Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Francis Chan at Catalyst 2010

In Summer 2008, my good friend Josh Vance introduced me to a Christian communicator named Francis Chan. He told me in particular that I should listen to a sermon called Lukewarm and Loving It. I have a lot of respect for Josh Vance, so I took his advice and gave the message a listen. I had listened to a few other messages from Chan before this one, but I still remember it well. I had just arrived back in Morgantown, WV after spending part of the summer helping run a summer leadership program for college students near Wilmington, NC.

I was actually working on my daily practice of environmental stewardship by walking to a mid-morning meeting that was taking place with my friends Trey Dunham, Cameron King, and Mark Byrer at Trey’s house. I walked through Morgantown, and listened to about half the message by the time I arrived at Trey’s. After the meeting, I immediately proceeded to continue listening, and about the time I passed by the Mountainlair in the center of campus, I started weeping. I don’t think I stopped until I had arrived at my house 10 minutes later. The message touched my soul deeply.

Well, I had never actually seen or heard Francis Chan communicate in person, and I was told that his talk at Catalyst would be his last message before he left his church and community in Simi Valley to travel to Asia with his family and serve the poor of that part of the world. In three Catalyst events I have attended, I had never gone in to hear one of the messages given. I wanted to make sure I heard this message from Francis and I’m glad I did.

Some people are not fans of Francis for his communication style, his demeanor, or for any number of reasons, but the thing that strikes me most intensely about him is his passion and sincerity. He speaks with an authenticity that leaves people listening intently. As he spoke to this group at Catalyst, he challenged this group of leaders to examine their lives, and the lives of their churches. He asked, “Would what you do on Sunday morning, or during the week make sense if it were placed in this book?” “Would your personal life and daily experience, fit in with the stories that are found in this book?” He went on to say that much of what happens in our practice of Christianity really doesn’t make sense in light of what is seen in scripture. He listed a few examples, and then became laser focused on the issue of poverty.

He told 13,000 leaders that sometimes God doesn’t want to hear our worship. Sometimes our prayers our hindered because we don’t care for our spouses. Sometimes he is disgusted by our fasting and our ceremonies because we ignore the poor. He shared Isaiah 58 (a personal favorite of mine and Bono’s) along with many other references from the old and new testament to build a case for why our care for people who are suffering in extreme poverty matters.

After hearing a message like that, which just served to affirm so much of what I believe, I just found myself incredibly hopeful that the 13,000 in attendance would act on what they heard.

I am not quite sure what it looks like, but I am hopeful that it will involve the church taking a more active role in the greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation. As Francis Chan leaves the United States to serve alongside his family, I’m grateful for the encouragement I was given through him to keep pushing onward.

And beyond the encouragement, the talk and the discussion that took place with a few friends after the talk reminded me of some unbelievable spiritual experiences that I had in the desert that solidified my decision to leave my work in vocational ministry to work to serve the poor.

May all who call themselves followers of 'the Way' take up Francis’ challenge and strive to live a life by the grace of God that would make total sense amid the pages of the sacred scriptures.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Soul City Church

Recently I've had the opportunity to visit quite a few new places for food, fun, and now fellowship. Sunday, after saying my goodbyes to Jamie, Willie, Sue, Christian, Emily, and my dad, I hopped on an airplane and began my next journey. This time my stop was in the greater Chicago Metro area. Sunday night two of my friends picked me up at the "L" train stop, and we made our way to a new church plant that is getting ready to launch. It's called Soul City Church.

I think it is the third or fourth time that I just happened to be visiting a church as it was preparing to launch. There's something special about those times. People have an intense vision of the possibilities for their community, they are working hard, and they are united to a solid vision. The whole community is pregnant with anticipation of what may happen as the doors open for the community to expand and grow in its ability to love God and neighbor.

If you are in the Chicago area, and the idea of serving and transforming the neighborhood appeals to you, I've I believe this would be a wonderful group of people with whom to do that.

