Pruning the Good

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At the end of each growing season, the vinedresser prunes the branches that were most productive during the season. Rather than have them sap the energy from next season’s fruit by growing the branch, they will cut the branch back drastically. Even though it has been highly productive, perhaps even because it was highly productive, it will be pruned. When the new growing season starts all the energy stored up in the vine is able to find its way to the new fruit rather than the old branch.

When I read this I had an “ah-ha” moment. Finally something made a bit of sense about the last year and a half. You see, while I wasn’t altogether surprised by my move to Chicago, it wasn’t one I was quite ready for. I felt like I still had so much more to do where I was. Not only that but I had people around me that I was able pour into and who poured into me. I had family, impact, and many plans.

Yet God very clearly moved me to the city. I’ve loved living here, don’t get me wrong. As I’ve often mentioned, Chicago is the first place that I’ve truly felt at home. Granted most of that had to do with my internal peace and healing, but still there is something about this city that makes me come alive. The people, the food, the energy, the lake, the opportunities, the diversity, the brokenness, the beauty that arises even out of the worst situations are all things I’ve found in Chicago. This is where I know I’m suppose to be.

Still I feel like my right arm has been cut off. Outside of a small group of people, I’m not involved in the lives of others as I once was. I no longer do life with people who I could call up at a moments notice, who worked side by side with me in my neighborhood, who I was able to disciple and pour into, who discipled and poured into me. For the first year, I attributed it to moving, getting established in my new work and world, and the reality of proximity. But I think there is something more at work. I have a sense that in this second year, there is something that will come out of the pruning of the good.

Rather than bemoan the fact that I’m no longer tightly connected to the people I love so much, I need to see what is right here. Who and what is God raising up in my life right now? What is God about in this moment? If I focus on then and there, here and now will be lost, as will what is to come. I either trust God and let him prune where he sees fit, or I don’t trust him at all. There is no other choice.

God prunes the good for a good reason. Prune away, Master Vinedresser, prune away!

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Looking for Family

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I’m looking for a family. I’m looking for kids, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, cousins and crazy in-laws. I’m looking for people to do life with. I’m looking to reproduce, add to, and grow a family.

I’m looking for a church.

In a family, as in a church, it isn’t about what I get out of it, but what I can contribute and belong to. It’s about being accepted as I am, encouraged to be the best form of me I can be, loved even when I’m far from my best, and expected to give back for the whole’s benefit. This sounds idealistic, and it is, but I know that it is exactly what God intended for his kids. He intended for us to live life together, on mission, and drawing each other and the world closer to him through it all.

I had a great family while in Wauconda, and the last year has been spent missing them and not trying to place any other family (aka church) in competition. I have not wanted to compare, thus I have not made a commitment to another family. I’ve just been hanging out at their various family events. Yet I feel the time is coming soon for me to join a new family.

I’m torn now between two good, mission-oriented, community-impacting, Bible-centric, imperfect families. You know, my kind of family.Yet I almost feel like this choice between the two might not be the right “choice.” Is it possible to be a part of both? When you marry, don’t you have two families you are now actively a part of? My heart is disinclined to choose. So I wait.

I have a life mantra that always serves me well when I follow it (and has always been proven true when I have not): “When in doubt, don’t.” If I don’t know what to do, then I’m to wait until the way becomes clear. It always does. So I wait. But I don’t think the time is long for the direction to be clear. And quite honestly, I miss being a part of a family. A large, crazy, blended, diverse, passionate, messy family.

A New Chapter

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We must provide tangible opportunities if we want to see lives transformed.

This simple, yet incredibly challenging, statement has been ringing in my heart for months. The problem, however, is knowing in real terms what a transformed life looks like. What does transformation look like in the life of someone who has been held down by poverty or been oppressed? Is it enough that they have food, minimal clothing and shelter? Or is real transformation something more?

In early April I was able to see for myself what real transformation looked like. I attended the 2013 CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) Immersion, where practitioners from across the country came together to learn the key principles of Christian community development and to see the principles put into action.

I knew these principles before the immersion. I understood that doing for someone what they can do for themselves undermined their ability to transform, yet when every program and practice for under-resourced and marginalized people is geared toward dependency however unintentionally, it is hard to stick to what I knew was right. The sheer volume of unhealthy practices made it hard to do the healthy thing. Of course, I can justify that we are at least doing something. Yet that “something” was and still is creating dependency and undermining the image of God in the people we think we are serving. Churches are the biggest culprits, which makes it all the harder.

With the CCDA Immersion I was able to find the guts to stand my ground. Not only that, I had tangible examples of the benefits of doing things differently. With the taste of healthy development and compassion ministries in my mouth it is easy to tell when something is off or artificial. You know the real thing when you taste or see it. As with food so it is with Christian development and compassion. You know it isn’t right even if you can’t explain why. Now I can explain it.

