A Prayer for Las Vegas

pexels-photo-568027In the wake of the senseless, horrifying tragedy in Las Vegas Sunday night, there are many understandable reactions. Shock. Confusion. Rage. Deep sadness.

However you react emotionally, for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, there should be a common, instinctive reaction: Prayer. Please join me in offering this prayer, or a prayer of your own, to the God who is present with the suffering.

Father – Son – Spirit, Triune God of faithfulness,
we ask right now for your hand of mercy.
Holy Spirit, bring comfort, compassion, and love to all in Las Vegas.
Restore peace, bring hope, extend grace.
Strengthen first responders, law enforment, and medical personnel as they seek to provide resources and services to those in need.
Father, unite Your churches to provide places of rest and prayer, hope and healing.
Allow your followers, Jesus, to be a blessing in any way possible.
And help everyone across the world to lift up in prayer this community in need of your love and light today. We join in solidarity and cry out for mercy and healing.
You are able, Lord God of the Universe.
In the powerful and compassionate name of Jesus, Amen.

 

*This prayer is borrowed from the good folks at Missio Alliance.

Michael Carlson
Pastor / Chrio Communities
michael@chriocommunities.com

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Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. – iPhone

Never will I leave you;

never will I forsake you.

– iPhone

While I know in my head that those words should be attributed God, as I consider my life it has also been true of my iPhone.

My one true love.

My constant companion.

My iPhone.

I was reminded of this as I fasted from media and shopping this past Monday as I prepare for the launch of our discipleship groups in a couple of weeks.

We’ve asked everyone who considers Chrio home to take ONE DAY between Sept. 17 and Oct. 8th to fast from all media and shopping.

This means to set down the phone.

Don’t touch the tablet.

Don’t talk to Alexa.

That TV remote?

No touchy touchy.

And the laptop too?

Off limits.

 

ARE YOU CRAZY?

 

I’ve been accused of much worse.

Why would we ever…(should I put that in all caps?)…EVER…do such a thing?

Because you and I need to.

We need to detach from the things that so easily captivate our attention so we can readjust our perspective.  We need to power down technology so our internal antenna can be reset to recognize the voice of God.

Here are two things I realized during this media fast.

First, I often turn to my iPhone out of boredom.

As I sit waiting for my next appointment (or, confession, sometimes the next green light) I pick up my iPhone.

  • What’s the score of the game?
  • Did we settle on a time to get together tonight?
  • I hope they responded to my e-mail by now.

When I’ve committed to not using my iPhone for a day I notice, often, how I pick it up in the lulls of my day.

Sure, some of it is useful.

I do need to know locations for meetings, for example. But much of my attention that goes to my iPhone is related not to need but to boredom.

I was reminded that I need to unplug periodically so I can press into boring spaces. So I can take a few deep breaths. So there is space for the Spirit to speak. So I can be a tad bit less impulsive.

I need that.

Do you need that?

Second, curiosity kills this cat.

Yep. I can be quite curious. Sometimes it’s about completely meaningless things too.

Was Sean T. a collegiate athlete?

(Yes, that was an actual question that crossed my mind when my wife was talking about her Insanity workouts she just completed. And I wanted to go to wikipedia. Wait, this a safe place, right?)

Do I have class on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings this week or just Tuesday?

What’s the temperature right now?

How many likes does that super cute photo I posted on Facebook of my kids have NOW?

Curiosity.

It drives me to my iPhone throughout every day.

It’s good for me to notice these things. My hunch is I’m not alone.

So here’s the invitation. If you’re courageous enough to say yes to opening up space in your life nothing spectacular may happen. But what if it opens up space for the Spirit to speak? What if you’re able to explore your longings and fears in conversation with God for a few minutes? What if you realize that God is stirring you explore something new or different for six weeks with a group of people from Chrio in a discipleship group? What if God tells you NOT to join a discipleship group for six weeks with a group of people from Chrio?

