I had arrived at my destination, parked and was getting ready to gather my things and open the door. In front of me, about 20 yards away, a man was stumbling sort of forward, walking under scaffolding, now drifting out into the street, now grabbing the scaffolding, talking to himself and getting back under it on the sidewalk.
I sat still and watched wondering if this guy was going to be able to keep it together. From what I was observing, odds were, no. He reached a small ramp in the sidewalk and literally stopped and muttered to himself trying to muster the skills needed to climb this one foot incline. Wasn't sure he was going to make it. He did--miraculously. He stumbled forward, sideways, forward and eventually arrived parallel to my car.
Next thing I know, some happy feet, some arms flying and he's flat on his back. I groaned. A young woman from the business right there hurried out the door and checked on him. I ambled slowly out and around to where he was turtled on the ground. Dude was seriously, seriously out of it. I reluctantly helped him up and guided him over to a seat on the ground out of the way.
"You need to take a break man. No more walking. You're not ready to keep walking. Just sit here for a while." Some water from inside the business, some incoherent talking. This was going to take a while.
Over the next 25 minutes we (me and 3 employees from the insurance office he'd fallen in front of) pieced together his story. The hospital discharge papers in his pocket cracked the mystery. Before that we were unable to understand more than a few words he said.
He had been released from Thorek that morning. His discharge recommended a 12 step program (gee, do you think?) and near as I could figure he had gotten seriously sauced between his discharge and 10:30am. This guy was clearly in some deep bondage. It was heartbreaking and angering at the same time.
CFD arrived shortly after we called. They were bringing him right back to Thorek again--he'd made it only a few minutes out of the hospital before returning to his addictions, with a vengeance.
Can I just go on record here? I hate what sin has done to the dignity of man, created in God's image. This guy was living far from his calling. Far from the promise of God that he had been created for. The Enemy's schemes are his dominant reality. And yet, unless he chooses something different, there is nothing anyone can do to give him freedom.
Lord, intervene in this man's life in an undeniable, life-altering way. Whatever it takes, rescue him from this bondage while he still has life in is lungs.
A recent Barna Group study charts trends and attitudes about Christianity in American culture. Barna continues to put numbers to the unmistakable reality that fewer people in each generation of Americans are experiencing, witnessing and living authentic Christianity.
One particularly painful statistic in this study:
91 percent of young non-Christians and 80 percent of young churchgoers say present-day Christianity is "anti-homosexual."
In my work as a pastor, I have had numerous conversations with potential or newer church attenders who's key question is "what do you teach/believe regarding homosexuality?" What follows is typically a difficult conversation that really doesn't solve the person's uneasiness with navigating Christianity and their relationship with a homosexual friend/coworker/family member.
There's something missing in this approach. I believe it is simple: I have a viewpoint on homosexuality without having a touchpoint with people living with homosexual inclinations. I can express the Bible's view in words, even generous, non-judgmental, level-playing field kinds of words. But I have not worked very hard to express the Bible's view through acts of kindness, relationship and love toward people acting out on homosexual inclinations.
My views, our views, need the fruit of action. I'm not sure what a next step looks like in becoming more relationally connected with a person or persons who identify themselves as homosexual, but I'm making it a top ticket item in prayer beginning today. Starting point--repentance.
It was a risk, it was a lot of work, it was well-received, it was a ton of fun and it was a perfect day for it. It was our first ever "Church on the Street." At 7am the work of our team began. Blocking the street, moving cars, setting up sound, setting up a temp stage, prepping people for baptism, filling a portable baptistery, placing 350 chairs, sweeping the street, putting out welcome material, performing sound checks, helping neighbors get their cars off the block, and much more from behind the scenes...
The unofficial "roadies" worked their tails off: Tony, Jose, Mike B., Leo, Marcos, Rob, George, Maria, Ed, Jim, Mike H., Brian, David, Jon, Chris G., Mike S., Nephtali, John, Eddy, Seaby, EJ, Stacey, Ryan L., and several other people who arrived early and worked hard.
The fruit of it was an amazing opportunity to be the church right in the middle of our community on display. We worshiped, prayed, preached and baptized in front of our softball playing neighbors in the park, our neighbors driving by, our neighbors walking dogs or running or strolling by and our neighbors in nearby buildings. In many ways, I feel like everyone present felt like their worship had to be real and that it was on the firing line. What a great opportunity to experience that together! I think Sundays like we had this past weekend our tools that God can use to stir us to a whole new level of risk and faith as a people. I'm praying for lots of faith residuals to be manifested in the lives of those present. I want to give a special shout out to the bold testimonies given by the 5 who were baptized: Patrick, George, Sasha, Lee and Kelli, you all are my heroes for being bold and unashamed in your testimony and faith!
