City Place

I’m pretty sure Jesus will be at my Superbowl party!

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Kind of a dramatic statement, isn’t it? But inbetween the cheering, the commercials, the dips and the wings, Jesus is definitely going to be at my Superbowl party.

Why?

Because David and I have decided not to throw our own party this year. Instead, we are going to Christ Fellowship’s Superbowl in the City party. It’s an outdoor event with an even mix of guests and volunteers. And oh yes, the guests are the homeless of West Palm Beach. With a great outdoor venue and the game on a large screen, the homeless guests will have the rare opportunity to sit down and eat a meal and enjoy the game. There will be a few resource tables set up for them in case anyone is needing help, but in general the point is to enjoy spending time watching the game. In fact, as Pastor John Poitevent pointed out: “Don’t forget these are guys watching football. If you’re going to refill their drinks, do it during the commercials.”

Yes, I might miss my own Superbowl party with dips and chips and my own spot on the big comfy couch.

Yes, I might (will) be nervous interacting with our guests at the Superbowl in the City party.

Yes, I believe Jesus will be there hanging around with us. Makes it all worth it.

This is a video of Bridgetown Ministries, in Portland Oregon. They do a groundbreaking ministry to their City every Friday night. Around 3 minutes into the video they show the footwashing stations, something we will also be doing on Sunday night.

City Place Ascent: Impacting the community

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Just a quick thought before I drop exhausted into bed tonight after the infamous birthday weekend.

I went to our City Place campus of Christ Fellowship today, one of my favorite spots to be. The campus pastor, John Poitevent, was away. Andy Glass, another staff member, took his place and preached a great message on God’s wisdom. I needed to hear it today. One point popped out at me…God knows everything, holds all things together. And we don’t want to trust him? We’re nuts!

Anyway, one of the announcements concerned a prayer walk for City Place this coming Saturday (June 27). I love the idea. They are going to walk through the community and silently pray for the shops, the people, the visitors. Love it! I also know that these particular campus pastors do not have a permanent office in the City Place community. So when they want to be with their community, it’s Starbucks or Panera or some other public place. It seems to me that this is not all bad. Think about it: the community sees their pastors counseling, walking, praying. It sees them THERE. And yet the flip side, of course, is that while the pastors are out THERE, they aren’t available in the church offices, running the myriad details that are required to make a church function.

Do we want to run a church or impact a community?

It’s not as simple an answer as my leading question would imply. And please don’t look to me for an answer: I’m not a pastor and I’m not always out there in the community either. I do know the answer is probably far more balanced than most of us would believe, however. In fact, that’s my only hope. Balance.

Do the Possible: City Place Christ Fellowship

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Relationships follow several predictable rules, one of which is that to be friends, you need to be there. You’ve got to put the time in to form the base of the friendship. A relationship is made up of all the days and nights of walking through experiences together: laughter, life change, job losses, baby births, deaths in the family, crazy visits from oddball family members. Relationships grow in the middle of life. So to do life together, you’ve got to be there.

The same holds true for churches. If you want to impact your community, you’ve got to be there.

That’s why I love our City Place campus of Christ Fellowship. It’s there. Right there in the middle of the crazy hustle and bustle of life. City Place itself is an outdoor destination mall reclaimed out of downtown West Palm Beach. It is a jewel of shops, restaurants, movie theaters, living spaces. It is also right in the middle of downtown West Palm, which means it can sometimes boast a rowdy crowd. There are partiers; there are homeless; there are upscale Palm Beachers; there are students living in the small apartments and wreaking havoc with peace and quiet. And at the center of all this coming and going sits a grand old lady, the Harriet Himmel Theater. The “Harriet” as she is referred to, began her life as a downtown church. When the area deteriorated, so did she. Eventually the building was bought and turned into a cultural venue in the center of City Place. Proms, bar mitzvah’s, wine tastings: these are the events that get the Harriet dolled up.

And now, church.