Sunday night, as we celebrated the Sacrament of Communion, Jarrett Stephens, one of the members of the church shared this wonderful idea. When we come to the table, we come with all of our stuff, good and bad, and God meets us there with all who He is, and freely shares it with all who receive it.

What a beautiful thought, and a beautiful community of people.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Nationwide Columbus Half-Marathon

Sunday morning, I awoke at 545AM to begin pre-race preparations.  I wasn’t running myself, but my fiancĂ©e Jamie was running her first ever half-marathon.   We drove to Columbus and stayed the night at the home of my best friend in the whole world, Willie.  And, on Saturday afternoon about a half-hour after we arrived, Willie had a surprise for us.  My dad came up to visit and support Jamie too.  We had a great team rallying around Jamie as she awoke at 6AM and began her own pre-race preparations which were much more serious than mine. (she actually had to run 13 miles).
We drove to the race site and got stuck on 670 for a bit on our way to the race, and so at 710AM, Jamie hopped out of the car to ‘warm up’ by running to the starting line (and insuring that she would be able to be there in time for the start).  I proceeded to drive the car to the parking garage, and amazingly, I made it to the starting line in time to see her off.  (Turns out that her wave of the race started close to 745 instead of 730AM).  At that point Willie and my dad drove up about two blocks away, picked me up, and we made it to the first of three stops along the route to cheer Jamie on.
It was utterly amazing to see the turn-out for this race.  15,000 people ran in the race, and there was literally a continuous stream of runners along the route.  In fact, Jamie had nearly passed us before we saw her from the first vantage point (mile 4) along the race route.  We tried to track her using the tracker function on the marathon website, but we couldn’t get it to work.   At mile 9 we fared much better, and even got a couple photos.  All along the route, Jamie maintained good form and totally rocked the race.   In fact, Jamie started the race awesomely well, and ran her fastest 10K ever during the first part of the race.
The marathon as a whole was pretty stellar too.  The route took participants all through the city, and there were dozens of bands and live music all along the way.   The city was filled with energy and thousands of spectators gathered along every part of the route.  
Jamie has been training since late this summer with two of her friends, and all three of them completed the race well. She finished the entire race in about 2 hours, and I am soooooo proud of her!  She set a goal, she disciplined herself to run on many occasions when she didn't feel like it, and she totally crushed it!   

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chilean Miners and the Gift of Life

I love happy endings. I love it when a plan comes together. I love the fact that all of the miners who were trapped in a mine in Chile were able to be rescued alive and well. I read a post in the New York Times this morning that shared what a number of the miners were planning to do now that they were rescued.

And the whole experience has gotten me thinking. What would I have been thinking about if I were trapped underground for several weeks, and with the distinct possibility that I might die underground? What would you think about for that matter?

I think I would find myself thinking about the people I love. I would be prayerful for a reunion with them, and for an opportunity to hold them and tell them I love them just one more time. I would be trying to make the most out of a really difficult situation, and caring as best as I could for the folks around me. At least I'd like to think that's what I would be setting my mind and my heart on. And, beyond that I would probably be doing everything that I knew that would maximize my chances, and the chances of my peers, for survival. And, in the back of my mind, I imagine there would be periods where I would wonder about what I would do differently if I had another opportunity on the surface again.

I can't help but imagine that after emerging from an experience like these men faced one would live life with an even greater clarity, intentionality, and purpose than ever before. Life is an incredibly precious gift, and I imagine these men are experiencing every moment in a way that is filled with gratitude as well as a sense of presence in the moment that is saturated with a heightened awareness of the value of each second of the life they have been given. As I read through the New York Times article, it seemed like these men were committed to making some changes after their experience.

Life is an incredibly precious gift. Your own life is a remarkable treasure that God has given the world, and you have a wonderful opportunity with the life you have been given. You can love others. You can be an instrument of healing. You can commit yourself to making a difference in this world.