I'm experimenting with Facebook as a church connection tool. I'd love get your feedback on it. I think it has potential for helping increase connectivity between people in an increasingly techno and increasingly fractured, disconnected society.
I just have to give a shout out to Mr. Submarine, the best fast-food franchise in Chicago. Our tribe stopped at the Mr. Sub on Fullerton near Ashland this afternoon for a late Saturday lunch. We ordered up 4 Mr. Subs, two dogs with fries, a couple bags of chips and 2 large drinks for $17. $17! I can't get out of McD's for under $20 and that's with no happy meals.
And Mr. Sub is absolutely old school too. Their logo is 70's, their decor 70's and their prices are 70's. But super clean and well run. It beats McD's coming and going. (And no, I am not getting paid for this post--just like to pass along a favorite when I can.)
USA Today's front page article is on the Ken Burns documentary that airs this weekend on PBS, The War. The documentary tells the story of World War II. Burns expressed the urgency to collect the stories since the Greatest Generation is dying at a rate of 1000 per day.
From the article:
Burns says he understands The War may draw comparisons to Iraq, but he notes how the homefront isn't the same.
"Instead of the shared sacrifices World War II demanded that created community and made us spiritually richer, we're so lacking today," he says. "We aren't asked to give up anything. We're narcissistic free agents. Surfing the Internet alone. Watching TV alone. Driving alone. There's too much Pluribus and not enough Unum."
That is as succinct a commentary on our culture as I've found. What bothers me is that it is true even in the church, the counter-cultural force meant to focus us on life in community as God designed. We're dealing with this critical subject this Sunday as we're looking back at the Early Church. I can't help but keep praying that God would move in our midst in a counter-cultural way, bringing a sense of true community bonded by shared vision, shared sacrifice and shared victories.
As a war film lover, I didn't need the quote to pique my interest in The War, but with it, I'm even more interested to tune in on Sunday--not alone, of course; with my wife and maybe others?
This church makes me excited and spurs me deeply to think about how we are "doing church". Its called Church Under the Bridge... I think this is the most apostolic approach to church that I've ever encountered in the U.S. (Thanks to alert reader Brian S for sending me an article link referring to the church.)
The same city that gave us David Koresh gives us a radically simple concept of doing church right where people are at in a natural, simple, catacomb like approach. I need to digest this one.
Here's a pull quote from the article:
“This has become a
last-resort church for lots of people,” Dorrell said. “A place where
people go before they stop believing altogether.”
One of the many jewels from Forgotten Ways is a practical outworking of a biblical church leadership structure based on the five-fold ministry of Ephesians 4. Alan Hirsch shares how the church he served in Australia restructured around the Biblical model of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers and how it made a big impact on moving the church back to its missional roots.
(For those of you non-dorks who've somehow still managed to read this far, sorry--this stuff excites me so indulge me for a minute.)
At New Life this has been an in-house leadership team conversation as well. We've wondered out loud what it would look like to restructure our pastoral elder team to reflect the APEPT model. Our conviction is that God moves through the models He creates so our desire is to align with Scripture. To this point we haven't totally fleshed it out.
Hirsch's diagram of how they restructured in this way is very helpful. This diagram is lifted from Forgotten Ways, p. 175:
There are some friendships that can survive big gaps in time and still pick up where you left off. I had the privilege of remembering that today. I got to reconnect with my friends and former co-workers: Dave Brecheisen and Kevin Gwin. They had borrowed a baptistery for last Sunday that we'll be using this Sunday for Church on the Street. When they brought it to us, we had an excuse to reconnect and have a brief cup of coffee.
Kevin and Dave and their wives and kids are urban ministry heroes. They've been here in Chicago for well over 10 years, they've kept up long term relationships with people (a key in urban ministry fruitfulness) and they've planted and continue to lead a church in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Kevin and Dave exhibit the kind of life that makes a difference. In fact, its been my discovery that most of urban ministry fruitfulness involves things anyone can do but few people actually accomplish:
keep loving Jesus day after day, year after year, no matter the pain of life
stay in the city through thick and thin--love the city enough to live in it
keep your same phone number--you'd be surprised how much that matters
keep doing life in the same general community--buy your groceries expecting to bump into people you shared Jesus with year's ago
keep trying new things and sticking to old things at the same time
These sound simple but the fact is, few people actually persevere in this way. Perseverance requires some stubbornness and a conviction that simply staying put has value all by itself. I believe that staying put is spiritual.
