Category Archives: Dangerous Obedience

Adventures in Loving Our City

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As I was looking back over my blog posts, I realized that it was just over two years ago that we decided to step away from working at Mountair Christian Church and jump into Edgewater Collective full-time. This made me reflect on the last two years of loving my city in a full-time role. Here are some of my realizations from this work:

People are yearning for relationships

As we have taken part in block parties, holiday gatherings in our home and other events, it is amazing how many people are yearning for relationships. Even in a hyper-connected, online world, people are lonely. Last Christmas, we had our neighbors into our home for holiday dessert and fun trivia. An older gentleman on our block sat and told stories about our street from when his kids were young. It is amazing how community can form by just opening up your home or your front yard for people to come together and tell stories.

Community change starts in neighborhoods

When I started connecting in Edgewater, I had grand dreams of community transformation. The more time I spend investing in our city, the more I have realized that true change starts when neighbors begin to connect with each other. Even small things like connecting with an elderly neighbor and receiving their phone number in case on an emergency can make a big difference. Building relationships with a family on the block can play a role in them sending their kindergarten child to the local neighborhood school.

Cities need connectors

Edgewater Collective is an outlier in the nonprofit world. We don’t have any programs, but focus our work on being connectors and catalysts. Much of my work is spent connecting different organizations and community stakeholders to needs and assets in our community. My role is to empower citizen led initiatives in our city through the community newspaper that Edgewater Collective publishes, the Edgewater Echo. As a connector, my role is to make others look great and not to draw attention to the work that we do. This makes fundraising hard, but it is essential to our role and mission.

Leading an initiative like this takes faith

Though Edgewater Collective is not a faith-based organization, I am faith-motivated. Leading a nonprofit takes a lot of faith. Edgewater Collective is a shoestring operation that exists only by the generosity of partners who believe in our work. This role has taught me to have faith that God will provide, but still realizing that I have a role in telling the stories of what is happening in our community as a result of our work.

I love Edgewater

Our family lives, works and plays in an area that is less than a square mile called Edgewater. We love our city. I love the generational and racial diversity that exists in our city. I love the diversity of opinions that exist here. I love the history of Edgewater and hearing the stories of people who have lived here for years. Throughout the month of September I will be connecting with numerous Edgewater residents at block parties through the city. We have partnered with our local brewery to offer Joyride beer to the block parties along with information about community resources. I love connecting with residents in gatherings like this and hearing their stories. I truly believe that Edgewater can be a community where each person can thrive. If we can’t see community change in a small area like Edgewater, we won’t be able to see it at a state or country level.

If you would like to partner with us in this important work, I would love to connect with you. Send me an email at joel@edgewatercollective.org and I’ll treat you to coffee at our local coffee shop or a brew at Joyride. I would love to take you on a tour of our city and tell you some of the stories of Edgewater. It is through the generosity of people like you that we can continue to do this important work.

 

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Coffee and the Fear of Failure

I’m scared to death.

This week I’ve done something I thought I could never bring myself to do again.

I’ve jumped back into the coffee business.

I’m scared because the last time I jumped into the coffee business, it ended in failure.

In the spring of 2003, two idealist college grads started a coffee bar at Denver Seminary called Kurios Koffee. Drew Moser and I didn’t know much about running a coffee bar but we were crazy enough to jump into it. For two years it went well as Drew and I were the main baristas along with my brother Ben, who we paid in free coffee.

Then Drew graduated seminary and I bought out his portion of Kurios Koffee. Then I started as a full-time youth pastor and started paying employees to run the coffee shop. Three years later, we were up to our ears in debt and the enrollment at Denver Seminary wasn’t growing as we thought it would with a new campus in Littleton.

So Hillary and I decided to close the coffee shop instead of going deeper into debt.

Kurios Koffee failed.

After all this my business mentor told me, “The worst thing you can do is never try again.”

I didn’t believe him. There was no way I was jumping back in again. I was done.

Fast forward a few years. Edgewater Coffee Company was closing on December 31, 2013 and as a community we needed to find a way to keep the space open as a neighborhood place to drink great coffee and connect with neighbors.

I fought the idea of stepping in for months.

I couldn’t do it.

