Forward

I am honored to continue serving as an Impact Campus Ministries (ICM) board member. Throughout my time as an intern and staff member with ICM, I learned the value of living out the mission of “pursue, model, and teach intimacy with God on the university campus.” And as I transitioned from a staff member to a board member, I have continued to learn the value of pursuing, modeling, and teaching intimacy with God in areas outside of college ministry.

ICM recently hosted its annual All Staff Conference in Fullerton, CA. For each of these conferences, the leadership prayerfully considers the conference theme based on how the organization and staff are currently functioning and where they believe God desires to take them next. To me, this type of listening prayer reinforces our mission of “pursue, model, teach” and transcends from leadership into the rest of the organization, including board of directors.

The theme for this year’s conference was: forward.

I was not able to attend the conference in person, but I was able to Skype in for the day-long board meeting that followed. During our time together, the board discussed many things. Mission, vision, staff care, board commitment, budget, The 5 Voices, etc. And during each vulnerable conversation, our dialogue brought us back to the conference theme.

“This is where we are today,” followed by, “How can we move forward?”

After our meeting, I trusted that God not only wanted that message to reach the staff, but also each of the board members, including me.

“This is where you are today, Megan,” He whispered in His gentle assuring voice. “This is how you can move forward,” He declared confidently over me, a beloved daughter.

forward

The other day, in true divine fashion, I received an email from an organization I follow, Propel Women, inviting me to fix my gaze forward for what is to come.

“Let your eyes look straight ahead; Fix your gaze directly before you.” (Proverbs 4:25)

What are the chances that I would receive that email right after the ICM conference theme was the word forward? I have some friends that would say 100%. Not because it is the new year and that is what everyone is tweeting, texting, and instagramming, but because God wanted to connect these pieces together to get my attention.

I am sure I have read this specific verse more than once, but after our ICM board meeting and reading it in Propel Women’s email, I had to stop and look deeper. I had to lift my heart toward God and ask Him some questions. Are you inviting me into something, God? Is this verse gaining new meaning today? Yes.

It has been a very long time since I have used this blog to update you all. Thus, I must give some background as to where I have come from and what has been holding my gaze.

Most of you know in August I transitioned out of my job as Director of Mobilization at Bridgetown Inc. or Because People Matter (BPM). Until leaving, I did not understand how much of my identity and soul I had poured into that organization and how much that organization poured into me. My schedule, friends, focus, goals and even art projects were infused and tied into BPM. I did not fully understand this until I was no longer able to say, “I’m Megan from Night Strike,” or “I lead Transformation Trips,” or even “I work with the marginalized” and receive words of approval or familiarity. Each of those statements highlighted what I did, while each affirmation aligned my focus on myself and my position at BPM. My gaze was not forward.

When I transitioned out of BPM, I started to realize that my gaze lingered on the path behind me.

But God, being rich in His mercy (and patience), has been slowly realigning my focus. Not only is He shifting my focus forward, away from the past, but He is also removing my gaze from the things that don’t really define who I am.

How?

He opened doors for a job outside of how I used to identify myself; serving the marginalized. I went from Volunteer Coordinator and short-term Mission Trip Teacher to a Sale’s Assistant. I never thought I would or could be a Sale’s Assistant, but I am and I am learning a ton. I put my hours in and work hard every week, and yet my identity is not tied to what I do. There is a clean separation. At first I did not know how to process, but now I am learning to allow myself to continue to be “Megan” without the need for a job title to wave as a flag of proof behind me. What freedom! This freedom allows me to quit looking at myself and to look forward to the path ahead of me. In doing so, I am even able to see other gifts that are planted along my path that I did not see before (more on that in a future blog).

Another way God is realigning my focus is by this new role I am about to step into as a mother. Today marks my 14th* day of being “overdue”. I have acquaintances, friends, and family ask me multiple times a day if I have had my baby yet. No, we are still waiting with all of you for his arrival. I can allow these questions to either draw my focus back to myself and what I am not doing (going into labor on a loosely predicted date) which perpetuates my own insecurity and misaligned gaze, or I can allow these questions to draw me to the truth that I am not in control and God is teaching me how to be a mother as I am going. The beautiful part that God revealed to me is that no matter how I perform, am still a mother. My role does not get revoked because I haven’t gone into labor, nor is it revoked if I don’t know what I am doing yet. This truth allows my gaze to drift away from my performance and settle on the path directly in front of me. I am free to set my gaze directly ahead of me on the ancient path that Jesus talks about.

