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When we have a need…

Did you all meet Kenny on Sunday at our meeting?  He was playing drums for us!  Well, actually, he was playing his cajon, which worked well with Raleigh on guitar and singing with Sarah.  It was a small team but they sounded great.

I am so thankful that Kenny jumped in to help us.  He is regularly a part of our congregation that meets on North Broad St., but he joined us on Ridge Ave because we needed a drummer this week.  What a gift to be a part a whole movement of cells and congregations across Philadelphia and South Jersey.  We have people backing us up when we need it!  As a new congregation, we are still forming and we don’t have everything all worked out.   After putting out a local call for help, Raleigh looked to our musicians across congregations.

There are no casting calls or auditions around here – we just expect people to express their gifts, talents, art and worship, and we grow into better leaders, lovers and worshipers as we do that.  I know people among us who got connected simply because we needed them!  That is a demonstration of how we do things around here.  We are not vetting people to see if they meet a prescribed set of requirements.  We are not putting on an impressive show or a performance to be viewed.  We are creating an environment where people can connect with God and each other and live in to their life of faith in community, working out what it means to be who they are in Christ and give what they’ve got.

Thanks, Kenny, for responding to the need.  I look forward to meeting the next drummer in the northwest who wants to help us do this (I know Raleigh does too!).

Protesters assemble at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, after earlier in the day two Iraqi refugees were detained while trying to enter the country. On Friday, Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending all immigration from countries with terrorism concerns for 90 days. Countries included in the ban are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, which are all Muslim-majority nations. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Philadelphia is full of great people, doing great things

I met a few today…

We made a quick connection over laughing at ourselves in a public space and then we started chatting.  In our short conversation, this spunky, full-time student and employee made an impression on me.  We talked about what each of us does for work and I gave her a quick summary of Circle of Hope and our new congregation.  Her interest was piqued.  She had never heard of a cell church and was attracted to the idea.  I told her we are still new and are looking for people who want to do this with us.  She said she would come check it out.  I wondered out loud how she would fit it in to her full schedule.  She laughed and said she would make time, admitting that she fights boredom and believes there needs to be more good in the world.  Neither she or I are waiting on the government to fix things.  We have work to do.  I got her number and she got mine.

This afternoon I met two more people at the rec center where my kids go to afterschool.  I went over to say hi to Kim, who was chatting with someone and Kim introduced me as her pastor.  I learned that Kim’s friend is basically stepping up to do the job of about 4 people in order to care for a whole lot of kids in Philadelphia who are trying to get an education.   And with all that, was at the rec center with someone else’s kids!  She and her husband (who joined the conversation) were genuinely interested in what Kim and I are doing as we start a new congregation.  They already had ideas about future possibilities for the congregation and a ton of connections in the northwest.  I invited them to join us on Sunday, hoping they might feel inspired to share more of their ideas and connections with us.

We are still growing this congregation!  Five months in and we are doing great.  But in some ways we are just getting rolling.  We won’t really know who we are until we find the next partners to join us.  We started this congregation so that we could ‘expand the surface area’ to connect with more people who are looking for hope and willing to be a part of a community that expresses hope in practical ways.  I am excited about finding more great people who will shape the character of this congregation and help us express our life in Christ, at this time, in this place.

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Come do what you love, with us.  We need you!  Are you a drummer?   Like hosting or tech? You don’t have to be a professional around here.  We are who we are, and we appreciate that each person has something to contribute.

Are you are a student doing cool stuff that could help expand our creativity?  Or social action?

Do you organize the sledding parties when the snow comes? (Come on, not everyone hates it.)

Are you a business person? Urban farmer?   Yo-Yo expert?  (Fair warning:  We have a national competitor among us).

Help us find you!  Shoot me an email so we can connect.  julie@circleofhope.net  Jerome and I would love to take you out for coffee.   See?

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No More Waiting at the Pool

On Sunday at our meeting on 5720 Ridge Avenue, I gave a talk about a man Jesus healed at the pool of Bethesda. The story is told in John 5. The man was physically disabled in some way and wanted to be healed. He hung around the Pool of Bethesda because the belief at that time was that an angel would go to the Pool of Bethesda and “stir” up the waters.

