You're Invited - Purgatory Sessions - Church Caught Between Heaven & Hell

"Influence doesn’t happen by extracting ourselves from the world for the sake of our values, but by bringing our values into the culture." - Hugh Halter author of Tangible Kingdom

“We will never be faithful in the biblical sense if we never move from home base.” - Alan Hirsch author of the Forgotten Ways

It was words like these...and hundreds of others from the likes of Hugh Halter, Alan & Deb Hirsch, and Michael Frost that affirmed us in one of the most risky and dangerous God adventures my wife Sharon and I had ever made. 

In 2014 after pastoring for 30 plus years in wonderful churches we took the plunge into the deep waters of missional. We made the “move from home base” and began seeing our neighborhood and community with new eyes, recognizing that most of our neighbors first step toward Jesus would not be through the doors of a church, but through friendship and sitting on the front lawn of our home.

And though it’s not all been a straight arrow up and to the right, four years later I am happy to report that it has been the most fruitful four year run of ministry ever! 

We are grateful for the dozens of people who now follow Jesus, the discipling relationships we are in, the neighbors we now do life with, the churches we have helped on their missional journey, and the hundreds of volunteers who now serve our community via our non-profit Loving Community www.loving-community.net. And the list could go on!

The missional movement made up of spiritual entrepreneurs -- surely isn’t perfect! At times it zigs and zags. It has its ups and downs. The aforementioned leaders aren’t perfect (and neither our we)! But for us we feel it’s the closest we’ve come to authentically following Jesus throughout our Christian experience. 

It’s for this reason that we continue to beat the drum of the missional movement and the Forge Dallas tribe as a conduit of helping the church that we love move from home base and training church “members” to become “missionaries” in the places they live, work, and play! 

We’d love for you to be a part! 

Hugh Halter has been referred to as the “heart” of the missional movement. He is coming to town one week from today on Thursday April 12th for an all day event (9 am- 3pm) at Irving Bible Church. This is the registration info for the event which is a deal for $39 for the day.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/purgatory-sessions-church-caught-between-heaven-and-hell-tickets-43252585648?aff=es2

It’s called Purgatory Sessions - Church Caught Between Heaven and Hell. These are the six session topics:

*Look Into the Future. 7 FOR SURE’s that you must adjust ministry around

*Best Practices. Unearthing the best church stories I’ve seen to date

*Dead Bones. The Structure of mission. Family Tree vs. Old Boys Club

*The Art of Suffering…Leaders living above cynicism.

*The New Mammon: Money in a pure mission field

*The Discipleship Myth: Defining it & Doing it

Hit me up if you want more information and I hope you’ll join us for this day of missional conversation!

Live humbly and kind,

Jim

Forge Dallas - Hub Director

 

The posture of a pilgrim

 photo credit: Lue Kraltchev

photo credit: Lue Kraltchev

It is hard for us, in our North American-Southern-21st century-Dallas Fort Worth context to grasp the idea of a pilgrim.  We don’t really do pilgrimages.  Some may, but the majority, probably not.  We talk about pilgrims coming to Plymouth Rock around Thanksgiving.  But the posture of even those pilgrims is lost in a different narrative.

My first encounter with the idea of a modern-day pilgrim was in Ukraine 1993.  As we travelled down narrow roads into villages, we would see small, one room what I called “chapels” along the road.  There was only enough room to fit maybe 1-3 people inside, to get out of the sun, or rain, or snow.  Each one was near a shade tree and mineral water source. Inside, there was a bible, candles, some fresh bread, and a pitcher of water.  It was a holy place to stop, pray, restore, and then to continue on the journey.  These little roadside buildings so simple and yet symbolic, a beautiful gesture. It was a place of generosity, hospitality, even if no one was there to greet the traveler.  Someone had been there in anticipation of an arrival.

Over the next twenty five years in my travels around the world, I encountered many more pilgrims on a variety of pilgrimages.  No matter which journey and destination, which faith or country, there was indeed a posture that was recognizable.  A people taking care of each other, encouraging each other to stay on the path, on this journey to find and encounter something holy.  In my youthful haste, I didn’t stop to interact.  I was on a different journey, a different path. 

And then there was Oviedo.  Walking through the Asturian capital, I was mesmerized by the architecture from pre-Romanesque to Calatrava, the lush dark green trees, the long hum of bagpipes, the random Woody Allen statue, and then suddenly I stumbled across a brass seashell embedded in the cobble stone.

I stopped in my tracks.  It was one of the Santiago de Compostela shells. I had heard about these for years but never saw one. It was pointing.  It was directing to the Camino de Santiago.  I bent down to touch it…to place my hand upon it.  It was the size of the palm of my hand.  This ancient symbol has been guiding pilgrims since 812 A.D.  I polished it a bit and looked up to see if anyone was going that way.

On my last visit last year, I combed the streets one late afternoon looking to find that shell again.  At last, I turned a corner and a few steps beyond, there it was.  A little girl ran by me and jumped over it as I was snapping a photo.  I look at that photo today to see a whole story that I couldn’t see at the moment.  There were two pieces of black gum, the girl’s feet running another direction, and the lines in the pavers led the eyes to yet another direction. 

As we prepare for our first Forge Dallas Missional Conversation on Pilgrim Ways with Dr. Michael Stroope, I am looking forward to learning more about the posture of a pilgrim.  As the photo suggests, in a world with so many directions to go and life so emphatically pulling on us, we need many strong, faithful pilgrims.  Some to open a door, have bread, a pitcher of water, a bible, and a box of candles ready for us.  Some to walk alongside, to discover the journey together, and help guide each other to follow the right signs, on the right path for a season or for a lifetime.  

Join us January 24th 8:30-11:00 Missional Conversation with Dr. Michael Stroope at Valley Ranch Baptist Church 1501 E. Beltline Road, Coppell, TX 75019. 

R.S.V.P. at https://www.facebook.com/events/106952666771041/

Forge ruined me for good by Summer Cromartie

“Forge ruined me for good.”

