Interview with Tracey Bianchi

I did this interview with Tracey quite a few years ago while blogging for Missional in Suburbia…

Question: Thanks so much Tracey for taking the time to dialogue with us about being green in suburbia! Please tell us a little about yourself and your family.

Green MamaTracey: My husband Joel and I have three young children (ages 3, 4 and 7). Two boys and a girl. And a goldfish named Stinky Pete. I work part-time at my church serving in Women’s Ministry, part-time as a freelance writer and speaker, and work all the time I can with my family. So that makes me completely harried and more than a little frantic at times. But it keeps life interesting. Caffeine makes it all possible.

We live just outside the city of Chicago in an older suburb. It’s an easy-going, walkable and historic community. We’ve all lived in the Chicago suburbs on and off for most of our lives and have spent well over ten years in the community where we currently live. I believe it is significant, in our transient culture, to set roots down and invest in a community. This has been our goal for many years.

Question: Being green has become the trendy thing to talk about these days (similar to the idea of pursuing justice). As soon as a topic becomes trendy I know that many people tend to disregard it merely as a passing fad. What does the Bible have to say that should compel us to live green lives?

Tracey: There is of course not a single passage that says “God is Green.” All our “eco-friendly” conversations did not exist in Biblical times. But the Bible is filled with so many stories of God’s interaction and engagement with his people through Creation. Starting with the Creation story itself in Genesis 1 & 2. We see that God Created this world, gave us a gift to sustain ourselves through it. So right away on page one we see God’s concern for the natural world. God speaks to his people through the natural world, from burning bushes to statements that rocks will cry out. The Psalms are also filled with statements about awe, wonder and worship that come because of experiencing the vastness of God through the sun and moon and stars, the natural world. Paul tells us in Romans that Creation itself has been subjected to the sin of humankind and groans to be released.

Question: How would you define being green?

Tracey: Living wisely by knowing that our lifestyles impact others and then taking steps to  keep that impact as minimal or positive as possible. For some this means driving less or turning to alternative energy sources, for others it can mean just ditching disposable water bottles and recycling. It’s more about creating an ethos, a culture that is aware of others and how our lives impact people all over the world.

 Question: What makes a Christian response to the topic of being green distinct from a secular response?

Tracey: The impetus for going green, for the Christian, is about God and about worship. Culturally, going green can be political, anxiety producing, or just an attempt to be trendy. For the Christian it is about honoring God by treating well the gift he gave us. Also, the impact of our environmental actions often lands indiscriminately on the shoulders of the poor, something Christians should care greatly about. Caring for the poor and needy among us.

Question:  I think that many times (urban or suburban) we just start going with the cultural flow and lose sight of how God is calling us to live differently. Please give us some examples of how you see suburbanites not being very green.

Tracey: The suburbs breed a culture of convenience. After time we just assume that everything should be quick and easy. That wider streets, bigger cars and drive thru windows or even bigger homes should be the way we live. We forget that taking our time, walking places, or passing by the fast food outlet is a better option. That the often coveted, 4000 square foot “McMansion” is not always the most convenient for our neighbors and others with whom we share the planet.

Question: What are some simple steps we can take in suburbia to become better stewards of God’s creation?

Tracey: We can advocate for simple changes in our communities. Idle-free parking zones in front of our schools, encourage children to walk to school or parents to walk to errands. Petition for curbside recycling if it does not exist or for community-wide hazardous waste recycling events for the whole community. Waste-free lunchrooms and eco-friendly fundraisers at our schools. The opportunities are vast for making change!

 Question: One of the characteristics of suburbia is the chaotic busyness of everyday life. So the idea of adding “being green” to our to-do list seems overwhelming. How do we make it a priority when our plates are already so full? Is it possible that being green can actually simplify and slow down our lives?

Tracey: No one wants more on their “to do” list. Being Green is less about adding things to the list and more about doing what we already do each day, and just doing it smarter. Fill up a water bottle from home rather than buying a disposable bottle at work. Walk to the store rather than drive. Pack lunches in reusable bags and snack bags rather than disposable items. Turn off your car engine in the school pick up line, ATM, or dry cleaner. All activities that we do each day/week, just doing them smarter and with a greater awareness of our impact on the world.

Question: Do you have any other thoughts or ideas you would like to share with us?