The path is laid out before each of us. All we have to do is look just ahead, get on the path and walk forward. Once we are on that path, we keep moving forward and we will find the Shepherd. He will protect us, lead us, and never forsake us.

So today, I will not look behind me at the things that I used to let identify me, nor will I look directly to my performance and good works for security. I will look just ahead to my next step and keep walking until I find that Shepherd. And when I slip off the path, I will look just ahead and find it once again and walk forward.

*14 days was the count when I wrote this blog. We welcomed our BELOVED JOSIAH JAMES into the world on January 26th. He is everything his name stood for and more. Hallelujah!

Living Tension Part III: Hospitality as the Body of Christ

“Is not this the fast I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the yoke of burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread among the hungry, and bring the poor and cast out into your house? When you see the naked to cover them; and hide not from your own flesh?”

Isaiah 58:6-7

Maybe we were completely off base with the conversation we proposed in Part II. Maybe hospitality is no different than generosity which is no different than philanthropy.

But, you have to wonder…why are homeless-oriented charities not ending homelessness?

Then again, maybe we are in fact on to something…

In Matthew 19, Jesus drags the notion of the future into the present.
His dialogue with the rich man is an invitation.
It’s an invitation for us to become a part of creating heaven on earth.

How? By physically creating the world to come.

In the world to come, there is:
no homelessness.
no poor.
no racism.
no rape.
no violence.
no addiction.
no greed.
no coveting.

In the present, we are to build that future.

How?

Through politics of course. No, no, no. We’re just joking ya (in Zeke Solomon’s voice).

Actually, let’s use a policy example because of how relevant politics are.

If we joined the campaign trail our platform would be: decrease taxes and begin defunding “entitlement” programs.

What!?!?!?!?!

Why!?!?!?!?!

A better question, how would you respond with more of the money you earned back in your pocket?

See, the motivation for our platform is purely to provide the Body of Christ the opportunity to live out its calling.

Would you do your part?

What is your part?

…crickets…

We, the Body, have gone from being a hospitable people, to a generous Church, to a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization.

We look and act the same as our government counter parts, and every other socially responsible institution.

Yet, our calling is different.

Our call is not as an entity, but as a united people using the “block of land” God gave each of us to bring water and shade in the deserts of people’s lives.

Also, each of us is called to leave our home now and again to storm the gates of hell in which people continually trap themselves.

Each of us is called to be God’s hands and feet.

Each of us is called to provide rest and relationship.

Because our God is different. He is still active in this world, working one relationship at a time.

Unfortunately, the Church has invited the trap of Western-consumerism. How so?
The central message of consumerism is to pursue self-interest (comfort & security) above all else. Church programming and new buildings are attempting to meet the call for the Body by inviting them to give comfortably and securely from behind their iPhones while the Church does the rest. Awkwardly, the Church is no longer the only city gate (social justice oriented non-profit) on the scene, because each of us, as Christians, were not doing a good enough job meeting all the need. Moreover, for-profits are capitalizing on the “generosity” of millennials and turning profits while “doing good”.

For example, Toms® is likely the most known for-profit in this regard and their Downtown Portland window display is depicted below. Their marketing is a brilliant invitation to pursue self-interest as a purchaser of “good”. A less known for-profit, Thrive Market ©, gives you access to discounted health food products for $59.95 /yr and “(w)ith your paid membership, Thrive will sponsor a low-income family [membership].” However, Thrive does not yet expect EBT which is the electronic debit system for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, the old food stamps). What “good” is a membership if low-income families cannot afford to buy the food items they now have access to?

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As a result of for-profit marketing, the disposable income of “generous” Christians is now being competed for by non-profits, like the Church, and for-profits alike.

So, which business model is more apt for bringing the Kingdom and taking it the farthest?

Neither!

We believe the Church is misguided in pursuing any business model. It, like the thousands of non-profits and for-profit do-gooders, are parading under the guise of ‘humanitarianism’, but are financially capitalizing through the means of Western-consumerism. Their models target those seeking or desiring to feel good about doing good.

Which begs the questions: is doing good, bad?

No.

But, generosity has become about fulfilling a self-interested desire — a check-the-box mentality of getting your giving and serving comfortably completed.

We have yet to hear someone speak about generous giving to the Church as low-hanging fruit in the Kingdom of God. The conversation stops at being generous and does not move forward to encourage hospitality. We believe this is precisely what is at the core of the Church’s financial problems.

