Stuck In A Rut?

How often do you get the sense that you’re stuck in a rut? Once a year? Every few years? Every other day?

Some of us enjoy routine, so when we have a good thing going, we may not notice that we’ve turned life on autopilot. Or … we may be okay with autopilot.

Others enjoy mixing it up and trying new things, but may not realize that hopping from opportunity to opportunity is a different side of the same coin. Autopilot for these individuals looks a lot different, but it still boils down to an unexamined existence.

Jesus calling Peter out of the boat to walk on the water serves as a great metaphor for our daily lives as Christians. Although Peter had enough to be afraid of beforeJesus beckoned him out on the water, at least then he was still inside his trusty boat! He had spent hours and hours of his life inside that boat. He probably knew every inch of it, every knot of wood, exactly how it moved on the waves.

So the choice to walk towards Jesus on the water was not just a question of Peter’s faith in Jesus. It was also a matter of willingness to leave what was comfortable to him.

The beauty of this story is that each element contains a literal meaning, and a deeper, more figurative meaning. Peter’s choice to leave his boat carried the extra significance of proving to himself and the other disciples that every day, from this point forward, again and again, they would have to choose to step outside whatever had previously been comfortable to them, to new, uncharted territory Jesus was calling them to.

What if we tried this metaphor of stepping out of our boats on every morning when we put our feet on the ground?

What would it mean to see each day as uncertain and new, and not at all something we were qualified to handle, yet guided by Jesus?

For so many of us, life is a series of checklists and schedules, slots on a calendar. But Jesus calls us to adventure every day. Tomorrow, on your way to dropping your kids off at school or as you head into the office, try asking Jesus how you can walk on water towards him today, and see what you hear back. The response may not defy the laws of physics as we know them, but all the same, Jesus will pull you out of your boat and onto the water if you ask him to. And he’ll sustain you on top of the sea if you let him.

When did you last realize you were stuck in a rut? What did you do to step out of the boat?

When did Jesus call you out on the water?

In my book, Don’t Look Down, ten individuals spoke with me about these times in their lives and how God called them out of their boats into adventure. Check it out here!

Don’t Look Down

Many of us grow up learning about the miraculous abilities of Jesus, not least of which is walking on water. As children, it’s awesome to think about these miracles, and we do so almost in the same way we regard the feats of Superman or Batman.

What we don’t consider as children listening to these stories are the miracles accomplished in the minds and hearts of those nearest to Jesus, those who witness Jesus’ superpowers firsthand. Consider the difference between watching a superhero’s complete transformation on TV (especially accustomed as we are today to ever-expanding CGI capabilities), and watching a beloved teacher actually walking toward us on the water.

Now imagine that teacher beckons you towards him.

The difference between the Sunday school view and the reality for Jesus’ disciples is this: fear … but also, the awesome potential to experience how God will work through us.

If we put ourselves in Peter’s position, we can begin to understand that Jesus’ miracle of walking on the water was less about what Jesus can do, and more about what he can do through us—if we have faith.

Peter and the other disciples were in their boat, in the dark, during a storm, unsure where Jesus was or what their next move was supposed to be. Then they see what looks like a ghost, walking toward them through the wind and water, on top of the sea. As if that wouldn’t be scary enough, Jesus then bids Peter out on the water.

During this episode, Peter grapples with a whole host of emotions. What he is left with, however, is the understanding that Jesus truly can do anything through his disciples, so long as we don’t rest on our own abilities, knowledge, and understanding.

Check out my new book, Don’t Look Down, to see how ten people from different walks of life get called out on the water by Jesus, and what they learn as a result.

I’d love to hear your stories as well. When has Jesus amazed you with his abilities, then asked you to participate in his plan? What were your initial thoughts, and how did you respond?

As You Go…

The Great Commission

One of the most quoted Scriptures in the Church has been known as “The Great Commission.”

It is found in Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The part where is says “go” has always intrigued me.  Sure, it’s an action Jesus commands, but I started to think of it differently as of late.  We often think it’s to leave our hometown, go across town, maybe even take a mission trip to another country. All of that’s important, but what if we think about this command instead with its more accurate translation “as you go.”  As you go, make disciples.  It’s taking on life as a mission instead of going on mission.

What if we went about our day differently with making disciples in mind? Click To Tweet

We can make disciples in many settings, even a movie theater.

