Charles going as a child. Up to that day I had known how to play the piano a bit and I was even beginning to write some of my own songs but the simplicity of pentatonic scale brought it all together in a way that piano lessons never did. It connected the dots to what I had been stumbling on intuitively. All of the sudden a whole new world of musical possibilities opened up for me.

Within weeks I was writing blues songs and beginning to figure out some blues licks. Over the next four years that followed, my musicianship grew exponentially in all kinds of ways. It wasn’t that I had learned nothing in those few years of piano lessons. It’s just that I got more out of that few minutes with a keyboard salesman because it connected with my heart and my mind in a way that my lessons never could—in a way that changed the course of my life. Had I not had that encounter at that point in my life I might not have pursued music the way that I had and my life would have certainly taken a different path.

The Word Became Flesh
John 1:14 (The Message) says,
14The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

This is a scripture that is no doubt familiar to many Christians but one which doesn’t seem to inform how many Christians practice their faith much. In this simple verse John kicks his gospel off with the revolutionary truth of the incarnation—God loved us not from a distance as Bette Midler once sang but by entering our neighborhood, our world, the place where we live, as one of us... as a human, with everything that goes with being a human—hunger, physical limitations, morning breath, and so on.

Throughout the gospels the Pharisees seem mainly concerned with the trivialities of following the law, with how to be righteous, with who’s in and who’s out, with religious rituals, and with the fine points of doctrine. But Jesus, on the other hand, didn’t waste time on long theological statements or religious platitudes, rather he related the realities of the kingdom to things that people encountered in everyday life: “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed”… “There once was a guy who owned a vineyard”… “A shepherd lost a sheep”… “A son asked for his dad’s inheritance”. It wasn’t that Jesus was incapable of debating religion with the most intellectual minds of his day but to do that would have missed the point of why he came. The reality is that he loved us enough to not only enter our world as a human but to engage us on human terms, in familiar language and in the everyday places where everyday people live whether at a wedding feast or on a fishing boat or at a party with tax collectors. While the Pharisees were busy avoiding people and making it hard for others to be a part of their “club”, Jesus was busy meeting people right where they were with the good news that no matter their background, social status, race, or moral state they could enter into the kingdom of God.

What might it look like for us to enter into the world of others and to relate to them on their terms?

I read something by Henri Nouwen once that I think gives us a great starting point:
“From experience you know those who care for you become present to you. When they listen, they listen to you. When they speak they speak to you. Their presence is a healing presence because they accept you on your terms, and they encourage you on your terms, and they encourage you to take your own life seriously.”

Have you ever known someone that embodied the above quote? I think we all have at one time or another. When you feel like someone is genuinely interested in you, and sincerely listening to you, and right there with you (as opposed to somewhere else in their mind) you feel like they care. Why? Because in a very simple way they are entering into your world and meeting you right where you are.

Let’s look back at Ray Charles for a moment. Wiley Pittman provides us with a good analogy of what it looks like to enter into the world of another and help them understand something in a very simple way. Had Wiley Pittman not tried to show little Ray music in a way that he could get it, or had he just been too bothered by the pestering of that little kid wanting to bang on his piano and interrupt his practice, our world would have missed out on the amazing treasure of Ray Charles’ music. But Wiley Pittman instead met him right where he was with a simple idea… simple enough for a three-year-old… five notes that changed his life.

As Christians we are faced with a couple of options: Like the Pharisees we can make it harder for people to grasp what God is about with confusing language, customs, and traditions, or we can go the way of Jesus and connect with people right where they are—listening more than speaking, meeting folks on their terms, being present when we are with them, and being deliberately simple when talking about God.

Perhaps our biggest enemy is our own experience. Sometimes we think because of our experience with God that we have somehow become experts and like the Pharisees we can so easily begin talking like experts and alienating the very folks we want to encounter God. Jesus once encouraged his disciples to become like children for “such is the kingdom of Heaven”. While Wiley Pittman was a seasoned piano player of many years he had not lost the ability in his experience on the piano to connect with a child. Perhaps this is a bit of the childlike quality Jesus is calling us to.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Connect 4



In the last blog, using John 15:1-17 as the text, I wrote about how important it is for us to understand the context of our spiritual life as connected to God and others (I highly recommend reading the two preceding blogs before reading this one if you haven’t already). In this blog I want to begin working out practically from the last blog to discuss how these connections will look for the Northshore Vineyard in our philosophy of ministry. In this blog I want to give the idea of the connected life a little more definition by looking at four aspects of a connected life—1.God 2.Christ-following community 3.Non-believers and 4.Our own hearts. These are four fundamental connections that, as a church, we will strive to give expression to in everything we do. Though we will look at each of these connections more as directions of movement they can also be thought of as the legs of a stool that will keep the stool stable and firm.