When Jesus met the man, he asked him if he wanted to be healed. The man didn’t say yes. Not because he didn’t want to be healed but because he felt he needed to explain his problem to Jesus. He responded that he did not have any way to put himself into the water. That was how he expected to be healed. He was convinced that getting into the pool was the only way that he could be healed. It’s a pretty common thought pattern. For years, many of us have thought that the way to be healed and feel whole was to pull ourselves up with our bootstraps or numb ourselves from reality. There are self-help gurus and books, belief in  our civil religion, and of course the ever present belief in consumerism as a way to fix all ills. Jesus told the man to get up and healed him on the spot. The man was one of many that Jesus healed. No questions asked. The man didn’t even get Jesus’ name as it’s told in the passage that when people asked him who healed him he didn’t know.

One of my favorite aspects of this story is that Jesus shatters the myth of a zero-sum approach to life. The man was so focused on this one method of healing where only one person could be healed at a time. That one person would have to push someone out of the way, be the least lame or maybe, just maybe a friend would happen to be there to put him in the water. Jesus’s life was about healing everyone who would accept it. I think of our cells that way. They are unconventional ways of people being healed. All at the same time and together. It is also completely unconventional for a group of people who may not know each other well to make time to meet face-to-face once a week. On top of that, the group as a whole but especially the hosts welcome strangers into their homes and hearts. Remember that we live in a culture where it’s considered rude if you don’t send warning texts to your friends that you’re going to drop by. I think we all have been waiting at the pool at some point in our lives. We don’t have to though. Jesus invites us to a new reality. Our cells meet throughout the week in various neighborhoods in the Northwest. Contact me at jerome@circleofhope.net to connect.

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They may steal my packages, but they can’t steal my joy!

Last night I checked the status of three gifts I had ordered on-line, and my fears were confirmed – they had already been delivered.  I can only assume they were promptly removed and have joined my neighbors’ other missing packages.  Major bummer.

I was tempted to add this to a list of reasons I don’t feel ready for the end of this week but then I got a call from a friend in my cell.  She wanted to talk about how she is feeling a lot like Mary and Joseph.  They were poor, had traveled far, and ended up having to flee to another country to save their child from being slaughtered.  She, too, has traveled far, without many resources and has had to run to Jesus for her life in order to not be killed by the things that threaten her.  As we talked, I remembered the words the angel spoke to Mary: Blessed art thou among women.  The Lord is with you.

The Lord is with me.  The Lord is with you.  The Lord is with us – Emmanuel.

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I have so many examples of God with us – just from this past week.

– People in our new congregation are taking practical steps to share their money with regularity because they know their participation matters and they want to live out their trust in God and connect their heart to the future and grow what we have.

– Our Children’s team met this week because they are compelled to lead us in creating an environment where children can receive what they need to grow up as people of faith, hope and love.

– Our cell leaders and some apprentices shared stories about how God is moving among our cells and throughout the northwest neighborhoods.

– People among us are sharing the love of Jesus with the person next to them – by sending encouraging texts, reconciling, moving, making meals, giving rides, wrapping gifts, listening, praying and reaching out.

– We are buying gifts on behalf of incarcerated parents so their children can open something from them this week.  We are purchasing personal care items for prisoners who can’t get what they need.

There are many other ways God is revealing Love in the world, too.

My packages may disappear, but my joy will not!  I may not have all of my preparations complete, but I am ready for the miracle of God to be revealed – in the birth of Christ and in the Body of Christ.  What a gift to be among people who are a part of the miracle!

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Shepherds Leaving Sheep

We are nearing the end of our journey of Advent. I hope it has been meaningful for you and even though we are only days away from Christmas, there’s still time to try to do something meaningful in the season. Check my friend Rod’s blog here for some ideas. Though we are still in celebratory mood from being a new church plant and place for people to meet Jesus(!), we are not unaware of the pain of others. That’s why we would even take the risk to start something new as a young, vulnerable congregation. Advent is a spiritual discipline along with a season in the Christian year. I think of Advent as a time where our waiting for the hope of Jesus’ coming the first time and our hope for his return are done in solidarity. We are all consciously together in our longing for the Messiah to be born and to return. Our hope for his return is tied to our need for the justice that He did and will bring.

During Advent, we’ve gotten to consider a different person(s) each week in our Sunday meetings. We’ve also matched each person with a song. This week we considered the shepherds who were the first public witnesses to the birth of Jesus.

