A year off?? Doesn’t feel like it!

2012Looks like I took a year off! I looked back on my notes along the way, and noticed that I have written practically no notes for nearly a year.  This has been an extraordinary year. It is now just about over, and I took so few notes.  I have a bunch of business notes filed away at the office.  I have notes from my college classes. But my personal notes.  None. Taking some time this week to write some of the notes down.  Some I will share here, others are just for me.  As I prepare for the new year I am recommitting to posting some of my motes along the way here.

Reflections from my time with the guys at Restoration House. Last week I shared with them my time at Agape Force when I was 20.  A lesson learned there that I shared with them.  I can still hear “Captain” Chris ask, “Did God lead you here?  Are you where he wants you? Then stop whining, and get everything you can out of it.  If you job is to clean the toilets, remember God sent you here, and do it the best you can! If it is hard,and someone is in your face, remember God sent you here, submit and learn!”

 

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He said, “When it comes to faith …

“When it comes to faith, what a living, creative, active, powerful thing it is. It cannot do other than good at all times. It never waits to ask whether there is some good work to do, rather, before the question is raised, it has done the deed, and keeps on doing it.”  Martin Luther

Faith amazes me.  I don’t mean the simple saying of a prayer, but this bold, audacious belief that God loves me and urges me to act as a member of his family.  The radical thought that we are empowered to act as an agent of God’s love is an amazing gift of faith.  Faith provides the impetus to become a part of a movement of transformation.  It transfers us from an earthly kingdom, to a different kingdom, a force of good in the earth – the kingdom of God.

 

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He Said, “When someone steals …”

“When someone steals a person’s clothes, we call him a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to those who need it; the shoes rotting in your closet to the one who has no shoes. The money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”  – Basil of Caesarea

Kyril and I read this as part of our morning prayer today. It stopped me dead in my tracks as I read it.  A rather challenging word from a 4th century father of the church.  It is as applicable in our day as in his.

Those of my friends who embrace the thought that government does not have a role to play in caring for the poor of our country, and insist that it is the Church’s job.  You do realize that you and I are the Church?  Basil calls us thieves to our faces. For as long as there is poor in the land, and you and I have extra money, clothing, food, a spare room, etc, how can we not be moved to do all we can?  How do we allow our churches to have a small benevolence fund available only for members?  How do we not stand up in our congregations and challenge the traditional views relating to buildings and programs, while the poor, homeless, hungry, unemployed, abused and hopeless stand outside looking in on us.

When I read this, I not only questioned my own life and the priorities of the Church, but also the life of the society I am a part of.  Here in America we consider our country to be “a city on a hill” as politicians like Ronald Reagan propose.  We consider ourselves to be the greatest civilization to date on this globe.  Some demand that we are a Christian nation. Basil calls us thieves!

When I consider that as the richest country in the world our thirst for cheap goods virtually enslaves portions of our world, while our discarded computer waste pollutes countries and lands …. When I consider that our businesses and government refuse to take responsibility for our major role in global climate change, while claiming it will damage our economy …  When I consider that we have a government that allies itself with wall street by bailing out the rich, while homelessness, joblessness and foreclosures increase in our own country …. When I consider the greed and power wrapped up in our political, economic and social systems … There is no doubt that Basil cries out as a prophet against us! Not only does he speak to my own (and your) indifference, and  the priorities of the Church but also against America, our system of economics, government and our very way of life.

When so-called freedom creates poverty here and abroad, are we truly free? Are we not thieves?

Lord have mercy on us.

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Entering into the story

Do we not all want to become shepherds and catch sight of the angel? I think so. Without the perspective of the poor, we see nothing, not even an angel. When we approach the poor, our values and goals change. The child appears in many other children. Mary also seeks sanctuary among us. Because the angels sing, the shepherds rise, leave their fears behind, and set out for Bethlehem, wherever it is situated these days

Source: http://www.inwardoutward.org/2011/12/29/entering-story

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On Ramp to a Dream

I was realizing today how much things have changed in the past year.  14 months ago I lost my job. I must confess I was upset for about an hour.  It had everything to do with the shock, and how it was done.  But I got over it. One of the big reasons I got over it quickly was that I knew this was a way God was giving me to fulfill my dreams.

Just 2 days before October 8, 2010, I was up early preparing for a sales rally when I verbally expressed what I have been feeling for years. It went something like this, “God when am I going to be able to do what I want to do!”  The Father and I both knew that I was talking about serving  full-time at Common Heart, doing what I loved.  And it also meant completing one of the only regrets I have had, that I did not get my college degree.  And so armed with Unemployment Insurance and the Workforce Investment Act I began to follow both of these dreams.