Churches, maybe now more than ever, face financial struggles. We have seen such struggles here in Portland and our previous home. Our current church ($300,000 in the red) is unashamedly aggressive in their Portland-community engagement and programming. Our previous church is similarly oriented in their programming and bought a new building as a means to provide new services and programs.

Are either evil in their intention? No.

Are both advancing the Kingdom? Yes.

So then why would desperate times fall on the Church?

Because it is assuming the individuals’ role, placing distance between the individual and the downtrodden, and leading the Body into the comfort of giving rather than being God’s hands and feet.

Giving is check-the-box; in and out; √.
Being is a relationship-oriented lifestyle enacted daily.
Distance is corrosive to relationship.

The prophet Isaiah tells us we are supposed to divide OUR bread among the hungry, and bring the poor and cast out into OUR house.

YOUR house, not a Church building.

YOUR bread, not what the Church gleans.

So we return;

Would you do your part?

 

Living Tension Part II: Philanthropy vs. Generosity vs. Hospitality

Quite a few people believed Part I of this series was about them. That is both true and false. False in that the blog was not directed nor reflective of any specific person or persons. True in that the blog was an exposure and unveiling of Western-consumerist culture in which we all identify with and find ourselves. If Part I left you uneasy, maybe there are some deeper tensions to wrestle through.

If you haven’t done so already, please read Part I prior to this, Part II. As we move forward lets carry with us these brief statements expressing the message of Part I:

In both giving and receiving the heart must remain open, not closed.

In both giving and receiving the motivation must be from freedom not fear.

In both giving and receiving the act cannot negate the rest of God’s narrative

As we wrestle with living in tension a great place to root ourselves is in Scripture, so let’s begin with it:

Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate. – Genesis 18:4-8

She (Rebekah) went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not.  – Genesis 24:15-22

Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban. Laban ran out toward the man, to the spring. As soon as he saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and heard the words of Rebekah his sister, “Thus the man spoke to me,” he went to the man. And behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. He said, “Come in, O blessed of the Lord. Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.” So the man came to the house and unharnessed the camels, and gave straw and fodder to the camels, and there was water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. – Genesis 24:29-32

These powerful stories in Scripture invite us into what God’s story is and what it is not.

Notice the difference between the stories of Abraham/Sarah and Rebekah, to that of Laban.

God’s story is not a show, it is not just about having and providing the resources to help. Look more deeply into the Text describing Laban. Laban ran to greet “the man” which we know to be Abraham’s servant. Laban had the resources and even provided those resources to “the man”. Yet, look deeper. “The man” unharnessed the camels, “the man” gave straw and fodder to the camels, “the man” washed his feet, and “the man” washed the feet of the men with him. Laban put on a great show. Laban gave “the man” the resources, but left him to do all the work himself. That was not the case with Abraham, Sarah, and Rebekah. Each of those stories showed unrelenting service and sacrifice for the guest and sojourner.

It is our contention that Western-consumerist culture has infiltrated our idea of God’s story, of true giving. Far too often we see Laban’s in this world and hold them up as Saints, as generous givers of their resources.

Philanthropy is defined by “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.”

So, are we, as followers of Jesus, called to be a philanthropic people?

Or in being set apart, as a Holy Nation and a Kingdom of Priests, are we called to something greater?

God’s story is something greater. But what?

How do we parse through what culture deems the “gold standard” of doing good and what God desires?

Let’s continue with Dan Pallotta’s amazing Ted Talk, The way we think about charity is dead wrong. In it he scrutinizes the way we all view non-profits. We resonate deeply with his points. Maybe philanthropy has become just another market in Western culture. It finds it’s name rooted in love, but as Mr. Pallotta discusses, philanthropy and charitable giving were a creation of a penance system. Charitable “giving” was a construct of wealthy, capitalistic Christians who desired to “buy” their way into their idea of the world to come.

We do not think Jesus was after a 5 cents on the dollar kick back when He, in Matthew 19, tells the rich man to “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor,… then come follow Me.” The rich man isn’t evil. Jesus doesn’t argue whether the rich man has in fact kept all the commandments He listed. Jesus does say, in order to be complete, to enter into life, to have treasure in heaven — keep the commandments!

But Jesus mentions five not all six of the commandments regarding relationship with others.

The one He leaves out — do not covet.

In the words of Rob Bell, “coveting is the disease of always wanting more.” Greed is about the accumulation and protection of wealth. The rich man has issue with giving away his possessions. The rich man is greedy. Five percent to the poor is greedy.

Philanthropy is penance. And Jesus is not concerned with a self-inflicted slap on the wrist. Jesus takes the rich man’s question about life in the world to come and makes it about presently living out heaven on earth.

