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mission

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CREATE Team

We hope you’ll join us on March 30th at 7pm as we begin nailing down details for CREATE (our annual arts camp).  This year we’ll need everyone, not just artists, to join in the effort in order to impact the 100+ kids we’re expecting.  If you have the gifts of administration, hospitality, or teaching (or you just enjoy hanging out with kids)  come dream and pray with us.  We’ll be meeting at Branch HQ.

success center

We’ve begun to partner with Hope Reformed Church and a local non-profit (School-to-Career-Progressions) in their Success Center.  Urban youth meet after school for life skills, mentoring, tutoring, artistic expressions, and a weekly meal.  Some of the Branch’s artists have been introducing students to various art forms the last few weeks, and on Wednesday, May 4, we hope you’ll join us in providing diner for these students and the volunteers.  Help us prepare food (4:30-5:30pm) or clean up (6:00-7:00pm).

benefit dinner for the DeYoung family

Last fall the DeYoungs moved to Tanzania to live among and serve the Tanzanian people.  Then, last month, they learned that their oldest daughter, Lola, has leukemia.  They have moved back to MI and will be here for the next two years in order for Lola to receive treatment.  Friday, April 29th, we’ll be hosting a benefit dinner and silent auction to raise funds for the DeYoungs.  Join us from 5-8pm, or sign up to volunteer.  Follow their story at followingthecall.org.

the Church of Alger Heights

Put Saturday, May 21 on the calendar.  We’ll be joining other Alger Heights area churches as we serve the neighborhood.  A team is forming to plan the details and ensure that we have the most impact possible.  If you want to be part of this team, let us know.

Mission :: Wind

windWe are using wind as a metaphor for mission. Mission is what keeps a community of faith moving. We are led by the spirit for the sake of the world around us, that needs the love of God. Thus wind seems like a good metaphor for mission, especially since both the Hebrew and Greek words for spirit (ruach and pneuma) both include breath or wind in there meaning.

There has always been intense discussion on why or for what purpose the church of Jesus Christ exists. From our reading of the New Testament, the purpose of the church is mission. This is really the only guaranteed purpose of the church as far as we can see. Jesus never promised safety, community, security or anything of personal benefit to us. He came announcing that the Kingdom of God is at hand. He called out followers and sent them out on mission. It’s true that wherever the mission went, community was formed and the community facilitates the mission. Take away mission and the community makes no sense. Take away community and the mission is hindered

It’s important to visualize mission with movement. Jesus did not call his disciples with the words “believe this doctrinal statement” but instead simply said, “follow me”. To follow Jesus on mission requires movement. It requires following the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus to guide us.

Perhaps a few words about what the mission is would be helpful. It seems to us that the ‘follow me’ that Jesus said has oft been replaced with a ‘believe this’ or ‘accept this’. There is a subtle difference in these words; ‘follow me’ implies movement or journey, while the others imply completion. Do this and your done. We’re not trying to say that following Jesus doesn’t have a lot to do with reshaping your beliefs, but plenty of christians respond to a ‘believe this’ and figured they were done and so stopped moving. So Jesus says ‘follow me’ and then sends us out to make disciples (repeat the ‘follow Jesus’), baptize them (forming community with water), and to teach them what Jesus told us (in a nutshell: love God, love others). As far as we can tell that is the mission and it’s why the church exists.

Community :: Water

waterWe are using water as a metaphor for community and here’s why… with water we are baptized into community. Water gives life just as it cleanses and renews. Together we form streams of living water and offer love and hope to a spiritually thirsty world.

The above description is summary on the info cards that we’ve printed up, but the symbolism goes much deeper. There is a theme that runs throughout God’s word about ‘living water’ or, the ‘river of life’. Jesus references it when he tells the women at the well about ’springs of living water’. Paul speaks of it when he talks about baptism in his epistles.  Erwin Mcmanus describes the way that baptism forms community in this way:

Every believer passes through the waters and becomes a part of the river of life. Alone, you are only standing in a puddle. Together we become an oasis where those searching for genuine love and acceptance can come and drink deeply.

Almost everyone we’ve ever met has a desire to connect on a spiritual level with something larger then himself or herself. Most are unable to articulate how or why but they feel it in their bones. It’s just the way we we’re created. However, our culture is constantly telling us that the material world (the world that we can see and touch and feel) is all there is to life. Culture is telling you and I that we are alone and we best get used to it and learn how to cope. This makes for a whole lot of people wandering and groping in a spiritual desert. They have a deep thirst for spiritual connection but find nothing to drink.

Jesus said that if we ask, he would create in us a spring of living water welling up to eternal life. The community that follows Jesus is the oasis of God. Together, we are the place of love where a thirsty world can come and drink deeply.