Connection 1—God
Our connection to God is the meaning that brings meaning to everything else in life. It is the fundamental connection and the foundation of everything else that we do. We must remember that the fruit of the Christian life comes from our connection to God—it’s his life living in and through us.

Have you ever been to a Church which didn’t seem to have much of a connection to God? There may have been a lot of God-activity or even rituals and traditions but somehow the church had become disconnected from God. Something that will be conspicuously absent in such churches is—LIFE. As Jesus said, “if you are not connected to me you are deadwood, ready for the fire.”

I think Bono summed up this sentiment well in a 2004 interview with Michka Assayas in which he said, “Religion can be the enemy of God. It's often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship.”

As individuals and as a community of Christ-Followers we need to mind the God-connection in our lives. We do this by actively seeking God, by carving out time to listen for what God is saying, by worshipping and praying, by living life with eyes wide open to what God is doing. In John 5 Jesus made an amazing statement, “The Son does nothing of himself but only what He sees the Father doing.” Jesus was making the point that his life had nothing to do with following tradition, pleasing the expectations of people, or even just trying to buck the system. Everything he did was connected to what the Father was doing. Everything Jesus did flowed from this connection. In the same way we need not be a group of people who are just running around like busy little bees for God or just mindlessly following rules and traditions, instead we must seek to remain connected to God in everything from mundane everyday tasks to worship gatherings with other Christians, from times of joy to times of sorrow.

Connection 2—Christ-following Community
Though we often talk about going to church or use the word “church” to simply speak of a building, church in its most fundamental sense is the community of Christ-followers.

We live in a world that is fragmented, divided, and broken. People live in “broken” homes, groups are divided among class and status, and even the very technologies that have promised connection have left us alienated, fractured and alone.

The earliest pictures of the church that emerge in the Book of Acts were of a community of people who had chosen to orient their lives around Christ and live in community (common-unity) with one another. Though they were from many different races, ethnicities and walks of life they connected around Jesus and His purposes. God created us to experience his life not as lone individuals but in relationship with other Christ-followers. Our connection to fellow Christians breaks the individualization, self-sufficiency and alienation that is so prevalent in the world and keeps us in relationships where we learn both how to give and receive. Being in relationships with others is really hard because it will involve learning to communicate, learning how to work through conflict, and learning how to hurt with the hurting and hole up the weak but the fruit of our connection to others is a deepening of God’s love in our hearts and the transforming of our own brokenness into the nature of Christ.

Connection 3—Non-believers
You may have been a part of a church that was very connected as a community of Christ-followers but to which those who were outside the faith would have a very hard time connecting. This likely happened because as that community began to form its identity it began to form its own sub-culture of customs, expressions, and insider language. This is one of the greatest dangers of Christian community because without a connection to the larger culture it will begin to erect a wall through which the very ones who need to connect with Christ have a hard time getting through. This means that even as we work to be in relationship with other Christ-followers that we must be diligent to connect with those who have not yet found themselves in God’s story. This means that as a church we seek to serve the community in any ways we can, from mentoring kids in the public schools to building homes for the poor. This means that rather than harping on the evils of society we seek to connect with the larger culture through art, music, and creativity. This means that in everything we do we try to maintain hospitable spaces for folks to connect with and encounter God. This is what gives meaning to the value of-Culturally Relevant Mission.

Connection 4—Heart
In the second century Ireneus wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

It is quite common to get caught up in a Christianity that is just about externals while never getting to the deeper levels of the heart. However, it is the journey inward which keeps community from just turning into social gatherings and that helps us more fully enter into the struggles of others because we are becoming more and more aware of our own struggles within.

I recently heard Rob Bell talking about how the church could learn a lot from Alcoholics Anonymous. He noted that AA starts with everyone admitting their weaknesses. Because of this there is no pretention in AA, no acting like folks have it all together. One comes to AA precisely because one knows his/her life is a mess.

