Anchored Hope

By: Shannon Youell

As I write this article, it is snowing outside my window.  Big huge, wet flakes are plummeting to earth.  In only a few minutes everything begins to look a lot less green and a lot more white.  Of course, living in Victoria BC guarantees that this snow, especially in December, will be short lived.   

The snow causes me to pause and think about the elements that we consider necessary or even just enhancing for us to ‘feel Christmas’.  Bing Crosby’s classic lyric “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” floats through my thoughts.  Perhaps for you it is the “stockings all hung by the chimney with care” or, “… in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.”  There are all sorts of perspectives on what makes Christmas meaningful, on what ‘the true meaning of Christmas is’ and what each of us needs or wishes for to have a happy or merry one. 

 For us as Christ followers, we also look through the Advent lens of Hope, Peace, Love and Joy.  This year as I’ve been reflecting upon that lens and as I’ve spoken with many people struggling with the concepts of joy, peace and sadly even a sense of love, I realized how hard it is to hold on to them when we don’t have the anchor of hope holding us steady.  So often we try to manufacture peace, joy and love through all those things we ‘do’ and ‘create’ to make Christmas special, but in the end find ourselves celebrating the mediocrity of it all.   

Perhaps this was the sense of Zechariah as he carried out his priestly duties just as he’d spent his life doing, yet not seeing his own hopes of either a child of his own or the anticipated Hope of Israel.  Or of the shepherds, a social class of their own, huddling through yet another cold night watching dirty, stupid animals for little reward or hope of a better life.  I wonder whether, in the same-old-same-old cycle of hope deferred, they had lost any sense of peace or joy or love.  Without hope, can one even know or recognize the presence of the others?   

Yet.   

Yet when those same shepherds, chilled to the bone, resigned to their lot in life, saw those angels and hurried off to gaze upon the babe in a trough whose birth they announced, returned to their flocks, their whole countenance had changed.  They returned to the same mediocre life.  The same dirty sheep.  The same endless days and nights of poverty, marginalization, invisibility, disappointment that they’d always known, yet something had changed within them.  Luke tells us they returned ‘glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen”.  Hope had been enlivened within them.  Joy sprang forth from their hearts and lips and God’s love in his promises blanketed them with warmth, comfort and a sense of knowing all will be put right in the world again.   

Zechariah, too, gazing upon his own promised newborn, explodes in joy with prophesy and praise.  “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.”  He uses the language of salvation, rescue, tender mercy, forgiveness of sins and light shining on those living in darkness and the shadow of death, of peace.   

For each of these, the meaning of Christmas is found not in the weather, the feast, the gifts, the celebrations or even in the religious rituals thick with their own meaning.  It is found in a promise fulfilled.  A gift already given.  A future already in motion.  For each, this single moment, this single gift, this single event embedded such hope within them they could not contain it.  They carried it with them wherever it went.  It lasted.  It didn’t melt away in short order like Victoria snow.  It sustained them as they returned to the mediocrity and reality of life in a broken world where once they knew only the absence and fleetingness of peace, joy and love.  Now, with this anchor of hope, it welled over into the lives of those they found themselves among. 

Today may be heralded as the longest night of the year – yet – it is only a night.  The dawn comes each day.  It is in the night, in the dimly lit places where we often most need to embrace hope, take hold of it to bring us encouragement, rest in our souls, peace in our spirits and love in our hearts.  As Paul writes in Hebrews 6, this hope is an anchor for our souls, firm and secure.  It tethers us to God and changes our expectations.  It focuses us to fix our eyes on the Christ and the promises of God that have been enacted through him and the celebration God’s ongoing action within the world he so loves.  

Whatever your Christmas is this year, let it be rich and thick with meaning that comes from the fullness of what God has accomplished, is still accomplishing and will be accomplishing through Christ our Lord.  May our hope be so anchored in him that we are enlivened with his peace, his joy, his love in whatever places, spaces and circumstances we find ourselves in.  In him we find the true meaning, hope, that springs praise upon our lips and gives witness to the goodness of God in the land.  Merry Christmas. 