Just 14 months later, here I am looking over what has happened and what lies ahead.  I have just finished my Associates of Arts degree at Central Piedmont Community College with a 4.0 GPA.  I am heading to Wingate University, Matthews Campus to finish that Business degree I started in 1979.  The plan calls for part-time night school with a completion date in Fall 2013.

On the full-time serving front, I have been able to devote myself to Common Heart.  In this short time, we have moved to a facility almost 3 times as large as the one on Garmon Rd.  Common Cupboard has more volunteers, and has a greater reach into our community than ever before.  We opened Common Things Thrift Store.  Through the store we have increased our exposure in the community.  More and more people are getting excited about Common Heart and Common Cupboard through the great public relations (just good old-fashioned kindness extended by Deb (my wife) and our staff). The Commonplace has become a hub-bub of activity.  We have an amazing group of volunteers that makes it all happen.

We also held our first Common Cupboard Golf Classic last April. Folks had a wonderful time and we raised some needed funds. This past year, not only have we increase volunteers reaching out into homes through Common Cupboard, and created a whole new staff of volunteers for Common Things, we have added our first part-time administrative volunteer helping me to coordinate the new endeavors.

In July we held the first Commonplace Festival as a way to connect more with the community.  Many attended and the exposure we received through The Charlotte Observer in preparation for the Festival had (and continues to have) an amazing impact.  The fall continued with our Annual Banquet, expanding in to larger facilities.  Due to the banquet and the Classic we have increased the local business community support.  The business support continued during our Great Turkey Countdown which this year reached 402 families with over 100 delivery teams and 150 packing volunteers.

To move away from the program / achievement side to the personal side of Common Heart.  I have personally ministered to more people than I have in a long time.  Being freed to serve has freed me to be what I have been called to be.  Common Heart born of my passion to see people equipped to serve has equipped me to serve. I joyously head in to “work” every day.  I have been able to see two competing tendencies in my personality come together in a wonderful way to lead this organization.  I have tended to love one aspect, what I know as the “innovator” and despised the other I know as the “field marshal”. The best of both has had to come together.  I have been seeing the real synergy that these two aspects bring to me as a leader, and I am starting to love my inner ” innovative-field marshal”.

My wife is excited as she too is able to be involved intimately in the day-to-day activities of Common Heart through Common Things Thrift Store.  She is seeing her dream of a family business come to life as we not only work together, but so does my parents, our son Kyril, and our nephews Logan and Lucas working together on various aspects of Common Heart.  I can not imagine not going in to work at The Commonplace.

I love what I do.  I love connecting people with opportunities to serve.  I enjoy meeting new people and seeing how God puts things together.  Leading this organization, as the dreams of my heart are coming true, is exciting.  As the new year approaches we have several new and exciting things on the horizon all pointing in one way or another to the birthing of what has been stirring in my heart for so many years.  I will share more about it in the upcoming posts,  but I can tell you that what I see ahead will give Common Heart a greater way to “bridge the gap together”, putting followers of Jesus to action meeting needs, serving the community, seeing lives improve and faith grow stronger.

So here I am at the end of the year looking ahead. Here at the new year I am looking down the road and although I see a fork in the road, I can only imagine one way ahead. The one fork leads back to full-time employment, and the other leads to leading this ministry fully engaged in the dream. I can not imagine going back to a full-time job. I can only see following this road I have been on for the past 14 months.  For this I need help.

I have been working hard to develop the funding and the outreach of Common Heart and it shows.  We have a viable nonprofit with volunteer leadership.  The board agrees that we are now at the point to create the full-time salaried position of Executive Director.  They have authorized the salary if we raise the funds.

One of the things I tell our volunteers is that they are missionaries of God’s love in our community.  That is what I am too! And now I find  myself actually looking for the financial support to be that missionary.  We have built Common Cupboard to equip followers of Jesus to be missionaries.  We have started Common Things to invite the community in to experience with us God’s kindness while being the public face for the Cupboard.  And in the coming months as the dream becomes even more real through the further development of Common Heart, more families  in our community will see their dreams come to pass through the kindness of God working through the active faith of caring followers of Jesus.

I am excited.  I am prayerful.  I am looking for the support of  my friends as I step out in faith again to see the dream that is Common Heart become an even greater reality.  Will you pray with me?  There is a lot of work ahead. As I walk toward the fork, looking for work and looking for the support, I am hoping that one becomes the on ramp for a dream.

