Tag Archives: compassion

How do YOU think people see your church?

The first question we asked our cells in order to gather some discernment about where God is leading us was this:

When a newcomer or unbeliever gets to know us, whether in a cell or Sunday Meeting, through one of our events or teams, or through an individual, what are the things they will most immediately notice about us and what gifts will they find easiest to access?” 

What do you think?

Examine yourselvesWe dared to take Paul seriously when he tells the Corinthian church: Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Cor. 13:5). If we can be honest about what others see in us, we will not just follow the scripture, we will probably follow our humility right into spiritual growth! We are who we are, but who knows what we might become if we listen?.

Our cells had a LOT to say about this question (and all the other questions!). When I set my mind to sort all their responses, I came up with eighteen different headings for this first one! I was encouraged by what the cell members thought people see in us when they first get to know us. I thought you might be encouraged too. I am not going to list all eighteen things! But I thought I would give you ten. I’ll give you my heading and then one of the answers I culled out which intrigued or moved me. So you get my heading and one answer verbatim.

Whether you are part of our church or not, these things might give you something to think about. What’s more, I don’t doubt someone who is in our church will think the person I quote does not completely know what they are talking about. So we all might have more to think about, too. Regardless, I think we’d all like to be a church moving in the direction these thoughts signal.

Whether you think your church is seen in these ways or you think it just ought to be, let’s pray that we get there. Yesterday was Pentecost, and the Spirit of God is moving to take us into our fullness.

Here are ten ways the cell members think newcomers see us:

We are welcoming/hospitable/friendly/open.

  • You can be who you are.  You are relevant.  You have an opportunity to an actual path where God is leading you.  Walk with us – not your fear or a stereotype.

We create a distinct atmosphere.

  • We create an atmosphere where we try to attract those who are timid with things like the bible through our vulnerability showing it is OK to have doubts and disbelief.

We are a connected community.

  • We are not an obligation – this community is real and authentic and people are here out of choice.  We are not a thing to do.  We want to know you.  

Leadership is respected and varied.

  • Leaders don’t have to be older, mature people who have all their stuff together. Anyone can potentially be a leader and should see their gifts and insight valued and nurtured (not just for white male extroverts).

We have an open seeking spirit.

  • Vulnerability in sharing by both women and men. It’s good modeling by those in leadership because it sets a space to be real and to address deep set needs – we are a deep people because of this.

We are devoted to compassion.

  • Our good works are a natural progression from our togetherness

We share.

  • It is not hard to get resources of spiritual direction (informal), counseling, financial help, job connections.

We take action, are ambitious, intentional.

  • We are doers of the word. While other may talk about examples of how you may get involved the overwhelming expectation is that we are people who live through action and action particularly for both one another and those with need.

We expect people to participate.

  • They can get connected to anything (cell, team’s, leadership, etc.), the church is their oyster.

We are committed to dialogue.

  • It is the judge-free zone.  We all pretty openly discuss a lot of topics, personal and otherwise with widely varying opinions sometimes, and no one is upset.  

When you answer the question about your church, what are the answers YOU get? Let’s keep praying for the Holy Spirit to move us into the place the Lord would like us to be.

[Originally published on Circle of Hope’s blog]

Going around doing good

In Acts, Jesus is described as “one who went around doing good.” And yet I regularly hear some suspicion about MCC because their main gift to the church is leading us to go around and do good — in a professional, creative , personal, inclusive way! They are accused of being unevangelistic, even though they stamp everything they distribute “in the name of Christ.”

Rather than being unevangelistic, I would say that MCC and other ways the church expresses God’s love in practical ways are the MOST evangelistic things we do in an age that is suspicious about words in general and particularly Christian ones. I don’t know how much personal evangelism you do, but when I get an opportunity I often hear about how uncompassionate the church is. Many people think we hate gay people and immigrants and anyone who does not agree with us. They think we are fierce competitors for government power to enforce the morality we don’t completely agree on among ourselves. We lament the shrinking church in the U.S. — I still think the antidote is intercession and compassion.

