Soup Kitchen Ministry

SoupKitchen If I were a betting monk, I’d bet you think you know what kind of ministry we’re about to discuss. Well, you may be surprised.

Consistent with my own upbringing and training, I don’t administer from the viewpoint that “God ordains/raises/calls forth minist-RIES”, but that He calls minist-ERS with a peculiar burden and calling to meet particular needs of people.

Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He *said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” [Matthew 9:35-38]

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Consider:

An ordained minister who joins the Marine Corps, serves for five years with distinction, does two tours of deployment in the Middle East, and returns safely to demobilize. Upon returning home, rejoining family, and attending his old home church, he finds he can no longer connect. In fact, he comes to the conclusion that he has utterly lost his faith, no longer even certain that God exists.

Or

A dedicated Christian who has served as youth minister and now is early in career as an EMT providing ambulance service with a fire department. Seeks supportive prayer after completing a call to a child injured by abuse who suffered for hours, and may not survive her hospital stay.

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EMT’s, Firefighters, Police, Medical Personnel, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Veterans… all are people who are (or who may be) exposed at any time to sights, sounds, smells, and situations that none of us need or want to see. When we, as human beings, spend considerable time in horrific situations, we make adjustments… mental, emotional, even spiritual adjustments to maintain our balance and sense of self control. The fancy word for this is often “dissociate”. We “distance ourselves” from empathy, sympathy, and the personal experience of suffering, pain, or trauma.

Such traumatic environments are sometimes called “soup”… and the sojourner new to such traumatic environments will be told, “You’re in the ‘Soup’ now, bud.” (Of course, if not in mixed or polite company, the word “soup” may be replaced with another, more descriptive, term.) Such sojourners may find the raw reality with which they’ve dealt, difficult to reconcile with the “Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild”, or the community church’s domesticated God. They often find it equally difficult to relate to the general community of relationships, or even their own families or spouse.

There is “texture” to a “community”. A shared background of outlook and experiences. When individuals enter into an “alien” or “unpredictable” community they adjust, sometimes creating permanent change. Many of our neighbors, even (probably) a fair number of our congregants or their family members, may have made such adjustments and changes. Perhaps they have “fallen away” from church attendance.

This isn’t a post about “getting more people into the church pews”. Heaven forbid!

This is a post about making Christ, His living Presence accessible to those who may feel disconnected or numb in their spiritual senses. This isn’t a “How To DIY” program outline. I cannot tell you how to engage those who have “lost their first love” relationship with Jesus, and nurture its transformation into a broader, deeper, richer, more mature relationship. But I CAN share a few ideas, principles, seeds… that you and your brethren may care to consider.

(1) Healing comes through trusting relationship, and those relationships are most easily formed with another, or others, who have been there themselves. If you are a veteran, an emergency services worker, or have been a chaplain, then you may be well suited to this personal ministry. If not, do you have one in your congregation? Or do you know one?

(2) Healing comes through grace touching heart to heart, not professional intervention. There is a right place and time for professional services. When everyday living or commonplace relationships are challenged by emotional dysfunction, expert systems are appropriate. But a supportive, encouraging, accepting environment that welcomes people at large, and peers who’ve “been there, done that” in tough situations, is a terrific medium for nurturing healthy relationships.

(3) Healing comes through context more than content. I’m not proposing an “agenda”, a “program”, or a “treatment protocol” by any means. I pose the possibility that making some form of informal fellowship available for interaction among “Been-There-Done-That” folks. Bowling? Cards? Disaster Relief? BBQ Competition Team? Chili Cook-Off Team? Fishing Group? Who knows? Possibilities limited only by imagination.

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So, am I saying “you need” (or “your church needs”) “to go pursue this ministry”? No, no I’m not.

I am asking if this is a need where you are. If it is, I suggest you and others pray and discuss the possibilities, and let the Lord lead and do, as He ever leads and does. You may want to create this unique form of “Soup Kitchen Ministry”, not to provide soup for those who hunger, but to help wash the feet of those who have been mired “in the soup” itself.

Please share any ideas or comments you may have. Particularly if this is something you’ve taken part in addressing, have any suggestions, and are willing to share.

Grace to you, Gentle Reader!

But I am no teacher

I am finding that, as a trainee Local Preacher (always capitalise the title), people want to talk to me. For some reason, just being one of the ones “at the front” endows me with something akin to that of a doctor, or a visiting dignitary.  Why is it that being one of the ones at the front “endows me” with anything at all?

