A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Category: Culture (page 1 of 5)

“It’s not your problem. It’s ours”: Engaging in our communities’ most personal struggles

Allow me to tell you the story of a friend of mine, because her story’s stuck with me. I’ll call her Susan.

Susan has a couple of daughters. They’re grown now–but back in the day, she was ready to pull them out of their public school and opt for private: Their public school was performing among the lowest 20% in the UK. But it’s her take on this that struck me:

I realized most the kids from our church remaining there didn’t have a place to go or the means to get out. They were stuck there. And it didn’t seem like ‘being the church’ if I pulled out and left them to flounder.

So we pulled together a bunch of people and started praying. And some of us got on the [school board], and I eventually became the [chair].

Together, they considered their school problem a community problem, and therefore a Church problem.

An unexpected, happy ending God tacked on? Susan’s daughter ended up with stellar test scores on all her IGCSE’s–British university entrance exams (6 A-stars, if you’re familiar with their system)…better, in fact, than some friends removed to private schools.

Allow me to clarify: The point of this post is not “you should put your kids in public school”. As a former homeschooling mom of eight years, know that I understand the heart behind all sorts of school decisions.

But I am saying this–an echo of another friend who’s both school board president and pastor’s wife. If our greatest strengths are some of our greatest weaknesses, our focus on our own families and what’s best for them can at times divert us from a beating heart for our communities.

Forgive me for getting a little soap-boxy. Because yes, yes I believe in the power of our homes. But I also believe our goal isn’t to be cesspools, but funnels for the great stuff God’s pouring into our families. And of course not just on short-term missions trips, but in our own “Judea” right here. Or as Romans 10 puts it, how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

Our homes and churches carry potential not as bunkers, but aircraft carriers.

Keeping our distance?

Tim Keller articulates,

Celebrate deeds of mercy and justice. We live in a time when public esteem of the church is plummeting. For many outsiders and inquirers, the deeds of the church will be far more important than our words in gaining plausibility (Acts 4:32-33). Leaders in most places see “word-only” churches as net costs to their community, organizations of relatively little value. But effective churches will be so involved in deeds of mercy and justice that outsiders will say, “We cannot do without churches like this. This church is channeling so much value into our community that if it were to leave the neighborhood, we would have to raise taxes.”*

My oldest has come home twice concerned about girls in his class that might be in dangerous home situations. I love that rather than just praying from a distance for them, he’s getting his hands dirty in the work of lifting injustices in his school. There is no room for “those people over there” or “their problem” in our churches.

If it’s a community issue, it is an issue of the Church, right? We actively “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). May God continue to awaken our hearts to the distress of those around us.

Lord, enable us to live so that others can truly say, “They engaged in the crucial struggle[s] of our time.” 

–  Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

So we’re ready for some practical ideas! In what ways is your church actively engaging in key struggles of our times?

P.S. Want more? Check out this timely message from Jill Briscoe, regarding the “mission field between our own two feet.”

 

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“Not my problem”

An Open House

Living “Sent”: An Updated Job Description

A Prayer for Your Community–Every Day of the Week

12 Ways to Pray for Your Child’s Teachers (FREE printable)

 

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Do our churches prefer certain personality types?

churches prefer personalitiesAlright, if it isn’t obvious already–I’ve never really been one of the cool cats. I will sheepishly admit to wearing pleated pants in high school. I had braces until I was a junior. It took years for me to learn to tame these crazy curls (not to mention the frizz and curly eyebrows that went with them). I was more than a little Anne of Green Gables-ish with all my melodramatic creativity. And as you could probably pick up from my blog–I am guilty of trying too hard. Which is woefully beyond any scope of cool in high school.

But in church circles? I have one of those personalities that’s easily accepted. I’m bubbly. I’m a married, creative mother (bonus!) with domestic-diva interests and a bleeding heart. I’m high-capacity in my time management, irreverent in the right ways, and–wait for it–I was a missionary. (I know! Cue the heavenly theme music!) So my gifts, talents, and temperament can lend me toward respect in these circles.

Yet what if I wasn’t?

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Freebie Fridays: FREE Printable 28-day Self- or Small-Group Discipleship Guide in Basic English (Great for New English Speakers or Adult Literacy!)

I’m tickled pink about today’s freebie. And I’d love your help in passing it on, pinning it, or sharing it with people who might use it.

After teaching refugees for three years, I had a wish list. I wanted a free, printable discipleship guide that could take students through basic concepts of Christianity. I wanted it to be useful for a single person or in small groups. I wanted discussion questions and verses to memorize. But as much as I love to play with words in my own writing–I needed something without complex idioms or words that would discourage or confuse an early English speaker.

So imagine my delight when I finally got to pass this out as a parting gift to my students…alongside their first Bible in English.There was some ululating involved! (I may have participated, despite my rather rudimentary skills in this area.) And here it is for you: a FREE printable 28-day self- (preferably with a disciple or mentor) or small-group discipleship guide in basic English. discipleship guide title page

Please, pass it on to cross-cultural workers, adult literacy instructors, teachers of ESL/TOEFL/TOESL/English as a second language, or anyone else who might use it in their own creative ways. (I’ve also passed it out alongside films like the JESUS film or the Gospel of John.)