So there is a new chapter in my life. God is moving me to make changes to how compassion ministry is done, starting with my immediate circle and expanding as God gives me inroads. Education is a critical piece. Once people see the benefits of doing things in a healthy way, they will be more inclined to change their service practices. The goal isn’t to blow up all the things currently being done, but it is to make strategic changes to the things that are almost but not quite right. It will take creativity and a heart determined to do no harm, but it is possible to help without hurting.

Another part of this new chapter is to bring unity to Christian community development workers in the suburbs. Too many of us have been frustrated with the Church’s approach to care and compassion. Most churches have yet to see the damage they are doing. For those of us who see it, feel the pain, and yet feel powerless to change the environment, we need one another. We need camaraderie, support, ideas and prayer to help us effect change in our neighborhoods.

So in the next few months, even as I try to bring opportunities to those closest to me, change will be coming. It’s time we do what is right rather than what is easy.

Real Disciple?

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There are two things in life that make me supremely happy: 1) making disciples – helping people grow in their knowledge, faith and journey with God, and 2) caring for people who are poor and oppressed.

On the surface it would seem that these two passions are aligned. To me they are. Yet for the vast majority of the Church, they are not. Not in practice. Too often not even in theory or theology.

This is a historical problem. The Israelites had two things that God continually had to call them on the carpet about: idolatry and ignoring the poor and oppressed. They neither loved God nor loved their neighbor. After awhile God had enough and sent them into exile.

When they returned, part of the lesson was learned, but it was not the full lesson. Sure they no longer practiced idolatry. Indeed, they set up more rules than God. Co-mingling with non-Jews was verboten and self-righteousness became the rule.

Jesus comes on the scene at this point. He continually challenged the religious people for their lack of care for the poor. Their self-righteousness separated them from the heart of God. Jesus was never angry at the sinners, the poor, the non-Jews. Even if he didn’t initially answer their plea, he was never angry with them. That cannot be said for the religious folks. He called them all kinds of names, as did his cousin John. He called them out on their duplicity and their callousness to those in need. Jesus never pulled any punches with them but hit them hard with the truth that their hearts were far from God. No wonder they killed him.

Over the last two millennia the Church has found itself more often aligned with the religious people of Jesus’ day than with Jesus himself. I think the main reason for this that it is easy to keep life in the black and white. Don’t do this. Only do that. Stay away from people who do _________ . We fill in the blank for the thing that is wrong, just as the Pharisees did, yet the blank keeps changing with society. No drinking, smoking, dancing were popular over the last century. None of those fit the bill for real discipleship though. It made it easy for us to keep a life externally “pure” but internally we were just as far from God as the Pharisees.

James, the brother of Jesus, helps us to understand the unity between discipleship and care for the poor. “Pure religion” is keeping oneself pure – right with God, in on-going discipleship – AND caring for the most vulnerable of our society. It is both/and, not either/or. It’s not a choice. In James’ day the widows and the orphans were the most vulnerable, and they still have a place in that pantheon of care. Yet we also have others who are vulnerable: the isolated, alone, unable to care for themselves, abandoned, abused, alienated, wrongly judged. These are our poor and oppressed.

Jesus told us to go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. What seems to be a problem is the kind of disciples that are being made. Too often they do not resemble the Person they are supposed to be following and learning from: Jesus. Jesus took his disciples into places that made them cringe and question. He talked with and cared for people that his disciples were too good to talk to. He led them into houses of sinners, had them hang out with nefarious people, and it still took them far too long to see the rest of the world the way that God did. Jesus trained them by doing, not by reading books. His teaching was in the real world and had immediate real world impact.

The “disciples” we have today look very little like Jesus. I know. I use to be one of them. We have a great deal of knowledge of God’s Word, but it hasn’t entered our hearts enough to allow us to get our hands dirty. When we see someone in need, maybe we’ll donate an item that we no longer need – that’s good, keep doing it! – but we won’t get to know the person with the need. We won’t listen to them, hear their challenges, their joys. We don’t understand the core issues they face. Instead we drop off our goods, feel good about “giving to the poor” and then we move on. But what if we were able to help find or create jobs for people who can’t work traditional jobs? What if we shared our networks of friends? What if we sat down at their tables and let them tell us how to fix the problems in our world? What if we looked more like Jesus?

Jesus cared for the poor, the oppressed, the forgotten and the shameful. He cared for them in a transformative way. As a disciple, I must do the same, not to the exclusion of making more disciples but as an outflow of who I am as disciple. Being a disciple of Jesus means I care about what Jesus cared about. This must include the poor, the oppressed, the vulnerable or I can’t say I’m really a disciple of Jesus. I could be disciple of someone, but it would not be Jesus.

