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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Crazy, Busy, Awesome Week

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I am frequently asked, “So when can we meet?” or “What’s your week look like?” Those are hard questions to answer on a normal week. This week, however, is one for the record books.

And I’m so excited for each and every thing!

Let’s start from….

Sunday

  • Work out at the gym after a few days absence and feel immensely better for it.
  • Talk with the manager of Woodland Village about the fire and ways to help over the holidays.
  • Visit with my neighbor whose trailer burned up the night before to find out what needs she might have. Spend some good time with her and other neighbors Phil and Larry.
  • Gather with Fusion Church to say “goodbye” to Eric and Hannah. So very grateful that goodbye is not really goodbye. Not sure what I’d do without those two. Eventually, I might have to find out, but not yet. Not now. I’m grateful. I also have a great conversation with Lauren and her desire to see greater unity and strength among the Christians at Wauconda High School. She has a vision of the Kingdom of God manifest! Love that girl and her heart to be more!
  • Full day over as I fall asleep until….

Monday

  • I awaken at 1:30 AM and realize, when I am thinking of doing a push up at 2AM, that it is pointless to try to sleep longer. So I make my lists, watch an episode of Castle, drink a pot of coffee and pray. At 5AM I’m at the gym doing those 2AM inspired push ups.
  • I go to my steady client, Moberg’s Auto, and inadvertently send a less than stellar email to 800 customers. Still I am able to finish early and head to my next client which goes remarkably well. I am done and leaving Gurnee by 2PM. This gives me time to…
  • Do laundry! This morning I had used the last of my “do-rags” at the gym, so laundry is critical if I intend to work out again this week. There are many things that my new life does not have. Most of those things I don’t notice much. Today I realize the greatest “sacrifice” of my new life: no laundry in my apartment. With all these sweaty, icky work out clothes, I now have to find time to run downstairs – sometime between 8:30AM-8:00PM – to run a couple of loads. This is not as easy as it sounds, as this post will attest. But I finish early with clients and complete two loads. Woo hoo!
  • 5:30 whYBS meets for our Bulldog Monday! whYBS is a group of junior and senior high Wauconda students from various churches that meets for discipleship, friendship and growth. The first Monday of the month we gather for food and fun at Bulldog’s Grill in Wauconda. Okay, we have food and fun EVERY Monday, but this one is strategically so. With the girls busy in their musical and academic endeavors this week, it is me and the guys. Hanging out with junior and senior high guys, plus a parent and leader, is always an adventure! Love those guys!
  • Finally to bed after 21 hours awake. Ah….

Tuesday

  • Work out in freshly laundered clothes. Beautiful thing!
  • Go to Moberg’s Auto where I find all the bogus emails, fix the abysmal email templates and raise my frustration threshold with the new database to a whole new level. This is when I realize I need a retreat…or at least a really good prayer meeting in my car before my next client. After a short lunch in the park and time to decompress, I head to my 95-year-old client’s to pay a couple of bills and check on things. Good news! He found his hearing aids!
  • With Tuesday being one of my regularly long days, I spend the time between my client and Inside/Out (see next bullet point) working on emails, updating information, reading up on mission/spiritual formation of teenagers/mentoring/community development/missional theology/Facebook, or squeezing in a client or meeting as needed.
  • 6PM – 8PM I spend with a great group of immigrant and inner city kids in Waukegan at a program called Inside/Out. We meet at Iglesia Emanuel to play, learn, eat and intersect in kids’ lives before the world gets too hard a hold, all in the name of Christ. Technically the group is ages 4-12, but tonight we had little Angel popping in and out (almost 2 years old) and Brian, an I/O alum, who is now a junior leader (almost 16 years old). When it is a small group, I love the personal time we can spend with the kids. They bring me such joy and sometimes heartache. I would love to take many of them home with me, but that is not what God has asked me to do. No, I am there with them when I can, while I can, loving on and learning from them.
  • Then it’s home where I try to decompress from a full evening. Tonight I spend it telling you about my week.