Happy New Year!

By Cailey Morgan

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Happy New Year!

There’s something about turning the page on a new season that opens the possibility for new hope for the future. I don’t know about you but I am so ready for an opportunity to disengage from the patterns and ruts that I’ve gotten myself into over the last year and begin afresh.

I was reminded by a colleague recently, however, that as Christians, we follow a different calendar.

New Year in December
Yes, on one level I am talking about the Liturgical Calendar, which provides a way for us to live into the story of God throughout the year. The first Sunday of Advent is the first day of the Christian or Liturgical year. Anticipation of the Incarnation becomes the starting point, not personal goals for self-betterment, or stirring up willpower to achieve a better you.

No—for God’s kids, New Year’s Day is a day to cease striving and to wait. It’s a day to put all our hope in Emmanuel who is coming to ransom us, captive in our sins and in the atmosphere of sin around us that threatens to suffocate us until the breath of the Spirit comes.

Everyday A New Day
On another level, we as Christ-followers have access to New Year’s Day every day! As Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” We’ve all messed up, some of us deeply, in the past year, month, week. Yesterday. Today already. But every time we turn away from our heavenly Father, there are two arms open wide to receive us back. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:19).

If you’re looking for a way to reconnect with the Lord in this new calendar season, try opening the Psalms each morning for the next couple of weeks, looking for times when the Psalmist uses the word “morning.” There’s a strong theme of God’s unfailing commitment to us, as well as the constantly-failing commitment of us to Him, and the opportunity—daily—to re-align ourselves to the God who has covenanted with His people, promising to never leave nor forsake us.

Justice: Encompassing Love

By Shannon Youell

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.

He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.

This is what God the Lord says—the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.  I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”

Isaiah 42:1-7

A friend of mine, a recent immigrant from Iran, was telling me recently that the Muslims do not call Allah “god” in the sense that we often do, where we use it as a name.  He said that Allah is more than a name, but is a descriptor of what Allah is:  Love. In his telling, this Love is enveloping, surrounding, all encompassing.  Interestingly, Wikipedia says that the name Allah is used both by Muslims and Arab Christians. The name is the essence of Love – Love is God’s essence.

I asked my friend’s daughter why their family had converted to Christianity when they moved to Canada. She said that in reading the teachings of Jesus she saw God’s love.

“Here is my servant,” God says to the Israelites in reference to Messiah. He will not break the bruised reed nor snuff out the smoldering wick, but rather He establishes justice on earth.

This love, this incarnational love, in the shape of Jesus, looks upon us humans as bruised reeds, beautiful-but-broken sons of the good, good Father. He still has hope for us. He takes our hand and invites us to join Him as the vessels through which His righteousness and justice is delivered.

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I am moved by the imagery of God holding my hand.  Of his all-encompassing love holding onto me in the midst of the darkness so that I join him in shining a light into the snuffed-out places in humanity’s struggles and sorrow.  As noted two weeks ago on this blog,  “often the righteousness of God in the OT refers to the faithfulness with which God acts. This faithfulness is in full accordance with his commitments to his people and with his status as divine King—to whom the powerless may look for protection, the oppressed for redress and the needy for help.”  Verse 3 in Isaiah 42 says just that, “In faithfulness, he will bring forth justice…”

This is also our expression of faithfulness to the goodness of God—that we “become the expressions of his light in the world.” We incarnate the love that is beyond descriptors, larger than any one word can hold; this love crosses languages and cultures and yes, even the misguided religiosity of others and ourselves. God incarnated translates that Love into humanity in the Messiah, Jesus.  Jesus, incarnated in us, is meant to do the same.

God holding our hand takes us somewhere. He leads, we walk alongside. He reveals, we step in and act. “I will take your hand,” He says, “to make you to be a covenant for all peoples and to make you to be a light.” God leads us to participate in His mission; God leads us by the hand to be the incarnational presence “to whom the powerless may look for protection, the oppressed for redress and the needy for help.”

It is his mission to the world He so loves and it is ours as those fully encompassed in His love.