That’s what I told Ryan Hairston during one of our early gatherings when he asked about how we were doing with all the information and Forge so far. When I first heard about Forge, I was at a place in my faith where I felt like a compressed spring; I absolutely couldn’t wait to be with other excited Believers who were seeking God whole-heartedly and longed to be obedient to the Great Commission. I needed that community of people to help me stay the course, especially since I was a little new to literally and tangibly loving my neighbors. Months and years before that, I had been spiritually drowsy, and God began to slowly and gently wake me up like a kind Father would when it’s time for school. It was definitely time for me to learn more from my Rabbi, that is for sure!

It’s always entertaining to go back to old journal entries and see how I have come out of the situations I was in before. For funzies, I flipped back through the pages of my journals over the past two years, and I can’t help but thank God for being so unbelievably gracious and patient in how he constantly draws me back to him and helps me become more like his Son. It is absolutely astounding to see where I struggled before, what I thought was impossible, and what I didn’t even realize I had backwards. As a result of going through the Forge residency, the biggest change in my life is that I have become more deliberate with my interactions with those in my community. The Spirit has chipped away at my heart of judgement and has been replacing it with one of compassion and empathy. I see people not as projects but as allies; sharing my faith isn’t about a conversion but about building deep and vulnerable relationships with others.

Forge has also helped me better understand my spiritual gifts and how to use them for the Kingdom and not just for the church. I’ve also become more outspoken with other Christians and less concerned about what people will think if I talk about the chasm between how we act and what Christ asks us to do.

Over the past two years, my husband and I have slowly reshaped our schedules to be less busy and more careful about how we spend our time. Something Forge taught us is that we can help answer prayer requests; if there is something we know we can do to help, we ask if it is okay to help in that way. It’s awful to admit, but in the past, we would merely pray like the person had asked us to and never give much thought to the idea that perhaps God wants us to help answer that request. Our society can lean toward not wanting to impose, which means people don’t ask for help, and we don’t offer. This isn’t how I understand the Kingdom now. We see far more opportunities than we used to, and I’m ashamed at how selfish I have been.

Praise God that he doesn’t give up on us. He wants every bit of me and will stop at nothing until he has it. George MacDonald puts it this way, “He who will not let us out until we have paid the uttermost farthing, rejoices over the offer of the first golden grain in payment. Easy to please is he - hard indeed to satisfy.” Thanks be to God!

If I could go back and talk to pre- and during-Forge me, I would tell her, “Hang in there, because tangibly loving your community will go from being overwhelming to being the most fun you’ve ever had in your life.”

Why I HAD TO Live Missionally - Forge Dallas Missionary Residency

“What I believe is not what I say I believe, what I believe is what I do!” I’ve always loved this quote by Donald Miller author of Blue Like Jazz. And for me living missional HAD TO become more than just a trendy phrase in sprucing up my church’s mission statement.

But how? Sure I’d read most of the missional books. I’d gone to my share of conferences. I’d preached on it and done 6-week series on the art of neighboring. A spike on the radar screen, but then settling back into the familiar. 

But then things changed for me. And it all began with with engaging with an organization called Forge America www.forgeamereica.com and their local hub Forge Dallas www.forgedallas.org. Their five-month missionary residency gave me the hands on tools, coaching, and a cohort of other missional practitioners who too were living as missionaries in the places where they were already doing life. My life changed!

For me missional living has now become more than a fad or a short lived sermon series. And four years later, I’ve not looked back. Along with my wife Sharon, we are now living out the calling of Jesus, “as the Father has sent me, so send I you”.

The Forge Dallas 2018 Missionary Residency kicks off on January 20, 2018. I’d like to invite you to consider becoming a missionary resident. A series of meet and greets over coffee to answer questions and talk about the residency are happening on Tuesday evening, December 19th and Sunday afternoon, January 7th. More information can be found at this link - Meet and Greets

If God is speaking to you, I’d love to talk!

Jim

Director - Forge Dallas

 

Are you part of the Inn crowd?

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Winter and Dallas are doing a pretty good job of teaming up to signal the Christmas season.  Sunny warm days contradict the street ornaments and glorious door wreaths everywhere.  Night time feels a bit more like it with blustery winds and chilly air flowing through the streets, swaying giant puffy inflatable snowmen glowing under the warm Christmas lights.   Yes, Christmas approaches and we are all doing our part to make it feel like Christmas.

This evening, the light has changed even more, signaling the darkest and longest nights will soon arrive.  Tonight, as I was driving home in that dimming dusk light, one church bulletin board caught my eye.  “Are you in the Inn crowd?”  There were more letters after it but I stopped reading there.

Immediately, my mind went to that sweet, weary couple so long ago, who looked and looked, knocked and knocked, hoping to just find a warm place to rest and dwell, a safe place to give birth, to carry on their mission.

The Inn.  A place of warmth.  A place of nourishment, of rest, of community, if only for a day, a week, or more…  A place to refuel so that the journey may continue.  A place of hospitality. 

Am I part of the Inn crowd?  I have to say no.  No, I’ve been too distracted outside the Inn with work, and the hustle, with loud distractions and christmasing that the Inn is, indeed, quite empty these days. 

Today, all around us, there are people who are looking for that Inn on a street full of no vacancy signs.  They are looking - we are looking - for The Inn where deep friendships can grow, where hope is shared, and good news is lived.  We live in shallow, fast times.  How do we create a place to live slowly, invite many, to connect, to be human, to nourish, to refuel, to go deep and disciple long?  Forge taught me how to do this.  Today, I needed that billboard to refocus my attention.

Innkeepers, there is no better time of the year to turn your signs around and signal the arrival of the good news.  Turn on your lights and open your doors. 

Yes, the Inn is open.  Yes, there is room.

#advent #ostia #philoxenia #Emmanuel

 

Lue Kraltchev is a Forge residency graduate.  She lives in McKinney with her husband and a few well-behaved dogs.  

Photo Credit:  Ostia Antica by jessi https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1730258

Contextual Healing by Ryan Behring

“We shape our cities; thereafter they shape us.” – Winston Churchill
 

Have you ever uttered the phrase “I was made for this!”? Sometimes we use it casually, sometimes euphorically. Whatever the case, you felt in your gut that that particular moment in time and space was especially predestined.