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father – the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” “ Matthew 23:1-12

Therefore … BUT!  Therefore … BUT!  Therefore … BUT!

Imagine if Jesus was here today. Would He be saying this … ? Therefore do what Paul teaches you – BUT … See how he is one of the ones at the front – BUT … You have one Father – one Instructor – and Paul is not it.

Today I am prepping a service for tomorrow with my mentor and tutor.  I was sent an email.  There are children present at the service tomorrow – it is unusual to have children present.  So the suggestion is that we  “engage them” – and then we do a grown-up talk for the grown-ups.  That is what teachers do.

But I am no teacher.

I remember being invited to take part in a Sunday School via skype – me in England and the Sunday School in USA.  I remember there was a child sitting next to the Sunday School leader – who had turned the skype camera/laptop on himself (so I was less of a distraction to the group).  And this child was quite happy.  Quite happy to listen.  Quite happy to watch.  Quite happy NOT to be talked down to (sorry – “engaged”) as a child.

I have also watched many wonderful “children’s films” that work for all ages – no need for “one for children and another for adults”.  And I have a resentment in being encouraged to become a trained performer – able to work an audience – able to entertain an audience – able to use “tools” to engage and “connect”.  I always had – and still have – an alternative view: that all I need to do is get out of His way – and let Him do the “performing and engaging” through me.  Because His “tools” are far and away (FAR AND AWAY!) in excess of mine.  He so easily has one-to-one conversations – in the same place – at the same time – with any and all who allow (and all at the same time as I am at the front – allowing Him through me)!  Isn’t that just so …  cool!

But the best discovery of all in this training?

The fellowship of “prepping”!!!!  THAT is where it is at baby!

This afternoon my mentor and I will let God run amok – no “teacher and pupil” – and what He gifts BOTH of us will be far in excess of what He ever could for either of us if we prepped individually.  And that means another certainty tomorrow: no matter who does what tomorrow – we will each have God running amok – which means He will be at the front (looking like the two of us).   And that is really … cool.

And as for the “two audiences” issue I have been asked to think about … ?  I already know.

There will be just one “audience” tomorrow.  It has to be that way.  Because neither my mentor or I can “chat” to everyone (or even 2 x everyone) in every sacred creation’s personal language.  Because if we were to even try … ?

We would just get in everyone’s way.

The Rich Young Ruler in Us

‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not bear false witness. You must not defraud anyone. (Mark 10:19)

broken-mirror2

Money and possessions.

They were the stumbling blocks for the rich young ruler. But let’s begin at the beginning.

As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)

Jesus told us to ask and we would receive; seek and we would find (Matthew 7:7). But just because we knock and the door is opened doesn’t mean we will step over the threshold. When God gives us answers, it doesn’t mean we will respond to His call, for we may not like what He has to say or think we are capable of doing what He asks.

 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not bear false witness. You must not defraud anyone. Honor your father and mother.’” (Mark 10:18-19)

Acknowledging all humans sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), Jesus goes on to list several commandments the young man must obey. However, notice one of these is not one of the Ten Commandments: “You must not defraud anyone.”

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus reminds us that although “You shall not murder” is one of the Ten Commandments, he removes the legalism and expands the commandment to include the heart: “But I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.” (Matthew 5:22)

How many times do we find ourselves angrily calling people names, whether on social media, gossiping to a friend, or just inside our heads?

Here he expands ‘Do not steal’ and ‘Do not lie’ into “You must not defraud anyone.” Could he see into the rich young man’s heart? Can he see into ours?

 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” (Mark 10:20)

How often do we, legalistically speaking, comfort ourselves into believing we have kept all the commandments? If we do a heart check, what is our own prognosis?

  • Have we given anger to someone instead of grace?
  • Have we coveted something we don’t need or someone we shouldn’t desire?
  • Have we taken something that isn’t ours to take? If not a possession, someone’s dignity, innocence or sense of accomplishment?
  • Have we lied instead of owning up to the truth? Have we told a lie out of convenience or pride?
  • Have we defrauded someone simply because we could?
  • Have we honored our parents, even if they were not the parents we wanted?