Our hope is that by saying yes to powering down everything that it raises your attention to your internal world and to the voice of the Spirit.

That’s our hope.

In fact, that’s what fasting is all about. When you fast from food your prayer can go something like this:

Father, I’m hungry. It’s distracting. I notice it. Will you stir me to experience my hunger and thirst for righteousness just like I desire food right now? Will you make my need for you as urgent and strong as this hunger?

So it is with media.

God will you invade these vacancies in my schedule – even the two minute ones – so that I receive your affirmation? God will you invade these vacancies so that you can remind me that you are my ever present help in times of trouble? So that I become more attached to you?

If you say yes to fasting from media and shopping for one day it will require some planning. Write down directions to any appointments you have the night before. Plan an activity like going to a park or having someone over for a meal. Print off the ingredient list for that recipe you are going to cook.

It will take work to prepare but it’s worth it.

By the way. I received 34 text messages on Monday. WAY more than a normal Monday. Have any guesses how many of them were urgent? None.

I look forward to hearing about what the Spirit does as we open up space to listen.

P.S. Oh, and if the Spirit gives you any topics or ideas for discipleship groups this fall, send me or Pastor Michael a note.

 

 

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Exploring Contentment – Questions To Consider

On Sunday we explored the the kingdom practice of contentment.

We defined contentment in this way:

Contentment is the attitude of acceptance concerning where God has you in life with what God has given you. Contentment grows in the soil of trust and dependence upon God.

This means that contentment is a posture of the heart towards our position and possessions grounded in the goodness of God. It’s an orientation of satisfaction towards the present. It’s about finding fulfillment with now instead of longing for later.

Here are some questions to help you explore contentment.

 

  1. What longings has God placed on your heart? How do they relate to this call to contentment?

 

  1. Is your view of success or the good life tied to something changing? Is the good life about something not changing in your world?

 

  1. Contentment requires grieving; letting go of the way we want things to be and accepting what is. Is there anything that you need to grieve (a good thing lost) so that you can accept the good thing(s) that God wants to bring next?

 

  1. How do you discern when and what you purchase? What limits do you place on your spending?

 

  1. How has the ‘more is better’ or ‘bigger is better’ mentality shaped you?

 

  1. Do you envy those who have more things or more opportunities than you? Explain.

 

  1. How much of your identity is wrapped up in what you own and where you go? Who are you without all these acquisitions and opportunities?

 

  1. One scholar wrote: ‘The main emotion of adult Americans who have all the advantages of wealth, education and culture is disappointment. It pervades work, family life, school and politics as well as the church.’ Is this true? If so, why?

 

  1. Contentment requires us to be present in the moment – where we are now, not where we want to be. Discuss how can you ground yourself in today.

 

  1. Are you believing this lie: ‘Once I have , I’ll be happy.’ Or ‘Once I do , I’ll be happy.’

 

  1. In his book Holy Discontent, Bill Hybels explores how discontentment is often the means by which God moves us to join him as change is brought to the world. How can we be a people who discern holy discontentment from unholy discontentment?

 

  1. Does your ‘prayer life’ reflect contentment? Discuss how someone could tilt their prayer life away from ‘requests for change’ to receiving the gifts that God has given.

 

Recommended resource: Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster

Scriptures passages from Sunday: Acts 16:11-25; Philippians 4:10-13; Hebrews 13:5, Matthew 6:19-34

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Four Reasons Why Jesus Should Captive Your Mind More Than the President

I recently wrote an article for an organization called Missio Alliance. I recommend checking them out and, if you like the articles, podcasts, and other media they curate, subscribing to their weekly e-newsletter. If you’re interested, here’s an introductory paragraph and link to my article, which is titled “Four Reasons Why Jesus Should Captivate Your Mind More Than the President.”

What are you thinking about?