In our world people frequently just live on auto-pilot going through the motions of life struggling with addictions, habits, anger, resentment and jealousy because they have failed to ever encounter God very far beneath the surface. And when there is no connection to the heart, Christianity ultimately just becomes something external and certainly not fully alive.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” There is something about becoming aware of our poverty of spirit, of our own brokenness that opens us up to the kingdom of heaven, to the richness of kingdom life. Staying connected to our own hearts helps to keep us living more authentically and more passionately whether around Christian community or those who have not yet come to faith. What might it be like to be around Christians who took the inward journey seriously and who helped one another on that journey?

These four connections will be what we will be about at the Northshore Vineyard no matter what we are engaged in. In the coming months we will explore each of the connections more fully.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Meditation on Tiger Truck Stop




Where else but Louisiana might one find the rather unique blending of live tigers and a truck stop? Such is the case with the Tiger Truck Stop or Grosse Tete, Louisiana. Being that the Tiger Truck Stop is located on I-10 between Baton Rouge and Laffayette I have travelled by this wonder of the modern world on more than a few occasions over the years. I have even succumbed to the urge to visit said truck stop once or twice (perhaps because of just how bizarre the thought of tigers in the swamps of south Louisiana seems to be).

I didn’t realize until doing a little research for this blog that the Tiger Truck Stop is actually at the center of a debate between animal rights groups wanting to see Tony the Tiger (the name of the tiger at the truck-stop) set free and the owners of the truck-stop who say they have cared for the tiger since it was just a cub and feel that he would be better suited with the love and care of his owners and his humble existence at the truck-stop (besides, they say, it’s all he’s ever known and to throw him out in the wild would be much more cruel).

While this blog is not about animal rights I do have to say that each time I drive by the Tiger Truck Stop I can’t help but feel a little bit sad for old Tony. Why? Well because a truck stop is not where a tiger belongs; a cage on the edge of a parking lot of a second-rate truck stop in the swamps of Louisiana is a pretty pathetic existence for such a majestic creature as a tiger.

Why is it that we frequently feel sorry for animals such as these tigers in a truck stop (or a lion in a zoo for that matter)? It’s not like they are sickly or even being abused or tortured (though some animal rights groups might disagree with that statement). We feel bad for these tigers because there is a sense that they were made for something much greater. It’s the sadness of failed potential, of purpose thwarted, of a life that will not be fully lived. There is a sense of sorrow that these giant cats are alienated from what life as a “big cat” should be—namely running around in the wild stalking prey. Though these tigers of the Tiger Truck-Stop are alive they certainly are not thriving in any sense of the word. They technically have everything they need for life—food, water, shelter, but there is something big that they are missing—namely their natural habitat (encountering one of these big cats in the wild, their natural habitat, would be a completely different and possibly even quite terrifying story).

Context
Too often we have a tendency to look at the spiritual life as just a matter of working moral principles or formulas without any regard to context and we wonder sometimes why we are not thriving. Just like those tigers in the Tiger Truck Stop we may have food, water and shelter (technically alive) but we aren’t thriving because something or should I say somewhere is missing. We are living our lives out of context!

In John chapter 15:1-17 Jesus talks about the nature and the goal of the spiritual life. To make his point Jesus uses the analogy of a Vineyard: a famer (representing God the Father), a vine (representing Jesus), and fruit (representing our maturity as Christ-followers). What is interesting in these verses is how they speak more of our connection to God than our activity for God. Jesus makes the point that if we get the context right then fruit will be the natural product. And what is the context of which he speaks? It is our connection to Jesus and to one another. Jesus tells us to live in his love the way he lives in the love of the Father and in the same way to be conduits of that love to others. Too often we miss this aspect of the spiritual life and think that Christianity is simply about following rules, going through rituals, and staying busy with Christian activities. Yet, without a connection to Jesus and others we simply cannot thrive (or bear fruit) in our Christian walk. Principles (even Godly principles) divorced from context will never produce fruit and never bring forth life that is thriving.

Spiritual Fruit
In these verses it is quite evident that the goal of our connection to God is fruit. Why fruit? Because fruit is not only the part of the plant that frequently nourishes others but it is also the reproductive mechanism of the plant. In nature it is fruit that attracts animals because of its scent and taste and it is also fruit that contains the seeds of the plant that will cause more plants to spring up wherever the seeds are deposited. The metaphor of fruit speaks of the purposes of God in us and through us. As we live our lives connected to Jesus we will produce fruit (Paul writes about spiritual fruit in Galatians 5:22-23). This spiritual fruit won’t come with stress or anxiety but will be the byproduct of getting the context right. It is this spiritual fruit that will attract others to Christ and which contains at its core the DNA of the Kingdom of God. This is one of the ways that the Kingdom of God comes on earth. As Jesus said just two chapters earlier, “They will know your are my disciples by your love for one another” (John 13:35 )
I truly believe one of the greatest forms of evangelism is not the words of Christ-followers but the fruit of their lives—the fruit of peace when everything is chaotic, the fruit of joy in the midst of trials, the fruit of love in the very face of hatred and contempt. This kind of fruit doesn’t come from willpower, self-help books, or positive thinking but is the manifestation of a life connected to God. It is spiritual fruit that will help people to taste what God’s kingdom is like and cause them to want to be a part of it themselves.