Many people already know by now that Mosaic Church meets in a movie theater.  It’s what sociologists have coined as a “third space.”

The first space is commonly a person’s home where they spend a lot of their time.

The second space is a person’s place of employment.

The third space is a place where people hangout out for leisure, like a café, library or park.

There is something that puts people at ease being in a third space.  A movie theater is a nonthreatening place. People associate the smell of popcorn and relaxing seats with a movie theater. The theater has also become a place on Sunday mornings where people have encountered God’s presence and love.  Even some of the employees at The Rave have joined in on some of the worship…as you go.

It’s easy to come to worship, not talk to anyone and leave.  We’ve all been there before.  This is precisely why we have started something called, “The After Party.”  We choose a lunch place within The Greene to bless with our business after worship.  The awesome part is that we have found places to bless, but those places have also been a blessing to us…as you go

Potbelly’s gives us free cookies or chips with every purchase.  BD’s Monogolian Grill gives us 20% off purchases on the 1st Sunday of the month, and the 3rd Sunday donates 20% of Mosaic lunch bills to Joshua Recovery Ministries which is one of our partners…as you go.

Since we don’t have a dedicated Worship Center we can have access to during the week, we utilize third spaces and homes for Connect Groups, our prime way of making disciples at Mosaic Church.

A great example of this is when 30 of us gathered together this past Wednesday night to kick off our Mosaic Night Out with the “End of Me” book study.  There was great excitement as we took over the back room of Pies and Pints at The Greene.  People had meaningful conversation and met others for the first time…as you go.

Mosaic is more than a church that meets in a movie theater. We are a church for God’s mission.  So no matter where you find yourself or where you go, remember, make disciples “as you go” anywhere.

Rebuild, Restore, Renew

Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.

–Nehemiah 2:17-18

Some of you may be familiar with the origin story of The Point Church, where I serve as pastor. If not, here’s the short version. Several years ago, the UMC had come to own the Cross-Point Shopping Center in Trotwood, Ohio.  After many different partners in the shopping center that turned over there was no longer a church presence.  In 2012, we decided to begin The Point Church as a satellite campus of Ginghamsburg UMC in Tipp City.

In the years leading up to this decision, Trotwood had suffered a series of circumstances not dissimilar to many other towns across the country. Its once-bustling shopping mall was closed down. Other large stores began to leave the area. Crime increased, and the tightknit community—many of whom were going through hard economic times themselves—longed for revitalization.

Three and four years before The Point began in the shopping center, two women had been shot and killed in a bar located at the end of the shopping strip. The bar was closed, and has remained empty ever since.

But the Cross Point Shopping Center has come a long way since The Point Church began. The shopping center has filled with tenants—both businesses and non-profits— that are a blessing to the Trotwood community. The Point’s partnerships with the Trotwood YMCA, the city government, Point Food Pantry, Clubhouse programs for children, local businesses, and community organizations have positioned The Point to serve with Trotwood in unique ways.

Today, five years after the initial conception to start The Point, God is calling us to something new. We plan to demolish the old bar space, gut the entire shopping facility, pray through it, and reclaim it for God’s preferred future. We think the space will bless the community in a new way.

If you live in the area, and you desire to be a part of the change in our community, come see what God is doing at The Point Shopping Center. Our plan is to complete the interior demolition and remove all debris on Saturday, March 25, to make room for a new vision.

If you would like to make a financial contribution to the revitalization of this Trotwood neighborhood, contact me at rpicardo@ginghamsburg.org or by phone at 937.667.1069. Resources of time, labor and finances are appreciated.
What new thing is God doing in your community?

Prayer Walk

diverse group of four people walking arm in arm

Prayer Walk

We have completed our info sessions for Mosaic Church. It has been great getting to know everyone, spanning the five campuses of Ginghamsburg and Christ Church, who is excited about Mosaic. What many people don’t know is that Pastor Wayne and I had intercessory prayer partners that were willing to pray for months before this project became a reality, which is why our first formal large gathering in the community will be a prayer walk. We will meet at the center of The Greene on Tuesday, March 14th, at 8 p.m.

We believe to praywalk on-sight will give us insight. Click To Tweet

Praywalking is undertaken as an attempt to become more conscious and conscientious of our neighbors—their needs, their concerns, and the blessings in their lives. Also, this is a low-profile affair as we go out two-by-two. My wife Callie and I often do this as we walk our neighborhood and pray for our neighbors.