You may not have been trapped underground with uncertainty about your emergence, but the reality is that your days as well as mine have a limit. May we each and all make the most of the time we have been given on this earth and approach our days with a hopeful and purposeful intensity to savor every moment we have been given on this earth.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Milka: One Woman's Story

Milka: One Woman's Story from Nuru International on Vimeo.

This is one of the most amazing stories of empowerment and change I have ever heard or seen. It's the story of Milka Marwa, one of the many people whose lives have been changed because of Nuru's work together with the people of Kuria, Kenya.

Milka Marwa grew up in extreme poverty in Kuria. Her children and her grandchildren also grew up in extreme poverty. If one didn't know better, they could easily assume extreme poverty was a genetic trait as it seems to pass from generation to generation with ease like some set of dominant genes.

Milka's family, suffered from hunger, unclean and unsafe water, poor access to basic medical care, and lacked opportunities for education and entrepreneurship.

All of that changed when Milka got involved with Nuru. She was the third farmer who was met by the first Nuru team when they were conducting surveys in Kuria, Kenya in September 2008. Milka quickly proved herself to be a hard-working entrepreneur, and was named by her peers to be head of a Nuru group. Milka has continued to be recognized for her work ethic, and she is now leading over 500 farmers in 50 Nuru groups across her community.

Her family is able to get access to healthcare, they have clean water, funds for school fees, and plenty of food to eat. Her life and the lives of her descendants have been changed for good. She is a respected leader in her community, and her story comes as a result of people here and around the globe choosing to be Nuru.

Will you choose to be Nuru today as well? Take a few minutes, watch this video, and share Nuru's story with friends. Make a donation. Post it to your wall on facebook. Blog about it. Tweet it up. Just don't sit there waiting for someone else to take action.

The world needs YOU to step up. This is a great moment to help word spread and get more people involved in working toward the end of the greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation.

Be hope. Be light. Be Nuru.

Milka: One Woman's Story

This is one of the most amazing stories of empowerment and life change I have ever seen or heard.  It is the story of a woman named Milka Marwa whose life was changed as she became involved with Nuru.

Milka grew up living in extreme poverty in Kuria, Kenya. Her children and grandchildren also grew up living in extreme poverty as well. What does that mean?  It means that all her life, she has suffered with chronic hunger, as have her children. It means that she and her family have lacked available clean drinking water.  They have not been able to live with convenient access to health care, or afford school fees and other basic needs. If one did not know better, it would seem that extreme poverty was like some dominant genetic trait, easily passed from one generation to the next. But that is not the case.

Milka has proven that.  Her family now has plenty of food to eat, they can afford school fees, and they now have access to safe, clean water, and have learned

Milka was the third farmer met by Nuru’s first foundation team in September 2008 as they began surveys in the community to assess the needs.  Milka enrolled in a Nuru group, and her peers recognized her hard work ethic, and asked her to lead their group of ten farmers.  Now, Milka leads over 500 farmers in 50 Nuru groups.

Milka is now a leader because people like you have chosen to be Nuru.  We need more people around the world stepping up to be Nuru, will you join us? 

  Share her story.  Tell a friend. Make a donation. Blog about it. Tweet it up. Post this video on facebook.  Whatever you do, please do something.  We need everybody’s help to end the greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation.  We CAN do this!

Be hope. Be light. Be Nuru.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Catalyst 2010

Early Tuesday morning, my good buddy Derek Roberts and I hopped into Nuru’s van, and began our journey south.  Our final destination, Catalyst 2010.

What is Catalyst?  It is one of the largest conferences in the country for Christian leaders, and each fall approximately 13,000 leaders converge on the Gwinnett Arena in Atlanta, to participate in the Catalyst experience.  Among the people who have shared at Catalyst are Malcolm Gladwell, Andy Stanley, Scott Harrison, and Seth Godin (PS I randomly shook hands with Seth Godin).  The people who share at Catalyst invite the event’s participants into both their successes and failures.  And as a whole, the conference seeks to launch leaders to be better and better at their work of leading.