Christ Fellowship rents the Harriet for the City Place campus all day every Sunday. It is stunning. There, where life happens, is our church. They have dealt with all the problems that come with such a location. Since the theater is centrally located and our doors are (naturally) open, visitors come and go at will. During one of our first services a witch — yes that kind — stood in our balcony mumbling over our service. We’ve had a congregation that mixes up class lines and age lines, though it skews younger than our other campuses. With no permanent offices, the City Place church and staff are commited nevertheless to living out an incarnational representation of Christ in the city. The result is a congregation that is comfortable hitting the streets of their community. They throw park parties wth food for the neighborhood, they pray over City Place itself, they feed the homeless. In fact, they have too many volunteers for their Monday night homeless ministry.

In other words, the City Place campus has learned how to be a friend. They have learned how to be there.

This week John Poitevent, the campus pastor, launched the City Place version of our churchwide series, iSearch. He spoke about money in the midst of financial crisis. Afterward he led a man to the Lord, helping him take his first steps into the Kingdom. “I was talking about money today,” said John. “That was unexpected.” Unexpected maybe, but a faith that applies to the places you live is practical. Learning the right response to money gives a framework for this man to strengthen his life. It is real, and reflects Jesus’ heart.

After church, David and I sat on a City Place bench waiting for our girls to join us for lunch. We watched the people come and go. Upstairs, the waiters from Taverna Opa formed a Greek dance line and danced through the outdoor balcony of the restaurant. A party.  A line from John’s sermon kept echoing through our heads. “God’s math is this: you do what’s possible, and then God will do the impossible.” Although John was referring to finances, it applies everywhere in life including the incarnational living out of the gospel in the middle of West Palm Beach. Do what’s possible. God will do the impossible. We focus all too easily on the second part, the impossible part, the overwhelming situation or the sinking ship. We sometimes forget the first part. Do what IS possible.

I think that’s how I see City Place Christ Fellowship these days: as a friend who is there, who encourages us to get up out of the church and just do something. Do what is possible. After that, it’s all up to God.

Christ Fellowship in Palm Beach Gardens, FL: Leadership Gathering stories

Last Friday night we had a Leadership Gathering at Christ Fellowship. I love Leadership Gatherings, because we have a chance to visit with our friends and churchmates from all the Christ Fellowship campuses, hear the stories of how God is working on their campuses, and worship togethre. There is also usually food involved, which tickles me, too. Because David is an elder and we are migratory by nature, we tend to pop in on most of the campuses regularly. So it was with a sense of hometown pride that we watched each of the campus pastors share their latest stories. If you weren’t there, here is a brief synopsis of life at CF!

Gardens Campus

Pastor Don Bray shared a story of a woman who called our hotline in a suicidal stage. She was crying for help, and some of our counselors responded and got her headed to the hospital. Along the way, an attending nurse said to the woman, “I’m a Christ Follower. I attend Christ Fellowship. Can I pray for you?” At the hospital, her next nurse also prayed for this poor woman. By the end of the night, in a dramatic turn, God healed her. She’s been at church the past two Wednesdays testifying to God’s transforming grace. I liked this story because this was not a church program, or plan…it was two women livng out their faith in the community.

Christ Fellowship Espanol

I posted David Helbig’s account of this last week, but Pastor Daniel shared about the conversion of one of the most notorious gang leader’s in Palm Beach County last week. This week, he and his girlfriend are getting married and baptized on the same day. Pray for the amazing impac their lives may have in the near future! We also heard the story of a lawn man who was at a vulnerable time in his life. Unable to communicate with the Spanish-speaking man, one of our church members brought him to Pastor Daniel, who ended up leading this man to a faith in Christ. A new kingdom worker!

City Place Campus

I confess, City Place has a special place in my heart. I love the authentic, unplugged and gritty ministry this campus gets itself into. This week Pastor John shared about their homeless ministry, which is really just starting. Partnering with an existing program, they’ve been feeding homeless once a week. Pastor John had to ask his people to STOP volunteering, as they have too many volunteers for this event! Now they are searching for new ways to reach out in the heart of downtown West Palm. We’re praying for office spaces for the City Place staff: something in the heart of the area they are called to.