We learn a lot about ourselves as the settings and seasons of life change. Our context is a mirror, a window to ourselves - our strengths, our weaknesses, and to whom God made us to be. Changes in familial role (single, married, kids), career, where we live (urban, rural, international) help us to see our role in God’s ongoing work in the world.

A few years back I made a career change. After attending architecture school I’d worked for a few architects and reached an inflection point where I’d wanted to seek a more open-ended career path. Rather than a traditional path as a licensed architect, I wondered if there was a more embedded and subversive (possibly missional) path in which God could use what he’s given me.

I moved to Oak Cliff in 2014 and developed a love for a Dallas that I never knew. Proximity and rootedness had become important spiritual values to me in “seeking the welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7) of the city. As we seek to reflect Jesus, have you ever considered why He is often called Jesus of (a place) Nazareth?

In early 2015 an opportunity opened to serve and eventually lead an Americorps program through Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ office focused on community development and neighborhood organizing with Southern Dallas neighborhoods. My wife Stephanie, whose support often overwhelms me, encouraged me to go for it. I learned a lot over those two years about God and myself. Being closer to home it allowed me to embed myself and my work deeply in my own neighborhood and part of town. Dallas historically is a very divided city - economically, racially and generationally. Serving with Americorps, and the change in context, allowed me to experience being a minority (in several ways) and to learn and be led by others quite different from me; things I would not have experienced in my prior office setting.

Since finishing my Americorps assignment, context has continued to evolve for me. In the past 8 months I became a foster parent in Dallas County and began practicing commercial real estate within the same neighborhoods in which I served, working with entrepreneurs and investors to grow their communities. The experience continues to alter how I see my context.

The journey is rough and our context (“to whom we’ve been sent”) can evolve and change, but sometimes it is in those changes that we begin to see our role in God’s ongoing work in the world.

The Best Donuts in Dallas...per Kevin Davis.

I was a little dubious at first. Fruity Pebbles and vanilla icing on donuts?! Fresh, diced bacon and maple icing on an eclair?! Is this actually going to be a good idea, or what seems like a good idea gone terribly wrong?

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Let me back up a bit. My first experience with Momo’s Donuts was a few years ago during my time as a teacher at Howe High School. Howe is a small town north of Dallas on Highway 75 and Momo’s is just north of Howe in Sherman. It may be a stretch to say Momo’s is in Dallas, but their donuts are so delicious, we are going to have to adopt them as part of the metroplex. April, one of my co-workers at HHS, lived down the street from this little, unassuming donut shop that was nestled tightly in between a cleaners and a gas station with little fanfare or signage. April brought Momo’s to the teacher’s lounge once a week. She even texted me when Momo's was on the way so I could prepare myself to stop by her room for glazed and chocolate donuts. These were not the specialty donuts you can enjoy on the weekends at Momo’s, just their light, soft, perfectly sweetened originals. It was at this moment that my fickle donut heart shifted. Goodbye Krispy Kreme, move aside Dunkin, down the list Shipleys…I have found the best donuts in Dallas!

I could go on and on about traveling to Momo’s and eating their fantastic donuts, and that is kind of my point. I have told friends, family, church members, acquaintances, and strangers about my experiences with Momo’s. Donut stories just seem to flow out of me naturally, spontaneously, and with a great deal of passion.

As silly as it sounds, there have been many times in the past when telling stories about donuts was easier for me than telling stories about following Jesus. Following Jesus out of habit, obligation, or boring rituals did not provoke me to share my experiences with passion and spontaneity. The Forge Dallas tribe has shown me that following Jesus is about experiencing God’s reign in my life and then extending the good news of his reconciliation, beauty, justice, and wholeness to others. Now, I have experiences I am excited to share with others and a story I am passionate about telling. 

Dr. Kevin Davis, Director of Missionary Residency - Forge Dallas

Forge Dallas Residency Information Sessions!

Forge Dallas Leaders will be hosting three Meet and Greet's in the DFW area to share information about the upcoming 2018 Residency program.   Come and enjoy coffee, a bagel, and a gift from Forge Dallas as we spend time together and discuss the Forge residency experience.

Here are the dates and locations:

We look forward to seeing you at one of these sessions!

 

Forge Dallas Releases Dates For 2018 Missionary Residency

DALLAS, TEXAS — This week Dr. Kevin Davis the Missionary Residency Director for Forge Dallas, released the dates for their upcoming 2018 missionary residency. This 5-month DFW-Metroplex based training is set for January 20 - May 19, 2018. Forge Dallas is part of the Forge America and Forge International missionary movement founded by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost.

The 2018 cohort of learners will represent the fifth for Forge Dallas. It offers a unique, paradigm shifting and highly hands-on missionary training crafted especially for individuals, couples and churches who want to immerse themselves in missional practices and daily rhythms allowing them to be Jesus in the places God has already placed them.

The Forge Dallas tribe aspires to see the reign of God revealed in the everyday places we live, work, and play. Dallas resident and Forge America Director Ryan Hairston says that, “God is present and active in every place and among every person. Our great privilege as Jesus followers is to pour out our lives in worship of King Jesus and to alert others of his redemptive presence and work in their lives.”

Jim Mustain, Director of Forge Dallas has seen first hand the impact of the residency as a tool in which everyday people are empowered and equipped as Jesus followers to join God in his redemptive mission. Borrowing the words and example of legendary South African missiologist David Bosch, “We join God by announcing and demonstrating the good news of his reign to others. The good news of God’s reign through Christ is meaningfully and powerfully communicated as we befriend, bless, and share stories of life and faith with those in our current contexts.” 

As the Missionary Residency Director, Kevin and his wife Holly are bi-vocational missionary practitioners in McKinney, TX. Kevin earned his doctoral degree in missional studies from George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University and explains that at its core the missionary residency trains men and women to live as missionaries where they are already doing life. 

