Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I Should Be Sleeping; but...

I should be sleeping.  By my last tally, I've driven over 4000 miles since the end of June commuting back and forth to Louisville, including six trips in the last three days.  Once in Louisville, I go one hundred miles an hour, until it is time to drive back home in the evening.  I've been battling a bug for the last few days, I cracked my knee today on the railing at the new house and it now looks oddly deformed, and a surgical repair I had almost two years ago hurts so bad that I can only laugh.

I really should be sleeping.  We've gone into overdrive on the preparations for the move which is exhausting in and of itself.  In two days we will be moving to the big city where I can unleash the full force of energy and excitement, without having wasted three hours of it in the car every day.  I should be sleeping, and maybe Louisville ought to catch a few z's as well.  I can already hear a couple of my new parishioners nervously laughing (I hope laughing anyhow), "He's got even more energy!?"

I should be sleeping, but my mind is racing and my soul is soaring tonight.  I keep thinking about yesterday; about the sign.  I found myself all sorts of riled up this morning (in a good way) as my wife and I drove to Louisville, and it really hasn't subsided since.

The response to my "graffiti" has been overwhelmingly positive.  I'm still convinced that it'll have made some upset before all is said and done, but that was a risk I was willing to take.  It is at the heart of that, that my mind races and my soul soars.  In the responses to my post yesterday, I've heard from friends, colleagues, and various other folks that I really respect and like, and with the positive, there does seem to be two shared concerns; "What if you have just encouraged more graffiti?  What if others see it as a challenge to respond in the negative?"

Those are incredibly valid questions, as they were my own as well; "What if?"  I really wrestled with that yesterday when it first occurred to me to respond.  I say "occurred to me", but what I really mean to say is that I was trying to discern if what I was feeling was of God.  I tend to be a very calculating person beneath all of the "craziness", I weigh and measure everything.  Granted a lot of the time I do it on the fly, but very, very rarely am I ever reactionary.  I credit the Marine Corps with that skill, of assessing, adapting, and responding on the fly.  All of this to say, as I was driving from our new home back to the church I was really wrestling with whether to respond.  What was the deciding factor?  I was trying to determine if I wanted to drive out of my way to go and buy some chalk and I determined that I didn't.  I just finally thought to myself, "If God wants me to do this, then I'll find some chalk at the church.  After all there are chalkboards in the church."  I wish I could tell you that I returned to the church to find a levitating, golden box of chalk, but I didn't.  There wasn't any chalk on the chalkboards either.  However, I did dig around in a bin in the old nursery to find a brand spanking, new box of unopened chalk.  Divine intervention?  Or my stubbornness?  You decide lol.  Being a man of my word, just in case it wasn't my stubbornness, I went outside and wrote my response...very nervously, but I ain't going to lie, it was awfully exhilarating too.

But I want to back up for a second; there was a reason that I mentioned my calculating nature.  If I were to put a number on it, I felt that by the pastor responding to the neighborhood in their language, I stood a pretty decent chance of positively impacting someone, say, around a 70% chance.  I also measured the odds of getting a negative response from graffiti, and I would put that at about a 95% chance.  (I drove by today in the midst of moving and it remained untouched).  In my mind there was an almost certainty that I was inviting something negative, while I only had a pretty good chance of positively impacting someone.  Logic would tell you, "Don't do it."  The risk outweighs the benefit, don't rock the boat, don't poke the bear, leave well enough alone, play it safe, and don't rile up the darkness.  And therein lies my problem not with my friends, colleagues, and those who I respect and like a whole bunch, but with ministry and the Church in general...playing it safe and being fearful of stepping out of the box lest we invite the darkness to respond.

My response?  Let's punch the darkness square in the mouth, consequences be damned.  Make no mistake, I'm not trying to make something more out of yesterday than what is there.  I maintain that it is plenty spectacular to begin with and it doesn't need me assigning cosmic battlefield imagery to it to make it more so.  However, I cannot help but to wonder...when is the last time people in that neighborhood, my neighborhood, when was the last time they were told they were loved?  Let alone by someone who ought "to know better" writing it on a wall?  It may have meant nothing to anyone, including the person who wrote "I love God" on the side of my church.  But what if it did?  What if any of the numerous people who walk along side the church each day was reminded, "Hey you know what?  God loves you.  And you know what else?  There just might be someone inside that church that would love you too."  That is a risk worth taking and a "sign" worth leaving.  Ultimately, had I not responded, I can assure you that I would not be sleeping tonight for far different reasons.

