21 day challenge

Lots of our blog posts over the past few years have been all about Kingdom-what we’re doing as a family.  This one will focus on the other side of the continuum–Covenant and being a family.

At the end of August, we sat around as a huddle, talking about what God has been saying to each of us.  Some of us were unsettled, restless.  Others hearing the words “find contentment in the being.”  Over the last few months, we have had a new start as a family of missionaries.  We have all committed to living in one neighborhood with the focus of shining Christ’s light and bringing His Kingdom to where we are as a family.  It had been a challenge to just wait on the Lord and be patient in hearing what He wants us to do and be faithful in looking for people of peace.  As we discussed and questioned the kairos we had been given as a community, we threw around some crazy plans trying to find what obedience looked like.

Finally, we settled on this:  be together for 21 days straight.  21 days.  Not all day, every day; but together at least once every day.  That’s how many days it’s supposed to take to solidify a new habit.  21 days.  It was almost like a fast – giving up our individualism, our free time, and our schedules-a group of introverts.  Now this is sounding a bit “suffocating” as one of us put it.  We were united in our decision-we were determined to create a tight family, one we know will stand firm, one we can invite others into, one that has been tested.

21 days is up.  Everyone sacrificed something.  There were days we had to get up early to have breakfast together because work schedules went beyond our little ones’ bedtimes.  There was a day we had to meet at Kroger and grocery shop together even though some of us despise shopping.  There were even meals some of us didn’t prefer to eat.  Most of the days just looked like eating dinner or playing a couple video games or watching a movie together.  It ended up being much simpler and more natural than I had expected.  Isn’t that what a covenant family should be?  Simple and natural.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there were days when not everyone was happy.  There were days when not everyone was healthy.  And there were days when it would have just been easier to skip (like the day after the toddler fell and got nine stitches).  But mostly, there were days of joy, conversation, laughter, and family.  My prayer is two-fold: that we will look back on these 21 days as some of the best days as we drew closer, refined vision, and restarted on this mission our Father has set us on; and that we will be able to carry on with this new sense of family that we pressed into.

So, there’s your glimpse into what we’ve been doing-which has looked a whole lot like just being a family.

so much good

photoI read a blog recently that posed the question, “if there is no God, why is there so much good in the world?”  There are days when there’s so much bad, it’s hard to see the goodness.  But, there was a day this week that there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that there is goodness and that God was and is responsible for it.

It started off like any other Wednesday night…threatening skies and a few old faithfuls helping get food ready.  This same ole Wednesday transformed before our eyes…new faces showing up, all ages participating in prayer stations, and enough food to go around.  There were new relationships forming and conversations happening all over our front yard and porch.  Delightful squeals could be heard from the kiddie pool in the backyard.  I figured I needed to go make sure no one was getting stuck in the mud or being dunked too forcefully in the pool.  As I got to the back, one of the girls hopped out, skipped up to me, and asked if she could get baptized.  It caught me completely off guard, but the story of the Eunuch being baptized in a nearby ditch popped into my head (Acts 8).  So, I said yes!  After we talked about the meaning of baptism and gathered up the rest of the family, we baptized not just her, but seven others.

Each person proclaimed truth and talked about who Jesus was to them…”my hero,” “my King,” “forgiver of my sins.”  There was cheering and rejoicing as so many chose to be obedient and go public with their faith.  The night ended with almost all the kids in the pool and almost all the adults standing in awe of the goodness of our God.

-Natalie

let the little children come to me

CA183E34-030B-4C20-B604-DD14DAED0063Do you ever feel like the disciples did? Bothered by the children?  It’s easy to get caught up in their mess, their chaos, and their noise.  But it’s also easy to see why Jesus scolded the disciples and told us all to be a bit more like the little ones (Matt 19).  Just a few Jesus-qualities shown by the youngest of our family at Open Door MC last week:

selfless service:  offering to serve food to others and choosing to eat last

evangelism:  requesting paper and crayons to make signs to invite others to the cookout

love & kindness:  the older ones toting around the younger ones, taking them underwing

compassion:  asking for prayer for their loved ones

generosity:  running home for five packets of kool-aid to make and share with the family

I’m so thankful God has entrusted us to begin discipling these young believers.  As we focus on sowing seed generously across our neighborhood, I’m reminded that these are the  first sprouts of the seeds we planted when we began this journey as a family a few years ago.