Am I a Disciple? Part 2

By Shannon Youell

“We must be disciples who make disciples.”

This statement caused me to ask myself some hard questions as I pondered Am I a disciple? In reflecting on this question I asked myself these six questions to help me discover areas on which I need to allow Jesus to work in me. We looked at the first three last week. These are in no way exhaustive, but merely the first six upon which to begin your own reflecting. The first three were around things that challenged my character and the next three my competencies as a ambassador of Christ.

4: Am I a Person who Loves Others?

Jesus tells us this in John 15:12-13 (MSG):

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly 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.

Jesus also commands us to love our enemies. And love those who we consider unclean, sinners, outcasts. Jesus loves. He loves without boundaries or judgment. He loves because He is love.  If I love Jesus, and am His disciple, He commands that I love like Him. Yet, I am often appalled at how often I have to remind myself of that.  This, too, is the journey of a disciple. We are constantly being called back to that place of repentance at our shortage of love, care and our selective indifference for others.  How can we truly love our enemies if we are also praying for their demise! This is a hard teaching indeed!

5:  Am I a Servant?

I mentioned that my first disciplers did not lord it over those they were discipling–that they understood we were on a journey together and had much to teach one another. Often, in pastoral ministry, folk tell me they are a discipler and that I should assign them a disciple. Or a position. At our church, our response to those that move into places of teaching, leadership, pastoring, is that in these roles we actually lose “status.”  We become servants to those whom we are in community with.

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In my own life and ministry, I need to continually weigh my attitudes in the places where I serve by asking myself if I am taking a posture of status or a posture of servanthood.  Am I doing this to satisfy a need in my own self, or to truly love and journey with others as they discover their identity in Christ and in following Him?

As soon as I find myself feeling superior, wiser, holier, I have moved from a position of serving to a position of status.  Jesus was pretty blunt with the religious leaders of his day about this!

This is a hard one as sometimes it is difficult to self-determine when I’m “lording” and when I’m serving. It drives me back to question #3: Am I Accountable and demands that I, too am in a place of concurrently being a disciple and making disciples.

6: Am I a Sent-One who Goes?

Being a disciple also means I am willing to submit to His sending of me beyond my safe parameters and comfort zone, and being courageous to share stories of where God’s story intersects my story.

My secret of learning to be bolder? I, like most of us, am terrified, even when I can sense the Spirit strongly prompting me, to introduce Jesus into a conversation even when the door is so wide open it has fallen off its hinges! So to tackle that fear I took the challenge to just ask people if I may pray with them when they have shared something sad, or difficult, or something they struggle with. You might be amazed how quickly one can find out if the grocery cashier is having a good day or a bad day and why! It stuns me still.

And so I’ve tried to muster up courage and ask if I can quickly pray with them. I like the terminology of praying with rather than for as it invites them into the prayer. Most of the time they say yes! It is a very terrifying thing to do, and yet there is nothing more joyous than that 30-second prayer while picking up the grocery bags.

Being a disciple is always being attentive to that awareness that God is already at work all around me and I just need to join him.

Being a disciple means following close. Being a sort-of-follower, or most-of-the-time follower, will leave us confused as to where it is we are going because we will have lost sight of Him and walked our own path.  Jesus is our foremost priority. Everything else fits into that.

As I said earlier, this is by no means an exhaustive or even fully articulated list. What questions do you find yourself asking in regards to the overarching question of “Am I A Disciple?” Let us know as we learn and disciple one another! God created humanity as a community, placed us in community and Jesus taught us that we live, work, play, pray and disciple in community.

 

Ministry and Marriage: Authentic and Fulfilling

By Randy Hamm

My colleague was burning out. Ministry had been his life, with countless hours poured into the lives of others. He had a powerful and effective ministry, serving so many alongside his ministry-minded wife. What I didn’t realize was that the ministry wasn’t all he was burning out of. Their marriage was also dead.

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This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard a story like this. It wasn’t my first time either. Though it was a lot closer to me this time. Close enough that I might have been able to speak into the situation and offer the everlasting life that Jesus proclaims for us.