The last time I ran a coffee shop it ended in failure and debt.

I couldn’t even step foot on the campus of Denver Seminary for years because the feelings of failure were too much to bear.

FEAR.

But something/Someone deep in my spirit was telling me to jump back into it.

So on Monday, January 6 I put my barista apron back on and the nonprofit I lead, Edgewater Collective, assumed management of the Edgewater Coffee House. We are going to see if we can continue the great work of Edgewater Coffee Company’s founder, Gina Hartley, and make the coffee house viable in Edgewater. These days nonprofits are experimenting with social entrepreneurship and ventures that feed profit back into the nonprofit.

It is amazing how my experiences with Kurios Koffee inform my role leading a nonprofit and especially managing the coffee house.

That doesn’t mean that I am not afraid of what could happen.

But fear is a great motivator.

And failure is the best teacher.

I firmly believe and have experienced that the joy of success only comes out of pain of failure.

Doing Justice: Education and the Cycle of Poverty

Yesterday I wrote a guest post over at Ed Cyzewski’s blog “In a Mirror Dimly” on our experiences so far in Edgewater. Ed was a classmate of mine at Taylor University and we’ve stayed in touch since then. He has some great insights on theology, parenthood and writing.

You can read the post here.

New Venture: Edgewater Collective

Ever since we moved to Edgewater, Colorado we have seen our small, one mile by one mile city as our “mission field.” We enrolled our daughters in our neighborhood school and began to network and build relationships. As we did this, we noticed a number of different needs in the community.

All three schools in Edgewater are Title I schools and over 85% of the students are on free or reduced lunch. The test scores are lower than those in the suburbs but they are improving. The teachers and staff are excellent yet some in the community just look at test scores and the schools suffer a bad rap. So I decided to network with other community leaders are start a project called Support Edgewater Schools to improve the image of our local schools and rally Edgewater around our schools.  Read the rest of this entry

Sacrificing Our Kids’ Education for the Mission

Currently there is a great discussion in the blogosphere about the missional implications of education. Here’s a couple good examples from this discussion: Jamie Arpin-Ricci and Tony Jones. There is not a “one size fits all” approach to education and living on mission. The key is that we pray and discern where God is leading each of our families.

Here’s my attempt at explaining our current decision to enroll our kids in a public school and join what God is doing in our neighborhood. My hope is to be descriptive not prescriptive.

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When I accepted my current position at Mountair Christian Church, Hillary and I knew that it meant that we needed to move into the neighborhood around the church. At my last church, we learned the benefit of living in the neighborhood where the church building was located. Fundamental to our family’s beliefs is the idea that our role as a family is to make the Kingdom of God tangible to our neighbors and community. We are sent to be God’s instruments of unconditional love and grace.

We see ourselves as missionaries.

This belief that we are sent as missionaries to our neighborhood and community means that our kids go to the same public elementary school that our neighbors attend. According to our daughters’ school, the area they serve is “a low-income, working class community.  Approximately 50% of students are in a one parent household, 20% do not have parents, but are being raised by family members or friends.  Approximately 20% of our students are homeless, living in foster homes or temporary housing.”

We have realized that in some  ways we are sacrificing our daughters’ education to join what God is doing in our community. They won’t necessarily be behind in school but they won’t get all the opportunities they might receive in a suburban school. It is up to Hillary and me as their parents to supplement what they are learning at school and give them other opportunities to learn. This is hard to stomach sometimes.

This morning Hillary helped with writing in our daughter’s kindergarten class and she noticed that many of the students seemed behind as they start their school experience. Statistics show that some of them may never catch up. Over 80% of the kids are Hispanic so our daughters are in the minority. Parent involvement is low, especially among white parents. Hillary and I have a big role to play in making the Kingdom of God tangible at our daughters’ school. We are learning to write grants that would help contribute resources to the school, especially in the area of technology. We are starting to volunteer in the classroom and help kids read. Our daughters look for kids who are learning at a slower pace and find ways to help them out. Our oldest especially is learning leadership skills that she might not learn in a suburban school. And we are all slowly learning Spanish.

I’ll admit it’s not easy. Most days when I drop them off at school I wonder if we are doing the right thing. I want to protect my girls. But sometimes valuing safety and security can get in the way of living on mission in our community. All I can do is pray and step out in faith as a family.