When I was connecting with the BIC about 30 years ago one of the main reasons I did it was because they were part of MCC. My friends had been to Kenya to study.  One of the things they described were these great missionaries who went about doing good, were close to the people, and had a better reputation than other missionaries who seemed more concerned with building their organization than serving –they were called MCC, whatever that means. So I am glad we are hanging in there with MCC in a rather selfish age. I want to show people Jesus, especially the neediest.

I guess that’s what people say while on an MCC learning tour. We see a lot of good being done in our name. Today we visited the Zimbabwean bishop, were taken by his wife to visit the needy, visited with a peacemaker trying to undo the trauma visited on Matabeleland (having been in prison for his passion) — and that was just part of the day. The church is making a lot with the little they have. Jesus saves.

Here are two other special moments.

Sibo Ncube has been leading the BICC Compassionate Development Services for three years. My poor picture does not reveal what an articulate, passionate, intelligent leader she is. She is combining the elements of the hospitals, MCC projects and other efforts in a coherent framework. It is part of a new commitment to compassion by the church. She laments the lost generation who have grown up without integrity in a sea of corruption. She sees them enslaved by an atmosphere of fear and despair. She plans to lead the church to restore their historic character as a peace church and so restore the country. I pray she succeeds.

The National Parents of Disabled Children Organization has a big name for their struggling but blessed ministry. MCC had been funding a larger organization of parents with severely disabled children. The director stole the organization’s money and sold the van!  A segment of the betrayed parents reorganized, found a man to build them a house and donate a van! In a country with completely inadequate and unaffordable health care, this is what you do. I am moved by them. They radiated joy. As we said our goodbyes several workers sang a song of love and danced in praise. That was worth the whole trip.

These people are going around doing good with Jesus in a needy, traumatized, and abused place. I am delighted MCC is in league with the BIC in Zimbabwe and so allows me to go around (and dance) with them as they do it.

The other Africa posts:

April 13
Circle of Hope travels to southern Africa.


April 18
First thoughts from Zimbabwe

April 19
Being poor is tough

April 20
Going around doing good

April 22
Coming up against the powers


April 25
The food chain

April 25
The work of the Lord

April 26
Showing God’s love in practical ways

April 27
Will the northern hemisphere ever grow peace clubs?

April 30
Will we concede Southern Africa to Islam?

It is OK NOT to be WEIRD — the Bible’s many “rights”

While I was waiting for baby Hannah to arrive the other day I read a book. (The labor took much longer than I expected! )  It was such a good book that I can’t resist applying a few of its more applicable thoughts to what we are going through right now.

Your Christianity may be weird

We live in a weird culture and it has influenced us so much that our Christianity is weird. But our circle of hope in Christ  is the brave antidote to that, unless we make it weird.

westerners are weird
Pesky sociologists deconstructing again.

Jonathan Haidt,  a UPenn alum, wrote a well-received book called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. It is not a Christian book, even though he gets a lot more sympathetic to Christians by the time he is finished with his huge study on why people react the ways they do when it comes to politics.

Haidt realized that his blue-state sensibilities were actually rather WEIRD. By that he means: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. As far as assessing how humans work, in general, WEIRD people are statistical outliers in the world today and certainly are out of the mainstream of history. USonians are even WEIRDer than Europeans.  Haidt says that “several peculiarities of WEIRD culture can be captured in this simple generalization: The WEIRDer you are, the more you see a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships. It has long been reported that Westerners have a more independent and autonomous concept of self than do East Asians. For example, when asked to write twenty statements beginning with the word ‘I am…,’ Americans are likely to list their own internal psychological characteristics (happy, outgoing, interested in jazz), whereas East Asians are more likely to list their roles and relationships (a son, a husband, an employee of Fujitsu).“

Your morality may be WEIRD

If you see a world full of individuals, like WEIRD people do, then you’ll want a morality that protects those individuals and their individual rights. Concerns about harm and fairness will be emphasized. If you live in a non-WEIRD society, as most people do and as most have lived througout history, then you will see a world full of relationships, contexts, groups and institutions. So you won’t be so focused on protecting individuals, you’ll place the needs of the groups and institutions first, often ahead of the needs of individuals. Morality based on harm and fairness won’t be enough. You’ll have additional concerns and a whole set of virtues to go with them.