Eugene Peterson defined discipleship as "long obedience in the same direction." When you mix long obedience in the same direction with doing it in front of the same people over a long period of time, I believe you make the Gospel convincing to the average skeptic.
Dave and Kevin and their families have bought into this secret and live it out, year by year. They're the kind of people who bring meaningful transformation, Gospel transformation, to urban communities.
I'm plugging through The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch. So many powerful insights I feel like I'm wearing out my highlighter. Between this book and McManus' Unstoppable Force, I keep having this word "Apostolic" reappear on my radar. Its a word we've wrestled with as a leadership team at New Life as well. If I had to state New Life leadership's heart simply, I'd say, "Our constant mission is to pursue the life flow of an Apostolic church movement in a 21st Century urban context."
I don't believe that process ever ends. But this book has ideas and concepts from the Apostolic church that are profoundly helpful in this pursuit. I'm feeling like I'll have to read it a second time just to properly grab everything.
I've not read Hirsch before but pay attention--this guy is going to get increasing attention in the arena of church leadership and multiplication training. His stuff is powerfully first rate for the missional church movement.
I feel like I've been on a reading junket lately. Like a binge. At least for me. I'm just constantly frustrated that I don't have more time to read. My stack of books has grown unnaturally large and my desire to read is constant.
So I think God is talking to me through this: "Kevin, you really need to grow. You are not where I want you to be. Your next season is going to require a big learning curve and the sooner you get moving, the sooner I can get you in the experiential element of your learning."
Now don't get me wrong. God didn't actually say this to me but as I'm processing I really feel like God's voice is chasing me through it.
I'm going to finish Reveal: Where Are You? by the Willow Creek Association. This book is kind of like being struck in the head and making an amazing discovery all at the same time. (Newton's apple only heavier?) If you are in any level of church leadership, order this book today. You can't keep doing church in America if you don't listen to this book.
Enough writing. Its time to get back to reading...
One of the most powerful images about the power and need of prayer and silence for me is an image from the movie, "For the Love of the Game". Kevin Costner plays a pitcher for the Tigers who is debating whether to leave baseball--he's just getting too old to pitch effectively. Toward the beginning of the film he finds himself on the mound at Yankee Stadium preparing to pitch his final game. As he stands on the mound, the camera pans all around to the crowd in quick cut fashion. The noise is deafening and distracting. The people are all shouting. The activity level is incredible. In the midst of it you hear Costner's characters thoughts verbalized: "Clear the mechanism."
Quickly the noise level goes to nothing and the camera shot becomes clear focused and stable. Now, he is ready to pitch.
The noise level was the same, the competing activity all over the field the distractions--none of it went away. But he discovered a secret in pitching was to master his mind and pay attention to what matters most.
Today is a day I need to clear the mechanism in a huge way. I need to block the considerable noise level around me and the competing issues that want my attention, get alone with Jesus, be quiet in his presence, get my sites set solely on the glove and pitch the ball.
#4 had her first day of preschool today. Afternoon class. Bubbly and very excited as usual. Mom brought her into the class and got her settled and then got into a conversation with another mom. They got to chatting for a while. Several minutes passed.
Enter the interruptor: "Mommy, why are you still here?" It was said with a level of 4-year-old indignation. Olivia never lets whats on her mind stay there for too long--it will come out. I love that about her.
Gil laughed and left her with a kiss. Time to let the littlest bird start flapping her wings.
When I got home I asked her if she made any new friends at school today. "Yep. Ted. Ted is my new friend... He chased me on the playground."
Pastor Mark and I had a good meeting with Mark King from Seminary Avenue Community Church this morning. We are continuing the conversation working toward a New Life Relaunch of the church. Over the past month, while Mark and his wife Heather were adjusting to their adorable new adopted son Sam, we've been leading worship and providing preaching for the church. Mark called it a "New Life Recharge".
(BTW, big props to Chris Groenendal, an intern and small group leader here at New Life who preached this past Sunday at Sem Ave and I hear did a great job! Big props also to Jose and the Gang who have led worship the last 4 weeks--awesome job!)
I have to say that exploring this relaunch has been enlivening to me. I feel like the smell and taste of new opportunity brings fresh eyes and renewed excitement to all my serving and ministry opportunities. I feel like Jonathan in 1 Sam 14:27 when he ate from the honeycomb and his eyes turned bright. What a cool image! Pioneering work is my eye-brightening honeycomb.
I think it is important to grasp your own natural rhythms and "Red Bulls". The things that by doing them, lift you to a new level and make you feel more alive. It's different for everyone but one thing that isn't different is that we all need boosts, power shots that refresh and refocus our love of Jesus and service for Him.