Royal Palm Campus

Pastor Jonathan shared about a man headed out to commit suicide due to a life-threatening cancer. Before taking his life, he decided to impulsively honor an invitation to a cancer-survivors support group at Christ Fellowship. One of our ladies introduced this man to the great Physician before the end of the evening. Now he’s finding support and grace to live out the rest of his kingdom journey.

Stuart Campus

Stuart is our newest “baby” in the campus family. They are so excited to have found a place to meet, and to have recently found midweek meeting spaces as well. Pastor Matt shared about their new women’s ministry, and how a simple phone call to ask for participation brought a whole family into the church, a family that had just about giving up on being committed to their faith.

Internet Campus

Another favorite of mine, the Internet Campus now hosts over 10,000 unique visitors each week. The stories that pour in from this campus delight all of us techno-geeks. They are now hosting classes online and plugging people into their faith in novel ways. Pastor David Helbig shared about a woman who ended up chatting with him via facebook (as a response to a random info messsage). She didn’t recognize how she became a “friend” with our internet pastor, but had just been discussing faith with a friend, and really wanted to know more about it. Pastor Dave, through facebook chat, led her to the Lord right in the middle of her busy workplace. “I’m praying out loud!” she said. Before the end of the workday she had stopped by a bookstore and was reading the best story of all. A random facebook chat.

These stories touched my heart as I realized that each one is just the tip of the iceburg, just a little bit of what God is doing. What humbled me and delighted me is that in most cases, it wasn’t a program that touched someone’s heart: it was a CF Christ Follower being faithful to the people they touched out in the community. That’s the sign of healthy growth. These were real lives saved! I’m writing this becuase on those discouraging ministry days, we need to review what God has really done and rest in his grace. And most of all I’m reminding myself that none of these lives were touched without prayer and preparation. Are we ready to step up to the plate when God sends a hurting traveler across our path?

This is what HOPE looks like

Tonight, hope looked like Christ Fellowship’s City Place campus, the Ascent, packed to the rafters with people worshiping. To hymns. Absolutely astounding. Our musicians spent this week learning songs they’d never played before, just to increase the breadth of our musical worship. It was an amazing night.

I can’t explain why this evening touched me so. But as I looked around tonight, I saw people of all generations bonded together in singing songs that brought me back to my childhood. “How marvelous, how wonderful and my song shall ever be…” I could hear my dad’s voice singing next to me in Sunday night church — where that song counted as a contemporary number. My dad didn’t really sing much; he rumbled. His big, barrel-chested 6’4″ body would rumble its way through some version of a bass line: security, singing next to me while I grew. I couldn’t stop the tears tonight, thinking about Dad. They were good tears. What a great memory!

And then there are the musicians themselves, leading us. This ministry of singing and playing…it transports people from a place of fear that the financial markets, political markets, any markets might fail. It moves us from where we are to where we need to be. Can hope be far behind if quality people like our worship bands can create an oasis of life in the middle of uncertainty? And just think…those songs have been sung through ups and downs, crashes of one sort or another. “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh what a foretaste of glory divine.” The message is timeless. Our hope isn’t in an election, or our bank accounts. It’s in Him, and all that exists in Him. It’s in each other, and the community of grace we live in together.

They’re just hymns, just old songs that have fallen out of favor. But they may become hip again, because there’s something special about traditions that tie generations together in the ultimate source of hope. Just hymns. But it was a night that soothed my soul and brought back memories that are precious. Just hymns, but sung by the kids who are the future I’m praying over. Just hymns, but so much more.

Christ Fellowship City Place: the church over a coffeehouse

This is David and me at City Place in West Palm Beach, FLCity Place is a beautiful meeting of cultures.

Visiting Christ Fellowship’s various campuses always causes me to come away shaking my head, amazed at the radically different personalities that have developed from one heart and one ministry. The City Place campus, also called the Ascent, seems like the bohemian, artsy little sister of the Christ Fellowshp group.

City Place itself is a mid-sized commercial redevelopment program, an outdoor lifestyle center that is about as hip as you can get in West Palm Beach without descending into gritty. The movie theater in City Place draws a huge crowd, diverse on a Friday night. Because of City Place’s location, it also can draw homeless or the folk from across the bridge in Palm Beach itself. Smack in the middle of this culture clash sits the Harriet Himmel Theater. Christ Fellowship houses its church in the theater every Sunday, from an early morning 9:00 service to the evening Ascent service for college and young adults. It is a hopping spot.