-Natalie

 

 

sprouts of family

open doorIt is lovely, sitting on a front porch, the wind slightly blowing.  Another neighbor mother is holding my daughter as she tells her daughter how to give berries to mine.  I pick more mulberries from the side tree.  I watch.

Beautiful blue faces.  Makes my heart smile.  We are eating together.  Talking together.  Being together.  The evening sky is cooling down.  I can see God’s picture of family moving in our midst.

These prayers of seeding.  Sprouts, they have begun.

Thank you, God, that we can see them.  I am so happy I can be here.  That you have helped me to this place.  That my fears are less and that I have trusted, and can always trust, in who You are.   Help me to see You more.  Help me to slow down and catch glimpses.  Refresh me in Your ways.

-Danielle

tis the season…

…for cleaning.

…for yard word.

…for walks in the rain.

…and for forgiveness.

With Easter approaching, most of us who believe in Jesus have our hearts fixed on the cross and the empty tomb.  We’re consumed with the thoughts of forgiveness and grace and mercy.  Sometimes, though, those concepts are so abstract and hard to wrap our brains around.  Thankfully, our Father gives us real-life examples of true forgiveness and tangible grace-gifts.

Last week during our MC time, I got to participate in such forgiveness.

Over the last year, two of the beautiful girls in our MC have been knock-down, drag-out fighting with each other.  They live on the same block, tried to go to the same school and failed, and couldn’t both be at SOKs at the same time…two girls who are baptized Christ-followers.  How these two could have such “beef” with each other was beyond me; they are both sweet, loving, respectful girls.

Sunday was different.  Sunday brought words of grace and not of hate.  Sunday brought life and not death.  Sunday brought forgiveness instead of bitterness.

Both girls offered vulnerable apologies to each other and I got to be the onlooker.  They initiated, or should I say the Holy Spirit must have.  Not only was there forgiveness; there was over-the-top restoration.  An olive branch of candy, hugs, and an invitation to hang were offered and accepted.  Truthfully, I had always hoped for them to be civil to one another, but to actually be friends could only have been from Jesus because I never even expected it.

So, as you’re cleaning your house and planting your garden and jumping in puddles and thinking about the cross, give thanks for this relationship that has been rescued, just like our lives.

-Natalie

 

 

thanksgiving on the porch

Because our home is open often for family to gather, there are lots of days we get to spend playing and talking with kids from the neighborhood.  Some days, I wonder why they want to spend time with our family…one with two little boys, little boy things and toys around the house, and no special events.  I suppose it’s as simple as family.  We don’t provide an endless supply of entertainment or even food when kiddos pop in throughout the week.  But we do provide family anytime they step foot through our door.  This must be the draw…a Kingdom Family.

There are other times I know exactly what the motivation is…pizza.  About once a month, we do some sort of neighborhood activity (delivering cookies to neighbors, setting up a lemonade stand, picking up trash, etc), and we always return to our house for pizza.  If you read back over some of the blogs written by kids, pizza is never forgotten in the stories!  Kids love pizza!

This last Sunday was no different, kids came out of the woodwork and ended up in our living room for pizza.  In fact, after our time together was finished, we still had kids knocking on our front door; some were kids we have a relationship with and others were brand new.  I quickly thought, how can giving pizza away at my front porch be a moment for these five boys to pause and possibly hear from God?  So, I told them how at our house, we always pray and thank God before we eat.  After a brief conversation about what prayer is and who we pray to, I asked if they would be willing to pray with me.  They agreed, but not without knowing what they were getting themselves into.  If you’ve spent any meal with us, you know our boys love to sing a prayer my family sang when I was little.  It’s a simple, repetitive song that I thought the boys would be able to join in on.  Sure enough, right on our front porch, five young boys sang a prayer of thanksgiving to God our Father.  What a sweet moment for me.  I’m certain it was also music to our Father’s ears as He heard little voices offering acknowledgment and thanks to Him.

-Natalie

i’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!

Children can bring out the absolute best and worst in us. Of course, by “us” I mean parents. But how often do we pause from the daily grind to consider what we bring out of them?