Taking It to the Next Level

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God has made one thing very clear to me: I am called to “defend the weak and the fatherless; do justice for the poor and afflicted.” (Ps 82:3 NKJV) Indeed, rather than backing down from the mission, God is calling me to take it to the next level.

The Success
Over the last two years I have seen first hand the impact of intentionally living in mission. My presence in the mobile home park has made a clear difference in people’s lives. By being intentional among my neighbors I have aided and added to the impact others have had in reaching this neighborhood. My missional community has a greater influence because I am here and leading the charge. Without me here, the relationships and influence would be drastically reduced, if not non-existent. I do not say that out of pride but out of the reality of what it demands to reach the poor. Poverty will not be transformed from the outside; it will only happen from within. The last two years have made this very clear.

Something else that has become clear is the hunger people have for life stories, both mine and my neighbors. People have responded to the stories with enthusiasm and conviction. One woman told me,

I have been so blessed by your writings. It has made me become a better person and a more humble person. Reading deeply stirs my heart and soul to recognize that I need to do more, reach out more, be more sensitive to those in need….and…..be available to help those that are asking for help with a need or needs. I feel inadequate, because I don’t think I have much…but you have shown me that time is a gift too.

The Continued Problem
I am humbled and grateful for her response, but also realize that there are many out there who have yet to recognize the need for healthy involvement among the poor. It seems like people either do too little or too much in the wrong way. Both extremes do more harm than good.

The current political climate has not helped in recognizing the issues of poverty either. More questions have arisen about what is the role of individuals, churches, businesses and government in dealing with poverty, but there have been few answers. Whatever ratio of individuals to church to business to government you adopt, I believe it is the job of the Church to be leading the way in transforming the lives of those on the margins and among the vulnerable of our society. It is part of our mandate as followers of Christ. Yet far too many in the Church seem surprised by my stories and the tales of need in their own back yards. This must change.

The Next Level
So while I continue to lead and live in mission within the mobile home park, God is also calling me to inspire, educate and connect the Church with the poor and oppressed.

The specifics of how this will be done will be determined in the next six months. I do not have clear answers, though I have a thousand ideas that keep me up at night and wake me up in the morning. My next steps demand I:

  • Build a board of advisors around me for both personal accountability to the local mission but also for the direction of this expanded role and for fundraising.
  • Converse with groups and organizations around the Chicago area so I can learn, contribute and network. Many conversations have already happened.
  • Learn from experts in poverty engagement as well as those in media, publishing and social networking. The goal is to come alongside organizations with my unique abilities and experience, get the stories into the churches and train believers to effectively engage those in need.

How to Help

  • Give financially. I need financial support for these next six months. I have a fundraising goal of $1500-$2000 per month through April 2013. Will you financially support me during this time? Your gift will help me meet my own needs even as I seek long-term grants, sponsors and supporters. Your gift will also make it possible for me to continue in the mission which is currently bearing fruit. Fusion Church is continuing to give me financial accountability and oversight. Any gifts can be made out to Fusion Church and sent to Kim Dougherty c/o Fusion Church PO Box 592 Lake Zurich, IL 60047 with “COC” in the memo.
  • Introduce me. I need to be introduced to people and organizations who could expand my networks. Will you send me contacts and help introduce me to people engaged with poverty alleviation? I am meeting each week with a new person or group, but I need more contacts and names. Personal referrals are always best.
  • Connect me. I also need contacts and introductions to people in publishing, marketing, social networking and other ways of telling the stories of those working among the poor. I have many questions that need answers.
  • Pray for me. Most importantly, I need your prayers. God is the one who has birthed this vision. He is guiding me and opening doors. Pray he continues to do so and that I hear him clearly. Pray the funding comes in. Without that, moving forward will be impossible. Pray also for the local mission and for others to catch the vision of building relationship with those in my neighborhood. I am specifically seeking a couple to move into the neighborhood and work with me.

Thank you for your prayers, support & encouragement! They mean the world to me!

Where Church Really Happens!

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“I’m very emotional,” my neighbor said to me a few times as he and I watched the team of volunteers install a beautiful new ramp at his trailer. In one Saturday these kind-hearted and generous believers working with Love INC Lake County Southwest installed two entrances to my neighbor’s trailer: a new ramp for his scooter and the reassembly of the front stairs to the back. As each board was put in place and each person stepped up to help, B became overwhelmed. In a good way.

It was only a few months ago that I, some people from Fusion and other Wauconda-ites moved B and his two kids from their rental home to a trailer here in Woodland Village. (That blog post can be read HERE). He was a desperate man, with few real relationships and significant challenges. These challenges became greater as he lost his job due to state funding cut backs for the disabled. Yet over the last month or two, as Eric and others from Fusion established and fostered relationship with him, B found the strength to reach out again.