For our family and for our daughters we know God has put us in our local public school to join what God is already doing there and to make his Kingdom real and tangible.

God’s Kingdom and the American Dream

Illustration by J Fowler

If I’m honest with myself, I struggle with the desire to pursue the American Dream. I want a house of my own, two cars and a good stock portfolio. I want to be able to provide what my kids want so that they can live a comfortable life. I want a job that pays well enough that we can save money each month and have enough to give away. I don’t want to live paycheck to paycheck. I want to be successful.

What is wrong with desiring success and wealth? Read the rest of this entry

Hugh Halter’s Sacrilege: Book Review

Living in Littleton, Colorado I had the privilege of watching and hearing about the ministry of Hugh Halter, Matt Smay and the Adullam Community. To some in the Denver area, Hugh and his band of renegades were labeled as heretics, but their community was reaching those outside the church like no other church. Having read Hugh and Matt’s earlier books, Tangible Kingdom and And, I was excited to pick up Hugh’s newest book, Sacrilege.

I read most of the book during my monastery experience which made me feel a little sacrilege. In Sacrilege, Hugh explores how Jesus challenged the religious assumptions that people held and how these same assumptions hinder the church’s influence today. Read the rest of this entry

Principled Living in a Post-Christian Culture: Learning from Daniel

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were the cream of the crop taken from Judah. They were to go into three years of training to serve the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. This involved training in language and literature and eating the food from the king. They were also given new Babylonian names. Daniel didn’t have an issue with the Babylonians renaming him or the education. The text of Daniel 1 says that Daniel didn’t want to defile his body with the king’s food. He stood his ground on this. The guard gave in and after ten days the four men from Judah were in much better shape than the others so the Babylonian guards changed the diets of all the trainees. Then after three years of training they came to Nebuchadnezzar for questioning. The four men were much wiser than the other magicians and enchanters in the kingdom.

In a foreign land and a culture opposed to the things of God, these men immersed themselves in studying the culture and learning their new roles. They stood by their principles on their diet even though they risked death. They didn’t run from certain aspects of the Babylonian culture but didn’t allow themselves to be defiled by other things. In the end, the Babylonians were impressed by the wisdom and understanding of the four men from Judah.

In our American culture, what do we immerse ourselves in to understand our culture? What principles do we stand by so that we don’t defile our minds or bodies? As our culture moves farther away from the principles in Scripture, the story of Daniel and the other men from Judah will be increasingly valuable.

How do we stand by our principles yet immerse ourselves in learning about our culture?

Movements of the Spirit

I am on a quest to experience deeper movements of the Holy Spirit in my life right now. Through Him I can have the power to become the man God wants me to be.

Paul writes to the followers of Christ in Corinth, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Hillary and I don’t know exactly what the future looks like for our family. We are seeking God for a job in Denver and a place to lay down roots in a place that really is home for us and the girls. We are taking it day by day knowing that God is along with us to provide. There isn’t a better place to rest. My prayer this morning is that with the power of the Spirit I will move from:

WORRY to

FAITH

DISCOURAGEMENT to

HOPE

SELFISHNESS to

LOVE

Dangerous Obedience: A New Blog Series

I fear the comfortable life. My culture is telling me that I should seek comfort and pleasure in cars, homes, technology, vacations and various other artifacts of American culture. Then I read stories of men and women in the Bible who followed God into places that were by no means comfortable. If anything Scripture shows that when people or nations became comfortable in their stuff, they were sliding away from God. King David got comfortable at home and didn’t want to mess with the danger of war, so he didn’t suit up with his fellow warriors. In his comfortableness he gave into the temptation of the desperate housewife next door.

In my own spiritual life, the opposite of seeking the comfortable lifestyle is stepping out into dangerous obedience. It is seeking God daily so that I can hear what he is whispering to me. Then it is believing in the power and provision of God to step out in obedience.

For the next few weeks, I want to take you on a journey through Scripture and learn from some of the overlooked stories of dangerous obedience. My hope is that your faith is challenged and that you experience what it is like to step out in faith and live the adventure that God has planned for us!

Here’s a little inspiration from Indiana Jones