People often wonder when our church is going to get on the bandwagon and become as WEIRD as (the obviously exceptional) westernized culture around us. We resist being WEIRD and resist conforming to their outlier morality. For one thing, we don’t think the rest of the world and the previous history of humankind is stupid. But the main reason we don’t conform is because God has revealed a much larger playing field on which truth and morality is worked out. You can see that in our far-reaching and diverse scriptures.

Haidt apparently teaches undergrads, because he can boil down his ideas into bumper stickers (which I admire). He follows his own journey out of being WEIRD as he discovers that there are six foundations for morality, not just the one that Americans are using right now to make all their new laws about protecting rights. I was not surprised to see that all six of his “foundations” are elements of the Bible’s teaching about how to live a righteous life [check them out!]. I love it when social science “discovers” the Bible! I think I will save the other five for next time. But since we just welcomed another child into our clan, I’ll leave you with the foundation that dominates our society right now, what Haidt calls the “care foundation.”

The small basis for all those laws

babies are weird but nobody caresThe care foundation for morality is all about protecting people from harm. It is what triggers that “aahh” when we see picture of babies and puppies, preferably together. And it is also the trigger that makes us angry when we see baby seals being clubbed or chickens crammed in a cage. It is also why we can be obsessed about everyone’s rights and why our leaders hasten to tell us they are protecting whole countries and the rights of humanity when they bomb them. All our ethics codes begin with the basic premise that we are supposed to “do no harm.” That’s essentially how we sum up how to act. If the married couples I know are any indication, we all apply this with vigor. They are often very concerned not to do anything wrong that will harm the other, thus protecting fairness but paralyzing intimacy. At the same time they are always doing harm because their rights are violated every day and they can’t help being mad about it.

The “care foundation” is also a main motivation for how we act as Jesus followers. We love how Jesus described God as being like a father filled with compassion for his child: “So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20). God is all about loving individuals; the worse off they are the more Jesus seems to love them.

The Bible teaches us to be like God in how we live: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32). Love, we are taught  “always protects” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Individuals and their well-being count and they are supposed to matter to us, just as they are.

There is more to morality than harm and fairness, however. USonians boil it down to that and then start analyzing everything to see if it meets up to their rather tiny idea of what is good. But they are off to a good start, at least — as long as they don’t try to make the rest of us, and the rest of the world, conform to their small idea of what is right, based on their WEIRDness.

Lent Did It’s Job: Three levels of awareness

risen sunIt has been a wonderful Lent.

At times, I felt a little guilty, because my self-imposed suffering was bearing delectable fruit: some of it tasted new and some of it tasted of well-loved flavors I had been missing. Meanwhile, some people were blowing off the discipline…for what? At times I felt like I was having a feast while strangely invisible to starving people.

I hope you find it acceptable for me to tell you a little about my Lent. One thing I experienced during the season is this reality: any number of my comrades feel that saying anything about ourselves is proud or self-referencing or coercive, so they never give a testimony of God’s work and , as a result, no one gets to know Jesus. Waking up to that shocked me and reformed me, so I am giving my testimony. Lent helped me realize how they had somewhat squeezed me into their tiny, dishonorable mold. They made me afraid.

I’ll be brief, though. I’ll organize my thoughts around the PM Plan, where it quotes Jesus calling us, in Mark 12, to “surrender to loving God with our entire beings.”  Jesus speaks of a whole being as four parts: heart, soul, mind and strength. A whole being can never actually be separated into parts, of course. But these are good categories to help us mentalize: think and feel about what we  think and feel — a basic Christian skill for which Lent was priceless.