The main vehicle for the missionary training is the 5-month residency program. Residents are encouraged to continue relationships with their neighbors, co-workers, and communities throughout the residency. A resident’s every day life serves as the context for missionary formation. The Forge Dallas Residency has 5 components…

  1. CHURCH - residents are encouraged to remain faithful and active in their local church
  2. COACHING - each resident will be given a coach to walk through the missionary training process with
  3. CORE TRAINING - residents will learn from other missional practitioners through books, podcasts, videos, and small group teaching and reflection
  4. COHORT - residents will gather together as a cohort for times of fun and encouragement 
  5. CONTEXT - residents are encouraged to continue their normal rhythms of life in their jobs, neighborhoods, and homes as they seek to understand where they have already been sent on mission

For maximum effectiveness the residency is limited to a learning cohort of 15 residents. If you would like more information about the residency or to attend an upcoming informational gathering you can email Forge Dallas Residency Director Kevin Davis at kdavis@forgedallas.org or go to www.forgedallas.org 

 

 

From Bored to Bonkers - by Summer Cromartie

Have you ever been bored with Jesus? Or maybe you were just bored with your spiritual routine, both personal and corporate?

That was definitely me in the summer of 2015. Who am I kidding? That’s been me for much of my life, but I never knew what I could do to shake myself awake. I’ve been a Christ-follower since I was seven. I went to church, volunteered, and was involved in various groups and studies even when my parents weren’t “making me”. But sometimes I was just faking it until I made it.

I remember one Easter season when I was in college.  I was really upset that I was feeling nothing. The resurrection story stirred nothing in me, and even though I tried to read different books and really think about how awful the crucifixion was, I didn’t feel very moved. How is the resurrection story boring?? Four or five years later, I remember being really stuck in some sin, and I wanted to feel God. I wanted him to snap me out of it; I wanted him to be angry with me. I wanted to feel anything, even if it was discipline, just to know he was even there. I tried reading the famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” just so I would realize the gravity of my sin and experience such judgement that I would run back into the Father’s arms like the prodigal daughter I was. But I felt nothing.

My Christian life hasn’t always been that of boredom; I’ve had awesome moments throughout my life as a Believer that help me understand that my salvation is a sanctifying process and I get to renew my commitment as often as I’d like. Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift!

In late September of 2015, I e-mailed a few friends of mine, Ryan and Stephanie, who seemed to have been recently in a similar place as I was in: doing the same old thing but kind of done with the same old thing. Here is some of my e-mail to them:

"… God is up to something so huge in my life that I almost can't stand it. Like what the first Christmas Eve must have been like or something (ohhh, that sounded really good!). I'm finally seeing who the Father really is and what he wants, and I'm losing my mind. I've been settling for lukewarm Christianity without even realizing it. That's what so many churches are selling: practice a few of the spiritual disciplines, try not to hate yourself or others, and try to be "reasonably happy in this life" (see Serenity Prayer). But that's so way way way short of the mark, and I never knew it."

"I shrug off all the hard passages in the Bible that I don't know what to do with. Giving everything to follow Christ? Helping the poor? Praying without ceasing? I've been told for so long (either accidentally by the church or deliberately by the Father of Lies or by my own lazy self) that those passages and practices are only for the A+ students, not everyone. Face it, I'm no Mother Theresa."

"Which is complete crap right? We're all called to be A+ students, dang it!! So what's with the lies?? I'm so unbelievably jealous of authors and speakers and the spiritual greats and the relationship they have with God. They freaking get it. And I WANT THAT. And God wants it for all of us but still gives us free will. So I've been settling for pleasing the Elf on the Shelf God who watches me and makes me feel good and makes me feel bad, and that's crazy pants!"

"So yeah. The [group] conversation that Ryan started about when the church drives us nuts... more of those need to happen. Though for me, I'm not upset (at the moment); I'm just starving for the Christian life we're all called to have. Because it looks so awesome, right?? I mean, praying and thinking it matters at all? Knowing God's will (which isn't terribly hard if you focus on the basics) and running after it as if everything depends on it... I want that. More than anything."

"Sad side note: [my current small group] isn't really there. They’re where I've always been, and I like it, I like them, but I need more. And I'm sad because they've been enough for so long. I'm not quitting them at all. But I want to be an A+ student, which is hard when everyone is in so many other places. I don't want to sound ugly, and I don't think I know more than anyone or I'm better than anyone. I'm just... lonely. And I'm looking for ways to be un-lonely and seeking out other believers who are either where I am, want to get there, or have been here before... and are further along!"

After reading these notes, Ryan and Stephanie came over for dinner a few weeks later and they told me about the missional residency program  they went through that really rocked their world. It was called Forge Dallas, and their mission statement is “Training men and women to live as missionaries where they’re already doing life.” I went through every page of the website almost drooling over the possibility of getting to know a group of people who were just as eager as I was to be wholeheartedly after God’s will. A few days later, I had signed up for the residency and started reading the first assignment. I was all in!

I did the five-month residency in January of 2016, and I can’t even tell you how much it changed me. I now have a tribe of people that completely understand where I’ve been, and they constantly ask what they can do to help me be a well-equipped missionary in my community.

I could talk for days about how different I am compared to two years ago. I no longer share my faith out of obligation or to make God like me more. I talk about my faith with others because it’s a crazy story of how a bored girl went from being stuck going through the motions to someone who has been redeemed from the pit and crowned with steadfast love and mercy (Psalm 103:4). Who doesn’t love a good story?

We weren’t meant to be alone. Loneliness will murder your faith, and I highly encourage you to check out Forge if any of this resonates with you. Or we can meet up for coffee because I would love to hear your story. We are called to have a big faith in a huge God who has never been boring. And it’s pretty amazing that we get to be a part of the most exciting story ever told.

Image Bearer or In My Way? by Summer Cromartie

A couple of weeks ago, I was getting coffee at a local shop that I go to all the time. The barista at the register and I know each other by name, but he hadn’t really seen me yet. He was still punching keys in the tablet register as he greeted me with something like, "Hey, how are you? What can I get started for you today?" He was pleasant, sincere, and lovely, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with his greeting. When he looked up and saw that it was me, he brightened up and said, "Hey, Summer! How is it going?" We had some great small talk, I got an amazing latte, and we said our farewells. What struck me is this: do I say hello to people I don't know with a different brightness than I greet my friends with? If so, why?

