Thursday, April 20, 2006

Pinto Beans and Corn Bread



I can’t think of many things I like to eat for supper more than Pinto Beans, Cornbread, topped off with a tablespoon of Chow Chow, and a very cold glass of milk. There are some things in life that are just best when kept simple.

There are a lot of good things about a meal like this. It is inexpensive, high in protein, low in fat, (if using skim or 1% milk) and it tastes good. It can also be diversified and serve various functions. It is good when you fix more than enough, then it makes a great lunch the next day. You can also invite all kinds of others along to enjoy it with you without having to go to the bank for a loan. You an also have a Southern favorite for a snack later on, cornbread and milk, and if you are really smart, you can keep a jar of molasses or honey around and serve the cornbread with one of these two for dessert. Oh yea, the simplicity of a good meal and knowing how good it can be.

For a lot of years I always kind of thought that church could and should be like this. Like the beans, basic and a good source of protein that keeps one's faith, like muscles growing and growing with some work and exercise. Affordable where everyone could afford it without their having to worry about how much money it was going to take to run it, and durable, in that you could get more than one meal out of it.


Then after the beans, for a lot of the same reasons, the Church could also be like cornbread. The cornbread could be like adding diversity and options to a solid core meal. It would be like diversity that can be mixed in with the beans, dipped for flavoring, or even used as a dessert. It would be multi- tasked and multi- functional. It could also carry out functions outside of the basic meal. It could be a snack mixed with milk later and thus serve more than one purpose.

Then there is the chow chow, wow, what an addition. Now I realize that not everyone knows what chow chow is. Simply put, it is a relish style blend of cabbage, sugar, vinegar, that depends on tastes other ingredients give. Talk about adding some spice to a bowl of beans, man it is good! Now not everyone can handle the spice or flavoring of chow chow, but for those that can, it totally turns a bowl of beans from being just a bowl of beans, to well, being a meal that one can get excited about. Kind of like me.

I believe in the basics of my faith. I believe in keeping those basics as a part of my life. Jesus is the Son of God, lived a perfect life, died for my sins, rose again, and has offered me salvation. Now there is more than that, but that is the core. Those who have made that commitment, are the Church. While there are other admirable gatherings and locations for churches, (the buildings) those buildings really don’t represent the church, the people represent the church. The Bible goes so far as to say that we have become like an adoptive family, brothers, and sisters, with God as our Father. Now there are various aspects of theology and beliefs that set some apart, for example, baptism and communion, those types of things, but the bottom line is we, the people, are the church.

Over the years I have become aware that part of being a Christian, part of being chow chow if you will, is learning to adapt to my tastes, my preferences, and my desires. Some like chow chow some don’t, some like ham hocks, some like deer meat. Some like' em plain, some like' em with mayonnaise. Some like spice in their life some don’t. It is critical to come into contact with who we are, what we like, and what we need. For me that has been quite simple.

There are things in life I love. I love to tell people about Jesus, more from being around them and getting to know them, as opposed to “preaching to them.” I love certain aspects of life, family for example means a lot to me because while I had glimpses of family growing up, my experience with family is totally different than most peoples. Then, over the last few years I have found other things that I really love. I love doing movie reviews, thus my association with Hollywood Jesus.

I love all aspects of the arts. I am a musician, go to art galleries, read, and more, but I love movies because they have become the contemporary form of story telling. It is interesting to know that when Jesus taught, the Bible says, “He never taught them anything without first telling them stories.” What an interesting concept, one can use stories, and then communicate spiritual truths. In other words those truths could be communicated via movies, books, comics, CD’s, paintings, wherever and in whatever way a story is communicated.

I love where God has opened doors for me within the wrestling community. I played sports growing up and later on in life, but I never wrestled. I’m not talking about the fake pro stuff on television. While it can be entertaining, it is not what I’m speaking of. I am talking instead about the real types of wrestling that you see in the Olympic Games, NCAA, high school or kids level. I have enjoyed watching my own son develop into a fine wrestler, and I have taken on the responsibilities of coaching and organizing youth opportunities for wrestling. This last year, I actually started officiating so I can be close to the action, and make a little bit of money from doing something I enjoy.

Another thing I have fallen in love with is ministry. Since becoming a Christian, I have always had a tender place in my heart for helping others. In some ways, even before I became a Christian I did this. But a few years ago, I left a lucrative career in Mental Health to become involved in full-time ministry once again. I had done this when graduating from college for a few years, but ended up leaving that, a career in music ministry, to work in Mental Health. I knew God could use me on a full-time basis once again. In 2002 I became the pastor of an inner city church in Wichita Kansas.

It was strange; I was offered several jobs once I started my search, at much larger churches, including Willow Creek in Illinois. Yet, despite that fact, the church I accepted my position at was the smallest, paid the least, and was in the worst neighborhood. I accepted because I have a passion for inner city and urban communities. I thrive on helping drug addicts, prostitutes, and all of those that I call The Lost, The Last, and The Least. For four years I saw God work like I had never seen. Despite seeing God work, he kept working on me.