Wednesday

  • Work out! With my full schedule I must find a routine of exercise to foster deep sleep. Since I have a full Tuesday, Wednesday is a slightly later start. So instead of a 4:30AM wake up alarm, it’s 5:30AM. Maybe 6:30AM if it’s REALLY late (like now).
  • Every two months or so I have a client in Wisconsin I work with on Wednesday mornings. Other Wednesdays I have appointments or am prepping for our Wednesday night Missional Village Gathering (see later bullet point). When the meeting is at my place or in the picnic area, I clean and cook. When it is elsewhere, I cook then clean. This Wednesday is a rare treat: I don’t have to cook OR clean. But I do have appointments.
  • Meet with Eric to discuss plans for the Missional Village. We really do need to come up with a name for our group. Hoping God will reveal that to us soon.
  • Meet with Pastor Alma. I’m so looking forward to catching up with this wonderfully unique senior pastor. It’s been far too long! I also sense that God has something in store with this meeting. Hmmm…what could He be up to now?
  • Missional Village Gathering at Bill’s tonight! With the colder weather, we are needing to be more strategic in our gatherings and impact in the community. During the summer it was a matter of establishing our presence and becoming known. Now we must be creative in how we are doing that. Tonight we are meeting just down the way from the fire and in a section of the park that God seems to be focusing his attention. Hmmm…what will God do tonight?

Thursday

  • Work out! Yes, again. As Monday and prior weeks have proven, my sleep can get seriously whacked. One of the healthiest and most effective means of managing a good night’s rest is to keep a rigid work out schedule early in the morning. I have been unusually lax this year and it is telling in both my fitness level and my sleep level. So working out it is!
  • Moberg’s Auto again! More work on the marketing and communication, as well as keeping up on the finances. I love working with Pete because his main focus, aside from maintaining impeccable integrity and honesty in a notoriously dishonest industry, is to give to organizations that have impact in the community and the world for Christ. From students from Sri Lanka to Deerfield (IL), he is giving. For people in need through Love INC or Teen Mother Choices, Pete is using the business to further God’s kingdom. It’s a great business model that more people should embrace. At least I think so anyway.
  • Monthly board meeting for Love INC Lake County Southwest. Until our upcoming fiscal year is over in February, I am serving as both Secretary and Treasurer. It has been challenging in the last month or two to get time in the day to review things as I’d like, but today will get me caught up. As I look at the stories that line the walls of the Love INC office, I’m challenged and excited to see that many are from my neighborhood. God placed me in Woodland Village for a very real purpose. Being on the board of Love INC SW allows me to be a connection between those we serve and those doing the serving. Funding is always needed. So is an intimate knowledge and understanding of those being served. That is my unique role on the board.
  • Meeting 5:30PM with George and Jin from Church Supporters Network to see if and/or how my church finance knowledge can be of use to the larger body. Hmmm…what will God spark now?

Friday

  • Can you guess? Yes, work out! Laundry is building up quickly, but then so is muscle.
  • Moberg’s again! A couple of hours four times a week is a very real help to meeting my basic financial obligations. I am a horrible fund-raiser, though I desperately need to change that so I have more time to devote to the teens in Wauconda and the Woodland Village neighborhood. So much discipleship and outreach potential is waiting to be developed! (You could help! Check out the “About the Mission” page above on how to do that).
  • In all this busy-ness I am grateful for the times in my car. These hours are filled with prayer and petition. Much as I did as a teen, driving is my prayer closet. What a gift for me, particularly today!
  • On every third Friday or so, I have a client in Mt. Prospect for whom I do his bills and other personal business. This is that Friday. He is the son of my Tuesday 95-year-old client. When God opened the door for this opportunity in January, it was just what I needed financially. This client is a CEO of a company but is unable to pay his bills, not for lack of funds but for forgetfulness and physical illness. It’s been a unique experience, and I’m confident it was God who has placed me in this man’s life. Hmmm…I wonder how God will reach this man and bring him into relationship to himself?
  • SO EXCITED! I’m taking four of my Waukegan kids to see one of my Wauconda kids in the CYT production of Fiddler on the Roof in Zion. My worlds collide in the most beautiful way! I would love to have all my Wauconda and Waukegan kids there together, but I’ll take what I can get. I’m particularly excited to spend extra time with Brian, Brittany, Elias and Jacky, something I rarely get to do since I’m so far away. That means I will need to bust it from Mt. Prospect to Waukegan by 4:45PM, then up to Zion after our dinner by 6:45PM. I’ll drop the kids off at 10PM and head home to Wauconda for some much-needed rest because…