Again, I know he was very kind and sincere in his hello, and I don't fault him for anything he did. It just struck me funny and made me wonder if I'm giving other people my best when I don't know them yet. When I walk past someone I don’t know and we meet eyes, I smile and nod, but am I being my most genuine? Are my eyes smiling, too? It reminded me of when I was in marching band in high school and we had just come back to school after we totally messed up at a competition. We had not given our best, and we rode back in silence. We stood outside the band hall, sad, sweaty, and beat, and I'll never forget what one of the drum majors said to us. "Everyone, raise your hands as high in the air as you can." We sighed as we put down our instruments and hat boxes, and we all put our hands in the air. "Now raise them two inches higher." So we did. And we caught an earful for it.

I highly value citing my sources, but I can't remember for the life of me who introduced this next concept to me; if you know, please tell me so I can reread their book! The concept I ponder is this: how do I view groups of people I don't know? Examples are folks in line at the store, other parents at a school event, fellow diners at a restaurant, people stuck in the same traffic I am, etc. Do I view them as one insurmountable thing in my way? Are they on my side? Am I on theirs? Are they too loud? Do I think of them as people who are trying to break the rules and get ahead of me? These are terrifying and humbling thoughts, and it has really changed how I treat other people I don't know. Sure, we smile at cashiers, open doors for others, and apologize when we bump into someone, but do I feel like they're on the same team with me? Are we in this together or are they the enemy in my day?

To put it all together, am I giving my best to everyone who bears the image of God or do I play favorites? Does the employee at the store feel that my Thank You is genuine, or is it just a line I use to tell them they can go back to what they were doing? Do I take the time to look the server in the eye when I ask for something? When someone lets me go down the cereal aisle first, do I just nod? Gosh, do I even do that because I think I deserved to be first?

When I hear how the Gospel-writers describe Jesus and when I hear pastors and speakers describe him, I know he was a charismatic and loving person who naturally drew others to himself. He seemed like such a magnet for people; no one with a need seemed turned off by him. I feel like he had Resting Compassion Face, you know? In movie portrayals of Jesus, I love it when he is shown as someone who seems so full of joy that he's almost laughing through many of his lines. 

So when I come across strangers throughout my day, I try to remember to smile at them just as I would to a dear friend of mine. I want them to feel valued, loved, and seen merely by how I look into their eyes, say hi, or thank them. We are all human beings who bear the image of God. There is a piece of God's beauty in every face we see; every single one. There is a trait of God that they can show us, and shame on me for dismissing anyone because I just don't know them. As CS Lewis said in The Weight of Glory, 

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

Human souls are eternal, and I need to have this on the top of my mind with every individual I encounter. I want to be someone who makes others feel seen and valued even though we don't stop and talk. I want my eyes to smile when my mouth smiles, and I want people to suspect that I have a secret to joy they should know. Except it isn't a secret I plan to keep.

Summer Cromartie is wife, mother, yarn whisperer,  residency graduate, and Forge Dallas Storyteller.

A Beautiful Mutuality

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The movie The Book of Eli is a graphic and plausible representation of a post-apocalyptic world in which earth’s survivors are desperate for the absolute necessities that make life possible. The story unapologetically brings awareness to American abundance and challenges the tendency to over-indulge or take excess for granted. Its characters do not have the choice to hoard, but must depend on one another’s resources for the privilege to survive and rebuild society.

The gas shortage in Texas forced my family and I to depend on our neighbors this week for what has become a necessity of our society: gasoline. I was on my way home from the high school one afternoon last week when I concurrently realized the gas light was on in my 2010, baby blue, Hyundai Accent, and that the gas stations in the area were out of gas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Admittedly, this is a minor inconvenience compared to the devastation many are experiencing on the Texas coastline, yet, it taught me something about my efforts to be a good neighbor.

I pulled up to the house that afternoon and just sat in the car a few minutes, thinking, and realizing that I had no immediate way to solve this problem on my own. So, I texted Tanya and John. I have had the privilege of offering free math tutoring to their 12 year-old daughter Sadie for the past year as a way of following Jesus’ teaching to love my neighbors. Now, I was reaching out to Tanya and John to meet a need in my life, namely, a couple of gallons of gas to last for a few days. (For whatever the Accent lacks in masculinity, it makes up for in fuel efficiency.) They gladly shared what they had available to them and I was blessed.

A valuable part of being a good neighbor is inviting and allowing my neighbors to be blessing in my own life. This process is helping to transform the people around me from targets of mission, beneficiaries of my charity, or anonymous neighbors, to real friends.     

Kevin Davis, Director of Missionary Residency Program - FORGE DALLAS

Welcome to Kevin Davis - New Director of Forge Dallas Missionary Residency

I am so excited to introduce Dr. Kevin Davis as the new Director of the Forge Dallas Missionary Residency program. I have personally known Kevin & Holly over the past three years in the context of a friendship and mentorship. Sharon and I coached Kevin and Holly as missionary residents. Kevin then took the next logical step of becoming a coach in the missionary residency program this past year. Now Kevin will take the reigns of leading the residency. 

Below is a biographical sketch of Kevin who I warmly welcome as our new Missionary Residency Director.

Kevin Davis is the Forge Dallas Director of Missionary Residency Program. He works alongside the Forge Dallas team to develop, lead, and manage the missionary residency program with the goal of training men and women to live as missionaries where they’re already doing life. He and his family are passionate about living as missionaries in all the places they live, work, and play by demonstrating and announcing the good news of God’s reign as revealed and embodied by Jesus Christ. Kevin and his wife, Holly, value communicating this good news through friendship, blessing, and sharing stories of life and faith.

Kevin met Holly while pursuing an undergraduate degree in mathematics at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Both are originally from Dallas, but did not meet and fall in love until Kevin asked Holly to dance one Thursday night at a quaint dance hall in central Texas. Upon graduating UMHB, Kevin attended Truett Seminary at Baylor University and completed a M.Div. degree. Kevin and Holly married and took on a bi-vocational lead pastor role at a wonderful little church in north Texas during this season of life. While pastoring, Kevin and Holly were blessed with their two kids, Blair and Braylon, and the opportunity for Kevin to complete a Doctor of Ministry degree at Baylor. 