Catalyst also hosts a bi-weekly podcast on iTunes which features updates and interviews from some incredibly sharp minds in the world of leadership.  At the beginning of each episode, a recording from Andy Stanley reminds the Catalyst faithful, “Leadership is a stewardship; it is temporary, and you’re accountable.”  Personally, I love that quote, and it is one aspect of what I love about the conference.  The conference exists to both equip and remind leaders of their responsibility to lead.  It reminds me that whatever positions any of us hold in this world, they will not last, and that we must operate with a sense of urgency and excellence in all that we do.

The above photo was taken of a number of volunteers who were enjoying a lunch break.  It served as a reminder to me of just how many people it takes to accomplish something monumental like this conference. 

So Derek and I drove down to  share Nuru’s story with the attendees.  We did this in a space called the “Social Causes Tent” and we shared this space with about a dozen other nonprofits who work in a variety of arenas.  It was wonderful to see hundreds and hundreds of people pass through this space and to hear questions from many about who Nuru is and what Nuru does.  One of the best moments happened when two young women came up to our display and picked up information, and Derek said, “Have you heard much about Nuru?”  The woman looked at him and said, “This organization is the reason why I’m changing my major—I love Nuru!”

As I think back on the Catalyst experience, the opportunity to share Nuru, and the great friendships made and developed during the time, I’m filled with gratitude.  To think that Derek and I had an opportunity to share Nuru’s message with so many, and to think that these people are current and future leaders, it’s utterly amazing.  There are so many people out there who are dedicating their time, their talents, and their resources to serving others, and we were able to share a brief moment with a few of them. 

While it was great being at the event, I can’t wait to see how the event catalyzes even greater acts of service and disciplined leadership around this world.
Whether you were able to attend the conference or not, will you consider ways you might be able to pour your life into others, and make service a way of life for the good of the whole world?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Law of the Process

Ten years ago, one of my close friends gave me a copy of John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. And, as is common with me, I had great aspirations of reading it, but these were thwarted by tyranny of the urgent, and a fairly generous queue of books that I was waiting to read.

Last weekend, I picked up the book again, partially inspired by the fact that it is being used as a curriculum for leadership development among the servant leaders that are being mentored in Nuru International’s pilot project in Kuria, Kenya.

I’m trying to take this book a little more slowly than I typically allow myself, and I’m only a few chapters in. Each chapter has great stories, and I so far, I feel like I can give this book really high recommendations (and from the looks of the blurbs in the front of the book from many other leaders, I’m not alone).

One chapter that stuck out to me was the Law of the Process--Leaders develop daily, and not in a day. I think the reason was because it is so antithetical to what we are led to believe from casual observation of the world around us. Casual observation leads us to believe that successes happen over night, and that it only takes a few seconds to make a sandwich, brew coffee, or any of the multitude of actions from which we receive virtually instant gratification.

I think that there’s something in us that wants to skip steps and take short-cuts, but there are no short-cuts. We can work smarter at whatever we do, but we must always work hard. Success comes incrementally, and often times it takes multiple failures before one success. For example, did you know that Colonel Sanders was rejected over one thousand times before he found someone interested in his recipe?

It’s understandable to want to arrive at our destination more quickly. We can travel the country in a matter of hours. Journeys that once took days or months now take only a few hours. People from several countries can look at this blog post at the exact same time. Some things in our world move quickly, but realistically, most do not. It is our challenge, to be disciplined to the process, and incrementally over time, we will see the fruit of our labor.