Is the Context All That Matters?
Does this mean that the Christian life is just passive; that it is just a matter of believing God loves us? No, it's much bigger than that, because Jesus does not simply tell us to live in his love but to love other people as well (John 15:9-13). There is an inflow of his love and an outflow of love to others (in fact as we receive God’s love and love others we begin to realize his love for and through others). I know sometimes it seems as if the Christian life would be a whole lot easier if it didn’t involve being in relationship with other people, but the reality is that this is part of our natural habitat and thus the only place in which we will truly thrive. We were created to be in relationship with God and others and any attempts at the Christian life apart from these fundamental connections will be futile. The context anchors the activity of the Christian life. Think of it this way: A tiger in it’s natural habitat will get busy doing what tigers were created to do—hunting, eating, and running around (as well as a few cat naps) and in the same way when we get the context right we are freed up to live as we were created—to be a part of God’s restorative and reconciling work in the world—and that’s good news indeed!

Monday, August 3, 2009

John 15:1-17

This week I want us to read and meditate on the following passage from John 15:1-17 and wrestle with what it might look like to live the type of Christian life of which Jesus is speaking in these verses as well as what the larger implications might be for a community of Christ-followers living this kind of life.

John 15:1-17 (The Message)

1-3 "I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.
4"Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me.
5-8"I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce Fruit, when you mature as my disciples.
9-10"I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you'll remain intimately at home in my love. That's what I've done—kept my Father's commands and made myself at home in his love.
11-15"I've told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy completely mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I'm no longer calling you servants because servants don't understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I've named you friends because I've let you in on everything I've heard from the Father.
16"You didn't choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won't spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.
17"But remember the root command: Love one another.

Questions:

What kind of ideas have you had about the goal of the Christian life and the means of achieving it? (In other words, what’s the point of being a Christian and how do I do it?)

How did you come by these ideas?

When you look at these verses from John 15 what does it say to you about what God wants to do with us?

And how does Jesus tell us this will happen?

Why do you think that Jesus uses the metaphor of a grape vine? Why not a metaphor from the world of economics, or politics, or even building or construction? (these would have all been familiar aspects of life to the original hearers)

This passage talks of our connection to Jesus. Are there any other connections you see in this passage?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hospitable Christianity

Have you ever come across a line in a song or a book or a movie that articulates something you feel on the inside in a profound way but were not able to put into words. I came across one such quote about a year ago in a little book by Henri Nouwen called Reaching Out,

“Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space in which change can take place.”

The title to the blog seems almost contradictory in this day and age. Just think of how many times you have heard the word hospitable spoken in a conversation next to the word Christian? The truth is that for many folks with sincere questions about God and faith the church is perceived as anything but a hospitable place.

I have been involved in so many church activities at various times in my life which were either something of a bait-and-switch or just down right confrontational. The bait-and-switch tactic involved trying to get folks to come to a concert, a dinner or to some other event or giveaway and then hit them with the gospel message hoping that they would respond. And it usually went over about as well when as when a waiter receives a religious tract in place of a tip (something I experienced on more than one occasion back in my table-waiting days).

The confrontational approach, on the other hand, is unapologetically in people’s faces with the ‘truth’. This was my preferred method as a freshman in college. Again it made few if any converts but I sure walked away feeling good about myself because I had stood up for Jesus in front of those pagan, abortionist, evolutionist, homosexual, secular, atheists types (or just insert any group I missed here ___________________.)

Perhaps there is a different approach to sharing our faith that has less to do with bait-and-switch or merely arguing about belief – a way of creating space where folks can encounter God not by sheer force of arguing or by a sales pitch but in a way that respects them wherever they may be in their journey.

This will be our primer for this week’s small group. I am curious as to what your experience of church has been when it comes to outreach or sharing faith?

What might it look like to be a community of Christ-followers that are not simply trying to change people but creating space and opportunities where change can happen naturally and relationally, where folks can begin to experience God right where they are at?