Tracey: Just an encouragement to think about green living as a way to connect with God and others. It’s less about trends and climate change or politics and more about a way to get in touch with God’s desires for our lives. That we would be wise people who care for others. Our environmental impact plays a very important role in the lives of others. If God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, being environmentally conscious is a way to do this.

Thanks Michael for the opportunity to share some thoughts! If people want to follow up they can visit me over at http://traceybianchi.com or via facebook and twitter.

Interview with Helen Lee (The Missional Mom: Living With Purpose At Home And In The World)

I did this interview with Helen Lee a couple years ago while blogging at Missional in Suburbia…

Helen LeeHelen Lee is a busy mom living in the Chicagoland area and she is also the author of a wonderful book that is soon to be released; “The Missional Mom: Living With Purpose At Home And In The World.” Helen has graciously agreed to allow me to interview her and  my prayer is that this interview, and her book, will be a tremendous encouragement to all the moms (and dads too!) who are working hard everyday to raise up and train their children in the way they should go!

Question: What motivated you to write, “The Missional Mom: Living With Purpose at Home and in the World”?

Helen: I had been aware of the growing trend of churches calling themselves “missional”, then had the chance to write about this trend in more detail for Leadership Journal. As I began to speak with missional church leaders and understand more about what the word meant, I was captivated! At the same time, I’d been thinking for a while about writing a book about Christian motherhood, and one day the idea came to me that being a “missional mom” was exactly what I wanted to think and write about. So for the past year and a half, I spent time finding a number of women I felt embodied the spirit and substance of living missionally, learning from them and from their life choices, and I finished the book this summer. It comes out in January 2011 from Moody Publishers, and I am hopeful that it will be encouraging, inspiring, and challenging for today’s moms in their own life and faith journeys.

Question: You mention in your book that many women today are not finding joy and fulfillment in their role as mother. What do you have to say in this book that will inspire and give moms a renewed sense of purpose and meaning in their day-to-day life?

Helen: I think that today’s moms are pulled in so many different directions, and one of the reasons they have a hard time attaining a sense of joy and fulfillment in their lives is due to a sense of internal tension; “am I living the life that God intended me to live?” Part of that tension comes from either not knowing their calling, not feeling the freedom to pursue it, or erroneously misunderstanding their calling. In the book, I write about this idea of calling and suggest how today’s moms might consider rethinking their own sense of purpose and mission. I think once you have the proper perspective about your own mission in life, you can live with much more freedom and passion than if you are constantly struggling with the question of, “Is this what God has intended for my life?”

Other factors that weigh today’s moms down are the strong cultural pressures on moms to produce “perfect,” “successful” children. In the book I try to identify some of the more insidious of these pressures that moms might not even realize might be affecting them–hopefully as they understand these cultural influences better, they will be able to make choices to free themselves from those influences, which I believe will help them attain more joy and fulfillment in their lives as moms as well.

Question: What would you say to all the busy moms out there who don’t think there is enough time in the day to be missional?

Helen: I understand all about busyness! I have three young sons, 8 years old and younger. I also homeschool, so you can imagine that my life is very full. But there are so, so many ways we can be missional that won’t even add a minute to our day–there are lifestyle and attitudinal changes you can make that can make a huge difference in your life and especially in the lives of your children that will have longstanding effects. For example–you can start talking more in your household about the global needs in the world, and help your children to be aware of those needs. You can pray with them on a regular basis about children in other countries who are suffering and who are in great need, and this opens a child’s heart and mind to the idea that we have a responsibility to care for “the least of these.” You can encourage your kids to donate their own money to help others, you can reduce consumeristic and materialistic attitudes in your own home, which can all help your family live more missionally…the list goes on and on! Being missional isn’t just about “doing” missional things–although that is part of the picture–it is a way to live and those are just a few examples of changes that can any mom can start making regardless of how busy she is.

That having been said, though, we all make time for the things we care about. Even if it’s only an hour a week or month, every mom can take steps in her life to build in active missional living–which, as Scot McKnight says in the book, comes down to a simple question: asking “how can I help you?” in every situation. We can all take time to help a neighbor, a friend, someone in need. And we need to build that discipline in our lives, no matter how busy we are, no matter how much we would prefer to just live our own private lives, because ultimately loving and caring for others is at the heart of what it means to love God.

Question: Highlight some of the cultural pressures you see at work today that makes it difficult to raise children who love God more than anything else on earth.