Earlier this summer, I started doing push-ups and sit-ups five days a week.in an effort to get in shape, lose weight, and feel better. I started by doing five sets of 10 push ups with a set of 50 ab exercises between each round of push ups. Now I am doing 25 push ups per set and and 100 ab exercises. There is no way I could have started in that spot. I would have gotten discouraged and given up early had I tried. But, over time, we are able to make incremental improvements, and each of us can make those incremental improvements, if we only start, and try to do something.

In Maxwell’s book, he tells the story of Teddy Roosevelt, and if you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. Teddy Roosevelt is a great example of the Law of the Process. Here’s a Roosevelt quote that is an inspiration to engage in the process.

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marreed by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

May we each dedicate ourselves to the Law of the Process, to incremental successes and set-backs as we push forward toward our goals and become better leaders and better servants all around.

Have you ever experienced successes in the Law of the Process? How has this rule applied to your life?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Fall West Virginia Festivals

I try to make it a regular habit to visit various fall festivals that happen in this part of the state of West Virginia.  Last weekend was the Buckwheat Festival, and this coming weekend is the Forest Festival.  Although, I had hoped to attend the Buckwheat Festival, instead, Jamie and I visited a couple of old friends in Preston County along with some other friends.

Although we didn't attend the festival, in many ways we participated in what makes these festivals so special.  We were able to connect and catch up with friends we haven't seen in a long time.  The couple we visited opened their home to us after they had spent the entire day parking cars for the Buckwheat Festival.

Beyond connecting with old friends, there are some other aspects of events like this that make them a priority for me.  Of course, there's always the really unhealthy food that is readily available in this carnival atmosphere, but that's not exactly it.  (I do enjoy some fresh pork rinds from local farmers at the Buckwheat festival though)  It's the coming together of people from all over the region to celebrate some of the ties that keep us connected together.

Even though you would never guess it in the supermarkets or the suburbs, our roots in the United States are those of an agrarian nature.  The Buckwheat Festival, celebrates the end of the harvest, serves as a fundraiser for local organizations, and allows people from all walks of life to sit down and enjoy a meal together.  The meal?  All you can eat buckwheat cakes with two sausage patties and a cup of milk.  (My personal record is 13).  The cakes are hearty as is the atmosphere at the Kingwood Fire Hall. A person can see people from all over the region and from every walk of life enjoying a meal together, and there's really something beautiful about that.

If you are from this region, I hope you are able to observe and enjoy the foretaste of shalom that I am talking about at the Buckwheat or Forest Festivals.  If you are not, I strongly suggest you find out what your community does to celebrate the end of the harvest and our agrarian roots.  Go there, and tell folks about it.  Also, if you make it a point to attend one of these festivals, why do you go, and what is your favorite part of the festival?

And wherever you might find yourself, I hope you will take the time to enjoy the reunion, homecoming, and reconnection with friends and family that events like these offer.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Stephen Colbert's Testimony

Approximately one week ago, the Comedy Central host of the Colbert Report, Steven Colbert, appeared before the House Judiciary Committee last week to share his "testimony" about migrant farm labor.  Known for his satire, Colbert maintained a position consistent with his character on television as he spoke to the committee.  Colbert's testimony, while attempting to bring levity to a very tragic situation, met with mixed reviews among politicians.

There are jokes all through the testimony, and many have called his statement an embarrassment.  But I have to wonder, if his "star power" didn't actually help give this issue greater attention in the media.  Maybe, just maybe, amid all of the jokes about the situation, the desire that many have for reform will gain momentum because of Colbert's statements in the committee meeting.

At one point during his statement, Colbert noted that maybe if we protect others from being exploited, we will be less likely to be exploited.  All of the joking aside, that seems like pretty sound logic.  It sounds very familiar too.  It sounds like loving our neighbor as ourselves.

I don't know if you've ever given much thought to where our food comes from if you don't grow it yourself.  I don't know if you find Colbert's statements before a government committee laudable or lamentable.  What I do know is that his testimony caused me to give greater attention to the issue, and is  yet another opportunity for me to consider how I might better love my neighbor.

How about you?