We plan to circle The Greene for about thirty minutes, then reassemble and report what we believe God is speaking to us.

The Mosaic prayer walk is an open gathering for folks who want to support the efforts of Mosaic Church. Anyone is welcome. We look forward to seeing you there.

Ashes To Go

For centuries, Christians have marked the start of the holy season of Lent by receiving ashen crosses smudged on their foreheads with a palm leaf. This cross of ashes serves as a reminder of mortal failings and as an invitation to receive God’s forgiveness.

This tradition might strike people in a couple ways. For those who grew up in a church that practiced this, perhaps the tradition can seem ritualistic and trivial. Or, on the other hand, to the unchurched or to those whose church of origin did not practice this tradition, it might just seem downright odd to see a bunch of people walking around on a day in late winter with crosses smudged on their foreheads.

At Ginghamsburg Church, we have been trying to overcome both perceptions. By offering “Ashes to Go” in downtown Dayton, we hope to imbue the centuries-old tradition with new life and to help make sense of it for those unfamiliar with the practice and its meaning.

On Ash Wednesday, March 1st, we will take part in a movement of clergy and lay people who are visiting transit stops, street corners, coffee shops, and college campuses across the country to mark the foreheads of interested passers-by with ashes.

“Ashes to Go” is about bringing spirit, belief, and a sense of belonging out from behind church walls, and into the places where we go every day. By going where the people are, we can provide the opportunity to participate in this tradition to people who have lost their connection to a church or who have never participated before. The ashes invite their wearers into a time of reflection, repentance, and renewal in preparation for the celebration of Easter.

As people’s lives get busier, the church needs to show up in new ways. People need the church for reminders of forgiveness in the tough places of their working lives. Those who accept ashes on the street are often longing to make a connection between their faith and the forces of daily life, and “Ashes to Go” helps them feel that connection.

Ashes to Go will take place at Courthouse Square in downtown Dayton from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., March 1st. In addition to offering ashes and prayers, the church is offering blessing bags filled with useful items for the homeless.

If you are local, we invite you to gather with friends, family, and life group members to donate warm wool socks, waterproof gloves, band-aids, deodorant, chapstick, wet wipes, beef jerky, peanut butter crackers, dried fruit, snack cups, mints, water, and gallon-size Ziplock bags. All donations can be dropped off

at Ginghamsburg Church, 6759 S. Co. Rd. 25A, Tipp City, by Friday, February 24. If you would like to make monetary donations or get involved, please contact me at rpicardo@ginghamsburg.org or 937.667.1069.

Beloved: a community discussion concerning God’s beloved

In the United States and around the world, immigration and the welcoming of refugees continue to be among the most controversial issues. Domestically, debates about policy have divided our lawmakers, our judicial system, and even our churches. Refugees continue to seek out a safe place for their families away from the conflict, drought, and turmoil of their home countries. Immigrants continue to seek greater opportunities in wealthy nations. Meanwhile, terrorism also continues, turning many away from the idea of welcoming the stranger.

But aside from the political and legislative complexities surrounding immigration, what does the Bible tell us about how Christians should approach foreigners seeking refuge and opportunity?

As a son of immigrants myself, I’m keenly aware of how past immigration policies affected my own family and the struggles immigrants have in assimilating into American culture.  My parents were afforded an opportunity that changed my family’s lives forever.

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

 Currently residing in Dayton, OH—which prides itself on being a welcoming city for immigrants—I decided to host a conversation about the current circumstances and how they can be viewed through a Christian lens.

On Tuesday, February 28th, at 6:30 p.m., join us for A Community Conversation Concerning Refugees. A panel of local scholars, pastors, and community leaders will lead the discussion about what our faith has to say about immigrants and refugees.

The panel will be comprised of Drs. Peter Bellini, Brad Burroughs, Anthony Le Donne, Joni Sancken, and David Watson, all faculty at United Theological Seminar. The panel will also include community leaders Benjamin Holmes and Erin McKenzie.

This event will take place at The Point Campus, 506 E Main St. in Trotwood. Follow me on Facebook for a livestream of the discussion. Or contact me at rpicardo@ginghamsburg.org or 937.667.1069 for more information.

A New Year and New Hat

It’s a new year and I’ll be wearing an additional hat for 2017.