God used Kevin’s experiences as a pastor and graduate student to show him the biblical, theological, and practical basis for he and his family to reorient their life and ministry around engaging their world as missionaries. This journey has brought Kevin and his family to McKinney where they are putting down roots and learning to live as a family on mission in their neighborhood, through their work as a high school math teacher and social worker, and through their local gym where they enjoy exercise and community.  

Live Humbly & Kind,

Jim Mustain, Director - Forge Dallas

 

Jesus - The Original Barista

It was displayed in plain sight. I’m sure I must have seen it before. However on this particular evening while waiting on my next appointment, it caught both my attention and curiosity. Three short phrases carefully crafted together. One empowering mantra displayed in over 21,000 community gathering places worldwide— one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

What corporate citizen aspires to the lofty dreams of, “… inspiring and nurturing the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Starbucks of course! (check out their really cool mission video https://vimeo.com/62275792)

In the #1 New York Times bestselling book Onward: How Starbucks Fought For It’s Life Without Losing Its Soul, Howard Schultz the CEO of Starbucks recounts the story and leadership lessons behind the global coffee company’s comeback.

In 2008, Schultz decided to return as the CEO of Starbucks to help restore its financial health and bring the company back to its core values. In Onward, he shares this remarkable story, revealing how, during one of the most tumultuous economic periods in American history, Starbucks again achieved profitability and sustainability without sacrificing humanity.

Living out the below core values, the Starbucks green and white logo is known worldwide.

  • Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.
  • Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.
  • Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.
  • Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.
  • We are performance driven, through the lens of humanity.

My reflections are two — Wow and Whoa!

Wow! — Regardless of person or product, I love dreamers and doers and those determined to develop something of value and worth. Way to go Starbucks! I will gladly continue to leverage your free space and great coffee and welcoming environment as I strategize kingdom plans, disciple followers of Jesus, and engage in gospel conversations. Really, thanks!

Whoa! — As in “let’s stop or slow down” for a minute to get our bearings. IS THIS NOT what the church is supposed to be about? Swap out a few words, church for company, and people for performance, and I could easily adopt Starbucks values for my own.

I love, and believe Jesus loves words like, warmth and welcoming, and connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.

Could it be that Jesus was the original barista? Get that picture in your mind next time you walk up to a Starbucks counter!

But seriously, was it not Jesus who modeled offering a “cup” of cold water in His name? (Mark 9:41) Was is not Jesus who showed “dignity and respect” for the woman at the well? (John 4) Was it not Jesus who moved into (and loved) His “neighborhood”. (John 1:14)

In an unprecedented era of downturn in church engagement, in an effort to move “Onward: fighting for its life, without loosing its soul” — perhaps the church could reflect, repent, and return to the model of Jesus. Thanks Starbucks for the reminder. I think “I’ll see you and raise you” (and keep using your free wifi)! 

Be blessed,

Jim Mustain, Director - Forge Dallas

Have you been jipped

DO YOU REMEMBER THE WORD jipped? It’s not in my dictionary, but I think it’s one of the best words I’ve ever heard, kind of like ubiquitous, caveat, or robust—words that not only feel good rolling off your tongue but that carry a lot of meaning. To me, jipped means to get short-sheeted, shortchanged, ripped off, dissed, deceived, or intentionally screwed. I remember the first time I got jipped. I was seven, and I was at a local ice cream shop in Chicago. I had ordered one scoop of chocolate ice cream on a waffle cone. When the lady handed it to me, I remember having to stick my head all the way down into the waffle cone to find my ice cream.

My friend yelled, “Man, you got jipped.” It was the first time I’d heard the word, and I immediately forgot about my lack of ice cream and just sat there basking in how cool the word sounded. I recall riding my bike all the way home, saying “jipped” about forty times. After that, I started to say it to everyone. My mom grounded me because I used it so much around the house. “Hugh Tom, clean your room.” “Oh, man, that’s jipped.” After she scooped me some dinner, I’d yell, “Man, I got jipped,” just to get to use the word. This went on for few months, until I discovered the word chick. Jipped went on vacation until my freshman year in college.

It made its return when I was visiting a charismatic church by our campus. I remember being floored as the pastor talked about the Holy Spirit and its active working in our lives. While walking back to the campus, my friend, concerned about how I would process my first charismatic church experience, asked, “What did you think?” I’m sure he wanted me to comment on the old farmer dancing in the aisles and the lady singing a prophecy about “eagles and vipers” in the middle of the offertory. I didn’t comment on that. I said, “I got jipped.” “What do you mean?” he asked. 

I went on to tell him that in twelve years of being a Christian, I had never heard one person or pastor mention anything about this Holy Spirit guy or his pet bird. Seriously, I had never been taught about one of the primary aspects of God! I just kept mumbling, “I got jipped.” The next time I remember being jipped was in 2002. I was reading Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy. In this great work, Dallas cracks wide open the concept of the gospel and reminds us that it was never just “the gospel.” It is the “Gospel of the Kingdom of God.” That is, the gospel was about something really big, something different, and something that is to be experienced, not just spoken about.

This gospel, according to Dallas, is about an aspect of God’s divine life that is available to us now, not just after death. After reading and seeing the gospel in an entirely new light, my heart started to race, and I sprang out of my chair and yelled, “Dog gonnit . . . I got jipped again!” The Short-Sheeted Gospel Do you think it might be possible that the primary reason Christianity in the West is in such marked decline is simply due to the fact that we don’t know what the gospel is?

I know that sounds akin to telling professional basketball players that they don’t know how to dribble, or a librarian that he doesn’t read very well. But the church’s results of getting positive responses out of our gospel presentations begs the question, “Do we actually know what the gospel is?” About five years ago, I was in Sydney, Australia, working with about twelve young church planting teams. These were very bright, attractive, nontraditional-looking leaders. The first thing I asked was, “Why are you planting your church?”

I gave them a couple of minutes to think and write down their responses. When we came back together, I asked them to share. Their unanimous response was, “So that people will go to heaven.” “Fine,” I said. “Now describe how people are going to get to heaven.” After some debate, they all agreed that people would get to heaven by hearing the gospel and then responding appropriately. My next question was, “How are people going to hear the gospel?” Their response: “Through our preaching.” “Fine,” I said. “And what will their appropriate response be and how will you know they made that response?” Answer: “They will pray a prayer to receive God into their hearts.” “Where will this transaction take place?” I asked.