If my response had in fact reminded someone or opened a brand new door for someone to feel, or to seek love, what is a "negative response" in relation to that?  Most of us take feeling loved and having value for granted, myself included at times.  You know who doesn't have that problem?  I would guess most of the people in my neighborhood.  We all too often look for big, flashy miracles like levitating, golden boxes of chalk, when in reality we miss the real miracles of redemption, reconciliation, and love.  You want to see a real, live miracle?  You give people who feel that they are unlovable and worthless a reason to feel loved, worthwhile, and valuable.  After all, we do believe, or at least we proclaim, that every human being was precious enough, valuable enough, and loved enough that God was willing to hang from a cross for them.  What if tonight, someone else is not sleeping because they have found some sort of hope where none existed before?

To be sure, I am not writing this as a defense for what I did yesterday.  In my calculations, I am always resigned to enduring the consequences of my decisions, for better or worse.  But rather the purpose is to pose the question to the broader Church and Christians everywhere, a question and answer that seems to get lost and forgotten all too often.  If we are doing our job as Christ followers, should not the natural response be opposition at some level?  Satan could not care less about a quiet, safe Church.  As a matter of fact, I think His greatest weapon is a quiet, safe, apathetic church that doesn't dare to make waves in fear of the consequences.  It is useless, impotent, and maintenance free.

My neighborhood really is no different than your neighborhood or anyone else's.  To reach it, to love it, to truly love it that is, it takes risk and it takes a willingness to punch the darkness square in the mouth.  There are so many metrics used to measure effective ministry, but one that is rarely mentioned is the metric of opposition (John 15:18-20).  And I wonder when we start paying attention to it.  Odds are good that before long, you'll have the opportunity to drive by my church to see me cleaning spray paint off of her side, but do notice I'll be smiling.  It will be a response to opposition earned.

I should  be sleeping, but I am not.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Lawd...give me a sign!!!

This morning, I pulled up to the church to see one of the most incredible, most powerful things I've seen during my time in the ministry.  I'm really, honestly, kind of floating on air right now.  You can just feel it here; God is up to something.  I've been saying it to everyone who will listen.  I don't know what it is or exactly how this is going to play out; I only know.  I know that I am front row and center for something special and I hope that I convince others to join me as we watch this unfold.  I think we're going to be front row for the miraculous.

During my time here and I kind of alluded to this in the past post, I keep hearing patience in my heart and spirit; wait and watch.  Now this doesn't mean that I have been sitting still; that would be an impossibility for me.  But rather, it has been a case of being obedient, following nudges, doing my part, and then allowing God to do His.  Something is happening here.

One of my fascinations in the neighborhood has been the graffiti, it is literally everywhere.  Much of it I don't understand, much of it I do.  There are profanities and there are threats.  There are no doubt declarations of turf ownership, perhaps even markers for drugs.  But there are others, things that are much easier to decipher.  As Christians, we're always looking for some sort of sign (didn't Jesus warn about that???) and yet, I'm a firm believer there are signs all around us.  God communicates and Creation communicates.  My neighborhood communicates.  My experience is that more times than not, the signs we seek are right in front of our faces.

This was the first sign I was greeted with in this neighborhood.  It sits on the corner of the church.  Threat?  Warning?  Both?  There are reasons to believe that it is all of those.  However for me, I have come to love this sign.  It is a reminder of why we are here and yes, it is a challenge.


I found this sign quite accidentally.  I was walking down an alley and simply had the urge to turn around and this is what I found.  This sign breaks my heart every time I see it and I try to make sure I see it every day.  I wonder who wrote it, what drove them to write it, and where they are now.



This is the sign that I found this morning when I came to church.  My heart absolutely soared to read graffiti on the side of my church (it is only chalk).  To me this is a sign; a sign that the light is beginning to pierce the darkness, that spiritual realities are in fact being impacted.  Here in the midst of darkness, someone dared to share some light.  I know, I know, this is nothing more than some chalk written on the side of the building.  Yeah?  Well come and spend some time here with me, front row and center with whatever God is doing and you realize just how powerful this is.  That is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.

My neighborhood communicates and is bathed in signs.  Staring at the graffiti this morning I could not help but to think of Paul's words in 1Cortinthians 9:19-23, "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law -- though not being myself under the law -- that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law -- not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ -- that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings."

Today, I spoke back to my neighborhood in their language.  Today, another sign was delivered...



God is moving in South Louisville.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Quick Update

Hey all :)  I wanted to share a quick update.  First, I have not disappeared again!  Last week was absolutely crammed with meetings, this week I've been focused on getting the website up and running for the church (www.experiencegracelouisville.org), and next week is all about the move to the Ville. (FINALLY!!!)