Today, at all of our campuses, we began sign-ups for our LifeGroups. At City Place John Poitevent (Campus Pastor) spoke on a fairly obscure passage in Colossians 4 where Paul lists the names of those people who have been ministering with him during his time in prison. As John preached, it became obvious that Paul’s cast of supporting characters are still around today: those who start but drop out soon, those who are Mama’s boys, those who travel to bring information to others, those who open their homes. As a kind of grand finale to the message, John had LifeGroup hosts come up front and tell about the purpose of their groups.

That’s when the goosebumps started.

They were a motley bunch, alright. Very diverse in their appearance and stage of life. All of them were excited about doing life in community, and their varying purposes of their LifeGroups stunned me.

“We are going to feed the homeless in Lake Worth every Sunday afternoon. We leave when the food is done.”

“We want to give college-aged girls a place to find support while they chase after God’s purpose.”

“We’re going to use dance and worship to bring glory to God.”

“We’re going to explore the biblical ways to reduce tension and stress as we live our lives. And oh yeah, there’s a martial arts component to this LifeGroup so be prepared to move.”

“I love to cook: come for a complete home cooked meal and then we’ll discuss God’s life.”

“I hate to cook: can someone bring food?”

“I don’t cook either, but we’re going to learn about the Living Water and then find a way to share it.”

None of them were alike; each group had their own purpose. They were wide in their diversity and awe-inspiring in their unity. I was entranced. I looked around the theater — criss-crossing beams overhead, wooden floors and dimly-lit chandeliers — and was humbled by the authentic community represented by this church-in-the-middle of the city. Then I remembered it was my church, and I wanted to cry.

Leaving, David and I literally had to push our way through the lines of City Placers signing up for a new adventure in LifeGroups. We walked down the stairs and looked at City Place itself — Starbucks tucked under the theater along with a few other shops, restaurants lining the roads and people everywhere. A church, a coffeehouse and a mission. It doesn’t get any better than that.

The Ascent at City Place

Helping the Homeless in West Palm Beach find their way back Home.

Christ Fellowship’s City Place Pastor John Poitevent and his friend Ross

I reprinted this recent entry from my church’s “Stories” newsletter. I was touched by John’s thoughtfulness in dealing with Ross. John was one of the Christ Fellowship Pastors who went to Q with us last April. This story is such a great picture of living out the life of Jesus in the kingdom one life at a time. You can read the original article here, along with a few other Christ Fellowship stories.

Ross prays for you when he goes to sleep at night – in his own bed, under a sturdy roof, in his sister’s apartment 15 miles outside St. Louis. Thanks to hearts beating with the love of Jesus Christ, hearts right here at Christ Fellowship, he’s home with people who love him and had been trying to find him. For years.

Not long ago, Ross’s home was a 6-by-6-foot dome tent in the woods south of Okeechobee Boulevard in downtown West Palm Beach. He shared the tiny space with another homeless guy, but they could only go there after dark, so they wouldn’t get caught by the police. They had to sleep in their clothes, because you never knew when somebody might show up looking for a fight.

During the day, Ross traveled between places where he could get a free shower, coffee, a doughnut – or city parks and the library where he could find shade or air conditioning. Then one afternoon, he came for one of the meals that Christ Fellowship is helping provide to the homeless in partnership with First Presbyterian. He happened to sit down across the table from CityPlace Campus Pastor John Poitevent.

“We started talking about things,” Ross says, and soon the subject of family came up. It had been seven or eight years since Ross had talked with his sister Anne. Though he missed her, he had no idea how to find her after so long.

But John did. He copied down all the information Ross had – Anne’s work history, maiden name, married names – and went online. A computer search led him to a nurse’s association in Missouri, and that led him to Anne.

She was thrilled. Anne and another brother had been trying for years to find Ross. “I was just overjoyed to know he was all right,” she says.