If I could go back, what would I say?

What could they do differently as they started into ministry?

What is needed for a marriage to thrive in the midst of ministry?

First thing I’d say is this: Conflict is a Gift

When I asked a group of workshop participants what the difference between an authentic marriage and a Christian marriage was, I received some interesting answers. The temptation we, especially pastors, fall into is to believe that a Christian marriage is one with minimal conflict, close to perfect intimacy (spiritual, physical and emotional) and abounding in selfless love. We are all on a journey toward these ideals. Though we have to admit, even as Christians, we are not near as far along that journey as we’d like to be.

When we said our vows, we really had no idea what challenges would lie ahead as we wrestled with the tensions of joy and struggle as we seek to live and love authentically.

Mike Mason, in The Mystery of Marriage, says “To keep a vow means not to keep from breaking it, but rather to devote the rest of one’s life to discovering what the vow means, and to be willing to change and to grow accordingly.”

If we are willing to say, “wow, I’m not getting this marriage thing right, I have a lot to learn,” two things happen.

  1. We offer an incredible gift to our churches. As they struggle with their marriages, they no longer feel alone. They realize that even the pastor and their spouse have these struggles and need to rely on God. In my work with couples, I’ll mention something that I learned when we saw our counselor recently and they will stop me confused: “Wait, aren’t you the one we are learning from?”

    And I’ll respond, “aren’t you glad that I’m continuing to learn too?” If we can learn to live humbly before our congregations, what an example  we offer them. Instead of perpetuating the lie that they too can have the perfect marriage like we do, we can offer them a much more realistic view of marriage.

  2. When we are humble, we truly rely on God and are willing to learn, change and grow. If we can get past the lie that we don’t need help, that we shouldn’t need help, then we can actually get the help we need. We can turn a good marriage into a great marriage. We can face hidden conflict with the help of a district supervisor or counselor. We can ask for prayer from our deacons and friends. We can request to go on a marriage retreat. And more than anything, we can talk with our spouses about the reality of our marriage and seek God’s wholeness together.

Psychologist and author Dr. John Gottman has learned that 69% of the conflict we experience in marriage is perpetual. The majority of differences originating from our family of origin, personality and preferences cannot be merely resolved. We must learn to love each other in the midst of these particular tensions and conflicts, mutually submitting as Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:21. Though this research can initially cause much frustration and discouragement, in the end it leads to freedom, growth and joy. We no longer have to strive for that perfect conflict free marriage, but can learn instead what God is doing in us through it.

This leads me to the second thing I’d suggest: Don’t Expect Your Spouse to Make You Happy

I love officiating weddings. The highlight of every wedding is when the couple offers vows to each other. Unfortunately, more often than not, couples are commenting on how the other fulfills them or offering to fulfill the other. We often fall into the trap that this person will be the one who fills up the emptiness within us. When they inevitably do not, we are confused, hurt, frustrated and can get quite angry.

As a child, I remember watching the film Love is a Decision by Smalley and Trent (also a great book). The image of a cup with water being poured into it came on the screen. They teach how we can often look to our spouse as the one to fill our cup. Yet, through their little or big actions and lack of fulfilling our expectations, they often end up drilling holes in our cup. They go on to talk about our hope that kids will fill us up. Of course, they can drill even bigger holes.

My people have committed a compound sin:
they’ve walked out on me, the fountain
Of fresh flowing waters, and then dug cisterns—
cisterns that leak, cisterns that are no better than sieves (Jeremiah 2:13)

I’m not encouraging you to call your marriage a broken cistern, not on a date night anyway! But remember that there is only One who truly fills us. God calls us to live an authentic life of seeking that fulfillment in Him. Of course, that could mean some hard honesty here as well, admitting that we are dry, confused, empty and asking for help. I’ve found that having a Spiritual Director helps so much: one who encourages me to look at what God is doing through all areas of my life. The more we learn to receive our identity and love from the One who can truly give it to us, the more we can offer that to the one we love, instead of expecting it from them.

