Friday, February 17, 2012

Silence Your Heart

Everyone knows I am a huge fan of Henri Nouwen; no secret there.  Lately, I have been immersed in his writings on silence.  Henri's book The Way of the Heart comes from a seminar he taught at Yale Divinity school where the subject matter was The Desert Fathers.

I have made a connection from Nouwen's work in regards to the poor in my own context.

Just like my heart, the hearts of the poor are seldom practicing, experiencing, or okay with silence.
"...silence is above all a quality of the heart that can stay with us even in our conversation with others (60)."  A heart that practices silence can bring peace and stability to a life of chaos and unrest.  Maybe Jesus speaks of this in John 16:33 "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world."?  Perhaps Jesus is saying silence your heart.  Outside of yourself there is not much you can control, but inside your heart, through silence, you can have peace.

Many people I have met from our community of poverty over the last two years have noticeably high levels of anxiety.  And why shouldn't they?  Especially, if you have a family to look after, not knowing where your next rent check or meal will come from is frightening.

As I bring tangible opportunities for relief and as I tell people about God's love and as I give people a place to belong, I will also teach them about silencing their hearts.

Because the task of ministers " the opposite of distraction.  Our task is to help people concentrate on the real but often hidden event of God's active presence in their lives [and] how to keep people from being so busy that they can no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in silence (56)."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


A couple came by the church to visit with me today.
This couple has been attending our church for at least a month now. They said "this place is warm and feels like home." After talking today I discovered pieces of their story.

In 2007 the male was released from prison having served 25 of his 50 year sentence. Its tough living in one world for a quarter century and then being kicked out and sent away into another (picture Shawshank Redemption). Think about how much change has happened in the last 25 years. In our day and age so much changes every 5!

They were both looking for work (which I believe to be sincere).  However, obviously, work for a felon is hard to come by; and honest, dependable, quality work even harder.

Churches might have a part to play in all this.

Mobilizing the people of God to practically meet individuals coming out of prison can help them with reentry.  When I look at the types of people the Gospels record Jesus spending the most time with they look to me like people coming out of prison.  They were avoided by "righteous/religious" people, pushed to the margins of society, and typically were not kind or cordial but mean, dangerous, and were getting what they deserved.

A new heaven and new earth might look like followers of Christ helping stop the incarceration cycle.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jesus the Beggar

Sometimes we forget that there were celebrities during Jesus' day and that he was not one of them.

You might say, "But wasn't he well-known throughout Jerusalem and Galilee?" Well, sure.  That's not exactly what I'm saying...

Look at what American Christian culture has done to create religious superstars.  Elevating pastors as a "pop-culture" christian celeb is (absolutely) dangerous, (perhaps) anti-gospel, and (surely) harmful (just look at the easy targets, Mark Driscoll and/or Rob Bell).
This phenomenon is fascinating because it is as if we are doing the exact same thing people of Jesus' day hoped to do with him.  They wanted to thrust him into the limelight, take charge, use his influence for fame, fortune, and overthrowing the secular state (you think it's extreme, but look at your motive for voting republican).

The good news is Jesus didn't write a new controversial book, build a big church building, or start a new non-profit ministry.  He did things that no Christian today would elevate or support.  As Shane Claiborne says in The Irresistible Revolution, the miracle of the gospel is not that Jesus healed people (because they all eventually died later) it's that he touched the people that no one else would touch.  He sat with people no one else would sit with.

The most Christ-like things we do will end up being the things we receive no applause for, no award for, and will probably go unnoticed.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It takes time

I have worked with the homeless in Norman, OK for two years this January 4th.  During this journey one principle stands out among all others.

It takes time.

I am amazed by and have pity for my culture that assumes programs and machinery are what it will take to bring people out of poverty.  Welfare is not the answer.  Bigger government is not the answer.  Clothes Closets, Food Pantries, Soup Kitchens, Salvation Armies, transition houses, none of these are the answer. In fact, there is no silver bullet, panacea, magic blue pill that I know of.

Just when you want to throw your hands up in the air and say, "Well, what the heck is all this for!?"; I do know this.  While there is no easy answer, the journey towards the solution is paved with committed healthy relationships.

Any program put forth by society or church that does not weigh heavy on long lasting healthy relationships is a failure.  