So my wife and I were about to pray last night when I remembered a phone call I had received the previous evening. It had been a phone solicitor... From the American Bible Society. The worst kind. Seriously. How do you hang up on a guy who's trying to get you to send Bibles to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan?
I listened patiently. I gave the first "no". In return I got the first "if respondent says 'no' say this ___" response. Said "no" a second time. And then instead of a third attempt by the solicitor he said, "Mr. Bruursema, I understand. Could you please commit to pray for us in our efforts and for the soldiers in our armed forces who need the word of God?"
Now I'm sure this was a genuine request on the part of the ministry but I'll admit to being perturbed that after saying no to giving I'd be asked to say yes to praying. But of course, I said, "Yes." Too chicken to say "no".
Back to me and my wife almost ready to pray... I remembered this commitment I had made and so I told my wife I had to go first in prayer so that I could get this prayer commitment off my conscience. I wasn't "feeling it"--just was going to pray because I said I would. (Sorry folks--if you came here for tidy spirituality, you'll not find it. I'm a messy work of grace and my heart was not in the prayer--it was strictly a matter of obedience.)
So go to pray and as I went to pray, I remembered that that very morning I had met a fella, Jay, who had served in the Army for the last 6 years. I remembered that Jay had shared how he had returned to God while in Iraq--that combat had been the tool God used to get his attention. And now this guy is getting theological training and he's hungry to follow Jesus.
As I finally got to the praying part of prayer, I felt a little rebuked and at the same time a little refreshed. My prayer of obedience was now being offered with a warmth of heart because I had a name and a face of the impact that my phone solicitor friend's ministry could have by distributing Bibles to soldiers.
So pray anyway. Who knows, maybe God will move your heart along with your obedience and you'll feel like God showed up in your prayers.
...more lately and I've added a couple of gems to my booklist in the left margin. I highly recommend both.
When Leadership and Discipleship Collide was a book I bumped into in a bookstore in Grand Rapids and almost passed by. But I read a few pages and was hooked. This book is not what you would expect to hear from a megachurch pastor and well known leader like Bill Hybels. I have to say that I am impressed every time I read a Bill Hybels book. He is a true man of God.
I grabbed Unstoppable Force with several other books that talk about the missional calling of the church. I am reading heavily in that vein right now. Now I've listened to Erwin McManus before and have always felt he was an insight-reacher thinker. Reading this book brought that understanding to a whole new level. This book is packed with challenging and inspirational material on the visionary, revolutionary calling that is upon the church. I had a ton of takeaway from this book that will be timely as we teach the early chapters of the book of Acts in the coming weeks.
Reading is a huge reality-shaper. I find that the amount and type of stuff I'm reading at any given moment has a very direct relationship to my ministry and leadership passion, growth and my spiritual growth. I read recently that of all people not enrolled in some sort of schooling, only 5% read books. So by reading you can instantly move ahead of 95% of the rest of the world.
Tomorrow is the first day back to school and my kids are happy. See?
Why are they happy? Because for the last two weeks, dad has been on vacation. And that means we've been having lots of family memory-making time. Lena jokingly lamented my return to "work" tomorrow as I tucked her in tonight--"I don't want you to go back to work tomorrow daddy. I like it when you are home with us all the time."
Here are some highlights from our family vacation time:
Pastors family retreat with our New Life team. This is always a highlight in our year for everyone in the family.
Michigan's Adventureland in Muskegon, MI. A great park for kids who aren't ready for the death-ride roller coasters of Cedar Point and Great America but who are beyond Kiddieland.
Lots of wrestling, tickling and family movie time.
Visiting Uncle Keith and Aunt Kelly and Amara and Stella (my sister and brother-in-law)
Hanging out with our friends Matt and Heather in Walworth, WI.
Going to the Walworth County fair--pig racing, elephant ears, tractor pulls, fuzzy bunnies, piglets, petting a cow and people-watching in rural Wisconsin.
My cousin Katrina's wedding to Justin. (All Olivia kept asking was "When are we going to dance?")
Talking with our extended family at the reception.
Spending a night in the Grand Rapids Hilton and then spending the day in the pool with Grampa Gary and Gramma Terrie and Aunt Kari.
Settling on a family ministry project for the Fall that we can all participate in and we're all excited about.
Arriving home from a driving trip with sleeping kids.
I feel refreshed and ready for the fall. I am excited. I am hungry. I am expectant that God is going to move and I can't wait. Our vacation has refreshed the entire family just as we re-enter the bustle of the Fall. To me, that's all you can ask for in a vacation.