Friday, July 17, 2009

D-Day and the Kingdom of God

When I posed the question (from the last blog) “What is the kingdom of God?” at our small group meeting last Thursday night the answers I got were all over the map.
The kingdom of God is…
“within”,
“a present reality”,
“something of heaven,
yet something of our connection to one another here on earth”
Some people cited scriptures,
Some folks talked of concepts and ideas,
And still others brought up that for how often it’s mentioned (i.e. The Lord’s Prayer, and the parables) that they really didn’t have a clue as to what kingdom of God really means (probably one of the more honest comments on the subject).

A look at the New Testament will confirm that the answer is “All of the above”. The kingdom of God is a present reality, something within, something of community in this world, something of a glorious community in the age to come and something that we don’t fully grasp even though it is written about over and over throughout the New Testament.

One of the most basic ways of understanding the kingdom of God is as God’s rule and reign. The kingdom is the realm that is ruled by the king. This concept sounds easy enough however the mere mention of the term “king” or “kingdom” is a bit abstract or foreign to us modern Americans living in a democracy where every one gets a vote (in fact America was founded by its revolt against a monarchy). Yet even though we don’t have much of a grid for kings or kingdoms I think we can still understand something about governmental rule that might help our understanding of what the kingdom of God is.

D-Day
In June of 1940 the Axis powers of Germany and Italy invaded France and within a month France became occupied territory. During this low point in the war the French lost their right of self-rule and instead were dominated and ruled by enemies from outside of their country. This enemy occupation persisted for four years until the Allied powers staged an invasion that would be the beginning of the end of the enemy occupation of France. On the Tuesday morning of June 6, 1944 the Allied powers launched the now famous D-day invasion on the beaches of Normandy. Gradually over the next 2 months the Allied invasion began to succeed in defeating the Nazis throughout the villages and towns of the French countryside until at last Paris was freed on that August 25.

Was France completely liberated on the D-day invasion of Normandy?
No… not much of it at least (only scattered villages here and there). However the rescue was well underway. What began on D-Day would not stop until the Axis powers were defeated in France and the citizens were liberated from their tyrannical rule. When France was finally liberated by the Allied armies, the citizens of France were once again restored to a place of self-rule and self-determination.

This look at France during World War II is helpful in understanding our own place in a far greater story that began back in the opening pages of Genesis (I will get more into that aspect in a future blog). Just like the French in World War II, we find ourselves in a time where humanity is enslaved by an occupying force. The New Testament refers to this time as the present evil age that is ruled by Satan, the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4 Gal. 1:4 ). Yet as hopeless as our world may look as enemy-occupied territory right now, a rescue plan has been enacted in the person of Jesus. Jesus came into our world staging a D-day invasion of sorts—the kingdom of God breaking into this present evil age. Yet unlike the wars between kingdoms in our world, the kingdom of God came not with armies or weapons but through sacrificial love. In the ministry, the cross, and the resurrection of Jesus the kingdom of God began advancing into our world setting things right again one person at a time.

Is everything completely set right now?
No. A simple look at any cable news channel at any time of the day will show that our world is still suffering under the tyranny of enemy occupation. The evidence of this enemy occupation is sickness, disease, alienation, violence, hatred, and even death. But this is by no means the end of the story.

A look at the last couple of chapters of the Bible reveals that one day the kingdom, which began breaking into our world in the ministry of Jesus, will come in fullness. And on that day the prayer that has been prayed by countless Christians over the last two thousand years – “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” will be gloriously and finally answered. Just as our occupation by the enemy was marked by sickness, disease, death, alienation, hatred, and strife so the arrival of the kingdom of God in it’s fullness will be marked by healing, restoration, freedom, life, and love.

The In-Between
We live in between the invasion and the final victory. Those of us who have become Christ-followers are like the French citizens liberated by the Allied forces. We have been set free and are now making up the growing population of those who are ruled not by the enemy but by the king, who are increasingly living in the reality of the kingdom rather than by the rule of this fallen age. What’s more is that we who have been liberated get to join in the battle to see others set free from the tyranny of the enemy. Each time the kingdom breaks in afresh to this world it is a taste of the fullness of the kingdom to come. In this in-between time it will only be a taste but it is a very real taste and a signpost pointing to the day when the kingdom of God will ultimately come in fullness, when there will be no more suffering or pain, when the dwelling of God will be with man ( Rev 21:3-4 ).