Thirteen months ago, I was driving with Wayne Botkin, a good friend of mine, from a church planting meeting at Vineyard Church in Columbus. Wayne is a campus pastor at Christ Church who received his call to ministry at Ginghamsburg in the early nineties. Vineyard is a megachurch with an emphasis on planting churches, which they have done more than sixty times across the United States. Wayne and I were blown away by the movement of God to multiply faith communities. As we were driving, Wayne and I began to ask the question, “Why is it that when a church is planted only one planter is sent?” The biblical model Jesus instituted in the New Testament demonstrates this work being done in teams; Jesus sent out his disciples two by two. Then we said to each other, “What if we planted a church together?”

In Acts 13 we read that after fasting and prayer by the leaders of the church at Antioch (where followers of Jesus were first called “Christians”), Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit for a special work—to start new churches—preaching the word of God. They were resourced by the church, and sent to reach out beyond Antioch. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So, after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”

Wayne and I didn’t give our idea much credence initially, since we are each part of two different churches. Yet neither of us could shake the conversation. We started to realize a God-dream was being birthed in our hearts: two pastors coming together to plant a shared church. Our next thought was that there was no way our churches would agree to partner; it’s just not typically done by two different churches. After more thought and prayer, we decided to approach our lead pastors and others. Surprisingly, all parties were intrigued. Both Wayne and I and our churches had looked at the Beavercreek area as a growing location that was underserved by faith communities. After much prayer, meetings, and deliberation, I’m truthfully still a little shocked that this God-dream is about to come to fruition. We plan to launch a new faith community together in the fall of 2017.

I look forward to sharing more details as this story unfolds.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Cold today, but warmth is coming…

With Christmas just two weeks away, in the middle of Advent, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the shopping season. We’ve heard the stories, the ones that make us shake our heads, about shoppers armed with pepper spray and tasers, confrontations in the toy department, and competition for parking spaces at the mall. Bing Crosby croons from the radio, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”—but is it?

Well … maybe it is.

Let’s remember what the first Christmas looked like: Jews were moving all around Judea, returning to the towns of their fathers and grandfathers, in order to be counted in a Roman-mandated census. Roads were crowded, towns were crowded, streets were crowded, and private homes were crowded. It’s likely tempers were short as people dealt with one another and with impatient Roman solders and clerks.

In the midst of this, we find a Galilean carpenter and his pregnant wife. They traveled around seventy miles on foot to Bethlehem (we like to think Mary was on a donkey, but there’s no evidence of this), a trip that probably took a week given her condition. They were relying on the kindness of strangers, but so was everybody else—and it’s only human that kindness wears thin under these circumstances.

Maybe the anxiety imposed on us by today’s Christmas season, driven by commercialism, isn’t too far off from the discomfort and impatience that afflicted the first Christmas season.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not justifying the nuttiness that emerges every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. There are major differences between what happened that first Christmas and in our own Christmas seasons.

Back then, they were waiting and hoping for the Savior.

Today, we have the Savior.

As Christians, we should act like we have the Savior. That way, perhaps, we can help others to feel the peace that His coming was intended to bring.

Go Green and Save Green

Having just written a book about some practical ways churches can grow their finances and stretch their dollars to provide greater outreach than ever before, I’ve encountered countless examples of other faith communities stretching their own “fish and loaves” to better disciple and minister in their towns and cities.614vzsj6cml-_sx327_bo1204203200_

One example that isn’t always an obvious choice for increasing outreach funds is for a church to decrease its energy costs. I recently spoke with Erin McKenzie, who is a member at the church I pastor as well as a member of the UMC’s local district Green Team. The Green Team is active in helping area churches loosen up some of their funds currently spent on energy and building costs, so that those funds can be used instead for outreach and ministry.

What follows is a Q and A about how your church can do the same:

Q: First, I’ve heard you refer to what you do as Creation Care ministry. How did you get involved in this?

A: Well, it’s a long story, but the short version is that I’ve always been connected to the land having grown up in the country. Several years ago, I started learning about the degradation that has occurred to our food systems. Then, I learned more about how badly we’ve been exploiting God’s Creation. It really took over my heart as I began to see all the connections between how we could live in a God-honoring way, and how that would simultaneously mean caring for God’s Creation. Or how we could live in a way that does not honor God, and how that manifests in neglect and abuse of God’s Creation.

Q: Right. God told Adam and Eve to take dominion over Creation, to steward it for future generations.