In the next few posts I will be sharing more about the dream that is coming true in the next few months.  I will build the “Bridge” for you so you will see how Common Heart is developing and I will be asking for your prayers and support.  Please pray with me. Please consider becoming one of my supporters by committing to pray for us and pledging to financially support Deb and I by giving to Common Heart monthly.  To find out more about giving to create this On Ramp to a Dream click here –> On Ramp.

 

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Splinters & Crosses

Lord, keep us from making crosses out of the splinters of discomfort in our lives. Help us recognize the true crosses you call us to bear, those whose weight lends to the freedom and provision of others. Amen.

Kyril and I regularly pray with commonprayer.net.  This daily resource of prayer has a rhythm I appreciate and a message that challenges the way I think as an American Christian.  As I prayed this prayer this morning I had to think about what I was saying.  It did not flow naturally off my tongue.  I had to go back over it and think some more about it.

The whole idea of bearing your cross in our world of affluence takes on a strange meaning.  This prayer speaks of the tendency to take our small discomforts and through focusing on them, make them to be our crosses.  This is a rather self justifying course of action.  For instance when I don’t have real or substantial persecution in my life, I have to search for small things to call persecution.  Worse yet is when we find people who are against us because we have behaved like jerks,  we might say that are being persecuted for taking a right and godly stance.

But for an American Christian what would truly be a cross, worthy of being called a cross.  When I consider Jesus’s cross, I realize that it is something that he had the power to avoid.  He came to earth to take up a cross.  He chose it.  It was not thrust upon him. Through his cross, we believe, he brought forgiveness, reconciliation, freedom and life.  He chose suffering so we could be healed.  He chose death pains so we might have eternal life.

This is the transformative thought for me in this prayer.  True crosses will do the same.  If we willingly chose to bear the cross and be his disciple, our crosses will bring life to others.  Our willingness to take up weighty crosses will bring freedom, life and reconciliation to our world.  Although we may be waiting for a cross to be thrust upon us, true disciples chose to take up their cross and follow Jesus.

So what is a worthy cross for you or me? I know for me I avoid rejection. So I often will avoid speaking challenging words that are contrary to the accepted opinions of many of my Christian brothers and sisters.  In other words, when faced with those things that seem to me contrary to everything I know about Jesus, I will often choose to remain silent, rather than face the possibility of rejection.  But Jesus willingly chose rejection … He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.  So will I take up the cross? Will I publicly advocate for what I  know in my heart to be of the Spirit of Jesus?  I am ashamed to say that I am doing so, but only slowly and with hesitation.

So what is a worthy cross for you?  I don’t know, but know that it will be heavy and it might cause you pain. But it will help bring life to others.

Lord, keep us from making crosses out of the splinters of discomfort in our lives. Help us recognize the true crosses you call us to bear, those whose weight lends to the freedom and provision of others. Amen.

 

 

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Ash Wednesday Reflections

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday.  It is the beginning of the season of Lent.  I made my way again this year to Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church.  While last year I went alone, this year my wife and 4 friends joined me for this time.

Ash Wednesday is an odd sort of holiday.  It would be better to call it a holy-day as it is just not a typical sort of holiday.  I wished a friend a Mournful Ash Wednesday yesterday, because wishing them a happy one just seems to be wrong.

Ash Wednesday is a yearly reminder of our own mortality.  It reminds us that out of the dust of the earth God fashioned a man and breathed life into him.  When that life is taken back, all that is left is the dust we were formed from. I appreciate the focus on reflection in the “celebration” of day.

As part of the Ash Wednesday service we recited a general confession of sin and receive an assurance of forgiveness.  I appreciate this.  I can easily go barreling through a day with out thinking.  Such a pause to reflect and applying God’s grace of forgiveness is both sobering and liberating.

Ash Wednesday ushers us into a 40 day period of preparation.  The focus this year at Threshold Church where my family and I attend, will be on prayer, fasting and giving to the poor.  This seems to be a wonderful way to prepare to walk with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, the cross and resurrection that we remember during Holy Week.

It is typical to give up something for Lent.  This year I am giving up soda.  I have recently heard about a tradition: taking up something during Lent.  This too seems to be a good way of preparation.  This year I have taken up a book to read “The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscoing our Hidden Life in God” by Dallas Willard, and  will be spending an increased time in spiritual exercises such as prayer, meditation, journaling and fasting.

Here are a couple of online resources I will be using this Lent …

A prayer of confession for lent.  https://mynotesalongtheway.wordpress.com/2010/02/19/confession-for-lent/

A daily guided time of scripture meditation and prayer.  http://www.pray-as-you-go.org/

Hyaets Lenten Guide group on Facebook.  http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_139584172775054&ap=1

What are you doing during  Lent to prepare your heart for our yearly remembrance of Christ’s passion and resurrection?

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