So What Does this all Matter?
This means that when we pray for the sick and they are healed the kingdom is breaking in to our realm. This means that when a person responds to the good news of the Gospel and becomes a follower of Christ the kingdom is breaking in. This means that when a person experiences freedom from spiritual oppression the kingdom is breaking in. But it also means that as Christ-followers we make it our aim to increasingly live in the reality of the future kingdom. So whether we are praying for the sick or building homes for the poor or simply and sacrificially loving others we are a part of kingdom work in this world; part of bringing a little bit of heaven to earth.

Application
One way this understanding of the kingdom has informed my own faith journey is in my personal prayer life. A helpful exercise I try to do in the first moments of consciousness each morning is to get my foggy mind to start going through the Lord’s Prayer not as a rigid formula but with people and situations in mind where I perceive a desperate need for the kingdom to come. I ask God to let his kingdom break in on sick friends, on those who are having difficulties in their jobs and marriages and on those who are isolated and alienated from God and people. Praying this way not only helps me to be a part of kingdom work but begins orienting my life into a kingdom perspective from the start of my day.

Monday, July 6, 2009

What is The Kingdom of God, and Why Does it Matter?


The Kingdom of God is a phrase that appears over and over throughout the New Testament, but what is The Kingdom of God and why should it matter to us?

Is the kingdom of God the church?
Is the kingdom of God heaven?
Has the kingdom of God already come or is it something coming in the future?
What does the kingdom of God look like?
What sort of evidence might clue us in to it’s nearness?
How does someone become a part of the kingdom of God?
Can we participate in the coming of the kingdom of God? If so, then how?

While I don’t normally recommend reading scriptures apart from the context of the chapters in which they appear (this would have been a very long blog otherwise, but feel free to check the chapters out on your own), I have listed just a few of the many scriptures which talk about the kingdom of God in the New Testament. What does this brief survey of scriptures indicate to you about the kingdom of God?

Matthew 5:3 [Jesus Speaking] Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 6:10 [from the Lord’s prayer] …Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Luke 9:2 …and Jesus sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
Luke 10:9 [Jesus Speaking] …Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.'
Matthew 12:28 [Jesus Speaking] …But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Luke 17:21 [Jesus Speaking] …nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within[a] you."
Acts 28:30-31 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!

Finally, I would like all of us to read Matthew chapter 6 a couple of times in the next week. It is a great chapter to chew on which ends with the phrase “but seek first the kingdom of God…” This is a great passage for preparing our hearts for kingdom life.

In or Out? MP3 Just Posted



This last weekend I spoke at the Kenner Vineyard on the topic we talked about at the last small group. You can download it at VCFK.com or on Itunes (search 'VCFK' and it should take you where you need to go). This MP3 of the message covers a few different aspects which did not come up in the small group discussion which I think will be helpful in processing what this value looks like in practice.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bounded vs. Centered Set Video Clip

Dave Schmelzer, pastor of Boston Vineyard Church has put together a small video clip on Bounded vs. Centered Set thinking. This is helpful in understanding the idea a bit more that we talked about in small group last night.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In or Out? - Part 2 of Our Look into Core Values

Black or white, republican or democratic, rich or poor, trekkie or, well, everyone else… these are just a few of the identifiers used in our world to denote who is “in” and who is “out”. It starts at a very young age and is in full-bloom once we reach high school, but just because you graduate high school doesn’t mean that you are done with in/out thinking for good. The truth is that when we move into adulthood we may leave the cliques of prep, skater, jock, band geek, and stoner behind but we never outgrow our need to be “in”. So when we leave the high school identifiers behind we settle into other identifiers like social status, political affiliation, ethnicity, nationality, or religion. These identifiers provide us with comfort, security, and a sense of belonging—the feeling of being “in”. The problem is that being “in” causes us to look down on anyone who is “out” and to feel pride concerning our in-ness—“at least I’m not like those people!” All we need to do is take a cursory glance at world history to see that this type of thinking has been the breeding ground for nationalism, aggression, and even genocide when not diffused.

While this type of thinking and behaving comes naturally to humans it is nowhere more destructive than when it comes to religion because not only are we “in” but now, as Bob Dylan sang, we have "God on our side". When we get to this place, even as sincere believers, we can very easily end up aligned more with forces of destruction and division rather than redemption and reconciliation. Our words become arrogant and condescending, and even the truth we speak becomes tinged with venom—alienating rather reconciling, tearing down rather than redeeming, erecting barriers rather than building bridges.