Transformation :: Wood

woodWood is our metaphor for transformation. If you pay, attention there are a few themes you’ll see biblical writers return to over and over again. One of these themes is the ‘tree of life’ theme. You see, God is described as a gardener and all that is good and life-giving is represented in the this ‘tree of life’ theme. The Jewish people understood that after the blessing of Eden was lost, God began to cultivate a new blessing. They understood that when God called a people, Israel was being grafted into this ‘tree of life’. So strongly was this belief that even the root meaning of the Hebrew word for tribe or family is ‘branch’. Every family or clan is really just a ‘branch’ of this ‘tree of life’. Sometimes the expected messiah is called the ‘Tsemach‘, which is a similar word also translated as ‘branch’. So, the Jewish people were all about remaining attached to the ‘tree of life’ and waiting expectantly for THE branch to come and make Israel a great and wonderful blessing to the world.

So, why is all this important? Well, I think that if we don’t know a little of this ‘tree of life’ theme, it’s hard to really understand Jesus when he says, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…you are the branches.‘ This is Jesus’ plan for spiritual formation. It’s pretty simple really, ‘remain in me, and I’ll remain in you’. Together we bear much fruit, but apart you can do nothing. That’s it really, no fancy bible study curriculum, no annual conference to attend. Simply abide in Jesus and let the gardener cultivate your heart toward growth and transformation. As we remain branches in the true vine we grow like the mustard seed from Jesus’ parable. The branches of God grow up into a place where ‘creatures of every kind’ (read also, people of every kind) will live and find rest. Spiritual formation for the sake of the world. We just can’t get away from the fact that we are blessed to be a blessing, can we?

Culture :: Fire

fireFire is our metaphor for the way that God encounters culture. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about God is that God comes. God doesn’t just sit up in the divine council waiting for us to come. We all know that we’d never make it. Instead God comes to us. This is the heart of the Biblical story. From Genesis through Revelation, time after time, God comes to meet his people. Each and every time God encounters not only human beings but also the culture that inevitably surrounds us. Think about it. God can’t come to a person with out being relevant to that person’s culture (language, geography, ethics, morality).

So when God comes to dwell with us, and this may seem obvious, but God comes as Jew. Jesus was a Jew. The color of his skin and eyes, the shape of his face, the way he dressed and even the way he smelled was Jewish. Does this mean that out of all the myriad variety of human beings on this planet the ancient Jewish people are the best representation of God? Certainly not. God comes with a message, and in order that God might be heard and understood, God becomes relevant to Israel in the form of Jesus Christ. But Jesus was different. He was very much a part of the Jewish culture, but he was also more. He was the very best of that culture. He encountered the culture of the Jewish people and like a purifying fire, proceeded to transform it.

Encountering culture means being relevant and transformative. It does not mean unconditional accommodation of culture. But if the church has learned anything from the highs and lows of the last few centuries of missionary activity, it’s this: in order to communicate the good news of the Kingdom of God, we must first become relevant (in more than just language) to the culture. Fire seems a good metaphor for this encounter considering the frequency that God chooses to appear in fire (think burning bush, pillar of fire and smoke and Pentecost just to name a few). So what does it mean to encounter and be transformative in our culture? This is a question that must constantly be asked if we are to be faithful witnesses of the Kingdom of God. To put it bluntly, relevance to culture is not optional.

Creativity :: Earth

earthEarth is our metaphor for creativity. This one is fairly straight forward, but it needs to be said because we often don’t. Often we christians spend most of our time talking about elimination of sin and almost no time releasing God-given potential. Certainly rooting out and eliminating sin is an important part of following Jesus, but is not even nearly the whole story.

Take a moment to consider the world around you. Look out a window if possible. Can it be denied that our God is a creative God? And we are fashioned in the image of this creative God! God breathed into a lump of earth and created humanity. Of course as a result of our own rebellion, we are broken vessels. Too often we make the goal of holiness to somehow get back to an ‘unbroken’ state, which we can’t do. So what is the point of character transformation (wood) then? Well, I think the point is that God has big dreams for you and I. We can’t ‘unbreak’ ourselves, so we must leave that to God, and move on.

There was a time when what people did with their lives was carefully considered as a calling from above. In fact, the very word ‘vocation’ includes this notion. ‘Vocation’ comes to us via the latin ‘vocatio’ which is rooted in ‘vocare’ meaning ‘to call’. Ones vocation was once thought to be a ‘calling’. God has a dream for his people and it’s wrapped up in this understanding of ‘call’. God has uniquely gifted and equipped each of us for our call. Maybe it’s time to reclaim this understanding of our vocation as more than just a way to pay the bills?

There are many forms of creativity. To be a good accountant or financial planner takes creativity, right? Think about what it takes to be good at any given vocation. To be good doctors, lawyers, carpenters, barristas, cab drivers all takes creativity. You see, God has redeemed us for a purpose. God has a dream for us and it’s not just to ‘unbreak’ us. Creativity is the natural result of being formed by and following after a creative God. Together, we are committed to seeing and celebrating the God-given potential in every life. We are committed to embracing and releasing creativity in every form.

Jesus told a story about how our hearts are like earth. In the story the message of the Kingdom of God falls on different kinds of soil. When our hearts are like good soil (when we truly accept God’s message) there is a huge harvest. In other words, when we let God cultivate our hearts into good earth, the potential that lies dormant in each of our hearts is released and the dreams that God has for us come to life. So the question is… In what way has God gifted and ‘called’ you to a great harvest in the Kingdom?