Finally, See All of Your Marriage as a Gift From God

Of course, we all believed this when we got married. That was when we were overjoyed that this person loved ME! Tim Keller tells us, “The reason you get a thrill, it’s your ego. Someone I like is responding to me. That’s not love. It’s ego….When someone you admire, admires you, the praise of the praiseworthy is the most satisfying of all. It’s sexy.”

I’m sure that you still see your spouse as a gift to some degree, but perhaps some of what they offer you’d rather not receive. Perhaps some of that sexiness has worn off.

There is a wonderful complexity to marriage that is often messy and confusing. We see our spouse as a gift to us but do not realize that this gift includes disappointment, frustration and hurt. If we are to truly live a fulfilled life, we need to learn to receive the gift of journeying alongside someone who is fallible, broken and learning to love. In the midst of our shared hurts and failed expectations, we may find that we are also accepting each other as we are, and learning to love without the conditions we first brought to our marriage. This not only mirrors God’s love for us (true covenant), but it enables us to become more like God, to be more whole and holy.

How the two of you work together in ministry will often include balancing out your own weaknesses with the other’s strengths. Of course, we must be willing to admit them first. In no other relationship do we have the pressure of being with someone 24/7. We thought that was the gift of continual loving companionship and support, and though we do receive that, we also come up against the frustration of our egos, when we are not loved the way we think we should be. In ministry this can even be worse, when they are not supporting us like we think they should. If we are open to see what God is doing in us through that frustration, we might be able to see what God is truly doing in our spouse.

This work is deep, but can be done in us through the gift of our marriage, if we are only willing to receive it. As Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage, likes to say, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”

Expecting Conflict, Not Expecting Our Spouse to Make Us Happy , and Seeing Our Marriage as a Gift From God, will enable us to continue in ministry as an authentic partnership with our spouse. Yes, I do believe these tools are helpful in saving marriages, as well as thriving in sustainable ministry. Much more than that, I believe that viewing our marriages this way opens us up to God’s wholeness in amazing ways and allows us to live out the Kingdom of God more fully.

Space to be Truly Present

By Cailey Morgan

Over the past several articles, I’ve been taking a look at some of the paradigm shifts that Brad Brisco suggests in Missional Essentials are crucial to us as God’s people learning to live out our purpose as His sent ones.

We discussed how our posture must change from doing ministry to, or even ministry for, to ministry with. With is a much more patient and intimate way of gospelling, that takes place wherever we happen to live our lives—our homes, our workplaces, our schools, our shopping haunts.

But practically, what does this look like for us? How do we live out ministry with in a hyper-individualized, over-scheduled culture of fear and isolation? Again, my themes arise from Brad Brisco’s work, as well as thoughts from Ray Oldenburg, Tim Keller and Richard Swenson. In the next few posts, let’s take a look at our homes, our workplaces and third spaces—and ultimately our hearts—to explore opportunities for mission in each sphere of life.

First Places: Our Homes
Our homes and neighbourhoods are a very basic building block for living as missionaries. Jesus exemplified radical hospitality, and had a lot to say about how we are to treat our neighbours, and the opportunities that our homes present us for genuine witness. Having people into our homes, and finding ways to be present in the community in hopes of being invited into others’ spaces, is an avenue for evangelism we all should be living out.

Home Sweet Home by jlhopgood CC BY-ND 2.0

However, most of us are not.

As Brisco says, “How on earth can we expect to love our neighbours if we don’t know their names?” We all have neighbours, but everyone I’ve talked to has said it’s a struggle to get to know those living near them. Some of us don’t like initiating new relationships. Some of us see our neighbours in their gardens as we drive by, but never have the time to stop and chat. Some of our neighbours operate under “stranger danger” and don’t trust us—or sometimes we’re the ones who have built walls to “protect” our families, which really end up perpetuating the lack of trust.

So how do we grow in using the first space—our homes—as part of our life of mission? I think there are three elements we can evaluate.

1. Trust. What are three ways that your willingly offer your time, talents, treasures and relationships to the Father? What are three ways that you take matters into your own hands? This evaluation can be sensitive, because we need to look at who’s really in control of our iCals, our kids, and what we turn to for identity and value.