Maybe Jesus also thinks, like Ricardo Semler, “if you are giving back, you took too much.”

We believe generosity to be a step removed from philanthropy. It involves a deeper recognition of sacrifice and a more personalized giving.

But, we go one step further and believe generosity falls short of the example set for us by Abraham, Sarah, and Rebekah. Generosity is not bad, but it is missing something that is critical to bringing shalom into chaos. It is missing relief through relationship.

God’s story involves sacrifice and the surrender of comfort. God’s story involves stopping in your tracks and opening your home to strangers. God’s story involves being shade and water in a desert. God’s story involves being a refuge from the wind and shelter from the storm. Frankly, God’s story involves providing rest and relationship, not band-aids©.

God’s story is hospitality.

Living Tension Part I: Generosity and Hospitality

Full Disclosure: This is a three part series where Chris and I invite a lot of hard questions, frankly, because we were tired of wrestling with them alone.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. – 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)

Part I – Based on Chris’ growth and transformation.

Growing up I (Chris) guess I only really understood kindness and generosity in this sense: treat others as you want to be treated. This model of generosity seems oriented toward a future payoff, a transaction of sorts.  More recently I heard about how generosity and hospitality are central to God’s narrative, especially the Gospel.

I learned a lot about generosity and hospitality in the last three years. My growth in this area was spawned by living in community in Pullman, WA/ Moscow, ID. Megan, having spent more time living intentionally among the same community, has also transformed my understanding of this self-sacrificing lifestyle. As a result, we have become a husband and wife trying to partner with God to live as “His Holy Nation.” We discovered that being hospitable is crucial to be being set apart from our Western-consumerist cultural. With Megan’s support, I have grown tremendously in understanding (and living) what it means to be generous and hospitable. However, my deepest transformation was not in giving, but in my ability to receive generosity and hospitality.

Growing up I learned to politely decline offers. No matter the offer, I would default to “no thank you” and eventually to “no thank you ma’am or sir” (thank you NC State!). I could speculate as to why, but I will never know for sure why that was the norm. One thing is for certain, I denied the person offering their ability to live out generosity or hospitality. After three years of learning in a community passionate about the Text (and living it out), and experiencing hospitality in Israel and Turkey, I am better equipped to receive acts of generosity and hospitality.

The ability to receive was definitely a learned process. Recognizing the level of respect in receiving does not come natural to me. Now that I am better able to receive generosity and hospitality, I am much more aware. My awareness helps me avoid robbing someone of their ability to be generous or hospitable.

However, now, after struggling to learn how to receive from others, I find myself on the other extreme; I always receive. I receive without question, without pause.

In openly receiving, I face compromise.

I am anti-consumerism, anti-materialism, anti-triumphalism, and anti whatever other self-focused – isms exist. I believe these are Kingdom-oriented ideals and I do not take them lightly. I am also pro- grace and peace. Also, Kingdom-oriented ideals I do not take lightly.

In compromising, I condone a false identity of God.

Hence, the tension!

One of the tensions I face:

What does it look like to receive another’s generosity when it is counter to your ideals?

Which imparts a few more questions, like:

Am I defending ‘my’ ideals or am I defending God’s ideals by not supporting consumerism?

Which stance furthers the kingdom of God – the most?

Is there a ‘right’ stance to take?

If God is a God who hears the cry of the oppressed, are generously purchased products of slave labor acceptable?

Another tension I face:

What does it look like to receive another’s generosity if the act has an underlining motivation from insecurity?

In the past, I received purchased gifts from people in difficult financial situations. I welcomed these gifts openly, because my community taught me how to receive. However, as I think more about these purchases I wonder what motivates them.

Which imparts a few more questions, like:

Is their motivation from the heart?

Does the giver resonate with the self-sacrificing giving of the widow’s mite story?

If so, am I even the one they should be “giving out of their nothingness” to?

Shouldn’t they be giving to the treasury so that it will be redistributed?

Ugh, but then I have to wrestle with Jesus’ response to the anointing at Bethany!

Is their motivation hidden deeper?

Are they motivated by how they see themselves among the world?

Do they purchase gifts because they fear my love is based on what they can provide me?

That is how the world operates, right? Your worth and value are determined by what you can offer or produce.

Do those purchasing gifts face more debt because insecurities about their place, worth, value, and love in my life and heart?

Don’t they know the Kingdom doesn’t operate that way?

If they do not know, how might we help them understand the true Kingdom of God?