One of the things I was struck by when reading their story was how available to God they were. The shepherds were able to leave their sheep which was their livelihood to see what God was doing. During the holiday season when so many things have to get done, it’s especially relevant to think about what letting go of the expectations the culture has of us. The shepherds let themselves be open to what God was doing. They got to witness the birth of the savior because of their availability. Then, they got to tell the world about what God had done. It was all about them seeing what God did and then telling that good news to someone who had not heard it yet. I feel that way about Circle of Hope and the work God is doing through us. Letting go of our duties that we think makes the world go round opens us to what God is doing. There’s more to say but let’s keep the dialog going in our cells and in the comments. Peace to you.

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A John Baptist Christmas and Calling

On Sunday, I had the distinct pleasure of talking to our congregation about John the Baptist who happens to be one of my favorite people in the Bible. John’s life demonstrates that God not only accepts wildness but invites us into it. John was a violent invasion of the status quo. His call for repentance leveled the playing field. The common people, religious leaders and political elites alike all were told how to make themselves ready for the coming of God’s anointed one.

John was a prophet whose coming was prophesied. He spent time in the wilderness before his public ministry. He baptized people to make them ready to receive the coming Messiah. Then, he baptized the Messiah himself.

In my talk, I mentioned that Jesus seemed to be following the wild pattern that John the Baptist had set forth. For instance, Jesus was obviously prophesied. Jesus went into the wilderness before he began his public ministry. And it was at his baptism by John that God the Father declared that Jesus was the Son of God.

I think we can take heart in the fact that despite being the singular prophet preaching repentance to make the way for the Lord, John still had his doubts. When jailed, he sent word to ask Jesus whether Jesus really was the anointed One. As a congregation, we are very much like John the Baptist. As a congregation, we were prophesied by the Circle of Hope community to be a presence in the Northwest part of Philadelphia. We are willing to do unorthodox things to make Jesus known like cells where anyone can join or multiplying congregations. We make the explicit invitation for people from all walks of life to know who Jesus is and to follow him.

During Advent, we decided to allow people in the Sunday meetings to take a prayer walk around the building and not have talk-back as we normally would. Comments on this post are a great place to hear what the Spirit said to you on your walk. Peace.

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It is good to have good partners

This new Circle of Hope congregation that meets on Ridge Ave. is only 3 months old, but we already have a lot of great people who are forming it.   Here are stories about two:

Jerome

Yesterday, his cell phone died.  Major bummer.  He and I were emailing back and forth instead of having a conversation.  That is inconvenient, if not annoying (and I am not even the one living without the phone).  We were working together, but from different locations.  I was at the office at S. Broad making copies because we don’t have an office to call our own.  Jerome was working on his talk for Sunday.  I think this was the first work day we have not talked to each other since we began this pastor partnership.  It was odd.  Our daily communication is an essential part of our ‘teaming’ and our development.  I have come to rely on him for many things – his humor, his spiritual insight, his ability to see a bigger picture when I am stuck in my immediate one.   There are a few things he has said to me that I think I will always remember from this formative time as new pastors.  One day when I was feeling inadequate and sheepishly admitted that the best stuff I lead with has come from other people he quoted 1 Corinthians with an encouraging, “Of course. What do you have that you did not receive?”  And when I lamented over the barriers I had hit one day he said something like, “Well, that sounds productive.  Now you have some clear things to pray about.”  He is not always looking for a bright side (if that’s how this sounds).  He just offers his insight directly and without judgment.  It has been good to process with him as we both grow publicly into these roles.  It has been refining to work through our differences and to learn how to partner.  And it has just been fun to get to know him and to encourage each other as we see God transforming us and others as we work together to lead and grow the church.

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(Jerome, as much as this makes me laugh, we should take an updated photo.)

Kasetta

While our girls were taking a sewing class this morning, Kasetta and I went out for coffee to talk about our new congregation and the possibilities ahead.  It was great.  I was inspired from being with her – not just because she has ideas and the commitment to follow through with them but because is willing to be a part of the team.  She recognizes that our foundation is being united in Christ.  She sees that leading is more than just putting out great ideas.  She understands that building a team takes relational work, and that can take time.  Since the birth of this congregation 3 months ago, she helped to multiply her cell, stepped in to the role of cell leader apprentice in her new cell, and has been working to find new ways to express Christ’s love in the world through compassionate efforts.  When we talked about our budget and the goals we have for next year, she was quick to say “Count me in.”  Not only am I grateful to have Kasetta as a friend and a part of the village to raise my children, I am glad to have her as a partner.

(No selfies of us drinking coffee, but here are our cute kids who made pillowcases!)

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