Children are sponges. They soak up everything they see and hear whether we like it or not. So…. what are we providing them in the way of character development, demeanor and attitude?

Arguably joy is lacking in adulthood. Why? Many reasons, but that isn’t the point. More importantly we struggle to share joy with our children and so fail to help them develop joy as a regular and good experience in life.

Stick with me on this.

The “Fruit of the Spirit” includes joy. This means that the lives of those living “The Life [of Christ]” should be full of joy. I don’t know about you, but this seems a bit like a “Sunday School” answer to the problem. Joy becomes difficult as a “Fruit” and discipline when it comes to living mundane, everyday life. There. I said it. It’s hard to live out joy. Ouch!

If I am not living out a joyful life, or at least trying, what am I developing in my children? Whatever it is, it’s not joy. Double ouch! I’m not sure about you, but I want my kids to know and experience joy, the true joy given by God, on a daily basis.

This requires intentionality [read: daily discipline]. I’m far from a perfect example, but I hope to become a better example of living a life of joy and developing joy in the lives of my children.

I’m starting by identifying and experiencing joy to the best I can on a daily basis and helping my kids do the same. I hope you will join me.

First Fruits: Here are a few ways we’ve seen and identified joy in our home since I started writing this blog post.

  • My daughter and wife helped cheer a friend up when she was sad (helping a friend find joy) and found creative ways to encourage her
  • My two sons found joy while playing on indoor playgrounds at Recreation Unlimited
  • I found joy in coming home to my family, nightly bath time routine with the kids and reading a book to them before bedtime. I also find joy in “Mommy-Daddy dinner” on Monday nights and making time to just be present in my marriage.

I’m already being reminded that joy isn’t limited to the big events of life (weddings, births, promotions, etc). Joy is about perspective and making the most of every opportunity to be present in the life God has given you. This removes the limitations of needing a reason for joy and sets the expectation for daily joy in any capacity.

-Nathaniel

gifts of love

The winter months can be a bit tricky to find ways to be in our neighborhood; people stay inside often, sidewalks are not shoveled, and kids aren’t always dressed for the weather.  Despite these obstacles, one of our leaders suggested we bake cookies and deliver them to our neighbors on the weekend of Valentine’s Day.  So, we sent cookie dough home with all the kids with a note giving directions on how and when to make cookies together (note: most of the kids who are part of our missional community do not come with their parents, and we’re often looking for opportunities for them to show God’s love at their own homes).

When the time came for us to deliver the cookies, we bundled up and slipped down the snow-covered sidewalks together.  We chose to go to homes that were very near to our own houses; one of our leaders suggested one of his neighbors who is elderly and might be lonely.  She recognized us right away and smiled ear to ear when we offered her cookies.  As we were walking, we also ran into a woman we met when we first moved to the neighborhood.  She asked right away if we would pray with her; we prayed for peace among her family and a new sense of trust in God with her own life.  Once all the cookies were gone, we headed back to our house to find Nate and another young boy; they, too, had a story of love.  The pizza delivery man (who happens to be our neighbor) got his car stuck as he was leaving our house, and the guys were able to help push him out of the snow.

As we were faithful in finding ways to be out in our neighborhood, God gave us lots of opportunities in one afternoon to show His love in practical ways.

-Natalie

new life

photo (2)Over the last six months, exciting things have been happening in the life of our church!  God has moved us to end our pilot Missional Community that has existed for the last year and a half to train, equip, and release leaders.  We saw this pilot MC go through many seasons, seasons of growth, of change, and of pruning.  Now, we get to see it bring about new life.

Three new MCs have been birthed from the pilot.  The first is called “Koinonia” which is the greek word for communion, unity, and fellowship.  The mission for this MC is “redeeming the Family.”  They exist to provide safe spaces for individuals and families to bring about conversations, fun, and restoration.  The second is called “GameOn!” which is geared around people who play and love games and value fun together.  (Look for blogs from and about Koinonia and GameOn! in the coming months!)  And the third is called “SOKs” which stands for Southern Orchards Kids; this is the neighborhood where Nate and I have put down roots.  We weren’t planning for a MC focused on children, but God was.  So, now that the pilot has ended, we have transformed that MC into one that is intentionally discipling children and raising up young leaders in this community.  We’re using the huddle format with them and inviting some of the young teenagers to begin making decisions and leading on a small scale.