A: Exactly. And where I see great opportunity for not just Methodists but all Christians to be engaging with Creation Care as a powerful testimony to our faith, we instead have often disregarded our intended role as caretakers entirely.  There are 370,000 congregations in the U.S. It’s estimated that if all of America’s congregations cut energy use just 20% it would save nearly $630 million per year, and prevent more than 2.6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions—which would equate to taking 480,000 cars off the roads!

Q: Wow! So fast forward to today, you are involved in Creation Care in several ways, and one of them is through the UMC’s Green Team in our district. What does the Green Team do?

A: That’s right. We know that most of the Methodist (and other) churches in our area are in one of three boats. First, they have “traditional” church buildings, built decades ago, that are in need of repair, major renovation, or even demolition and rebuilding. Second, the buildings themselves are in pretty good shape overall, but the HVAC systems need replaced. Or third, a congregation is just looking for additional ways to cut down on energy costs. There are a lot of really simple opportunities for churches, whatever their circumstances, to go green while saving green. Our goal is to spread the word to pastors, trustees, board members, and congregations about the partners in our area and across the country that can help.

Q: So what you’re saying is that, hypothetically, a church could save a portion of the money it currently spends on heating, cooling, or even remodeling costs, and reallocate that money to much-needed outreach?

A: Right. And, let’s face it, whether it’s heating our houses or our churches, no one enjoys spending money on energy. It’s just something we have to do. But churches can take some simple steps to spend less on energy, while becoming more responsible stewards of Creation, and being able to use the money more impactfully in their communities.

Q: Right, and most churches would love to move some of their energy spending to the outreach column. So what are some of the steps churches can take if they are in a very old building, and are looking at some substantial renovations?

A:  First, churches in the Dayton area should check out the PACE program. It’s a funding mechanism for projects of $100,000 or more. It’s designed to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for buildings, which then uses the energy savings to fund the project. In other words, if your church has to do a major renovation to begin with, it can opt to do the renovation in an environmentally responsible way, and then use the energy savings to pay off the loan.

Q: Wow, that sounds like a win-win for churches facing a major renovation. Is there somewhere readers can go if they are looking for similar options outside of Dayton?

A: Yes! Similar programs exist, and new programs are popping up across the country. A great place to start for locating other local options is to contact Interfaith Power and Light (IPL). They are doing great work across the country along these lines. Thirty-eight states have local affiliates, and in the other twelve states, the national organization would be happy to point you in the right direction.

Q: Great. So now, what about that second group of churches who need to replace their old-school boilers or just update their HVAC systems?

A: Right. So, this is a big one. Energy consumption is often the second-largest cost for organizations, including churches. Not only that, but up to 30% of energy paid for is money you could put straight into the garbage can because the energy is wasted by inefficient HVAC systems. The good news is that energy companies across the country are incentivized by the Public Utility Commission to help the public use less energy. The way utility companies are doing this is by offering huge incentives and rebates on energy efficient HVAC, lighting, thermostat, and related projects. Churches can save up to 50% of their installed costs.

Q: Again, it sounds like a no-brainer. How does a church get started on this? Should they directly contact their energy providers?

A: They can. Or, again, they can get in touch with their state IPL contact, who will walk them through the steps. Typically, the first step will be an energy audit and assessment. Most churches are eligible for free energy audits. In Dayton, a congregation can also get in touch with Dayton Regional Green to get started with the process, which includes a free energy audit for any church with fewer than twenty-five employees.

Q: You mentioned a third category of churches: churches who don’t need major building or systems updates, but who could still benefit from taking better care of their resources and saving some money in the process.

A: Yes! So, if it is either unnecessary or simply not in the budget for a church to cut down on their carbon footprint in a big way, there are still things a church can do, just like we’ve all been doing in our own homes, to save some money and better steward our planet. These are things like: replacing our old inefficient light bulbs, taking a look at where our thermostats are set, setting up comprehensive recycling and composting programs on our campuses, etc. Again, I would point your readers to IPL’s website. They have some great resources for churches who want to become better caretakers of God’s Creation. There is a start-up kit for congregations which includes both a list of things under $25 and a list of things over $25 that congregations can do to begin to cut down on their energy use.

Q: Well, thank you for your time today, and I look forward to hearing about where my readers will spend their money on outreach after they have freed up some of their energy expenses!

A: You’re welcome! And please tell your readers I’d be happy to help them get connected to a local resource if they email me at erin.n.mckenzie@gmail.com.