Saturday

  • Lewie, who I recently recruited to work with the whYBS guys and who comes to the Missional Village, along with his Thursday men’s discipleship group will be helping my neighbor Larry with his roof and anything else they can get Larry to agree to. (Hmmm…Lewie sounds like he is having his own crazy, busy, awesome week!) The woman whose trailer burned on Saturday night had told me about Larry’s roof and the hole caused by debris falling from the overhanging trees. When Lewie asked if there was anything his group could do in the neighborhood, I was excited to think of what God might do on a more personal level in Larry’s life. Larry is a chain-smoking, chain-drinking retired construction worker. Hundreds of beer cans litter his living room as well as wait in bags outside. The living condition of the trailer is abysmal. This Saturday morning I will be providing assistance and connection as the guys work on Larry’s place. Much as I did when B’s ramp was being built, I will build relationships first and foremost. I will also be looking for other ways the neighborhood can be developed. Hmmm…what, oh what, will God do?! So exciting to see doors open by his hand!
  • Once the project is over on Saturday I will tackle the cleaning in preparation for Monday’s whYBS gathering at my place. This happens every other week as we focus on discipleship. Every third Monday we focus on prayer and worship with The Church of Wauconda High School. But Discipleship Monday is coming up so I need to clean.
  • I also need to finalize my sermon on Mark 10:46-52 for…

Sunday

  • Once a month I preach at a nursing home in Lindenhurst. I love leading these dedicated seniors as well as challenging them to continue living fully for God. Singing the old hymns with them is a blast. Fusion Church isn’t really big on hymns, understandably since the majority of the church is well under 40. Coming here also gives me a regular outlet for my passion of preaching the Word. I love it, and I love them.
  • With the end of the service, I may swing by a sister church in Gurnee where a friend is preaching and where I have other dear friends. OR I might just head home, though that sounds much too anti-climatic.
  • 5PM Chael Tiller, the new lead pastor of Fusion Church (center and to the left of the former lead pastor, Eric), will present his thoughts on where Fusion is heading.

With that fitting end my crazy, busy and awesome week succumbs to another not-quite-so crazy but still busy, awesome week.

Hmmm…I wonder what God has dreamed up next?

First Family Gathering

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Wednesday night we had our first missional village/missional community/family gathering here in Wauconda. The reason for the long, drawn out description is because each of those names fits. We are a missional village focusing on people with needs in Wauconda, one among many missional villages within Fusion Church. This name describes one of three gatherings in Fusion: LTGs (Life Transformation Groups), Missional Villages, and the Sunday Gathering. We are a missional community because there are others outside of Fusion, but a part of another body of believers, that have joined (or will join) us. This is a kingdom endeavor after all. We are a family because it is a place where all are welcome and will be treated like family.

On Wednesday about 12 of us gathered for a meal and to get to know one another. As we make this a regular gathering, our numbers will increase, fluctuate and multiply. Our family is made of the “nuclear” family, those of us who call God Father and Jesus Brother, and the extended family, those who have not yet joined God’s family. It was with great joy that my new neighbors (see previous post) were able to join us as family.

Yes, it is semantics to say “family.” I could call us lots of other things, but the fact is, this is most accurately who we are. Think about someone who was very special to you, someone you enjoyed spending time with. As a kid, then as a young adult, you would bring these people home to your family. If you had a really great family, then it made it all the easier. You wanted to share this family relationship and let others share in it too. For those whose own families were less than special, finding a loving and accepting family was like water to the soul. That’s how it was for me as a child.