When my wife and I were dating, we got into the habit of asking each other this question. The answers were often trivial, sometime humorous, and occasionally profound. For two young individuals trying to figure out if “this is the one,” it often led to great conversations and became a helpful way to get to know one another better.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Michael Carlson
Pastor / Chrio Communities
michael@chriocommunities.com

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What’cha Reading: Book 1, Part 2

unfettered-hopeI recently started a new blog series called Whatcha Reading. My inaugural post was part 1 of a review of a book called Unfettered Hope by theologian Marva Dawn. Due to the density of this book, I decided to break it up into two posts. Here is part 2.

So What?

There are many questions that have been haunting me since reading this book. I’ll mention only a couple.

First, how do I relate to technology? More specifically, am I aware of the ways technology may be using me instead of the other way around? For example, despite the ways technology connects me with others, am I aware of how technology (like my phone) pulls me away from relationships that are right in front of me? Since Dawn wrote this book before Facebook and the smartphone, cell-phone-addictionI can only imagine how much more relevant these questions are today when phenomena like nomophobia and FOMO are common experiences. Here are some diagnostic questions that have helped me think through the question of how I relate to technology. Because my phone is the most powerful piece of technology in my life, these questions tend to be phone-specific:

  • How many collective minutes per day do I spend staring at my smartphone (news, sports, facebook, twitter, Instagram, blogs, snapchat, email, text-messaging, etc.)? How many minutes per day do I spend on my knees in prayer or reading the Bible?
  • Are people in my life often telling me to put my phone down because it’s keeping me from being present to the relationships or tasks right in front of me?
  • Is my phone the first thing I give my attention to in the morning and the last thing I give my attention to at night?
  • If I go somewhere without my phone, does it feel like I’ve lost a part of myself?
  • Do I regularly fast from my phone? What are some daily or weekly habits I could adopt that would create “technology-free” spaces in my life?

Second, what matters most to me? And is my answer to this question the determining force giving shape and meaning to my relationships, habits, and schedule? If Dawn’s right that what should matter most for Christians is love of God and love of neighbor (and I think she’s right), my life should be increasingly reoriented around these twin-commands.

love god love peopleIf you’re like me, the idea of “reorienting” anything in life sounds daunting (my wife and I are currently juggling two children who are two and under – we barely have time to change all the diapers that need changing, let alone relationships, habits, and schedules!). That being said, since reading this book I haven’t been able to stop wondering what it might look like to take tangible, realistic steps toward loving God and neighbor more deeply. Here are some questions I’ve been asking myself lately.

  • Am I intentionally taking time every day simply to talk and listen to God (could be in the shower, car, bed, etc.)?
  • Is there an activity that makes me more aware of God’s presence and love or that helps me see and experience the beauty of God? If so, make a weekly or daily (if possible) habit of doing that thing.
  • Identify someone in your life who seems to love God and others well. Then ask them how they think a person can grow in love of God and neighbor.
  • Are there people in your life whom you pray for every day by name?


Favorite Quotes:

“Because our society has been so good at inventing diversions, because the wired world is inundated with them, the media have to bluff us into the fettered thinking that consumption is our absolute duty – for if we do not consume, the pace of the economy will slow down, money will not circulate, and people will be forced out of work. Consequently, we are also bombarded with the bluff that we should follow the opinions and styles propagated by the advertising media. Thus we are always directed toward enslavement by self-concern and the various idolatries of possessions and the “Mammon” that purchases them” (19).

“How has the world become so unbalanced that part of the world struggles to cope with all the stuff it possesses while the larger part of the world scrambles to find enough” (41)?

“Can we learn in our churches that worship is for God and not to please our own tastes or express ourselves? Can we learn to be genuine communities in our churches so that we are willing to forego our musical preferences at times for the sake of our brothers and sisters in faith” (82)?

“…my concern centers on the large proportion of congregations that have thrown out everything that can be learned from historic worship and music and liturgies and leadership in order to “attract” the unbelievers. In the process, they tend to turn the practice of engaging in worship for the sake of our focal concern to love God into the device, or means, that will produce the commodity of greater numbers. But attracting neighbors is not loving them” (93).