They all liked the idea that it could happen anywhere, but after a little prodding, they admitted that they see most of this happening after a sermon in their church. After getting their responses, I gave them one more opportunity to change or adjust their answers, but they decided to stick with what they had. We then took a Sanka instant coffee and Vegemite toast break (something I hope never to relive), and when we came back together I summarized their idea of the gospel. “So let me play back what you said was the reason and the means of planting this church. You are going to start a church so that you can preach the gospel, hope they believe your message, pray a prayer, and go to heaven. Correct?”

They smiled and sheepishly nodded in unison. I pushed a bit more and asked, “What is the gospel?” Their response: “The message of God’s love and forgiveness of our sins and the hope of eternal life.” “So let me keep going,” I said. “The gospel is a systematic set of beliefs or doctrines about God, sin, heaven, and hell that you try to get someone to buy into?” Crowd still nodding. “So salvation is viewed as a gift you get when you . . . pray a prayer?” They nodded like a bunch of puppies watching a yoyo. “So a Christian is someone who has prayed a prayer, and a good Christian is someone who has prayed a prayer and consistently comes to your church, gives money, and generally stops doing all the ‘biggie’ sins.” They still nodded. “So a non-Christian, someone who is doomed to hell for eternity, is someone who hasn’t . . . prayed the prayer?” All of a sudden it got a bit quiet. I kept going. “Evangelism, then, must be the process of trying to get someone to pray a prayer.

Heaven, this beautiful eternal wildly awesome place, is only for those who have prayed a prayer. And hell, the fire, gnashing of teeth, eternal torment, is for everyone who didn’t come to your church, hear your sermon, and pray the prayer?” By now, I was visibly emotional, as was the wife of one of the church planters. Many of the other leaders were looking down at their feet. Some had put their hands over their faces, and we just sat there quietly. “I have to be honest.” I said after collecting myself. “I would not be interested in coming to your church if that is all you’ve got going.” I was saddened but not surprised, as we have heard the same anemic version of the gospel story for so long here in United States. Jipped again!

The good news is now bad news . . . or no news. Jesus knew that the only people who would find his news to be bad news would be the people who didn’t want to lose control of their lives or “come to the light,” as he put it. Everyone else would view his gospel as an attractive alternative to the life they were experiencing. There will always be people who are, at a heart level, completely resistant to Christ. But this book isn’t about them. This book is about the millions of people who are openhearted and curious about life and God but who are honestly not finding goodness in the good news that we talk about and that, at times, has been forced down their collective throats.

We have to be honest with ourselves and realize that if the message isn’t attractive, and the people of God aren’t attractive, then we must not be telling the story right, or we aren’t living the story correctly. Maybe we forgot the story, or even worse, maybe no one ever told us the whole story. Maybe you got jipped, too. If so, you may also have jipped others. 

Excerpt from Tangible Kingdom - By Hugh Halter

 

SAFETY – GOOD FOR THE SWEDES, NOT FOR THE SAINTS

By: Jim Mustain 

Swedish car manufacturer Volvo has built its reputation on safety. Want a safe car, drive a Volvo. Car enthusiasts typecast Volvo’s conservative and uninspiring cars by saying, “Volvo sells school teachers cars shaped like bricks”. Ouch!

Playing it safe has resulted in Volvo being far from the “top ten list” when it comes to car sales in the US. Truth is they own less than 1% of the car sales market.

Is merely “playing it safe” an overall good strategy for doing life?

Empirically speaking it doesn’t seem to be a stellar marketing genius for the Swedes. But changing gears and more to my point, what about for the “saints”? Is a risk averse posture, “playing it safe”, what God is calling us to be and do? I think NOT!

Some of us equate playing it safe with being sensible and prudent. But here’s my two cents. Most of the time, it’s something else all together. The real problem isn’t safety or risk at all. The real problem is fear.

What if I were to tell you that there was a little tiny part of your brain that pre-wires you to avoid risk and play it safe? Well, there actually is. It’s called the amygdala and it plays a big part in what motivates us to behave the way we do.

One of the functions of the amygdala is processing emotions – particularly those associated with survival. Like the emotion of fear for instance. When you are in a familiar situation that you know to be safe, your amygdala is happy and secure – and so are you. But when something new or seemingly risky comes along, the amygdala kicks into high gear. It lets you know, “Hey, we’re outside our comfort zone here. Retreat! Withdrawal!” Sometimes that reaction can save your life. Other times it can hold you back from a more fulfilling life.

The Scriptures teach that Jesus came to give us a full life, not a safe life. (John 10:10). We see where risk and investment are rewarded, not safety. (Matt. 25:14) Our invitation is not to the familiar or comfortable, but to the unfamiliar and outcast (Luke 14:12)

A quote I ran across from my recent readings has fueled my God imaginations and encouraged my inner risk taker. It is attributed to John A. Shedd in his book Salt From My Attic and says,

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

What are we built for? Safety? Or risking it all for the better good…for the Kingdom…for the King?

See you out at sea!

Jeebus or Jesus?

In a hilarious episode of The Simpsons called “Missionary Impossible,” Homer pledges ten thousand dollars to PBS and is generally credited for saving the television network. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Homer does not have the money, prompting a mob of characters and personalities from various PBS shows to chase him through the streets.

He hides out in the First Church of Springfield and bargains with Reverend Lovejoy who, despite Homer’s obvious lack of Christian faith or understanding, packs him off as a missionary to the South Pacific. Just as the plane is about to take off, Homer shows his utter ignorance when he anxiously exclaims, “Jeebus? Jeebus? But I don’t know Jeebus! Helllp me Jeebus!” Homer arrives on the island where he meets the natives. At first he is so fearful that he’s about to be eaten for dinner, he drops to the ground crying “Oh God!” repeatedly. The natives take him for a religious mystic and so they too fall to the ground crying out to God.