This is our way of “dating” or “wooing” people to Christ. You see, God is deeply in love with each and every human being. As His family, we are deeply in love as well (or at least trying). So we spend time with people not yet in the family. We get to know them. Let them get to know us. Our lives and actions are open. Our failings and struggles are dealt with and left uncovered. We speak truth in love, and we love in truth. These are elements that all humans need, both family and not-yetters. It’s assumed that some will chose not to join the family, not to be adopted in, but it will be their conscious choice. We will still love and enjoy spending time with them, just like Jesus did.

So for us to bring others into this family setting, it shows them Jesus by how we live and love, not by what we preach. When the time is right, our actions will become welcomed words. The family is and emulates love, acceptance and loyalty. Through steadfast relationship people will find value and peace in a chaotic world, and ultimately they will find Jesus.

This idea of family and doing life together is nothing new. Many more traditionally organized churches than Fusion have made attempts. Unfortunately, most of what I have seen is something that only relates to family members and rarely leads to multiplication. Not-yetters would never feel comfortable in those settings. They don’t share the same values or culture. The language is unknown and the attitudes toward certain behaviors is not very welcoming. Inclusion of other people and ideas is uncomfortable and unsettling for most. This breeds exclusivity and isolation. The “community” formed becomes gated and closed off. I know. I once lived in such a gated community. Praise God I was able to get out in order to live.

We are an open community. We will live openly holy lives in the midst of openly unholy people. I’m expecting shocking things to happen and ugliness to come out, but what better place for that to happen than in a place where such things are dealt with? These same things happen all the time in other churches but are rarely handled well or at all. Here we will love and confront and still love.

So our first family gathering was a success. It was a success because we could be ourselves as God’s family, following the example our Eldest Brother whose name we bear.

Outdoor Space: A Prayer Request

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This February has taught me one thing (among a few others) about this mission: I need to find a space in the flow of life in my neighborhood. It has been clear from the beginning of my time here in the mobile home park, my neighbors live very insulated and isolated lives. Many people in the larger Wauconda community hardly know Woodland Village is here, so my neighbors are relegated to their own corner of town. Yet they themselves stay very much apart, even from each other. I guess that isn’t terribly different from most neighborhoods these days, but being a self-contained neighborhood with little interaction with each other and the greater world is unhealthy and spiritually bankrupt. I need to break into that isolation and insulation in a non-threatening, life-giving way.

My idea is simple. I want to create an urban garden outside my front door. My barn apartment is centrally located. Everyone drives by it or stops to get their mail there daily. But it is ugly. White pealing paint mars the exterior and concrete spreads from it in all directions. I do feel very much like I’m in an urban area, despite being in a barn. I want to put flowers and possibly vegetables in pots along the sidewalk and on the area right behind my car which is marked off by bent poles protecting an old well.  Sounds like a simple idea, but I need favor from the manager and the owners. I definitely need favor because I also want to find a plot of land in the neighborhood for a community garden.

The ethos of the management and (possibly) the owners is to let things go until they absolutely need to be repaired. This ethos is shared by many of my neighbors. It creates a vicious cycle of living from crisis to crisis. For my neighbors it is often due to a lack of funds to handle normal maintenance. While I won’t be asking anything of the management or owners that would seem to impinge on this ethos (all the work and materials would be supplied by me and my cohorts), I want to have freedom to make this garden a thing of beauty for the entire community. I want to put a couple of chairs out there for my enjoyment and for people to stop by and sit. My concern stems from this ethos as well as the push back I’ve had in a rigidity to some old ways of doing things and rules.

So please pray that I have favor for both my urban garden as well as the community garden. Pray that the manager does not say no before asking the owners, but that she sees the benefit to the property. Pray that the owners (a group of lawyers) sees the benefit in community development. Pray that this will help build relationships between myself, my neighbors, the community and the owners. Pray that donations for materials comes through. Pray for the plan and layout of the space.

I hope to create an oasis in the midst of this place open for all to stop and take a breath.

Here are some more before (current) pictures. The need is clear.