“Do we blame liturgies or worship styles for not being user-friendly when we ourselves are inhospitable? … If I came to your congregation, would someone invite me to sit with her” (95).

“Many church budgets do not include even a line item for caring for the poor” (103).

“Why do churches measure success by how many souls ‘they’ have added in the past year? Could we look instead at how deeply we have nourished discipleship, how profoundly we have helped people learn to live according to their focal concerns of loving God and their neighbors throughout the world? The device paradigm has ruined our ability to think of quality instead of quantity… Why do I let society’s numbers game so affect my attitudes? I know: I lose sight of my focal concerns” (103).

“…many U.S churches become caught in a nasty spiral of needing to produce the commodities of plenty of programs in order to attract enough people to generate the income necessary to keep offering the programs. At root is the device paradigm and the undoubtedly culture-driven beginning of the attitude that delivering programs is what churches are for” (104).

“I am totally convinced that the main reason that churches fail to live by their focal concerns is because their members are not deeply committed to each other in genuine communities formed by the biblical metanarrative” (147).

“To call a local church into the mission of Jesus is to call its members into the same two behaviors. First we cry. Then we die. We let our hearts be broken with the things that break the heart of God. Then we die to the comfortable patterns of life that insulate us emotionally and geographically from those for whom Christ died” (Ben Johnson and Glenn McDonald, quoted on 158).

“…the Christian practice of faithfulness in marriage is a gift of the larger society – not only because of the stability it provides the spouses and any children the marriage might create, but also because it is another protest against the ‘instant gratification’ ethos of our commodified culture. People who choose deliberately not to participate in our society’s consumption of genital excesses (in the flesh as well as in the media) have habits of restraint and moral carefulness that affect many other dimensions of life” (167). ‘

“…the solution to the immense bodily needs of a great proportion of the world is not merely to give away more of our money, but rather totally to de-sacralize Mammon in our own lives so that it doesn’t have such a hold on us” (169).

“It is that willingness to suffer that we seem to lack these days, and therefore the abhorrent economic injustices of our world remain” (170).

Michael Carlson
Pastor / Chrio Church
michael@chriocommunities.com

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On Prayer: Waiting Five Years For The Answer I Wanted

Five years.

Yes, five years.

When the Chrio family invited me to be their Pastor just over five years ago I began praying that God would develop relationships between our church family and the families that attend Pedro Guerrero Elementary School, where we gather on Sundays.

Seems like a simple prayer, right?

Father, draw our church family close to families that bring their children here for school.

Now don’t misunderstand me. There have been countless times when people in the Chrio family have shared space, conversations and laughter with families at Guerrero.

  • Every Thursday for three years both Guerrero families and Chrio servants descended on the gym to pack food through Blessings in a Backpack so every child at Guerrero would have some food on the weekends.
  • We’ve hosted basketball and soccer clinics for students.
  • Science Night, Dr. Seuss Night and Fiesta de Mayo have been annual service events for the past five years (in fact Dr. Seuss Night is Thursday…you should come!)

While each of these events was beautiful they were not like this.

For the past three weeks a group of women from Chrio have been teaching English to a group of families from Guerrero. Now all parties know each other’s names. They know what each other do for work. They know how long each has been associated with Guerrero—whether it be because of education or because of church attendance.

This isn’t a ‘kind acknowledgment’ level of relationship. It’s deeper.

This is what happens when you sit across the table from someone. You get to know them. You begin to want God’s best for them.

Maybe this doesn’t sound like a big deal as you read this. But it’s been a five year prayer of mine—for Chrio family members to be in week-in-week-out relationship with families at Guerrero.

Do you have five year…or fifteen…or fifty year prayers that you just keep lifting up to our Father?

Maybe sometimes you’ve prayed it only because you’ve been praying it for such a long time. Maybe you’ve had this nagging thought, is it time to STOP saying this prayer?

