Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Midtown Prayer Collective

Every so often a tiny spark of an idea begins to catch flame and take on a life of its own...

Several months ago I had the idea to create a prayer room and set it aside for a week of 24/7 prayer for our church.  I couldn't shake the idea, so I began praying about it.  It may sound weird, but I felt that this was one of the 2 or 3 BIG things that I was going to give my year to.  It then hit me that this would be a great opportunity to invite other local churches into it.  I shared it with Mandy, then with our leadership team, then with a couple of pastor friends.  Each conversation revealed more of an open door, and so we continued to walk.

After several more conversations this tiny spark of an idea has turned into the Midtown Prayer Collective.  It's much bigger than Neighborhood Church (7 churches so far that I'm aware of), and it's turned into longer than a week.  At 7:00 on Wednesday, October 10, at Lifelink Church (1015 S. Cooper), we're going to gather for a time of corporate prayer and worship.  At 9:00 our first hour of prayer will begin.  838 hours later (on Wednesday, November 14) we'll celebrate all that God has done.

The idea is that each of those hour-long slots is filled with someone.  And it's not limited to one person either.  But we know that every hour of every day for a little over a month, the saints of God are praying.  You may feel that praying for an hour is an impossible task, but when you step into this prayer room and observe the beauty and the promptings towards prayer, the time is going to go by quickly.  Not quite buying that?  Well then read this.

Jon Tyson, from Trinity Grace Church in NYC, was in Memphis last fall.  He spent a few hours with some of us, and, though he said a ton of helpful stuff, one thing he said truly haunted me.  He said that the American Church has tried everything but radical prayer.  Jon is from Australia, so he can say something like that.  He knows that the Church here has had more resources than any period of church history before.  This has led to great creativity and at times decent fruit, but have we lost a sense of desperate dependence for God to do what only He can do?  Do we still dream about what things could look like if God had His way in our lives, our churches, and our cities?

I am so ready to be surprised by God.  I am so ready to look at what is going on and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no way that would have happened without God stepping in.  I'm growing dissatisfied for the status quo of church, and I thank God for that.  My prayer is that a passion for Jesus and a faith to believe for the seemingly impossible would be stirred up in our city.  We need this more than we realize.

I'll leave you with a quote by Peter Greig, who wrote Red Moon Rising and The 24/7 Prayer Manual.
When we pray, we cannot guarantee how the glory of God will come, and when He does arrive it is often in a disguise that confounds our religious expectations of such an eagerly anticipated heavenly invasion.  But we should never doubt that God comes to those who humble themselves in faithful prayer. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

More from the Bible

I'm definitely not going to finish reading the Bible in 90 days, but I am most definitely going to finish it.  In the last 45 days I've read 12 books from the Old Testament (Joshua through Esther).  Once again, some thoughts:

  • Though there are still difficult things in the OT that I do not understand, or frankly, do not like, the big Story is coming together for me in a new way, and I find myself loving and appreciating God more.
  • The discipline of remembering is HUGE for the people of God.  We see it in those first few books of the Bible, then again in Joshua (much of this is directed towards Joshua himself, who is challenged by God to be of great courage and remember how He had worked through Moses).  One of my favorite stories about this is found in Joshua 3-4.  In fact, Joshua is one of my heroes in the OT because his life was marked by a trust in God and an obedience that naturally flowed from this trust.  When things begin going downhill (in Judges and then beyond), what we see is God's people forgetting who they are and more importantly who God is
  • Obedience is a BIG deal, and it's a big deal because of two reasons.  First, we are not who we once were.  We've been chosen, adopted, redeemed, blessed, etc (Eph 1), and therefore we're called to live differently.  God is worthy of this.  The way we live should be a worship response to how He's acted on our behalf.  Second, though, and this comes out so clear through the OT story, we are called to obey because it's the best thing we could ever do.  God has thought about His plans for us, and though they don't always make sense (there's a difference between finite beings and an infinite being), we show ourselves to be wise when we follow God's plans and obey.  And when we disobey, there are consequences.  Going back to Joshua, I find it so interesting, and comforting, to see God saying four times to him to "be very careful" to obey me.  Inertia (or perhaps our human nature) leads us to disobedience.  We're going to have to flow upstream if we want to live according to God's commands.
  • What separated good kings from bad kings was their level of obedience, often through simple things.  You see this theme reflected in Saul and David, but it continues throughout the next few centuries (see 1 & 2 Kings).
  • It's important to remember that we can serve and worship God or we can serve and worship some other god (an idol), but we can never worship both.  One or the other. Always.  We get a choice, but we have to choose.
  • So far, Judges is the most depressing book I've read.  It's so sad that a people, God's people, could forget all that he had done for them and worship other gods.  But one thing I've learned over these past weeks is that I am just as prone.
  • As much as I like Joshua, my favorite is David.  I taught through his story last summer, and I love his love for God.  I love his dependence, his courage and his tenacity.  And I love the fact that he failed big time, but he humbled himself, confessed his sin as sin, and was restored.  And in the end he was known by God as a man after God's own heart.  Speaking of David, reading through his story reminded me that I did not touch much on his later years when I taught through his life.  I need to come back to this soon.  It would be interesting to look at principles of good leadership through his life.
  • The mantle of leadership comes with a serious amount of responsibility.  As I finished reading King Solomon's story, I couldn't help but think that Israel's history could have looked very different had Solomon (and you could say this with the other kings of Israel & Judah) chosen to love, serve, worship and obey God.  The fact that he didn't meant not only withheld blessing to him but also to an entire nation.  The story goes downhill fast after Solomon.
  • This "downhill fast" part culminates with God's people in exile under Babylon and then Persia.  God is faithful, though.  Despite their continued rebellion, he forgives, restores, and works in mighty ways.  Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the exiles coming back home and trying to restore what they once had. There is a heightened awareness of the importance of trust and obedience, and we see an encouraging display of leadership through these men.
  • My last thought, and this is a challenge and hopefully a word of encouragement.  If you've avoided the Old Testament because of issues that confused or even disturbed you, I hope you will take a second look.  We are of course so removed through culture and time, but knowing this story helps me to understand the entire story, and I find myself getting excited to get to Jesus

There's much more that I could write, but hopefully this whets your appetite a bit.  According to my Kindle I'm 40% of the way through the Bible.  Next up...the Prophets (I'm going to come back to the Wisdom Literature).

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Willow Creek Leadership Summit

Mandy and I attended our first Willow Creek Leadership Summit in 2000, just a few days after we had moved to the SF Bay Area.  It was a great way to begin our new life there.  The next time we went was 2006, just seven months after we had moved to Memphis.  Today we got to go again.  It was great to be there with Mandy.  We get to process what we are learning and how we can apply it to Neighborhood Church, but Mandy gets to apply it to everything that she is now doing with education advocacy as well.

When I go to conferences like these, my hope is to come away with a few big ideas.  The first big idea today was not anything new.  It was something I had heard before, something that had definitely been a big idea before. And fortunately, it was something that I've been putting into practice since I heard it.  But it was a great reminder.  It has to do with self-leadership, and it was from Bill Hybels.  He's had a practice for some time now to list the six top things he wants to commit to working on over the next six weeks.  These are things that are extremely important, but also things that, if not pursued with aggressive intentionality, will be left undone.  Over the past year I've been looking at things this way.  I've been asking questions like, "What one or two things do only I bring to the (NC) table?"  This was a great reminder to continue to develop this habit.

The second big idea came from Jim Collins.  His entire talk was great (based on his latest book Great By Choice), but one thing really stood out for me.  He said that the greatest danger for an organization is not failure.  Instead, it's to be successful, but to not have a clue as to why you are successful.  It caused me to ask a few questions about Neighborhood Church.  What does success look like at NC?  If we are successful, do I know what makes us this way?  What about our key leaders?  Do they know?  Is it one of those things that's so obvious that we never talk about it?  Or at least some of us think it's obvious.  If it's not obvious to everyone, and we're not talking about it in a way that it is creating common language within our culture, then we are in danger.  What's the danger?  It's that we won't play to our strengths, but more than that, Collins says that we won't be strong in those moments where strength is desperately needed (times of chaos).

Now this has nothing to do with just patting ourselves on the backs and ignoring obvious weaknesses.  It does, however, have everything to do with one of the main principles from his first book, Built to Last: "Preserve the Core/Stimulate Progress."  We have to know what those core values are; those unchanging principles that drive our organization whether we know it or not.  But it helps so much when we recognize and give words to it.  Because then we will have freedom to create, which leads to more innovation and progress.

I want to give more thought to this, but I do believe that it's a big thing for me.  I'm looking forward to another day of this.  Maybe one or two more big ideas!