However, I wanted to share that good things are continuing to happen in this adventure.  It's been strange though.  Usually, I'm a ball of fire and on the move...well...that hasn't changed too much.  However, there has been this alien (to me) patience and an ease with allowing things to unfold rather than trying to wrangle situations into submission.  Kind of makes me wonder how many times I've gotten in the Holy Spirit's way with my exuberance and excitement lol.  As I said in a previous post; so far it has been a whole lot of being in the right place at the right time.  In other ways, it sort of feels like bowling and actually waiting and watching the ball knock down the pins, as opposed to throwing the ball and then racing it to the pins.  I can't wait to share more on this front.

Despite the busyness, I did write a four-part piece while waiting on the technician to come and install internet service in my office.  (We have now entered the 21st century!!!)  The day that I had written that, I met a young man on the street and we had a very interesting conversation.  I haven't started posting it yet, because I don't feel that part 1 is up to my standards (whatever that means), while the final pieces are pretty strong and very cantankerous...in a good way.  However, I will share a small snippet of that conversation to hopefully whet your appetite.

Young man:  "I don't like preachers."

Me:  "Generally speaking, I don't either."

Let's see, what else?  Ooh!  I received an awesome donation towards the "Back to School" celebration.  PLEASE keep them coming!  This isn't some random church asking for handouts or for donations that will end up funding salaries or "expenses", but it is me and I can assure you that whatever we receive will go 100% to kids and families that need it.  And make no mistake, this is Kingdom work.

What else?  I was also going to post another Q and A video this week, but I'm going to hold off on that.  I've gotten lots of good and fun questions, but I want more.  Next week I will be posting what will be a very special video...at least to me.  And then we'll get back to our regularly scheduled videos including a question from Australia; a question many are dying to have an answer to (lol).

I think that's it for tonight.  I want to thank all of you that stop by here regularly and follow my shenanigans.  You guys are awesome and I am humbled.  Please keep checking back; I have a feeling that things are going to start ramping up in a hurry.

Cantankerously Yours,
Corey

PS...152 Days until Christmas!!!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Challenge: A Shot into the Darkness

My still  developing philosophy on my new appointment is to chase darkness with light.  There is so much darkness around the two churches that the amount of need can seem overwhelming.  However, if we can truly make the churches "beacons" that we might be able to not only shine in the community, but more importantly, that we might share that light so that people take it back home with them; then we might really begin making a difference.

To those ends, we are preparing to fire our first concentrated shot into the darkness and I want to invite all of you along on this journey and into this ministry.  In speaking with the local elementary school, I was able to learn that the most immediate need with school right around the corner is school supplies; the kids just don't have them and I want to fix that.  To those ends we will be having "Back to School Celebrations" on August 17th at Grace UMC (11am) and Breath of Life UMC (1pm) where we will be handing out the supplies to the children along with a free cookout.

Now, let me be clear; this isn't just about a handout.  The two churches have been too quiet in the neighborhoods for too long (of course, from my perspective, five minutes is too long) and the people have forgotten that we're there.  I want to send a message into the darkness: we are here and things are going to be very different.  Secondly, this is about taking this "stress" off of these families.  If buying school supplies is creating angst and hard choices for families and we can help, then we have succeeded in chasing a little more darkness.  Lastly and most importantly, if these families are struggling to purchase school supplies, then these children already have the deck stacked against them.  How much better for the children if we can send them back to school properly equipped and as a result feeling better and more confident about school?  If we can send a disadvantaged child back to school feeling more confident and excited about school...we've not only chased immediate darkness in the neighborhood, but darkness has also been potentially chased from the futures of some of these children.  That right there is a pretty doggone big and powerful flashlight.

Who knew just simply buying a few dollars worth of school supplies could make such a difference?  With all the "back to school" sales going on at the stores, your investment is likely to never go farther.  I spent $10 dollars on school supplies yesterday and I came home with three bags of supplies.  So what can you do?  I'm glad you asked.  We need supplies!  The two churches have been challenged, but we are small (that'll be changing) and we need help.  And if we get too much?  I'll take them to the next school and then the next school and dare I hope, the next school?  This is an instance where it can be assured that whatever we get will 100% go to those in need.

So, what do we need?  Nothing major, just the bare basics:



-Pencils                                                                      
-Spiral Notebooks (Wide or College)                                   
-Kleenex                                                                    
-Washable Markers                                                   
-Glue Sticks                                                               
-Hand Towels                                                            
-Hand Sanitizer
-Two Pocket Folders
-Crayons

How can you help?  Contact me...corey@cantankerouschristian.com...and I will provide you with all of the information you might need.  (The phone service hasn't been installed in my office yet, but hopefully on Monday I'll be able to provide the office number as well)  And if you have time on the 17th and you want to come and hang out so you can get an up close and personal look at what we're doing, PLEASE by all means do so!!!  I would love to see you and to share the excitement (I have tons...lol).