My vision for this is for it to be as universal as possible. Because of this, I consider it a “living document”–one I can alter to accommodate as many groups as possible. That’s where you come in. I’m still dreaming up new topics I’d like to include, and changing the language to be more understandable. Though I’ve taught ESL in a couple of other contexts, my experience is limited to a few people groups. I don’t know, for example, how it may be received in Asia, with Buddhist or Hindu audiences exploring Christianity. If you’ve got ideas on how to improve this or make it more palatable for certain people groups, please comment below.

And thank you for spreading the message of true freedom everywhere.

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Guest Post: A Fast for Your House: The Surprising Treasures of Simplicity

I always learn something from my friend Monica.

She learned to read and write in the last decade or so, when she moved to Kampala from her village in northern Uganda. But despite my college education, she has a lot to teach me.

When I visited her shared compound on Saturday, she couldn’t wait to show me inside her house. I had to comply looking into the toothy ivory grin parting that smooth, ebony face. And when I entered, I understood why.

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Gifts that Remain: Life Lessons for Keeps from Africa

I view the items in my home differently now. Everything is slid into a category in my mind: Pack it. Sell it. Give it. Just as we did five and a half years ago in Little Rock, we’re packing up our lives here in Africa. But of course the person who packed up then isn’t the same person who’s packing now.

And thankfully, those intangibles are things I can keep.

They don’t take up precious luggage space; I won’t need to sell them for pennies on the dollar with which I bought them. They’re Africa’s gifts to me.

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For the Day When You Feel Powerless, Part II

Missed the first post? Grab it here.

Last Thursday was one of those days that encapsulated so much of what I love and what drives me bananas about living in Uganda. I veered through jaw-clenching traffic on the 45-minute drive home, assembling all the clutter of my day into the appropriate mental file folders. This is quite a task to begin with–considering both a) my mind and b) at least four sudden oncoming governmental convoys. (Let’s just say mental “papers” kept being upended from their file folders by real life.)

As I do every week, I’d taught Bible at the refugee center. Even after three years, it’s a bit of a rabbit hole for me. There are so many cross-cultural experiences to make sense of at once that I’m flying by the seat of my skirt.

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How Not to Share Jesus with Your Friends

(…And now for a completely controversial post! Over to you, Janel.)

Several years past, my husband and I were selling our little yellow house by owner. It was one of those crazy years when we were covered in toddlers and preschoolers. For every house showing, we’d shove all the kid detritus into the washer, dryer, and dishwasher, lay down some vacuum tracks, and scurry off to the playground just in time.

I remember standing in my garden when she rang: A realtor eager to sell my house for me, rattling off her exuberant pitch. At first, I was honored she called (“Your house is so cute!”) and interested to hear her spiel. But soon my shoulders fell. I was getting a subtle vibe she cared more for her agenda than she cared about the needs of my family. I politely declined, sighed, slid my phone back in my pocket.

Weeks later she called to confidently schedule a showing for one of her clients: “I’ve got someone who’s perfect for your place. I’m going to sell your house today!” Her certainty buoyed my sagging spirit. We rearranged our schedule entirely, cleaning in a frenzy. Of course it was in vain, and her words meant to inspire assurance left my frazzled self…smoldering.

It’s a lesson, I think, in a lot of things (my own stupid reactions included!). But I think of that a bit when I consider talking about what I believe; about the One who’s changed my life so profoundly.

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Essential Social Skills for Kids (and Ideas to Teach Them), #5-7

Missed the first post, on phone skills, table manners with a guest, conflict resolution, and greeting? Grab it here.

5. Gratitude.

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Essential Social Skills for Kids (and Ideas to Teach Them), #1-4

Think of these social skills as little golden keys to the future for your kids: They can get your kids into a lot of places! Bummer is, they can shut some doors, too, when our kids don’t master them. (Disclaimer: Writing this post does not declare my children in mastery of said skills.)

Social skills are key because manners are a form of loving others well. They lubricate the potential friction of social interactions.

(Some of them I’ve broken down because of my own experience with my son’s ADHD, such as giving him “scripts” for social situations; see #1.  I won’t speak directly to special needs in this post. But some of these ideas might work to put tangible steps onto often intangible skills.)

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: 10 Practical Ways to Teach Simplicity (…and just in time for your crazy holiday!)

One of my favorite aspects of my African lifestyle is a lean muscularity of simplicity. Forget keeping up with the Joneses. You are the Joneses, when your kids are going to play with kids whose families (who may or may not be literate or have lost a child) live in one room, which may or may not have electricity and running water.

So people expect my light fixtures to, say, look like I swiped them from my church in the eighties. They anticipate that when I serve lemonade, it will cascade from an ugly plastic pitcher.

Perspective is everything.

Randy Alcorn explains in his (highly-recommended) The Treasure Principle, “The more things we own—the greater their total mass, the more they grip us, setting us in orbit around them.”

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