If I persist in receiving without conversation, if I receive passively, I allow the indebted person who purchased the gift to hold onto a lie that they can buy love, worth, and value.

Too often we find this idea encroaching on how we then interact, engage, and encounter God.

For instance, the following statements emerged during my early walk with God:

1. The more He provides for me, the more He loves or values me.

And,

2. The more I provide for Him, the more He loves or values me — the more worth I have in His eyes.

Neither could be further from the truth.

You cannot buy love.

You cannot buy worth.

You cannot buy value.

It is freely given. Come and see.

Rest. Trust. Peace… and Joy.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. – John 14:27
Although I spent the last five months trying to learn rest and bring joy, it was not until this Advent that God helped me see the way.

 

I flew to Philadelphia last week. On the way, God blessed me with a stand by flight that got me into Philadelphia 3 hours earlier than scheduled. On that flight I sat next to someone very high in the administration of The University of Pennsylvania Law School. We spoke briefly prior to take-off and I found out that 98.6% of its graduates get employed. But, for the nearly three hours following God called me to observe. I heard Him saying, “look Chris, really take notice Chris.”

 

What I observed was a constant busyness. I watched the wound up person next to me frantically type emails and documents. I watched the tornado she created when going through her carry-on bag. I watched the 0 – 60 mph acceleration with which she moved her laptop, shut the tray-table and sprinted to the bathroom (several times). I felt the unrest as she kept shaking her foot. All of this, for three hours, until it was time to prepare the cabin for descent. At this, the laptop got stored for good, same with the tray-table. AH, finally, a moment of rest. But, then came the iPhone6, and with it a brightly colored screen launching bubbles.

 

My first thoughts were “our world does not know how to rest. Even in this attempt to rest, our world turns to keeping the mind busy.” Then, I remembered God invited me to watch, not to judge. I sat in a shower of conviction. I too am guilty of this. Big deal if I claim to practice a Sabbath with Megan. On our Sabbath I am on twitter, sometimes even Facebook. My rest is still a constant state of consumption.

 

I believe it is this consumption that has left me unrested and thus, unmotivated to take on all of my duties as a first-year husband. 

 

God did not stop there, He continued to help me understand the connections between rest, trust, and peace!

On the way back to Portland from Philadelphia I was reading a friend’s book “Gardening Eden” and Jewish teachings on the environment. Apparently, environmental justice is a core value of God discussed by many Sages’ throughout history. The discussion elaborated on the re-balancing of power and economics in society through the Sabbatical Year (Exodus 23: 11, Leviticus 25: 2-5, and Deuteronomy 15: 1-4) and the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25: 8-24) as a foundation for environmental justice. Here I am, attempting to practice a Sabbath year in order to bring joy to my bride and wouldn’t you know the Lord decided to speak directly to where I am falling short.

 

When I went directly into the Text I found a very important, but overlooked statement at the end of the passage on the year of Jubilee that referred to the Sabbatical Year.

 

Leviticus 25:22 says:
When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating some of the old crop; you shall eat the old until the ninth year, when its crop arrives.”

 

Wait what? How could I have not done that math properly from the start. Of course it makes sense, if I spend a whole year neither sowing nor reaping, and then I sow at the start of the next year, I won’t reap until the harvest two years later.

 

I just asked Megan about this. We were discussing how I knew my priorities were shifting toward applications. I asked her something along the lines of:
“is this year supposed to be completely void of thinking about a career, wouldn’t that mean I would need to trust God to provide for two years, because if I don’t apply anywhere this year, next year might be an entire year of applications.”

 

The answer, based on the Text, is yes.

 

I am supposed to both fully disengage from my working to get employed and fully engage in the faithfulness of our God. To date, I submitted four applications. No more though, I will sow again in the eighth year. This year is my bride’s.

 

I have learned that:
Rest is not easy.
Trust is not easy.

 

If God were inviting someone to pen His narrative today, He might have them tell you to unplug for a moment. To lay down your cell phones, tablets, and laptops this holiday. Forget the selfie, the preservation of a photo does not make the moment last any longer, rather it steals your focus from Him to you. As we collectively celebrate a world changing birth, drop the drummer boy busyness and enter the solace of a chilly sheep pen. Rip yourself from the distracting lights, colors, and music; and wrap yourself in the smells of manure, sweat, blood, and the sounds of groaning, crying, and sighing.

 

To us a savior is born, not a savior of comfort, but a prince of peace. A peace you will not find among the hustle and bustle of the commercial season, but a peace you can trust.

 

Sincerely,
Christopher Gambino