We’ve seen overwhelming breakthrough in both MCs already, with people new to the idea of oikos jumping in and participating, children making plans based on what they’ve heard God say, and adults from the Southern Orchards neighborhood see deliverance from sin revolved around their parenting.  This is only the beginning.  We expect God to continue to do great things as we press in to being part of Him bringing His Kingdom to earth.

Natalie - blog signature (black BG)

stories


picstitch

Did they tell You [Jesus] stories ’bout the saints of old?
Stories about their faith?
They say stories like that make a boy grow bold.
Stories like that make a man walk straight.

(from Rich Mullin’s Boy Like Me, Man Like You)

We sat around the supper table last Sunday evening enjoying a meal together of fried fish and milk-soaked juneberry and strawberry shortcakes. The gathering was both spontaneous and planned. Aimee and I had already invited Phil and John and Emily and their two children over to help pick a bumper crop of juneberries, when Jay and Anita called to invite us over for wine and stories about Jay’s mission trip to Zambia. Knowing that Jay knew Phil and John from our mission trip together to Henryville last year, Aimee and I thought “What’s two more good friends over for company?” With anticipation of a wonderful evening of good friends, good food, and good story-telling we invited Jay and Anita to our place as well.

With genuine curiosity Anita started us off by demanding that we tell our stories from our mission trip.

So for the next couple of hours stories flew back and forth. Stories of twin mission trips…one to assist with micro-economic development projects at a pastor’s school at Kaffakumba, Zambia, Africa and one to assist with neighborhood service projects and a backyard Vacation Bible School for Soma Church in inner city Columbus, Ohio. Stories of how God used both groups to bless others and how God blessed us in turn. Stories of the faithfulness of God and our faithfulness to following Jesus’ call to make disciples.

From our weeklong trip, we recounted how we were used by God from the onset since the VBS almost didn’t happen due to a lack of adult workers from Soma’s missional community until our team of eight servants offered to help. We recounted how Phil used his growing “skill” at dumpster-diving at the local grocers to provide extra food for the host families and the neighborhood VBS kids. We recounted how John encouraged four young brothers who were attending VBS in the evenings to work alongside us during the day as we grubbed weeds and overgrown brush from the yard to make room for more play space and a vegetable garden. We told how Chelsea used her cheery disposition and winsome smile to help make VBS kids feel comfortable in the presence of us outsiders. We told the story of Mike and Jen’s conversation with the neighbor for whom we house-painted…how our act of service had restored his faith in humanity because he was still reeling from being robbed at gunpoint the week before. We told how the experience of being a participant in and recipient of acts of extravagant generosity and genuine love in action “raised the bar” for Zach, the newest follower of Jesus in our group.  And we told Aimee’s favorite story of how God was faithful and allowed us to experience eighteen VBS kids become our brothers and sisters in Jesus as they decided to “follow Jesus the rest of their lives”…and how after receiving personal copies of the Jesus Storybook Bible, they spontaneously sat in groups of three and four in the grass to read aloud to each other and to us adults God’s creation story as it had been read to them every night that week.

It was indeed a good week of good experiences and good risks. I was reminded how stories and storytelling play such a vital role in building our faith in God. And how they play a vital role in passing on the tradition of building his kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.  According to scripture, the faithful ones (Hebrews 10.39) tell stories of their and their ancestors’ faith (Hebrews 11). This motivates brothers and sisters in the faith to think of ways to carry out acts of love and good works (Hebrews 10.24).

And again:

Your faithful followers will praise you.
 They will speak of the glory of your kingdom;
they will give examples of your power.
 They will tell about your mighty deeds

and about the majesty and glory of your reign.
For your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
You rule throughout all generations.

(Psalms 145.10-13)

Oh, and around that table we were enamored with and encouraged by Jay’s stories as well. Our twin trips and twin stories were very similar in theme but varied in detail. I do not wonder why. It is the story that God is telling…through people. First through faithful followers of old. Then through Jesus. And now through us. Yes, tell the stories of the everlasting kingdom.

-Nate (Simons)