No Barriers
One of the most revolutionary concepts in the New Testament is how completely Jesus has done away with the barriers in our world whether race, ethnicity, class, or gender. In Jesus we are reconciled and reconnected to God. Every barrier that kept us estranged from God has been dealt with. This fundamental reality has ramifications not only on our relationship as individuals to God but in relation to other people as well. In fact, the apostle Paul wrote in many places about how the identifiers and boundary markers of our world have all been done away with in Christ ( 1 Corinthians 12:13, Colossians 3:11, Ephesians 2:13 ).

Paul writes in Galatians 3:28,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.


Paul makes the case over and over that the only thing that ultimately matters is where we are in relation to Christ. If Christ is truly the center of life then everything else should, like spokes on a wheel, flow from that center. This doesn’t mean that we will be some kind of homogenous group of people who all look, talk, and act alike, but it will mean that the kinds of things that separate folks who are not Christ-followers should not separate us who are endeavoring to follow Jesus. We live in such a way as to bring this reality to bear in our world. We are reconcilers because we have been reconciled!



Bounded Set and Centered Set
A helpful way of working this out practically comes from the world of math, specifically Set Theory. One of the most common ways of grouping people in our world can be referred to as a Bounded Set. A Bounded Set is defined by its boundary. The boundary may be the Republican political ideology, for example, so if you identify with that ideology and the actions of that group you are "in" with that group and if you don’t then you are "out". This way of understanding groups can apply to just about any type of group whether ethnic, social, niche, class, or even churches. You are ‘in’ each of these groups (Bounded Sets) based on your participation in certain activities, by living according to certain rules, and perhaps by the way you dress or talk. The Bounded Set way of thinking (which is most common in our world) by its very nature erects many barriers or boundaries to outsiders.

Have you ever been an outsider?
Have you ever been around a bounded set of people without being able to make it in?


Unfortunately this is what happens with many people when it comes to church. They may be sincerely interested in matters of faith. They may have even had some kind of encounter with God. The problem is that as far as they can tell there are too many barriers to overcome to connect with faith communities. And so because they don’t know the jargon or the customs of the groups which are concerned with spirituality they are left to journey through their faith questions and doubts alone.

Perhaps a more helpful way of looking at things in light of the reconciling work of Christ is another set theory called- Centered Set (see illustration). In a Centered Set people are not identified by being in or out of a boundary but by their relation or movement towards or away from the center (which for Christ-followers is Jesus). This is a very helpful way of looking at things because instead of thinking of church or faith as something you do once such as praying a prayer or becoming a member, it becomes a journey that is consistently defined by where we are moving in relation to the center (Jesus).
For instance, in the gospels Jesus has numerous encounters with Pharisees and scribes who were much closer to him in terms of morality and observance of the law than say the prostitutes, tax collectors or even fishermen. Yet time and time again we see how it was the prostitute, the tax collector, or even the Roman soldier who were actually moving towards Jesus when those who were closest such as the scribes and Pharisees were moving away from him. A Centered Set approach to faith does not emphasize boundaries but connects with people wherever they are and at whatever stage of faith in which they may be.

Have you ever experienced times in your Christian walk where you were doing a lot of Christian activities such as going to church, serving, or standing up for righteousness when in fact you were moving away from Jesus?

Have you ever experienced God when you were doing nothing "religious" or "Christian"?

How might our attitudes towards non-Christians be different if we took more of a Centered Set rather than a Bounded Set approach to church?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Compass (Intro to Core Values)




In West Texas where I grew up I rarely ever got lost. Why? Because there were no trees, very few clouds, hardly anything to obstruct ones view. Even when I moved to Dallas back in ’93 I never had much of a problem getting around. Though it was a big city I could usually find my bearings pretty easily. I never had much of a problem getting lost until I moved to Hammond, Louisiana about 15 years ago. You would think that because it was a small town it would be pretty easy to navigate around but I found out very quickly that I knew a whole lot of people who didn’t live in the actual town of Hammond but on the outskirts in places with strange sounding names like Pumpkin Center, Tickfaw, Loranger, and Blood River to name a few. And I found that many of the times when I was trying to go to a friend’s house my normally good sense of direction was obscured by trees and clouds, and further frustrated by the many Louisiana roads on which there are no trace of street signs.