Emboldened by his new status as spiritual guru, Homer begins trying to teach them about religion, but realizing that he knows nothing about it, he tries something new. While the natives were noble savages ignorant of and unspoiled by civilization, Homer decides to build a casino on the island, which he names “The Lucky Savage.” This introduces alcohol, gambling, and violence to the island and totally ruins the natives’ previously virtuous way of life. We start with this story because it highlights the impact of how ignorance of Jesus by those who claim his name is toxic to both the believer as well as those around him or her. Following “Jeebus,” Homer wreaked utter havoc on the population, and we are left wondering if this does not describe large tracts of Christian history equally well.

Now we of all people do not want to say that God doesn’t use the odd Homers of this world (we think the church should be a freak collection and that God does use weirdos of all sorts), but it does highlight the fact that the missional disciple must know God in a real way or else bear false witness. And given our previously mentioned commitment to a distinctly missional form of Christianity, this will highlight some of the ways ignorance of Jesus (willful or otherwise) creates a toxic religion that is not only not worth spreading, but detrimental to the cause of Christ. God Is Like Jesus The first and absolutely most foundational thing we can say about missional discipleship is that it must be based squarely on the founder of the Christian faith—Jesus the Messiah.

And while this might seem obvious, one can easily be excused for not being able to recognize anything approximating Jesus in some of the people who claim his name. This discontinuity between Jesus and the religion that claims his name, what Jacques Ellul calls the “subversion of Christianity,” has led countless people to say with political humorist Bill Maher, “I don’t know anyone less Jesus-like than most Christians.” It also prompted researchers David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons to write a book called unChristian , which is based on what most non-Christian twenty-somethings said about so-called Christians. 1 Jesus is the key not only because Christian discipleship is about becoming more like Jesus but also because it is only in and through Jesus that we can get the proper, truly Christ an understanding of God. In other words, Jesus gets defining rights in relation to life, discipleship, theology, and everything in between.

Not only is he the mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5), he is the prism through which we can and must understand God (Col. 1:9–21, Heb. 1:1–3). New Testament scholar Albert Nolan is quite right when he states, By his words and practice, Jesus himself changed the content of the word “God.” If we do not allow him to change our image of God, we will not be able to say that he is our Lord and our God. To choose him as our God is to make him the source of our information about divinity and to refuse to superimpose upon him our own ideas of divinity.

This is the meaning of the traditional assertion that Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus reveals God to us; God does not reveal Jesus to us. . . . We cannot deduce anything about Jesus from what we think we know about God; we must deduce everything about God from what we do know about Jesus. . . . To say that Jesus is divine does not change our understanding of Jesus; it changes our understanding of divinity. Reclaiming the centrality of Jesus will help us avoid the perennial mistake of superimposing upon the life and personality of Jesus our preconceived ideas of what God is supposed to be like.

N. T. Wright affirms this when he says, "My proposal is not that we know what the word “god” means, and manage somehow to fit Jesus into that. Instead, I suggest that we think historically about a young Jew, possessed of a desperately risky, indeed apparently crazy, vocation, riding into Jerusalem in tears, denouncing the Temple, and dying on a Roman cross—and we somehow allow our meaning for the word “god” to be recentered around that point."

Jesus is, and must be, the central reference point for the Christian because God looks like Jesus and Jesus does what God wants to do! (See John 10:38, 12:49–50.) We love Greg Boyd’s wonderful description of this: Jesus spent his ministry freeing people from evil and misery. This is what God seeks to do . Jesus wars against spiritual forces that oppress people and resist God’s good purposes.

This is what God does . Jesus loved people others rejected—even people who rejected him. This is how God loves . Jesus had nothing but compassion for people who were afflicted by sin, disease, and tragedy. This is how God feels . And Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, suffering in the place of sinful humanity, defeating sin and the devil, because he passionately loves people and wants to reconcile them to God. This is how God saves . It is true that Jesus is like God, but the greater truth, one closer to the revelation of God that Jesus ushers in, is that God is like Jesus!

As Michael Ramsey, the former Anglican archbishop, noted, “God is Christlike and in him is no un-Christlikeness at all.” Or as Jesus says when asked to show his credentials, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” and “I and the Father are one” (John 14:9; 10:30). We Become What We Worship Focusing our discipleship on Jesus forces us to take seriously the implications of following him, of becoming like him . . . like God. The spiritual agenda for discipleship is thus set: Jesus is our primary model, teacher, guide, savior, and Lord. He is the standard by which we assess discipleship and spirituality. And we must become living versions of him—little Jesuses. So, if we want to know what God is like, we need to look no further than the person of Jesus Christ.

Now while this may seem like an incredibly obvious thing to say, it is staggering how few of us really integrate this most fundamental of truths into our lives. Recently one of us was reminded of this reality when attending a local Bible study. The group was studying a book on the character and attributes of God. The leader of the group was asking whether God was knowable, and if so, how we can really know him. The participants were caught up by the “otherness” and “awesomeness” of God experienced in worship, and seemed to sit more comfortably talking about this.

When the leader pushed for more specifics, one person mentioned creation and then another the Scriptures, but no one seemed to be able to go further. It wasn’t until the study leader stated that it was Jesus who shows us who God is, and that we know God in and through him, that the people seemed to make the connection. What is interesting is that these highly intelligent, mature men and women had been going to church most of their lives, and yet they missed this primary fact—the Jesus factor. That there is a radical disconnect between God and Jesus for many believers, as illustrated in the story above, shouldn’t surprise us. For most people it is far easier to sit with the “otherness” of God—we prefer our divinity at a safe distance.

But while God’s transcendence does, and should, instill feelings of awe and a desire to worship within us, it does not immediately show us a way to follow . We see God or read about him and stand in awe. But what then are we supposed to do besides worship and adore him? When confronted with the reality of God in Jesus, God in human flesh, God is no longer beyond and unfathomable, but immediate and present. He has come close to us, and his claim on our lives becomes somewhat more unavoidable.

And that.... was the whole point of the incarnation.

- Excerpt from Untamed by Alan and Debra Hirsch

The Incarnational Way of LIfe

This past week Hugh Halter, National Director of Forge America, spoke at the Forge Dallas 1 Day Training. Half of the content focused on how we live out the Incarnational way of life in the very places we live, work, and play. The two videos below are of Hugh sharing some of the same content that was shared at our training. We hope you find this resource incredibly beneficial.