Having made a commitment to Christ as a child but not having really lived it for many years, he now recommitted his life and found new power to move forward despite all the issues he faced. As he opened himself up again, realizing that we were there for him no matter what his circumstances were and that we would like him no matter what others might say, God brought a freedom he could not contain. His countenance, his voice and his demeanor were open and even joyful despite the bleakness of his financial situation. What changed most for him was that he had found friends who lived out their faith and loved him unconditionally.

On Saturday B and I sat in awe of the ramp. But what awed both of us most as we talked was that it was the relationships made in the last few months that really had changed his life. People, like B, need help in tangible ways sometimes. They need a ramp to help them get in and out of their homes, or a new door to keep them warm in the winter, or new brakes to keep them safe. Those things are needed, no doubt. But what is most important are the relationships that give strength and joy. Without people loving us and caring for us, even when we have nothing to offer, we will never succeed in life. That’s true for me as well as for my neighbors, like B. And M. And C. And the five other neighbors I met Saturday. We need love and relationship just as we need air and water.

As I interacted with my neighbors, the volunteers and with B, I found myself worshiping God in the purest form possible. I was being and living Christ! Not that I was doing anything special. I was simply PRESENT as Jesus was present. I found a strength and a power in simply listening to and talking with my neighbors that I had rarely found in the four walls of any church building. As people would ask, “Where is Fusion Church?” We would answer, “We are scattered all over.” The definition of Church for us has nothing to do with a building or a meeting time but in the relationships and places where we live and work each and every day.

This truth was never more real to me than on Saturday. I had CHURCH Saturday and it was nowhere near a steeple, a cross or even lots of other believers. It was in the World, surrounded by people in need, drunks, felons, and people finding joy in the unconditional love of God as demonstrated through his people. Now THAT is where Church happens!

Discipleship & Family

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The 2011 Exponential Conference was an incredible time of learning and challenge. Ideas for implementation of a missional community in Woodland Village took shape through each workshop and main session. The formerly shadowy image of what this community might look like is now taking shape.

Ultimately it comes down to two things: discipleship and family. Our goal is to make disciples…who make disciples…who make disciples. This would seem obvious, but is that what the church is actually doing? With sorrow I have to say that I don’t see nearly enough Christians who look like Jesus, myself too often included. Jesus stood up for the poor, oppressed, sinful and condemned; he stood against racism and discrimination especially in the religious; and he showed everyone what the Kingdom of God was really like. Sadly that complete package has not been evident in most churches around the West.

Jesus replicated himself in his disciples, training, modeling and sending in a continual cycle. By its actions, the church today seems to think that people need to be theologically trained in every way before sending people out to make disciples. Yet by the time training is “complete” the spiritual impetus and energy to go has been worn out by seminars, classes and exclusive small groups. Anyone who knows education knows that practical application is usually the greatest avenue of learning. Failure and success in real application feed the desire (and need) to learn more. Training, modeling, sending, training, modeling, sending become the mode of discipleship. This is what Jesus did with his disciples.

If we take Jesus’ example, we then need to realize that Jesus made disciples in the context of an extended family. They knew each other very well. Jesus’ way of living was open to his disciples. They lived with each other. They were able to see how Jesus interacted with God the Father, themselves, the religious folks, tax collectors, sinners and the world at large. It was in this close relationship that he taught them how to pray, heal, forgive, challenge, love, accept, denounce and proclaim. In this way, he made the disciples who would spread his gospel around the world.

When I was in high school I was involved in evangelism camps, discipleship camps, local and foreign mission trips, as well as intense Bible study. But none of these alone discipled me. No, it was the godly people in my life who discipled me. Pastor Carlier was a great model of care. Mick and Ginger were instrumental in prayer and Bible training. My friends from church gave me a sense of family in the absence of my own. Gene was a great father figure, even if he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. My 10th grade English teacher even discipled me by calling me out in attitudes that were not of Christ. I could mention many more, but it was the people, not the camps or programs that really made me into a disciple of Christ.

So it will be for any of us. It is other disciples who will make disciples, not classes in a church building devoid of any personal interaction. Don’t get me wrong. Those classes can be beneficial, but they will never replace God’s ordained disciple makers – other disciples. It’s time to create a family environment where discipleship is an on-going process which multiplies as the family grows. Love, acceptance, earning the right to speak truth, open relationship and an avenue to exercise one’s faith is how disciples are made and leaders grown.

The missional community in Woodland Village needs to be a family that lives up to our family name and follows the example of our elder brother, Jesus. If we haven’t accomplished that, then we have accomplished nothing.