Conversation, and then an invitation

John arranged for Ross and Anne to talk, and Anne eventually suggested her brother come home to the St. Louis area. That’s when things started to happen. Fast.

Someone from a Christ Fellowship Small Group donated frequent flyer miles to cover his airfare. Someone else provided a duffle bag with toiletries, and others gave money for Ross to get some new clothes. Only a few days after they’d met, Pastor John and a small group of people from the CityPlace Campus put Ross on a 5 p.m. flight to St. Louis.

It was a terrible flight, Ross recalls, made worse by his worries about how he’d be received after so long. As it turned out, “everybody’s been wonderful to me,” he says now. “It’s been just like I never left.”

At last, a paycheck

And Ross, who hasn’t been able to work for more than a year because of a painful skin condition, now has a job in a warehouse.

“I drew my first paycheck when I was 13 years old,” says Ross, now 53. “That year I didn’t work was the first year since then that I didn’t make any money. I was so depressed. Now I’ve opened a bank account, I bought a bicycle, and I have practically everything I need.”

“Ross has done really well since he’s gotten home,” says Anne. “He’s a hard worker, and he’s getting back on his feet.” She really wants the people of Christ Fellowship to hear her when she thanks them for helping her brother. “Ross would still be out there lost,” she says. “Now he’s safe at home.”

Pastor John puts it this way: “Our investment in his life renewed his hope that God has a plan for his life, which gives him the faith to make the right choices. When you don’t think that God has a purpose and a plan for you, why not sleep in a tent in the woods?”

A gift from God

Ross knows it has all been a gift from God – finding his family, getting a job, having a home. “To make it come together so fast, so complete, it just couldn’t be anything but a miracle,” he says. “It has to be His work.”

He thinks often of the people at Christ Fellowship. “I go to sleep and I pray for their safety and their well-being,” Ross says. “I hope God keeps working through them, because He actually used them to fulfill His wishes for me.

“I have a whole new attitude on life. I love getting up in the morning and going to work. I’m just so thankful to have what I have.” Then Ross gets quiet, and a tiny bit of emotion creeps in, thinking how so many people don’t even have the basics – “people I know and love there in West Palm who are still on the streets.”

Ross doesn’t have to say it for you to take his meaning: Please don’t forget my friends, who still need homes, and food, and love.

I’m waiting to get interrupted again

A Good Cup of Coffee

Sunday afternoons on my back porch are the best time of the week!

We just returned from Christ Fellowship’s City Place campus. Jillian (our youngest daughter) is headed to Costa Rica with the City Place mission’s team next week, so we went to see the commissioning service. I love City Place campus: where else do you find a Starbucks, Macy’s, Cheesecake Factory and Anthropologie outside your church door? The worship is great, the setting is more intimate and the serendipitous element to the crowd keeps things from getting bland.

John Poitevent spoke today about Phillip walking on the desert road on God’s orders. Phillip, said John, was in the middle of a city-wide revival when God interrupted him and sent him out the desert road, where he met the eunuch riding in a carriage. The eunuch was an interruption. Phillip noticed what the eunuch was reading, and asked him a question about his understanding of the scripture. The eunuch invited Phillip to sit beside him and explain the scriptures. You now the story, and it ends with Phillip getting whisked away to his next interruption.

Well John had  couple of really great points that jumped out at me today.

  • Phillip noticed what the other guy was reading. In other words, he connected with what the guy was doing. We talked about that last week: don’t be buried in your own stuff at the coffee shop. Notice what’s going on around you, because God might have something for you.
  • Phillip asked a question about the passage the eunuch was reading. He didn’t jump in and begin preaching. He didn’t say, “I know the guy who wrote that book.” He took the time to understand where the eunuch was coming from by asking questions.
  • The eunuch responded by asking Phillip to join him in his carriage. Or, as John put it this morning, “Come on up here and do life with me.” We only get invited to “do life” when we’ve connected first.
  • Phillip never even got where he was headed. First he was interrupted by the main point of his day, and then he was whisked off elsewhere. By having a heart that was constantly tuned to God’s voice, Phillip made sure he didn’t miss the main event.