I’m not sure if you should keep saying any particular prayer or not, although I would love to talk to you about your prayers!) What I do know is that God recently answered a five year prayer in a new and fresh way.

I’m writing today to tell you he does these kinds of things.

Because He is God.

Because He is good.

Because He hears prayers.

And sometimes, after five years, he surprises you with the answer you’ve been wanting but wasn’t sure you’d ever get.

 

Joel Scott

Pastor / Chrio Communities

joel@chriocommunities.com

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What’cha Reading? Book 1, Part 1

unfettered-hope

Title: Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living in an Affluent Society

Author: Internationally renowned theologian, author, and educator Dr. Marva J. Dawn has served as Teaching Fellow in Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Under Christians Equipped for Ministry (CEM), she has preached and taught at seminaries, clergy conferences, churches, assemblies, and universities throughout the United States and world. A scholar with four masters degrees and a Ph.D. in Christian Ethics and the Scriptures from the University of Notre Dame, Dr. Dawn has also been a popular preacher and speaker for people of all ages. She is the author of numerous articles and over 20 books, several of which have won awards and\or been translated into several languages. Marva (who is now officially retired) and her husband Myron (a retired elementary school teacher) live in southwestern Washington State. (Adapted from the bio on her website.)

Why This Book?
Last year one of my wife’s best friends was getting rid of some books and asked if I wanted to peruse the stack. I could keep whatever I wanted and give back the rest. “Sure, why not,” I said aloud (while joyfully squealing in my heart). I love reading good books and this would give me a perfect excuse to acquire some without breaking my “don’t buy a new book until you finish an old one” policy. The second I saw this one, I knew I’d be taking it.

Marva marva_dawnDawn is an author I had been wanting to read for a while. I had heard about her work in spiritual theology (having co-authored a book with Eugene Peterson) and when I saw the themes covered in this book (Christian spirituality, technology, affluence, poverty), I knew she’d be scratching an itch I’d had for a long time.

What’s It About?
The Question
The book begins with an uneasy question: Why are our hopes so fettered? As a Christian author writing for a primarily Christian readership, Dawn invites Christians who live in affluent, western society (which includes me) to explore what it is that fetters our hopes and the hopes of those around us, so that we may be freed to embody the hope of the gospel as agents of justice for the world’s poor. In her words,

My goal in this book is to make as vividly clear as possible the kinds of fetters we (who are the world’s possessors) experience and to show as radiantly as possible the gloriously magnificent hope of the Christian faith, so that we are liberated from the former by the power of the latter and thereby enabled to work more urgently against the injustices that fetter the hope of the dispossessed (Intro, xvii).

The Problem
So what is the cause of our fettered hopes? To answer this question, Dawn reminds us that the Biblical concept of “principalities and powers” (Col 1) has less to do with “little spirits flying around and spitting sulfur” and more to do with “human institutions created for good, but [which] share in the fallenness of the world and thus overstep their proper vocation” (Intro, xx). She then identifies technology as the reigning power in our society. Drawing heavily upon the late French sociologist and theologian, Jacques Ellul, as well as contemporary philosopher, Albert Borgman, she describes how our “technological society” feeds the hyper-consumerism, purposelessness, and economic injustices that characterize western culture. Dawn is quick to point out that the problem is not technology per se, but the various and complex ways we use and become enslaved by the “technological milieu” in which we live. Dawn concludes that our unhealthy relationship with technology results in

a variety of kinds of violence – not only of the rich over the poor, as more and more resources become devoted to the technological advancement of the few rather than to the alleviation of the poverty of the many, but also against our own personhood when we are ensnared in the way of life precipitated by the technological milieu and its rule. Thus our world is characterized by the despairs of the hopelessly enmeshed” (52).

officespaceLet’s be honest. We all love the benefits of technology, right? But do we ever question it? While I don’t have the space to recount the details of her argument, Dawn poses some interesting questions intended to get us thinking more deeply about our relationship with technology, including:

Does the computer really save us time and worry?
Does all this information help us think?
Do I really need all this stuff?
How does language hide our enslavements?
Is faster always better?