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. (Ezekiel 36:26)

Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

The young man went away sick at heart at these words because he was very wealthy and had many possessions. (Mark 10:21-22)

Why did Jesus feel ‘genuine love’ for this man at this point in the story? Because he knew the rich young ruler actually believed he had kept all the commandments. The young man actually believed he wore the clothes of a righteous man. He didn’t know any better. And because Jesus was about to strip him of those clothes with two sentences, the young man would choose to walk away.

How do we feel when God speaks directly to us? What is the feeling we get in the pit of our stomach when we are suddenly made acutely aware of our weaknesses and offenses and are humbled before God? What do we choose to do?

We have three choices:

1) We can become so mortified and feel so unworthy we feel like a failure. We can decide we have fallen from grace and begin to believe we have to work and perform to get back into the good graces of God.

2) We can become confused, grieved or angry at God for pointing out our faults and simply walk away from Him. We can fiercely hang onto our own ideas, convince ourselves that other people are far worse off than we are and begin to point out their weaknesses and transgressions.

3) We can choose to accept we are human and take an honest look into the mirror. We can lean into Him for strength and guidance, knowing we cannot change on our own. We can accept His forgiveness and mercy which are new every day. We can rest assured in our Father’s unconditional love. We can continue to ask him to search our hearts for anything that is faulty. We can abide in the Spirit who leads us onto the path of doing the right thing and being the image of God.

Looking at [his disciples], Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

Hawks and Doves

 

Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge
Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

I was awakened Saturday morning by a beautiful, red-tailed hawk on a tree branch inches away from my open bedroom window.

I heard the screeching and did not know what it was at first. A bird I did not recognize.

Creeping silently to the window, I raised my head to see this wondrous creature yowling into the morning sun. And then I looked down.

The diet of hawks is about 85% rodent, which is what I expected to see. What I saw horrified me; in the claws of this great raptor was another bird, dead and limp.

These are the birds that usually waken me with soft songs of love and grace. Harmonies of hope and new beginnings. Not today.

“We are under the sad delusion our mission is to be hawks for Christ”

As I watched the hawk attempt to both feast and hang onto her prey, I was further disturbed as she plucked the feathers one by one seeming to ravage her quarry as she laid waste to the spoils.

I wholly recognize this was the hawk’s way of getting to the meat it needed to survive.

Yet, an hour later, as I sat down to write my Sunday poem of praise and love, the Spirit would not allow me to do so. He took me back to the image of that hawk and opened my eyes to the way we treat each other.

red-tailed_hawkWe aim our hawk-eye, judgmental sights on one another. We dive down and capture our prey. We pick and pluck and extricate each lapse, defect, mistake. We are under the sad delusion our mission is to be hawks for Christ and hunt down every sinning miscreant; pluck out each feather of iniquity so we can gorge on the intestines of ostracism.

We want to savor the spoils of our “success,” beat them into submission and walk away as we pat our self-righteous, hawkish backs, engorged with a meal of “I did it for Jesus.”

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Here in my little corner of the world, I continue to beat the quiet drum of the dove.

The drum that says we are to love; we are to be peacemakers. The drum that says we are to show the grace and mercy of God; the compassion of Jesus, the outstretched arms of our Father.

We have two missions, if we choose to accept them, which I wrote about in Back to Basics 3 and Part 4.

We are to be the light and love of the Lord so people can see and experience Jesus through us, and to bring the Good News to people, creating an open door through which they might step and choose to be embraced by the Father.

It isn’t important what we say but how we are heard. If all we do is rant and screech, we are like fingernails on a blackboard, like clanging symbols.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

Instead of focusing on what we want to say, let’s pay attention to what Jesus says, those red-lettered words. Let’s bang the drum of love:

“For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-17 NASB)

“So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways. Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others.” (John 13:34-35, The Voice)

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8 NLT)

We must not mistake accusation and condemnation for love. We must not mistake what we think of as brutal honesty as ministering in love. We must always test our own thinking and agendas with the Words of God. And we must always yield to love, abiding in the wisdom and fruit of the Spirit.

Disbelieving Church: Prayer

Another post in the series, and another thought provoking piece – this one about Prayer. That word , for me, is endowed with so much fear of criticising, prodding, and offering a personal view – much safer to nod with the mainstream and never think about such an key part of the Christian faith.

If you feel a comment coming on as you read this, head over to Bluestocking’s place and add it there! Thank you.

Bluestocking Reflects

[This post is part of a series of reflections on Disbelieving Church. If you have not already done so, please check out the Introduction for a little background and a few disclaimers.]

