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Archive for July, 2008

Philadelphia phenom Somebody SoandSo
Philadelphia phenom: This Guy

While I would love to celebrate the victory of our very own Philadelphia Soul in Arena Bowl XXII, it sent my mind in a different direction. Two weeks ago, the Associated Press ran a story that was the cover headline on the Bucks County Courier Times: “Leaders Running Out of Economic Options.” In other words, “Panic now! The apocalypse has already started.”

I know that our present economic malaise has hurt many and I don’t mean to trivialize this. However, I have trouble believing that we have hit rock bottom when our society has enough discretionary income to support the Arena Football League. There are only two conclusions that I can draw from this:

1) We are actually extraordinarily wealthy and we have hit a minor bump that no longer allows us to consume everything we want, only most things.

2) We have a huge income gap in America. If indeed, our economy is collapsing, it is only collapsing upon the poor. The economic elite apparently have enough cash that, in Philadelphia alone, we can afford to be entertained by the Phillies, Eagles, Sixers, Flyers, Kixx, Soul, Wings, Phantoms, and a Major League Soccer team to be (entertaining you in 2009!). I have not heard of any actual plans to change our entertainment habits, so there must be plenty of money still floating around, just in the hands of a select few.

I am happy for Bon Jovi, the Philadelphia Soul, and my city that is so desperate for a championship that we care about Arena Football. I just don’t want to be sedated by the continual public offering of bread and circus.

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Today, we were in Bristol Borough. Bristol is an old industrial port town. The houses are close together. The streets have old shoppes. There is a place where town begins and ends – when you are in Bristol, you know you are in Bristol. While the town is run down, all of us could envision a revitalization.

This made me think of the degree to which we connect the ideas of urban and community, even if urban means small town or centralized suburban town. So what do we do with places like Feasterville – the unincorporated sprawl of suburbia. Or any community that lacks community space and community identity. I was talking with David Congdon and he said, “I think we need a new imagination. How do we envision community in a place like this?”

So that’s our challenge: Imagination. I think we lack a model to cut and paste. What does it mean to have community amidst the suburban sprawl? I’d love your feedback.

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Last night was the Bucks County Forum on Suburban Poverty.  While the content of the event deserves its own post which will come post-mission trip, I wanted to share a thought on the evening as a whole.  I seriously stressed about this event.  It is one thing to screw up in front of your own community, where people know you.  It’s another thing to screw up in front of the community at large where you stand as a witness to Christ, whether you ever say a word about God at all.

The forum was fantastic.  Everything came together.  All 5 speakers were on and the crowd asked great questions.  At the end, Roger, the Director of Bucks County Opportunity Council, who I had never met before, raised his hand and said this, “I quit my job 14 years ago to help poor people in Bucks County, and in 14 years, I have never been to such a thoughtful and challenging event dealing with poverty in our community (my paraphrase from memory).”

I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.  You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.  God is powerful.  In the mundane, in the routines, in the daily, we can lose sight of this.  I expect God to be powerful on mission trips.  But what about when the mission trip happens where you live and where you work.  Does God still have to show up?  What if I really believe that my life is mission.  Do I expect God to show up in the grocery store, in my apartment complex, in my daily interactions?  Last night, God showed up in Feasterville.  Do I believe that God dwells here everyday?

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The real reason I started this blog was to document the work of God in Lower Bucks County. I live in the town of Feasterville. Feasterville is the kind of unincorporated suburban sprawl that you can drive through without ever knowing you were in it. We have traffic lights. And chain stores. And ex-high school football players who yell things at you out their windows while you jog. Our local bars sell PBR, but not ironically. I do not live in a cool place. When I was considering taking the job at the Well, there were 27 reasons in the pro column, and one big fat ‘Feasterville’ in the con category. And I mourned my chance to live out my 20’s in a cool place for the first 6 months I lived here. Then something weird happened…

“But blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear.” God is present in Feasterville and not in quiet ways. Yet my stubbornness of heart made me blind and my desire to be hip made me deaf. When I set the agenda, God was only in the dramatic places – the city, the ghetto, the hipster town, the third world country – places that were exciting for every selfish reason. When I submitted to God and went in obedience, I found God in Feasterville.

7 months ago, I was ready to quit this town. Tonight, a random woman called me about our poverty forum we are hosting this week. We discussed our struggles to help the poor in our midst. We discussed their church’s desire to start a shared meal for all people in Lower Bucks County. We discussed the grim economic news in our daily headlines. And we challenged one another to use this time to build a community where we take care of each other rather than let scarcity drive us to deeper selfishness. God is alive in Feasterville.

Next week is our mission trip to Lower Bucks County. 7 months ago, I saw nothing in this place. This week, we will partner with 9 different non-profits and ministries. We will share in the mission of thousands of people who have been at work for years showing the love of God to our community. And we will have 25 people from our church serve Jesus, not abstractly, but in a very specific place. We will pray for our community – for Feasterville, for Trevose, for Bensalem, for Bristol, for Langhorne, for Levittown, for Hatboro, for Morrisville, for Trenton, for Doylestown, for where we are. I invite you to pray for us, that our eyes may be opened wider to God’s work in our midst; that we might be witnesses to Christ and others may come to know Christ; that we might serve well.

Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, in Feasterville, as it is in heaven. Amen.

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Next week is our church’s mission trip to Lower Bucks County.  And this week was, depending on how you look at it, either the week of total disaster or the week of God’s miraculous providence.  On Wednesday, our service day in Trenton fell through, our location for our garage sale disappeared, and our sound guy for our poverty forum had emergency surgery and was too drugged up to answer his phone.  Two of the ministries we were serving with wouldn’t return my phone calls and several of the trip attendees were suddenly vague about their commitment to the week.

And yet, I sit here on Friday night and we have a service day in Trenton and locations for our garage sale, both of which seem better than what we had before.  We have our sound taken care of.  We have everything booked.  And we have people coming.  Today, I talked to one of my speakers for the poverty forum and he said, “Two random people have called me this week and asked me about this event.  I don’t know what you did, but people are talking about this.”

What did I do?  On the one hand, I did a lot of work this week, setting personal records for emails sent and phone calls made.  On the other hand, there is clearly something going on that is beyond me.  I tend to be a driven person, with a strong desire for control.  And every now and then, God comes in and says, “This is bigger than you.  Keep working.  But know that you succeed because I am in this.”

Clarity comes on the other side of obedience.  Wednesday looks ugly.  Submit to God.  Friday is good.

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There comes a time in every man’s life when he succombs to social pressure and becomes a faceless product of corporate marketing.  I call it a blog.  Why, you ask, have I started a blog after years of resistance?

1) To get a book deal.  Self-promotion is the name of the game.
2) To be hip.  I’m a young Christian leader without any tattoos.  I’ve gotta compensate with something else.
3) To pound my ideas into your head.  I only have so many clever ideas and as a pastor, I actually have a regular public forum in which to share them.  I also get paid to talk to people.  Somehow, the sound of my own voice (or my keyboard keys) never gets old.
4) Boredom.  I already watched every episode of The Office and Arrested Development and I refuse to watch Lost.
5) To be more like Todd Hiestand.  http://www.toddhiestand.com.

I’ll let that last one speak for itself.
Any questions, O blogosphere?

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