Each question is followed by thought-provoking reflections. For example, in response to the question How does language hide our enslavements? she writes,

Advertisers employ terms like stupendous and extraordinary to sell laundry soap, but never have I found a detergent that truly matches up to such expectations. If we waste our words in this way, what words to we have left to talk about what really matters in life? (14).

She continues,

One of the worst misnomers is the term user-friendly as an attribute of machines. I have never yet met a machine that was my friend! We should delete the phrase from our vocabulary. Equipment might be more or less difficult to use, but machines are neither friendly nor unfriendly …. By calling elements of our wired world “user-friendly,” we hide from ourselves our lessened ability to make friends or sustain friendship. With the rapidly escalating technicization of our culture, more and more people are discovering within themselves an inability to nurture, or even a lack of interest in, friendship (15).

The Solution
One of the reasons I appreciated this book is because only the first two chapters are spent identifying and describing the problem, while the last five are spent elucidating the solution. So what must we do if we want to live lives of unfettered hope? We must identify then radically reorient our entire lives around our focal concerns. By focal concerns, Dawn simply means “our foremost loves by which everything else is judged” (62). They are those things which matter most in life, the things in which we place our hope. When we allow the “technological paradigm” to determine or sideline what matters most to us, we will naturally lead lives of despair and frustration. But by naming and radically recommitting ourselves to our focal concerns, we have the power to break free from the fetters of this world and live the life God calls us to. She writes,

In wealthier societies, those who possess plenty desperately need this kind of centering, for in our first chapter we saw that lives and hopes are fettered by various accumulations – of information, belongings, jobs on our to-do lists, aspects of society that stifle relationships. In the second chapter, we discovered that much of that fettering is due to the paradigm that controls our society: that the development of the technological milieu has moved us away from engaging in practices that are related to our focal concerns, the center of our lives, and instead toward a way of life cluttered with commodities (objects, data, achievements, even persons) produced by devices (physical machinery, networked communications machinery, or more hidden machineries such as that of advertising or the pressures at our jobs to accomplish certain levels of performance) (62).

Dawn believes that every Christian shares two fundamental focal concerns (and I’m sure few will disagree): love of God and love of neighbor.

These two loves are to be the central and controlling commitments of a Christian’s personal and home life, working life, corporate life in Christian community. These twin focal concerns change the way we spend our money, time, energy, and love (77).

She spends the rest of the book exploring issues and challenges surrounding Christianity’s two focal concerns. When the church begins to live with unfettered hope, freed from the snare of the technological paradigm to pursue practices that reinforce love of God and neighbor, our life together will then form what she calls a “parallel culture.” She offers ten visions as to what a church with this kind of mission would look like. Here are five:

Against the super-objectivity of technological logic and scientific hyper-rationalism, the Church bows before the mystery of the Triune God and His love (193).

In a technological milieu that has led to a decrease in skills, time, and social fabric for intimacy, the church knows that it is loved without limit by the Triune God who free us to love our neighbor thoroughly… (193).

Against the technological milieu’s primary criterion of efficiency, the Church is ushered by our unfettered hope into the language of patience, waiting, eternity (193).

Against the passivity of an entertained, consuming world, the Church is stirred into action by the fullness of god’s grace. We are freed by our unfettered hope to live as saints engaged in mission. We are always being Church for the sake of the world (194).

Against the economic disparity of our unjust, technologically oppressive world, the Church is freed by the overwhelming generosity of God’s forgiving grace to practice generosity, critique the principality of Mammon, and build genuine shalom (194).

So what does all of this mean for your life and mine? In my next post, I’ll share some reflections as I’ve wrestled with these ideas. So stay tuned.

Michael Carlson
Pastor / Chrio Church
michael@chriocommunities.com

 

 

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