The fabric of society's future is woven with the everyday choices that promote and cultivate healthy relationships.  Relationships that beat with Christ's heart of love and sacrificial commitment.  His is the highest form of love because he is the example and source of such love.  His Spirit is what lives on in us today and gives us strength and patience, determination and stubbornness, because the journey with broken people towards healing takes time.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I Love Presents

“…Based on the gift they have received, everyone should use it to serve others…”
1 Peter 4:7-11

I can vividly remember Christmas eve 1989.  I was six years old and there was more of a chance of newly elected president George Bush cleaning up all 240,000 barrels of oil from the Exxon Valdez with a shop-vac than me getting any sleep that night.  I was too excited.  I love presents.
Go ahead, ask anyone in my family.  Receiving presents and the excitement of a surprise has led me to start counting down the days to Christmas beginning as early as October.  Some call it a disease; I call it “misappropriated fervor”. 
Christmas morning 1989 I remember lying in bed checking the clock every thirty minutes from 3am to 7am hoping Santa Clause had come, done his deed, and I could leave my room and snoop.  Finally, the time came and I quickly hopped out of bed in my one-piece PJ’s (the kind with the feet attached).  Rounding the corner to the living room I saw the tree lit up in all its splendor; presents everywhere.  Red and green wrapping paper packages reflected the blinking lights of the tree.  I love presents.
That morning my sister unwrapped an art easel, I am sure some clothes, and many other things I didn’t care about.  I unwrapped many presents that morning too, however, I remember only one.  Six years prior to that Christmas Nintendo had rocked the electronic world with their NES system (we know it as the original Nintendo).  This morning the six-year ripple effect in the pool of the gaming world had made it to my life.  I took hold of the box, ripped off the paper, and revealed in all its majesty my Nintendo.
That is how I define a gift.  Something not from me, but absolutely for me.  Mine to keep, cherish, horde, and bring me happiness.  My, how differently scripture defines “gift”.  1 Peter 4:10 tells us that gifts received are to be given away in service to others.  What?  But its mine!?  I was specifically thought of when someone gave me that gift and you are suggesting I need to use it to serve someone else?  Yuck, but true.
This advent season admit that you were probably born on third base but you did not hit a triple.  You have been given so much and none of it is by your own doing.  “But I believe in the American Dream that I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps and look at how successful I am now.”  Where would you be without the breath God put in your lungs?  Did you choose not to have a mental illness that would keep you in a different reality?  Did you choose to be smart, level headed, gifted with music, business, typing, teaching, science, or writing skills?  In humility, recognize God’s gifts of grace in your life, be thankful, and for God’s sake give it away in service to others.

This was my entry for December 17th in our church Advent devotional guide.  Have a merry Christmas and be with those you love.
Joey Armstrong

Monday, December 5, 2011

Voting With Your Dollar

I've been reading a lot about creating and using sustainable businesses to bring about social change.  Jason Saul's book Social Innovation, Inc.: 5 Strategies for Driving Business Growth Through Social Change has allowed my liberal arts brain to get a dose of economic business stimuli.  Here's what I've learned so far...

-Businesses are more powerful (and wealthier) than government (hello, Apple).

-Businesses cannot merely be "philanthropic" as they continue on towards their goals.  The social change we hope for must be the inherent goal of the business itself 
(e.g. McDonalds cannot simply boast about how much they give to certain charities every year.  Through changing their business goals and strategies they must seek to bring systemic change to problems like obesity and low-wage jobs).

-The most influential vote we have is not at the polls in November, it is our dollar and where we choose to spend it.
Because as a customer, citizen, and contributor to society you earn credit/influence in the form of little green slips of paper.  And wherever you deposit those slips of green paper is where you are allocating your support for different companies.  You say, "Target, I like the feeling I get when I go to your store and purchase your merchandise.  Keep it up." Or, "Starbucks, I like the way you treat third world coffee farmers.  Keep doing what you are doing."

Businesses of our economy want our money (our vote).  It's our job to buy responsibly, carefully, and with integrity.  Take note of two final things: the best way to empower the poor is to provide work so that they can have influence and a vote, and the government cheats in a way because through mandatory taxes they can bypass the need to make the customer happy.

Just some thoughts from a wannabe economist.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I work as a Buckner Children and Family Services Community Minister, which means, I have many coworkers across the nation in local churches doing the same kind of community development work that we are doing at FBC Norman. Below is a story that one of my good friends and coworkers shared with me of her ministry at her local church in Knoxville, TN.

 She writes...

 "I wanted to share something with you that happened this week that reminded me about why we do this. One of our community ministry clients is an elderly, mildly retarded man who goes to our church and has NO immediate family. I assigned my MSW intern to work with him. One of her jobs has been to help him get on a budget, because he sometimes runs out of money at the end of the month. And when that happens he completely panics. I had him bring in all his bills so that she could go over them with him. In that process, the intern found out that he has been paying $118 a month to ATT for phone, internet and every other service they offer AND he doesn’t know what the internet is. A sales person at ATT ripped him off. The intern called and with Lifeline his bill will now be $13 a month. This week we really did make a difference in someone’s life."

This is what we do as Christ followers.  We advocate for the orphan, the widow, and the marginalized.  We are continuing the picture that Jesus began painting of Heaven coming to earth.