About a year an a half ago I begin praying about how God could use me. During the last number of years, I became more and more convinced that the church was not meeting the needs of the people. The church had become more about organization than the people who made up that organization. In many ways, the church had nothing to do with the church that Christ wanted or represented in the first century.

This last winterI read the book Revolution by George Barna. I was quickly finding myself in the pages as I read them. I knew I was a Revolutionary after a few pages in, and there were places I could go with ministry that hadn’t been dealt with in the past. It was after several lengthy conversations with David Bruce from Hollywood Jesus, and several other dear Christian friends that I came up with the concept that has since become known as The Virtual Pew.

There were a lot of questions. What if an on line community of support existed for believers? Would they come together and receive teaching, encouragement, and support? Could there be a place where people searching for spiritual answers could come and not be threatened? What could be done with something like an “on line church?” The more we pondered the idea, the more we came to the conclusion, that almost overnight, spiritual helps and community could begin to occur for what could quite possibly become the largest church on the planet. A church designed to offer all of the supports found in a traditional church, but in a new way, and a church where seekers could come in, take a look around, and at the same time have some of their questions answered.

Now to say the least, the concept was controversial because it was so outside the norm of expectation for many within the church. Many will reject the concept. Yet, what I found as I started to test the concept is that there was such an incredible need that there would be the chance that it could succeed.

I decided to test the idea. I tested it at one of the largest online communities on the planet, MySpace. I threw out the idea, begin to involve myself in several groups, and started, of all things a Hollywood Jesus MySpace group. I found out very quickly that there is such a large need for something like this, that it will be virtually impossible to carry out the need by myself. There will not be enough hours in the day to manage things with one person. The sky is the limit regarding the potential for ministry and opportunity. In three weeks testing the concept I have provided no less than 2 counseling sessions a day, including 2 individuals contemplating suicide, provided insight and support to multitudes of Christians including those involved in church and out. I have answered numerous questions about Christianity. And I have begun to see bridges of communication open up between devout Satanists, and Christians who many may consider “Fundamentalist.” Could God work? You bet not only He can, He has!

Obviously this is a ministry that will grow due to the initial limitations. I have already begun booking myself out to speak at various places across the country. I will maintain my involvement in my local community with a weekly Bible Study and Faith in Film series, but I will also plug into a church. I am aware of something else; this will be a full-time ministry with little pay. It will become critical that those that can support me in this ministry do. You’ll never see the begging letters for donations. You may see a link where you can donate and I will ask for individuals to help schedule speaking engagements. But Jesus freely gave; this ministry will be freely given. God will provide.

There will be the immediate association with Hollywood Jesus, but it will be separate. It will have a different focus, but those that visit Hollywood Jesus will have the opportunity to visit and be a part of the community. The community will be called The Virtual Pew. Right now as I type, web designers are setting up a totally separate web site that will be linked to Hollywood Jesus. The url for the site, will be http://www.thevirtualpew.com/ . As a part of the virtual pew, starting within the week will be daily blogs, and weekly video messages. Over time there will be much more, again everything that is a part of church, will be a part of The Virtual Pew. From worship, to counseling, and from teaching, to sharing and prayer, it will all be here with the mission to help make fully committed disciples of Christ out of all people despite background or circumstance. We will be building a community of faith on the web.

The ministry of The Virtual Pew has already started. It will take awhile to get things to the place they need to be, but they will get there. Along with the design of the http://www.thevirtualpew.com/ web site is a total redesign of my personal web site I will also maintain activity on MySpace. There will be blogs at MySpace and at The Virtual Pew. There will be a different focus for each, but each have a need. I am maintaining a MySpace site that has already begun to provide ministry opportunities. Also as a part of the effort at MySpace is the development of a Hollywood Jesus group. In that particular group we are already approaching 150 members in the first week. It is expected that by the time you read this we will have over 150 members of the group. We already have 17 topics of discussion, and 6 bulletin discussions going on with this group. This group involves Satanists and Christians along with agnostics and more. The message of Hollywood Jesus, where all people are welcome is being carried out.

Life has changed, as of May 1, 2006 The Virtual Pew and my personal ministry will become full-time. I will be speaking and sharing the love of Jesus in a new and different way. I will no longer pastor at United at the Cross, it will be closing. However, I will lead small groups and be involved in outreach ministies. I'll also be able to travel to various places for speaking ministry, life sharing, and caring ministry.

Yes, The Virtual Pew will be an exciting bowl of pinto beans, cornbread, chow chow along with a nice tall glass of cold milk. It will be basic, with nutritional value, plus offering variety and the spice of life that some desire. I invite one and all to pull a seat up to the table, have a seat and enjoy the dinner. Let us all eat and share in the basics of life. It can be a meal that keeps on giving and giving, plus something we can enjoy for a long time to come. A meal that could satisfy even the King of Kings.


1 Comments:

Blogger Reviews by Mark Stokes said...

Mike, I eagerly anticipate the growth of this Virtual Pew. I, too, have been flirting with the idea of an online church, but I wasn't really sure how to start it. Just know that I'll be watching from the sidelines & praying about how I can help you out.

7:50 AM  

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