In the book Untamed, Deb Hirsch does not mince words in her evaluation of whether we trust God with our home life:

the family has effectively become a pernicious idol…missional hospitality is seen as a threat, not an opportunity…our families and our homes should be places where people can experience a foretaste of heaven. Where the church is rightly viewed as a community of the redeemed from all walks of life.

2. Relationship. Do you know your neighbours? Shannon and I love the neighbourhood mapping exercise of drawing the street and seeing how many neighbours you can name. This exercise becomes especially helpful when you use it as a basis for prayer. Lord, how should I pray for the people in that home? What are my opportunities to be the answer to those prayers? Sometimes, the next step is to just knock and say hi.

3. Space. How about an audit of your home and how it could be used creatively to bring people together? Some of us might need to roll our barbecues onto the front porch so that we’re more visible from the street. Others could throw a neighbourhood party in the garage.

I have some friends in an apartment building who got permission from the manager to turn an unused piece of courtyard into a community garden. Not only are they spending evenings sowing and weeding with their neighbours, but they also bring their morning coffee out to the patio table in the garden and hang out with whoever joins them.

A helpful resource here is Don’t Invite Them to Church: Moving From a Come and See to a Go and Be Church by Karen Wilk. This flexible guidebook will help you, your small group, or your church get started in neighborhood ministry and missional living.

Next time, we’ll work through the major roadblock to neighbouring: our time, or seeming lack thereof.

This is the fourth article in a series. Read the other posts here:

  1. Why, Oh Why?
  2. The Missionary Nature of God and His Church
  3. Incarnational Presence
  4. Space to be Truly Present
  5. Missional Margin
  6. Missional Mindset in Everyday Spaces

Mission is Slow

This article by Preston Pouteaux is reposted from Forge Canada’s Missional Voice newsletter, December 2015.

As a pastor I’ve made it a practice of mine to write letters to people. I used to write cards by hand, but that changed when I bought a used Lettera 22 typewriter. It’s old, and a bit finicky, but oddly satisfying.

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When I meet new people, or want to encourage a friend, there is something good that happens when I pull down my typewriter and take it out of the case. It takes a few minutes to set up, find a nice sheet of small typewriter paper, and adjust the ribbon. I take that time to think about what I want to write, how I want to convey my thoughts. Then, clack, clack, clack, I write. It’s nothing like writing a column, email, tweet, or essay. It’s slow, methodical, and strangely raw. Typewriters have no “backspace” or way of correcting mistakes. If I make an error, it stays on the sheet, perhaps crossed out, but there nonetheless. Typing takes time and I find myself getting to the point of what I want to say. Maybe, “thanks for being my neighbour” is all I need to say sometimes.

The real magic comes from sending the letter in the mail. In a world of emails and junk mail, a personally written letter sent with intentionality is a powerful and countercultural gesture. My typewriter, a stack of paper, and some stamps have transformed relationships and conversations. Sending letters or cards might seem like a grandmotherly kind of activity, right there along with crochet or 1000-piece puzzles. Yet I’ve found that a moment spent sending a letter, expressing my thoughts in simple and kind ways, can shape the way I see others, and allow God space to speak.

Years ago I painted portraits of people in our church congregation. It’s a project that turned into something larger. But at the time I would simply sit down with some watercolour paints and a blank piece of paper and create. It was slow work, each painting would take days or weeks. But as I would sit and paint I would find myself praying. Almost like sitting with the person in real life; I was asking God to bless them, I would wonder what God was doing in their lives, and I would just be present to God’s nudging in my own heart. It was a unique experience in my life and I don’t think I’ve ever prayed so much for other people as I had when I was painting their portraits. It was a function, I believe, of simply being present and patient with them, before God.

When I’m in my office clacking away on my little blue typewriter I find myself entering a similar place of prayer for the people I am writing to. The slow work of writing this way allows me a moment to listen, reflect, and allow God space to speak. My Lettera 22 typewriter is a little altar of prayer.