My initiation into life in Louisiana included being introduced for the first time in my life to a type common type of driving directions that would go something like… “Well you need to go down that road about a half a mile until you come to an old gas station… pass the gas station and turn right on the black top just after the dirt road and then you will go down about a quarter mile until you see a huge oak tree… turn left on the dirt road and you will pass 2 dirt roads and a cow pasture and then our house is on the right…” So, needless to say, I spent a whole lot of time lost in those first few years that I lived in Louisiana.

My early years of getting lost in the Hammond area serve as a picture of how life is for many folks. We have an idea of where we are trying to go but getting there becomes confusing because of the trees, clouds, and lack of signs. So we begin looking to cues from our culture or society or even from other Christians to help us find our way… and sometimes we get there. But many times because we have no accurate way of maintaining our bearings we just end up adrift pushed to and fro by the waves of culture, the opinions of others, and our own impulsiveness.

There is a popular term in evangelical Christianity for those who have not found faith in Christ—“Lost”. As the great hymn Amazing Grace puts it, “I once was lost but now am found…” There is an understanding that apart from Jesus we are lost in this world meandering with no sense of direction or destination. Many have found this word a fitting description of their life before having faith in Christ. However when we surrender to Jesus our whole life begins to orient around him, life becomes clearer, our steps more sure, our purpose more clear. As we follow Jesus, and orient our lives around him, he frees us up to be our true selves. And from that point faith begins giving rise to our core values—values that, like a compass, will help us keep our bearings no matter where we may be.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Vineyard Core Values Part 1

Over the next few months we will be discussing the core values and philosophy of ministry of the North Shore Vineyard in our small groups. In conjunction with the small groups I will be posting blogs to help stimulate the discussion and initiate our conversation.

The first topic we will be dealing with is why we need to have core values and how they can inform and guide the various aspects of Christian life individually and as a church.


Why Core Values?
The reality is that each of us has a set of core values around which we live our lives. We may not be conscious of them or even be able to articulate them but there are ideas and values that are fundamental to our existence that reside within every person.

A core value for one person may be financial security. Thus it will inform and guide the decisions that person makes concerning employment, saving, and investing. Another core value may be maintaining a high level of relationship in one’s family. Again this value will have ramifications on the type of job that one will work, and the type of activities that one might engage in. What makes these values core values is that they are fundamental in a person’s worldview and outlook on life. A person will not easily go against his or her core values without great anxiety, resentment, and pain because core values reside at such a heart level.

Becoming Aware of Individual Core Values
I suspect that many if not most people are not consciously aware of their core values and because of this they lead, as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Lives of quiet desperation” because they are consistently transgressing something within that matters deeply even if they are not immediately conscious of it.

I have found it a great exercise from time to time to sit down and ask myself what really matters to me and how I am letting that inform and guide my life. While this is a helpful exercise it is sometimes a bit painful to see how much of my life and time I let be led by other values and forces that exist far outside of my core values whether it is the culture, trying to please people, or confusing the means with the goal. It is absolutely crucial to our thriving and living from our hearts that we get in touch with the core values within. Obviously for a Christian the ultimate core value should be Jesus. In other words Jesus should be the point around which everything else in our lives is oriented. That said, each of us will have a unique set of core values that arise from orienting our lives around Jesus.
I wrote a blog last April entitled What Matters that touches on how to begin getting in touch with one’s core values:

Core Values of a Vineyard Church
Just as becoming aware of our core values as individuals is tremendously important the same could be said of understanding the core values of a church. The leaders of the Vineyard movement have recently released a list of 5 distinct values of Vineyard Churches. These values may not be unique to Vineyard Churches only but the collection of these core values sets forth what should be fundamental in any Vineyard Church.

The core values are as follows:
1. The Theology and Practice of the Kingdom of God
2. Experiencing God
3. Reconciling Community
4. Compassionate Ministry
5. Culturally Relevant Mission

While we will be spending time in the next few months exploring these values I would highly recommend delving into them further by reading several articles on Vineyard Values.

Core Values Transcend Context
It is important to understand that core values can work in any context. For instance each of the above values can guide a gathering of Christians in a Sunday service but can also work just as well in an individual’s life whether in line at Wal-Mart, or having a conversation with a neighbor, visiting someone in the hospital, or even in one’s family. The way these values are expressed in different contexts may look a bit different from place to place and may even change over time but the guiding values remain the same.

How would you see the above 5 core values lived out in a weekly gathering of believers?

How would the above values be lived out daily in your personal life - at home, at work, in your neighborhood, etc?

And finally how might these core values inform the way we for people in various contexts from a church gathering to one's place of employment to standing in line at Wal-Mart?