Helen: I mentioned a couple above that are worth repeating: materialism and consumerism are two huge pressures. It’s very difficult to live counterculturally to the constant messages in our culture that we must always attain more wealth and more stuff in order to truly be “happy.” Achievement-orientation, I feel, is another. Here in America, we like saying that every person has a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What that usually means here in this country is the pursuit of material success. But I don’t see anywhere in the Bible that we are either entitled or guaranteed happiness or material success. I see a Christ who sacrifices everything to save the world, and who calls us to be willing to do the same. God may choose to bring material blessings into our life, (and many of us are blessed beyond measure, compared to the majority of the rest of the world), but it’s not something to seek after, or to train our children to seek after.

I have a friend who is a pastor of a missional church, and he regularly asks his congregation, ‘How many of you who are parents pray for your children to be missionaries or to go to full-time Christian ministry?” It’s a good question to ask ourselves as parents, to test our desires for our kids and see if we are wanting for them a future that is based on a specific idea of success that might actually not be God’s ideal. The issue is not whether our child will end up in ministry, but whether we ask ourselves, “Are we as parents praying for our children to fulfill God’s calling on their life, whatever that calling might be?” It can be a very challenging prayer–but God is not asking us to do anything as parents that he did not do himself, which was to offer up his own Son to give his life for the world.

Question: What are one or two things that you hope moms take away from your book?

Helen: One: that God has a purpose in mind for you, and that motherhood–while vitally important and a critical role in your life–is not the only purpose and not even the primary purpose for you. (The book will explain that concept in much more depth!) Two: that as mothers, we have an incredible opportunity to help our children embrace missional living. Three (sorry, I couldn’t stop at two!): that living missionally can be the key to helping a mom experience more joy and fulfillment in her life as a mom.

Thanks to Helen Lee for taking the time to join the conversation here at Missional in Suburbia! Wonderful stuff, lots to think about! We would love to hear your thoughts, questions and comments…

Is your religion fueling your sexual addiction?

Closing The Window by Tim ChesterFIGHTING PLEASURE WITH GREATER PLEASURE

Porn is a sin of the imagination. We need to counter it by enlarging our imaginations. The answer to porn is to believe the truth. But that’s so much more than an intellectual process. We need to let the truth capture our imaginations: to mediate, ponder, wonder at and sing the truth. We need to feel the truth, glory in the truth, delight in the truth. Discipline yourself to start each day by cultivating your affections for God. Remind yourself of Christ’s goodness, glory, grace and greatness until your heart is warmed again by those truths and Christ is supreme in your heart. “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23 NLT).

One Christian who’s struggled  with porn concludes:

Modern conservative evangelicalism fuels sexual addiction because it has come to focus on the externals of religion, not the affections. By externals I mean such things as confessions, dogmas, personal priorities, church growth strategies, church attendance, training courses, evangelism, Bible study groups and so on: things that are visible in the believer’s life. By affections, I mean those things that cannot be heard or seen directly-fears, loves, joys, delights, hates, anxieties: the currents that swirl in the waters of a believer’s heart; the hidden desires that lie deep beneath our decisions…If we are going to help people struggling with sexual addiction, we need to recognize that the manger in which their sin is cradled is not the intellect, but the heart, the seat of their desires. They therefore need something more than mere information: they need to be wooed by the true and pure lover that their heart secretly seeks.

Jesus offers living water. Battling porn in our lives is not an exercise in denying pleasure. It’s about fighting pleasure with greater pleasure.

Quote taken from “Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free” by Tim Chester

Free book giveaway: “Every Good Endeavor” by Tim Keller

Friday, December 7th I will be giving away a free copy of Tim Keller’s new book, “Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work To God’s Work”. To be included in the drawing you need to briefly (2-3 sentences) explain in the “leave a comment” section below why you are interested in reading this book.

Spiritual Revival and Prayer (Excerpt from Center Church, Tim Keller)

While the ultimate source of revival is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit ordinarily uses instumental, or penultimate, means to produce revival.

To start every revival, the Holy Spirit initially uses what Jonathan Edwards called extraordinary prayer-united, persistent, and kingdom centered. Sometimes it begins with a single person or a small group of people praying for God’s glory in the community. What is important is not the number of people praying but the nature of the praying. C. John Miller makes a helpful and perceptive distinction between “maintenance” and “frontline” prayer meetings. Maintenance prayer meetings are short, mechanical, and focused on physical needs inside the church. In contrast, the three basic traits of frontline prayer are these:

  1. A request for grace to confess sins and to humble ourselves.
  2. A compassion and zeal for the flourishing of the church and the reaching of the lost.
  3. A yearning to know God, to see his face, to glimpse his glory.