We say in the PM Plan that the “heart” is: Our ordinary awareness, primarily. The center of our ego, our sense of being a person. Feelings, desires, passions, reflection, moral conviction.

During the Patrick Day Retreat I encouraged us to note our three levels of awareness: ordinary, spiritual and Holy Spirit. It helped me take note.

That retreat was symbolic of my reorientation. I’ve been discouraged, on and off, for a while. The congregation and the whole network have been missionally stalled, in some ways, and I am a missionary. Lent rekindled my fire, got me excited, helped me let go and change. Our focus on the Jesus Prayer spurred my contemplation, so I was hearing the inner voice. And, as you can probably tell, I felt convictions that I, and we, have an important outer voice.

We say that the “mind” is: Our ordinary awareness, primarily. Where we are conscious. Our understanding, ethical awareness, inclinations, attitudes.

During the Justice Conference I was stricken by what caring people can do. And I was also stricken by what Circle of Hope, as caring people, has done. We are the lost poster child church of the Justice Conference. I felt the same way when we were speaking to the Atlantic Conference of the BIC about our Compassion Teams. We demonstrate remarkable, authentic passion. I love who God has made us!

But sometimes I have felt concerned because it seems like our radicality, our incarnational mentality, and our covenant intensity, just wear people out. I get afraid that people might lazily let it all go. But when I saw “pop” church popping up in our region I got competitive for reality. What’s more, my trauma study helped me see that learned helplessness is a constant threat when people are oppressed; you might have heard about that in this blog post. The church is floundering and pandering; the world is demanding and deceiving. I feel called to be an antidote, if I can.

We say what Jesus means by “strength” is: Not only bodily strength, but primarily. Our ability, capacity, potency. The power we are given to exercise.

I feel better when my Lenten fast has the corollary benefit of reducing my weight and making me aware of my body. When I am feeding myself in a healthy way and requiring my body to match my morals, I feel better and act with more freedom, I am more open.

I forced a personal retreat into my busy schedule at one point during Lent just because it needed to be done. I damned the consequences. The fact that I did that made me stronger. And the consequences weren’t that big a deal anyway. I also regularly force spiritual direction into my schedule and it makes me a stronger counselor and director myself. My doctoral studies are also way too much to do, but have also proven to be too strengthening not to do.

We say that the “soul” is: Our spiritual awareness. Where we most deeply connect with God. The life in us that transcends time. The place of accountability. The seat of sorrow, joy, suffering.

This is where Lent was most valuable, as you might expect. I am desperate for hours in “Holy Spirit awareness.” And although my heart, mind and strength propel me there, it is in my soul that I am most allured. During Lent, I felt remarkably, consciously relieved of lazy habits of self-protection and self-soothing. I think a lot of that was due to my study in trauma and revisiting my psychological character style. For instance, at one of the Holy Week observances I described my childhood home as “unsafe” — an admission I don’t usually allow. My friend’s response was so kind that a flood of emotions surged up. I was getting healed some more. During the Way of the Cross walk and during the vigil I realized the erosive benefits of Lent. I might long for something to knock me “off my horse” all the time, but the regular disciplines of exercising my spiritual awareness form me as they save me. The fact that I went on the walk helped me become aware of Jesus and walk with Him.

As I decided what to put into this testimony it was such a joy to realize that there is so much more to tell! It was a rich season in a rich life. God was with me and I was with God. I was in a body that is a real church and God was with us. I had put my hand to the plow and the way forward was challenging, but exciting — and I did not want to look back or elsewhere. One the main convictions I received was that I needed to talk about all that. So I have begun. Thanks for walking with me.

I’m sure you have a lot to tell, yourself. Right now at Circle of Hope Daily Prayer we are having the first of our quarterly times to talk back, reveal ourselves, and tell each other what God has been doing from January through March. That is hardly the only place you could give witness to God’s work in your life through Jesus, but it is a good one.

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