A few years ago I wrote to Eugene Peterson. He is a voice of wisdom for pastors and his books have taught me to reflect about the pace and posture of my life as a pastor and neighbour. By slowing down and living intentionally with the people and place where God has brought me, I’m more likely to see and participate in what God is already doing all around me. Eugene Peterson has long since been retired and I heard he was living somewhat off the grid. Or at the very least, he wasn’t checking his Twitter or Facebook feeds like the rest of us. So I pulled out my typewriter and wrote him the old fashioned way. I had been thinking a lot about what it means to love my neighbours, slowly, patiently, and attentively. I asked for his advice, and surprisingly, received a letter back. He wrote two pieces of wisdom in his letter that I think about often: “being a pastor is the most context-specific work there is” and “the most dangerous thing is impatience…keep it slow.”

Writing letters to people is deeply contextual. Social media and sharing articles go out into the world and can be read across contextual lines, and there is a place for that. But letters bring us back to the local places where God is working among us. They are written to a particular person, in a particular place. They are hyper-contextual and that makes them deeply powerful. Personal letters declare that the small, the unseen, the personal, and the kind are values we hold dear. From God’s perspective, these activities are never done in vain, in fact, they may be the most life transforming activities we can engage in. Never underestimate the potency and beauty of deeply context specific work, like being a pastor with a typewriter.

Going slow is never a waste. By being impatient with the people we seek to encourage or comfort with our letters, we rush past what God may be doing. I’ve had people come up to me months after I had written (and forgot that I had written) them a letter.

The slow process of intentional communication doesn’t have a built-in immediate response and gratification mechanism. You can’t click a button to publicly “like” that I sent you a note. You can only engage in the same intentional way. Slow builds trust, friendship, and life.

Living missionally requires that we think differently about many of our practices, and try on new practices that could help us engage in the patient way of Jesus within the places where we live. How we speak, write, or care for others reflect what we value and believe to be true about God’s work in our midst. What does slow and intentional communication look like between you and your neighbours? In what ways can you reflect the Kingdom of God in the way you speak and encourage others?

Preston Pouteaux, DMin. Tyndale Seminary, is a National Team member with Forge Canada, and is a pastor at Lake Ridge Community Church in Chestermere, Alberta. He studied at Briercrest College, Regent College, Tyndale Seminary, and Jerusalem University College in Israel. Preston is the author of Imago Dei to Missio Dei. He’s an avid beekeeper. @prestonpouteaux

Neighbourhood Front Porch

This past summer my husband and I intentionally decided it was time to meet our neighbours and get to know them. We have lived in our neighbourhood for 20 years and every year I have wanted to throw some kind of summer party and invite the people who live around us.

We live on mountain acreages and for the most part we can’t actually see our neighbours and even after 20 years here, have no idea what some of them even look like!4038233322_68f53080e4_z

So I came up with Neighbourhood Front Porch, made up invitations and put them in the mailboxes on a stretch of our road. My husband got the yard ready, likely wondering what I’ve gotten us into! The premise was that in days gone by, neighbours would gather to enjoy the summer evening by sitting on one another’s front porches, sharing cool drinks. That had become a lost art form in our remote control garage door, multiple activity, internet community society. To my utter amazement, people came! We talked, played yard games, ate, drank and enjoyed learning about one another.

And we did it all summer long! Thus the beginnings of community, though embryonic, has come to life.

It is my hope, that this blog will become a type of Front Porch for all who are curious and/or committed about being the presence of Christ in the places and spaces where we all live, work, play and pray. That we learn together what it means as followers to be incarnational and missional in our unique contexts and communities and how Christ Communities can grow organically out of our shared spaces in everyday, ordinary life.

This space is for conversation and dialogue. For story-sharing, idea sharing and exploring-
sharing. For wrestling. For encouragement. For praying for one another. And for sipping lemonade!

Come join us on this journey to watch the presence of Christ among us deliver God’s peace, joy, love, healing, hope and salvation in us and through us.

Here’s a question to perhaps get us started: What would it take to reach into your neighbourhood/community context for Christ?

I look forward to hanging out here with you. Pax!

Shannon