These distinctions are unavoidably powerful. If you pay attention at a prayer meeting, you can tell quite clearly whether these traits are present. In the biblical prayers for revivals in Exodus 33; Nehemiah 1; and Acts 4, the three elements of frontline prayer are easy to see. Notice in Acts 4, for example, that after the disciples were threatened by the religious authorities, they asked not for protection for themselves and their families but only for boldness to keep preaching! Some kind of extraordinary prayer beyond the normal services and patterns of prayer is always involved.

P. 73 “Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City”, Tim Keller

One idea that is changing the way I think…

Now one of the buzzwords around today is the word “missional.” People want to create missional churches or missional programs or missional small groups.

The problem is that we don’t have a “missional” problem or a leadership problem in the Western church. We have a discipleship problem. If you know how to disciple people well, you will always get mission. Always. You see, somewhere along the way we started separating being “missional’ from being a disciple, as if somehow the two could be separated. Pastors started saying they didn’t want to be inwardly-focused so they stopped investing in the people in their churches so they could focus on people outisde their churches.

Granted, we should focus on people who don’t know Jesus yet, but Jesus himself gave us the model for doing that: Disciple people. If you know how to actually make disciples, you’ll reach people who don’t know Jesus. Because that’s simply what disciples do. That was Jesus’ whole plan. If you disciple people, as these people do mission in their everyday comings and goings, with the work and shaping of the Spirit, the future of the church will emerge.

-Excerpt from Mike Breen and Steve Cockram in their book “Building A Discipling Culture: How To Release A Missional Movement By Discipling People Like Jesus Did”

Leader or Manager?

The following is a quote from “Leading With A Limp” by Dan Allender

The difference between a manager and a leader is the internal urge to alter the status quo to create a different world.  In that sense leaders are prophets.  They see the present as incomplete and inadequate and are willing to risk the comfort of the present for the promise of a better tomorrow.  A manager, on the other hand, is content to keep the organization running as smoothly and efficiently as it can function. A manager serves to keep the plane in the air, whereas a leader wants to put a new engine on the plane midair.

A manager wants to approach the inevitable chaos with the tried and true methods that have worked in the past. In contrast, a leader knows that as difficult as it is to bring about change, not to do so will destroy the community. There can be no freedom from the bondage of the daily rut without the chaos that comes from leading people out of the status quo.

Dan Allender, “Leading With A Limp”

A leader who desires nothing more than the status quo becomes an ostrich with its head in the sand. A leader must be troubled and discontent, and he must ask the question, How can tomorrow be better than today? He must be a visionary, living in the tension between how to honor what is good and true today and yet be discontent with today in light of what could transpire tomorrow. He is torn between what is and what could be, yet he speaks the future into the present due due to his compelling desire for change. P. 58

The Pretense of Leadership

I still remember the Sunday morning like it was yesterday. I mentioned in a sermon that as a pastor I feel like I have just enough light to see a couple steps ahead of me. In other words, I was admitting my limitations regarding my ability to know what was going to happen in the future. I was dropping the pretense of leadership that acts as if it “has it all together” and instead let people into my heart and mind for a moment. That was a mistake. Later I heard that there were people who were disappointed with my comment; no doubt they wanted a leader who sees clearly into the future and knows exactly where they and the church are going. As a leader you remember those moments. You begin to believe that it is safer to keep up the illusion that leaders always know the right thing to do and how to do it.

The problem with this illusion is that it kills the pastor’s soul; the weariness is sure to lead to burnout.

The gospel tells us a different story about leadership: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. -2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV

This is upside down leadership. Leadership that admits it is weak and that through our weakness Jesus will show himself to be strong. Paul’s messsage about leadership is absolutely counterintuitive to the way many in the world (and the church for that matter) think about leadership. Yet to the leader who is despairing of the burden caused by pretending it gives hope, it gives life.

I am currently reading a book about leadership called “Leading With A Limp: Take Full Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness” by Dan Allender. I am finding it refreshing, honest and raw when it comes to the burden and the joys of leadership. I am looking forward to sharing my throughts about the book in the coming weeks.