When I was a child, my family regularly attended a large Southern Baptist church. In that church,  every Sunday morning service had a special section when the Senior Pastor (there were about a dozen ‘pastors’ on staff) would invite all the children present to come to the front and sit on the steps. He would sit among us and give a child-level talk. The only one I remember was the yearly Easter story about the caterpillar becoming a butterfly complete with clever soft toy to illustrate the change.

Somewhere in a scrapbook from my childhood is a newspaper clipping sent to me by someone from that church of the pastor on the steps with all the children praying at the end of his kids…

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Where is the Love of God?

6081c43833367e34ec2fce1125603211American seems to have forgotten the lessons taught to us by Jesus, to love everyone, regardless as to how you are being treated. Dr. King knew this lesson well, and it was the keystone of a movement that changed America; sadly, not for long.

Two movements for equality existed at the time of Dr. King, his to bring justice through peace and love; the other to attempt the same through rioting and violence. Great men have changed the world through peace and love – Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi. Forcing people into your way of thinking never works – Roman Empire, USSR, Nazi Germany.

So why do people go for force instead of peace? Why do we not show each other love instead of hate? Why is our first go-to to riot, burn, kill? Continue reading

Sharing My Crayons

I would love for everyone to know the people in my life that have affected me in a positive way. I want to share my friends like I would share my crayons. That sounds hokey but it’s as simple as crayons. For me, crayons have been as close as friends. The various colors and what can be discovered from them.

In a world where the creative ones have a bit of a harder time fitting into the norm, my friend Ann has been a source of comfort. I’ve only known her a little while yet I do know that a lifetime of kindred spirits has just begun.

Here is the exact post from her Facebook page. She has given me permission to post these insightful words on parenting. The raw deal and the real deal. Enjoy the read and be looking for her blog to begin soon (we are working on that this week).

Cate B and Ann

Meet Ann:

“I took this photo almost 2 weeks ago and I’ve been thinking about posting it ever since. But I knew that if I did, I would want to be real honest about this particular picture. 

This sweet mother/son selfie was taken on a date I went on with Kaiden. I can hear it now, “Awww! That is so sweet! Awww!” And you’ll begin to envision what a sweet, loveable, fun, bonding time that must have been. 

And I must interrupt your envisionings with a bit of reality. Those were the envisionings I had when I had planned this date. But then I went ON the date…. And the picture you see was one of the very few, very few, sweet bonding moments of the whole evening. 

The majority of the evening was spent “bonding” if you will, in a battle of wills. Fishing him out from under the table because I wouldn’t let him play games on the little game thingy that was on our table. (Thanks Applebees, thanks a LOT!) He didn’t want to eat his food, he talked back… The list goes on. It ended with an epic tantrum in the parking lot. NOT exactly how I would have preferred our date to go. 

You see, right now we are going through a sowing season with him. A season of working the soil of his little heart. And it’s a HARD, gritty, sweaty, endless (or so it seems) toiling, thankless, season. It’s a season where we are planting seeds. The thing about planting is that you don’t see the fruits right away. That’s the hard part. You put the seeds down and they get covered up and because you can’t see them down in that soil, you can’t see what they are doing, you can’t see if they are germinating and taking root. 

So we work that soil constantly, going after the weeds relentlessly. Relying on the grace, power, and instructions of the Master Planter. Carefully tending the soil of our own hearts. Living on faith and refusing to listen to the uprooter of the seeds. The lies that he whispers: “your child should not be acting this way in the first place.” “You’re messing him up.” “You’re not doing enough.” “You’re not doing it right.” “You’re not good enough.” 

We stand firm on the Word and we water that soil with truth, love, and destiny. And we choose to live by faith, that we will see those precious seeds sprouting, come spring and summertime. And eventually there will be a full, thankful, abundant harvest. 

You might wonder why I’m writing about all this. Well, getting these words down where I can see them, it encourages me, it boosters my faith. And I value transparency. Social media can really make it seem like we have perfect relationships, perfect lives. I am working daily to lay down perfection and pick up LIFE. It’s messy, it’s hard, it’s real, I don’t have it all figured out, but it’s beautiful. 

And maybe, along the way, another parent who is going through this hard season of planting seeds, will be encouraged along with me. We got this friends, because God’s got us. And he supplies the seeds and the knowledge for the planting.”

Ann and Kaiden
Ann and Kaiden