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Unvarnished...Finding the Bottom



I love the story of Peter walking on the water (Matthew 14:17-31).  It’s a story; an example that really resonates with me and one that I find myself thinking about in the storms of life and ministry.  To put ourselves in Peter’s position, it seems so easy and we wonder how he could fail.

“Shoot, if it was me, I would have ran across the water.”

He was doing it; he was actually walking on water.  Why?  How?  In essence simply because Jesus told him that he could.  Peter had hollered out, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”  And Jesus simply replied, “Come.”  And he was doing it.  I find myself often stuck at that point; he was doing it, he was actually doing it.  Why?  Because Jesus had simply said, “Come.”

Unfortunately for Peter, despite the miracle taking place below his feet, he became frightened by the wind and began to sink.  And I always go back to that idea, “He was doing it.”  It was only when fear rose in him and he took his eyes off of Jesus did he begin to sink, crying out, “Lord, save me.”  Jesus then admonishes Peter, “You of little faith; why did you doubt?”  Think about it, once again there was a miracle taking place under his very feet, he was walking on water.  How great should his faith have been?  He was doing something impossible simply because Jesus had said, “Come.”  How could he fear?  How could he be so easily distracted?  How could his faith fail him so easily?

I think of Peter in the storms of life and ministry.  We know the promises of God, the victories assured (not necessarily in this life), and yet in the storms, despite what God might be doing in that particular moment in our lives, we become focused on the wind.  We become afraid, we despair, and we doubt.  Not necessarily the existence of God, albeit perhaps sometimes, but rather we begin to doubt the control, the power, and perhaps even the goodness of God.  We forget that part of the promises are the storms themselves.  “Come!”  We want to; man, more than anything we want to.  But we sink.  We get caught up in the impossibilities and improbabilities of it all and we become convinced that the storm is too big even for God.  We panic and begin trying to swim, struggling and fighting to get back in the boat; and we forget.  If only we would keep our eyes and faith on Him, we ought to be running across that water.

I find myself in those moments asking myself, perhaps even demanding of myself, “How big is your God?”  For me, that tends to do the trick and I feel myself coming back to the top of the water in the choppy seas.  It’s a valid question I suppose.  To ask it in the storm, as we sink, at least for me, it usually also demands me to ask of myself if I’m being obedient and if I’m truly pursuing Him in the storm.  Did I create my own storm?  There’s a part of me, a powerful part I might add, that recognizes in the storms, I’ve got to be sure that my answers are in the affirmative to those two questions.  I recognize that if they aren’t, I probably don’t want to have that conversation if and when I get yanked up out of the water by a nail scarred hand.  I know that I’m every bit as prone, if not more so, to admonishment than the disciples of the Gospels.

There’s been an awful lot of early victories in this adventure.  I’m beginning to see that perhaps some of them have the potential to be far more significant than I had first given them credit for.  I’ve been amazed, and that word gets thrown around way too much and way too easily, but I’ve been truly amazed at how so much of this has come together so quickly.  For me, it truly has been repeated cases of being in the right place at the right time.  Miracles underfoot.

And then today, quite unexpectedly the first storm presented itself and I found myself thinking of Peter and demanding of myself, “How big is your God Corey?”  I know the answer to that, I know what is taking place under my feet, and yet I struggled with it.  Silly, huh?  But damn, that wind is scary and a whole lot bigger than me.  It is noisy and it is distracting, and yet in the midst of it, little more than a whisper I can still hear the call, “Come!” and my own voice ringing out in my ears, “How big is your God?”

I had joked in a previous blog post about being a pebble falling down in a dark pit that has yet to find the bottom of the hole.  Today, on the way to Sam’s Club of all places, I became keenly aware that I had not only found the bottom of the pit, but that I had known where it was all along.  It is deeper, darker, and potentially even more dangerous than I had figured and the winds were whipping and howling in that moment.

I sit in my office early this evening, my jeans still damp from the knees down, but no longer soaked.  Having answered my questions, “Yes.  Yes.  Far bigger than this storm or this hole.”  From this new vantage point, I can still sense the bottom.  However, I’m no longer a falling pebble; I’m now climbing and I hear the voice pretty clearly now from somewhere up above, in the midst of the whipping winds, “Come.”